The first known Armenian presence in Kuwait came immediately after the rise of Arab nationalism in Syria and Egypt in the 1950s and the 1960s. This wave of immigrants were those looking to escape the turmoil in their countries. They were mainly skilled craftsmen who found work in Kuwait’s light industry, auto repair, auto body, plumbing, electrical and service sector. They are mostly Syrian-Armenians.
By the mid-1980s, this Armenian population of Kuwait reached its peak of 10-12,000 in the 1980s. During and after Operation Desert Storm, the population diminished as Armenians immigrated to North America. As of 2007, there are roughly 2,500 Armenians in Kuwait. The Joshua Project, however, counts as many as 5,200 Armenians in the country, most of them Armenian Orthodox (Apostolic) and rated #30 on the top 50 most persecuted list.
Considerable numbers of Armenians from Iran resided in Kuwait as early as 1960’s. Prior to the first gulf war their numbers easily exceeded a few thousand.Their population dropped sharply during the war. Some, however, sought to return once the turmoil had ended.
A new influx of young Armenians created the need to establish an Armenian school in Kuwait, which was spearheaded by Viken Shaghzoian. In 1960, he and Arshavir Shaghzoian helped build the first Armenian school and church in Kuwait. In 1961, a priest named Barouyr Sarkissian settled down in Kuwait City and served the community for more than thirty years, including 9 years as a principal of the Armenian School (1961-1970).
August of 1990 saw the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq, forcing many to flee the country, some via Baghdad and others through alternate means to Syria, Lebanon and the Persian Golf. During the invasion, the Armenian school and church were shut down and guarded in order to stop looters from attacking the institutions. They remained unscathed throughout the war. By the end of the conflict, however, the numbers had dwindled to 500, with a mass exodus to the Northern Americas in search of a better life.
Today, the Armenian school in Kuwait has room for Armenian children from kindergarten to 12 grade. The school, the only foreign institution which is allowed to incorporate religion into its curriculum, now has nearly 300 students, and a staff of 25 full time teachers, including 17 Armenians. This is certainly lower than pre-war levels which had enrollment numbers up to 700 students. The community is rebuilding, however, with hopes of returning to the days before war ravaged the country.
Most of the Armenian population belongs to the Armenian Apostolic Church and under the jurisdiction of the Holy See of Cilicia. Kuwait is part of the Prelacy of Kuwait and the Persian Gulf established by the See of Cilicia (also known as the Cathoilicossate of the Great House of Cilicia), with head office in Kuwait itself.
The Aztarar is Kuwait’s weekly e-magazine: http://www.aztarar.com/
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