Cultural Marriage: The Syrian Eagle and the Armenian Star

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by The Aleppo Project

Armenians, like other minorities in Syria, have contributed to and been influenced by Syrian culture, symbols and history. After the Armenian Genocide in 1915, several hundred thousand Armenians deported from Turkey adopted Syria as their new home. Shortly afterwards, in September 1918, the last Ottoman troops left Syria and Faisal Bin Hussain from the Hashemite dynasty became its king. The French mandate ended the independent kingdom of Syria on 24 July 1920. For 26 years, the Syrians struggled to gain their full independence and finally on 17 April 1946, the Syrian Republic emerged. During the early years of independence, a handmade pillowcase was found in Aleppo where the unknown Armenian artist interestingly combined two symbols, one Syrian and one Armenian. As shown in the image (1) below, the finely crafted  needlework shows an eagle – the Syrian independence emblem – circled by flowers. Below the eagle, in Arabic script, the artist wrote Al-Jumhuriye al-Suriye, the Syrian Republic. Given the time this piece was made, this is a clear indication of a celebration of independence.

There are at least two interesting cultural marriages here. First, the sole fact that the artist included the eagle in the design is unique. In Armenian Needlework, this is never seen; usually angels, and not eagles, occupy the central part of such pillowcases (see image 2). The second creative surprise is placed on the chest of the eagle – an eight-sided star. Traditionally, the star on the eagle’s chest and all the stars on all Syrian flags since independence have had five sides. Contrary to the conventional way, the unknown artist included an eight-sided star instead, which Armenians have been using it for centuries as symbol of life. (for an example see image 3).

This piece of needlework is not simply a pillowcase; it is the story of cultural interaction and development. It is the other – nowadays increasingly forgotten – side of Syria, where people from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds created culture and history together, or as the author of the book Aintab Needlework concluded: “This is an astonishing example of peoples’ expression about their constantly changing history.”

The article is an extract from: Tokmajyan, Hrazdan. (2015) “Ayntab Needlework”

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