Articulating Power Through the Parochial: The 1956 Armenian Church Election in Lebanon

  • Tsolin Nalbantian
Keywords Armenian Church, Soviet Union, Lebanon, Armenia, election, Camille Chamoun, Cold War, Kamil Shamun, contestation, proxies, Lebanese press, USSR, Armenians, refugees, rivalries
Keywords Armenian Church, Soviet Union, Lebanon, Armenia, election, Camille Chamoun, Cold War, Kamil Shamun, contestation, proxies, Lebanese press, USSR, Armenians, refugees, rivalries

Abstract

A seemingly insular Armenian Church election that took place in Lebanon in February 1956 was simultaneously a site of contestation by Cold War powers and their proxies. Its disproportionately high coverage in the Lebanese press--and ensuing political intervention--provides an alternative view of the struggles for power between the United States and the USSR in Lebanon during the Cold War period. This election could have been understood as exclusively affecting Armenians in Lebanon and/or merely an entertaining anecdote of competition between Armenian religious figures. Instead, I argue that it is an opening to observe American-Soviet state competition for political influence in the region outside of the conventional case studies of the 1958 US marine intervention in Lebanon and the American government’s inability to prevent the Soviet suppression in Hungary in the aftermath of the Tripartite Aggression in Egypt in October 1956. And yet, this election must also concurrently be seen as a moment where the Armenian population of Lebanon made use of Cold War suspicions to designate a leader of the Armenian Church seen to suit their community’s interests. This article throws into relief the customary depiction and understanding of the Armenian population in Lebanon as temporary refugees and therefore not an integral part of the Lebanese nation-state by drawing out the use of Cold War rivalries.

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