The Armenians of Poland are very proud
Posted 20 June 2000 - 04:07 PM
heritage. After all, they have been part of the Polish
landscape for nearly 800 years, and despite
assimilation, many still see themselves as
Armenians or at least Poles of Armenian origin.
Historians differ on the date when the first
Armenians began settling in what was once called
Red Ruthenia which later became Poland. The
difference, however, is only a matter of
decades—between the middle of the 11th century
and the early part of the 12th century.
But they all agree that the Armenians came as
friends, often to help the region’s local Polish kings
and rulers against foreign invaders.
One of the early recorded military missions dates
to 1241, when a battalion of 40,000 Armenian officers and soldiers marched from the
Crimean city of Kaffa, or Teodossia in present-day Crimea, to Kamieniec (Kamenets)
to defend the region’s Armenian population against the Mongol invasion.
One wave after the other, Armenians came from the Crimea and later Armenia
proper establishing viable communities in and around the city of Lvov, then part of
Poland and today in the Ukraine.
The early immigrants included not only officers and soldiers, but also artisans,
traders and builders who helped fortify the city which became their home away from
home for many centuries to come.
Polish King Casimir, in a letter dated June 17, 1356, names the Armenians among
his loyal subjects. Other historical documents indicate that the Armenians had their
own church in Lvov in 1303 or even as early as 1183.
While Lvov is considered the main center of Armenian habitation in Poland,
thousands of Armenians also settled in a number of smaller towns and villages in the
region, including Vladimir, Lutsk, Tchichnov, and others.
By the mid-14th century the number of Armenians in Poland had increased so
much that the Armenian Apostolic Church in Armenia found it necessary to establish
a separate Diocese and sent Archbishop Krikor to Poland in 1346.
It was this core that continued to attract more immigrants over the years and new
Armenian communities were established in Balta, Var, Berejni, Broti, Virmeni,
Korodenka, Toupno, Zamosk, Bajkov, Stoutianitsa, Stanislaw, Dismenitsa and a
score of other towns and cities.
There are no concrete details regarding the number of the early Armenian settlers,
but the 200,000 figure often appears in the historical documents of the era.
The Polish kings and Dukes regarded the Armenians not only their loyal subjects,
but at times an elite segment of the population, giving them special
privileges—including self rule.
Polish historians, describing the behavior of the Armenian immigrants, say “these
people, who came to these lands carrying with them small bags of soil from their
native land, soon became the salt of their adopted homeland. The credit for the luster
of some Polish towns like Lvov and Kamenets goes to a great extent to the
In a letter addressed to the Polish Armenian community in 1410, Catholicos Hagop
refers to his fellow Armenians as “My dear priests, barons, seniors, doctors, traders,
land owners, farmers and artisans.”
Each segment of the Armenian population has played an important role in the life of
the Polish nation, and yet, as a community never neglecting its own needs,
establishing schools and helping its own poor and less fortunate members.
Over the years, Armenians gained prominence and prestige. According to records
regarding the development of the city of Lvov, especially during the period between the
15th and the 18th centuries, the Armenians were single-handedly responsible for the
gold and silver industry that flourished during that era.
Also famous were the Armenian businessmen, who over the years turned the region
into a major trading center between east and west, selling European products in the
east and importing such items as spices, Persian carpets and other goods into
Maybe it was this wealth and the special status in the Polish marketplace that gave
the Armenians certain privileges, including a tax exemption and the right not only to
get involved in foreign trade, but also in wide scale commercial activity within Poland
During the 16th century, out of the 38 trading houses in Lvov, 22 belonged to
Armenians. Later in the 17th century, all except two of Lvov’s trading houses were
owned by Armenians who also maintained similar trading posts (offices) in Istanbul,
Smyrna, Esfahan, Moscow, Amsterdam and other major cities.
Some were so rich, that on more than one occasion, they made major financial
gifts to the Polish kings of the era. One anecdote speaks of an Armenian merchant
by the name of Avedik Bernatowicz who was approached by King Wladyslaw II
(1632-1648) to lend him 100,000 Ducats, the currency of that period.
According to historians, Avedik asked the monarch if he wanted the specified sum
to be given in gold, silver or copper coins. The reply was “in all three”, to which Avedik
responded by giving the king 100,000 Ducats in gold and the same amount in both
silver and copper.
It was this special relationship that paved the way for the Armenians to be granted
an autonomous status in 1350, a privilege which gave them the right to establish their
own courts of law and deal with their own community issues without interference from
the Polish rulers.
Consisting of 12 elders chosen by the community, the courts exercised their
authority, and had their own civil code which was approved by the Polish authorities,
especially those in the city of Lvov and its surrounding towns and villages where the
majority of the Armenians lived.
This special status continued until 1476, when one after the other of these
privileges began diminishing until they were totally abolished in 1784. But this did not
mean that the Armenians had lost all their clout.
Labor unions had already begun taking shape, which not only dealt with the welfare
of their own members, but also established an Armenian bank to help the needy and
poor in the community.
As much as the Armenians cared for their fellow-Armenians, they never neglected
their obligations toward the host country, Poland. In 1444, Armenian volunteers joined
their Polish “brothers” in fighting the Turkish forces. Armenian volunteers were also
involved in similar encounters during the Polish-Turkish war in 1621 and again in
1672, further strengthening the bond between the Polish and Armenian people.
Already integrated into Polish society, Armenians were soon to be appointed to key
government positions. During the 15th century, an Armenian by the name of Hagop
was sent on key diplomatic missions to Persia, Arabia and Tatarstan. Another
Armenian by the name of Christapor Seropowicz was given the rank of ambassador.
Yet others were given such royal titles as Duke and Prince.
Polish Armenian ties were so strong that in 1696 the ruling Polish monarch offered
to send 35,000 soldiers to help the Armenians under Ottoman rule regain their
But the stronger these ties became and the greater the trust between the Polish
Armenians and the native Poles, so did the dangers of assimilation. Ethnic Armenian
names began changing. Torosian became Torsowicz, and the traditional “ian” endings
were soon replaced with the Polish “wicz”, which means the son of.
The Polish influence was was soon to also make its way into the Armenian
Despite the objections of the Armenian community, Deacon Nicholas (Nigol)
Torosewicz, the 22-year-old son a of a rich merchant, was elevated to the rank of
Archbishop in 1627. He later initiated the Union with Rome and embraced
Catholicism in 1635—thus renouncing all ties with Holy Etchmiadzin and paying
homage to the Vatican.
For more than 20 years, the community resisted the move into Catholicism and
thousands left Poland to start new communities in nearby countries like Bulgaria,
Romania and Moldova.
The Armenians of Poland tried to oust Torosewicz by various means and take the
Armenian church away from him, but the battle was lost—mainly because of the rich
Armenian merchant class whose financial interests were closely linked to the Polish
Catholic society and leadership.
In 1664, the Vatican sent two Catholic monks who soon established a number of
schools and seminaries to train new Armenian Catholic clergymen, and in effect
spreading the Catholic faith within the community.
By 1820, the Armenians of Poland had lost most of their clout. Their numbers had
decreased to such an extent, that only 100 families remained in Lvov and even less in
some of the other towns and cities of the region.
The Polonization process was moving fast.
One hundred years after the arrival in Lvov
of the two Catholic monks from the
Vatican, the Armenian language had
disappeared almost completely from all
official documents, while Grabar, the
classical form of the Armenian language,
was confined to the liturgy.
The final blow to the Armenian language
came in the middle of the 19th century
when the separate Armenian schools were
closed. The process of the Polonization of
the Armenians was complete.
But this did not destroy the community’s Armenian roots and heritage.
True, Armenians of Poland today do not speak the native tongue of their ancestors,
but still call themselves Armenians or at least Poles of Armenian origin.
History may still repeat itself. As the continuous influx of new immigrants energized
the Armenian settlers in the early years of the community, the arrival of tens of
thousands of people from Armenia is rapidly changing the face of the Armenians of
Poland today and the tide of total assimilation may soon be a thing of the
past—another chapter of the 800-year-long history of one of Europe’s oldest
Posted 20 June 2000 - 04:09 PM
gypsies of Europe, but in fact they are
Armenian illegal immigrants, searching for
an elusive, better life in Poland, thousands
of miles away from their homes and
families in Armenia.
They have no work permits, and no
healthcare. Most of their children stay at home, because parents—despite
assurances to the contrary by the Polish authorities—are afraid to be caught and
In Warsaw and almost every town and city across Poland from Gdansk in the north
to Krakow in the south, an estimated 70,000 to more than 100,000 Armenian illegal
immigrants face an uncertain future. Vagabonds who have left their homeland due to
war, unemployment, economic hardships and poverty and dropped anchor at the
gates of western Europe.
According to Polish Immigration authorities, the Armenians are part of a
600,000-strong illegal immigrant population now living in Poland. Many are from the
former Soviet Union but some are from as far away countries like Vietnam.
“Poland was their country of choice because they considered it a stepping-stone
into western Europe. But Poland will soon be a member of the European Union and
the immigrants seem to prefer staying here rather than risking arrest while trying to
cross into Germany.
“Why go anywhere else when the European Union is coming here,” a Polish social
For the time being, the Polish authorities are only trying to prevent the arrival of new
illegal immigrants by tightening their frontiers with neighboring Russia, Ukraine and
Belarus—all members of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) whose
doors are open to other CIS members like Armenia.
“For many years, Poland did not require entry visas for CIS nationals, but now the
authorities in Warsaw are realizing that this open-door policy can be
counter-productive . They are also under pressure from the European Union
headquarters in Brussels to stop the flow of CIS nationals into Poland,” a Western
Illegal immigration is already a major social problem for many European countries
like France and Germany, and Poland is not that far behind.
“The Polish government cannot keep turning a blind eye forever. More than 600,000
illegal immigrants in a European country of 40 million like Poland can have some
serious repercussions,” he said.
European diplomats say given the free and open borders between the members of
the EU, the presence of hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants from the former
Soviet Union, including some 100,000 Armenians, can cause major social and
economic problems in the region.
“Once Poland becomes a full member of the EU, then the Polish-German border
will disappear and the citizens of the two countries will drive freely from one country to
the other. Germany cannot leave its border unguarded if such a large number of illegal
immigrants remain in Poland,” another European diplomat said.
Faced with the new realities, the Polish authorities have opened a separate
department within the interior ministry designed to deal with issues involving illegal
The 40-room department is already functioning above its capacity and plans are
underway to expand its operations to deal with the thousands of applications for
“Poland is becoming a very ethnically diverse society and the push by illegals to
settle down has just started,” an official explained.
But Poland is also under pressure from the European Commission to halt the flow
of non-Poles into the country. “The European Union does not want to absorb
hundreds of thousands of people from the former Soviet Union,” one official said.
In an effort to halt the influx, the Polish authorities have all but sealed their eastern
borders, especially in the face of Armenian citizens trying to enter Poland from the
Ukraine and Belarus.
Similar measures have also been taken at the Polish-German border to avoid any
infiltration by the illegal immigrants into Germany.
“As of now, all Armenian citizens wishing to enter Poland need visas, something
which did not exist earlier this year. And with no Polish Embassy in Armenia, the
situation gets ever harder and more complicated,” a Warsaw-based Armenian
“We have opened an Armenian Embassy in Warsaw and we are now waiting for the
Polish government to reciprocate. The presence of a Polish Embassy in Armenia will
be a very positive thing,” he aid.
Interviews with scores of illegal Armenian immigrants indicate an overwhelming
desire to return to their homeland, but the reality seldom reflects that.
“We would like to go back tomorrow if only conditions were better. Many of us have
family and parents in Armenia who depend on the few dollars we send back home
every month ... but this is a difficult life and our future is dark. We feel trapped,” said
Arsen, a father of four young children who runs a small kiosk selling compact discs at
the central Warsaw sports stadium which has been converted into a huge
“In this location alone there are more than 2,000 to 3,000 Armenian traders. The
Polish authorities know that we are here and have no residence permits, but they do
not bother us. They turn a blind eye until one of us gets into trouble,” he said.
In one corner of the stadium, most Armenians said they were from the Armenian
town of Ashtarak who had followed their friends to Poland “because there is work
here.” “There are a number of school teachers and even a couple of engineers who
have left their families behind in search of a better life. Nearly all of us send money
back home to support our families and relatives who have no real income,” Arsen
The stadium’s “traders” pay rent to a management agency which allocates small
blocks of space on a monthly basis. “You can do business as long as you pay your
rent. Sometimes we have to make other under the table payments to stay here ,” he
Arsen’s story is that of the majority of illegal immigrants. They survive day-by-day
but see no future for themselves and their families unless their status is legalized in
one form or another.
“I am not asking for Polish citizenship. All I want is to have a work permit to
function peacefully and pay my taxes like everybody else. I want a legal status which
will allow me to leave Poland and be able to get back,” Arsen, who declined to further
identify himself, said.
According to official statistics, 217 Armenians applied for refugee status in 1997
and only three of the applications were approved. During the same year, 130
Armenians applied for visa extensions, and only 49 were approved.
“Those who come forward with these applications are less than a minority. The
illegal immigrants just don’t bother with even trying to legalize their status. They just
stay,” an immigration lawyer said.
At a small Armenian kiosk-type restaurant in central Warsaw, the conversation
shifts from home front Armenian politics to unemployment and the prospects of
returning to Armenia.
The patrons are often unemployed themselves, just hanging out and waiting for an
opportunity to make a few dollars to see them through the week.
“Imagine more than 100,000 Armenians living in Poland as a society of street
vendors. More than 95 percent are illegal immigrants who are effectively trapped in
Poland with no where to go...except Armenia where there is no work,” said one of the
“A few people got together a few years ago and tried opening a small school for the
Armenian children, but they did not succeed because of financial reasons. At the
moment, the majority of the children of the illegal Armenian immigrants are either at
home, out on the streets, or helping their parents in the market. This situation can
only lead to more trouble and even crime,” restaurant manager Levon Hovsepian said.
Hovsepian himself is technically “employed” by a Polish citizen who owns the
restaurant. He came to Poland five years ago after losing his acting job in Yerevan.
“I have a family to feed and I was not finding work as an actor...Poland was open to
Armenians, so I chose to come here rather than one of the countries of the former
Soviet Union. Poland, after all, is Europe,” Hovsepian said.
Similar stories are everywhere.
There are the former factory workers, teachers, engineers, musicians, army
deserters, and draft dodgers. The flow of Armenian immigration into Poland escalated
in 1993 due to the devastating effects of a harsh winter, a total blockade by
Azerbaijan and Turkey, and the collapse of the country’s industrial infrastructure.
Armen Saribekian was a shoe factory worker near Gyumri, a city which was
devastated by the 1988 earthquake in Armenia.
“I lost my job, and for several years I tried to make a living selling cigarettes on
street corners. I could not survive, so I decided to join my friends here in
Gdansk,” he said.
Saribekian has since married a Ukrainian woman and become a Ukrainian citizen,
a status which allows him to travel in an out of Poland without restrictions.
“I will go back to Armenia once I save enough money to start a small business
there,” said Saribekian, who sells cheap men’s clothing out of a truck in one of
Gdansk’s small bazaars.
An estimated 800,000 Armenians have left their country since independence in
1991, many heading to Russia, the Central Asian republics and the other countries of
the former Soviet Union.
The exodus has slowed down in the last few years, mainly because of the high cost
of living in most of the countries of the former Soviet Union which were among the
popular destinations of the departing Armenians.
“A lot has changed since the early 1990’s when things were cheap and most of
these countries had not given the potential problems of illegal immigration much
thought . There is more control now and the influx has slowed down,” Hovsepian said,
But for those illegal Armenian immigrants, life is becoming more and more difficult,
especially for the thousands of families with school-age children.
“By definition, an illegal immigrant is poor, lives with a dozen others like him in the
same house. He has no rights and does not enjoy any of the privileges of a citizen .
Life under these circumstances can be, and in fact is, devastating for any ethnic
group anywhere in the world,” a Polish social worker said.
Life for the 100,000 plus illegal Armenian immigrants is not far from that definition.
In some cases it’s worse.
Schooling is available, but parents are afraid to register their children for fear of
being tracked down by the authorities. Healthcare is expensive and often out of reach
for the vast majority of the illegal immigrants.
“Imagine a new Armenian generation growing up on the streets of Poland, without
an education, culture or faith. This is the ugly truth ,” Hovsepian said.
Posted 20 June 2000 - 05:02 PM
Posted 16 March 2001 - 07:34 AM
Long time ago Polish Armenians spoke in some kipchak dialect and they wrote in Armenian alphabet.
I wonder why people who always talk about their Armenian roots or even wrote some books about Armenia and Armenians
don't try to learn their nation lenguage.
A lot of them speak fluently rusian and other languages. Why not Armenian?
Posted 19 November 2016 - 12:26 PM
The Armenian community of Poland has had an important contribution in the life of Poland through history, says Dr. Krzysztof Stopka, Professor of History and Armenian studies at Jagiellonian University in Krakow (Poland) in the interview to Scholarm.com website.
“The Armenians played from the 14th century a very important role in the history of Poland. They played an important role in the diplomatic relations between the Polish state and the Ottoman Empire… as well as with Persia since the 17th century. The Armenians also contributed to the orientalization of the Polish culture [as well as] played a role in the Polish high culture”, – says Dr. Stopka in the interview.
Dr. Stopka also speaks about his books on Armenian issues, particularly the book Armenian Warsaw (Ormiańska Warszawa) which presents a large collection of facts about the contribution of the Armenians in cultural, economic, political and other spheres of life in Warsaw through history.
“The Armenians were a small group in the capital, but they were very important for the economy and the government of the whole city. It was surprising for us to find this out… They imported oriental goods to Warsaw, but also they founded the manufactures of the oriental textiles. Near Warsaw they founded a factory of Polish belts (very typical for Polish national style) and during the 18th century this manufacture was very popular… In the 19thcentury the Armenians played a very important role in the Polish struggle for independence. They took part in the Polish revolution against Russia in the 18th century and they supported the Polish case (for the Polish people the Russians were oppressors)… The Armenians also took part in the Polish military during the World War II fighting against [Nazi] Germany. This is a reason for pride for the descendents of Armenians”, – says Dr. Stopka.
Dr. Stopka says the history of the Armenian community in Poland should be interesting for Armenians today because, among other reasons, this small but rich and influential community had a political influence on the Armenian question in the 17-18th centuries. Also, he says the language that they spoke (both Armenian and Kipchak) is an interesting phenomenon for the linguists to study – he himself has written a book on this.
Other publications by Dr. Stopka on the Armenian issues include Lehahayer – Journal of History of Polish Armenians and Armenia Christiana – a book on the history of the Armenian Church between Constantinople and Rome.
Dr. Stopka plans to write a new book about the Armenian Apostolic Church in Poland – from the beginning up until the union with Rome. He has already collected a lot of new and interesting materials on this topic from the archives of Ukraine.
Another book titled Armenian Krakow is now being prepared by Dr. Stopka’s colleague Dr. Andrzej Zięba, who is also a professor at the Jagiellonian University.
Dr. Krzysztof Stopka started studying Armenian history and culture about 30 years ago when he wrote his Master’s thesis on the history of the Armenian colonies in Old Poland. Since then he has authored many books on the Armenian history, and he says that this subject has never stopped being interesting for him.
See the complete interview at Scholarm.com
By Nvard Chalikyan
Posted 15 January 2017 - 12:09 PM
An exhibition of Polish silk belts will open in the Polish city of Sosnowiec, Historykon reports.
The periodical presents a short story on when and how the Polish nobility began wearing belts, and who made and brought them.
The embroidered belts began to be considered as an important detail of noblemen’s costume as early as in the first half of the 14th century. Because the belt fashion had arrived from the East, the workshops were given Persian names, whereas the belts were made by Armenians, who were sponsored by Polish magnates.
Belts from Turkey were popular in the 16-17th centuries: they were imported to Poland by the Armenian traders from Lvov. Since the second half of the 17th century, expensive Persian belts had also appeared in Poland. They were 4-5 m long and about 60 cm wide.
After the Afghan conquest in 1722, the trade with Persia stopped. Since the Polish elite still honored belts, the weavers moved to Turkey from Iran, and from there to the eastern regions of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.
The first workshops appeared in the city of Stanisław, Ivano-Frankivsk city of modern Ukraine, as well as other cities. The most famous workshop was founded in Slutsk, located in the territory of modern Belarus. Head of the workshop, Prince Michał Kazimierz Radziwiłł, put Armenian weaver Jan Madjarski (Hovhannes Majaryan)—and after him his son, Leon—in charge of it.
Posted 30 March 2017 - 10:43 AM
Duda noted that Armenians began arriving after special privileges were granted by Polish king Casimir the Great in 1367, establishing the first Armenian diocese in Poland.
During a meeting with the Armenian community at the presidential palace in Warsaw, a parchment from that year was displayed. The document testifies to privileges accorded by the Polish king to Armenian Bishop Gregory.
Duda said the contribution made by Armenians to Poland “is invaluable and penetrates practically all of social life, because they were both excellent farmers and created [sections] of the Polish intelligentsia, they were wonderful craftsmen, merchants."
Posted 13 April 2017 - 09:58 AM
A lecturer at Universities of Silesia (Katowice, Poland) and Kelts Hrayr Maghakyan, citing multifold sources proves in the interview with Aravot.am that in the 14th century Armenians came to Poland not as refugees seeking alms, but in a good sense as “colonists”. According to the scientist, due to Polish-Armenians the Polish aristocracy began to wear luxurious eastern clothes, to adorn and bear beautiful arms.
According to him, Poles also used Armenians’ abilities to possess Eastern languages and to be aware of the lifestyles of different countries, and the whole entourage of the Polish ambassadors was comprised of Armenians. Our interlocutor, however, proves that today’s Polish society, as a result of very limited information about Armenia, perceives Armenians and Armenia as a part of Russia and because of antipathy towards Russia, a very small percentage of Poles knows what significant influence Armenians had on their country’s socio-economic and political life.
Pursuant to Maghakyan’s assurance, a serious propaganda of Armenia and Armenian culture should be conducted in Poland and the international image of our country by an example of Georgians should be enhanced. Hrayr Maghakyan also reminded the names of several famous Polish-Armenians, about whom, perhaps, they are not informed in Armenia that much: journalist, writer, food critic and traveler Robert Maklovich, politician, former deputy Voychiekh Moyzesovich, monk, a follower of Armenian Catholic Church, social activist, church historian, poet Tadeusz Bohdan Isakowicz-Zaleski, film and theater actress, social activist Anna Dimna, composer, producer Robert Amiryan, politician, former deputy and senator Lukasz Abgarowicz. These are the people who have a significant role in today’s Poland’s life. We can add to the list the name of conductor, composer Krzysztof Penderecki, who has long become a friend of Armenia.
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