The mission of Dhaka's last Armenian
Posted 02 February 2003 - 09:56 AM
The church is a quiet haven in the noisy metropolis
BBC Bangladesh correspondent
Once a thriving community in South Asia, the number of Armenians has dwindled to such an extent that in the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka only one man remains.
He is known by his Anglicised name of Michael Joseph Martin.
When Mr Martin, 73, dies, it will not only mark the end of an era, but will throw into doubt the future of one of Dhaka's most beautiful churches.
Nestling in one of the busiest parts of Old Dhaka, Armenian Street used to be a thriving business area, but its Armenian community has vanished.
Little evidence remains of its presence, even though centuries ago Armenians were at the heart of Bengal's jute and leather trade.
But one prominent Armenian landmark does remain.
It is an 18th century church, described by visitors who explore it as a haven amid the traffic chaos and crowded streets outside.
Yet its future is uncertain.
The caretaker Mr Martin, whose Armenian name is Mikel Housep Martirossian, lovingly preserves the building against the ravages of the weather and pollution.
He keeps the centuries-old births, deaths and marriages register and looks after the ancient tombstones that chronicle the history of the Armenian community in Bengal.
But when Mr Martin dies, there will be no more Armenians to look after the church.
''Whatever happens I'm determined not to let this church go to rack and ruin,'' he says.
''I may be the last resident Armenian in Bangladesh, but I will do everything in my power to ensure that an Armenian from abroad takes over the job I have been doing. Otherwise centuries of tradition will be disappear overnight.''
The church's graveyard is like a giant history book, chronicling the history of the Armenian people in the region.
Armenians - like Bengalis - are renowned for their love of trading.
They are believed to have arrived in the region in the 12th century.
''This person died on the high seas, they were killed by pirates," says Mr Martin, pointing at two gravestones that carry carvings of a skull and crossbones.
''They were Armenians and their bodies were brought and buried over here in 1783.''
Pointing at another gravestone he says: ''This man's father married into the British royal family, and he did the same thing. They had money and power, and were also the biggest jute merchants in the country.
''But that couldn't stop their children from dying of diphtheria. In the 18th century even minor royals couldn't save the lives of the children.''
The interior of the church is looking a little the worse for wear after numerous robberies, but the central attractions - portraits of the Crucifixion and the Last Supper - remain.
They are believed to have been done by a prominent European artist.
The church may be rooted in history, but it is located in one of the busiest parts of the city.
Roads nearby are so crowded that services cannot be held during the working week because the multi-denominational expatriate congregation would never get there on time.
But even if it is no longer possible to hold regular services, Mr Martin says the future of this valuable piece of history will be secured.
Until someone is found among the Armenian community abroad, he says he will carry on as caretaker.
''While most Armenians have left Bangladesh, as the last to remain it's my mission in life to make sure this relic from a bygone age will not be allowed to disappear."
- onjig likes this
Posted 02 February 2003 - 10:02 AM
Posted 05 February 2003 - 04:50 PM
Posted 05 February 2003 - 04:56 PM
I think that armenians in LA will move all over the US and the world and just assimilate.
Posted 05 February 2003 - 06:21 PM
Out of curiosity, what do you propose as a time-frame for your assimilation hypothesis?
Posted 05 February 2003 - 06:28 PM
Posted 06 February 2003 - 08:33 AM
Yes I think that there is a possibility of same thing happening in LA or any other places where Armenians have made home and prospered. Perhaps they will go somewhere, leaving behind the extinct monumental marks, like a tree quietly separating from its colorful leaves when cool autumn wind starts breathing.
Posted 06 February 2003 - 08:57 AM
ches karogh dadrel hoghum hayreni:
piti tapares ashkharhe ashkharh,
vor hetqd toghnes gortsov qo ardar:
the last word in the last line is a joke of course.
Posted 06 February 2003 - 05:17 PM
ches karogh dadrel hoghum hayreni:
piti tapares ashkharhe ashkharh,
vor hetqd toghnes gortsov qo ardar:"
Expromt? Are you the author?
"the last word in the last line is a joke of course."
And the rest to inspire armenians to leave the country more? By the way, What does it mean "tsavid arjani"??? What a sadomasohism?!
Posted 06 February 2003 - 08:37 PM
Originally posted by sen_vahan:
Expromt? Are you the author?
"... bayts heto hishetsi, vor ayn grel e A. S. Pushkin@..."
And the rest to inspire armenians to leave the country more? By the way, What does it mean "tsavid arjani"??? What a sadomasohism?!
[ February 06, 2003, 08:46 PM: Message edited by: Harut ]
Posted 07 February 2003 - 05:49 PM
De @nterzogn el es em u asum em, vor es mer Harut@ (aysinkn, metsn banastegz@) iskakan sadomasohist e Bayz de , vor es el ko @nterzogn em, uremn es el mi arandznapes .......
De lav, inch asem, barov mnas, stegtsagorts Harut
@ntertsaraniz tsavi arjani,
Posted 02 May 2018 - 07:07 AM
Posted 18 March 2019 - 09:55 AM
The Armenian Church of the Holy Resurrection (1781) on Church Road in Old Dhaka highlights a rich tapestry of the Armenian footprint on the commerce, politics, and education of East Bengal. More importantly, the church is an architectural testament to the story of how the Armenian diasporas spread out from their historic homeland, located between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, to far-flung regions, and thrived as a versatile cosmopolitan community.
Armenia occupies a crucial geographic location at the intersection of various civilisations and trading routes, such as the Silk Road from China to Rome. A vital link between East and West, the country was under the domination of various competing political powers, including the Persians, the Greeks, the Romans, the Arabs, the Persians again, the Ottomans, and the Russians. Their long political subjugation, on the one hand, made it difficult for them to maintain their Christian faith (the Armenians were the first people to embrace Christianity as a state religion in 301 CE), language, culture, and national identity. On the other hand, challenging circumstances exhorted Armenians to be resilient in the face of political repression, to develop entrepreneurial acumen and mediating skills, and to be a “trade diaspora”, who learned through experience how to negotiate commercial opportunities whenever and wherever they presented themselves.
Considered one of the most successful trading groups in the Eurasian trade circuit, the Armenians' accomplishment was generally attributed to a number of key factors: their ability to identify regions where competition was relatively sparse, their deep understanding of markets and products, interdependency among the Armenian diasporas, their capacity to thrive on low profit margins, their diplomatic skills, and ability to successfully compete with other merchants. Wherever the Armenians went to trade, they typically learned the local language—unlike other Asian or European merchants—benefitting from their capacity to communicate with primary producers. It was no surprise that the Europeans in Bengal wanted the Armenians as business partners, and employed them as vakils to mediate at the local court or office on their behalf.
The Armenians also played a significant role in the history of world architecture. In the early medieval period, when the Byzantine world abandoned classical stonework in favour of brick masonry (the 6th-century Hagia Sophia is basically a brick construction), only the Armenians retained the knowledge of concrete work and continued the Hellenistic attitude to buildings as a compact, object-like impression in space. Their contribution had a crucial influence on subsequent development of church architecture in Europe.
There is no consensus on exactly when the Armenians arrived in Dhaka. Some historians, however, suggest they were in Bengal in the early 17th century, most likely arriving with the southbound migration of Armenian diasporas from Persia. During the Safavid-Ottoman wars of 1603-1605, the Safavid monarch Shah Abbas (r. 1587-1629) deported up to 300,000 Armenians from the Armenian mercantile town of Old Julfa to what became known as New Julfa in the suburb of Isfahan. Because the official language of the Mughal court was Persian, the Persian-speaking Armenians could easily adapt to the life in the Mughal Empire. Being skilful at textile business, the Armenians naturally gravitated to Dhaka, one of the trading hubs for fine textile, contributing significantly to the city's commercial life. According to one estimate, their share of textile export from Dhaka in 1747 is reported to be as large as 23 percent of that year's total export, way ahead of the English, the Dutch or the French in Dhaka. In addition to textile and raw silk, the Armenians also engaged in the trade of saltpetre (used as gunpowder), salt, and betel nut. They pioneered jute-trading in the second half of the nineteenth century and popularised tea-drinking in Bengal. When they began to lose the textile business to the British private traders in the late 18th century, the Armenians reoriented their focus to landholding, eventually becoming prominent and wealthy zamindars. Examples of Armenian zamindars in Dhaka include Agha Aratoon Michael, Agha Sarkies, and Nicholas Marcar Pogose.
Another major Armenian contribution to Dhaka was the transport “revolution”, introducing ticca-garry or the horse-carriage, the main mode of transportation in the city until the first decade of the 20th century. They also introduced western-style department stores for European and British goods, including wines, spirits, cigars, bacon, reading lamps, shoes, toys, table cutlery, shaving soap, saucepans, frying pans, travelling bags, umbrellas, etc.
The Armenian community contributed significantly to Dhaka's civic life and urban administrative bureaucracy. Nicholas Pogose founded the first private school of the city, Pogose School, in 1848. It still functions as a prestigious school in Old Dhaka. In response to Nicholas Pogose's resolution that the Dhaka Municipality Committee had no corporate entity, and that steps should be taken to remedy the problem, the British colonial administration enacted the District Municipality Act of 1864. The Dhaka Municipality became a statutory body with its legal jurisdiction.
Compared to those in Calcutta and Madras, Dhaka's Armenian community was small but wealthy, exerting a great deal of influence on local and regional businesses. It was a well-knit community, living in Armanitola, an Old Dhaka neighbourhood or mahalla that was named after their colony where they once lived (although not all Armenians lived there). They maintained a close working relationship with the British colonial administration and other European merchants in the city, as well as with their kinsmen in Kolkata. According to an 1870 survey, there were 107 Armenians in Dhaka, of whom 39 were men, 23 women, and 45 children. Among this group, there was a priest, five zamindars, three merchants, one barrister, five shopkeepers, and four government employees.
Many of Dhaka's wealthy Armenians lived in European-style bungalows in Old Dhaka, one of the most famous being the Ruplal House (now in derelict conditions) built by the Armenian zamindar Aratoon. The religious life of the community revolved around the Armenian Church of the Holy Resurrection, built in 1781 on the ruins of an earlier chapel and cemetery. It is worthwhile to note that the Armenians built their first churches in Madras (now Chennai) in 1547, in Agra in 1562, and in Calcutta in 1724.The Portuguese built the first church in Dhaka in 1679 and reconstructed it in 1769, a decade or so before the Armenians built their church in Old Dhaka.
It was a time of great political turmoil. When Warren Hastings became the Governor-General of Bengal in 1773, the British colonial administration of the territory still remained underdeveloped. Away in the New World, North American colonists under the leadership of General George Washington defeated the British forces led by Lord Cornwallis at the Battle of Yorktown in 1781. The political heat was rising rapidly in pre-Revolution France. Amidst the chaotic times, many communities urgently felt the need to preserve their national and ethnic identities. The Armenians in Dhaka were no exception, as they sought to solidify their identity through the language of architecture.
The land for the Armenian Church was originally gifted by the Armenian noble man Agha Catchick Minas, whose wife died in 1764 and is buried inside the church. The church galvanised the community around the Sunday mass and other religious festivals. Later in 1840, Lt. Colonel Davidson of British Bengal Engineers provided a vivid portrayal of the Christmas celebration at this church.
The Armenian Church stands today like a quiet and dignified monument amidst the frenzied urban growth surrounding it. Residential apartment towers dwarf its two-story structure and the belfry or the bell tower. The oblong plan of the church is a simple basilica type with a double-height nave flanked by two one-story, 14-foot wide arcades which open to the surrounding graveyard. The three-tier bell tower, capped with a conical roof, on the west provides a square-shaped and arched vestibule, followed by a ceremonial entrance to the nave. Running along the east-west axis, the nave space is boldly articulated by five heavy piers on either side. The piers are spanned by both doors and windows. The central processional aisle of the nave is flanked by rows of wooden pews, creating a linear progression of space toward a semi-circular apse. The eastern end of the nave is visually framed by a tall arch, behind which is the projecting apse containing an elevated altar. A10-foot tall wooden altar piece there contains an artistic depiction of the Last Supper. Two identical sanctuaries, accessible from the nave, flank the apse. Located above the roof line of the aisles, skylights along the nave walls, bring light deep inside the church. On the left as one enters the nave space, there is a circular, wooden staircase ascending to the second floor gallery overlooking the nave, and then to the third floor of the belfry.
Although the style of the church seems somewhat eclectic at first, a closer inspection reveals that its typology is based on typical features of Armenian church architecture. The bell tower's ribbed conical steeple, surmounted with a cross, is common to well-known examples of Armenian churches. They include: the Cathedral of Holy Etchmiadzinnear Yerevan in Armenia (originally built in the 4th century and rebuilt in its present form in the 17th century; this is considered the oldest church in the world); St. Hripsime in Echmiadzin, Armenia (rebuilt in 618 CE); the Armenian Church on Lake Van in the East Anatolia Province, Turkey (10th century); and the Armenian Church (1924) near the Howrah Bridge in Kolkata. All of these examples have the paradigmatic “drum-and-cone pattern,” that inspired Dhaka's Armenian Church. The arched base of its bell tower that acts as a pronaos for the church proper is common to all the examples mentioned above except the one in East Anatolia. The circular windows facing cardinal directions that we find on the steeple of the Dhaka church are strikingly similar to those of the Armenian Church in Kolkata. An interesting feature of the church in Old Dhaka is how its belfry is balanced out on the east, where the balustrade on the nave roof culminates in a Baroque crown-like detail with a cross on top and an elliptical opening at the centre.
The high boundary wall around the Armenian Church in Dhaka shields the property from rampant land speculation that characterises the capital city today. The main entrance to the site is from the east near the circular apse. Visitors must walk through the graveyard all the way to the western forecourt of the church. Reading the tombstones of the graveyard feels like a journey back to a time when the Armenians played pivotal roles in the life of the city. The church, along with its sombre graveyard, in the midst of noisy city life, seems like a dignified and somewhat melancholic symbol of a distant past.
It is somewhat ironic that there is a place (unofficially) called Bangladesh in the suburb of the Armenian capital city of Yerevan. The district's real name is Malatia-Sebastia, named after the modern Turkish cities of Malatya and Sivas. The answers to why this rather desolate suburban Armenian town is called Bangladesh is both elusive and contentious. It depends on who you ask. Some think, rather pejoratively, that it is called Bangladesh as a synonym for the town's remoteness, mental distance, poverty, and blighted economic landscape. Yet, some people locate the origin of this unlikely name in the empathy the Armenian people felt for Bangladesh in 1971, when Bengalis became the victims of Pakistani military's genocidal campaign. There is no suburb of Yerevan called Pakistan!
There is one common narrative that cuts through all these disparate stories. The human story, or history, can't be articulated with the misplaced spirit of nation-centrism. We, the people of the world, are interconnected in all kinds of unexpected ways. History should be written in a way that it highlights our shared experiences, lived and imagined. Histories of Bangladesh, for example, can never be pigeonholed within its modern political boundaries. Some of the best sources of Bangladeshi history are found in England, Holland, and Portugal, among other places.
Adnan Morshed, PhD, is an architect, architectural historian, urbanist, and columnist. He teaches at the Catholic University of America in Washington, DC, and serves as Executive Director of the Centre for Inclusive Architecture and Urbanism at BRAC University. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted 31 May 2019 - 09:22 AM
There is no record of when the first Armenians moved to Dhaka, but it was likely in the early 17th century, soon after the Persian Shāh Abbās conquered Armenia and deported 40,000 of its traders to Persia. Following this mass deportation, records of Armenian communities began appearing throughout the region.
The move from Persia to Dhaka is not implausible considering that Persian was the official language in the Mughal Empire at the time. The textile business was booming and Armenians traded in jute, leather, and silk. Thanks to this industry, the community grew wealthy and in 1781 it commissioned the construction of a Catholic church, the Armenian Church of the Holy Resurrection.
Measuring 75 feet in length, the white and yellow-trimmed church is rather small; the main hall can accommodate about 80 people. A fine painting depicting the Last Supper hangs on the wall, and a wooden spiral stair leads to the upstairs balcony, where another 20 or 30 people can find room. From there, two low, narrow openings give access to the roof.
The lot on which the church was built was previously used as a cemetery by the Armenian community, and the churchyard is still an old burial ground where Armenian script is clearly visible on headstones. On one of the oldest graves is a skull and crossbones carving, indicating that the person was killed by pirates, in 1783.
Service is no longer held on a regular basis, but on special occasions, such as Easter, a group of Catholic expats organizes a service in the historic church.
Know Before You Go
The gates to the Armenian church are usually closed, but knock or wait around a while, and someone will open them. There is no entrance fee, but a tip is expected.
Posted 01 June 2019 - 07:46 AM
will Los Angeles be like this in 200 years ?
Where would Armenians go? Unless Armenia became a bastion of democracy with better living conditions and sound economy. Who knows may be a new planet discovered just for us to move!
Posted 21 August 2019 - 08:23 AM
Dhaka, a 400-years-old behemoth of a city. Imagine for a moment that you are in 17th century Mughal Dhaka. You are standing in the middle of a bazaar in the Grand Area. People are shouting, talking to one other, switching between languages in their usual loud tone. Persian merchants, on their way to the port of Calcutta, are stopping by to trade fine Muslin for the Shah’s gold. Do you smell the fresh spices? Amid the ruckus of crowd and noise, a mellow and soothing sound of sitar is coming from somewhere. You can hear the prayer chants and bells of a temple somewhere far away. Only to be overtaken with the sound of Azaan as the dusk begins to fall.
It was sometime in these buzzing, lazy days of the 17th-18th century when Dhaka saw the arrival of a prominent community of Armenians in this part of the world. Almost 400 years later, only a small locality name, Armanitola and one magnificently breathtaking church built by them, bear the testimony of their existence. This is the story of the forgotten Armenians of Dhaka.The arrival of the Armenians in Dhaka Courtesy: The Armenian Church of Bangladesh Website
We cannot find an exact record of exactly when the Armenians had arrived in Dhaka. But it is widely believed that they arrived some time in the late 17th or early 18th century.
Following the invasion of Armenia by the Persian Safavid rulers in the 17th century, a significant number of Armenians came to Bengal to establish a community and engage in trade and commerce. Armenians, who were fluent in Persian and veteran businessmen, had no trouble finding their niche in the Persian speaking Mughal court. They quickly established themselves as prominent traders in Bengal.The rise to prominence
The Armenians settled largely in an Armenian colony in the preset day Aramanitola. In an extremely short span of time, the Armenians became unmatched in the trade of textile, opium and leather, beating their European counterparts in the game.
The Armenians, thanks to their specific skill sets of trade and commerce, quickly established themselves as the elite class in the city. Integrating themselves with the locals, many of them became local zamindars and landlords. They built picturesque mansions, houses and bungalows that adorned the city of Dhaka. The now ruined Ruplal House was such an establishment which was originally built by an Armenian landlord, Aratoon. It later went on to become one of the most prominent landmarks of colonial Dhaka alongside Ahsan Manzil. Parts of Shahbagh and the land where Bangabhaba stands also used to belong to Armenian zaminders.Dhaka City across Buriganga River – a painting by Frederick William Alexander de Fabeck in 1861
The Armenian community played a significant role in the development of Dhaka. Although the use of horse-carriages is mostly associated with Nawabs of Dhaka, it was the Armenians who fist introduced these horse-carriages which became a popular mode of transportation in the city later on. The Armenians were also the first to introduce departmental stores in Dhaka. Nicholas Pogose, a prominent wealthy Armenian of that time, had established the Pogose school. It was one of the first three English schools in Dhaka. He was also the founding member of Dhaka Municipality in 1864.The Armenian Church
In 1781, the Armenian community built a church adjacent to a community burial ground. This is the Armenian church that we know today. The sole testament to a once thriving and flourishing diaspora in the heart of Dhaka.
Just like their arrival, there are no records of their sudden disappearance either. The community slowly extracted themselves after the partition in 1947. The burial ground inside the Armenian church contains bodies of Armenian settlers and their subsequent generations who are just as much Dhakaites as the rest of us today. They came here, settled here, grew families and businesses here. They flourished this city. Here’s to hoping this city does not forget them.
- MosJan likes this
Posted 23 December 2019 - 09:38 AM
December 23, 2019
It is often repeated that the ‘founding fathers’ of the Armenian church in Dacca were Messrs Sarkies, Kevorke, Pogose and Petrus respectively. Numerous reports tell us the land was donated by ‘Armenian nobleman Agha Catchick Minas’ (also known as Agha Catchik Emnias). Let’s explore some of these individuals and take a peek into a small period of their lives.
For the early Armenian settler in Dacca, life was constantly challenging, one-sided and often unfairly stacked against them. Saddled with troubles with-in and with-out of this small community, these ‘big-named’ individuals who strove to make a living weren’t just trying to outwit their competitors but also some of their more notoriously tricky British chiefs. Alongside that, some were in constant battle with their own community and families as well.
A perfect example of this was in 1773 when Khoja Michael Ter Stephanoss, more commonly known as Khoja Michael Sarkies, entered into a partnership with Coja Kevorke jointly running salt farms in Savagepore and Selimabad under contract to the East India Company. They reported directly to Richard Barwell, the Chief of Dacca. Barwell was ruthlessly ambitious and, according to correspondence written in January 1769 to his sister Mary in England, he was: “willing to spend five thousand pounds [by today’s standard of living that is a value equivalent to in excess of £600,000] for the chiefship of Dacca and Patna……to supervise the collection of the revenues.” Barwell got his wish in 1772 and quickly became a law unto himself. He decided to take away the contract Sarkies and Kevorke had already been given to supply salt to the East India Company. Through no fault of their own, their losses were immense because of Barwell’s double dealing and greed for more revenue, something he tried unsuccessfully to prove in Court. A protracted enquiry ensued in Calcutta at the Supreme Court, and all the evidence went in the favour of the Armenian partners whilst Barwell was found to be trading in an unorthodox and underhand manner. His unauthorised demand of Rs125,000 to be paid directly to him, circumnavigating the official East India Company contract, was Barwell’s downfall. Although their names and reputations were honoured and kept intact, their finances took a huge blow, something they never recovered from.
Khoja Michael Sarkies (Coja Michael), as a Zamindar, continued to live and trade in Dacca extending partnerships in his salt business to Johannes Ter Daniels and Stephanus Arratoon of Calcutta. In 1765 he also conducted trade with Joseph Saffor Shahriman but found himself to be a creditor of Shahriman when he died in 1766; Khoja Michael was owed around 600 Rupees.
Meanwhile, the other partner, Khoja Kevorke, went to Calcutta and settled there with his wife and family. Familiar Armenian Calcutta names such as Manuk, Avietick, Owen, Zorab, Emin, Stephen Gaspar, Vardon, Arathoon, Jordan, Bagram, Vertannes, Michael, Cavorke and George, all descend from him whose full name was Khoja Kevorke Ter Simon, and there are a number of living descendants scattered around the world today. Khoja Kevorke died in Chinsurah in 1790, the same year as his business partner Khoja Michael died in Dacca.
Some of the other early Armenian settlers in Dacca arrived at a time when the country was in crisis. 1787 saw a devastating famine, coupled with unprecedented early flooding in March of that year. Armenians rallied around to help, not just other Armenians but also their friends, local people and the communities of Dacca. Far from landing on Indian soil and stepping into the rhythm of a comfortable and economically progressive commerce, the Julfan Armenians immediately became immersed in the same poverty and diseases that were engulfing the lives of Dacca locals at this time. Basic food such as grain and fresh water were in very short supply and to add to an already desperate situation, a large fire broke out and over 7000 huts were destroyed. These weren’t just homes, but also storage huts containing vital food supplies. Many hundreds of lives were lost in the fire; the famine went on to claim thousands more. People left Dacca for other districts, there was very little for local people to stay for, whilst others from the countryside flocked to the city for help in the hope that their famished families would get food. Wealthier inhabitants did indeed help those in dire straights, their stockpiles of precious grains were now the staple supplies, and at the height of the disaster, between 9 and 10 thousand people a day were fed through public contribution. A small number of Armenians made up this group, and although the situation quickly escalated from bad to near hopeless, they did what they could to help each other and the people around them.
One of those who survived the famine and who was sufficiently well placed to help Muslims and Christians alike was salt and property merchant Khoja Michael Sarkies. He had been born in Julfa around 1732 and as we have already seen, during his time in Dacca he was one of the most prominent and successful of his Zemindar contemporaries. It was to Michael Sarkies that other migrating Julfan Armenians turned when they wished to settle in Dacca.
Khoja Michael Sarkies died in 1790 without leaving a will. As a successful businessman and having accumulated considerable wealth, he didn’t think to write his last will and testament, perhaps believing ‘his word was his bond.’ His valuable estate, which contained Zemindaree lands at Dukhun, Shahbazpore and several houses and other property in Dacca, became fiercely fought over by relatives.
To put the size of this community into perspective with the rest of Dacca, in 1840 there were approximately 40 Armenian families in the city, yet here we are nearly 180 years later talking about this incredibly small minority community and how much they achieved, although not always smoothly. Their in-fighting and quick-fire quills to start court cases has given us much to muse about in the 21st century.
We are fortunate to have incredibly gifted Armenian historians, who have studied the trading patterns and routes from Persia to India and Bangladesh during the 18th century and beyond. For those who wish to read about this relationship between Asia and Persia, I would recommend Dr. Sebouh Aslanian’s “From the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean The Global Trade Networks of Armenian Merchants from New Julfa”.
The Dacca Armenian Church land contributor, Agha Catchick Minas and his brother Howan were from the extensive trading Minas family of New Julfa.
Their father, Khojah Emnias Minas, had suffered a most horrendous death having been burned alive at the stake by Nadir Shah in January 1747 in Isfahan’s central square.
The brothers were both traders and landowners in Dacca. Their respective first wives, Catchick’s Sophie and Howan’s Khathaie had died within two years of each other at Dacca in 1764 and 1766 respectively. Both men went on to marry a second time.
As a wealthy landowner Agha Catchick possessed a number of villages in Dacca from which he received rental income. However, by 1791 he was part of the Armenian merchants and traders living in Saidabad where he remarried to Mariam Gregory. In May of that year, in what can only be described as the equivalent of our modern-day social media, a furious Agha Catchick placed a classified ads notice in the local newspaper, describing in detail an unprecedented personal account of how he had been humiliated and cuckolded by Mariam. One can only imagine the kind of sensation this outburst caused amongst the readers in Bengal. Clearly, he felt strongly enough about the situation that he thought himself impervious to those quietly gossiping about him. His tone and style was strong and resolute and he sought to be as disparaging of her as he could.
I CATCHIK EMNIAZ, an Armenian, now an inhabitant of Saydabad, but late of Dacca in the Province of Bengal , a Merchant: and sorry to be obliged to give the following notice to the Public, but my own security demands it: Whereas MARRIAM CANOOM my present wife, who was the Daughter of GREGORY of the family of AGAS AVETICK, did on the 23d day of December 1787, elope from me her Husband, without any cause or pro-vocation whatever, under a presence that she was going to take a walk to Berhampore, taking with her Jewells and other things belonging to my Estate to a very considerable amount, and in her way to Berhampore she exchanged her Bearers to prevent discovery, for Ticka Bearers, and at Calcapore she took up and cohabited with the Dutch Company’s Doctor called Doctor VERNAM, and went to Patna , of which I was quite ignorant of, and for some time concealed herself in the house of a native shroff there, until they could obtain protection at the Danish Factory there under the Danish Flag, which in a few days they accomplished, and here it is, I must say some thing of her general behaviour to me and in my house after our marriage, which behaviour was so undutiful and untoward, that I cannot pass over it in silence.
She kept company with people of bad character expressly against my repeated order to the contrary; admitted them to my house, bribed my servants to form excuses whenever she went out by which I found myself ridiculed and laughed at daily, yet I never used her ill for all this, but often talked and conversed with her on the impropriety of it, which she regarded not, but continued her bad behaviour with great untowardness by giving away and wasting my property, Monies, Jewells, and other articles the made away with, without my knowledge. I should not have said so much on the subject of her behaviour, was it not for what follows: that since her first cohabitation with Doctor VERNAM, this Doctor happened to die at Patna , and she not finding it easily to dupe every man, was rendered incapable of getting any assistance from any body in the scheme she having went away, she therefore after eight or nine months came under the protection of the Danish Colour to Serampore, and from thence to Calcutta; from whence she wrote me a Letter of penitence desiring my pardon, and wishing to be reinstated in my house again, to which I have not complied, and I have written in answer to it that I would not admit a woman of that character, and an enemy to my life and property into my family. This therefore is to give notice to all to whom it may concern, that I will not be responsible for any act whatever of her the said MARRIAM CANOOM, nor will I pay any Debt or Debts which she may contract either in my name or any name whatsoever, on any pretence, the 18 May, 1791.
Agha Catchik’s brother and business partner Howan Emnias also owned property in Dacca. A third business partner was Astwasatoor Papook of Calcutta. Astwasatoor died in 1787 and following his death the partnership between them was wound up with Both Catchik and Howan as executors. However, Catchik passed away in 1798 leaving Howan to wind up both estates. When Howan passed away in 1804 the outstanding estates of his partners were far from finalised and his son Muckertich was left with the unenviable task of unravelling a very complicated set of inter-connected accounts, claims and counter-claims.
Properties belonging to Howan Emnias at Sydabad were advertised for sale in 1805 [ image 2] and in 1807 [ image 3]; his property in Dacca was also put up for sale. This advertisement [ image 3] contains important locational information, and offers insight into how close the community were located in relation to the Armenian Church in Dacca. “One lower and three upper roomed houses situated behind the Armenian Church in Dacca, built of the best pucka materials with a well laid out garden the whole standing on five Biggahs of ground.” The importance of this incredible statement tells us that the area around the church was not heavily built upon but in fact contained large open spaces; something that won’t be recognisable in today’s Dhaka.
As part of the Dhaka Armenian Heritage Project, we were fortunate to have gained access to a photograph [image 4]. It is of some of the Armenian community gathering at Mr. Michael’s home around the 1930s/40s and shows the Armenian Church located in the background. This is excellent corroborative evidence of how the community continued to live close to the church 130 years after Howan Emnias with open green spaces and single storey residential properties surrounding it.
Our early Armenian pioneer settlers literally built the foundations on which today stands the beautiful Armenian Church. Those early pioneer settlers also unwittingly gave an insight into their lives by the very disputes they chose to argue about in the public forum of the local judicial Courts. Today there are scores of descendants around the world whose ancestor was Khoja Michael Sarkies, many of them are unaware of their turbulent ancestors’ past and the wonderful Armenian heritage they are part of.
Liz Chater is a Armenian family history researcher and Armenian Heritage Project coordinator for the Armenian Church Dhaka.
Read the full story on this link: https://chater-genea...s-in-dacca.html
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