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The surname Bashaw is not common in Britain. For instance, there are only 23 registrations of birth in the countrywide index for England & Wales from the start of civil registration in 1837 to 2006. The name is bona fide, although ancestry.co.uk’s remark that it is the “Americanized spelling of French Bachard (see Bachar). Probably an altered spelling of German Beschore (see Bashore)” isn’t very helpful. The houseofnames.com, hardly a reliable source, states vaguely that “The origins of the Bashaw name lie with England’s ancient Anglo-Saxon culture. It comes from when the family lived in Derbyshire, where they were found since the early Middle Ages before the Norman Conquest in 1066”. However, it also mentions that the names may be a variant of Bagshaw and Bagshott, which is more credible.
However, names are assumed for all sorts of reasons and at all times, and Bashaw is a case in point. Ishmael James Bashaw was buried in 1815 at the burial ground of the Gildencroft Quaker Meeting House in Norwich. However, the register records that he was a non-member, i.e. not a Quaker. Other records here and there show his marriage to Elizabeth Fornish in Stamford in 1776, and the births of (some of) their children, George, Ann, Esther, James, Charlotte and John, between 1777 and 1795. The pattern of births shows the family moving from Wisbech to Spalding to Norwich to Framlingham to Colchester. They appear to have been mobile if not itinerant, and not wealthy – indeed the parish authorities in Framlingham conducted a settlement examination in September 1788 to establish whether Bashaw and his family could claim relief in the parish, or could be lawfully palmed off on to a different parish.
In fact, in an effort to alleviate this want, Bashaw wrote a short book, published in 1797, entitled: The Turkish refugee: being a narrative of the life, sufferings, deliverances, and conversion, of Ishmael Bashaw, a Mahometan merchant, from Constantinople, who was taken prisoner by the Spaniards, and made a wonderful escape to England, where, having become a convert to the Christian faith, he was publicly baptized, with the approbation of the Right Reverend the Lord Bishop of Lincoln.
Bashaw was apparently aged 80 years at death and had been born in the town of Edirne, or Adrianople, in Turkey. When he arrived in Britain, his name was not Bashaw at all – that is an anglicised version. Bashaw comes from Beşe. However, this is not a name either, but a kind of honorary title: beşe is a variant of paşa, which is usually anglicised as pasha. Moreover, we know that although Bashaw was a “Mahometan” or Muslim, in earlier life he was a janissary. Although the blood levy or devşirme was over by the time he was born circa 1735, the fact that he was a janissary raises the possibility that he wasn’t originally a Muslim, and wasn’t a Turk either – many in the janissary corps were still Christians, who were converted and took Islamic names such as Ismail. As Bashaw was originally from Edirne, if he wasn’t an ethnic Turk, one would have to assume that he would have been an ethnic Bulgarian or Greek by birth or less likely a Serb or Albanian.
The list below shows Armenians naturalised in Britain between the years 1845 and 1884. Nearly all were from the Ottoman Empire, with only two or three exceptions from Austro-Hungary, Persia and Georgia. It can be assumed that the great majority were merchant traders, involved with import/export and shipping. The early Armenian community in England was concentrated in Manchester.
Caveat emptor: the list may not be complete for the period it covers, and it is possible that some individuals given in the list may not be ethnic Armenian.
Dates given are in British format i.e. DD/MM/YYYY.
|date naturalised||name / from / address if given|
|13/03/1847||Manouk Capamagian (Constantinople)|
|13/03/1847||Hatzik Capamagian (Constantinople)|
|10/05/1847||Hussep Capamagian (Constantinople)|
|10/05/1847||Artin Momgian (Constantinople)|
|10/05/1847||Ovanes Ovaghimian (Constantinople)|
|10/05/1847||Boghos Sdepanian (Constantinople)|
|02/07/1847||Demetrius Spartali (Smyrna)|
|22/07/1847||Boghos Mirasyedi (Constantinople)|
|01/02/1849||Nazaret Tomas (Armenia)|
|01/02/1849||Manouk Ohannes (Armenia)|
|15/10/1859||Essai Anouckian (Turkey)|
|17/03/1860||Ovanes Esayi Spartali (Turkey)|
|10/12/1860||Ovannes Agopian (Turkey), Manchester|
|21/10/1861||Arthur Mushlian (Turkey)|
|19/09/1863||Diran Ekisler (Turkey)|
|25/11/1862||Babo Babayan (Turkey)|
|10/12/1862||Nishan Harentz (Turkey)|
|01/07/1863||John Peters (Turkey)|
|22/12/1863||Nicholas Demetrius Spartali (Austria)|
|10/02/1864||Boghos Vartanian (Georgia)|
|17/03/1864||Mardiros Harentz (Constantinople)|
|16/06/1864||Agop Melikian (Turkey)|
|16/06/1864||Ghatchik Sinanian (Turkey)|
|02/03/1865||Meguerditch Hovanessian (Turkey)|
|01/04/1865||Mesrob Samuel Samuelian (Turkey)|
|21/04/1865||Haron Varbetian (Turkey)|
|13/06/1866||Gregoir Antoin Hunanian (Constantinople)|
|01/04/1867||Abraham Gumuchian (Turkey)|
|19/02/1868||Kevork Ohannessian (Constantinople)|
|18/01/1869||Avedis Harentz (Turkey)|
|07/05/1870||Krikor Gumushguerdan (Turkey)|
|05/12/1870||Bedross Kricorissian (Turkey)|
|19/12/1870||Ohannes Andreasian (Turkey)|
|23/03/1871||Melcon Agop Maxudian (Smyrna)|
|09/05/1871||Agop Kevork Myrmirian (Turkey)|
|24/05/1871||Essayi Essayan (Turkey)|
|24/05/1871||Abraham Gumuchian (Turkey)|
|17/07/1871||Karnik Ovanes Ovaghimian (Turkey)|
|23/09/1871||Garabet Nishan Eliazarian (Turkey)|
|15/06/1872||Meguerditch Andon Capamagian (Turkey)|
|13/03/1873||Manouk Capamagian (Constantinople)|
|15/08/1873||Sarkis Nishan Eliazarian (Turkey)|
|25/08/1873||Ovanes Esayi Spartali (Turkey)|
|01/05/1874||Mardiros Arabian (Turkey)|
|01/05/1874||Manouk Maranian (Turkey)|
|08/06/1874||Krikor Gumushguerdan (Turkey)|
|24/09/1874||James Papazian (Turkey)|
|28/06/1875||George Agop Essayan (Turkey)|
|20/09/1875||Megriditch Beshiktaslian (Turkey)|
|01/11/1875||Mardiros Tokatian (Turkey)|
|17/10/1876||Mihran Papazian (Turkey)|
|23/10/1876||Peniamin Mosditchian (Turkey)|
|27/10/1876||Meguerditch Kevork Essayan (Turkey)|
|04/09/1877||Mihran Kevork Capamagian (Russia)|
|06/09/1877||Dicran Oumedian (Turkey)|
|02/01/1878||Krikor Krikorian (Turkey)|
|09/01/1878||Krikor Couyoumdjian (Turkey)|
|15/01/1878||Carnick Nishanian (Turkey)|
|15/08/1878||Haroutioun Sourgoudje (Turkey), London|
|16/12/1878||Stephen Agop Spartali (Turkey), Manchester|
|19/02/1879||Sukiass Gregoire Sukiassian (Turkey), London|
|13/11/1879||Avidis Garboushian (Turkey), Portsea|
|06/09/1880||Pacradooni Kaloost Vartan (Turkey), Edinburgh|
|19/01/1882||Sarkis Yaldesgian (Turkey), Manchester|
|03/10/1883||Bedros Aslanian (Turkey), London|
|03/03/1884||Joseph Melikian (Turkey), Manchester|
|02/08/1884||Mardiros Hovanessian (Turkey), Manchester|
|30/08/1884||Hamparsoum Mouradian (Turkey), Manchester|
|28/01/1885||Zakaria Bakirgian (Turkey), Manchester|
|08/09/1885||Gabriel Sukias Dobrashian (Turkey), Banbury|
All naturalizations in Britain from 24th August 1886 were published in the London Gazette, the official journal of government. For the first decade or so, when naturalizations were few in number, this took the form of a monthly alphabetical list of no longer than one or two pages, usually published in the first issue of the Gazette each calendar month. Later, the lists grew longer and longer, 10 pages or more, populated in particular by increasing numbers of Jews settling from continental Europe and especially Russia.
Within the 35-year period, from the first appearance of naturalizations in 1886 up to 1920, over 140 Armenians were naturalised in Britain. Many of these were resident in the greater Manchester area and were of the merchant class. In the Gazette, these Armenians are usually described as being subjects of Turkey (until the late 1890s) and then of the Ottoman Empire (until the end of the First World War) but interestingly in 1919 and 1920 these terms are replaced by Armenia, in official recognition of the existence of the fleeting modern nation state the First Republic of Armenia, soon to be absorbed into the USSR. Of course, some Armenians naturalised in Britain came from beyond the Ottoman Empire – there are several in the list from Persia and others from Bulgaria, Egypt, Italy, Romania and USA.
Note that some of the women in the list will be British widows of Armenians, retaking British nationality.
Bear in mind that the names shown are as spelt in the Gazette and often will differ from modern spellings as transliterated from either Western or Eastern Armenian. For example, Mgrdich or Mkrtich never appears as such, because the running together of consonants without separating vowels makes the name too awkward in English. Similarly, Hagop (Hakob) or Agop may be replaced by an English equivalent such as Jacob.
Finally, a word of caution: no guarantees are given that the list is complete for the period it covers, and it is possible that some individuals on the list (over and above the widows) may not be ethnic Armenian.
Dates given are in British format i.e. DD/MM/YYYY.
|name / formerly subject of / address / occupation if given|
|20/03/1888||Dikran Dadurian (Persia), Chorlton-on-Medlock|
|15/08/1888||Ovannes Agopian (Turkey), Manchester|
|15/10/1888||David Bezazian (Turkey), Manchester|
|15/10/1888||Dikran Mouradian (Turkey), Manchester|
|30/04/1889||Kirkor Odabachian (Turkey), Edinburgh|
|27/08/1889||Givan Manoukian (Turkey), Manchester|
|17/03/1890||Onnig Kricorissian (Turkey), Manchester|
|08/11/1890||Mihran Mouradian (Armenia), Southport|
|22/05/1891||Christopher Balian (Turkey), Shepherd’s Bush|
|07/04/1892||Dicran Nahabedian (Turkey), Manchester|
|06/09/1892||Artin Dabaghian (Turkey), Stretford|
|26/02/1893||Zareh Stepan Iplicjian (Turkey), Buxton|
|20/04/1893||Tigrane Haroutune Funduklian (Turkey), Manchester|
|16/08/1893||Edward Caracashian (Turkey), Manchester|
|27/11/1893||Raphael Garabed Constantian (Turkey), Cheetham Hill|
|21/03/1894||Kevork Ohannessian (Turkey), British Seamen’s Hospital, Constantinople|
|07/08/1894||Dicran Stephen Iplicjian (Turkey), Manchester|
|04/10/1894||Ghiragos Nazaret Odabashian (Turkey), Manchester|
|16/04/1895||Artin Kassapian (Turkey), Bradford|
|24/06/1895||Minas Tcheraz (Turkey), Kensington|
|27/07/1895||Joseph Hanemian (Turkey), Ortakoy, Constantinople|
|05/09/1895||Stepan Hagop Astardjian (Turkey), Manchester|
|08/10/1895||Serope Biman Seropian (U S A), Nenagh, Co Tipperary|
|09/12/1895||Vincent Joseph Mahdjoubian (Turkey), Bradford|
|14/03/1896||Agop Paragamian (Turkey), Manchester|
|19/03/1896||Jacob Politeyan (Ottoman Empire), Tufnell Park|
|13/05/1896||Manoog Dickran Dingian (Turkey), Brighton|
|21/08/1896||Baghos Baghdasar Tahmisian (Turkey), Balham|
|03/02/1897||Aram Hovannessian (Turkey), Didsbury|
|22/04/1897||Marcar Aznavorian (Turkey), Didsbury|
|06/08/1897||Moses Agop (Turkey), Tynemouth|
|15/09/1897||Krickor Garabet Topalian (Turkey), Chorlton-cum-Hardy|
|16/10/1897||Manouk Kouyoumdjian (Bulgaria), Whalley Range|
|06/01/1898||Hagop Garabed Gumuchian (Turkey), Manchester|
|06/03/1900||Charles Samuel Vartan (Ottoman Empire), Perth Infirmary|
|23/04/1900||Aram Georg Hovsebian (Persia), Withington|
|26/02/1901||Abel or Apik Cernemossian (Ottoman Empire), Hanover Square|
|15/04/1901||Haroutune Hagope Yazijian (Ottoman Empire), Leeds|
|08/06/1901||Hatchik Sekian (Ottoman Empire), Chorlton-on-Medlock|
|17/08/1901||Leon Checkemian (Turkey), Edinburgh|
|07/11/1901||Hatchig Guessarian (Persia), Manchester|
|25/02/1902||Michee Arabian (Ottoman Empire), West Didsbury|
|01/12/1902||Calouste Gulbenkian (Ottoman Empire), Lancaster Gate|
|23/12/1902||Simon Chakiriam (Ottoman Empire), West Didsbury|
|11/02/1903||Albert Percy Michael Narlian (Italy), Chiswick|
|11/02/1903||Anthony Ephraim Narlian (Ottoman Empire), Chiswick|
|21/02/1903||Kevork Balabanian (Ottoman Empire), Glasgow|
|10/03/1903||Agop Yeritzian (Ottoman Empire), Regent’s Park|
|15/04/1903||Petros Tonapetean (Ottoman Empire), Shepherd’s Bush|
|14/05/1903||Mighirditch Haritioun Pantikian (Persia), Stretford|
|27/07/1903||Henry Samuel Rogers Boyajian (Ottoman Empire), Lytham|
|29/10/1903||Garabed Krikor Gulbenkian (Ottoman Empire), Notting Hill|
|20/11/1903||Serope Damadian (Persia), Didsbury|
|22/03/1904||Bedros Mardiros Farishian (Turkey), Grays|
|22/04/1904||John Arabian (Ottoman Empire), Russell Square|
|03/05/1904||Haroutioun Frenkian (Romania), West Didsbury|
|06/04/1905||Hrant Mihran Iplicjian (Ottoman Empire), Knutsford|
|03/07/1905||Kevork Arabian (Ottoman Empire), Manchester|
|05/07/1905||Diran Deuvletian (Ottoman Empire), Withington|
|25/08/1905||Nerces Ohannes Kalpakdjian (Persia), Chorlton-cum-Hardy|
|21/12/1905||Megerdich John Mahmourian (Ottoman Empire), Urmston|
|21/02/1906||Onnik Kirkor Shahbasian (Ottoman Empire), Renfrew|
|07/03/1906||Setrak Levon Dinguilian (Ottoman Empire), Clapham Junction|
|22/03/1906||Arshag Manashian (Persia), Urmston|
|25/04/1906||Garo Keshishian (Ottoman Empire), Willesden Green|
|01/06/1906||Avedis Aprahamian (Ottoman Empire), Shepherd’s Bush|
|03/08/1906||Thomas Kricorian Papazian (Ottoman Empire), Cardiff, serving in a British ship|
|29/10/1906||Carnik Garabed Hanemian (Ottoman Empire), Fallowfield|
|23/01/1907||Kevork Krikorian (Ottoman Empire), Marylebone|
|21/03/1907||Dadjad Ajderian (Ottoman Empire), Whalley Range|
|19/04/1907||Agop Garabet Agopian (Ottoman Empire), Didsbury|
|03/05/1907||Setrac Mardiros Papasian (Ottoman Empire), West Didsbury|
|19/06/1907||Hovhannes Kamberian (Ottoman Empire), Withington|
|24/08/1907||Joseph Simonian (Ottoman Empire), Fulham|
|04/09/1907||Avedis Mateos Jamgochian (Ottoman Empire), Fallowfield|
|11/10/1907||Hagop or James Taranto (Ottoman Empire), Tufnell Park|
|06/11/1907||Haiganoush Arabian (doubtful), Chorlton-cum-Hardy|
|06/11/1907||Mihran Arabian (doubtful), Chorlton-cum-Hardy|
|06/11/1907||Onnik or John Arabian (doubtful), Chorlton-cum-Hardy|
|25/08/1908||Moushegh Keshishian (Ottoman Empire), West Didsbury|
|20/10/1908||Nishan Movses (Ottoman Empire), Roath, serving in a British ship|
|06/11/1908||Gregory Agopian (Ottoman Empire), Southport|
|14/01/1909||Edouard Andon Mahdjoubian (Ottoman Empire), Bradford|
|13/03/1909||Oscar Leon Sarafian (Ottoman Empire), West Kensington|
|14/05/1909||Zenope Tchekenian (Ottoman Empire), Roath|
|22/07/1909||Dikran Arslanian (Ottoman Empire), Cricklewood|
|16/09/1909||Andon Kalpakdjian (Ottoman Empire), Chorlton-cum-Hardy|
|29/09/1909||Pilimon Iplikdjian (Persia), Manchester|
|08/11/1909||Carapiet Mackertich George (Persia), Clapton|
|19/11/1909||Vahan Sarkis Gulbenkian (Ottoman Empire), Hyde Park|
|07/12/1909||Krikor Margos Jamgotchian (Ottoman Empire), Northwood|
|10/12/1909||Onnik Balekdjian (Ottoman Empire), Eccles|
|10/12/1909||Armenag Topalian (Ottoman Empire), Fallowfield|
|15/02/1910||John Carabet (Ottoman Empire), Cardiff, serving in a British ship|
|09/05/1910||Ezepos Garabed Benlian (Ottoman Empire), Harlesden|
|09/06/1910||Haroutune Kalevradjian (Ottoman Empire), St Leonard’s|
|10/06/1910||Mardiros Garabet Benlian (Ottoman Empire), Kensington|
|01/07/1910||Kevork George Ekserdjian (Ottoman Empire), Charing Cross Road|
|26/09/1910||Mark Bakirgian (Ottoman Empire), West Didsbury|
|02/01/1911||Zareh Avedis Hatchadour Ekisler (Ottoman Empire), Bayswater|
|15/02/1911||Stephen Papelian (Persia), Chorlton-on-Medlock|
|04/07/1911||Murat Marcus Mamourian (Ottoman Empire), Ashton-under-Lyne|
|31/07/1911||Missak Bedross Baltaian (Ottoman Empire), Fallowfield|
|09/10/1911||Mihran Krikor Gudenian (U S A), West Kensington|
|13/10/1911||Ohannes Arakel Akaghaian (Persia), Stockport|
|11/12/1911||Walter Bogosian (Ottoman Empire), Dunston, serving in a British ship|
|18/12/1911||Diran Gumuchdjian (Ottoman Empire), Levenshulme|
|03/01/1912||Mardick Logophete Baliozian (Ottoman Empire), Liverpool|
|16/01/1912||Garabed Yeghia Yardumian (Ottoman Empire), Liverpool|
|13/03/1912||Khosrof Seferian (Ottoman Empire), Chorlton-cum-Hardy|
|29/05/1912||Avedis Keuleyan (Ottoman Empire), Great Crosby|
|25/09/1912||Gregory Benon Garabed Cherkezian (Ottoman Empire), Whalley Range|
|03/02/1913||Leon Bedros Djamouzian (Ottoman Empire), Eccles|
|06/07/1912||Sinian Pedros (Ottoman Empire), Cardiff, serving in a British ship|
|25/06/1913||Garabed Bishirgian (Ottoman Empire), Westminster|
|12/07/1913||Balthazar Garabed Agopian (Ottoman Empire), West Didsbury|
|16/10/1913||Markar Dikran Markarian (Persia), Chorlton-cum-Hardy|
|19/12/1913||Gerald Zareh M Ekserdjian (Ottoman Empire), Charing Cross Road|
|23/04/1914||Tackvor Thomas Magaryan (Ottoman Empire), Newcastle upon Tyne, model-maker|
|29/04/1914||Gregory Garmirian (Ottoman Empire), Willesden Green, Oriental merchant|
|04/05/1914||Hrand Kricor Missirian (Ottoman Empire), Southport, Company director|
|08/05/1914||Nihran Malkhas Dabaghian (Ottoman Empire), Chapel-en-le-Frith, shipping merchant|
|15/07/1914||Yervant Hagop Iskender (Ottoman Empire), Pitlochry, merchant|
|05/02/1915||Harutun Batmazian (Turkey), Cork, manufacturing confectioner|
|09/02/1915||Mihran Balian (Turkey), Earl’s Court, accountant & bookkeeper|
|08/03/1915||Hagop Kehyaian (Ottoman Empire), Willesden, import & export merchant|
|23/03/1915||Mugurditch Mugurian (Ottoman Empire), Camden Square, motor cab proprietor & driver|
|09/04/1915||Sarkis Hagop Coliapanian (Ottoman Empire), Ilford, mercantile clerk|
|02/12/1915||Stephens Paul Stephens (Persia), City of London, merchant|
|16/02/1916||Eliza Ann Boyajian (Ottoman Empire), St John’s Wood|
|16/02/1916||Isabella Catherine Boyajian (Ottoman Empire), St John’s Wood, artist|
|21/08/1916||Rand Artin Sarkis Dedey (Turkey, Armenia), Blundellsands, clerk|
|08/08/1917||Mesrovb Barseghian (Persia), Wark-on-Tyne, medical practitioner|
|28/09/1917||Annie Maria Mirakian (Russia), Edgware|
|08/01/1918||Helen Chobanian (Ottoman Empire), Portsmouth, nurse|
|08/07/1918||Kevork Kriss Chavooshian (Egypt), Hove, pharmaceutical chemist|
|15/07/1919||Haig Jacvor Madanian (Armenia), Liverpool, cotton agent|
|04/10/1919||Lucy Elizabeth Dayian (Armenia), West Kensington|
|13/10/1919||Annie Mirakian (Armenia), Leamington, nurse|
|25/10/1919||Gregory Shnorhk (Armenia), Wallasey, fruit packer|
|18/12/1919||France Lucy Thoumaian (Armenia), Chigwell, school teacher|
|21/02/1920||Edward Sevagian (Persia), Harlesden, interpreter|
|26/02/1920||Manuel Tutungean (Armenia), Withington, buyer of cotton goods|
|13/03/1920||Apcar Jacob Galustian (Armenia), Glasgow, medical practitioner|
|31/03/1920||Thomas K Mugerditchian (Ottoman Empire, Armenia), c/o G.S.I., Cairo, interpreter|
|02/07/1920||Charles Garabet Sarkis Hamamdjian (Armenia), Marylebone|
|29/09/1920||Leon Haig Simjian (Egypt), Eccles, shipper & exporter|
Recently I have been looking through records held at The National Archives in Kew, London relating to the Kindertransport and other continental European refugees who arrived in Britain in the late 1930s and early 1940s, fleeing the gathering Nazi supremacist storm in Germany and Austria and the countries they annexed, such as Czechoslovakia.
While looking at these, I was surprised to see a distinctively Armenian name leap out at me – Shoushan Piranian. The references to this refugee date to the winter of 1943/44, when she seems to have applied to become a Guider in the Girl Guides Association. The records give a date of birth in March 1905, so she clearly wasn’t a Kind. Her contact address was care of Minto House School, Birkenhead Road, Meols, Hoylake in Cheshire.
Later Shoushan became a naturalised British subject – the notice of her naturalisation on 6th May 1947 was published in The London Gazette on 24th June 1947. The entry states that she was a teacher and a subject of Turkey.
Exactly what became of her thereafter isn’t known to me, but she did not marry or, if she did, she retained the surname Piranian. She appears in the death indexes as Shoushan Varteni Piranian – her death was registered in March 1984 in Croydon, Surrey.
However, curiously, she seems to have emigrated to Argentina at one time. The outgoing passenger lists (record series BT27 at The National Archives) contain two references to her. In the first, she boarded the “Duquesa” bound from London to Buenos Aires on 11th September 1958. She travelled first class. Her date of birth is shown as 25th March 1905, she is described as a single woman, a teacher, and still resident in Hoylake. The “Duquesa” appears to have been a heavyweight refrigerated cargo ship owned by Houlder Brothers. She arrived back in London aboard the same ship on Christmas Day 1959 for a visit – her UK care of address is in London W2. On 2nd February 1960, Shoushan set sail again, this time from London to Buenos Aires aboard the “Hornby Grange”, another refrigerated-meat cargo ship owned by Houlders. The difference this time is that both her country of permanent residence, and her country of intended future residence, are given as Argentina. Her contract address is in Bromley, Kent. She is still a teacher and again she is sailing first class. As both these two vessels had limited passenger capacity, probably the first class cabins were the only available – the meat would have been carried where steerage or standard class would have been on passenger liners!
The BT27 record series, and its counterpart BT26 for incoming vessels, finish in 1960, so it is not possible to trace online Shoushan’s subsequent return to UK and possible other movements. Presumably, however, Argentina did not prove entirely to her liking, and she returned to England. Equally unknown are the precise circumstances which brought Shoushan Piranian to Britain – was it the 1915 Armenian Genocide, during which she would have been a 10-year old girl, or the subsequent mass population exchange arranged between Turkey and Greece, or some other event?
The 2013 Who Do You Think You Are? Live event at London’s Olympia exhibition centre in February didn’t seem quite as busy as in previous years – perhaps the winter cold and more especially the ongoing economic downturn kept some punters away this year.
Trade was still brisk for many exhibitors, including some which one might say contribute to the recession, by minimising the tax they pay to the Government Exchequer. While campaigners in organisations such as UK Uncut focus their attention, quite rightly, on multinational suspects such as Amazon, Starbucks and the big banking corporations with their casino operations and over-compensated executives, tax evasion and/or avoidance is doubtless widespread throughout British industry, all the way down to the smallest of small SMEs. The genealogy industry isn’t exempt. Think of Ancestry, fronted in ad campaigns by that nice Tony Robinson, with the biggest reach of any online genealogy business across Britain – yet registered in bijou Luxembourg to avoid corporation tax. And think of that supposedly plucky underdog S&N Genealogy, the business behind The Genealogist and a myriad obscure websites – cannily registered offshore, in Jersey, to avoid paying corporation tax. Tax underpaid in UK by Ancestry and The Genealogist means cuts in education, the National Health Service and local authority services. Perhaps think about that, and the alternatives, next time you want to buy some pay-per-view credits or renew your annual subscription.
This also puts into context the activities of the grassroots organisations out there, which are either charities or trusts, or survive on a shoestring. It’s heartening to be reminded of their continued survival each year at WDYTYA. The Jewish Genealogical Society of Great Britain was there, with pretty much the same stand, same stock of books, and same selfless volunteers. The Anglo-Germans were there, as always, non-denominational and ecumenical – if your ancestor was a pork butcher or a sugar baker, do drop by. The Polish presence seemed stronger than last year, with the Kresy-Siberia stall attracting more attention, and trying to raise public awareness of the Polish airmen and others who fought with the Allies in WW2.
I took questions from visitors from across the planet, and with all sorts of questions from the straightforward to the frankly insoluble – same as always! My favourite questions as ever were from the researchers with the trickiest and most challenging conundrums – this year including visitors with questions about ethnic Lithuanian and Ukrainian ancestry.
It’s often claimed that the first combined fish and chip shop in England was the idea of a Jewish immigrant named Joseph Malin. This seems to have become one of those notions which acquires a life of its own and is then repeated, unverified, especially across the worldwide web. For instance, in the London weekly listings magazine Time Out, we read the following on 27th January 2013:
“In 1860, teenage Eastern European immigrant and culinary visionary Joseph Malin combined the already established Jewish staple of fried fish with the humble spud, and opened an eatery in Cleveland Way, Whitechapel… the National Federation of Fish Friers recognised Malin’s in 1968 as the world’s first fish and chip shop”.
Although Malin could conceivably be a Jewish name, for instance with a root from the Polish malina (raspberry) and truncated (e.g. from Malina, Malinka, Malinowski etc), Joseph does not appear to have been Jewish at all. He was born on 28th March 1852 in the London East End registration district of Bethnal Green and baptised on 25 April 1852 at Shoreditch St Leonard’s – he would therefore have been aged 8 years in 1860 when, according to Time Out, his fish and chip emporium opened its doors. In fact, he appears on both the 1871 and the 1881 census returns as a hearth-rug weaver. It is only by the time of the 1891 census that he appears with the occupation fishmonger at 78 & 80 Cleveland Street in Bethnal Green – his wife Mary Ann Frances (nee Stevens) is described as a fishmonger’s assistant, his recently married daughter Mary Collins is a fish-frier and his 14-year old daughter Charlotte is a potato-peeler. When his daughters Elizabeth and Charlotte were baptised at Bethnal Green St Jude’s in April 1875 and April 1877 respectively he was still a hearth-rug weaver, but by the time his son Joseph was born in May 1879 he was described as a fish salesman. He then reverted to describing himself as a hearth-rug weaver at the time of the baptism of his daughter Rosetta in August 1882, and then back to a fishmonger at the time of the August 1884 baptism of his son Thomas Robert Malin. In other words, his career as a fishmonger appears to have emerged as sideline during the late 1870s and only become his full-time trade in the mid- or late 1880s.
In any event, leaving aside the chronological development of his career, Joseph baptised his children into the Church of England, and was himself baptised. His parents Charles James and Mary Ann Malin married in August 1844 in Shoreditch St Leonard’s – Charles’s father Joseph was a whip-maker. There is nothing to suggest that any of them were Jewish. Rather, Joseph Malin was an East Ender who offered fish fried in the Jewish fashion, together with deep-fried potato chips. His older brother John was also a fishmonger at 560 Old Ford Road by 1891 and it seems that the burgeoning Malin business had at least two outlets by that date.
The United Nations Office at Geneva in Switzerland has a vast archive and library, including holdings generated and collected by its predecessor the League of Nations.
Among these are 15 registers under references C1601/497, C1602/498 and C1603/499 which pertain to the inmates admitted to the Armenian Orphanage in Aleppo, Syria during the period 1922 to 1930. Each volume contains short biographies and black and white photographs of up to 100 orphans and others admitted to the Orphanage. The registers do not form a complete unbroken series covering all inmates – four original volumes, known to have existed because of the sequential numbering of individuals admitted to the orphanage, have been lost or destroyed at some date. However, this still leaves illustrated biographical sketches of approximately 1,500 Armenians, victims but survivors of the Armenian Genocide.
Each orphan had been deported from the Armenian-inhabited regions of the Ottoman Empire, and presumably most if not all had lost both parents and all other close family members. Many had escaped or been released from captivity in the homes of Turks, Kurds or Arabs, many had been forced to convert, and many of the girls had been treated as domestic servants or unwilling concubines.
It is possible to search for individual orphans by name and place of origin online at the Center for Armenian Remembrance. Hand-held digital photographs are attached to a proportion of the entries, together with English/French transcription of the biographical text.
It becomes ever more difficult to find worthwhile and informative documentaries about culture and society in the rest of the world on terrestrial TV in Britain, even on Channel 4. However, a number of English language satellite news channels, such as RT and France 24, produce interesting material. The best of these is probably Al Jazeera, notwithstanding its occasionally too patent Arab bias (Israel is never going to get a fair hearing on Al Jazeera) or blind-spots (there is almost no coverage of the contemporary situation in the Arabian peninsula, even though the station is based in Doha – clearly, it does not want to bite the hand that feeds).
Of the documentaries with an Eastern European focus currently available online on Al Jazeera, I can recommend the following.
Macedonia: A River Divides. This is a very balanced and fair look at the city of Skopje, with its largely divided Albanian and Slavic Macedonian communities. It’s also nice simply to get an insight into a country that rarely makes the mainstream media.
Cyprus: Island of Forbidden Love. Not quite what its title might promise, this is a depiction of the growth of wedding tourism catering for Lebanese mixed faith couples. There is no institution of civil marriage in Lebanon and, until such time as there is, mixed faith couples have to marry overseas if neither the man nor the woman wishes to convert to the religion of their partner. Cyprus is close, convenient and liberal-minded. Lebanese couples can fly to Larnaca, get married the same or following day, before returning home to Beirut with a Cyprus marriage certificate which is recognised by the Lebanese courts. Among the happy couples featured in the documentary is a young Druze man and his Armenian bride.
Talking of Armenians, on Al Jazeera World one can also view a documentary called Common Pain about the Armenian Genocide. In this instance, the journalistic balance is weighted too generously towards the side of the Turks, and the essential editorial message of the piece seems to be “both sides suffered, let’s forget about the past and look to the future” – even though, for many Armenians, quite reasonably, recognition of the Genocide is a prerequisite for reconciliation with their Turkish neighbours. The Turkish academics and commentators in the film contend that, in effect, the Armenians died accidentally and unfortunately in 1915 – a bit of a shame but it was wartime after all, and Turkish soldiers also got killed. Among the Genocide-deniers caught on film in this documentary are the quite ludicrous Melih Aktaş of Gazi Üniversitesi in Ankara; the risible Mustafa Budak, Deputy Director General of the Prime Ministerial State Archives; and the pompous American academic Justin McCarthy who went native in Turkey and swallowed Turkish disinformation hook, line and sinker. The fact that McCarthy apparently holds the Order of Merit of Turkey tells one all one needs to know about this dimwit.
For a truer picture of the catastrophe that was the Armenian Genocide, take a look at another Al Jazeera documentary called Grandma’s Tattoos. Note that Al Jazeera feels it necessary to disclaim responsibility for the historical accuracy of the harrowing historical events depicted in the film.
After the Revolution in Russia, after the end of WW1 and the conflicts splintering from its ruins, as new states began to emerge out of the ruins of empire, soldiers of the defeated and demoralised Austro-Hungarian army, kaiserlich und königlich, imperial and royal, men of all nationalities and religions or of none at all, returned home to their native lands in nascent countries in the aftermath of war. They came on foot, trudging hundreds of miles in the rags of their uniforms or in motley civilian dress picked up along the way, cadging lifts in trucks or on wagons where they could, or boarding a train where their route happened to coincide with a railway line. They came direct from prison camps, or worked their way back through a series of casual jobs in farms and towns. Some came back lamenting the now extinct Dual Monarchy, others with the contagion of the new creeds of socialism and bolshevism which were transforming Russia into the Soviet Union.
The early works of Joseph Roth capture these years, their sense of a world collapsed and unravelling and uncertain, on the brink. In Hotel Savoy, events are seen from the eponymous hotel in an unnamed small town in what is presumably Galicia, as increasing numbers of effectively discharged and jobless soldiers pass through and then start to mass in an encampment outside town, bringing with them from Russia discontent and disease. Some are from the urban proletariat but many, a majority, are from the peasant lands which made up great swathes of the old Empire, lands which were now being redefined as Poland and Czechoslovakia and the Kingdom of the Slovenes, Croats and Serbs. The soldiers who once were peasants remain peasants – like the protagonist’s friend Zwonimir Pansin, they “dream of fields”, they are “homesick for the sheaves, the scythes and the bird calls of [their] native acres”, they watch the growth of the wheat in the fields about town, and they “cannot forget the bird calls and the boundary stones” of their homes. Not all will make it back home to reclaim their patch of earth.
If you are a genealogist with an interest in this time and place, it is necessary to make a leap of the imagination to understand what life could have been like for your relative in 1919, in 1921 or in 1925 in the successor states of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, including of course rump Austria and the new Hungary trimmed of the Slovak and Croat lands it regarded as its own by right and tradition. You need to understand the great upheaval, and think of all the possible events in the lives of your ancestors, to see that those expected births and baptisms, marriages, and deaths and burials may not be anywhere to be found in the civil or church registers of the pre-War place of residence. In the turmoil of war, not all vital events would be duly registered. Where ex-soldiers died somewhere far from home, somewhere en route from the Russian interior to a village in Bosnia or in the Banat or in Bukowina, they would be lucky to have a memorial raised where they fell, and it is unlikely that a precise record of their death would reach back to their place of origin to be recorded in an official record, although perhaps they might be numbered in a central war ministry record as killed in action, or missing presumed dead, with an erroneous date and place. Children were born illegitimately to married women left behind in wartime who did not expect ever to see their husbands again, but who then discovered that they were not widows after all but adulterers. And children died from hunger and want in the towns to which impoverished country folk gravitated in search of employment or charity.
Throughout the Ottoman Empire there were traditions of migrant working – workers would leave their native villages or towns and travel for work, spending months and often years away from home, periodically sending back remittances or saving throughout the duration of their sojourn abroad and bringing home a large lump sum. In Anatolia the general movement was westwards, with workers pouring into Istanbul – Armenians and Kurds were well-known as porters in the Ottoman capital. Other workers went considerably further afield – to America, for example, when opportunities became known and the cost of travel affordable.
In the language formerly known as Serbo-Croat, the term for the Ottoman era migrant workers was pečalbari. A typical Slavic pečalbar in Macedonia would be an Orthodox Christian, male, aged anywhere from his teens to his fifties, and from a mountain village. Different villages in different areas would have their own traditions of migrant working, heading to particular destinations. Of course some would be seeking agricultural work, especially at harvest time. But others had more surprising trades.
In the mountains north of Lake Ohrid, on what is now the Albanian-Macedonian international border, there were communities with long traditions of migrant labour. Among these were the villages of Boroec, Labuništa and Podgorci, which were Serbophile – indeed, the area was known locally as “little Šumadija” after the heartland of continental Serbia. These migrant workers used to travel, usually on horseback, across the Ottoman border into Serbia and head north to Niš, Kragujevac and of course Belgrade. Surprisingly, their speciality was café work – they worked as cooks or as waiters in cafés, taverns and restaurants, and some went on to purchase and manage such establishments (in some cases, opening a café back home in Macedonia).
The Orthodox Macedonians’ Muslim neighbours – with whom there were good relations – in the Debar and Drimkol region were less inclined to travel long-distance, except in the case of skilled labourers such as masons. Rather, the Muslims in villages such as Labuništa worked in local enterprises, or travelled shorter distances to work in the closer Macedonian towns such as Bitola or Prilep. Nowadays, Muslim migrant workers from Labuništa are more likely to travel greater distances, to Greece or to Turkey, where they can earn more money. The character of the cluster of villages around Labuništa has changed, too, and now has a predominantly Islamic character. The local Macedonian Muslims are known as Torbeš and, generally, are not ethnic Albanians (despite the proximity of the Albanian border) but Slavs.
The pečalba tradition was not in its essence economic migration with permanent emigration and settlement in the remote destination as its objective, nor was it simply seasonal (for instance, restricted to harvest-time). Rather, it was an extended period of between six months and three years, often repeated, but usually with the ultimate ambition to return and live in the native village. Notwithstanding this, however, some pečalbari did of course emigrate and among the Macedonian communities in Australia, South America and USA are the descendants of just such pečalbari.
The Armenian community in Cyprus is of long standing, as witnessed, for example, by the historical Armenian quarter of the capital Nicosia and the ancient Magaravank monastery complex, now marooned in the Turkish-occupied north of the island. The population grew during the nineteenth century and continued to receive refugees with each wave of persecution in the Ottoman Empire and of course during and after the 1915 Armenian Genocide (more recently, too, from Egypt, Lebanon and Iran following political crises in those countries).
Most if not all Armenians fled the Turkish military occupation in 1974 and in particular the Armenian community abandoned Famagusta and sought refuge in the Greek half of the island.
Bluebird Research’s GoogleMap shows the location of Armenian communities past and present, places of worship and cemeteries across Cyprus.
The eight currently available decennial census returns for England & Wales, stretching from 1841 to 1911, form the single most informative set of family-based records for genealogists with family resident in the country during the long nineteenth century. The 1841 census features many individuals born in the second half of the eighteenth century, while the 1911 census includes some individuals who will have died in the very recent past and even perhaps some centenarians who survive today. The 1921 census will be the next major milestone in English & Welsh family history publishing online when released by The National Archives at a currently unknown date some time over the next five to 10 years.
Some researchers come to the census expecting to find ancestors born abroad – they know already that antecedents of theirs came from southern Italy or Germany, say, or were part of the great Ashkenazic exodus from Tsarist Russia. Others, however, expecting to find an unbroken run of family born in England or Wales, often within the same county through the generations, are surprised by completely unexpected findings. I am not here referring to perspective-changing discoveries, such as great grandfather having been a Frenchman, or grandmother a Levantine. I mean individual or multiple events which point to an unanticipated period abroad in the life of a family.
My own roots lie in East Kent and I am alert to the occurrence in unexpected contexts of what I think of as being distinctive local East Kent surnames. Many of these are in fact found elsewhere, either as a result of Kentish emigration within England or Wales, or of the Kent family having common roots with another branch in a completely different part of the country; or simply coincidentally, with the Kentish family being unrelated to bearers of the same surname elsewhere in England.
Recently I came across some of the names which interest me in the parish registers of the English church in Moscow. One of these is Stroud. This family didn’t prove to be from Kent, however.
In the 1911 census there is an 11-year old Mira Stroud living at 25 Mona Street, Beeston in Nottinghamshire, with her place of birth given quite clearly as “Russia”. She is with older and younger siblings all born in Beeston, and a widowed mother who is a grocer and a native of Nottingham. Confronted with this record, one could be excused for being baffled and for doubting the evidence of the census.
But the census is correct. One can also find Mira on the 1901 census, at the same address, aged 1 year, with her mother and her father (Wm Jos, a “general dealer” born in Swindon, Wiltshire). This time her two oldest siblings, Kate Matilda and Wm Jos Granger Stroud, are recorded as having been born in Moscow but her immediately older sibling, Nancy, aged 2, born in Beeston. This shows that the family must have had at least two sojourns in Russia.
The baptism register of the British Chapel in Moscow records that Mira Stroud was born on 8th/20th November 1899 and baptised on 15th/28th January 1900 (the dates being those in the Julian and Gregorian calendars respectively, the former being used by both church and state in pre-Revolutionary Russia). Mira was the daughter of William Joseph and Mary Ann Elizabeth Stroud. Helpfully, the baptism register also records that the parents were married at the British Consulate. The father was the “Manager of Brickworks, Koudinovo” in the Moscow guberniya. Koudinovo is properly transliterated as Kudinovo (Кудиново in Russian).
Searching back through the register one can then find Mira’s older brother William Joseph Granger Stroud born 22nd May / 3rd Jun 1896 and baptised 4th/16th August 1896. This time the father William Joseph Stroud is described as being a “Manager, Lace Manufactory, Moscow”. This immediately offers some clarification – Nottinghamshire was famous for its lacemaking and one can tentatively infer that a Russian lace manufacturer sought in Notts a person with the necessary experience and expertise to develop its business in Moscow.
The register entry for Kate Matilda Stroud is even more interesting. She was born 10th/22nd February and was baptised 28th April / 9th April 1893. Although unfortunately the occupation of the father is not given, the maiden surname of the mother is shown as Waplington and the record states that the parents were married at “the British Vice Consulate, Moscow, Nov 10th 1889”. This would explain where the family was at the time of the 1891 census.
What was also interesting was the discovery of a second Stroud family in Russia at about the same time. Arthur Edward and Elizabeth Stroud had daughters Nellie Olga born in 1890 and Katie Melanie in 1892 in Moscow. The father is described as “Lacemaker, Moscow” on both occasions. This family is back in England by 1901, when they are resident in Derby and the father is stated to have been born in Swindon. Later an Arthur Edward Stroud, lace manufacturer of Long Eaton, Derbyshire, went on to make patent applications connected with his “twist-lace machine” in 1920.
It seems that William Joseph and Arthur Edward Stroud were brothers from Wanborough, a small village to the east of Swindon. Their origins seem humble – not in lace manufacture, and not in brickmaking, after all. According to the 1871 and 1881 censuses, their father Joseph Stroud was a boot- or shoe-maker. How did the brothers come to work in Russia? Did they respond to advertisements in England, did they have an acquaintance who went out to Russia first and then offered them work? As often is the case, vital records can provide facts, but they cannot always produce explanations.
The surname Snow is rendered Сно in Russian Cyrillic. Russian tends to spell foreign surnames phonetically, rather than transliterating them verbatim letter-by-letter. This makes for a clearer guide to pronunciation for a native Russian-speaker (the terminal -w in the name Snow is of course silent in English but would tempt a Russian to pronounce it as a -v).
The Snow family resided in Russia from at least the 1790s until the 1918 Revolution. One of the earliest among them was George Snow, a British merchant in St Petersburg, who married Sophia Frederica Wilhelmina Harnack in the Anglican Church on the English Embankment in St Petersburg in 1797. There was a shortage of British women in St Petersburg and in consequence marriage between British merchants and German or Swedish Lutheran women was not unusual. George’s wife was a Baltic German from Arensburg (now Kuressaare) on Saaremaa, Estonia (in fact, her surname, Harnack, is the old German name for what is today the Estonian village of Aarna, near Põlva, suggesting that the family may have had wider connections among the German ruling elite in the Estland and Livland guberniyas of Imperial Russia). Similarly, George’s son John Snow married a German baroness called Louisa Sophia Bülow in 1831. John Snow took his business to Villmanstrand (today Lappeenranta in Finland) but at least some of his sons (he had 10 children) remained in the imperial capital St Petersburg. These took Russian names, at least for official purposes, and one would expect that they were fluent in English, Russian and probably French or German too. For example, according to a 1897 St Petersburg address-book, one of John’s sons, Aleksandr Ivanovich Sno, was the proprietor of a textiles shop on Karavannaya ulitsa, while another, Fedor Ivanovich Sno, traded in the bazaar under the banner И Сно и Ко (i.e. “I Snow & Co”).
The family’s fortunes under Bolshevism – as merchant guild members, as a family with recognisably foreign roots –are unknown. Certainly, some members of the family remained in Soviet Russia and at least one, Evgeny, is thought to have perished during Stalin’s Purges, while the Russian-language Memorial site shows a Red Army soldier Petr Nikolayevich Sno, born in St Petersburg in 1901, who was missing in action in 1943 (his wife Zinaida was searching for him through official channels in 1946). This Petr may well have been a grandson Aleksandr Ivanovich Sno, as Aleksandr had a son Nikolai Aleksandrovich, who was born in 1876 and therefore would have been of an age to be the father of Petr Nikolayevich.
However, Aleksandr Ivanovich Sno had another son Anatoly Aleksandrovich Snow, born in 1881. I came across Anatoly’s simple wooden grave-marker recently in the smaller of the two Russian Orthodox cemeteries in Helsinki (the graveyard of the church dedicated to Sv Nikolai). This reads: Анатолий Александрович Сно *1.3.1881 +25.2.1945. Immediately underneath on the same white wooden Russian Orthodox cross, however, is another metal plate reading: Snow Georgij +12.04.1918 +29.10.2009. No patronymic is given for Georgij, this not being customary in Finnish. However, the dates would suggest that Georgij was the son of Anatoly and had been given the forename of his British merchant great great grandfather George.
Official Turkish historiography claims that the Hemshin are Turks who, through an unfortunate proximity, took on elements of Armenian language and culture. The truth, universally accepted elsewhere, is that the Hemshin are ethnic Armenians who either voluntarily or forcibly converted to Islam. For the most part they inhabit mountain valleys inland from Trabzon east to Rize and beyond Çayeli and Pazar to Hopa up by the border with Georgia.
Some of the valleys, such as those of the rivers Karadere and Fırtına, are predominantly Hemshin in character. Their villages are loose clusters of homes, often scattered along a ridge or a winding access road, rather than focused nuclear settlements. Many villages have separate quarters (mahalle) with different names, which have been gathered into a single settlement for administrative purposes. The majority of settlements have been re-named, or have alternative names. In certain parts, villages are associated with traditional highland pastures called yaylas, to which entire communities decamp for the summer grazing season.
The Hemshin have also dispersed within Turkey, and there are communities, generally thriving and successful, in big cities such as Ankara and Istanbul – the Hemshin there are famous as pastry cooks. As a result, the Hemshin villages are becoming depopulated, as part of a rural to urban movement pattern common to most developing states in the modern world. This threatens the very existence of the Hemshin as a distinctive people, especially within their context of the homogenising chauvinistic culture of Turkey. However, it is possible that their culture may be preserved through a mixture of urban Hemshin nostalgia and the development of tourism.
Most of the Hemshin are Sunni Muslim and nowadays speak Turkish; however, those in the Hopa district still speak Homshetsma, an Armenian dialect. The same Homshetsma language is spoken by Hemshin in Georgia and Russia where part of the Hemshin (or, rather, their Armenian forebears) migrated to escape conversion to Islam and remain Christian – some of these communities were deported to Kazakhstan and elsewhere in Central Asia during the Soviet era.
The Hemshin are also known variously as the Hamshen (the Armenian name for the Hemshin heartland around what is today the village of Çamlıhemşin); the Hemşin, or Hemşinli (in Turkish orthography); Hemshinli; Homshentsi and Homshetsi (as the Hemshin refer to themselves).
Bluebird Research’s GoogleMap shows current settlements in Turkey and beyond which are known to be Hemshin today. Villages outside Turkey are under-represented on the map. Communities in the big Turkish cities are not shown.
Our latest GoogleMap shows the various Russian settlements in the former Kars oblast, which was part of the pre-WW1 Russian Empire from 1878-1918.
Many of the Russian settlers were Dukhobor or Molokan sectarians, although there were also Orthodox Russians and some Russian-German Lutherans. The great majority of the Dukhobors either emigrated to Canada in 1899. Those Russians still resident in Kars oblast mostly withdrew with the Russian military during the 1918-1921 conflicts with the Turks, who reoccupied the territory – some resettled in the Rostov region of Russia, where there are many villages named after the original colonies in the vicinity of Kars.
The map may be found here.
There are very few Jews remaining today in Kurdistan, although, post-Saddam, conditions would be more favourable for Jewish life at least in Iraqi or southern Kurdistan. While a few elderly Jews survive in the larger cities, and there are doubtless not a few part-Jewish Kurds descended from urban mixed marriages, most Kurdistani Jews left Iraq and Iran during the 1950/51 airlift to Israel.
The community was quite insular, unlike many other communities in the Middle East, including of course Baghdad, where Jews were cosmopolitan and often had extended family connections across the region. Furthermore, the native language of Kurdish Jews was Aramaic (although Jews in Mosul spoke Arabic) and secondarily the local Kurdish language (generally Kurmanji but Sorani towards the south of the area inhabited).
Bluebird Research has published an online Google Map showing the majority of towns and villages of former Jewish settlement in Kurdistan – an invisible country divided between Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey (sometimes called respectively eastern, southern, western and northern Kurdistan). The map is drawn from a number of print and online sources including Ora Shwartz-Be’eri’s fine illustrated volume The Jews of Kurdistan (Jerusalem, 2000) – to which particular acknowledgement is paid and which is highly recommended for family historians with Jewish roots in Kurdistan – and Evyatar Friesel’s Atlas of Modern Jewish History, and the 1906 Jewish Encyclopedia.
The Republic of Armenia has four neighbours but today there is freedom of movement across only two of its international borders, those with Georgia and Iran. Armenian relationships with both are healthy and of course there are still large Armenian communities in both Georgia and Iran – see Bluebird Research’s Google Maps showing Armenian settlements in Javakhk and Iran. Many Iranians visit Armenia on vacation and in summer the main roads up from Iran are busy with Iranian cars and trucks. Iranians come to Armenia for, among other reasons, the liberal and Western culture – the men can drink alcohol if they wish, or go to night-clubs, and the women can literally let their hair down and relax.
Armenia’s borders with its other two neighbours – the old enemy, Turkey, and the new enemy, Azerbaijan – are closed and militarised.
South of Yerevan, from the major tourist site Khor Virap monastery, it is possible to see clearly the green Armenian military watch-towers and, with binoculars, those of their Turkish counterparts in the distance (and, beyond them, Ararat). Between the two lines of the watch-towers stretches a no-man’s land of lush vegetation along the Arax river, prime agricultural land overtaken by nature.
The Armenian-Turkish border is largely quiet. However, this is not true of the Armenian-Azerbaijani borders, which remain tense and periodically active – in early June 2012, during the state visit by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to the Caucasus, Azeri soldiers attacked Armenian positions across the border in the northern Tavush marz in an act of deliberate provocation. It is sobering to see the borders with Azerbaijan. In the south, along the border with the detached Azerbaijani exclave of Nakhichevan, earth banks have been raised along the roadside near Yeraskh (Yeraskhavan) to deter Azeri snipers from firing on passing motorists, and the former rail link through Nakhichevan to Iran is closed. The village looks sad and forlorn (and the locals have apparently nicknamed the place Kambakhavan, meaning “forgotten”). In the far north, in Tavush, site of the Azeri aggression earlier this month, there are deserted villages, some formerly Azeri, some Armenian, all too close to the dangers of the border to be safe for human habitation. The beautiful 7th Century Sourb Astvatsatsin (Mother of God) church at Voskepar stands invitingly in green fields on the edge of the abandoned old village, near enough to the roadside, but Armenian drivers are very reluctant to stop in case of sniper fire from concealed Azeri positions, and prefer to keep on driving until the Ijevan-Noyemberyan road is out of sight of the border.
The Yezidi in the Republic of Armenia, in common with many Armenians outside the capital Yerevan and the larger towns, lead a life of subsistence. The full employment of the Soviet era is long gone; the old collective farms lie abandoned, or now serve only as temporary or semi-permanent accommodation for a passing cowherd or shepherd and his livestock. There are few jobs in the mountain areas – and Armenia is nothing if not mountainous – and therefore subsistence is forced upon much of the rural population. Perhaps for the majority of Yezidi at least this might still be a preferred way of life. In summer the women grow vegetables in garden plots around their low dwellings in the villages; they also gather edible herbs such as shushan from the meadows and sell them by the roadside in Jamshlu, Alagyaz and other villages through which the main M3 road passes between Spitak and Yerevan. One extremely popular large dark green leaf called aveluk, a mountain sorrel with a strong flavour, is cleverly plaited into ropes up to a metre long, with the protruding stalks trimmed off with a sharp knife; this braid is then hung up to dry for use in winter, when it has to be prepared by rehydrating and washing before cooking. Meanwhile, the Yezidi men are up in the highland pastures of Aragats, their traditional Kurdish-style tents supplemented by plastic tarpaulin covered trucks; the milk, yoghurt and cheese of their sheep and cattle which graze the flower-rich meadows are said to be particularly flavoursome and healthy.
The Yezidi villagers, like many Armenians, may be poor when judged by Western material standards but they live well enough off the land and perhaps it is inappropriate to apply Western measures of standard of life. There are some satellite dishes and of course the ubiquitous mobile phones and coca cola in the villages. It is true that the educated among them may leave for urban life, and of course there are some disaffected youth, but the community is largely adjusted and inured to remote village life in highland Armenia. The Yezidi of Aragatsotn are respected by the Armenians for their role in fighting the Turks in the years following WW1 and their religion is accepted as non-threatening, if as a little peculiar. As well as Kurmanji Kurdish, the Yezidi speak fluent Armenian with the local accent learnt in the Armenian school system and an Armenian would be hard-pushed to distinguish a Yezidi from an Armenian on voice alone.
The older cemeteries, such as that in Rya Taza, where striking ancient and probably undatable animal-shaped grave-markers survive, speak of the Yezidis’ centuries of residence in Aragatsotn. Although the resident Yezidi population was supplemented by Yezidis displaced from post-Ottoman Turkey from the 1915 Armenian Genocide onwards (a period during which the Yezidi too were persecuted and deported by the Turks), the graveyards indicate that the Yezidi have lived on this land for many hundreds of years.
For a map showing Yezidi settlements in Aragatsotn and elsewhere across Armenia, see Bluebird Research’s GoogleMap.
In Western Europe, the deep culture of a country, a region or a district sometimes remains visible only as in a palimpsest, barely discernible beneath the increasingly thick patina of the homogenised material culture which extends out from cosmopolitan centres. By contrast, in parts of the periphery of the West still, and across much of Eastern Europe, the deep culture of people and place is stronger and more evident. This is why even the capitals in Eastern Europe have a much more distinctive character and flavour than Western cities such as Brussels or Geneva. Modernity seeps throughout Eastern Europe today, of course, and there are no prelapsarian idylls or untouched pockets of tradition existing outside time – and doubtless global consumerism will gradually take greater hold here too. Nevertheless, despite the march of the EU and americanisation across the continent, Eastern Europe still has something that the West has lost or is losing.
Each Eastern European country has its own unique character, the product of its people, history, climate and landscape. However, the native expressive genius of the people is especially undiminished in Serbia and Armenia. In these two countries in particular, deep culture is manifest in everything from church and vernacular architecture, through to alphabet, song and food, all emanating from an unabashed and confident national identity. Everything is done with a sure touch, beautifully designed and executed, with form and function in harmony. When one is accustomed to living in the increasingly infantilised post-modern civilization of a Britain or a Germany, it is a profound and exciting experience to be exposed to a more authentic culture.
One could question the inclusion of south Caucasian Armenia in “Eastern Europe”, but it is clear when visiting the Republic of Armenia that it is European and not Asian or Middle-Eastern, despite its international borders with Asiatic Turkey, Azerbaijan and Iran. It could be deposited somewhere in SE Europe without being noticeably out of place, and it shares with many Balkan nations a history of oppression associated with the Turks and the Russians. Its 1,700-year old Apostolic Church gives it the deepest Christian roots of any nation and an astonishing cultural continuity. While naturally it displays the various influences of its Asiatic neighbours, just as it does of its C20th past as one of the constituent parts of the former Soviet Union, Armenia remains uniquely and identifiably itself. Although many Armenians in diaspora may not have geographical roots in today’s Republic, it is certain that all Armenian family historians would find a visit to Armenia a profound and moving experience. Unless you are fluent in Armenian or do not wish to venture outside Yerevan, a local guide is advisable – Bluebird Research recommends Susanna Grigoryan.
Bluebird Research has created a Google map showing the distribution of current and former Armenian settlements in Javakhk, Georgia, the region that adjoins the Republic of Armenia and has a majority Armenian population.
Although Armenian settlement in this region historically dates back many hundreds of years, the current population of the small towns and villages in Javakhk generally descends from Armenians displaced from Ottoman Turkey circa 1829/30. Many came from Erzurum province, with a minority from other districts such as Ardahan, Kars and Van. As Erzurum was also the source of many emigrants around the turn of the 19th/20th century, this means that many Armenians both in the Republic and in the diaspora may well have kin residing in Georgia.