The Armenian Genocide Orphans’ "Aram Bezikian" Museum

Project Authors Project Duration Company Contacts
Architect: Vicken Tarkhanian Interior Designer, Scenographer: Raffi Tarkhanian Doonbeyt Design partnership s.a.r.l. Architecture - Interior Design www.doonbeyt.com www.facebook.com/doonbeyt 3rd floor. Vanlian Lighting bldg. Seaside. Jal el dib. Lebanon Tel./Fax: +961 4 713 684 Mobile: +961 3 658 788 E-mail: info@doonbeyt.com

 The Armenian Genocide remains one of the most tragic realities of the Armenian people. Not only did Armenians lose 1.5 million lives, suffer cultural losses, and get robbed of their rightful property, but they also lost most of their historic lands in Armenia. Because the Armenians were subjected to forced deportation from their homeland, they are now scattered in numerous different countries around the world.  It is true that many have sympathized with our nation’s losses and have stood against the perpetrators; however, no tangible right has been returned to our people.

Consequently, the Armenians will consistently demand justice until they restore their rightful land and receive compensation for the physical, cultural, and psychological losses they had experienced. This struggle for justice will continue until the enemy stops threatening the safety of our lands, erases the economic blockade against Armenia, and respects the right of the people of Karapagh to self-determination. 

Every year on April 24, Armenians all over the world, through their culture and history, commemorate the Genocide of the 1.5 million martyrs.  However, memorializing the Genocide victims is not limited to April 24; it is practiced on a daily basis through the struggle for justice that the Armenians faithfully continue to demand.

Our road to justice is long and rocky. Our struggle to reclaim what is rightfully ours entails many options; many strategies. Therefore, we must be ready to accept and face these chal-lenges. It is no secret that our struggle to demand justice has turned into a civil task involving politics and propaganda.

One of our most significant responsibilities is to instill, in the memories of all nations, the images of the suffering and the horrifying hardships that the Armenians endured in the desert and orphanages.

These nations need to know when and why orphanages and monuments of the Armenian geno-cide were constructed in different parts of the world. We must educate them that the Armenian people have paid a high price in order to earn the right to live and defend their faith.  

Whether willingly or unwillingly, we all bear the remnants of the Genocide. Thus, we live with an optimistic outlook. Although we have been deprived of justice, we look forward to a future where the denial will transform into truth. The day will come when the perpetrator will admit to have committed its atrocious act of Genocide. What we in both the diaspora and in Armenia need to do is to organize ourselves in order to continue demanding our rights through scientific, academic and advocacy methods. 

Hence, we are convinced that it is impossible to forget the past as we look to the future. That is why we need to remind people of the difficult days the Armenians - our grandparents, sisters, brothers - faced; we are obliged to first gain thorough knowledge of the difficulties and traumatic atrocities they endured and witnessed, and then share this reality with oth-er people.

History is proof that we do not consider our orphanages simply pil-lars that were constructed to house the orphans who survived the genocide. The monuments that commemorate the Genocide are not simply places for pilgrimage. They are witnesses to history, waiting for the call of justice to be implemented; thousands of orphans were housed in these orphanages, and hundreds of skeletal remains of unidentified orphans have been buried there. 

In the year 2000, we, brothers Vicken and Raffi Tarkhanian, winners of international awards, founded Doonbeyt Design, Sarl  - an Architectural and Interior Design company. On the occasion of the 100th commemora-tion of the Armenian Genocide, we were granted the opportunity to design and construct the Armenian Genocide Orphans’ “Aram Bezikian” Museum in the littoral Byblos area, specifically at the Bird’s Nest (Trchnots Pooyn) Orphanage, Lebanon. 

In addition, we had the honor of renovating the first monumental chapel in the diaspora devoted to the victims of the Armenian Genocide at the Armenian Catholicosate of Cilicia located in Antelias, Lebanon. 

We are convinced that people of all nationalities will be exposed to the trauma and suffering of our nation by visiting these two sacred loca-tions; they will understand the rightful demands of a nation that has under-gone a Genocide, and they will join our cause.

 

The following few pages describe the design and construction of the Armenian Genocide Orphans’ “Aram Bezikian” Museum, in addition to the details of its architectural engineering. 

For the occasion of the 100th commemoration of the Armenian genocide, many events were planned all over the world; the first was to renovate the monumental chapel devoted to the victims of the Armenian genocide at the Armenian Catholicosate of Cilicia located in Antelias, and the second was to construct the Armenian Genocide Orphans’ “Aram Bezikian” Museum in Byblos.

It will be no surprise if some Armenians have no or minimum knowledge of the Bird’s Nest Or-phanage in Byblos, which has hosted thousands of orphans since the 1920s. 

When we were given the opportunity to work on the project to renovate the Bird’s Nest and construct its museum, we understood that we had been entrusted with the difficult task of educating and informing the world about our ancestor’s plight and suffering.

Not concerning ourselves with the time constraint and the many difficulties we faced, we were able to complete the project.  Since Byblos is a historical city that is listed as a UNESCO heritage site, it was quite difficult to convince the Lebanese authorities to issue the work permit required prior to the construction and renovation of the museum.

The mission we were entrusted with was quite serious, so we decided to use different, advanced engineering tech-niques to accomplish the task that would remind people all over the world about the horrendous act and our demand for justice for the victims, for it is crucial to address and fight against genocides in order to avoid future genocides.

The Bird’s Nest Orphanage is a place that tells the story of the daily life and practices of thousands of Arme-nian orphans who escaped the Genocide and reached Leb-anon. Many overcame the challenges and later moved for-ward with their lives as they sought careers, while others succumbed to the many difficulties and passed away.

The Bird’s Nest Orphanage was established in 1926 under the loving care of human-itarian Maria Jacobson, who was a Dane. During that time, due to the American Near East Relief efforts, thousands of Armenian orphans were scattered in Lebanon. The orphanage is approximately a two hundred year old edifice covered with clay roof tiles. When Maria Jacobson passed away in 1960, her body was interred at the entrance of the complex in a special tomb. Years later, under the patronage of His Holiness Catholicos Aram I, Patriarch of the Catholicosate of the Great House of Cilicia, the Bird’s Nest Museum was built.

The odyssey and distressing daily life of the orphans inspired us to create a museum that would reflect that exact same spirit. The Bird’s Nest Museum is the best witness of the lives of those orphans, mak-ing it the ideal location to keep their memories alive.

Truthfully, this complex that is 2,750 square meters has turned into a traditional yet mod-ern, Armenian structure.

The newly built museum at the Bird’s Nest that carries the name “Armenian genocide Or-phans’ ‘Aram Bezikian’ Museum” is the first Armenian Genocide museum in the diaspora.

 Vicken Tarkhanian carried out the work related to the Architectural and Landscape designs; whereas, the Interior Design and its Scenography was completed by Raffi Tarkhanian

The Museum was opened on July 18, 2015.

In the next section, you will be presented with brief information about the renovation and construc-tion of the museum. 

The Museum is comprised of two sections:  the outdoor playground at the entrance and “Mamig’s” garden, and the indoor section which is divided into three parts:  a section that is devoted to the Genocide, another section that represents the daily lives of the Orphans, and the third section that reflects the Renaissance.

The Orphan’s Arena;
There is an emphasis on the word ‘playground’ because the orphans did not have a closed space for shelter; they used to live in the open area during the cold, rainy winter, under the scorching sun in summer.

First, in the ‘playground’, we placed footprints of children to emphasize the fact that the orphans are forever present in the arena.

The visitors of the museum cannot see the faces of the orphans, but they can hear their voices, feel their presence, and sense their silent pain.

Second, a Canopy is placed to guide the visitors to the Museum. It has the appearance of patchwork that represents the ragged clothes the orphans used to wear; the canopy is covered with copper and is constructed on two bases; it is 16 meters long, it weighs 22 tons, and it is made of iron. This canopy leads the visitors towards the truth; the Armenian people were very fortunate to have had protective ‘tents’.

The canopy is also a symbol of Maria Jacobson’s protective hands. Because of such an asylum, the Armenians were able to restore their lives. The canopy protects the orphans and extends all the way to the cemetery of the “Armenian lover.”

Hence, we also felt indebted to renovate the grave of the humanitarian Maria Jacobson.

Third, under the canopy is an array of Starving Orphans, as captured from an original image reflecting the daily lives of the children. Beside it, the visitor can view the photograph that inspired this idea.

The Starving Orphans are barefoot, sitting on the ground with their plates placed on the dirt in front of them. These Starving Orphans guide the guests to the entrance of the Museum, where they will hear the haunting voices and cries of the children.

Fourth, the first section of the internal part, The Genocide zone, is unique as arcane music that resonates the inside of the Museum is
played in the background.

To the right of the arch-shaped wall, the visitor will see shattered pieces of the time frame of the Armenian Genocide and the information about the events in interactive pictures in four different languages– Armenian, Arabic, English and French; facing
those, one can see the names of the Armenian intellectuals who were martyred on April 24, 1915.

To the left of the arch is the map of the deportation routes and films that document the sufferings and massacres.

The bell ascending from above symbolizes the fact that the perpetrators tried to strangle us by silencing it. They have tried to suppress our faith, our history, and our memory. Instead of the bell’s clapper, there is a long rope that represents the means to silence our voices.

In this section, we have also constructed a bridge that carries the survivors from the Golgotha to resurrection; on both sides of the
bridge are placed poignant images of the Genocide.
 

The  Orphans zone

We then move to the section that represents the daily life of the orphans. First, stripped of their identity, the orphans, reached different orphanages after long journey full of suffering. Irrespective of that, they are the faceless orphans whose footsteps are the only signs that they once existed.

During the following years, the orphans regained their identity and they returned to their roots.

The shimmering light emanating the columns behind the feet of each orphan represents each child’s feelings about life. The ones who lived once again became the future generations of the Armenian nation.

The portraits of the faces looking upward belong to the orphans that have ascended to eternity.

Their names are mentioned one by one. Here, the visitor can read different information related to the different orphanages in the Middle East and about those who lived again.

The visitors will also see objects that once belonged to the orphans. In the center, is a carpet that was woven in six months at the girls’ orphanage in Ghazir in 1925, and which was presented in the form of an award to the twelve orphanages in Lebanon by the Near East Relief.

At The Renaissance zone, are small tin houses that with time turned to wooden shelters and then to houses made of stone; thus the construction of our first neighborhoods - our first churches, schools, and universities. This zone symbolizes the Armenian renaissance (the Rebirth).

In the middle of this section, there are tall boxes that represent the different professions of the orphans: carpenter, cobbler, blacksmith, artisan, photographer, etc.

In the second room the names of the governments, countries and international organizations, which have recognized the Armenian genocide, are posted.

On the wall next to it, photographs of worldwide monuments of the Armenian Genocide are exhibited, there are also photographs taken from the 50th and 100th commemoration of the Genocide in Lebanon. This section is reflective of the fact that the Armenians in Lebanon as well as those around the world are united in commemorating the martyrs of the Genocide.

The last room houses the corner dedicated to Maria Jacobson, who loved the Armenians.

Her daily habits, her furniture, books, and writing desk are part of the presentation. 

The Armenian orphans of the Bird’s Nest were truly blessed to have had someone like the humanitarian Maria Jacobson.

In her beloved ‘nest’, she fed and cared for her young; Mama Maria Jacobson had left behind her place of birth and, despite all difficulties, devoted herself to saving the orphans. Armenians and people of all nations respectfully bow to her memory.

The aforementioned details give a holistic view of The Armenian Genocide Orphans’ “Aram Bezikian” Museum. May God bless (Prayers and incense be upon them) the friends of the Armenian people. Peace and a thousand blessings to our reborn nation and to our newly independent motherland.