Archive for the ‘armenian’ Category
The “left-overs of the sword” is the chilling everyday idiom used by Turks to refer to those survivors of the 1915 Armenian Genocide who remained within Turkey. It is also, of course, a tacit acknowledgement of the Genocide even as the Turkish state and its vast apparatus of apologists continue to deny the Genocide.
How did some Armenians become left-overs, or leavings, of the sword, the ones not slaughtered and the ones who did not perish through starvation and exhaustion on the death marches south to the Syrian deserts?
There are many such ways.
Children and teenagers were taken from their families, or from the long straggling columns on the death marches, by Kurds, Arabs and Turks. Some were effectively fostered, brought up with varying degrees of affection, as step-children. Others, maybe a majority, maybe not, were taken as domestic or agricultural servants – a form of free or at least low-maintenance servitude.
Young women were taken by Muslims as wives, concubines or worse. Many of course then bore children.
Others disguised themselves, or hid away, until the worst of the slaughter was over, often up to a decade, and they could come out and then pass as Muslims.
Armenians therefore continued to survive in urban and rural Anatolia, despite the best or worst endeavours of the Turkish state. And many Turks today therefore also have Armenian blood, because great grandmother, grandmother or mother was an Armenian left-over of the sword.
If you are interested in this phenomenon, then there is no better read, and no better source of information, than “My Grandmother”, the family memoir by Turkish, or strictly speaking Turkish-Armenian, lawyer and human rights activist Fethiye Çetin (published in paperback by Verso Books, 2012, in an English-language translation by Maureen Freely). This book starts slowly but builds into a work of great emotional power and poignancy. Fethiye’s grandmother was born in Havav (near Palu in the region of Harput) as Heranuş (Hranush) Gadarian and was aged about 13 years at the time of the Armenian Genocide in 1915, when she was taken by a Turkish gendarme. Two years later, she was married to a Turk named Fikri, and took the forename Seher. She raised four children and, by the time of her death aged 95 years, had multiple grandchildren, including Fethiye, all of whom of course have Armenian blood and DNA. The story of her life is deeply moving.
2015 marks the centenary of the Armenian Genocide at the hands of the Turkish state. The commemorations will make it increasingly difficult for Turkey, even under its present arrogant blockhead of a president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, to continue to deny the Armenian holocaust. This applies both externally (to the Armenians and to the international community, not least the European Union which Turkey still aspires to join) and also internally. By this I mean that there is hope that there will be a growing grass-roots acknowledgement by ordinary Turks of the terrible crime committed in 1915 – perhaps an honest acknowledgement not only by lawyers, human rights workers and intellectuals, but also by the thousands, probably tens of thousands, of Turks who have Armenian roots, from the left-overs of the sword.
In September 2014, the Surp Hripsime Armenian Genocide memorial church in Der Zor, Syria was deliberately destroyed by Islamic supremacists.
The Surp Hripsime complex is a modern construction, dating back only to 1989/90, and yet it holds great significance for Armenians of all confessions across the diaspora. It is a memorial to the Armenian Genocide of 1915 but, even more poignantly, its location in Der Zor (also Ter Zor or, in Arabic, Deir ez-Zor) marks one of the spots at which Armenians from across Anatolia who had survived the forced deportation marches arrived in Syria and in many cases either were slaughtered or perished from starvation and disease. At Surp Hripsime, there was not just a church and a genocide memorial monument, but also a crypt containing the remains of thousands of victims of the Genocide and an historically significant archive documenting the Armenian Shoah. Because of this, it became a pilgrimage site, with Armenians gathering annually on 24th April to mourn and commemorate.
Its destruction by Islamic supremacists is therefore not just a statement of intolerance but a calculated insult.
For a map showing the location of Armenian communities and places of worship in Syria, please see Bluebird Research’s GoogleMap. The map was created in 2012. It is not known how many of these churches survive at the time of writing in November 2014, and how many have been abandoned, damaged or destroyed during the ongoing conflict.
To read more, see this article in The Independent.
An abridged version of “Christians and Jews in the Ottoman Empire” was re-issued by Lynne Rienner Publishers in 2013. The book, which was edited by Benjamin Braude & Bernard Lewis, was originally issued in two volumes, vol 1 covering “the Central Lands” (that is to say, Turkey-in-Europe and Anatolia, the heart of the Ottoman Empire) and vol 2 the Arabic-speaking lands, and had been out of print for a couple of decades. The recent re-issue selects from the original two volumes essays by various writers and benefits from a tremendous new introduction by Braude, which encapsulates many of the key themes and conclusions of the book.
Like any serious book bringing together a range of authors, not all readers will find every article of equal interest, but this collection is remarkably consistent in quality, and – with only one exception (for which, see below) – the content is even-handed and non-partisan. Although it is an academic volume, it is sufficiently accessible for a general reader and non-specialist, and any family historian with roots, or an interest,in the Ottoman Empire, and the co-existence of peoples within it, will gain greater insight from reading this than from a stack of superficially more appealing but more one-sided accounts, memoirs and histories written from the point of view of, say, the Greeks of the Empire, or the Armenians, or the Sephardic Jews, or the Copts.
Unfortunately, there is a bad apple in the basket, and that is the penultimate essay, by Feroz Ahmad. It comes as little surprise to find out, from the blurb at the back, that he teaches at Yeditepe University in Istanbul (risible motto: “Following Ataturk’s renaissance”). Ahmad is Turkish not by birth but by citizenship, and obviously went native, just like the American academic Justin McCarthy before him who also swallowed the Turkish state’s line on history and was decorated accordingly with the “order of merit” bauble. With sadly few exceptions, Turkish historiographers peddle a Turkish supremacist or apologist version of the past. In Ahmad’s essay, therefore, the poor and oppressed of the late Ottoman Empire were the Turks, and their exploiters and oppressors were the Armenians and Greeks. Similarly, the Muslim rural poor of Eastern Anatolia are all Turks – certainly not Kurds, who, as is customary in Turkish historiography, are subsumed silently within the category of Turks unless a scapegoat or an Other is required. Likewise, no distinction is drawn between the various shades of Islam within Anatolia, which was anything but monolithic – for Ahmad, if you were not Armenian or Greek in Anatolia, clearly you could only be a Sunni Turk.
Nevertheless, if you ignore Ahmad’s essay, the remainder of “Christians and Jews in the Ottoman Empire” makes for a balanced and nuanced insight into the Ottoman Empire and is highly recommended to all genealogists who would like to develop a greater understanding of Armenian, Greek or Jewish ancestors in the Near East.
Fırıncı mahallesi was one of 108 recognised neighbourhoods in Kayseri in 1872. Its name means simply “bakers’ neighbourhood” and it was a small, entirely Armenian quarter of the town, comprising just five streets with 23 taxpaying households, of which 21 are named in the defter. These households are shown in the table below.
Some thoughts on these householders:
Two of the streets appear to be named after the principal family in residence – the Kazandjian household in Kazancı Sokağı and the Kullukian or Koulloukian household in Güllük Sokağı (“roses street”).
The occupations of four of the householders are given – goldsmith, weaver, confectioner, sawyer. A fifth man – Ohanes, the sole taxpaying resident in Gümüşoğlu Sokağı – is either a barber or bears the surname Berber or Berberian – the original record does not make it clear. He may even have the surname Gumushian, after which the street is named. Given the name of this mahalle, one would assume that at least one of the men without a given occupation was a baker.
Three out of the 21 are women – two described as daughters (kızı in Turkish) and one as a wife (zevcesi), and presumably are respectively spinsters and a widow.
Four of the male householders have their forename prefixed with Hacı, which would normally indicate that they had performed the pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
Presently I am working on interpreting, understanding and analysing records relating to Armenians in an 1872 defter, or taxation document, from Kayseri in Turkey (Gesaria or Kesaria in Armenian). The records are arranged by mahalle and, within that, by street. The taxpaying householders in each street are then listed. There were 8,119 taxpaying households in total in Kayseri in 1872.
Kayseri had a total of 108 mahalleler or neighbourhoods, comprising between 16 and 352 households each, with the mean being 75 homes. By no means all neighbourhoods were the homogeneous ethnic or religious groups I had expected. 67 neighbourhoods were exclusively Turkish, 24 were Armenian, two were Kurdish and one was Greek. However, Greeks and Armenians lived together in some Christian quarters and, more surprisingly perhaps, there were seven neighbourhoods with a mixed Armenian/Turkish population.
The original archival material is in Osmanlı Turkish, written using a modified Arabic alphabet, and has been transliterated and transcribed into modern Turkish, which of course uses the Latin alphabet. One needs to understand the pronunciation of certain Turkish letters to be able to match them with the approximately corresponding letters used in English to spell Armenian names in transliteration. For example, the Turkish letter c may be the equivalent of j or dj, and ç and ş represent the sounds ch and sh respectively. Turkish vowels are also problematic, not least because these were poorly catered for in Osmanlı Turkish and therefore there may not be a one-to-one correlation. The undotted ı is usually pronounced short like the e in English “bed” (while the dotted i is used for the long vowel sound at the start of İstanbul, or in the English word “bead”).
Armenian and Greek personal names are rendered in Turkish style, using the suffix -oğlu to indicate “son of”, rather than an Armenian or Greek surname ending. The entries are terse and it is not always clear whether a surname has already been assumed by a family or, contrarily, a simple system of patronymics is still in use – for example, in the case of entries in the format “Manük oğlu Serkis”, it is not certain whether the individual in question is Sarkis Manoukian, or simply a Sarkis son of Manouk with no settled surname. Contrarily, when the entry is in the format “Demiroğlu Karabet”, it seems clear that the man’s name is Karabet (or Garabed) Demirian.
One problem is that there is no single standard spelling of Armenian names – not only does the language have its Western and Eastern variants, but there can be several (sometimes many) ways of transliterating the same name into English.
I began by looking for surnames I knew from previous research to be associated with the town and/or sanjak of Kayseri. I was able to find only about one quarter of these. Either the other names were not from Kayseri itself but an outlying town or village, or they had not been taken by 1872 (which seems less likely).
Some of the names in the defter are relatively simple to match to modern Armenian names, for example:
Arzuman oğlu Parsıh = Barsegh Arzumanian or Arzoumanian
Beyleroğlu Mardiros = Mardiros Beylerian
Erkiletlioğlu Karabet = Karabet Erkiletlian
Gürünlüoğlu Kesbar ve Avidis = (brothers) Kasbar and Avedis Gurunlian or Gourounlian
Kalaycıoğlu Mardiros = Mardiros Kalaydjian
Keşişoğlu Kalus = Calouste Keshishian
Minasoğlu Hacı Agop = Agop Minasian
Odabaşıoğlu Agop = Agop Odabashian
Şahinoğlu Karabet = Karabet Shahinian
Seferoğlu Parsıh ve Artin = (brothers) Barsegh and Artin Seferian
Other names are less confident matches:
Acemoğlu Karabet = Karabet Ajemian or Adjemian
Dökmecioğlu Agop = Agop Dekmedjian, Dekmejian, Deukmejian or Deukmedjian
Taşçıoğlu Ohanes = Ohanes Tashchian or Tashjian
The records mainly involve heads of household, as the taxpayers, and these are usually men – however, there are some women, perhaps mostly widows or women who had inherited property or had established a charitable trust (vakif).
Mayreni Publishing is a small independent publishing house based in Monterey CA, specialising in Armenian interest books. Their “Khodorchur: Lost Paradise”, published in 2012, has just come to my attention. It is a translation of a 1964 Armenian-language original and is an ethnographic study of Khodorchur, a cluster of 13 Armenian Catholic villages surrounded by Hemshin (Armenian Muslim) communities in the old kaza of Kiskim (now Yusufeli) in what is today far north-eastern Turkey.
The people of Khodorchur largely perished in the Armenian Genocide, being deported and murdered during June 1915 – only an estimated 100 or so from the pre-Genocide population of more than 8,000 are believed to have survived. “Khodorchur: Lost Paradise” is a testament to that vanished community.
Like many specialist works of Armenian (and other) ethnography and cultural history, “Khodorchur” is hard to come by and, not surprisingly given its 652 pages, a little pricey – you may need to borrow it on an inter-library loan.
The location of Khodorchur – today known in Turkish as Sırakonaklar – can be seen on this Bluebird Research Google Map of Hemshin communities.
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 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.
[Unfortunately, the digitised registers have been taken offline since this blog was first published]
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.
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.
Below: Armenian shop in downtown Larnaka.
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 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 after the Russian Revolution in 1917 – some Russian sectarians 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. A screenshot of the map is shown below.
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.
An estimated 12,000 visitors attended the 2011 Who Do You Think You Are? Live event at London’s Olympia exhibition centre, Attendance figures for the 2012 show, which was held last weekend, are not yet out but, if my experience is anything to go by, interest in the event does not appear to have diminished. The core participants remain essentially the same. However, 2012 saw several new exhibitors. Two of these suggest a possible opening up of the British family history marketplace to the viability of interest groups with wider continental European roots.
Firstly, Belgian genealogist Marie Cappert had a little space offering professional research services in France and the Low Countries – she can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Although one should never underestimate the diaspora communities, such as the long-standing Polish and Russian ones, in France and Belgium, of more immediate relevance to those with Eastern European roots is Kresy-Siberia, which seemed to be attracting definite interest. The organisation endeavours to increase awareness of the Polish role in the British armed forces (especially the air force) during WW2 and the subsequent resettlement of tens of thousands of Polish ex-servicemen in the British Isles, as well as the story of the earlier military and civilian evacuation of Poles from the Soviet Union via Iran and East Africa. Polish genealogy is booming in post-Communist Poland as well as in diaspora and the availability of online information is increasing, although it remains the case that it is essential to know, or to be able to discover, the exact place of origin of an ancestor before one can research meaningfully in Poland or in the pre-WW2 Polish territories now in Lithuania, Belarus and Ukraine.
While at Who Do You Think You Are? Live, I also had the opportunity to speak with the always helpful volunteers at the Jewish Genealogical Society of Great Britain stand, and with the Sephardic expert Schelly Talalay Dardashti, who was both speaking at the event and helping to staff the My Heritage stand. One of Schelly’s special interests is Sephardic Jewry from the former Ottoman and Persian Empires. Much of the former community in modern Iran and Iraq has of course left and now lives in diaspora. Getting Jewish genealogical records or information out of Iran in particular is a literally hazardous business – the Iranian state regards world Jewry as an extension of Israel and any Jewish genealogical research in Iran as a political act. This makes any research within Iran tantamount to subversion, and therefore too contentious and risky to be engaged in by anyone resident within the country on behalf of foreigners. There are, however, possibilities for Armenian research in Iran, at least through the Armenian Apostolic Church authorities (not through the Iranian civil registration or state archive system), which Bluebird Research has been investigating in recent months. However, it remains the case that any genealogical research in Iran will be slow-moving, protracted, and carry only limited prospects of success.