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Armenian Americans Should Support Marco Rubio for President of the United States

By Taniel Koushakjian
FLArmenians Political Contributor

As the race for the White House heats up, Armenian Americans across the country are beginning to look more closely at who will best represent their interests as President of the United States. For many Armenian Americans, the 2016 election cycle concludes a chapter in the worst administration on Armenian American issues in modern presidential history. With the broken promises of Barack Obama, whether to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide as President or to increase U.S. assistance to Armenia, the Armenian American community has learned that campaign promises are no true indicator of support after the election. However, one can and should look to a candidates record, votes, statements, and over-all positions in order to arrive at an informed decision as to whether or not that candidate deserves your support.

When looking through the Armenian American lens, the Republican Party has the stronger track record and Marco Rubio is the top choice of all the candidates running for President of the United States of America.

The Race as it Stands

As of this writing, Donald Trump currently leads the Republican Party’s nomination contest with 82 pledged delegates, followed by Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) who are tied with 17, Governor John Kasich (R-OH) with 6, and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson with 4. There are a total 2,340 delegates available and 1,237 are needed to secure the Republican nomination.

The race for the Republican Party’s nomination could very well be determined in less than 30 days. Super Tuesday, March 1, will see 11 states hold primary votes. For Republicans, 595 delegates are up for grabs, including Cruz’s home state of Texas, about 48% of the total delegates required to win the nomination.

Florida and Ohio will hold their “winner-take-all” primaries on March 15, along with Illinois, Missouri, and North Carolina. In the month of March, 1,398 delegates will be awarded, enough to secure the nomination.

Heading into Super Tuesday, emphasis will be on the ability of each candidate to sweep a large number of delegates and if Cruz, Rubio, and Kasich win their home states. If it doesn’t become a two-man race by the end of March simple arithmetic suggests that Trump will likely be the Republican nominee.

GOP Presidential Candidates-2016

Rubio’s Record

During his tenure in the United States Senate, Marco Rubio (R-FL) has established the strongest record in support of Christian and Armenian American issues of all the candidates in the field, including but not limited to genocide recognition, and not just in Armenia.

On Armenian American legislation, Rubio voted YES on the Armenian Genocide recognition resolution, S.Res. 410, in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) in 2014. The bill passed 12-5; the first time an Armenian Genocide resolution has ever passed this committee.

In 2015, Rubio cosponsored S.Res. 140, the Armenian Genocide resolution, which is currently pending in the Senate with 21 signatories. “As your United States Senator, and as a member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, I was proud to co-sponsor S.Res. 140 in support of an Armenian-Turkish relationship following the 100th Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. We must continue to fight as an international community with passion and dignity in defense of human rights,” Rubio said in a letter to the Armenian American community to mark the centennial anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. “Please know that you have my full support for your cause,” Rubio said.

Senator Marco Rubio reinforced his position in support of U.S. reaffirmation of the Armenian Genocide when he joined Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO) and 13 other Senators in a letter urging President Obama to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide on the centennial anniversary and to attend the commemorative events in Yerevan, Armenia. Obama did not attend the ceremonies in Yerevan, and sent Secretary of the Treasury Jack Lew in his place.

Also in 2015, Senator Rubio signed a letter to Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev regarding the regime’s violent crackdown on political and human rights activists, imprisonment of journalists, and general turn toward authoritarian rule. Rubio’s position on the side of individual liberties, freedom of the press, and democracy is an important element to consider.

Those watching the Republican presidential debates have noticed that, unlike other candidates on either stage, Rubio has repeatedly and unequivocally called out the Islamic State’s barbaric violence against Christians, Yezidis, and other religious minorities in the Middle East as genocide. He also does not hesitate to discuss his Christian heritage and faith, whether it’s his views on life or where his children go to school. As such, he joined Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL), a champion of Armenian American issues, as an original cosponsor of S.Res. 340, a bill that would label as genocide ISIS attacks on Armenians, Assyrians, Yezidis, and other ethnicities of religious antiquity in the Middle East.

In addition to his unparalleled record, Marco Rubio has the backing of key political figures. Former Republican Presidential nominee Senator Robert Dole (R-KS), who led the charge on the Senate floor for Armenian Genocide recognition in 1991, endorsed Rubio. “I’m supporting Rubio,” Dole told ABC News last week, “he wants to grow the party.”

Vice Chair of the Congressional Armenian Caucus Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-FL) also endorsed Rubio last week. “Having served with Marco in the Florida Legislature and in Congress, I know him to be a leader that inspires hope and instills in all of us a love of country that we felt under another inspirational leader – Ronald Reagan. Marco Rubio’s life story is proof positive that American exceptionalism is real, but we need to fight to preserve it and expand it to more people. His story teaches us that the son of immigrant parents, who came to this country for freedom and opportunity, can achieve anything, including holding the highest office in the land, where I know Marco will work every day to give back to the country that changed his family’s history.”

Cruz’s Calling

In 2015, Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) also cosponsored S.Res. 140, the Armenian Genocide resolution. Although Cruz is currently a member of the SFRC, he was not on the committee in 2014, and therefore has never had an opportunity to vote on the Armenian Genocide resolution.

Senator Cruz also issued a powerful statement to the Armenian American community to commemorate the centennial anniversary. “100 years ago, the world was too silent as the Armenian people suffered a horrific genocide,” Cruz said in his letter. “Today, we commemorate more than a million souls who were extinguished by the Ottoman Government. Let the terrors of those events awaken in us the courage to always stand for freedom against evil forces. As Pope Francis rightly said, ‘Concealing or denying evil is like allowing a wound to keep bleeding without bandaging it.’ The massacre of the Armenian, Assyrian and other Christian people should be called what it is: genocide.” 

Kasich’s Case

Governor John Kasich (R-OH) has a mixed record on Armenian American issues over his career in Congress (1983-2000). Like Cruz, he has never faced a vote on the Armenian Genocide resolution. However, Kasich’s most recent record shows him as an original cosponsor of H.Res. 155, the genocide recognition bill of 1999. As governor, Kasich issued a proclamation in 2012 congratulating Armenia on its 21st anniversary of independence.

Carson and Trump

As a retired neurosurgeon, Ben Carson has no record in support or opposition to Armenian American issues.

Although Donald Trump has never held elective office, he has a record of questionable business practices, one of which should seriously concern Armenian Americans. According to a report last year:

“Trump lent his name and management know-how to an upcoming, sail-shaped skyscraper in Baku that is owned by billionaire Anar Mammadov, Mother Jones magazine reported on July 29. Mammadov is a son of the country’s powerful transportation minister, Ziya Mammadov, a man whose family has been long accused of battening on privileged access to government contracts for infrastructure development.

“The deal and Mammadov’s role as a champion of Azerbaijani interests in the US — he heads the Azerbaijan America Alliance — exemplify the two parallel worlds of US-Azerbaijani relations. Baku now bitterly rebukes Washington’s criticism of its dismal human rights records, even as its insiders actively lobby and sweet-talk US politicians.

“And, apparently, investors like Trump.”

Trump’s pro-Azerbaijan leaning is reinforced by the support of Governor Chris Christie (R-NJ). In 2012, Governor Christie issued a proclamation on the so-called “Khojaly massacre” which ridiculously accuses Armenians of committing ethnic cleaning against Azerbaijanis during the 1991-94 Nagorno Karabakh War. The growing Muslim Azerbaijan lobby in Washington, led by the Azerbaijan American Alliance, with who’s founder Trump has a business relationship, has shopped around such anti-Armenian proclamations and resolutions in order to cover up and divert attention from Azerbaijan’s Sumgait, Kirovabad, and Baku pogroms against Christian Armenians in 1988-90.

Christie came to Trump’s rescue in an endorsement on Friday after Rubio used the same attack wielded by the New Jersey Governor against Rubio on Trump. “I watched you repeat yourself five times four weeks ago,” Trump exclaimed at the Republican Presidential debate on Thursday night in Houston, TX. “I watched you repeat yourself five times five seconds ago,” Rubio rebuffed after Trump failed to articulate a healthcare plan.

The Right Choice

Armenian Americans focusing on November must remain mindful of the historical record of the individual, statements made, and tough votes cast in order to make an informed decision about the person and the party accordingly. While there are and have always been genuine, ardent, and steadfast Democratic supporters of Armenian American interests, the historical record reveals that Republican leadership has been more successful. When viewed through the Armenian American lens, it would be foolish for Armenian Americans to continue to reward a party and a President that has been unable to deliver when it mattered most.

There are plenty of issues on the Armenian American agenda. U.S. reaffirmation of the Armenian Genocide, defending the rights of Nagorno Karabakh citizens to live freely, and Christian persecution in the Middle East are the most compelling for Armenian Americans in 2016. How legislators act when in power and vote when it counts is what reveals true leadership.

Like other minority groups in America, Armenians are not a monolithic voting block, nor should we be. But we must wake up the political consciousness of our constituency and make the right choice in this election-and that choice is Marco Rubio.

*Updated at 11:15 pm with the addition of Senator Rubio’s signature on the Senate letter to President Obama on the Armenian Genocide centennial anniversary.


City of Tallahassee Planning Commission Mulls Vote on Controversial Charter School with Ties to Turkish Islamic Cleric

By Taniel Koushakjian
FLArmenians Political Contributor

October 1, 2013


TALLAHASSEE, FL – The Tallahassee-Leon County Planning Commission will hold a public hearing today on a proposal to build a controversial charter school, Stars Middle School, at 3607 Thomasville Road in Tallahassee, reported  Stars Middle School is part of an international network of Muslim schools operated by the “Gulen Movement,” a reference to the cult-like nature of followers of Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen. An Islamic political figure, author and religious scholar, Gulen is a Turkish citizen who has lived in self-imposed exile in the Poconos Mountains of Pennsylvania since 1998.

Although the process in Tallahassee is currently held up due to the school’s inability to file the necessary paperwork, the current controversy surrounding the city proposal has centered on community concerns of traffic impacts, safety, and city zoning jurisdictions, according to a report by WCTV.  The Planning Commission has received over 200 calls and emails in petition to the proposed school, WCTV says. However, a closer look at the shadowy network reveals a deeper process at play, most likely unknown to Tallahassee city officials or residents.


The Gulen movement’s network of schools can be found in a dozen countries across the globe. Here in the United States, the Gulen movement – a network of Turkish and Azerbaijani businessman, scientists, engineers, and Islamic religious figures – has propped up 140 schools in 26 states. Texas tops the list with 40 Gulen-connected schools, followed by Ohio with 30. However, the schools have been had difficulty in some states, such as Arizona and Utah, where financial troubles, shady business dealings, and revelations of genocide denial have prompted citizen advocacy groups, teachers and parents to question their merits.

fethullah gulen

A parent of a student at Sonoran Academy, a Gulen school in Arizona, told the Tucson Weekly, “We found one document, in Turkish, that talks about the purpose of these charter schools,” says the parent. “They refer to them very explicitly as schools (belonging) to their movement. They’re calculating, and they say if they can have something like 600 schools, then every year, they can produce 120,000 sympathizers for Turkey.”

“I sent my kids to this school because I wanted them to meet regular Muslims and to see them as ordinary people,” she says. “But when I find that my kids are to be turned into genocide-deniers, that’s very disturbing to me,” the parent told Tucson Weekly.

The parent, who spoke to the newspaper on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal, was referencing the 1915 Ottoman Turkish Genocide of 1.5 million Christian Armenians in World War I. Over 20 countries and 43 U.S. states recognize the Armenian Genocide, as does a host of respected historians, such as the International Association of Genocide Scholars, the ultimate academic authority on the Holocaust and genocide.

In Utah, Beehive Science & Technology charter school faced multiple issues. Muhammet “Frank” Erdogan, a Muslim from Azerbaijan and the principal of Beehive, was the center of controversy when he “questioned conventional accounts” of the Holocaust and fired a teacher for not revising the lesson plan on World War II, according to the Salt Lake Tribune. Beehive was ultimately shut down because it “continuously failed to meet ‘accepted standards of fiscal management,’” according to the Desert News. “This is a case of chronic business mismanagement,” Brian Allen, chairman of the Utah State Charter School Board told the Desert News, after the school lost thousands of dollars.

One of the main problems is that the Gulen schools are funded by U.S. taxpayers, to the tune of millions of dollars in some states. Furthermore, the Gulen schools spend those American tax dollars to bring teachers over from Turkey, paying all legal and immigration costs, as well as their salaries. Even when American teachers are hired, they are typically paid less than their Turkish counterparts.

Florida has its history with Gulen schools too. Last year, Daily Broward reported that Riverside Science Academy had hired Broward County Democratic Party Chairman Mitchell Caesar to lobby the Broward County School Board on its behalf. The proposal for Riverside Science Academy in Margate did not materialize, as the necessary paperwork was also not filed in time.

Gulen Protest PA.jpg

The Gulen network’s rise has caught the attention of federal authorities as well. In 2011, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that the charter school network and their leader, Fethullah Gulen, were under federal investigation by the FBI and Department of Labor. Although he resides in Pennsylvania, citizens there have pushed back as well. In July of this year, locals held a protest in Saylorsburg, PA to “Stop the World’s Most Dangerous Islamist.” Another slogan of the protest reads “Stop Cheating of American Taxpayers.”

“I’d be shocked if Floridians knew the true intentions behind these schools and willingly opened their wallets to pay for their construction and for non-U.S. citizens to come to America and teach Holocaust denial to our kids,” stated Margaret Atayants, FLArmenians Tallahassee Officer.


The Tallahassee-Leon County Planning Commission hearing is set to take place today, October 1, 2013, at 6:00 PM at Tallahassee City Hall, Second Floor. The proposal for Stars Middle School, Ordinance Number 13-Z-26, is scheduled for debate this evening, according to the Commission’s website. The website also includes a recommendation below the proposal to adopt the ordinance and approve building the Gulen school in Tallahassee. However, a spokesman for the Commission informed FLArmenians on the morning of the hearing that debate on this issue has been continued to the November 5th meeting.

***UPDATE –  The Tallahassee Planning Commission continued debate on the ordinance to the following meeting on Tuesday, November 5, 2013 at 6:00 PM. The status of the ordinance is not yet clear. However, the recommendation to adopt the proposal has been removed from the Commission’s website.

Floridians are encouraged to call and/or email the Tallahassee City Planning Commission, as well as Tallahassee Mayor John Brooks, and voice their opposition to “Ordinance Number 13-Z-27,” a proposal to build the Gulen-linked Stars Middle School in Tallahassee.


City of Tallahassee Planning Commission

–       Call (850) 891-6400 and/or Email by clicking here.

Tallahassee Mayor John Brooks

–       Call (850) 891-8181 and/or Email by clicking here.

Florida’s tax dollars need to be spent wisely, not on mysterious charter schools run by an Islamic cleric in Pennsylvania. There are plenty of qualified teachers here in Florida.

This story was updated at 12:25 PM on Wednesday, October 2, 2013 to reflect the postponement of the hearing.

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.