Marseille Chifteyan was born in 1931 in Saint Barnabé district of Marseille and was one of 5 children of a modest family. He was doomed to have no ordinary fate at all. During his school years, he used to be outraged by exclamations like “filthy Armenian” and would state that it was hard to bear “an immigrant’s son” status on his shoulders in such a chauvinistic country like France which repudiated its newcomers. Marseille faced the same discrimination when he joined the army at the age of 18 and was insulted when his captain called “bad Frenchman”. This made young Marseille fly into an outage and give the captain a sharp blow. After spending several months in military prison and cherishing his dream about Africa, Chifteyan returned to the city of Marseille where he learned tailoring. "I hated that craft" Marseille admits. Four months later he sailed to Dahomey... "I liked watching films about Tarzan and it was exactly how I had imagined Africa to be,” adds Marseille and it makes him laugh to this day. However, in Abidjan city of Côte d'Ivoire, he encountered colonists' cold-hearted attitude towards "strangers".
"I was rejected and I started suffering and wandering in quest of abode. Then I met an Armenian by the last name of Grigoryan, who was involved in the commerce of a shirt trademark. He gave me 50,000 francs and bought me a ticket to Dahomey. I will never forget this humane act of my compatriot whom I never saw again!". In Cotonou (Dahomey), the Headquarters of the French Military Servants’ Club prohibited Chifteyan from visiting the same localities as the Europeans did. Repelled by the whites and without any protection, Chifteyan went through suffering again, but was luckily housed by an old African woman. "Several months later a Bretonian employed me as a tile-worker for 25 francs meager salary per day. It was miserable!" Chifteyan recalls. After two years of tiling, he set to management of the Brosette Valor shop, which was specialized in construction materials. In 1960 he married "a girl from Rheims" whose family had immigrated to Cotonou. A year later, they had a child named Jean-Loque who was born the same yearthat Dahomey declared its independence. By fate, Chifteyan met another French Armenian by the last name of Kasajyan, who presented "Astral" paintings for Africa. "I sold a painting for him and in 1972 I built "S. A. Sobepec" painting plant in Cotonou.” It was the first modern plant in West Africa with 15 000 sq m footage and would later employ 150 Beninese and Europeans. The output was exported to Togo, Nigeria, Niger, Burkina Faso and Chad. In 1993 Marseille and his son constructed the "Casa Del Papa" luxurious hotel complex comprised of 60 suites and targeting foreign guests. Situated in the coastal zone that is 40 km away from Cotonou, the complex consisted of small villas based on wooden support. In 2008 Marseille Chifteyan the "Armenian" began construction of the largest West African hypermarket "Yerevan" with an area of 13 000 sq m and designed for African and European customers. The construction of the trade center cost roughly 60 billion francs. The opening ceremony of the center took place on September 25, 2009 and was attended by president of Benin Yayi Boni and other officials. It was also in the spotlight of the Beninese mass media. "I called my hypermarket "Yerevan" because the Beninese know little about Armenia. I always thought of my parents and "Yerevan" is the tribute to Armenia which fascinated me as I recently discovered it for myself. Although there is no Armenian community in Benin, we often mention Armenia in our talks with the Beninese. Next to the "Yerevan" trade center I built a private residence with the Armenian tricolor flag on the top. That is the Consulate of Armenia in Benin and I have the honor of being the head of that consulate,” Mr. Chifteyan proudly states.
Marseille Chifteyan’s wish is as follows: “I went through a lot when I was young. I also want to help my family. This country gave me much and now it’s my turn to do the same”.
These words belong to a person who was eager to found a cardiovascular care hospital in Cotonou already named “Benin-Armenia-France”. It will be directed by experts invited from Armenia. In his eighties, Mr Chifteyan is still a fighter who will keep fighting until the last day of his life to give mankind what he bears in himself.