Highlights from Our History
The Armenian Communities department, formerly named the Department for the Middle East, was set up in 1956 by two executors of the Calouste Gulbenkian’s will, Kevork Essayan, Gulbenkian’s son-in-law, and José de Azeredo Perdigão, the first Chairman of the Foundation.
The Trustee responsible for the Armenian Communities department has always been Armenian and a member of the founder’s family. Presently the Trustee responsible for the department is Martin Essayan, Calouste Gulbenkian’s great grandson. Previous Trustees include Mikhael Essayan, Gulbenkian’s grandson and Honorary President of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, and Roberto Gulbenkian, Gulbenkian’s nephew.
Below are some of the important activities undertaken by the department over the years:
- In 1957/58 the university scholarships programme was established. The programme continues until today and over tens of thousands of Armenian students have benefited from it.
- In 1959/60 the “Free Bursaries” programme was established to help students attend Armenian schools around the world, particularly in the Middle East. Thousands of children benefitted from the scheme which continued for decades. Subsequently, funds were also allocated for the building and renovation of many schools in the Middle East, Turkey, Argentina and Uruguay. Supporting Armenian education and schools remains a key activity of the department.
- In 1959 the first book in the Armenian and Armenian studies publications programme was published.
- In the 1960s several apartment houses for needy Armenians in Beirut, Lebanon were constructed, in partnership with UNHCR, Howard Karageusian Commemorative Corporation and Swiss Friends of Armenians. Similar construction of apartments were undertaken for Armenian refugees in Athens, Greece, with UNHCR.
- Between 1960s and 1970s, medical equipment was donated to the Surp Pirgiç Armenian Hospital in Istanbul, including an x-ray machine and an operating theatre. Calouste Gulbenkian’s parents and other relatives are laid to rest in the courtyard of the Hospital, at a dedicated shrine.
- During 1988 to1989 humanitarian relief support was sent to Soviet Armenia after the massive earthquake. In addition to sending funds, the Foundation acted as an intermediary for the help provided by Portugal to Armenia. A total of 138 tons of first aid products was gathered, and delivered directly to affected areas. Medical equipment was also sent to hospitals in Armenia. The department continues to support initiatives in Armenia independent since 1991, focusing on civic education and scholarships.
- In 1990, after 15 years of civil war in Lebanon, the department embarked on a vast school reconstruction programme for several school buildings in the country. Support to schools in diaspora continue to this day.
- In 2001 the renovation of the Calouste Gulbenkian Library at the Armenian Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem was supported. The Library, built in the 1930s with a donation from Calouste Sarkis Gulbenkian, is one of the most important Armenian libraries in the diaspora.
- In 2013 the new Five Year Programme Plan was launched, emphasising the revitalisation of Western Armenian, educational reform and pedagogic modernisation in the diaspora, merit-based university scholarships, civil society support in Armenia, Armenian-Turkish dialogue and electronic publications.
A conversation between Mikhael and Martin Essayan, where Mikhael is sharing stories of his grandfather.