Armenian College & Philanthropic Academy, Kolkata
Posted 25 January 2008 - 01:47 PM
I thought I would let you know that I have just returned from another research and discussion mission to Kolkata.
Whilst there, I was very kindly given some desk space at the Armenian College & Philanthropic Academy, and have just updated my travel/alternative website with details of the school and various events that took place whilst I was there.
Anyone with an interest in the Armenian College, may find this of interest. The website is
Click on Kolkata 2008 for an update on the developments at the Armenian College.
Posted 25 January 2008 - 02:18 PM
It was very uplifting to see all those upgrades at the Armenian College, job well done.
Posted 25 January 2008 - 02:24 PM
Posted 25 January 2008 - 05:20 PM
Posted 26 January 2008 - 02:19 PM
Unbelievably, there are still some people, both inside and outside of the Armenian community, who do not think the Fr. Gulgulian and his team nor the Church are doing a good job. I have been out to Kolkata 4 times in the last 10 months and each time I have been fortunate enough to have been allowed to base myself at the Armenian College to undertake my work and research into Armenians in India. I have seen first hand on each occasion the progress forward both with the buildings and the children. The children are a credit to the whole of the staff at the school in terms of manners, courtesy and politeness, they are a delight to be around.
Someone recently, and very unkindly, said to me that Kolkata was "the back end of the pantomime cow". A debatable point, but one thing that isn't debatable is that the Armenian College and the Davidian School are very much centre stage in the eyes of all those involved with their functioning and the well being of the children and even with its detractors hovering in the background, those involved with the school continue to push and prod the boundaries of those two establishments to get the very best out of them.
There is hardly any recognition for the work that is being done and I hope by simply showing some photos on my website some will be forthcoming, because I believe that it is deserved.
Posted 26 January 2008 - 10:11 PM
Posted 04 December 2018 - 10:24 AM
'It is Armenia, but outside of Armenia': the school welcomes Armenian children from all over the world, and offers entirely free education and boardingJennifer Gustafsson
December 1, 2018
For someone who has not seen the outside of the gates, it would be impossible to guess the location of the schoolyard. Yellow buildings line it on either side, and trees provide shade in the corners. Under the big green canopy of one is a table set up for arm wrestling. All students are there, dressed in red, blue, green or yellow – the colours of the school’s four houses.
“There’s always fierce competition between the houses. Levon is always on top in football, but I don’t know how we will do today,” says Vladimir Grigoryan, a student dressed in the yellow of the ancient Armenian king.
The other houses are also dedicated to Armenian regents: Haik, Trdent and Tigran, mighty figures in the history of the small Caucasus nation. The names of the students, as they get called up one by one, are equally Armenian-sounding – as are their cheers, when the matches get under way.
Everything about the Armenian College and Philanthropic Academy seems typically Armenian – except that is located in Kolkata, the largest city in eastern India.
“It’s a school unlike any other. It is Armenia, but outside of Armenia,” says Razmik Hakobian, another student at the academy. He looks up from the table where he is placing medals in gold, silver and bronze in long, neat rows. He came to the school in 2005, from a small, but long-established Armenian community in Baghdad. It had never been a plan to send him to India, but as the situation grew worse in Iraq, his family saw no better option. “It was very bad at the time, with bombs and fighting everywhere. My parents got to know about the school from an Armenian who came to Baghdad, and decided to send me,” he says.
Children arriving alone, from a country far away, is typical at the Armenian College and Philanthropic Academy. It welcomes Armenian children from all over the world, and offers entirely free education and boarding. Most students come from Armenia, but there are also children from Iran and Iraq, three sisters from Russia and, as of August this year, a girl from Myanmar.
“She is only seven and doesn’t speak Armenian yet, her family only speaks Burmese. But she is learning,” says Movses Sargsyan, one of two priests employed by the college. He sits in a chair inside his office, on the first floor overlooking the yard outside. There are stacks of paper on his desk, and a plate with black sesame sweets, brought back from Yangon where he goes twice a month, to serve the tiny Myanmarese-Armenian community. “They are only 20 people now, but there is a church. And we have to maintain it,” he says.The Armenian diaspora in Asia
Myanmar is far from the only place with an Armenian population. Of a total population of 11 million, there are some seven million Armenians living abroad, meaning the Armenian diaspora is one of the largest in the world. Asia housed a number of Armenian communities throughout history, as a result of wide-stretching trading networks. Some are gone today, such as those of Kabul and Dhaka. Others are marginal in size. But it was Kolkata, then the capital of the British Empire in India, that had the region’s most prosperous and sizeable community, with numbers once in the several thousands. The very first Armenians had arrived in India in the 1600s, after an invitation from the Mogul emperor Akbar to “come and settle in his dominions.” They reached Bengal in 1645, before any of the European colonisers.
The marks they left can still be seen all over the city: grandiose buildings and hotels (Armenians were the first hoteliers of Kolkata), several well-maintained churches (where the students go for mass each Sunday) and a port still known as the “Armenian ghat”. But their numbers are dwindling. Kolkata’s Armenian population is fewer than 200 today, and that includes the students. Of them, only four are Indian-Armenian. “I never even knew that I was Armenian until my dad told me to join this school. I remember people telling me so when I was a child, but I never knew what they meant,” says Zaven Gasper, a student whose father is Armenian and mother is Indian.
A little boy, just turned two, keeps grabbing hold of and playing with his legs. He is Vartan, the son of a former student who is trying to establish his family in Kolkata. But few students stay to bring up families here. Most choose to return home after graduation. “I will go back to Armenia. Sometimes I ask myself what I am doing here, so far from my own country. But then I tell myself that it is best to finish my education,” says Rima Sargsyan, who received a scholarship after graduation to continue studying at one of Kolkata’s best institutions.The legend of Sir Catchick Paul Chater
The door is open into the main building, where the walls are full with framed photographs chronicling the life and history of the school. There are photos of rugby athletes – the college is famed for its team, which has produced several players for India’s national team – and individuals who have donated to the college. No portrait looms larger than that of Sir Catchick Paul Chater, a businessman of Armenian descent born in Kolkata. He is the main reason why the school can offer education for free. “Chater was a legendary man. He lost his parents as a child, then went to Hong Kong where he became a millionaire. All ports in Hong Kong were built by him. And he donated big sums of money to the school, to be used for the students,” says Armen Makarian, Armenian College and Philanthropic Academy’s co-ordinator.
Makarian was born in Iran, where there still is a sizeable Armenian community. In fact, India’s connection with Armenia is also a link with Iran: it was from there that the first Armenians came. “Almost all Armenians in India originate from Iran. The school is maintaining that link today, when bringing Iranian-Armenians to study here,” he says.
Just like Vartan’s father, Makarian plans to stay in India. It has become home, after so many years in the country. Hakobian, who is enrolled at the same institution as Rima, is still undecided.
“I miss things about Iraq, of course. The food – there’s no kebab or shawarma like in Baghdad. And I miss just spending time with my brothers and friends,” he says. Hakobian now goes to Iraq every year to renew his visa, after India changed the procedures, and he spreads the word of the academy back home, introducing new Iraqi-Armenian students to the school. “One girl came this summer, and two others are waiting right now in Erbil. Before, people didn’t listen so much when I talked about the school, but now that they see that I’m successful they do.”
Movses is determined to see the college grow, and to accommodate more students. He recently returned from Damascus, where he went to speak to the Syrian-Armenian community about the academy. “But it might take some time. They told me, we wish you had come a few years ago, when the situation was really bad and we didn’t know where to go,” he says.
The competitions in the shade of the tree are over, as is the ceremony with podium and medals. Some students are playing at the wrestling table, including a little girl who came with Hakobian from Iraq, and Tiruhi Minasyan, a seven-year-old from Myanmar. She stretches her arm, but still it does not reach up to the table – someone has to help her. “She is doing fine at the school now, and making new friends,” says Movses.
“She might be our only Myanmarese-Armenian student, but she won’t be the last – because she has a little brother in Yangon.”
Posted 25 December 2018 - 09:46 AM
December 24th, 2018 / 7:09 PM / Updated 4 hours ago
Image Credit: Armenian College & Philanthropic Academy
Everything about the Armenian College and Philanthropic Academy (ACPA) seems typically Armenian, except for the fact that it is located in the heart of Kolkata, some 4500 km away from the landlocked Caucasus nation. The school, located in sprawling central Kolkata’s Mirza Ghalib Street is over 197 years old and while it may look like one of the many Christian Missionary schools which dot the city, it is unlike any other in India.
A plaque at the entrance of the quaint yellow building reads, “The novelist William Makepeace Thackeray was born on the 18th July 1811” and from 1821, the school has served as a centre of education for hundreds of Armenians in India and around the globe.Kolkata and Armenia connect
For nearly two centuries, Armenian children from all over the world have been visiting ACPA in pursuit of quality education and the school too, has been serving as a home to the scores of children who travel far East, away from everything that they know as their own. The residential school was established in 1821 by Armenian merchants Astvatsatur Muradghanian and Mnatsakan Vardanian and continues to serve as one of the largest centres for Armenian education outside Armenia.The ACPA teaches children between classes I to X
Kolkata’s connection with the Armenians predates that with the British. However, as the British left India, so did the Armenians. From around 25,000 in the mid-18th century, the population of Armenians in Kolkata dwindled to just 2000 in the 1950s and only around 150 in the present decade. The residential school, which was once bustling with Armenian children also witnessed turbulent times as at one point in 1990, the student body had shrunk to only one.
With constant efforts from Armenian-Indians as well as those abroad, the school has seen a steady growth in their student body, with mostly children from Iran, Iraq, Armenia, Russia and Myanmar filling their dormitories. The Logical Indian spoke to Armen Makarian, the coordinator of ACPA who was once a young student of the school. An Armenian from Iran, a 15-year-old Armen moved to Kolkata from Tehran, Iran only when he was 15 years old.
Having graduated from the school in 2008, Armen chose to stick around in the city of joy, like many of his other alumni members. He said, “The school is very popular among Armenians across the globe mostly because of the free scholarship that is given out to the students.” He said that India’s connection to the Armenians also has an Iranian link. “Armenians are bonafide businessmen and it was through Iran that the Armenians came to India,” he added.
While one might think teaching children of different age groups and culture in Kolkata will be a difficult feat, the faculty members of ACPA have been doing the same for years at a stretch. Armen said, “The students have to qualify for a scholarship first, after which, they are brought to Kolkata to live in the dormitory and study.” The students, most of whom are non-English speakers, have to attend a rigorous English language course for six months before being inducted to their respective grades.Co-curricular activities form a major part of the academic courses
The school offers education to children between classes I to X and follow an ICSE syllabus, however, apart from English, Armenian serves as the second language which is taught to the children. Like most residential schools, the rules of the dorms do not bend. Mobile phones are a strict no-no for students till class X, however, the students can talk to their parents on Skype.
The ACPA is truly nurturing a little Armenia inside its boundaries in Kolkata as everything that goes on inside is true to its culture. From celebrating Armenian Christmas on January 6 to going to the Armenian Church of the Holy Nazareth every Sunday and even the food served inside the campus, every aspect has “Armenian” etched on it. Even the names of the schools’ houses take after mighty Armenian figures – Levon, Haik, Trdent and Tigran.
From practising choir or dance recitals and even playing sports like Rugby, the campus is always buzzing with the voices of teens and children. “Rugby is a famous sport in Armenia and it has heavily practised in the school. The school has produced some national level Rugby players for India,” said Armen.Better education than in their home countries
22-year-old Arthur Baghdasaryan like many of his peers came to Kolkata from Armenia when he was 12. The year was 2008 and there was a certain sense of tension in Arthur who had to leave his home to live outside for the first time. Today, one can’t tell that he is a foreigner as Arthur, a college student swiftly navigates himself through the bylanes of Kolkata. Speaking to The Logical Indian he said, “Education was very expensive at the time in Armenia and my parents wanted me to have quality education and hence decided to send me to India.”
He said that while the Armenian community in Kolkata is small, its very well-knit and his time at ACPA made him feel like he is home. Reportedly the school has also seen cases of Armenian students arriving at their doorstep as a result of political turmoil and unrest in their home country.
The Hindu had reported the story of Razmik Hakobyan, a 24-year-old former student of ACPA who was sent to Kolkata by his father for “safety and education,” after a bomb explosion near his house. Presently the school is almost 90-student strong and 22 teachers under its wings. While the school is as old as history gets, the facilities inside are modern – an attempt to attract more and more Armenian students from outside.
Armen said, “I have never felt that I am away from home and while the community in Kolkata is small, it is still Armenian in spirit.” Kolkata, they say, has an interesting history etched in every nook and cranny of the city and the city’s connection with the Armenians is undeniably strong. The Logical Indian applauds in reviving and helping the rich Armenian culture thrive in Kolkata.
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