Armenian Historical Snippets

Below are some snippets and extracts of old books describing the Armenians in India.

Extracted from “Researches and Missionary Labours Among the Jews, Mohammedans, and Other Sects by Joseph Wolff Published in 1837” Entitled: Armenians in British India

Extract from “the Asiatic Journal & Monthly Register for British and Foreign India 1822.Entitled: “Brief Account of the Armenian Press” (Drawn up by an Armenian Gentleman, for the Calcutta Journal.)

Extracted from the “Calcutta Monthly Journal and General Register” for 1836. Page 465.

Extract from Madras in the olden time: Entitled “The First Appearance of Armenians in Madras”

Extracted from “The Literary Panorama by Charles Taylor, 1807”
Entitled: Supplication for Rain by the Armenian Christians.

Extracted from “Researches and Missionary Labours Among the Jews, Mohammedans, and Other Sects by Joseph Wolff Published in 1837”

Armenians in British India

Johannes Avdal, at Calcutta, an Armenian and the author of the history of Armenia, a gentleman of general knowledge, and well acquainted not only with the Armenian, but likewise with the Persian, Turkish, English, Latin, Greek and French languages gave me the following information about the Armenians in British India. The number of Armenians in British India amount to 1000.  They visited India long before the discovery of the Cape of Good Hope by the Portuguese.  A few centuries ago they carried on a commercial intercourse between Hindoostaun and Persia.

“Bolts Upon India Affairs” furnished ample information respecting the Armenians in Hindoorstaun.  There are Armenians at Calcutta, Madras, Bombay, Penang, Singapore, Chinsurah, Sydabad, Dacca, Gwalior and Surat. In all these places they have churches and chapels.

At Calcutta there are 300 Armenians some of them very rich. They are engaged in mercantile pursuits others are employed as clerks in different offices. They have a church at Calcutta, an alms house, built 14 year ago by Arratoon Petros.  The following are respectable Armenians at Calcutta: Messieurs Owenjohn Elias, Sarkies Owen, Arratoon Kalloos, Aviet Agabeg, Sarkies T. Sarkies, Arratoon Apcar, Gregory Apcar, Paul Jordan, Johannes Avdal.

In the Dutch settlements and the Burmese empire are about 30 families.  In the latter they have a beautiful church.

Mr. Sarkies Manook is the only principal Armenian at Rangoon. They have at Calcutta an Armenian Philanthropic academy, founded in the year 1821, solely by the generosity of Armenians.  They study there grammar, sacred and profane history, geography, arithmetic, geometry, moral and natural philosophy etc., the Armenian, English, Latin, French and Persian languages  It contains above 70 students many of whom are the children of parents residing in Calcutta, and the rest are from Julfa, Sheeras, Rangoon, Batavia, Samarang, Dacca etc.  Its funds have accumulated to about 100,000 rupees by the bequests of Armenians. A select library and printing press are attached to it. Mr. Arratoon Kaloos, who was the first to pave the way to the education of the Armenians in India, and who carried on a school of his own, for a period of about 25 years prior to the foundation of the academy, is at the head of this institution; and a respectable European who teaches the classics, is attached to it, and John Avdal himself teaches in it.  Its affairs are managed by four directors, annually chosen from the members. Goldsmith’s history The Vicar of Wakefield, the Deserted Village, Humphrey Prideaux’s Life of Mohammed and Paul and Virginia have been translated into Armenian by pupils of this institution.

Extract from “the Asiatic Journal & Monthly Register for British and Foreign India 1822.”

Brief Account of the Armenian Press
(Drawn up by an Armenian Gentleman, for the Calcutta Journal.)

In the year 1567 the use of the Press began first among the Armenians.  It has been established in many cities; but in most cases, after continuing in operation a short time, it has, owing to some cause or other, been abolished.  It is permanently established in Constantinople and Venice[1]; and at present there are printing offices in Paris, Vienna and St. Petersburgh, which are all in constant employment.

In India the exercise of the Armenian Press began first at Madras, and there is has undergone many changes.  The Rev. Ter Arratoon Shamavon, of that place, kept it going for many years, and printed off a great number of books; but at present the presses of that Presidency are all abolished.

In Calcutta a printing office was first established by the Rev. Ter Joseph Stephanuse, who acted as editor for a time, and printed a few books.  It was afterwards sold.  Mr. Gentloon Aviet succeeded to the Rev. Ter Joseph Stephanuse.  He also printed some books, but at present nothing is done at his printing office.  In the year 1819, Pogose Vardanan Esq., of Madras, had a printing office, which he hade a present of the Aid-spreading[2] Society of Bombay; but on account of there being but few Armenians at Bombay, this Society afterwards thought proper to establish their press at Calcutta, in conjunction with the Literary Society[3] of the same place.  It is now employed under the management of the said Society.

Occurrences relating to the Press at Calcutta

In the year 1820, on the 29th of July, a prospectus was issued by the Literary Society, announcing to the public their intention of establishing a Weekly Journal, to be entitled “The Calcutta Mirror.”  Owing to several circumstances, which a free press is liable to produce, and to the mass of intolerable abuse which were poured out upon its conductors (who were then Messrs. Mackertich A. Aganoor, and John Avdall), the circulation of that paper was but of short duration.  Scarcely was the publication three months old, when the conductors were secretly dogged through the public streets with fencing sticks and clubs.  Discord also broke out now and then between some of the different families of the community, by which the circulation of the paper was greatly injured.  On account of these quarrels, the number of subscribers to the press was diminished by one half; and at last, encountered so many obstacles, the circulation of the paper was unavoidably stopped.

After the discontinuance of the paper, Mr. Avdall’s[4] “Aunkidaz Aunpet” was put to press, on account of which the opponents of the press began to pour forth a great deal of their malicious venom.  After the edition of the above book was thrown off, Dr. Gregory’s Legacy was begun to be printed, it having been translated into Armenian by the late Mr. Mackertich A. Aganoor[5].  Neither was this beautiful Tract exempt from misrepresentation and abuse.  As the opponents of the press were daily increasing in number, and every possible effort making by them to overthrow the printing-office establishment, the Rev. Deacon, Mr. Martin Macketich[6] began to publish several Satirical Poems, in order to check their audacity, and put a stop to their spiteful machinations.  After the embarkation of Mr. Mackertich on the Alexander to the Persian Gulph, their hostility was carried so far, that the conductors were on the point of shutting up the printing-office.  But Mr. Mackertich unexpectedly returning from sea, and observing the state of affairs, published a pamphlet, containing an Appeal to the Community at large, whereby he crushed in great degree their malicious efforts.

After the publication of this Address, Mr. Mackertich’s Comedy was put to the Press.  It is entitled “The Physiognomist of Treachery,” and is divided into four Acts, containing about five hundred verses in poetry.  On the publication of this piece, the conductor of the press was attached in a most unmanly manner, on a Sunday morning, after Divine service, at the church gate, upon which a fighting match took place between him and his aggressor.  The adversaries of the press also gave it to be understood, that on the republication of similar pamphlets, worse treatment might be expected.

Observing that the audacious opposition of his adversaries was not likely to case, he resigned his charge to another person, who took upon himself the editorship of the press.  The latter was also most grossly insulted in the church; his stole and incense pan were snatched away from his hand.  This being contrary to the laws of the Armenian Church, he now absents himself from divine service, until he can obtain legal satisfaction.

The present condition of the Armenian press in Calcutta may be told in a few words.  Very few subscribers remain; but still the business is going on; and a periodical magazine is begun to be published, which is now distributed gratuitously amongst the community.

*We have thought it right to republish the foregoing statement.  It is scarcely necessary to add, that the style of it is very suspicious.  We shall be obliged, therefore, to any of our correspondents for further information.

In Venice, at the Island of St. Lazarus, there is an Armenian Society established, the members of which are all Ecclesiastical persons, and of the Roman Catholic persuasion.  It was founded in the year 1712, by Mackythar Sabastyan, and the object of it is to subject the Armenian Church to the Church of Rome.  Many books have been printed by this society, some of which are the works of our ancestors, some translations from European languages, and some written by themselves.  The type they at present use is preferable to that of any other Armenian books in print.

In the year 1815 a Society was established at Bombay, entitled “Ochanaspeur” or “Aid-spreading.”  The object of this was to preserve the adherence of the Armenian community to their own Church, and to promote knowledge and science by printing useful books, either original compositions or translations, and distributing them gratuitously amongst the community.  They have now many works on hand read for publication, but owing to the insufficiency of means, they remain unprinted.  The following are the members of the Society: Marcus Joseph (Chairman); Lukas Joseph, Martin Mackertich, Mathew Joseph, Carapiet Chatoor.

In the year 1818 a Society was established in Calcutta, entitled “Imastakhundir” or the “Literary Society.”  Their object is the same at that of the Society of Bombay.  Two books have been translated from the English, and already printed by the Society; and they have on hand many works ready for publication.  The members of that Society are as follow:

Mackertich A. Aganoor (Chairman); Lazus Agabeg, John Avdall, Sarkies J. Sarkies.

Mr. John Avdall is nineteen years of age, and was born in Shirauz, in Persia.  He was sent by his parents to Mr. Arratoon Kaloo’s school, at Calcutta, where he received instruction in the Armenian and English languages.  The “Aunkidaz Aunpet” (which signifies “useless to those who are stupids”) is therefore dedicated to Mr. Kaloos.  This book is compiled and translated from the Elegant Extracts, and abounds chiefly with portions of the beautiful writings of Addison, Johnson, Blair Etc.  It contains about three hundred and fourteen pages, and a brief biographical sketch of the authors is attached to it.

Mr. Mackertich A. Aganoor was a native of Bussorah, and educated in Bombay in the Armenian and English languages.  He died on the 29th March last [1821], in the twenty-fourth year of his age.  His translation of Gregory’s Legacy is dedicated to his sister-in-law, Mrs. Agabeg.  This unfortunate young man did not live to see his translation out of the press.

The Rev. Mr. M. Mackertich was born at Shirauz, and was instructed in Armenian at Bombay.  He is the first author who had composed and published a dramatic work amongst the Armenians.  An Armenian gentleman at Madras also composed a comedy, but from some cause or other he has not published it.  A comedy was also written by the Aid-spreading Society of Bombay, where it was acted three times.  A copy of this was delivered to Mr. Mackertich that he might make in it whatever improvements he should think necessary, and have it printed; and it is now ready for publication.  The Armenian press at Calcutta being at present under his superintendence, he is writing a general critique on this comedy, divided into three parts, two of which are already printed, and the third is in the press.

Extracted from the “Calcutta Monthly Journal and General Register” for 1836. Page 465. GENERAL MEETING AT THE ARMENIAN CHURCH OF CALCUTTA   At a perennial meeting held in the vestry rooms of the Armenian Church, on the morning of the 18th September, for the purpose of inspecting the annual accounts and electing a new warden and commissioner, Mr. George Aviet was called to the chair; the object of the meeting was then briefly stated, after which the following resolutions were unanimously adopted:-   1st – That subject to a resolution passed at a general meeting on the 8th September 1833, Mr. Arratoon Vertannes be exonerated from office of warden.   2ndly – That Mr. Carapiet Jacob do officiate as warden during the next 12 months.   3rdly – That Mr. George Aviet do officiate as commissioner, in the room of Mr. Cararpiet Jacob.   4th – That a regular deed of trust sufficient in the law be drawn up, and submitted for the approval of the community, at a subsequent meeting, for the purpose of the same being executed by the warden and commissioner for the due management of the affairs of the said church.   Lastly. That a subscription be immediately raised as donation, to enable the managers to procure a suitable number of chairs and punkhas for the comfort and convenience of the congregation during Divine Service.  Extract from Madras in the olden time: being a history of the presidency from the first …  By James Talboys Wheeler   The First Appearance of Armenians in Madras   Friday 4th June 1697.  The Armenians having promised in Consultation to sign a writing for not trading with interlopers, which being deferred for two days, the Leiutenant General (Higginson) sent the Dubash to remind them of their promise; and after several consultations and debates among themselves, this morning they brought one paper in Armenian signed, and afterwards another in English signed, the copy whereof follows viz:   “We the subscribers Armenians here present this day in Fort St. George, by these presents, do give our word and promise until the Hon’ble Nathaniel Higginson Esquire, Lieutenant General of India and Governor of Fort St. George, and Council, that we are obliged from this day forward in whatsoever Port, we shall meet with any interloper, we nor none of us here under subscribed will by any manner of way, or by any means, have any dealing, trade, traffic, or contract, with any such interloper nor any of their people.  And in respect to the Right Hon’ble English East India Company, in whatsoever Port we or any of us shall encounter with any interloper, we hereby oblige ourselves and every one of us, to give advice and notice to all other Armenians not to deal, trade, traffic, or contract with them; but whereas there are many people of other nations who obey not their King, so we Armenians having no King, Company nor Superior, but are free trading Merchants independent of any, so we conceive ourselves no ways answerable for the actions of others of our nation to which we are no ways liable”.   Signed by Nine Armenians  Extracted from “The Literary Panorama by Charles Taylor, 1807”   Supplication for Rain by the Armenian Christians.   The uncommon series of dry weather in the district of Madras gave occasion to solemn service in the Armenian Church at Madras on Sunday November      1806.  After the customary Mass, prayers were read, and the Rev. Arathoon Simeon, the Vicar, in a short discourse from Kings xvii.1.xviii. Isaiah i.5. “I will command the clouds that they rain non rain etc” stated instances and reasons of similar visitations with which Providence chastised corruption of morals, and neglect of religious duties in the days of the prophets, exemplified the contrition and conduct of pious men of old, and exhorted his audience to penitence and supplication.   After this, a Hymn, commencing Turn thy wrath from us they earthly creatures: benevolent Lord, spare and do not let us perish etc was sung, kneeling before the altar, with every mark of humility and devotion.  This was followed by an appropriate prayer, and recital pf Psalm the whole concluded with the Lord’s Prayer: in which the sentence thy will be done in Earth as it is done in Heaven, was emphatically repeated by the Vicar, to which a feeling chorus of Amen was audible from the whole congregation.  In their own country the Armenians perform this service on such occasions, in the fields and arid plains.