AN INTERVIEW WITH THE PRESIDENT OF THE ARMENIAN COMMUNITY OF CHINA,
MR. HENRI ARSLANIAN
1. Please tell us a bit about the community and its main goals.
The Armenian Community of China has three main pillars: to unite and
bring together individuals of Armenian heritage living in China, to
share with the world at large the remarkable history of Armenians in
China and to be the natural bridge between Armenia and China.
We are a relatively young community that is totally independent with
no religious or political affiliations, built on the pillars of
independence, transparency and governance. We aim to become a
best-in-class Armenian organization, a role model for the next
Many Armenians in Armenia and in the diaspora are not aware of the
fact that we have a very active and fast growing Armenian community in
China. Our group is composed of hundreds of Armenians from all around
the world, mainly living, studying or working in Beijing, Shanghai,
Nanjing, Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Hong Kong. We even opened our first
Armenian centre two years ago in Hong Kong.
Armenians have been active in China from the 17th century to the
1950s, when most of them left. We used to have Armenian communities in
major cities like Tianjin or Shanghai but also in less expected places
like Tibet or Inner Mongolia. There was even an Armenian Church in
Harbin in Northern China, while the Armenian Relief Society had a
chapter that was run out of the Armenian Club of Shanghai.
Armenians have also been extremely successful in China. For example,
one of the most significant individuals in the history of Hong Kong is
a gentleman by the name of Sir Paul Catchik Chater, who was an
Armenian orphan from Calcutta, India. He become such a leading figure
in business and politics that to this day many buildings and streets
in Hong Kong are named after him and companies he started are still
active and listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange.
So in a way, we are not new to China but are simply walking in the
footsteps of our ancestors.
2. How do you think the Armenian Community of China is different from
some of the other Armenian Communities globally?
Although Armenians have been active in China for centuries, we had the
rare opportunity in 2013 to set-up a proper organizational structure
for the governance of our community. We had the chance to start with a
blank sheet of paper and build what we believed should be the model
for an Armenian community of the future -- a version 2.0. We looked at
many communities and organizations globally and decided to keep what
we believe worked best, while changing and innovating as needed. We
always kept in mind the long term interests of not only our community
but also of the generations to come.
For example, my mandate as President of the community is limited only
to 2 years and our constitution forces me to step down after my term
to ensure that we always have new individuals with new energy and new
ideas to lead the organization. Also, despite our small size, our
accounts are audited by Ernst and Young and are publically available
on our website so that every member of our community knows exactly
where each dollar is spent.
In addition, we make a very active effort to integrate the
non-Armenian partners and spouses in our community. Over the past
decades many Armenians stepped away from community life, often because
they felt their non-Armenian partners were not welcome. We want to
change that completely. Women are also actively involved in the
leadership of our community, with almost half of our board of
directors composed of women.
Gandhi famously said, `be the change you want to see in the world'. We
have done just that but in the context of building our Armenian
3. What are the ties between ChinaHay and other communities of Asia?
Armenian communities are growing very fast, not only in China but also
across Asia. For example, there are also relatively active communities
of various sizes in Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia, South
Korea, India, Bangladesh and Myanmar.
All the leaders of all the communities across Asia have quarterly
conference calls where we update each other of the initiatives and
projects that we are each leading in our respective jurisdictions to
ensure that we are properly synchronized and can work together when
possible. This ensures that we are all connected and can work together
when need be, like for example the recent initiatives to restore the
old Armenian Churches in Myanmar and Bangladesh.
4. Earlier this year, the Armenian Community of China had some very
unique events surrounding the April 24 Genocide commemoration events.
Can you tell us more about it? What was the reaction of the media on
Like all Armenian communities in the diaspora, the Armenians in China
wanted to organize some events around April 24, while being sensitive
towards our Chinese hosts. For that reason, we decided to organize
some cultural events in Beijing, Shanghai and Nanjing where our
Chinese friends had the opportunity to get acquainted with Armenian
culture, art, music and, of course, history.
Our main remembrance event took place in Nanjing, which is where China
experienced the sad episode of the 1937 Nanjing Massacre ` an event
which has many similarities with the Armenian genocide. The Armenian
Community of China visited the Nanjing Massacre Museum and laid
flowers in remembrance of the victims of all Genocides and massacres,
including the Armenian Genocide and the Nanjing Massacre. By having
our remembrance events held in Nanjing, we wanted to show solidarity
with our Chinese friends, show sympathy for the atrocities they have
gone through as well and be thankful to them for being so welcoming
over the past centuries towards Armenians.
We also had a number of cultural events from exhibitions of Armenian
artists in Nanjing, Armenian dance performances in Shanghai,
documentary viewings in Beijing and remembrance dinners in Hong Kong.
A documentary on the Armenian Genocide translated into Chinese is now
even available on Chinese social media websites.
Our commemoration events across China were covered in the Armenian
media globally. To our surprise, they were covered in the Turkish
media as well, to highlight our active Armenian community in China. We
took it as a compliment!
5. What are some of the ongoing projects for the Armenian Community in
the coming year?
We are working on a number of projects within our community. For
example, we have between 70 to 90 students from Armenia coming every
year to study in China. However, there are very few Chinese students
going to Armenia. We are launching a scholarship this year in
partnership with the American University of Armenia where the Armenian
Community of China will cover the travel, healthcare and living costs
of Chinese students willing to go and pursue graduate studies in
Armenia. We believe that these students can then be a natural bridge
between Armenia and China. It is also the right moral gesture to give
back to our Chinese friends who have been welcoming Armenians for
We also have a number of ongoing initiatives aimed at sharing the
inspiring Armenian history in China and Asia with the global
community. For example, we have an ongoing fellowship with the
Gulbenkian Foundation, supporting Armenian and Chinese academics
currently researching old Armenian history in China.
We also want to solidify the links between Armenia and China and we do
this in multiple ways. For example, dozens of Chinese university
students are now enrolled in Armenian language courses offered in
Beijing. We even helped promote videos in Mandarin Chinese talking
about tourism in Yerevan, videos that are now posted on Chinese social
We also believe in building professional links within our community.
For example, we have a very successful annual Armenian academic
conference in China where all the Armenian academics living and
working in China come together to connect and find ways to work
together. We also have a number of professional groups ` from one that
brings together Armenians in Finance in Asia to another that brings
together the dozens of Armenian students across China.
6. What would be your advice to anyone who wants to learn more about
the Armenian Community of China or the Armenian history in China?
A great resource is our community website, http://www.chinahay.com or
our Facebook page. They contain not only updates about our community
but also information and links about Armenian history in China.
Interviewed by Anahit Parzyan
AN INTERVIEW WITH THE PRESIDENT OF THE ARMENIAN COMMUNITY OF CHINA, MR
Posted 26 September 2015 - 04:57 PM
AN INTERVIEW WITH THE PRESIDENT OF THE ARMENIAN COMMUNITY OF CHINA,
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