Posts filed under ‘Armenians’

Victoria’s Wedding


Victoria and Hanna married last night in the Church of Saint Elias, after a ten year courtship. Hala introduced me to her best friend soon after I arrived; Victoria, an Armenian, teaches French at a secondary school in a nearby village. We met Hanna at our party in late September. He is Greek Orthodox, the rite in which the ceremony took place. Hala and Victoria both reassured me that it is no problem for Christians to marry other Christians, regardless of the sect. Marrying a Muslim, they tell me, would be inconceivable, it would alienate their families too much.

There were some 150 people at the church last night, a very recent structure that looked like nearly all the non-cruciform churches I have been inside, with the addition of a large dome. William and I arrived very early–we hadn’t known how long the ride would take, and we didn’t realize that even weddings don’t begin on time. The people from the floral shop were still finishing their work, which was quite extensive. Hanna arrived soon after, looking quite handsome in his charcoal gray suit, if a bit anxious. He explained his nervousness to William. This is a big step–in his culture, he said, you only get to marry once.

The guests stood as the wedding party walked down the central aisle, without music. First the parents, then two attendants, both relatives of the bride and groom. (Huge retinues of attendants, I’m told, are not done here.) Victoria and Hanna walked in together, then stood on the steps facing the priest, their backs to their friends and family. Their attendants stood by their sides, holding candles. Much of the service was conducted in Greek, some in Arabic. (William commented that it was the first time he had heard Allah called upon in church.) One priest on each side of the podium participated in the service, much of which was chanted.

Although there were two completely adorable small children, a boy and a girl, who walked in with the wedding party, neither seems to have been a ring bearer. No wedding rings were exchanged. Instead, around the middle of the ceremony, a priest chanted while he placed a gold crown on Hanna’s head, then more changing and another gold crown on Victoria’s head. He continued chanting as he changed the crowns from one head to the other a few times.

Wedding Church

Soon after, one of the priests, swinging a ball of incense, led the couple and their attendants in three circles around the alter. At each pass, the members of the wedding party kissed the cross held by another priest. In half an hour, it was over, the priest blessing them and wishing them health, happiness, and peace.

The bride, groom, and attendants signed some documents, then posed for a few pictures, before processing back down the central aisle to form a receiving line outside. (The church was being prepared for another wedding.)

Victoria was as radiant as a bride should be. She looked completely stunning–and here I wish I had the words that wedding writers used. How would they say it? She wore a long floor-length white gown with a long white train, a fitted bodice embroidered and sequined, with neither sleeves nor straps; her shoulders and arms were bare to the tops of her long white gloves. Her large diamond earrings reflected the light of the many candles that had been lit around the church; actually, they even seemed to reflect her smile! Hala tells me that professionals always do the hair and makeup of the wedding party, and whoever had done Victoria’s was terrific. She is beautiful without it, but looked completely amazing after he (the best ones are men here, she says) was finished.

I was quite curious about what people would wear to a church wedding. Fifty-something women and older wore nice suits and sensible shoes. Only two of us had gray hair. The styles for younger women were remarkably revealing–lots of bare shoulders, more than a few bare backs, shoes with impossibly high heels, a few discrete shoulder tattoos. One woman covered her head. Men wore suits. I’d been impressed in Morocco, Syria, and Jordan that men have such a wide range of types of clothing to choose from, but apparently those are not appropriate for urban church weddings.

Family and close friends moved on to a local club for festivities. William and I returned home in the care of a nice taxi driver (American people are great! he told us. But the president…)

November 11, 2007 at 9:38 pm Leave a comment

To the Mountains!


Kassab should be only about two hours from Aleppo, but we took the long route: bus to Latakia and then a “microbus” to Kassab, in transit about 5 hours. Even though none of the vehicles was air conditioned, the ride was a welcome relief from Aleppo’s overwhelming heat. People seem awed by the heat, reassuring us that the temperature is higher than any time in the last 75 years, informing us that the mercury had climbed to 50 C; our response was to head for the mountains as soon as we found ourselves an apartment.

The apartment is terrific. It is actually one large and one small room in an old Ottoman-style house, redone by a remarkably talented artist/designer/restorer. We celebrated with dinner with two UNC students, visiting Aleppo toward the end of research summer grants in Jordan, and then considered getting out of town while waiting for the apartment to be ready.

 When the power went off the next morning at 7, it took away any ambivalence. William and I both really like Aleppo and are delighted to be getting to spend some months there, but the heat had been overwhelming. Without power, which gets turned off a few hours a day in rolling blackouts, neither ac nor fans helped at all. So we checked out, stored our stuff, and were on the road.

We didn’t take the opportunity to see Lattakia, home of the ruling family and, for a brief time, center of the area the French hoped to separate from Syria as a separate Alawi state. We thought about two days at the beach there, but decided to continue on to the mountains.

The driver who took us between the bus stop and the microbus hub was a moonlighting science teacher, who asked William what he thought of Syria (many people ask us!) William answered that America and Syria are friends. The driver initially looked surprised, then grinned, “People to People,” laughed, and gave William a high-5.

Kassab sits less than 3 kilometers from the Turkish border in some spectacular mountains. It is right over the line from the Sanjak of Alexandretta (the place I’ve been writing about all year), and, the hotel’s proprietor tells us, has been an Armenian town “for 2000 years. Turkey has been around for 70.” There is a large framed 1982 Syrian Ministry of Tourism map in the restaurant/patio of our hotel that shows the international border going straight across northern Syria from Aleppo, while the currently recognized international boundary that has Antioch (and all of the former Sanjak) as part of Turkey is marked “undemarcated border line.”


Signs here are bilinguial (Arabic and Armenian), and intermittently trilingual (add English). There are two large Armenian churches, an Armenian cemetery, a brand new large mosque, a municipality building, and a small downtown that seems to cater, depending on the establishment, either to upscale tourists staying for summer vacations, or to the locals who live here year round. A large office at the end of the main street has photographs of a generic young girl in prayer (her head covered) and Hizbullah’s Nasrallah. (He does seem a remarkably popular figure in Syria and Lebanon, at least to judge by the poster count.)

The place we’re staying is run by Armenians, and the guests are both Arabs and Armenians. (As usual in Syria, we are a bit anomalous.) One extended family group just spent a couple of days here en route to a vacation in Istanbul, leaving this morning for the next stage and another 30 hours of driving. A tour bus pulled in for breakfast, bringing a few dozen people that the Jordanians guessed to be from Damascus. All the modest dress coexists with Armenian women wearing sleeveless dresses; thinking about spring break, I find it amusing that the beer in the shops seems to be primarily for the locals, not for the holiday-makers.

William is spending some time with the two young medical students we met on the microbus. One is from Kassab, and the two have shown him around and introduced him to the family. My own reckless adventures in eating (was it the shwarma from the street? the water from the tap? the unpeeled fruit? the uncooked tomatoes?) have left me in the hotel room instead, reading the guidebook and old New Yorkers that we brought with us from NC.

The drive out of Kassab Thursday was spectacular. For miles, we drove on a winding road through mixed forest, including a national nature preserve. Every few kilometers, we saw plastic tables and chairs ready for picnics. At some of these areas, men stood behind grills ready to make kebabs. Real restaurants dotted the road, offering spectacular panaromas along with the food.

We had taken advantage of the private public transportation of the Middle East. Fifteen-passenger vans are ubiquitous. They form lines at transportation hubs and wait until they are full. Privately owned, the vans provide public transportation at a very low cost (the three hour drive cost 125 Syrian, or $2.50, the hour drive from Lattakia to Kessab was $.50) to a population that does not yet rely on privately owned vehicles. We stopped for lunch/coffee at a travelers stop by the side of the road that served pizza, a variant of grilled cheese sandwiches, and various salads.

Arrived back in Aleppo in time to move into our new place! Temperatures had dropped into the low 100s. Life is good.

August 4, 2007 at 3:57 pm Leave a comment


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