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Armenian Churches in India

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#1 lizchater


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Posted 15 August 2008 - 06:32 AM

I thought I would take this opportunity of advising you that the Armenian Church in India now has a website. It can be reached at www.armenianchurch.in.

Best wishes

#2 Yervant1


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Posted 15 August 2008 - 08:59 AM

Hi Liz,

Nice website, and as usuall good effort all around in keeping those treasures safe. smile.gif

#3 Yervant1


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Posted 19 February 2009 - 11:30 AM

by Nyree Abrahamian

AZG Armenian Daily


Celebrating the 300th anniversary of the Indian-Armenian community

Since the 300th anniversary celebration of Holy Nazareth Armenian
Church in Kolkata just a few weeks ago, Armenians all over the world
have been reading, learning, and talking about the fascinating history
of Armenians in India.

Armenians arrived in the region now known as West Bengal in the early
1600s, some 60 years before the British became established traders
there. Despite their small numbers, Armenians thrived in colonial
India well into the 19th century, undertaking construction projects
and running trading companies, shipping lines, coal mines, and hotels.

Their rich and relatively unknown history is now coming to light
as a result of the recent festivities. In addition to the 300th
anniversary celebration, Armenian churches in India have undergone
major renovations, and Catholicos Karekin II reconsecrated the church
in Chennai (formerly Madras), which had fallen into disrepair and
was all but abandoned. Hundreds of pilgrims from around the world
came to be a part of the historic event.

Whereas the recent revitalization of Armenian churches in India has
sparked renewed interest in the country's Armenian community, Deacon
Tigran Baghumian has been poring over the history of Indian-Armenians
for years.

In 2005, Baghumian was appointed by Karekin II as the administrator
of the Armenian Philanthropic Academy of Kolkata and the deacon in
charge of all Armenian churches in India. The deacon spent three years
in India trying to revive the school and the community. In addition
to performing his administrative duties, Baghumian managed to pursue
a project that was near and dear to his heart, a true labor of love:
he researched and wrote a book about Armenian religious and community
leaders who served and were buried in India. His study, published in
Armenian, is titled Armenian Clergymen Buried in West Bengal.

Baghumian spent a great deal of his time in India in the graveyards of
Armenian churches, painstakingly cleaning gravestones and photographing
them, going through church registries, and researching the lives he
uncovered, one by one.

It may strike one as odd that someone would dedicate so much time
(and an entire book) to the study of long-forgotten gravestones and
documents, but Baghumian's work is truly commendable when we consider
the instrumental role that the Armenian church and its clergy have
played in the creation and burgeoning of India's Armenian community.

"It was with great pity that I noticed that neither Indian-Armenians
nor the students of the Philanthropic Academy - who walk over these
gravestones every time they go to church - know who are buried in the
Armenian cemeteries," says the young deacon. "Many of them don't even
know the history of the Indian-Armenian community. So, as a young
member of the Brotherhood of the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin,
I considered it my sacred duty to photograph, catalog, and decode
the records inscribed on the gravestones of our clergymen, while
also trying to find additional information about them and their
service. . . . The aim of my study is to save the names of those
brave pastors from falling into oblivion."

Baghumian did not limit his research to clergymen. He also uncovered
graves of other members of the Indian-Armenian community, resurrecting
their stories, shedding light on the way of life of Indian-Armenians
through the centuries and their role in Indian society. For example,
one of the graves he highlights in the book belongs to an Armenian
woman named Rezabeebeh. Dating back to 1630, it's the oldest Christian
grave in West Bengal. "We have to understand that the Armenian
historical graves are not only a part of our national history, but
also an inseparable part of Indian history," the deacon says.

Baghumian's dedication to his work and his passion for rediscovering,
acknowledging, and respecting the Armenian past is apparent in his
writing. He says he is sad to see that of the few Indian-Armenians
who remain in India, most don't speak Armenian and are disconnected
from their heritage. It is against this backdrop that Baghumian has
carried out his work. As a result, he has succeeded, in his own way,
to bring many of the Indian-Armenian community's stories back to life.

"When, in the last century, the famous Indian-Armenian historian
Mesrovb Jacob Seth was writing about the Armenians of India, many
people were laughing at him," he says. "However, today it is impossible
to imagine Indian-Armenian history without his vital work." Baghumian
hopes that his research, too, will be valued in the future as a key
unlocking some of the treasures of the Armenian past.

#4 lizchater


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Posted 19 February 2009 - 12:19 PM

This book by Deacon Tigran is extremely well researched. Sadly however, it is currently only available in Armenian. The article omits that this book was only able to come into the public domain because of the generosity of the Armenian Holy Church of Nazareth in Kolkata which completely funded the printing and publishing of it in January 2008, and I do hope that they are able to ensure that it is re-printed in English too. It would serve as an excellent reference book in any historian or genealogists library.

In the meantime, the photographs of the graves in the book can be freely downloaded from my website, along with 2000+ other historically important Armenian graves in India, Asia and the Far East.

Best wishes

#5 Yervant1


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Posted 26 September 2011 - 11:00 AM

The Times of India (TOI)
September 25, 2011 Sunday

For whom the bells toll

by Rohit Panikker

What we call Chennai today has a past that has been collectively
enriched by a diverse group of people - the English, Jews, Portuguese
and the Armenians, among others.

In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, there existed a
flourishing colony of Armenians, which was well-established in local
and overseas trade. But all that remains of the Armenian connection to
the city are a white edifice in a street named after them, a bridge to
their credit and few other noteworthy legacies including a current
population of three.

Now here's some interesting trivia. Ever been to the Armenian Church
on Armenian Street opposite the High Court? Also called the Armenian
Church of Virgin Mary, it is one of the oldest churches in the Indian
subcontinent (built in 1712). The bells at the belfry tower (usually
referred to as the belfry six) of the church have an international
pedigree. They were all cast at the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, which is
also where the Liberty Bell that was rung during the proclamation of
American independence in 1776; the bells at Westminster Abbey; as well
as those of the UK Parliament's Big Ben were cast.

These bells were cast in Whitechapel, England, by wealthy Armenian
merchants to Madras and donated to the church; and they have been used
to announce the commencement of prayers every Sunday since 1772 (the
year the church was rebuilt after being demolished during the French
siege of Madras in 1746). Still making the call, the chimes serve as a
poignant reminder of a once-prominent diaspora of people in this city.

#6 Yervant1


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Posted 03 January 2012 - 11:02 AM

Times of India
Jan 3 2012

It's Xmas time for Armenians

TNN | Jan 3, 2012, 04.23AM IST

KOLKATA: The Holy Church of Nazareth at Armenian Street off Burrabazar
is bustling with activity. It's time for celebration and merriment for
the 200-odd Armenians in the city. Yes you heard it right,

The city is gearing up for yet another Christmas, the Armenian
Christmas, on January 6.

The Armenian Apostolic Church shares doctrinal beliefs of the Eastern
Orthodox Churchand retains traditional Armenian rites

The church follows the Julian calendar which celebrates the birth of
Christ on January 6 (also known as Old Christmas).

'Armenian Christmas' is a culmination of celebration of events related
to Christ's Incarnation. It centers around Theophany or Epiphany (or
Astvadz-a-haytnootyoon in Armenian), meaning "revelation of God".
which is the central theme of the Christmas season in the Armenian

"When we wish someone Merry Christmas in Armenian, we are actually
saying that Christ is born and revealed, and blessed is Christ's
revelation," said Rev Father Khoren Hovhannisyan, pastor (priest) of
Armenians in India.

During the Armenian Christmas season, a series of major events is
celebrated which are the major events that are celebrated are the
Nativity of Christ in Bethlehem and His Baptism in the River Jordan.
Also, a ceremony called 'Blessing of Water' is conducted in the
Armenian Church to commemorate Christ's Baptism.

"Until the fourth century, Christians worldwide celebrated Christ's
birth on January 6. The Roman Catholic Church changed the birth date
to December 25 to override a pagan festival dedicated to the birth of
the sun. The Armenian Church just kept the original date. Armenia is
the first country to adopt Christianity as the state religion in 301
AD," said the priest.

Armenian Christmas is quite unique in its celebration and dotted with
various rituals.

To prepare themselves for the great festival, Armenians fast for a
week to cleanse themselves to be worthy of a great miracle and prepare
for the celebrations of the great festival

The menu for this week, hence, comprises vegetarian dishes only.

The celebrations will begin with the Christmas Eve mass on January 5
at 4pm. After the mass, there will be the Home Blessing ceremony at
the Armenian College. Father will then bless the congregationwith
salt, bread and water. and thereafter sprinkle blessed water on the
four corners of the house. This will be followed with a special dinner
comprising fish and Anushabour for dessert for the Armenian staff and
students of Armenian College.

On Christmas day Armenians will feast on roasted lamb, Pilaf and Anushabour.

Christmas Day celebrations will begin with the Christmas mass at
9:30am. at the Armenian Holy Church of Nazareth. The Christmas mass or
the Divine Liturgy is also very special. On a usual Sunday, the Church
is attended by barely 10-15 people. But come January 6 and it will
wear a different look, packed with will be choc-a-bloc with more than
150 or more Armenians on January 6. The grand altar will be decorated
with flowers and candles and instead of being seated on the pews, the
congregation will remain standing instead of sitting on the pews

Christmas Day celebrations begin with the Christmas Mass which will
start at 9:30am at Armenian Holy Church of Nazareth.

The church choir will perform at the mass whereand sticking to its
original roots, the hymn is sung in Armenian. A special service will
be held for 'Blessing of the Water,' to commemorate baptism of Jesus
Christ. The Cross will be immersed in water to symbolize the baptism
of Christ. Thereafter, the holy water will be distributed to the

Once the service at the Church comes to an end, After the service at
the Church, the action shifts to the lawns of the Armenian Sports Club
at the Maidan. In the afternoon, the Church committee has organised a
Christmas Tea Party for Armenians and Armenian College students at the
Armenian Sports Club where Santa Claus and a magic show will entertain
the children.


#7 Yervant1


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Posted 28 January 2012 - 12:25 PM

My visit to Kolkata (06 January 2012)

By Michael Stephen*


It was indeed a pleasure to have visited Kolkata for Christmas on the
6th January 2012 after a gap of 4 years.

I was extremely happy to meet with all our community members /
students / staff of ACPA / Church and Rev. Fr. Khoren Hovhannisyan and
was taken around the Armenian College where I found a lot of changes
for good have taken place with renovations done very innovatively. Fr
Hovhannisyan also said that more students are ready to come but the
space to accommodate them is not sufficient. I fully agree with him
after I went around the college campus. As indicated they plan to
demolish the old Davidian Girls School building and build a new
structure in its place once this is done more kids would come.

Also I visited the Sir Paul Chater Homes and the cemetery attached
next to it. I was surprised that 70% of the rooms were vacant this
really made me very sad I remember in the 80s it was full. Visited the
old cemetery nearby but was shocked as it was not maintained well over
there. I laid flowers at my great grandpa Vagarshak Stephen & great
Grandma's Zenobias grave. The caretaker Mr Cecil Milne was very

I also attended the church service thanks to Fr Khoren for the very
nice service and also attended the Christmas tree party on the
6th. Very few families came for this party. Thanks to the wardens and
all for the lovely gifts and eats provided.

I also visited the Bandel church and St Johns Armenian church, I must
say the church at Chinsurah is well maintained. I met with the
caretaker Ivan who was very courteous with me.

Thanks to the Wardens Mrs. Susan Reuben / Mr Sunil Sobti, Chairman Mr
Michael Dutt and Committee members for all they have done and I hope
one day soon more Armenian families would come and settle in Kolkata /
other cities as the numbers are dwindling fast and this is alarming.

God bless all at Kolkata.

* Michael Stephen is based in Bangalore, India. He has been former
Assistant Manager of ACPA, Kolkata, former caretaker of the Armenian
Church in Madras and ex-student of ACPA. He can be reached at


#8 Yervant1


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Posted 31 March 2012 - 04:38 PM

The last of us

Zabel Joshi, the last Armenian in the city, talks to Meher Marfatia of
roots and wings

Meher Marfatia

The Mumbai Mirror
Posted On Sunday, March 04, 2012 at 02:07:05 AM

How will I know you? she asks on the phone. We plan to meet outside
the Armenian Church on crowded Medows Street, off Flora Fountain. Then
she answers herself: `Ah, you're Parsi, I'll be able to tell. We come
from the same part of the world.'

The similarity ends with that broad geographic connect. Having spent
40 of her 60 years in Mumbai, Zabel Joshi of Juhu is in the unique
position of being the city's sole Armenian.

One among 15 Armenians when she came in 1972, she joined the exclusive
group of survivors from this Central Asian race, hanging on to a few
vestiges of their ethnicity. Hundreds arrived here over three
centuries ago.

Today it's just this smiling woman who leads the way proudly into her
church, the only of its kind in town. `Followers of the Armenian
Orthodox Church, we were first to believe in Christ,' she explains.

Growing up Zabel Haykian in Beirut meant belonging to a happily
conservative family. As children, she and her four siblings sat at
their mandolin-strumming mother's feet, mouthing folk songs of freedom
and peace (the Armenian genocide is possibly one of the most mapped
after the Holocaust) in languages like Arabic, French, Turkish, Greek,
Persian and Urdu.

All these stirred well into the fresh melting pot of tongues,
including Hindi, Marathi and Gujarati, which she dived into with
fluent readiness on reaching Bombay. That was as the bride of
businessman Kishore Joshi whom she met while working as a receptionist
at the Carlton Hotel in Beirut. =80=9CThe Armenian alphabet has 36
letters, not 26. There is no sound we can't learn,' she claims.

The ambient hush we sit in resonates with guttural double consonant
sounds of her reciting them. Zabel is quick to credit the smooth
adjustment to commonalities between her native and new culture. `Both
Armenia and India have ancient civilisations, wise and warm people,
great food and festivals.

Assimilating was easy,' she says. And adds that firm personal
favourites are bajra no rotlo and the chandrakala specialty a mithai
shop in Khar serves at Holi, which she looks forward to later this

An extended family of in-laws from Rajkot have been introduced to
different traditions too - the Armenian New Year's Day celebration on
January 6 called Tznunt, kata Easter eggs baked with nutmeg and
cinnamon... `But nothing can beat our baklava,' she declares.

As she bustles around lighting candles and bowing at an altar adorned
with Ottoman-style relics, the homemaker speaks of keeping in touch
with His Holiness Karekin II, world head of the Armenians. She shares
how all her three daughters - the youngest being actress Tulip Joshi
of Mere Yaar Ki Shaadi and Matrubhoomi fame - have been baptised

Lone tangible sign of earlier Armenian presence, this shrine opened
its doors to Syrian Christians for Sunday prayer service once rows of
its own parishioners gracing the pews thinned. Down the decades,
Armenians from Mumbai have flock-migrated to the US and Canada. `I
tell my girls, when I'm buried in the Armenian cemetery at Antop Hill,
the epitaph should be: `The last of us'!' Zabel quips.

Settling in 17th-century Calcutta, a city they still inhabit in larger
groups, Armenians built schools, colleges and hospitals. Their
educational and social activities lent a clear luminosity to an India
they found welcoming.

By the mid-18th century they prospered in Bombay as merchants,
jewellers, carpet makers and tailors. Their residential hub lay around
Armenian Lane, abutting their church erected in 1796 with trader Jacob
Petrus from Hamadan as benefactor.

>From the community's roster of accomplished doctors, lawyers,
musicians and writers, Zabel admires her namesake, Armenian poet
Zabel Asadour.

`Her deeply felt verse is a constant call to never forget our homeland
and yet adapt,' she says. `I live with the wonderful people of Mumbai
by the tenets we get as a baptism blessing: havatk, hoous, ser -
faith, hope, love.' The very three words I see inscribed on
rectangular links of a silver bracelet on the wrist of our last


#9 Yervant1


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Posted 22 August 2012 - 09:52 AM

IBNLive.com, India
Aug 21 2012

Stones that speak

Janane Venkatraman|ENS

Gravestones speak of lives lived, pathways traced and choices made.
They give us the stories behind a person and his life as seen by his
loved ones. Chennai is full of abundant history - stories of men and
women who built this city, which are now etched onto the crumbling
ruins of Chennai's old cemeteries.

There are numerous cemeteries where one can spend an entire evening
and not even realise the time passing. The St Mary's Church, tucked
away in a corner of Fort St George has, according to the caretaker,
not only the distinction of being the oldest Anglican church on the
east of the Suez, but is also the resting place of the oldest British
tombstone, dating way back to 1652.

Elizabeth Baker, the wife of the first president of the Madras
Presidency, Aaron Baker, died when she was on her way to meet her
husband. Her tombstone, lying near the entrance, weathered and
cracked, is a testimony to the upheaval they were all put through. The
104 tombstones were used as shields by the invading French forces in
1758. They were originally buried in the `Guava garden,' on top of
which the law college currently stands.

Once the law college came up, the cemetery was shifted near the
Metropolitan Transport Corporation on Pallavan Salai, where it
currently stands. An article by historian S Muthiah talks about an old
description mentioning boundary hedges filled with jasmine, shady
trees, patches of lawn and beds of bright flowers. But it is a sense
of desolation that coats the cemetery today. Plants have run wild,
resembling a scene out of a jungle, while patches of lawn are more
patches of debris than green grass.

The graves themselves are undecipherable, some having crumbled due to
natural elements, others covered by weeds and creepers that have run
amok. Still, if one has the patience and a certain disregard for
snakes, perusing the names on the tombs and gravestones would pass for
a very pleasant pastime.

In stark contrast, the two corners of the cemetery wear a fresh look.
Lined with neatly-pruned hedges and padlocked, one contains the graves
of the Commonwealth soldiers who died during Second World War, while
the other constituttes the Roman Catholic part of the cemetery.

Speaking of stark contrasts, the unassuming Armenian Church in
Georgetown with its fresh white paint, neatly cut grass and a serene
atmosphere, is quite a sight. Turning 300 this year, it has about 350
Armenian tombstones in its floors, some even dating back to 1740. A
majority of them have inscriptions in Armenian with a smattering of
English and Latin.

The most ornate one is the grave of Rev Haruthiun Shmavonian, founder
of the first Armenian journal who died in 1824. The journal, Azdarar,
came out in 1794, while Shmavonian was the priest in-charge of the

Similar to the tombstones in the Armenian Church, the St Thomas Mount
Church too hosts Armenian tombstones. According to `Madras, Chennai: A
400-year Record of the First City of Modern India', some of them are
as old as 1707.

The Luz Church in Mylapore also bears tombstones of early Portuguese
settlers. The church, the oldest in the city, has tombstones as early
as 1600 lining the entrance and the walls. In addition, the Quibble
Island Cemetery has a small number of old tombstones, dating back to
the latter half of the 1800's. An evening stroll through the shady,
green-leafed contours of the cemetery might prove to be just the
stress breaker. one's looking for.


#10 Yervant1


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Posted 22 December 2012 - 10:00 AM

India’s Chennai Armenian Church Celebrates 300th Anniversary

Posted Image12:08, December 21, 2012 Hetq

On December 18, 2012, members of Armenian community in India marked the 300th anniversary of Chennai’s (Madras) St Mary Armenian Church.
Rev. Fr. Geghart celebrated the Divine Liturgy followed by a requiem service.
The St. Mary Armenian Church of Chennai is one oldest Armenian churches in India, first erected in 1712 and re-erected again in 1772.
The Armenians of Chennai were famous for their printing press and charitable works. It was in Madras that Aztarar, the first ever Armenian journal was printed and distributed by Rev. Harutiun Shmavonian in the year 1794
Armenians of Chennai were known to be famous precious stone, silk and spice merchants. Records show that an Armenian settlement began to flourish in17th century Chennai.
Many believe that the first Armenian to arrive in Chennai was a man called Thomas Cana in 780 AD. The Armenians of Madras were credited for their charitable works in Chennai and elsewhere

#11 Yervant1


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Posted 14 August 2013 - 09:30 AM



Merchants on a mission

Anusha Parthasarathy



Special Arrangement Armenian Church
In the 360th year of Armenian presence in the city Anusha Parthasarathy visits monuments and streets associated with this trading community

If you walk along Armenian Street today, it is vastly different from the time when the merchantmen of Madras occupied it. Street stalls are buzzing with business, bikes are parked right along the road and where they are not, cars squeeze in. A sea of people trundle down the narrow road, and yet no one turns to even take a look at an old arched entranceway, sharing its wall with a crowded fast-food joint. The Armenians, who established a thriving settlement in Madras in the 1600s, will celebrate the 360th year of their presence in the city in September this year.

The earliest existence of Armenians in India dates back to the late 8th Century. A man called Thomas Cana, arrived along the Malabar Coast in 780 AD. According to Portraits of Hope: Armenians in the Contemporary World by Huberta Von Voss, not much is known about his origin or mission but he was lauded as someone who worked for the rebirth of Christianity. The Armenian presence in Madras however, became rather eminent in the 1660s. Madras: The Land, The People and Their Governance by S. Muthiah points out that the earliest Armenian tombstone dates back to 1663 and is of Coja David Margar. This was found near Little Mount. Hurberta Von Voss’ book though, also says that the Armenians of Madras were the first to discover the sepulchre of St. Thomas upon the Mount and took the Portuguese there in the 16th Century. In fact, it is popular knowledge that the church atop the Mount served as a lighthouse to guide Portuguese and Armenian ships around that time.

Even if there is no record of when exactly Armenians settled here, it was clear that they monopolised trade between India and West Asia on the one hand and Manila, a Spanish bastion then, on the other (according to S. Muthiah’s Madras: The Land, The People and Their Governance). They traded mainly in silk, spices and gems. In fact, the last Armenian to live here was Michael Stephen, who left the city a few years ago. And now, only a church, a street named after the community and a few lesser-known relics carry their stories.

The most visible Armenian monument in Chennai is the much-written about Armenian church, which was first built in 1712 and later rebuilt after the French siege in 1772. The first church was built of timber in the present High Court area with permission from the East India Company. The Armenians were given 50 pounds to manage the expenses of the church. This encouraged more traders to settle in and around the area. Vestiges of Old Madras by H.D. Love points out that the earliest Armenian church, situated in Old Black Town, as shown in Thomas Pitt’s map, was probably built shortly after the Company entered into a covenant with the Armenian residents in India. The new church, however, was consecrated in Aga Shawmier’s chapel grounds in George Town. The street on which the church is situated continues to be called the Armenian Street, where the settlers once lived.

Perhaps the most famous Armenian in Madras was Coja Petrus Uscan, who is remembered for constructing or donating to the many remaining Armenian relics in the city. S. Muthiah’s book says that he was the heir of a family that had trade relations with the East for generations. But he settled in Madras only in 1723, on his return from Manila. A philanthropist, he contributed to several religious institutions in Madras.

Significant inscription

Santhome High Road isn’t a place where one can wind back time. Cars rush past at breakneck speed and there is no time to stop and stare, even if the object of concern is a three-century-old Armenian inscription that faces the road. Just at the edge of San Thome Matriculation Higher Secondary School is St. Rita’s church (now chapel), towards which Uscan donated liberally. It was built by Armenians and an inscription on its east wall, in Armenian characters, says In Memory of the Armenian Nation, 1729. H.D. Love’s book points out that the event commemorated was the opening of the grave of St. Thomas, which took place in April 1729, to which Uscan was a witness.

Another inscription in Portuguese in the same church shows that it was partially rebuilt in 1740. The church, now a part of the school, is not on the mainstream heritage map.

(To be continued…)

#12 Yervant1


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Posted 14 August 2013 - 09:33 AM


St. Maatthias Church Photo: Anusha Parthasarathy

Symbols of an age


Anusha Parthasarathy traces the lives of well-known Armenians who made the community an integral part of the city’s history and culture

Coja Petrus Uscan, who was first referred to in 1724 as ‘…an Armenian lately arrived from Manilha and an inhabitant of this place’ left quite a mark on Madras (according to Vestiges of Old Madras by H.D. Love). He made many contributions to keep the Thomian tradition alive in the city. In 1726, he began the construction of the first bridge across the Adyar river; Saidapet or Marmalong bridge (the bridge was named after Mambalam, a village near Saidapet), with his own money (30,000 pagodas). It was also Uscan who built the 160 stone steps to the summit of St. Thomas Mount (the oil paintings of the apostles inside the church are Armenian as well, as the characters below each painting denote). According to Madras: The Land, The People and Their Governance by S. Muthiah, he left money with the administrator-general for further maintenance.

The bridge that exists now is not the one that Uscan built but a marble plaque with inscriptions in Persian, Armenian and Latin about the construction of the bridge still exists, near the Saidapet bus stand. In 1728, Uscan was granted a 99-year lease of ‘the Company’s House’ near the Choultry Gate. Later, in the 1750s, he was the only Armenian who was allowed to live inside the Fort.

St. Matthias’ Church and School

Uscan built the Church of Our Lady of Miracles between 1730 and 1740. Originally a mission chapel of the French Capuchin friars, it fell into misfortune when the French took over Fort St. George in 1746-1748. This church was later handed over to the SPCK missionaries, till it was demolished in the mid-1800s to make way for St. Matthias’ Church. When Uscan died in 1751, he was buried in this chapel. The grave is still very much there, in the front corner of the churchyard. Buried under waste, the legend of Petrus Uscan only surfaces when visitors and heritage lovers come looking for him.

Admiralty House

Uscan’s successor was Shawmier Sultan, who became the leader of the Armenians when they became a community here (Madras: The Land, The People and Their Governance). According to H.D. Love’s book, he owned the ‘Great House in Charles Street’, belonging to his father Sultan David. He let out this house to Clive and others. The house was later acquired by the Company, but Shawmier does not give the date of purchase, nor mention whether he was the seller. It was ‘agreed that a Court of Admiralty be held at the Company’s House in Charles Street’ for the trial of certain mutineers. Therefore, the house came to be called Admiralty House. This house, within Fort St. George, is now called Clive House.

It is said that the last of Madras’ great Armenians was Haruthiun Shmavonian. According To Portraits Of Hope: Armenians In The Contemporary World by Huberta von Voss, he founded the first Armenian newspaper;

Azdarar in 1794. S. Muthiah’s book points out that it was also claimed to be the ‘first Armenian Journal in the World’. It only functioned for two years but published many Armenian classics.

Haruthiun lived almost all his life in Madras and died in 1824 and was buried in the Armenian Church churchyard (his gravestone has a book on top, as a tribute to Azardar).

Rare bible The Armenian Church itself has a couple of treasures. It holds a rare Bible that dates back to 1686 and a bell that dates back to 1754, with its builder’s name engraved on it; Thomas Maers, the man who made London’s Big Ben.

Anusha Parthasarathy

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Posted 12 November 2013 - 02:33 PM



Thugs, Police at Calcutta Church Elections

By Karen Mkrtchian

KOLKATA, India, Nov. 10, 2013--The age-old Armenian community of Kolkata (Calcutta) gathered today behind the closedArm-Church-Nazareth-Kolkata.jpg doors of the Armenian Holy Church of Nazareth to elect a new committee that would manage the assets of the church which runs into millions of dollars.

Every four years the community meets at a general meeting to elect a committee that would manage the affairs of the community. This year’s election was remarkable as some Armenians were left behind the closed gates of the church.

“At about 10 am we arrived at the church and found the gates locked. We were denied entry,” said Anthranick Khachatourian, one of the Armenians kept out of the meeting. Khachatourian is a Kolkata-born Armenian who was baptized at the Armenian Holy Church of Nazareth. He is currently involved with NGOs in Kolkata and Jharkand.

“What is going on here is genocide without the killing,” said Khachatourian. “It is a well-concieved plan to wipe out our community. They have shut down the Davidian Girls School in the name of repairs and the doors of our Armenian clubs are always closed. The church seems to have money for the Hindus, the Anglo-Indians and the Buddhists, while the local poor Armenians are left neglected,” said Khachatourian, who said he wasn’t allowed entry because the committee knew he would expose them.

“At about 10:30 am, thirty minutes before the general meeting a truck full of some 40 young thugs arrived at the scene and threatened to beat us up,” said Max Khachadourian, Anthranick’s father who was also left out of the meeting. He said the thugs had said that the church authorities had called them to the scene and promised them refreshments for their services. There was also a big contingent of police force called at the scene. “Why did the church authorities have to bring around 50 policemen and policewomen against three Armenians? Were we such a danger to them?” questioned Max, who said the police had told them that they had orders to arrest them, if they tried getting in.

Margaret Sarkies-Keller was also not allowed to the meeting. She said she was informed that she did not have the right to be present at the meeting and to vote. “I am a full-blooded Armenian and my father Charles (Chacha) Sarkies served this church for 30 years until his death in 2011. I was baptized in this very church and they won’t let me in,” said Sarkies-Keller who is an Australian citizen but has a Person of Indian Origin (PIO) card. She also alleged that she had received threats from the thugs called by the church committee.

“They did not offer appropriate care to my father when he was sick,” said a tearful Sarkies-Keller. “He was totally neglected and died with bed-sores all over his body. I will never forgive them,” she said and added that she wanted to restore dignity and respect in the community.

Calling the elections null and void, Sonia John, the former chairperson of the church, expressed her dissatisfaction about the state of affairs. “People like the clergy and the Armenian teachers who were not entitled to vote had been brought in to ensure that they win,” said Sonia John, who was not allowed entry to the previous general body meeting in 2009 on the grounds that she wasn’t Armenian. The wardens had brought a case against her regarding her Armenian identity in the Calcutta High Court which she won. That is why she wasn’t stopped from taking part this year.

The three Armenians have filed a complaint at the local police station and have no intention of letting the matter go.

“We are going to stay and fight these people. We need to make sure our community is looked after and taken care off. All the money left by the benevolent Armenians are for the local Armenians. We want to make sure they get what is rightfully theirs. What is happening now is disgraceful and an insult to the rich legacy our forefathers left behind in this country. We may have lost this battle today, but the war to revive our community is still on," said Khachatourian.

By late Sunday, Nov. 10, the Armenian church committee could not be contacted regarding the above allegations.

#14 Yervant1


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Posted 10 January 2015 - 08:42 AM

The Telegraph (India)
January 7, 2015 Wednesday

Facelift for Dhubri church

Dhubri, Jan. 7: The Armenian church in Dhubri, built in the 19th
century, will be renovated by Ladies Club, Dhubri, soon.

The church is located on PM Datta Bahadur Road of the town and is
close to a life-size statue of Queen Victoria and the historic
Gurdwara of Sri Guru Teg Bahadur Sahib Ji.

At present, the church houses the club and its members have been
collecting donations through gift coupons to raise funds to renovate
the old church and construct a separate building on its premises.

The church, which is one of the 33 heritage sites dotted across the
town, and Ladies Club are keen to preserve this heritage Armenian-type
church building as part of history.

"Any building which is over 100-year-old becomes antique and tagged
with heritage status. But now new guidelines are being drawn freshly
by the archaeological department," an official source said.

Secretary of the club Lilly Chanda said after services in the church
was closed, some European residents of Dhubri town founded the Ladies
Club in 1935.

"Women belonging to the European community as well as benevolent local
women were members who used to render social service," Chanda said.

"This church is not only a heritage site but also a precious
possession of the town and the club wants it to be preserved at any
cost," said the club's president Chandana Paul Choudhury.

"We are finding it tough to raise funds, but we will try our best to
collect necessary funds needed for renovation of the church's
structure and construction of a new building which is urgently
required for various kinds of training to empower poor girls and women
living. "

Talking to this correspondent, Sankar Kumar Bose - a renowned
numismatist who originally hails from Dhubri but is now based in
Calcutta - said over phone today that this was built probably between
the end of East India Company's rule and beginning of the British Raj.

"In my childhood I saw this church illuminated. People of the European
community visited there. It is now in a dilapidated condition and
should be renovated and preserved," Bose said.

Residents of Dhubri town demand that the state government come forward
to preserve this site and other sites too. Otherwise, the glorious
history of the district and the town would be lost in the passage of

Dhubri town and the district as a whole are dotted with many important
sites that evoke tourist interest. Sri Guru Teg Bahadur Sahib Ji,
Panch Peer dargah, Mahamaya Dham, Mahamaya Snan Ghat, Kamakhya Dham,
Bura-Buri Than, Jinkata Satra and Ramrai Kutir are some of the
pilgrimage sites in Dhubri. Gauripur palace, too, is one of the
precious heritage sites.

[Groong note: Dhubri in Assam, India, is an old town on the bank of
the Brahmaputra and Gadadhar rivers, with historical significances]


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Posted 29 September 2015 - 09:09 AM


The Times of India
Sept 28 2015

Krishnendu BandyopadhyayKrishnendu Bandyopadhyay,TNN | Sep 28, 2015,
12.58 AM IST

KOLKATA: The custodians of the Armenian Holy Church of Nazareth in
Burrabazar, arguably the oldest church in the city, have been accused
of destroying a number of tombstones and memorial plaques to make
room for a driveway and a parking lot. The Archaeological Survey of
India (ASI) termed the demolition as 'criminal' since the loss is

The oldest grave found in the churchyard is that of Rezabeebeh, the
wife of the late Sookias. This tomb, dated July 21, 1630, is said to
be the earliest Christian tomb in Kolkata.

"This is why the tombs are priceless historical documents. Each
tomb tells a story of a period. A whole genealogy of Armenians of
old Calcutta can be traced here. So the destruction of tombstones
and memorial plaques, mostly in marble and iron, is no less than
destruction of history," said ASI regional director Dr P K Mishra,
who recently made a sudden visit to the churchyard to trace the extent
of damage. Anthony Khatchaturian, a passionate heritage activist of
the city and an Armenian, was shocked with the construction. "I am
baptized in this church. Just think of poor people who are buried
under concrete car park. They have been lost forever," said Anthony.

His forefather J C Gaulstaun, one of the greatest builders of the
city's magnificent built heritage, was also laid to rest here.

According to community sources, the removal process began some time in
late 2008 during the visit of Catholicos Karekin-II, the supreme head
of the Armenian Apostolic Church. The driveway came up at the cost of
the tombstones. It came under scrutiny following the recent ASI visit.

"The damage is horrific. Such activities must be stopped immediately.

Often, people cause damage out of ignorance. But when educated people,
the custodians of church property, did this, it is unpardonable. I
have written a letter to the church authority," said Mishra. The
curch plays an important role as it is considered to be the Mother
Church of the Indian Armenians.

In reply, wardens of the church and committee members Susan Reuben
and Sunil Sobti went on the defensive. They did not deny the removal
of tombstones. "The graves were not destroyed to make space for other
use as most of the graves were re-laid under the supervision of the
then Parish Priest who in such matters give his ruling and sanction,"
said their joint statement.

"The mortal remains are now part of the soil underneath. The
marble plaques are very old and will get damaged invariably if any
relocation is attempted. The explanations appear incredible to me,"
said Dr Mishra.

Mishra also detected serious damage to the 'Last Supper' painting
placed above the main altar of the church, with which he found a close
resemblance of the 'Last Supper' by German painter Johan Zoffany at
Kolkata's St John's Church. While Joffany's painting was restored,
Armenian Church's 'Last Supper' is lying in neglect. However, Sobti and
Ruben claimed, "Catholicos Karekin-II has taken a personal interest
to ensure that an expert handpicked by him would be sent to India
for executing the job."


#16 Yervant1


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Posted 01 October 2015 - 10:17 AM


Country - 01 October 2015, 11:54

"The custodians of the Armenian Holy Church of Nazareth in Burrabazar,
arguably the oldest church in the city, have been accused of destroying
a number of tombstones and memorial plaques to make room for a
driveway and a parking lot. The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI)
termed the demolition as 'criminal' since the loss is 'irreparable',"
Radio Liberty informed, referring to the Time of India.

"The oldest grave found in the churchyard is that of Rezabeebeh, the
wife of the late Sookias. This tomb, dated July 21, 1630, is said to
be the earliest Christian tomb in Kolkata."

""This is why the tombs are priceless historical documents. Each
tomb tells a story of a period. A whole genealogy of Armenians of
old Calcutta can be traced here. So the destruction of tombstones
and memorial plaques, mostly in marble and iron, is no less than
destruction of history," said ASI regional director Dr P K Mishra,
who recently made a sudden visit to the churchyard to trace the extent
of damage.

Anthony Khatchaturian, a passionate heritage activist of the city
and an Armenian, was shocked with the construction.

"I am baptized in this church. Just think of poor people who are
buried under concrete car park. They have been lost forever," said
Anthony. His forefather J C Gaulstaun, one of the greatest builders
of the city's magnificent built heritage, was also laid to rest here.

According to community sources, the removal process began some time in
late 2008 during the visit of Catholicos Karekin-II, the supreme head
of the Armenian Apostolic Church. The driveway came up at the cost of
the tombstones. It came under scrutiny following the recent ASI visit.

"The damage is horrific. Such activities must be stopped immediately.

Often, people cause damage out of ignorance. But when educated people,
the custodians of church property, did this, it is unpardonable. I
have written a letter to the church authority," said Mishra. The
church plays an important role as it is considered to be the Mother
Church of the Indian Armenians."


- See more at:

#17 Yervant1


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Posted 07 October 2015 - 10:19 AM


iDiva.com, India
Oct 6 2015

By Vasundara R, Team iDiva, Posted Oct 6th 2015

The famous Dalal Street, home to the Bombay Stock Exchange always
looks like a place that's in a hurry to go somewhere. Tall and old
buildings mark that street and the area surrounding it. Regardless of
the age, there is one thing common amongst all of them - flourishing
commerce. Amidst this hustle and bustle lies a far quieter and very
old edifice, which stands still, almost forgotten.

St.Peter's Armenian Church was built three centuries ago in 1796
for a thriving community of Armenians in the Bombay of old. Today,
the number of Armenians in Mumbai has dwindled to exactly one woman,
and the church has no Armenian priest to conduct their services.

"There are no services for Armenians, though we use the church to do
our prayers," says Zabel Joshi, the last surviving registered Armenian
in the city. Mother to model-cum-actress Tulip Joshi, Zabel once had
all her three daughters baptised in this church.

The Armenian Genocide perpetrated by the Ottoman Government in Turkey
in 1915 may seem like another world away and in a different time
zone to most of us Indians, but for Zabel Haykian, it has played a
big part in establishing her roots.

"Due to the genocide, our ancestors were forced to leave and settle in
different parts of the world," she narrates. "I was raised in Beirut,
blessed to have had wonderful parents, along with two brothers and
a sister. Beirut, which was considered the Paris of Middle East,
was home for me then."

Zabel had whirlwind romance in Beirut with Gujarati cloth merchant
Kishore Joshi, who made frequent trips to the city for his business.

At the age of 23, Zabel married Joshi and moved to India and the
romance continued, this time also with India and with Bombay, its
melting pot of languages and cultures.

"Bombay has been very kind to me," says Zabel. "I have a wonderful
family and great friends who are Indian Hindus. In fact, today I feel
like one. I speak Hindi fluently, I also speak Gujarati."

Armenians first came to India via Kerala and established solid roots
in Kolkata. They then expanded to Mumbai, Chennai, Agra, Gwalior
and Lucknow. Over the centuries, the community has had significant
economic and cultural association with the local Indians. Today,
they are as much a part of India's melange of cultures as anybody
else, speaking the local language, absorbing some customs and feeling
perfectly at home.

Kolkata still has a visible Armenian community of over 150 people,
but Chennai's Armenian population is long gone and over the years,
Mumbai's Armenian population or what was left of it migrated to the
US and Canada, while the older generation joined their ancestors in
the cemetery at Antop Hill. Zabel now remains the sole registered
Armenian in Mumbai and the trustee for the Church.

With no community to conduct services for and no priest to conduct
the services either, St. Peter's stayed shut for a long time. But
the ivory coloured walls of the cathedral speak of cheerful tales,
of a happy community that once got together for festivals, for Easter
and for a Christmas, that was celebrated twice.

"That's my favourite part about Christmas-having two Christmases!"

gushes her daughter Tulip Joshi. "Armenian Christmas is on January 6,
so we celebrate both Christmases - the regular one in December and
the Armenian one. We decorate the tree and have traditional sweets
and Christmas pudding."

Tulip and her sisters, all of whom speak Armenian fluently, are
particularly fond of Armenian food. "It's so healthy - it's very
Mediterranean in flavour and composition. And I just love the dolmas
and sarmas that my mum makes - that's grape leaves rolled and stuffed
with either vegetables or minced meat and steamed until soft."

Zabel's memories with the Armenians in Mumbai go beyond just festivals,
though. "Every Sunday morning my family would attend Sunday mass
along with many Armenians who were alive back then," she says.

"In fact we used to wait for Sundays. Easter was our favourite one.

After the mass, we would go for lunch and play Easter games."

"Things are very different now," she continues. "I am the only Armenian
living in this city. Of course, my children have Armenian blood and I
am proud to say that they speak the language, which is really the first
step towards preserving anything that might not be around forever."

Recently, St.Peter's Church, after lying forlorn and silent for years,
has opened its doors to the Syrian Christians of its sister church -
the Malankara Orthodox Syrian church for use during Sunday services.

Feet once again troop through the doors of the church, the pews now
sigh under the weight of the faithful, but they are not the people
the church was built for.


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Posted 22 December 2015 - 11:12 AM


11:01, 22 Dec 2015
Siranush Ghazanchyan

Ambassador of the Republic of Armenia, Armen Martirosyan, has assured
Archaeology Department of undertaking translation of epitaphs on the
20 graves, The Hindu reports.

Armen Martirosyan visited the Armenian cemetery, a visit that connected
him to some unknown countrymen, who were laid to rest here a few
centuries ago. Neither they were his ancestors nor he ever learnt
about their existence, but the emotion was pretty visible as he walked
through the small cemetery.

Armen Martirosyan, Ambassador of the Republic of Armenia precisely
went through the bundle of emotions visiting the 17th century Armenian
Cemetery, now in almost a dilapidated state in Uppuguda, a part of
the old city of Hyderabad. "I am moved after coming here. I feel
nostalgic. We need to restore the cemetery for the next generations
to have a glimpse of the past," Mr. Martirosyan said after spending
nearly an hour in the cemetery.

If his renovation plans fructify, Armenians visiting the city in
the future will learn about their countrymen who inhabited Hyderabad
nearly four centuries ago.

Mr. Armen Martirosyan visited the cemetery along with Rev. Fr. Zaven
Yazichyan, Pastor Manager Indian -Armenian Spiritual Pastorate,
Kolkatta and N.R. Visatatchy Director State Archaeology and Museums
Department to take stock of its condition and determine what can be
done to restore it.

In October this year, The Hindu carried a detailed report about the
neglect of the cemetery following which the management of the Armenian
Spiritual Pastorate, Kolkatta contacted the reporter.

A visit of Monday's delegation was a result of that report.

Officials of the Archaeology Department were enthused when Mr.

Martirosyan assured them of undertaking translation of epitaphs on
the 20 graves which include that of 19 Armenians and one Dutch trader.

Archaeological excavation of the cemetery could be taken up before
beautification. The visiting Armenian delegation said it would
photograph all the graves and publish a book after gathering details
about those laid to rest here.

"Generally, tourists coming to the India visit Agra, Kolkatta and
Chennai for they know that there are few churches and cemeteries
there. We will take up a campaign to highlight the cemetery at
Hyderabad for our people to visit," Mr Martirosyan explained.

Armenians came to India between 16th and 17th centuries as traders,
travelling through Persia, Afghanistan and Tibet.

"A large number of Armenians settled in Hyderabad during the 17th
century. Though there are no written records of their activities,
traditions and social conditions, the Armenian epitaphs acknowledge
their presence," M.A. Qayyum, former Deputy Director Archaeology and
Museums said.

The graves of two priests Rev. Johannes, who died in 1680, and Rev.

Margar, who died in 1724, are also here.

"A team of archaeologist soon will take up excavation at the site.

There is a proposal to develop a small garden and appoint guards for
security," N.R. Visatatchy, Director State Archaeology and Museums



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Posted 13 March 2016 - 09:06 AM

The Hindu, India
March 11 2016

A woman ahead of her times

Sriram V.

International Women's Day was celebrated this week and so it's perhaps
appropriate that this week's story is about a remarkable woman, who
may not have lived in Madras, but has a memorial in the city's
Armenian Church.

Located on the western wall of the verandah that leads to the church
is a handsome memorial dedicated to Coramseemee Leembruggen. As to
what such a Dutch name was doing in the Armenian church was a puzzle
to me till I read Armenians In India, from the Earliest Times to the
Present Day by Mesrovb Jacob Seth, written in 1937. I learnt that the
lady was an Armenian whose real name was Hripsimah. Coramseemee or
Khoromeseemee is apparently the corrupt form of the Armenian name.

She was born in 1778 as the only daughter of Eleazar Woskan, a wealthy
Armenian based in Surat. While still in her teens, she was given in
marriage to Stephen Agabob, an elderly widower whose sole aim in life
appears to have been to marry young girls and treat them harshly. Not
one to stand such brutality, Coramseemee left him and took refuge in
the house of an English doctor, who was a family friend. In 1795, she
fell in love with Robert Henry Leembruggen, a Hollander who was in the
employment of the Dutch East India Company in Surat. However, knowing
fully well that he was not to be trusted financially, she had the
prudence to enter into what would today be known as a pre-nuptial
agreement. As per this, her Rs. 40,000 in cash and valuable jewels
were to be hers alone, and she was in no way to be held responsible
for any debts her husband may incur.

They lived happily for a while, during which time Leembruggen was
transferred to Colombo and Nagapattinam. By then, they had begun a
business, of which she was sole proprietor. Differences arose over
Leembruggen's profligate nature and the couple separated in 1817, with
Coramseemee paying her husband a monthly maintenance allowance of 25
pagodas thereafter. He died in 1819, leaving behind nothing but some
old furniture that she never bothered to claim. She ran her business
successfully on her own, till her death in 1833.

Between 1819 and 1833, she had the habit of making a new will each
year, copies of which were sent to the Armenian Church, Madras. When
she died, the last will and testament, after several charities to
Armenian causes, left the bulk of her estate to the Armenian Church,
Madras, for the Armenian Orphans Fund. The memorial here was put up
for her in gratitude. Two other legatees, the Armenian College and the
Armenian Church of Nazareth in Calcutta put up a memorial for her in
the church in that city.

Taking into account her tombstone in Nagapattinam, there are therefore
three memorials to her in India. That must be a record of sorts.


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Posted 11 April 2016 - 10:40 AM

The Indian Express, India
April 10 2016

Kolkata’s 195-yr-old Armenian College and Philanthropic Academy: The
last bastion of the rapidly declining community in India

The school is the jewel in the crown of the once-flourishing Armenian
community in Kolkata.

The Armenian College and Philanthropic Academy can easily be mistaken
for one of the many Christian missionary schools that dot central
Kolkata. There is a sprawling field in the middle of the campus, where
boys in colourful jerseys are playing football. In the corridors
overlooking the sprawling ground, gangly girls in smart checked skirts
rush to their classes. During recess, the frills-free cafeteria has
children queuing up in front of the chowmein counter. But this school
is unlike any other in the country. “For two centuries, Armenian
students from across the world have come to this school in pursuit of
academic excellence. For the 10 years that they are here, Armenians
from Russia, Iran and Armenia call Kolkata their home,” says Father
Zaven Yazichyan, pastor, Armenian College and Philanthropic academy
(ACPA), Kolkata. Last week, the school celebrated its 195th
anniversary with a function that was attended by 100 people — 60 of
whom are the last of the original Indian-Armenians of Kolkata.

“This is one of those few times when we get to see young Armenians
around. Otherwise, we are a crowd of geriatrics,” says Paul Stephen,
69, caretaker of the Holy Church of Nazareth in Burrabazar. The event
saw a lavish Armenian-Indian dinner and the ACPA choir played both the
Indian and Armenian national anthems. A fresh batch of Armenian
students from the capital city of Yerevan also sang Vande Mataram.
“Armenians have always been open to different cultures. That’s why we
have survived in India for thousands of years. We have married into
Indian families, and embraced their culture,” says Yazichyan.

The school is the jewel in the crown of the once-flourishing Armenian
community in Kolkata. The community, which was about “2,000 strong” in
the 1940s, has been reduced to 60 registered Armenian voters today.
“Now we only have this school to keep things going,” says Sunil Sobti,
warden, Holy Church of Nazareth. Sobti is half-Armenian on his
mother’s side.

The story of Armenians in India does not have the narrative of
conquest of the British, Mughals or even the Portuguese. They came
here from western Asia just for trade. “We were not colonisers. We
migrated here long before the Mughals. The Armenians were here for
muslin and spices. They took overland routes through Persia and
Afghanistan. During Akbar’s rule, the first Armenian establishment
sprung up at Agra. Since then, Armenian communities settled in port
cities like Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai,” adds Sobti.

A two-minute walk away from Armenian College and Philanthropic Academy
is one of the most prominent landmarks of the city, Queen’s Mansion in
Park Street. The sprawling building with gothic facade appears to be a
reminder of Kolkata’s British past. A historian will tell you
otherwise. “It was actually known as Galstaun Mansion, built by one of
the most prominent Armenian families of the city, the Galstauns. They
were wealthy businessmen and one of the boys of the family, Johannes
Carapiet Galstaun, who went to the Armenian College, contributed Rs
25,000 towards the iconic Victoria Memorial,” says GM Kapur of INTACH.
Another popular Kolkata landmark, The Grand Hotel (now the Oberoi
Grand) was built by an Armenian businessman, Arathoon Stephen, who
also built Stephen Court in Park Street where Flury’s, an iconic
patisserie, is located.

Sitting in his spacious office at ACPA, Yazichyan tells us about the
contribution of Kolkata’s Armenian community, insisting that not
enough has been written about it. “Paul Chater, who was knighted in
1902, was a prominent member of the Armenian community here. He
migrated to Hong Kong in the late 19th century and was a renowned
banker there. Hindustani classical singer Gauhar Jaan was of Armenian
descent. The Armenians of Kolkata were mainly into real estate,
trading and transport business,” he says.

By 1947, the Armenian population in Kolkata which was about 25,000 in
the mid-18th century, had dwindled to a couple of thousand. Azaniv
Joakin, 50, of Bengali-Armenian parentage, remembers how things
changed drastically within a few decades. “When I was growing up, in
the 1960s and ’70s, there were several Armenian bakeries such as Minas
bakery, which specialised in traditional Armenian sweets like gatha, a
sweet and savoury cake,” she says.

Their social life in Kolkata rested on two prominent pillars — the
Armenian Sports Club on Mayo Road and Queen’s Mansion. “The Christmas
Party at Queen’s Mansion was one of the major events in our calendar.
I remember the elders would perform the traditional Ribbon dance. The
parties stopped in the late 1980s…we hardly had any people left to
attend them,” says Joakin, who is one of the very few Armenians to
have stayed back in Kolkata. “Most of my friends shifted to Canada in
the 1980s, I stayed back because I got a job in a school. Now, my
daughter is working in a software consultancy firm in the US. She does
not intend to return,” she says.

It is evening and at Sudder Street, Kolkata’s backpacker haven, Sasoon
Zarookin, 24, and Davit Gevoraggan, 25, lead us to their favourite
hangout, the Fairlawn Hotel. The hotel’s kitschy outdoor beer garden
is very popular with young Armenians because of its laidback vibe.
“This is where you will find most Armenian students when they have
some money in their pocket. Otherwise, we are at the tea joint right
outside our college,” says Zarookin.

Almost a decade ago, when Zarookin shifted to Kolkata from Tehran,
Iran, he had no idea what he had signed up for. “All I knew was that
to go to ACPA was a matter of prestige. Armenians all over the world
have heard of this school. It is the second-oldest Armenian education
institution in the world,” says Zarookin, who is now pursuing an MBA
degree from a leading management institute in the city. “The food was
very different, but, within a few months, I got used to the city, the
culture,” says Zarookin.

Gevoraggan, who is also from Tehran, was sure only about one thing —
rugby. “I was not good with English, I was only good at playing rugby.
I was told the school had a strong rugby team, so I was excited,” he
says. Since he moved to Kolkata 10 years ago, Gevoraggan has
represented India in the All India and South East Asia Rugby
tournament seven times. “Armenians are really good at rugby. We are
naturally aggressive,” he says.

Both of them will stay in Kolkata for another year; they have plans of
making it big in USA or Canada. “What can we do? I don’t envision a
future here, but Kolkata will always be my second home. Maybe, I will
send my children to study here,” says Zarookin.


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