An Ethiopian emperor and an Armenian marching band.

The other day an article popped up on my LinkedIn page titled “The Story of Ethiopian Armenians.” I was curious for three reasons. One, I’m Armenian and love learning about my culture, two, we sell coffee from Ethiopia, and three, my father lived in Ethiopia for one year selling Encyclopedias. You read that right, my father lived in Ethiopia for a year! Article coming soon!

It turns out that in 1924 the ruler of Ethiopia, Haile Selassie, was visiting Jerusalem on a diplomatic trip, and fell in love with a brass band of Armenian children. Upon learning that they were orphans of the Armenian Genocide, he decided to adopt them.

He called this group of 40 Armenians, Arba Lijoch (“forty children” in Amharic, the official language in Ethiopia) and formed the royal imperial brass band of Ethiopia. The group was so successful that it eventually lead to a music renaissance and created a new music genre called Ethio-jazz.

While the Armenian orphans led the wave of musical modernization in Ethiopia, the Armenian community in Addis Ababa also governed the pharmaceutical and medical institutions at the turn of the 20th century. By the year 1935, the Armenian population in Addis Ababa was roughly estimated at a little over 2,000.

Today, there are about 100 Armenians remaining in Addis Ababa who stay interconnected largely in thanks to the Kevorkoff Armenian school and the St. George Apostolic Church, which continues to operate, thanks to Simon Hagopian, the son of one of the 40 orphans, and Archdeacon Vartkes Nalbandian

You can’t make this stuff up. The connections are unbelievable. This gives me another reason why I love what I do and motivation for the Ethiopian coffees that we roast every day.

Scroll down to see some highlights and click here to read the full article.

Emperor Haile Selassie, photographed by Haigaz Boyadjian. Haile Selassie was focused on modernizing Ethiopia beginning with the capital of Addis Ababa. He sought out to neighboring countries as a way to stabilize relationships. Part of the process was diplomatic visits, which is why he ended up in Jerusalem.

Haile Selassie visited the Armenian Quarter in Jerusalem and was amazed at how similar the two cultures were in regards to religion and written script. In fact, if you were to compare the two alphabets, you’ll notice many similarities.

The Arba Lijoch, photographed by Haigaz Boyajian, royal photographer of Ethiopia. Through their brass instruments and widespread musical instruction, the 40 orphans forever changed the framework of mainstream music in Ethiopia.

While not much is recorded about the personal lives of the 40 orphans, Mesfin Kebede, a native Ethiopian resident of Addis Ababa, possesses some documents that provide a look into the lives of the orphans, including their names, ages and hometowns.

3 replies on “An Ethiopian emperor and an Armenian marching band.

  • Les Margosian

    There is also a quite nice “Armenian Club” in Addis. While there in 1993 for several days I often ate at there quite modest but very nice restaurant. It was quite popular with the European and other Western nationals both for the reason that ithad a good menu AND people coul eat there and be confident that they would not be poisoned. While visiting Addis again in (or around) 2008 I went there again and it was still the same, ie quite good.

  • Lina

    I agree with Les. Armenian club was one of my fav restaurant with great food, fare price, and an ambiance that takes you back in time. I curate unique itinerary for people traveling to Addis, and I like to include this restaurant for sure. A glimpse of history indeed.

  • Dicran Tomasyan

    Very nice article…thank you.
    I had heard about the Arbah lijoch, as my father Haroutoun Thovmasian (later Tomasyan) #22 was a member of the band. His brother Nshan #20 was also a member. So glad that you have all the groups names. I know of them. I was in fact married in Addis Ababa. When I was very young once, I was introduced to Haile Selassie. Many of my aunts and uncles lived in Addis.


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