By Artsvi Bakhchinian
Special to the Mirror-Spectator
LUSAKA, Zambia — My interviewee is Edmond (Eddy) Kherlopian, an Armenian who was born in 1942 in Kenya and now lives in Zambia with his wife Wendy Mansfield Kherlopian. He went to Prince of Wales High School in Nairobi, Kenya and was the managing director of Aquilla Printers Ltd in Lusaka.
Dear Edmond, for many years I have collected information about Armenians in Africa. I first read about your family in the travel notes of Mardiros Mozian, published in 1957. He wrote that in 1954 he has been in Nairobi where he visited the Kherlopian and Simonian families. He particularly mentioned that those families showed him “top traditional Armenian hosting…”
I do not recall Mardiros Mozian visiting us. We had so many visitors during those years. I would be very interested to read his memoirs.
I assume your family history goes back to Aintab; the family has given two representatives to Armenian culture — editor Dikran Kherlopian and philosopher Kevork Kherlopian.
My father was born in Van and at age 7 with his 9-year-old sister became a refugee since his complete family was wiped out by the Turks. As I recall he travelled through Iran, Iraq and Syria and the sister ended up in Beirut.
And how did your family end up in Africa?
By now my dad was in his 20s and due to the war, the French government collected many Armenian families and settled them in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. A very large community developed there. After getting married to my mother, my two elder brothers were born there; then they moved to Nairobi, Kenya, in 1938, where I was born in 1942.
As far as I know there were 10 Armenian families in Kenya — the Tekerian, Saatjian and Dasnabedian families. Have you any idea if there are Armenians there?
To my knowledge all Armenians left Kenya when it achieved independence due to a very violent transition from British administration and non-Blacks were targeted simply because they were white or Asian. I left in 1969 for South Africa. My dad passed away in 1975 leaving my mother alone and she was attacked in her home and terrorized by a gang of thugs who were allowed into the property by the security guard. She never recovered from that assault. I moved her to Johannesburg after that and she lived with my family and with her younger sister Juliette, who was also in Johannesburg with her family.
The family names I remember in Nairobi besides ourselves was my grandmother’s family, the Hindoians, five sisters and two brothers; my mother Ossana, the eldest child; Virginia Tekerian, Louise Essoyan, Juliette Kelly and Violet Scheidat. Two brothers Moses and Krikor. All except Virginia (US) and Violet (Australia) are late. Also there apart from all the above, were the Tomasyans, and many others whom I don’t seem to remember but it will come back as I think more about them.
Now you live in Zambia. So far I knew only the name of surgeon Krikor Ertzingatsian. According to a statistic from 2002, there are only 10 Armenians in that country. Do you agree?
We moved to Zambia in 1993, supposedly to undertake a contract I was given for three months and 26 years later we are still here, but we are in the process of winding up here as the economy is totally destroyed due to massive corruption and very bad governance. I have already wound up my business and sold my property with a view of moving to Armenia, but the authorities are in doubt as to my birth since my birth certificate was issued by the British authorities as Kenya was under their rule then. So I was not able to get my Armenian passport; it seems they don’t believe I am Armenian, even though I was able to give them as much documentation as I had left from my parents. I’m sure if they saw my nose that would be sufficient proof! I will try again when I am there in September. This trip is exploratory to see if we can assimilate into the society, whether we would be accepted, the living conditions and whether we would be able to find a small business to keep us fed and housed.
To my knowledge there are only three Armenians in Zambia: myself Ara Hovhannessian (who is related to Dr. Krikor whom I have never met. He is a complete recluse and only interested in his work). Another lady married to a Greek left for Cyprus and another dentist left for Zimbabwe several years ago.
Is there an African-Armenian identity? Are there traditions you maintain and you know they come from your Armenian family?
Although I grew up and was educated in a complete English-speaking society, we did live at home as Armenians, spoke the language at home and we cooked and ate as my parents were taught.
So, hayeren ge haskenas? (So do you understand Armenian?).
Anshousht ge haskenam. (Surely I do). However I did not have the privilege of learning to read and write Armenian as there was no schooling facility available. Besides all my friends were English, except for the three Tomasyan brothers who were of a similar age to me and my two brothers.
Source: Armenian Mirror-Spectator