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Armenian National Institute Website Now Includes 327 Armenian Genocide Memorials

WASHINGTON, DC – After extensive research and the gift of a major cache of photographs of Armenian Genocide memorials from around the world, the Armenian National Institute (ANI) website presently displays 327 memorials in 45 countries.

The 2015 centennial commemorations of the Armenian Genocide presented a somber occasion for many communities to install new memorials. The database previously accounted for 200 memorials in 32 countries. The new figures represent a 60% growth in the number of memorials in an additional 13 countries around the world. Also, 74 existing postings have been updated with new information. All these can be viewed in close detail with the 650 images that have been added to the existing database.

The database provides information about each memorial, a description of the type, its location, the year of installation, a transcription of important inscriptions, and additional details if available, such as the artist, sculptor, or architect, sponsors, official visitors, and amenities. The database also has a search function according to the type of memorial or the city in which a memorial is located.

Memorials are documented in as diverse a set of countries as Brazil and Bulgaria, Chile and Cyprus, Estonia and Ethiopia, Ireland and Italy, Singapore and Slovakia, and Ukraine and Uruguay. To the same extent that Armenian churches indicate the existence of diaspora communities, the Armenian Genocide memorials now also mark their location and attest to the depth of the Armenian people’s commitment to honoring the memory of the victims of the 1915 atrocities.

Montebello, California, Armenian Genocide Memorial
Bikfaya, Lebanon, Armenian Genocide Memorial

The full list of countries on the ANI site includes: Argentina (7); Armenia (44); Australia (7); Austria (4); Belgium (2); Brazil (3); Bulgaria (6); Canada (9); Chile (2); Cyprus (4); Czechia (1); Denmark (1); Egypt (3); Estonia (1); Ethiopia (1); France (45); Georgia (3); Germany (14); Greece (2); Hungary (3); India (1); Iran (8); Ireland (1); Israel (3); Italy (8); Latvia (1); Lebanon (14); Mexico (1); Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh) (3); Netherlands (2); Poland (2); Romania (2); Russia (10); Singapore (1); Slovakia (2); Spain (4); Sweden (2); Switzerland (3); Syria (7); Ukraine (5); United Arab Emirates (1); United Kingdom (4); United States (74); Uruguay (4); Venezuela (1).

Vancouver, Canada, Armenian Genocide Memorial

Besides Armenia, where 44 memorials have been documented, 29 of which were recently added to the database, countries with a large number of memorials include France, with 45 documented sites, of which 29 were added, Germany with 14, most of which are recent installations, Lebanon with 14, some consisting of significant complexes, and the United States with 74 identified memorials, 25 of which were added.

Armavir, Armenia, Memorial to the Defense of Musa Dagh

Many of the memorials are monuments and the khachkar, the cross-stone in traditional Armenian design, and in varying sizes, has been adopted as a commonly-shared feature. This appears to be a more recent development in the installation trend, perhaps reflecting the origin of the community sponsoring the memorial, and its preference to rely upon an art form that references traditional Armenian memorial art.

Other sites have installed sculptures ranging from conventional figural representations all the way to completely abstract forms striving to capture the depth of the pain associated with the genocide experience. On the one hand, the figure of Komitas has become a symbol of the victim, with a noteworthy example in the middle of Paris, France, and another in Detroit, Michigan. On the other hand, there is a detectable change in styles where monuments raised in Armenia in the Soviet period usually resorted to abstraction with minimal direct reference to the Armenian Genocide, and where now memorials take more diverse forms since independence.

Paris, France, Memorial to Komitas

Whereas the well-known central memorial in Yerevan at the Tsitsernakaberd complex is the largest of its type, several other memorials in Armenia also involve substantial complexes, especially the Musa Dagh Memorial, located in Armavir, and the memorial in Nor Hadjin in Kotayk. Smaller-scale models resembling the Tsitsernakaberd memorial have been constructed in a number of locations, including a respectable replica in Fresno, California.

Yerevan, Armenia, Tsitsernakaberd Memorial Complex

Notably impressive memorial complexes have also been created in Lebanon and in the United States. The very large monument in Montebello, California, in the shape of an extended Armenian church cupola, dates from the semi-centennial commemorative activities of 1965. Also located in a public area is the Armenian Heritage Park in central Boston, Massachusetts, with its innovative sculptural installation that is adjustable and sits in a round pool across from a circular labyrinth. On the Mission Hills campus of the Ararat Home, the Los Angeles Armenian community’s retirement facility for the aged, a number of memorials dedicated to specific purposes have emerged as another complex of notable monuments, including a memorial garden dedicated to Aurora Mardiganian, whose story has been recovered as the emblematic experience of the survivor. As for the campus of the seminary of the Armenian Catholicosate of Cilicia located in the town of Bikfaya in the Lebanon mountains, an entire series of monuments recall important aspects of Armenian history at the foot of its colossal bronze statue.

Boston, Massachusetts, Armenian Heritage Park

The memorial chapel on the grounds of the Catholicosate in Antelias, Lebanon, which serves as an ossuary, has also become another model, and other similar memorial chapels have been constructed elsewhere. The most elaborate of these constitute the chapel in the town of Der Zor in Syria, the site of the largest death camp during the Armenian Genocide.

The Der Zor complex was subjected to extensive damage and rendered to ruin at the hands of Islamic State terrorists who overran eastern Syria in 2014. The ISIS militants, who committed genocide against the Yazidi people of northern Iraq and persecuted the local Kurdish populations, were very likely to have inflicted damage to the memorial in service to their sponsors in Turkey.

In 1995, the Tsitsernakaberd memorial site was expanded with the construction of the first museum dedicated to the Armenian Genocide. The museum and associated research institute (AGMI) were once again sizably expanded for the 2015 centennial events. AGMI is now joined by other institutions providing physical exhibits such as the Armenian Museum of America in Watertown, Massachusetts, and the recently opened Armenian Museum in Moscow. Online exhibits and museums include Houshamadyan, which is dedicated to recovering and reconstructing the memory of Armenian life in the pre-genocide era, Land and Culture, which hosts a database of monuments destroyed or confiscated during the Armenian Genocide, and the Armenian Genocide Museum of America’s interactive website. ANI also notes Research on Armenian Architecture, which is dedicated to the photographic recovery of Armenia’s heritage subjected to destruction.

With the exception of many memorial sites in Syria, which have become difficult to access under conditions of civil strife in the country, very few memorials are actually placed at locations directly associated with the Armenian Genocide. There are none to speak of in Turkey, of course, where so many atrocities were committed all across Armenia and Anatolia, even though the first memorial service on April 24, 1919, was held in Istanbul. The only memorials in that part of the world are the unmarked and crumbling remains of ancient churches and abandoned homes.

A unique museum exists at an actual orphanage site in the town of Jbeil (also known as Byblos) in Lebanon. The orphanage structure is still intact and has been converted into the Armenian Genocide Orphans Museum that contains moving exhibits on the experience of child survivors who were housed in the facility. The plaza facing the building has also been converted into a memorial complex dedicated to the orphans, with a monument to the guiding light of the institution, Maria Jacobsen. Another orphanage building still intact is located in the small Swiss town of Begnins. It is marked by two modest plaques dedicated by the offspring of Armenian orphans who were housed and educated in that facility, and in recognition of the Swiss pastor Antony Krafft-Bonnard, who established the orphanage.

Begnins, Switzerland, Memorials to Armenian Genocide Orphans
Jbeil, Lebanon, Armenian Genocide Orphans Museum

Other humanitarians have been extended recognition through plaques and monuments dedicated in their memory. The Wall of Honor at the Tsiternakaberd Memorial recalls the most prominent, including Alma Johansson, Anatole France, Armin T. Wegner, Karen Jeppe, Henry Morgenthau Sr., Jakob Künzler, Johannes Lepsius, Pierre Quillard, James Bryce, Raphael Lemkin, Franz Werfel, and Fridtjof Nansen. Others are recognized with busts or memorials placed in their respective countries, including Franz Werfel in Austria, Karen Jeppe in Denmark, Anna Hedvig Büll in Estonia, and Johannes Lepsius in Germany.

The Armenian Genocide Memorials Database was first created as part of a memorials database project funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, with assistance from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Robert Arzoumanian, Assistant to the ANI Director, conducted further research under the guidance of ANI Director Dr. Rouben Adalian to bring the database up-to-date to reflect and record the considerable efforts made by Armenian communities worldwide to honor the centennial of the Armenian Genocide by installing new memorials. These sites serve as gathering places for the annual commemorations that are held every year on the 24th of April, and have become tributes to the survivors who founded the communities of the Armenian Diaspora.

ANI extends its appreciation to its friends who have supported this ongoing effort to document Armenian Genocide memorials. ANI also acknowledges the public’s input for the background information on many of the identified monuments. ANI continues to welcome public assistance with this undertaking, especially with any help it can receive concerning undocumented memorials, or the current condition of existing memorials.

For more information on ANI, please refer to the preceding announcements of “Armenian National Institute Website Now Includes 795 Official Records Affirming Armenian Genocide,” and “Armenian National Institute Posts Database on Media Coverage of President Biden’s Recognition of the Armenian Genocide and its Implications.

Founded in 1997, the Armenian National Institute (ANI) is a 501(c)(3) educational charity based in Washington, DC, and is dedicated to the study, research, and affirmation of the Armenian Genocide. The ANI website can be consulted in English, Turkish, Spanish, and Arabic. ANI also maintains the online Armenian Genocide Museum of America (AGMA).


Diaspora Must Do Better in Keeping Institutions

By Taleen Babayan
Guest Contributor

Among the maze-like streets of Bourdj Hammoud, where crossed wires hang on for dear life and the Armenian language swirls in the air exist buildings that evoke an integral part of Diasporan history. Once crown jewels, these landmarks now teeter on the edge of obsolescence — an unheard of development for the thousands who once called these corridors home.

Growing up, we all heard stories from our grandparents, who came of age during a significant make-or-break era. Genocide survivors themselves, or children of the brave who escaped the atrocities, they arguably helped save a race from succumbing to destitution. But the stories I heard from my grandfather were seldom set in his birthplace of Aintab. Instead, they took place in the port city of Beirut, in the hallways named after one of the Armenian people’s most revered poets.

While it had been three decades since his black leather laced wingtips tapped the concrete floors of the Vahan Tekeyan School, I still felt my grandfather’s presence in the classrooms and stairwells during a recent visit; the air tinged with his spirit and service. These were the very same pathways where he served as principal and taught his students, through both word and action, the pride in being Armenian and the importance of contributing to the nation and culture in a positive way. A lesson he made sure to instill in all his grandchildren.

At the height of the school’s success — in the gilded Golden Age of Lebanon in the 1960s and early 1970s — my grandfather oversaw the education of thousands of students, each a mere generation or two removed from the crippling Armenian Genocide, which could have very well expunged the remaining survivors. But it was the Vahan Tekeyan School, akin to a handful of its counterparts around the Diaspora, that rose to the occasion — and lifted those students to their rejuvenated feet, citing countless successful alumni in its wake.

But now these venerable institutions are at a crossroads. And it is not just limited to Beirut and the political upheaval of the Middle East. Each carefully constructed Diasporan community, which built up communities and neighborhoods in their adopted countries, is vulnerable.

Armenians are capable of building — there is no doubt about that — but are they capable of preserving?

Far away from the turquoise ripples of the Mediterranean, the polluted East River envelopes the St. Vartan Cathedral, home to the Eastern Diocese, which is on its way to purportedly selling its air rights for $50 million. The Diocesan Council, ostensibly a democratically-elected body, has not been forthright in its public pronouncements of this rumored deal, which according to New York real estate savvy individuals, is well below market value.

What would the founders of the cathedral — those genocide survivors who barely made it to the U.S. with only the tattered clothes on their back — have to say about this charade? And how would they feel about the fact that the new wave of donors who picked up where their forefathers left off were shut out of this ill-conceived undertaking? The cathedral elevated the Armenian Diaspora to new heights in the New World — a golden dome smack dab in the middle of midtown Manhattan. To sell its coveted air rights, for a short-term fix, is shortsighted, to say the least.

Where is the vision that was once tirelessly pursued by leaders of our beloved institutions? It was only 50 years ago, that after decades of tireless fundraising, the doors swung open to thousands of faithful as the 12 Godfathers of St. Vartan Cathedral, their eyes brimming with tears, stood alongside His Holiness Vasken I, of blessed memory, as he consecrated the first Armenian cathedral in the Western Hemisphere.

Why is it that so few today are questioning the status quo and demanding better governance? Why are rational voices stifled as calls for a transparent conversation are neglected? Why are donors quickly called upon in times of financial need but not during times when their opinion should matter most? From top to bottom there is no accountability, discipline or leadership. Could this be a sign of national amnesia — a nation that is tired of itself?

My grandfather, though rooted in tradition, was a keen proponent of vision. In fact it was this vision early on in his tenure that expanded the Vahan Tekeyan School from an aluminum hovel to a robust, concrete building, all within the course of 10 years. What he was averse to, however, was mismanagement. With thousands of students and hundreds of faculty under his wing, he traveled around the world to fundraise — before, during and after the devastating Lebanese Civil War — inspiring donors to give to the educational institution during a time when the Diaspora wasn’t even half as prosperous as it is now. So for those in decision-making positions to claim that these institutions can’t be supported anymore, financially, is therefore, a complacent response. It should be the priority of leadership to be fiscally responsible. In this case, the Diocesan Council needs to shore up continued support and interest to sustain the Diocesan Center and St. Vartan Cathedral instead of throwing in the towel — and that can only be achieved by regaining trust in donors and ruling, not with an iron fist, but through transparency and consensus. Prudence and foresight — not egos and backroom deals — should lead commercial deals of this magnitude.

These historic institutions don’t just support local communities; they support the Diaspora as a whole. And a strong Diaspora is a prerequisite for a strong Armenia. I vividly recall all of my grandfather’s students who would visit him, years after he retired from a 60-year career in education and public service. He remembered each one by face, by name, by voice. Tekeyan wasn’t just a school or a job to him. It was his life. His family. Each of those students were his children. So much so that 30, 40, even 50 years later, they still referred to him as their “Harkeli Baron Dnoren Yervant Babayan.” My grandfather, who studied in Paris, spoke five languages and could have easily remained in Europe and entered a fruitful life in the private sector, gave his heart to the Vahan Tekeyan School and that is an integral reason for its bone-deep impact. In the case of the Eastern Diocese, there seems to be no business sense, but more dangerously, there seems to be no heart. And with no heart, there can be no pulse.

Lack of funds is not the real problem. Apathy is the evil. St. Vartan Cathedral and the Diocesan Complex were built by thousands of donors, large and small, and there are thousands of donors who still give, large or small, myself included. Yet it’s being torn down by a few in front of our own eyes. I’m sure I’m not the only one who remembers the heyday of the dynamic activities of the cathedral and the Diocese: the headline-making all-inclusive One World Festival, the vibrant Armenian school programs, or the talented theater ensemble.

Based on contemporary history, the culturally rich Diasporan communities in the Middle East have faced political turmoil and conflict in addition to financial burdens. It is, to an extent, understandable that the most influential Diasporan communities — Beirut, Aleppo, Tehran, Baghdad, Cairo — don’t have the sizable presence they once did, though they continue to possess innate vigor to keep their communities alive. But what about the so-called stable communities in, say, Paris, London or New York? Aren’t they also on the verge of gradually dying out? Could the prospect of apathy and assimilation be even more menacing than that of political conflict?

Selling the air rights may spur a fatal domino effect, setting the precedent for New York City’s St. Vartan Cathedral and Eastern Diocese to become an “in memoriam” like many other Diasporan institutions, that too, weren’t “sustainable” anymore, vanishing into the annals of unrecorded history.

As Armenians, it is not that we can do better, it is that we must do better. Isn’t it time to override the corroding dysfunction that plagues many Armenian organizations? We must expect more from those who sought to assume leadership positions. We must read their intentions, their motives and their abilities before entrusting them to make these critical decisions. And we must examine if they are indeed upholding their duties. Above all, we must honor and respect donors — those who have built, stone by stone, the very bedrock of our most revered Diasporan institutions.

I thought fondly of those donors and their sacrifices as I made my way out of the Vahan Tekeyan School, pleased to witness the dedicated staff in action. While stepping back onto the maze-like streets of Bourdj Hammoud, a teacher stopped me. He proudly revealed a book given to him by my grandfather, who had authored the tome. Our family ties went back — his father was a student of my grandfather’s in Aleppo when he had served as principal of the Giligian School. And the teacher, himself a graduate of the Vahan Tekeyan School and a holder of a master’s degree, chose to educate the next generation at his alma mater. As he clutched the book, he told me he still read through the pages for guidance and inspiration, my grandfather’s lessons, too, ringing in his ears.

That, dear reader, is my legacy. What is yours? And more importantly – what are you doing to protect it?

This article originally appeared in the Armenian Mirror-Spectator and is reprinted with the expressed written consent of the author.

The Forgotten Apogee of Lebanese Rocketry

Fifty-two years ago, as Soviet cosmonauts and U.S. astronauts were first venturing into space, another space program was also taking off—in Lebanon.

By Sheldon Chad
Saudi Aramco World

Yes, in the early 1960’s, the country of 1.8 million people, one-quarter the size of Switzerland, was launching research rockets that reached altitudes high enough to get the attention of the Cold War superpowers.

But the Lebanese program was more about attitude than altitude: Neither a government nor a military effort, this was a science club project founded by a first-year college instructor and his undergraduate students. And while post-Sputnik amateur rocketry was on the rise, mostly in the U.S., no amateurs anywhere won more public acclaim than the ones in Lebanon.

Manoug Manougian, right, with members of the Haigazian College Rocket Society, which he founded in 1960. It later became the Lebanese Rocket Society.

But that is forgotten history now, says Manoug Manougian, now 77 and a mathematics professor at the University of South Florida in Tampa. He leads me into a conference room where he has set out on a table file boxes filled with half-century-old newspapers, photographs and 16mm film reels.

“When I decided to leave, no one was interested to take care of all this,” says Manougian. “But I felt, even at that point, that it was a part of Lebanese history.”

The Society launched its first “tiny baby rockets” at the mountain farm of one of its members.

Born in the Old City of Jerusalem, Manougian won a scholarship to the University of Texas, and he graduated in 1960 with a major in math. Right away, Haigazian College in Beirut was glad to offer him a job teaching both math and physics. The college also made him the faculty advisor for the science club, which Manougian reoriented by putting up a recruitment sign that asked, “Do you want to be part of the Haigazian College Rocket Society?”

He did this, he explains, because even as a boy, he loved the idea of rockets. He recalls taking penknife in hand and carving into his desk images of rocket ships flying to the moon. “It’s the kind of thing that stays with you,” Manougian says.

John Markarian, former head of the college, now 95, recalls thinking it was “a rather harmless student activity. What a wonderful thing it was.” The first rocket, he says, “was the size of a pencil.”

Manougian now teaches at the University of Southern Florida, where he keeps newspaper front pages on his office wall. “It was a part of Lebanese history,” he says.

Six students signed up, and in November 1960, the Haigazian College Rocket Society (HCRS) was born. “It is not a matter of just putting propellant in the tube and lighting it,” says Manougian. Former HCRS member Garo Basmadjian explains that at the time, “we didn’t have much knowledge, so we looked at ways to increase the thrust of the rocket by using certain chemicals.” After dismissing gunpowder, they settled on sulfur and zinc powders. Then they would pile into Manougian’s aging Oldsmobile and head to the family farm of fellow student Hrair Kelechian, in the mountains, where they would try to get their aluminum tubes to do, well, anything.

“We had a lot of failures, really,” says Basmadjian.

But soon enough “it did fly some distance,” Manougian adds.

The Cedar launches were commemorated on this postage stamp issued on Lebanon’s independence day.

The HCRS began using a pine-forested mountain northeast of Beirut to shoot off the “tiny baby rockets,” as Manougian calls them, each no longer than half a meter (19″).

As they experimented, the rockets grew larger. By April 1961, two months after the first manned Soviet orbital mission, the college’s entire student body of 200 drove up for the launch of a rocket that was more than a meter long (40″).

The launch tube aimed the rocket across an unpopulated valley, but at ignition, Manougian recalls, the thrust pushed the “very primitive” launcher backward, in the opposite direction, and instead of arcing up across the valley, the rocket blazed up the mountain behind the students.

1963 saw the launch of Cedar 3, a three-stage rocket that allegedly broadcast “Long Live Lebanon” from its nose cone as it rose.

Launches at the military site of Dbayea, overlooking the Mediterranean north of Beirut, drew crowds of spectators, journalists and photographers.

“We had no idea what lay in that direction,” says Manougian. To investigate, the students started climbing, and on arrival at the Greek Orthodox Church on the peak, they came on puzzled priests staring at the remains of the rocket, which had impacted the earth just short of the church’s great oaken doors. Manougian calculated that, even with the unplanned launch angle, considering thrust and landing point, the rocket had reached an altitude of about a kilometer (3300′), and he adds the bold claim that this was the first modern rocket launched in the Middle East.

Ballistics expert Lt. Youssef Wehbe (in uniform) began supporting the rocket society in 1961, initially by allowing it access to an artillery range on Mount Sannine.

The next day, Manougian got a call from Lieutenant Youssef Wehbe of the Lebanese military. He cautioned that the hcrs couldn’t just go up any old mountainside and shoot off rockets. They could, however, do it as much as they wished under controlled conditions at the military’s artillery range on Mt. Sannine. Wehbe, also in his 20’s, was a ballistics expert, and he was more than intrigued. “Our first success,” says Manougian, came there at Mt. Sannine, where the rocket they demonstrated for Wehbe soared 2.3 kilometers (7400′) into the air.

Newspapers got wind of the launches, and they reported that the “Cedar 2C” (named for the symbol of Lebanon) had reached 14.5 kilometers (47,500′). “Obviously, that’s not yet the moon distance of 365,000 kilometers. But the Lebanese aren’t after that, they’re after technique,” stated the report.

Under Wehbe’s supervision, HCRS developed two-stage and then three-stage rockets, each bigger than the last and soaring higher and farther.

In the papers, the rocket men were portrayed as both brawny and brainy, and they were the talk of Lebanon. A fan club of prominent Lebanese—mostly women—formed the Comité d’encouragement du Groupe Haigazian. In the photos and films of the launches, one can see generals deferring to college kids in HCRS hardhats and eagerly posing in the press photos with them. Even Lebanese president Fuad Chehab invited Manougian and his students to the palace for a photo op.

“We were just having fun and doing something we all wanted to do,” says Basmadjian. “When the president came into the picture and gave us some money, it took off.”

“We were members of a scientific society. We felt good about it,” says Simon Aprahamian, another former student. “But it didn’t feel like what the us or ussr were doing. It’s a small country, Lebanon. People felt, ‘This is something happening in our country. Let’s get involved.’”

Launches now drew hundreds of spectators to the site overlooking the Mediterranean Sea at Dbayea, north of Beirut, and Haigazian itself became known as “Rocket College.” As the HCRS was now the country’s pride, its name changed to the Lebanese Rocket Society (LRS).

Cedar 4 was the society’s most powerful rocket. newspapers claimed that it reached a maximum height between 145 and 200 kilometers (90–125 mi), though the reality was surely much less. For Manougian, however, the rockets and their launches were not about setting records, but about teaching future scientists.

Lebanese weren’t the only ones watching. Both superpowers, according to Manougian, had “cultural attachés” observing the launches, and he believes they did more than that. “My papers were always out of place on my desk,” he says, and he recalls once leaving a note: “My filing cabinet I am leaving open. I have nothing to hide. But please don’t mess up my desk!”

One night in 1962, Manougian was taken in the back of a limousine to a factory in the heart of downtown Beirut. There, he was introduced to Shaykh Sabah bin Salim Al-Sabah of Kuwait, who offered to fund Manougian’s experiments generously if he moved them to Kuwait. Manougian hesitated, recalling the commitment he made to himself when he accepted the post at Haigazian: “Don’t stay too long. You only have a bachelor’s degree.” More than a private lab, Manougian wanted to get back to Texas to get his master’s.

Before Manougian left for Texas, however, he sat down with Wehbe to plan two launches for Lebanese Independence Day, November 21, in both 1963 and 1964. The rockets would be called Cedar 3 and Cedar 4, and each would have three stages.

They would dwarf what went before in both size and strength: seven meters (22′) long, weighing in at 1270 kilograms (2800 lbs) and capable of rising an estimated 325 kilometers (200 mi) and covering a range of nearly 1000 kilometers (about 620 mi), the rockets would generate some 23,000 kilograms (50,000 lbs) of thrust to hit a top speed of 9000 kilometers per hour (5500 mph). From the nose cone, a recording of the Lebanese national anthem would be broadcast.

On November 21, 1963, a model of Cedar 3 was paraded through Beirut’s streets to great applause. The cover of the souvenir booklet shows a rocket overflying the city. For Cedar 4, Lebanon issued commemorative postage stamps showing the rocket leaving Earth’s atmosphere. On launch day, 15,000 people showed up, along with generals and even the president.

In those years, Manougian recalls, the “rocket boys” were celebrities and Haigazian College was “rocket college.” Above, Manougian answers a journalist’s questions after a launch. The last rocket, Cedar 10, flew in 1967, after Manougian had returned to the us to earn his doctorate. Then, Cold War politics shut down the program.

The newspapers reported with national pride that the rockets flew into “space” and landed on the far side of Cyprus. The altitudes that were published varied from 145 to 200 kilometers (90–125 mi). The actual figures, however, are likely more modest. “That was totally wishful,” says Ed Hart, the Haigazian physics professor who took over as faculty advisor to the LRS. “It never came close. We kept our mouths shut [because] it was not a student matter anymore. It had become a social, society kind of matter.”

For Manougian, Wehbe told him that according to calculations, the rockets achieved their aims. Hart, whose specialty is science education, brings it back to empirical achievement: “We were teaching students a great deal, and that is what we came for: the mystery and structure of forces.”

In 1964, master’s degree in hand, Manougian returned to Lebanon, and again collaborated with Wehbe on a few more launches. By then, world powers were interested: France supplied the rocket fuel; the U.S. invited Wehbe to Cape Canaveral.

Cedar 8 was the last LRS rocket. Launched in 1966, it was a two-stage, 5.7-meter (18′) rocket with a range of 110 kilometers (68 mi)—a long way from the pencil-sized rockets of five years earlier. “We were launching in the evening, and we put lights on top of the second stage to be able to witness the separation. There were no hitches. It took off beautifully, the separation was fairly obvious, nothing exploded and it landed at the time it was supposed to land. To me that was a perfect launch,” says Manougian, still in awe 50 years on.

Under Manougian’s guidance, a new rocket society at USF is exploring rockets that use plasma engines.

By 1966 Manougian grew concerned about the extent of military involvement. “I’d accomplished what I’d come there to accomplish. It was time for me to get my doctoral degree and do what I love most, which was teaching,” he says. He left in August, and the Lebanese Rocket Society was no more.

But under military auspices, a last Lebanese rocket, Cedar 10, flew in 1967. According to Manougian, Wehbe told him that French president Charles de Gaulle soon pressured President Chehab to shut down the rocket project for geopolitical reasons.

Decades of political turbulence followed, and the story of the LRS lay hidden away in Manougian’s boxes.

Two years ago, science and engineering students at the University of South Florida approached Manougian to set up a rocket society. “My students did this 50 years ago,” he replied, adding, “What can you do now that’s innovative?” That’s how he became faculty advisor of the Society of Aeronautics and Rocketry (SOAR), which is exploring rockets powered by electromagnetism and nano-materials. As in Beirut, he says, “the important thing is not the rocket. It is the scientific venture.”

“Soar” is an apt metaphor for all involved. With the HCRS/LRS rocket projects, Lebanon punched well above its weight. Wehbe retired as a brigadier general. Manougian went on to win teaching awards, and he is loved by his students now as then. Many of the LRS students, and others inspired by them, went on to excel in scientific pursuits.

“Most of us come from very humble beginnings. But we had some brains and we studied hard,” says Basmadjian.

“Did that experience help with regard to making new inventions?” asks another former student, Hampar Karageozian, who later studied at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and founded several ophthalmological drug companies. “Yes, it did. Because it completely changed my attitude. The attitude that we could say that nothing is impossible, we really have to think about things, we really have to try things. And it might work!”

Sheldon Chad ( is an award-winning screenwriter and journalist for print and radio. From his home in Montreal, he travels widely in the Middle East, West Africa, Russia and East Asia. He will be reporting from Chad for his next story for Saudi Aramco World.

This story originally appeared on page 18 of the May/June 2013 Print Edition of Saudi Aramco World.