Greek and Armenian Church Buildings
Piassa, one of the oldest and most built up part of Addis, has many fascinating buildings constructed in the early twentieth century. Built in the traditional Greek Orthodox style, the church was designed by the Greek Balanos.
The Greek Orthodox Church, located on the left side of the Adwa Avenue, is one of those graceful buildings that stand as a memorial to the city’s once thriving Greek community.
When the church was built in 1935, the 3,000 Greek residents contributed significantly for the construction. The land was secured from the royal family by the request of a prominent personality of this time, Iakovos (James) Zervos who was Emperor Haile Selassie’s physician and personal confidant. That was 27 years after the first Greek bishop was designated.
As the vibrant trading part of Addis, the location of the of the church in Piassa with its spacious courtyard was an indication of the growing influence of the community who were running 30 factories, 2 cinemas, 4 garages, 15 import-export enterprises and 20 retail shops. Religious observances in the church provided opportunities for the community to gather and affirm its cultural heritages.But all that gone with the 1960’s abortive coup d’etat against Emperor Haile Selassie and the coming of the Derg. Most of its members begun to transfer their money out of Ethiopia, looking for a more secure place for their activities. In 1974, enterprises belonging to Greek people were nationalized and their owners and their families left Ethiopia.
Services are still held in the church every Sunday, with few Greek survivors and their Ethiopian families attendants. (I’ve had a talk with one of them, Ato Fasil, who is owner of Le Jardin restaurant in Kazanchis, whose story I would post sometime in the near future.)
Past Ras Mekonnen Bridge and “Seba Derejja” or “Seventy Steps”, another church serving the Diaspora community stands, the St. George Armenian Apostolic Holy Orthodox Church, as it is known by its full name.
This church was built in 1935, replacing a chapel that existed since 1923.According to the book, Old tracks In the New Flower, a historical guide Addis Ababa, the Archbishop Asanian came from the Constantinople (the present Istanbul) in person in 1928 to set the first stone this church, the construction of which was funded by the Armenian Mouradian in memory of his father, George. The founding ceremony was also attended by Empress Menen under a gilt, fringed umbrella, with Ras Tafari in a red cloak, and by the Ethiopian Echegue.
Before the construction of this church, Armenians traditionally often made use Ethiopian Orthodox churches for their weddings and funerals.
Like the Greeks, Armenians had also an active community. A large slice of the economy was in their hands, bringing wealth both to themselves and their host country. The Djerrians, Garrbedians, Hagapians, Avakians, Pareginas, and others were famous in the city as educated and cultured families who owned shoe factories and cinemas, eyeglass and watch repair business, as well as many of the oldest buildings in Piazza where their shops were located. As importers, electricians, goldsmiths and technicians, the Armenians were useful productive citizens. In the city of many crumbling buildings, the two churches are in the good condition and offers a unique attraction to the city.
As one of the few remaining legacies of the Greek and Armenian community, the monuments stand to the city’s cultural history.
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