The Near East Relief Foundation ran several refugee camps for Armenian survivors of the 1915 Genocide. Over a 110,000 Armenian orphans were then evacuate from the Ottoman Empire to Russia, Eastern Armenia, Lebanon, Syria and Greece (between 1919-1922). It was during these evacuations, that 1,400 orphans settled in Jbeil where an orphanage was established. When in 1926 the NER-foundation left the Middle East, the Danish Women’s Missionary Workers Organization (KMA) bought the orphanage and Maria Jacobsen served as director from 1926 until her death in 1960. In total around 4000 orphans, whose parents were killed in the ethnic cleansing campaigns of the Genocide, found shelter in the Birds’ Nest. In 1967, ownership of the Birds’ Nest was transferred to the Armenian Catholicosate of the Greater House of Cilicia.
Maria Jacobsen (November 6, 1882 – April 6, 1960) arrived as a young missionary in Kharberd in November 1907. She was appointed as a director at a small hospital and she learned Armenian in order to communicate with local people. Here she began writing her diary, which later became a valuable eyewitness testimony of the Armenian Genocide. Jacobsen’s personal notes reflect on the conditions surrounding the Ottoman entry into World War I and the genocide of Armenians. They show, on a day-by-day basis, the impact of the war in the small region of Harpoot, and the persistence of the Ottoman Turkish authorities in carrying out the first genocide of the modern era. The dairies were later published as Diaries of a Danish Missionary: Harpoot, 1907–1919.
In 1919, in a few months and with the support of the Near East Relief workers, Maria Jacobsen collected more than 3600 Armenian orphans, who were found wandering in the different parts of the shattering empire emaciated by hunger and suffering from infectious diseases.
Armenian Genocide Orphans’ “Aram Bezikian” Museum was opened in 2015 on the premises of the Armenian Orphanage of Jbeil (Birds’ Nest), on the occasion of the centennial commemorations of the Armenian Genocide. The museum is a place of memory, promoting the common values and principles of humanity: concern for others, friendship and tolerance, peaceful coexistence and respect for human rights and human dignity. The project was made possible by the generous sponsorship of the Bezikian family – hence the name of the museum.
The Museum features three exhibits: 1) the life of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire on the eve of the First World War and the genocide perpetrated against the Armenians by the Ottoman Turkish government in 1915 and 1916, 2) it dramatizes the role of the various non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and western missionaries that helped resettle the surviving orphans in the Middle East, particularly in Lebanon, and 3) the rehabilitation and settlement of the orphans into their new home in Lebanon.
A Symbol of Resurrection