ARMENIA'S COMMUNITY, CULTURE THRIVING IN SINGAPORE
Posted 19 February 2011 - 09:39 AM
by Ong Dai Lin
Feb 18 2011
SINGAPORE - They did not plan to start a family halfway around the
globe from home. But when the newly-weds from Armenia received an offer
three years ago to come and teach music in Singapore, they accepted it.
Fast forward to today, orchestra conductor Gevorg Sargsyan and his
wife, violinist Ani Umedyan, are expecting their first child next
"We didn't expect to like Singapore that much ... but the people are
very friendly and the country is super developed, so we decided to
stay longer," he said.
Mr Sargsyan and his wife, both 30, represent a growing group of
Armenians who have been making their way to Singapore in recent years.
Their arrivals have not only boosted the size of the local Armenian
community but also rejuvenated its culture.
Ms Umedyan is a member of the Armenian Heritage Ensemble, formed
in 2009 to promote the history and culture of Armenia through the
The ensemble, made up of Armenian musicians who have come to Singapore
in recent years, holds regular concerts and events at the Armenian
Church of St Gregory in Hill Street.
Ms Umedyan said: "Due to the concerts, a lot of foreigners are becoming
interested in Armenian culture."
A trustee of the church, Mr Greg Basmadjian, told MediaCorp that
there are about 70 Armenians in Singapore today.
Giving an example of how the culture of the Armenian community has been
diluted before the revival, he said most in the community celebrate
Christmas on Dec 25 although the church also organises gatherings to
observe the traditional Armenian Christmas on Jan 6.
"Tradition is bound to change for a small community ... you have to
accept that it's part of globalisation," said the 59-year-old who came
to work in Singapore in the '80s and married a Chinese-Singaporean.
Now, with a growing community, the Armenians here are starting to
commemorate more occasions that are significant for their homeland.
Last year, for example, they marked the anniversary of a World War I
tragedy, known as the Armenian Genocide to the Armenians, with prayers.
With more members, the Armenian Church may be able to bring in a
priest to conduct Sunday church services and also start a Sunday
school, said Mr Basmadjian.
Ms Jessie Sarkies, the granddaughter of Mr Arathoon Martin Sarkies
who was the cousin of the three Armenian Sarkies brothers who founded
Raffles Hotel, told MediaCorp that she expects more Armenians to come
to Singapore to work.
"Maybe they will get married here and have children, so the community
will definitely grow," said the 64-year-old.
On March 26, the Armenian Church will be celebrating the 175th
anniversary of its consecration in 1836. The celebrations will include
prayers and a cultural dinner at Raffles Hotel.
There is a huge Armenian diaspora because of the country's tumultuous
history. About 16 Armenians arrived here not long after Stamford
Raffles founded Singapore.
Some notable Armenians here include Mr Catchik Moses, who founded
The Straits Times in 1845; and Ms Agnes Joaquim, who cultivated
Singapore's national flower, Vanda Miss Joaquim.
Posted 28 March 2012 - 06:21 AM
March 28, 2012 | 10:34
Armenia’s President Serzh Sargsyan on Tuesday headed from Seoul to Singapore on a state visit.
Sargsyan’s Singapore visit agenda commenced on Wednesday morning, and his first stop-over was at the Singapore Botanic Gardens, where an orchid naming ceremony took place.
This is a Singaporean ceremony in honor of high-level guests and personalities, and the reason is that the orchid—more specifically, its type called [b]“Vanda Miss Joaquim”—is the national flower of Singapore.]/b\
But Armenian President’s attendance to this ceremony had another meaning, too. And the reason is because Vanda Miss Joaquim was discovered by [b]Armenian botanist Agnes Joaquim (Ashkhen Hovagimian),]/b] and it was named after her.
And because of this fact, Armenia’s President wrote the following in the Gardens’ Book of Honorable Guests: “May this beautiful flower also become a symbol of the
PS. See what Ani said here - ԽՈԼՈՐՁ ??
Edited by Arpa, 28 March 2012 - 06:47 AM.
Posted 28 March 2012 - 09:44 AM
Story from Lragir.am News:
Published: 13:10:53 - 28/03/2012
In January - February 2012, the number of people leaving Armenia
surpassed arrivals by 14.4 thousand, which is 20% more year-over-year.
The number of those who leave Armenia is said to reach 60,000 annually.
The government developed a migration strategy four years ago to
encourage repatriation and reduce emigration. However, judging by
the increasing data, the strategy didn't help.
The government explains emigration by economic problems and states
that the process will stop as soon as the economy of the country
starts growing. There is no significant growth yet so emigration
The government is not worried about this because remittances are
growing as well comprising almost 20% of the GDP. In 2011, the
transfers amounted to USD 1,960,000 which is up by 330,000 compared
Answering the question what the government does to encourage
repatriation, the head of the State Migration Service Gagik Yeganyan
said the website "Back to Home" was created as part of the strategy.
Those who want to return can get the answers to their questions on
What investments can they make here and what business can they do? Are
these people welcome in Armenia? What must be done for a permission to
move to Armenia? Maybe it is necessary to change tax policy and improve
investment climate? Or maybe, as the IMF specialists say, the tax
and customs officers need to improve their relations with businesses?
These steps had to be addressed by the migration strategy instead of
creation of websites. Those who want to return will not search the
web, they will rather ask their colleagues whether it is worth going
to Armenia and whether they can do business there, make investments,
whether they need a "roof", how guests are treated here.
This year the number of Iranians visiting Armenia to celebrate their
new year halved. Prior to their arrival, local hotels and private
traders boosted prices on everything so that the Iranians preferred
staying at home. How is it possible to boost immigration if we even
destroy the natural conditions for tourism?
Serzh Sargsyan is in Singapore now which is famous for its liberal
business environment. But this environment was created by their own
decision. People understood that they will starve unless they agree
not to rob, not to create hindrances and to support business. They
agreed. The Armenians are fine without this.
Posted 28 March 2012 - 09:56 AM
March 28, 2012 | 10:50
YEREVAN. - Along the lines of Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan's
ongoing state visit to Singapore, the latter's most senior officials
have made numerous positive remarks concerning the Armenian people,
specifically the Singaporean-Armenian community.
As case in point, Singapore's President Tony Tan Keng Yam noted with
delight that the Armenians had printed the first newspaper and built
the first Christian church in Singapore. In his turn, Singaporean
PM Lee Hsien Loong stated that his country's trade relations had
developed since the 19th century especially owing to the efforts
by Armenian merchants, Armenian President's Press Office informed
It is apparent that these evaluations are not exaggerated, and, even
though the Armenian community in Singapore was always very small in
number, it has left a considerable trace in Singapore's history of
the past 100-150 years.
Within the framework of his state visit to Singapore, Armenia's
President will get together with the Singaporean-Armenian community
Posted 29 March 2012 - 12:00 PM
Wow, seriously, is there a place in the world where Armenians haven't made a difference?
Posted 07 January 2015 - 10:48 AM
Nadia Wright on January 6, 2015
Special for the Armenian Weekly
Travellers visiting the bustling city-state of Singapore may not be aware of the great impact made by the Armenians who form one of its smallest minorities. Between 1820 and 2000, fewer than 700 Armenians ever lived in Singapore. Although most were transient, with a mere 12 families residing for three generations, they have left a legacy incommensurate with their numbers. Along with the Church of St. Gregory the Illuminator, the oldest existing church in Singapore and its parsonage, there are other reminders of the Armenian presence. These include Raffles Hotel, theStraits Times newspaper, and Singapore’s national flower, Vanda Miss Joaquim.
As in most cities where Armenians settled, there is an Armenian Street. In Singapore, this short street gained its name because it bordered the back of the church property. Three other streets attest to the Armenian presence: Sarkies Road, named after property owner Regina Sarkies; Galistan Avenue, which recognizes the work of Emile Galistan of the Singapore Improvement Trust; and St. Martin’s Drive, which commemorates the philanthropic Martin family who once owned a mansion and substantial property along Orchard Road. Stamford House, built by the firm of Stephens Paul in 1904, still stands offering insights into Edwardian architecture.
So, when and why did Armenians arrive in Singapore and what happened to them?
They were descendants of Armenians from Persia, in particular those deported from Julfa to Isfahan by Shah Abbas in the early 1600’s. In later years some of those Armenians migrated to India, the Dutch East Indies, Burma, Malacca, Penang, and lastly to Singapore, thus forming an extensive trading diaspora. To better assimilate, most Persian Armenians Anglicized their names; thus some surnames are not recognizable as Armenian. For example, Mardirian became Martin, Stepanian became Stephens, and Yedgarian became Edgar.
In 1820, one year after the British opened a trading post in Singapore, the first Armenians, the apparently unrelated Aristarkies Sarkies and Sarkies A. Sarkies, arrived from Malacca. They were soon joined by Carapiet Phannous, Mackertich Moses, the Seth brothers, and the Zechariah brothers. All were traders or commercial agents. By 1824, there were 16 Armenians out of a population surpassing 10,000. More arrivals trickled in hoping to make their fortunes in the new duty-free port.
Before long, the Armenians wanted their own priest rather than relying on visits from the priest in Penang. In 1825, Isiah Zechariah, on behalf of the community, wrote to the archbishop in New Julfa asking that a priest be sent to Singapore, and in 1827 Reverend Gregory Ter Johannes duly arrived. The next step was for the Armenians to have their own church. Having been granted land by the governor, the community, which was basically comprised of 10 families, raised most of the construction costs. In 1836, the Armenian Apostolic Church of St. Gregory the Illuminator was consecrated, and for the ensuing century met the needs of the growing community.
Between 1820 and 1983, Armenians in Singapore operated more than 85 commercial enterprises. Most set up as traders, specializing in importing textiles and exporting regional produce. Such firms included Andreas & Company, Edgar & Company, Demetrius & Company, Arathoon Brothers, and Chater & Company. The Calcutta-based Armenian shipping line Apcar Brothers was patronized by the Armenians, and was also the main carrier of the then-legal opium into Singapore from the 1860’s until the 1880’s.
Some firms petered out after a short time, whereas Sarkies and Moses, founded in 1840, lasted until 1913. Others developed into multinational import and export firms, including Edgar Brothers (1912-68), Stephens, Paul, and Company (1896-1941), and A. C. Galstaun (1957-83).
A few individuals owned law firms, restaurants, watch-making, and jewelry shops, auction houses, small factories, and photographic studios. The legal firm of Joaquim Brothers was well known throughout Malaya until its closure in 1902, while George Michael was running Singapore’s leading photographic studio when he left in 1919.
The hospitality industry attracted many Armenians, their ventures ranging from small boarding houses to the grandest of hotels: Raffles Hotel. This future icon was the initiative of Tigran and Martin Sarkies, who were already running two successful hotels in Penang: the Eastern Hotel and the Oriental. Propitiously, they named their hotel after Sir Stamford Raffles, Singapore’s founder, whose statue had recently been unveiled amidst much pomp and splendor.
Opened in December 1887 and managed by Tigran, Raffles Hotel quickly established a reputation for its dining innovations. Its fame escalated after its magnificent new Renaissance-style block was opened in 1899. The grandest balls and banquets were hosted at Raffles, and guests included royalty and celebrities such as Somerset Maugham and Noel Coward.
Managed by Tigran for nearly 20 years, then his younger brother Aviet for another 10, the hotel reached its halcyon days in the 1920’s under managing proprietor Martyrose Arathoon.
For a short time at the turn of the 20th century, the three major hotels in Singapore were managed or owned by Armenians. Competing with Raffles was the Adelphi Hotel run by Johannes and Sarkies, while even the exclusive Europe Hotel was being managed by Joe Constantine. Before that, there had been a series of Armenian hoteliers operating smaller hotels, including Moses’ Pavilion and Bowling Alley, St. Valentine’s Bath Hotel, and Goodwood Hall and the Sea View Hotel, which was finally acquired by the Sarkies brothers. The Oranje Hotel, in today’s Stamford House, which was run in the 1950’s by Klara van Hien, was the last of the Armenian hotels.
Some of the pioneering merchants built or acquired magnificent houses, and played a significant role in the educational, economic, civic, and social life of the colony. They served on various committees including the first Chamber of Commerce, which met in 1837. In 1895, two out of the eight elected municipal commissioners were Armenian: a very high ratio for such a small community.
A notable individual was prominent lawyer Joaquim P. Joaquim (Hovakimian) who served as president of the Municipal Commission, a member of the Legislative Council, and was appointed deputy U.S. consul in 1893. Another prominent figure was George G. Seth, who rose to become solicitor-general of the Straits Settlements in the 1920’s and later served as acting attorney-general.
One Armenian who received posthumous fame was Agnes (Ashkhen) Joaquim. In the 1880’s she hybridized an orchid by crossing the Vanda teres with the Vanda Hookeriana, thus creating the flower named after her: the Vanda Miss Joaquim. Propagated by cuttings, this orchid proliferated not only in Singapore but in the other tropical countries where it had been introduced. It became especially popular in Hawaii, where it is better known as the Princess Aloha orchid. In Singapore, the orchid was selected as the nation’s national flower in 1981.
The Armenians were very loyal to Britain; Hoseb Arathoon, for example, donated an aeroplane to the British War Office in 1915, and young men volunteered for both World Wars. The community was also acutely aware of the suffering of their brethren in Turkey and raised large amounts of money for the victims of the massacres of the 1890’s and later the genocide.
Although the community was too small to run its own school, an Armenian newspaper was printed for a short time. Gregory Galastaun published “Usumnaser” (“The Scholar”) from 1849 until 1853, with his friend Peter Seth creating an exquisite etching of Singapore for the masthead.
Gregory Galastaun published ‘Usumnaser’ (‘The Scholar’) from 1849 until 1853, with his friend Peter Seth creating an exquisite etching of Singapore for the masthead.
In 1845, Catchick Moses had established the “Straits Times” newspaper, which today is the leading newspaper of Southeast Asia. Moses had acquired the printing press to help out his beleaguered compatriot, Martyrose Apcar, but soon sold the newspaper to the paper’s editor, Robert Woods.
‘Armenian numbers peaked at just over 100 in the 1920’s. A branch of the AGBU was up and running, Raffles Hotel was in full swing, and the trading firms were busy and all employed young Armenian men often from other Armenian communities. However, this was the calm before the storm. First came the Depression, which adversely affected the trading companies in particular; then in 1938, the last resident priest returned to New Julfa; and in 1942 Singapore fell to the Japanese. The Armenians suffered diverse fates: Some women and children escaped to Australia, while their menfolk enlisted. Civilians who were British subjects were interned, while those who were classified as Persians were not. Death struck both soldiers and civilians.
After the war, a new Singapore emerged: one in which Armenians faced limited prospects. The few Armenian firms included Edgar Brothers and Arathoon Sons, and A. C. Galstaun, which was the last of the Persian-Armenian firms. Gradually the families migrated mainly to Australia, the U.S., or Britain.
By the 1970’s the community had virtually disappeared; only a handful of the old families who still spoke Armenian remained. The very smallness of the community, which had helped it to integrate, also helped cause its demise: It was demographically unviable. Intermarriage and the consequent assimilation into a larger culture, death, and emigration had taken their toll. In 2007, Helen Metes, the last of Singapore’s Persian Armenians, died.
But not the Armenian community of Singapore. This has been revitalized by the recent migration of Armenian entrepreneurs from Armenia and Russia. Along with other expatriates they are creating a new, vibrant, and growing young community, building on the past to secure a sound future for Armenians in Singapore.
Posted 07 January 2015 - 10:48 AM
Posted 18 September 2015 - 09:16 AM
PLANS AFOOT FOR ARMENIAN HERITAGE MUSEUM IN SINGAPORE
10:24, 17 Sep 2015
Singapore's oldest church, the 180-year-old Armenian Apostolic
Church of St Gregory The Illuminator in Hill Street, will soon have
an Armenian heritage museum, Straits Times reports.
Venture capitalist Pierre Hennes, 43, one of its four trustees,
says the tiny, close-knit Armenian community and about 15 Armenians
overseas have been discussing setting it up since 2005.
Before that, the community was focused on sprucing up the church,
which was declared a national monument in 1973.
Hardly any Armenians here worship in the church and Armenians say
there is no pressure on them to attend church regularly, as religion
is a very personal and private matter to them. But building churches
everywhere they landed was their way of preserving their roots.
The premises are often rented out to other Orthodox Christians,
such as the Coptics, for their services. What they earn goes towards
maintaining the church.
If all goes well, the museum will open next year in the 110-year-old
house across the church.
The two-storey building was originally a parsonage but there has not
been a resident priest since 1933.
The trustees hope the museum will have maps, religious relics and
Armenian literary works. The museum plan is quite a turnaround from
just 10 years ago, when Armenian archbishop Aghan Baliozian tried to
sell the church and parsonage.
The community stopped that sale and, today, the mother church in
Armenia is giving the museum plan its support.
Last November, the world leader of the church, the Catholicos of All
Armenians, was there to bless the Armenian congregation and the church.
Posted 18 September 2015 - 09:28 AM
PROUD OF THE LEGENDARY SARKIES NAME
The Straits Times, Singapore
Sept 17 2015
Her grand-uncles founded Raffles Hotel, contributing to the Armenian
Cheong Suk-Wai Senior Writer firstname.lastname@example.org
Madam Loretta Sarkies has led a fuller life than most people. Twice
married and a mother of three, the 74-year-old is the eldest daughter
of Mr James Arathoon Sarkies, who ran the Happy World Cabaret here
in the 1940s, and his French-Spanish wife Mae Didier.
Theirs was "a very well-to-do" family, Madam Sarkies says, with a
family mansion at 8 Da Silva Lane - now a row of terraced houses in
Upper Serangoon - and, as her father put it, "a spare house" called
Sentosa in Stevens Road.
She remembers that when she was a child, her car-crazy father owned
at least five cars, including a Buick, a Chevrolet, a Chrysler and
a De Soto.
"I still remember 7799 was the number plate of his Ford, and 8648
the number plate of the black Morris Minor he bought my mother after
she passed her driving test," she recalls. On her 16th birthday,
he screened movies in their garden for her friends and let off
firecrackers for good luck.
"My parents told me from the time I was young that I was an Armenian,
not Eurasian, and that I was from the family that established the
finest hotels in South-east Asia at that time," Madam Sarkies tells
The Straits Times.
Her family's roots go back to 1884, when grand-uncle Tigran Sarkies
arrived here. Three years later, he founded Raffles Hotel with younger
brother Aviet. Their brothers Martin and Arshak did likewise with
the landmarks Eastern and Oriental Hotel in Penang and The Strand
Armenians have settled in Singapore since the early 1820s, with nine
recorded in Singapore's first census in 1824.
These early settlers were not from Armenia but the trading town of
New Julfa in Persia, what is now Iran. Persian king Shah Abbas I had
founded New Julfa in 1604 by driving 25,000 Armenian artisans and
traders to the site to boost the Persian economy.
In Singapore, the early community of nine swelled to an all-time high
of about 400 in the late 1800s, before dwindling to almost zero during
World War II.
In the 1980s, there were about 30 Armenians here, although it
would have been hard to tell as they were often mistaken for Arabs,
Eurasians, Indians, Italians and Pashtuns. During the 2008 global
financial crisis, young people from Armenia started settling here
for work or studies.
Madam Sarkies recalls that as she was growing up, her father used
to tell her she looked a lot like his "very beautiful" mother, Madam
In 1901, Madam Carapiet had married divorcee Arathoon Sarkies, a
cousin of the hoteliers. He had no role in Raffles Hotel, but set up
his own company and ran the nearby Adelphi Hotel instead.
A twice-married father of five, he trusted his son-in-law and business
partner Basil Johannes too much.
Both went bankrupt, in 1908 and 1929. In 1932, after a judge barred
him from ever doing business here, Mr Arathoon Sarkies jumped into
the sea off Tanjung Pinang and died.
Madam Sarkies recalls: "My dad, who was his only son, never liked to
speak about it. But according to him, my grandfather preferred to die
because he couldn't live without money." Her grandmother, she adds,
died six months later from grief, having "starved herself to death".
Madam Sarkies says her father, an alumnus of Raffles Institution,
was well-known as a "tuan besar" (Malay for big boss). Her parents'
1940 wedding was a prominent story in The Straits Times.
History repeated itself in the 1970s when her father was guarantor
for a friend's debt. When the friend absconded, he was forced to sell
8 Da Silva Lane.
At that time, Madam Sarkies and her sister Jessica had married and
Their parents moved into a three-room HDB flat in Toa Payoh with their
two adopted daughters, Ruby and Susan. Mr James Sarkies died in 1977,
and his wife later remarried and died.
Madam Sarkies married Dutch-Eurasian civil servant Simon Aroozoo,
and had three daughters - Brigitte, Carol and Debra.
She drummed it early into her girls that they are half-Armenian.
After her husband died of brain cancer in 1991, she married Mr Michael
Tan, with whom she ran an employment agency in Orchard Road. They
closed it down when he fell ill.
He lived long enough to see her, at age 60, finish as first runner-up
and Glamour Queen in the 2001 Mrs Senior Singapore pageant.
Madam Sarkies now lives alone in an HDB flat in Pasir Ris, surrounded
by family mementos and antiques left by her grandmother.
For about two years after her sister Jessica died in 2012, she was
the last person here named Sarkies who is directly related to the
Raffles Hotel founders.
Then her youngest daughter Debra Aroozoo, a 49-year-old office manager,
decided to act on a suggestion by a visiting Armenian priest to change
her surname to Sarkies to keep it alive.
Twice-married like her mother, Debra has three sons and a daughter
aged between 14 and 24. With her mother's blessings, she went ahead
with the name change.
Earlier this year, Debra and her children all became Sarkies, and
the fabled name will live on.
Madam Sarkies, who calls herself an optimist, vows: "I will never
change my name even if I should get married again, as I am proud of
how well-known it is in Singapore."
Posted 18 February 2017 - 12:22 PM
BY CATHERINE YESAYAN
If it were not for the cruise that my husband and I booked, we wouldn’t have traveled to Singapore. I took this opportunity to inquire about Armenian life on that island and write.
When my cousin learned that we were planning a trip to Singapore, he told me, “How exciting! They say Singapore is the cleanest state in the world. You will be fined if you spit a wad of chewing gum or throw a cigarette butt on the sidewalk.”
Indeed, Singapore is one of the cleanest and safest countries in the world. You may meet someone there that never in his whole life chewed gum. The people are very careful about how they behave because undercover police hide in regular clothes and scan the crowds. Also superb in Singapore are the architecture and designs. Wherever you turn, you can see a visual feast.
No visit to Singapore can be complete without a stroll on the world-famous Orchard Road, lined with towering shopping centers, hotels and restaurants. Shiny and glamorous malls of glass and steel are occupied by designer stores including Cartier, Dior, Prada and likes. Amid this astonishing milieu stands the most famous hotel of Singapore, Raffles, which was built in 1887 by the Armenian Sarkies Brothers.
It gives me chills to think that these brothers who were born in the mid-1800s in Isfahan, Iran, had the foresight to travel from Iran to Southeast Asia and built many luxury hotels in Java, Indonesia, Burma and Malaysia.
History tells us that modern Singapore was founded in 1819 when Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, a British statesman, established a trading post on the island. Sixteen years later, in 1835, the Armenian Church of St. Gregory of the Illuminator was built on the island. The site was granted to the Armenian community by Queen Victoria.
February 8th was a pleasant morning in Singapore when our ship docked there at 7a.m. We took a taxi to the hotel, and at around noon, after we had settled in our room, we took another taxi to go to the Armenian Church.
The round church, with Greek columns, stood in the midst of lush grounds surrounded by mature trees. Its whitewashed walls were in top condition, as it had recently undergone a major renovation. Inside were rows of wooden pews, but only one painting. I hadn’t expected to see a church surrounded by what must have been an acre of land. I was also surprised to find that the doors were open to the public.
My friend Lynn Yekiazarian, who has lived in Singapore for number of years, had arranged for me to meet Pierre Henes, a trustee of the church. Pierre is an energetic businessman in his forties who has been living in Singapore for over thirteen years. His mom is Armenian from Iran, his dad German, and he was born in Chicago.
We arrived early at the church. While waiting for our meeting with Pierre, I met a Greek woman who had come to visit the church. She asked me, “Why there are no paintings on the walls?”
I replied, “Probably because they might get stolen.”
We saw another woman kneeling at a pew and praying. When she rose and spoke with us, she said that her work was close to the church and that most every day during her lunch break, she came there to pray. While we were there, a few other people dropped in as well.
One thing that really impressed me was the Guest Book near the front door. Many people on daily basis, from all over the world had visited there and written in the book. One of the most interesting remarks was by a woman who said that she had been adopted by the Sarkies brothers and was very appreciative of her family.
When Pierre Henes arrived, he spoke in Persian-Armenian dialect. His accent amused me. He had never been to Iran but had acquired the perfect jargon. He gave us a brief history about Armenians in Singapore.
“Although the Armenian community here has been small, its contributions to the culture have been significant,” he continued. “The Armenian Church was the first Christian church built in Singapore. Armenians established the Straits Times, which is a daily newspaper that it is still in circulation. Agnes Joaquim developed The National Flower. And, of course, the iconic Sarkies brothers created the prestigious and luxurious Raffles Hotel.”
He led us to the garden on the right side of the church, where about a dozen tombstones had been erected in a half-circle. Some of the statues were missing their heads. Pierre explained that those tombstones had been brought there from a cemetery that the government destroyed it to use the land for housing. “Fortunately, an Armenian, Levon Palian, was able to salvage some of the tombstones, which belonged to famous Armenians of Singapore.”
He pointed to the grave site of Ashken Hovakimian, better known as Agnes Joaquim. “She cultivated the National Flower of Singapore, and at the Annual Flower Show of 1899, she won the first prize, in the amount of $12. Unfortunately, a few months later, at the age of 44, she died of cancer.
To the left of the church, a two story building was being renovated. It had been originally built for the resident priest, but since there is no longer a priest staying there, the trustees of the church decided to turn the quarters into a community center, which will house the first Armenian museum in Asia.
A recent government grant made the restoration of the church and the adjacent building possible. The job started about two years ago. Pierre told us, “We hope to open the museum in late 2017. The second floor will have accommodations for the caretaker of the church, and the museum will be on the first floor. The plan also includes a small banquet hall.”
After our informative visit to the Armenian Church, we headed to Raffles Hotel, which was within walking distance, arriving there at around 3pm, we saw a line had formed for their English Afternoon Tea, which ranks amongst most expensive and luxurious Teas— about $70 per person.
The Raffles hotel which is named after the founder of Singapore, Sir Stamford Raffles, is built in colonial style architecture with an Indian influence. It is a three story expansive building which includes many gardens and verandas.
It started as a privately owned beach house in the early 1830s. in 1887 the Sarkies brothers, who had already built other luxury hotels, leased the property with the intention to turning it into a high end hotel.
The expansion of the hotel occurred in different phases. On November 18, 1899 the Raffles main building was completed and opened with a great fanfare. The hotel boasted Singapore’s first electric lights and ceiling fans.
In 1987 the Singapore government designated Raffles Hotel a National monument. Today Raffles shines like a diamond in the middle of Singapore.
This is how Sarkies brothers left a legacy. Arshak, the last of the brothers died on January 9, 1931. Same year, on June 10, a bankruptcy case was filed against the Raffles hotel, eventually resulting in the Sarkies family losing control of the Raffles hotel in Singapore. However the Sarkies name still lives on in Singapore through the namesake of Sarkies Rd. The Armenia Street runs next to the church.
As we were heading back to the hotel, we stopped at a café. There I saw a magazine rack, which included The Straits Times. As Pierre had mentioned the paper was started by an Armenian, Catchik Moses. It was launched on July 15, 1845 and the monthly subscription was $1.75.
The information I gathered on that day got me so excited. I could hardly wait to start writing about Singapore and the Armenian legacy.
Posted 19 May 2017 - 09:55 AM
In a small sanctuary in Singapore's oldest church, the Very Reverend Father Zaven Yazichyan conducts a traditional Armenian Divine Liturgy service, or Sourp Badarak, for around 20 people.
Though he lives in Myanmar, Father Zaven, 36, travels here about five or six times a year to conduct a Divine Liturgy at the 182-year-old Armenian Apostolic Church of St Gregory the Illuminator in Hill Street.
With only an estimated 80 to 100 Armenians living in Singapore, there is no resident priest for the tiny community here, and there has not been one since the 1930s. But its loyal worshippers are not about to let this pillar of Armenian identity, formally recognised as a national monument in 1973, fade away.
Ms Ani Umedyan, 35, a volunteer at the church who has worshipped there for nine years, moved to Singapore with her husband from Armenia in 2008 and speaks passionately about seeing it grow.
When asked what keeps him motivated to keep flying back to conduct services for such a small crowd, Father Zaven said: "Every soul is important. Even if there are only a few people, it is my duty and honour to minister to them."
Most major holidays in the Orthodox Christian calendar are celebrated here, such as Easter and Christmas, which is celebrated on Jan 6 according to Orthodox beliefs. About 100 Armenians attend these services.
The church was built in 1835 and was officially opened and consecrated in 1836. It was dedicated to St Gregory the Illuminator, who was the first head of the Armenian Apostolic Church. The church, designed by architect George D. Coleman, was given a colonial design on the exterior, with a notably Armenian interior. It has since gone through a number of refurbishments.
Another draw for the Armenian community here is music. The Armenian Heritage Ensemble was established in 2009 to encourage learning of the history and culture of Armenians. The small group of three permanent musicians performs traditional Armenian music as well as other classical pieces for about 50 Armenians and Singaporeans each time.
"The aim is to expose people to the church, to our culture and our heritage through music," said one of the church's four trustees, Mr Pierre Hennes, 44.
Another trustee, Mr Gevorg Sargsyan, 35, added that the concerts bring life to the church.
The building of the church was commissioned by a group of Armenian families who arrived here on a trade route from Iran and started worshipping in a small space behind John Little & Company, located in modern-day Raffles Place.
When they requested a permanent worship location, they were given a plot of land in Hill Street by Queen Victoria.
Contributions from each family raised about half the building costs, with the rest of it coming from overseas Armenian communities.
The church was built in 1835 and was officially opened and consecrated in 1836. It was dedicated to St Gregory the Illuminator, who was the first head of the Armenian Apostolic Church.
The church, designed by architect George D. Coleman, was given a colonial design on the exterior, with a notably Armenian interior. It has since gone through a number of refurbishments.
However, air-conditioning was installed in the building only last year.
"We had to discuss the plans for air-conditioning with the National Heritage Board for a long time before they agreed to let us do it," said Ms Umedyan, explaining it was crucial they did not disturb the overall look of the sanctuary.
Even the pews in the sanctuary remain as they originally were when they first arrived, though the rattan has since been replaced.
In the early 1970s, tombstones of Armenians who died in Singapore were taken to the church grounds from Bukit Timah Cemetery and placed in what is now known as the Memorial Garden.
Though the community is small, some of its members played a prominent role in Singapore's history.
People of note in repose in the garden include Mr Catchick Moses, who was the co-founder of The Straits Times; Miss Agnes Joaquim, who bred Singapore's national flower, the Vanda Miss Joaquim; and the Sarkies brothers, who founded Raffles Hotel.
There are other plans to commemorate the history of the church and the local Armenian community. The first floor of the parsonage is being turned into a museum containing maps, religious relics and Armenian literary works.
Its deep history makes the Armenian church a favourite stop for tourists. About 100 visitors come every day, many of them Armenian.
"Based on our guest book, we know that not a single day goes by without an Armenian visitor stopping by," said Mr Sargsyan.
Currently, the church holds between 30 to 40 Orthodox weddings a year, and couples are simply asked to make a donation.
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