Nubarashen:
REPATRIATION AND RETHINKING DIASPORA

Nubarashen:

Built by Nubar Pasha

One of the most striking examples of the collaboration between the Diaspora and Soviet authorities to help repatriates was the construction of the Nubarashen district. Today this district, being one of Yerevan's 12 administrative districts, also used to be one of the many Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU) projects in Eastern Armenia.

Based on information from Eduard Melkonian’s book “Armenian General Benevolent Union: Continuous History”

 

Continuation of the name
In 1923, only three years after the establishment of the Soviet Union in Armenia AGBU became the only traditional organization allowed to operate in the republic. In 1926, at the AGBU US Congressional Conference in Philadelphia, a decision was made on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the Union and in honor of President Boghos Nubar, to raise $250,000 in the next five years through special funding. Informing Boghos Nubar of the decision, the forum’s participants asked him to express his opinion regarding how this amount was to be spent. It can be assumed that for many, the president’s response seemed to be obvious – allocate this sum to the already existing institutions of the Union (orphanages, migrant aid stations, etc.) or establish new ones. However, at that time Boghos Nubar already considered the solution to the issue of immigration was to move them to Armenia. But mass immigration faced numerous and various difficulties, including a lack of housing, which the Armenian authorities repeatedly mentioned. The experience of past years proved that the Diaspora wasn’t able for different economic and political reasons, or simply didn’t consider it appropriate to finance housing construction in Armenia, believing that the existing means should first of all serve community organizations in different countries and the needs of immigration in general. On the other hand, AGBU's own funds were insufficient to implement such a large-scale program independently. Boghos Nubar, having learned about the “jubilee” donation, decided to give the full amount of money to the construction of a special district in Armenia where repatriate Armenians would live. At the same time, wanting to encourage as many potential donors as possible, he announced that if the $250,000 target was reached by April 30 1931, he would donate another $100,000. The members of the Union decided to honor his name and work, naming the future settlement Nubarashen.

Because of the crisis
The early stages of the fundraising was very impressive and promising. The official opening day in New York was successful in collecting roughly $102,000. During a similar gathering in Chicago,
$25,000 was donated. With such a successful start, the fundraising’s momentum didn’t continue, because the collection being slow and difficult. The main reason was the economic crisis that started in the United States at the same time of the collection, and a large number of American-Armenians were also the victims of it. According to “Miutyun” magazine, by the end of 1929, the total amount collected was only $153,000. This raised doubts over the construction of the settlement in general.

Finding the right place
The Armenian authorities, despite their principle agreement, delayed its implementation both directly or indirectly. In Soviet Armenia, it was very difficult to build a settlement in the name of a capitalist amongst an ideological struggle against the bourgeoisie. The government, not releasing the raised money, kept offering lands in Yeghvard, near Metsamor, in Sardarapat, leading to long disputes over the name of the settlement, even suggesting that the name of the settlement be left to the inhabitants to decide. Boghos Nubar agreed straightaway, just to see the settlement built during his lifetime. In the end, the land allocated for the settlement was not provided in Sardarapat, as Alexander Tamanyan had suggested, but in the Noragavit region near Yerevan.

Before leaving
Boghos Nubar, expecting his imminent death, sought to do everything possible to contribute to the rapid construction of Nubarashen. And it's not hard to imagine the disappointment that he experienced, learning about the unsuccessful and slow fundraising. It is known that in May 1930, about a month before his death, Boghos Nubar told one of the AGBU leaders, Malazian and his personal secretary, Hekimyan, that since the Diasporan Armenians were not able to raise $250,000 , he told them that he would be withdrawing his donation.
They say that Malazian was trying to change Nubar’s mind by employing “serious and stubborn language,” and so did Hekimyan, using “his feelings with a friendly and domestic smile.” But on the same day Nubar sent a letter to the Union with his decision. However, the next day he instructed Hekimyan to write two letters. One of them to the Swiss Lompar Otie Bank, to transfer his $208,000 to the AGBU, and the other one to the Union, instructing them that $100,000 of the $208,000 should be allocated to the Nubarashen Fund.

Typical settlement
In April and May 1930, in Yerevan and Paris, the “Agreement on the Construction of Nubarashen Settlement” was finally signed between the Government of Soviet Armenia and the Central Administrative Assembly of the AGBU, followed by the Union’s first contribution of $50,000. By that summer, the construction work started on the southern frontier of Yerevan headed by a special commission created for that very purpose under the supervision of the architect of the project, Alexander Tamanyan.
During the next six years, Nubarashen and its construction issues were of particular importance to the Union's leadership and ordinary people. Moreover, after the compatriotic unions were proposed to participate in the construction of individual districts of the settlement, where deportees from Western Armenia were to reside, Nubarashen appeared at the center of much larger problems.
In July 1931, at the regular General Assembly it was stated that the construction of 100-120 apartments would be completed by the end of the summer, and immigrants from Greece and other places would be transferred to the newly built settlement. A year later, however, the Union’s report showed the following situation: instead of what was planned, ten apartments were completed and eight were in poor condition. One of the reasons for this situation was the devastating earthquake in Zangezur region. The government’s priority was to first solve the housing problem facing the thousands of people who suffered from the disaster.

Additional rubles
Nubarashen was being built slowly and not just for the reasons mentioned above. On the one hand, it was the construction of a large number of big industrial enterprises in Armenia during the same period, and a constant lack of skilled manpower and building materials on the other. Besides the Armenian government’s spending on managing immigration and implementation, the money (or some of it) provided by the Diasporan Armenians went to the the construction of settlements, socio-cultural institutions and other institutions in the country for those same immigrants.
Due to the conditions and the means provided, the construction of the planned buildings was inevitably slow or was not carried out at all, which in turn, brought new challenges to the authorities’ relations with relevant Diaspora organizations and immigrants. On the other hand, when signing contracts with these organizations, the government, in fact, assumed obligations for the sums that were hard to find at the time due to the difficult financial and economic conditions. So, for example, on April 27, 1934, during the session, the government, discussing the issue of Nubarashen construction, decided: “Considering that the money collected through the AGBU does not provide the final construction of the buildings envisaged by the above-mentioned projects and welcoming the donors, find an additional 541,000 rubles for the construction of those buildings.”

“Wrong and intolerable”
On July 21, 1936 the Central Committee, First Secretary Joseph Stalin and the Council of the Soviet Union, President Vyacheslav Molotov, made an unprecedented decision on “Measures to accommodate Armenian immigrants in the Armenian SSR.” In the document, from the very beginning, it was deemed “wrong and intolerable” for the Armenian government to have “the established practice of non-fulfillment of obligations undertaken by foreign non-governmental organizations and individual Armenian donors.” Here are some of the most detailed measures that, according to the leaders of the Soviet Union, should fix the “ruse mistakes” by the Armenian government and the Communist Party, 50% of all construction work should have been completed by January 1, 1937 and by July 1 of the same year everything should be completed, the Union and Public Institutions were given specific instructions to finance and provide construction materials; it was envisaged to provide the immigrant workers with the necessary raw materials, the rural immigrants were exempted from paying taxes for 3-4 years or would pay half, finally, the means of obtaining and selling various equipment and other items donated from foreign Armenians were defined.
The decision also included a special annex where given the list of the 12 buildings to be constructed based on the commitments of the Armenian government and 7 of which referred to Nubarashen. In fact, it was the first time that the leaders of the Soviet Union made such a decision regarding immigrant Armenians.
Besides the funding, the most difficult problem to overcome was the problem of the Nubarashen canal and water supply. They were scheduled to be fully operational on July 1, 1937. However, the Bureau of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Armenia had to register during the sitting of July 3, “The construction of the water pipe has not been completed in time… to put the problem of providing the tubes on time back on the Union Council agenda before the President of the Council of Europe (Douloian).” But there was a reason for pride, too. “… The construction project of Nubarashen 1937 is basically finished. The school, the kindergarten, the theater, the bathroom and the residential buildings are completely finished... Only the hospital building is yet to be completed.”
In the middle of 1937 around 1000 immigrants were living in more than 100 apartments in Nubarashen. A year later, the settlement was renamed Sovetashen, and only in 1989 the Soviet Union’s Supreme Council restored its former name. Later Boghos Nubar bust was erected in Nubarashen.

 

AGBU
The Armenian General Benevolent Union was founded on April 15, 1906, in Cairo, Egypt, upon the initiative of renowned national figure Boghos Nubar and other prominent representatives of the Egyptian-Armenian community. The goal was to establish a union that would assist the Armenian people in every way, the future of which, as a minority in the Ottoman Empire, was endangered. Between 1906 and 1912, the AGBU provided the villagers of Western Armenia with seeds, agricultural instruments and other resources. It established schools and orphanages in Western Armenia, Cilicia and other Armenian-populated regions of the Ottoman Empire. In 1914, AGBU had 142 branches in Western Armenia, Cilicia, USA, Argentina, Europe and Africa with 8,533 members. The First World War and the Armenian Genocide were turning points for both the Armenian nation and the AGBU. In 1914, Boghos Nubar left Egypt and moved to Paris. Despite the huge losses suffered in different chapters of the union, the AGBU managed to provide help to Genocide survivors (with a special focus on orphans). After World War I, the main goal of the AGBU was “to preserve and promote the Armenian language, identity and heritage.” During World War II, the AGBU headquarters was moved from Paris to New York.
The AGBU's activities aimed at national preservation became more effective during the post-war period, especially during Alex Manoogian’s tenure between 1953–1989. The AGBU expanded and became the biggest and most influential Armenian Diaspora organization in the world. Today, the AGBU has chapters in 90 cities in 26 countries around the world, with 22,000 members, 120 branches, and 27 cultural centers. In 1990, the AGBU opened a representative office in Yerevan. Resuming its activities in Armenia after a 50-year interval, as well as humanitarian assistance, the AGBU carries out projects (building churches, spiritual, educational, social, health, cultural and youth) aimed at contributing to the development of the country. With over a hundred years of nationwide activity, the AGBU has provided roughly $1 billion to meet the needs of the Armenian people, of which about $130 million has gone to programs in Armenia.

 

Fridtjof Nansen’s message, April 5, 1929
With great pleasure I learned that there is a movement among the Armenians of America to build a community in Armenia for the migrants and to call it Nubarashen in honor of Boghos Nupar, a prominent Armenian patriot and humanitarian. There is no need to say that I have the warmest sympathy for this initiative. For the last four years, I have been working with the nation’s Organization for the purpose of promoting the Armenian lands, which is the best solution to the issue of refugees. I am sure that the dedication of Armenians to their homeland, as well as to the welfare of the troubled nation and the restoration of the small Armenian Republic, the courage, perseverance and sacrifice shown to them will cause admiration in the civilized world.