Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Armenian in Burma & Asia

Like Burmese Chinese and Burmese Indian, Anglo-Burmese((Eurasians of mixed Burmese and European,though not necessarily British ancestry),are not recognized as citizen in Burma. There is another minority race, the Armenians, which have been in Burma since 1612. Like Armenian in Penang, Armenians in Burma are merchants.

Who are Armenian?

The Armenians (Armenian: Հայեր, Hayer) are a nation and ethnic group which originated in the Caucasus and the Armenian Highland. It is estimated that there are 8 million Armenians around the world. There is a large concentration of Armenians in the Caucasus, especially in Armenia, and there is a significant presence in Georgia, Iran, Russia, and Ukraine. As a result of the Armenian genocide, a large number of survivors fled to many countries throughout the world, such as France, the United States, Argentina and the Levan.

Armenian Apostolic Church
Christianity began to spread in Armenia soon after Christ's death, due to the efforts of two of his apostles, St. Thaddeus and St. Bartholomew. In the early 3rd century, Arsacid Armenia became the first nation to adopt Christianity as a state religion. Most Armenians adhere to the Armenian Apostolic Church, a Non-Chalcedonian church. They speak two different, but mutually intelligible, dialects of their language: Eastern Armenian (spoken mainly in Armenia, Iran and the former Soviet republics) and Western Armenian (spoken primarily in the Armenian diaspora)

Over 93% of Armenian Christians belong to the Armenian Apostolic Church, a form of Oriental (Non-Chalcedonian) Orthodoxy, which is a very ritualistic, conservative church, roughly comparable to the Coptic and Syriac churches. Armenian Apostolic Church is in communion only with a group of churches within Oriental Orthodoxy.

Where is Armenia?
Armenia lies in the highlands surrounding the Biblical mountains of Ararat, upon which, according to Judeo-Christian history, Noah's Ark came to rest after the flood (Gen 8:4). In the Bronze Age, several states flourished in the area of Greater Armenia, including the Hittite Empire (at the height of its power), Mitanni (South-Western historical Armenia), and Hayasa-Azzi (1600-1200 BC). Soon after the Hayasa-Azzi were the Nairi (1400-1000 BC) and the Kingdom of Urartu (1000-600 BC), who successively established their sovereignty over the Armenian Highlands. Each of the aforementioned nations and tribes participated in the ethnogenesis of the Armenian people. Yerevan, the modern capital of Armenia, was founded in 782 BC by king Argishti I.

In 1984, it was suggested by Thomas Gamkrelidze and Vyacheslav V. Ivanov that the Proto-Indo-European homeland is located in the Armenian Highland.

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The modern Armenia is today Republic of Armenia. According to wikipedia;

Armenia en-us-Armenia.ogg /ɑrˈmiːniə/ (help·info) (Armenian: Հայաստան, transliterated: Hayastan, IPA: [hɑjɑsˈtɑn]), officially the Republic of Armenia (Հայաստանի Հանրապետություն, Hayastani Hanrapetut’yun, [hɑjɑstɑˈni hɑnɾɑpɛtuˈtʰjun]), is a landlocked mountainous country in the Caucasus region of Eurasia. Situated at the juncture of Western Asia and Eastern Europe, it is bordered by Turkey to the west, Georgia to the north, Azerbaijan to the east, and Iran and the Azerbaijani exclave of Nakhchivan to the south.

A former republic of the Soviet Union, Armenia is a unitary, multiparty, democratic nation-state with an ancient and historic cultural heritage. The Kingdom of Armenia was the first state to adopt Christianity as its religion[10] in the early years of the 4th century (the traditional date is 301). The modern Republic of Armenia recognizes the exclusive historical mission of the Armenian Apostolic Church as a national church, although the modern Republic of Armenia has separation of church and state.

History of Armenian Diaspora
Like Chinese, Indian, Jews, there are large population of Armenian community in diaspora. They are good in business as merchants.

Armenian diaspora existed since the Armenian loss of statehood in 1375 (when the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia fell to the Mamelukes), it grew in size due to emigration from the Ottoman Empire and Russia and the Caucasus. The Armenian diaspora grew considerably during and after the First World War. Although many Armenians perished during the Armenian Genocide, some of the Armenians managed to escape, and established themselves in various Eastern European cities, such as Moscow, Russia; Sochi, Russia; Odessa, Ukraine; Sevastopol, Crimea (Ukraine); Tbilisi, Georgia; Batumi, Georgia; Plovdiv, Bulgaria. Others emigrated to the The Balkans, such as Bulgaria and Athens, Greece.Yet others emigrated to Middle Eastern cities, such as and Aleppo, Syria and Beirut, Lebanon.

Armenian Communities in Asia
Armenian communities can also be found on the Asian Continent. Some of these communities have a very long history going back to many centuries. In Asian countries, there were important communities in India, Pakistan, and as far east as Malaysia, Singapore, Burma and Hong Kong.By the 18th century, Armenian communities had established themselves in India (particularly Kolkata), Myanmar, the Malay Peninsula (particularly Penang and Malacca), and Java. The Armenians in Asia have greatly decreased in number. Now there are hardly 100 Armenians in India, mostly in Kolkata, where the Armenian College and Philanthropic Academy (est. 1821) still functions. The Armenians in Singapore, who numbered as many as 100 families at their peak in the 1880s, have now moved to Australia or become part of the wider Singapore community as Eurasian. The Chinese Armenian community is a very small community , due to the mass-exodus of Armenians from Harbin, their colony dwindled down to a mere 40-50 people. Soon after Capt Francis Light occupied Penang, Malaya(now Malaysia) in 1786, Armenian traders were calling in on their way from India to Melaka (Malacca) and Batavia (Jakarta). By 1807, there were enough Armenian traders to justify the naming of Armenian Lane, which later became Armenian Street in Penang. The Church of St George the Illuminator on Bishop Street was established by Armenian merchant and philanthropist Catchatour Galastaun in 1824. Priests were sent from Persia to minister to the needs of the small Armenian community until late 1880s. The church was demolished around 1906. Now most of the Penang Armenian has migrated either to Singapore or Australia. Many Armenians remaining in Burma have also emigrated, the small number remained might also be considered part of the Anglo-Indian or, more correctly, the Anglo-Burmese community.

A number of Armenians in Singapore and Malaysia had connections with the Armenian communities in India, Dacca and Burma(a list can be found in This provided evidence that there were close connection between Armenian in Burma, Penang, Singapore. Their connection even traced to Armenians from India, moved to Burma, Penang, and Singapore, and finally to Australia.

Armenian Business Communities in Asia
The earliest European traders were the Portuguese, who seized Malacca on the Malay Peninsula in 1511. Within the century commercial supremacy passed to the Dutch, and during the Napoleonic Wars to the British, who founded the city of Singapore in 1819. In the late 19th century Burma and the Malay Peninsula became part of the British Empire. This attracted many Armenian merchant to Asia.

Armenian trading firms such as the Aristarkies Sarkies Company (1820-1841), Apcar & Stephens Company (1826-1845) and Mackertich M. Moses Company (1821-1845) were prominent in Singapore's economy. By the 1830s, Armenian merchants began investing in land. Built in 1835, in March 1836 the Church of St Gregory the Illuminator was consecrated, making it the first church in Singapore.

Tigran Sarkies set up as an auctioneer in 1882. He soon ventured into the hotel business, opening the Eastern Hotel on Light Street in 1884. In 1886, he and his brother Martin, calling themselves Sarkies Brothers, established the Oriental Hotel on Farquhar Street. Younger brother Aviet joined them and managed the Eastern. Meanwhile, Tigran and Martin extended and refurbished the Oriental. Renaming it the Eastern and Oriental - the now-renowned E & O on Farquhar Street Penang - in 1889. The Sarkies Brothers also ran the Sea View Hotel, the Oriental Tiffin and Billiard Rooms and, from 1905 until 1920, the Crag Hotel (Penang Hill). They also expanded their hotel business to the Raffles Hotel in Singapore and The Strand Hotel in Yangon in 1901. Most of their senior staff was Armenian, thus boosting the Armenian population in Penang, Singapore and Burma.(extra from wikipedia)

History of Armenian in Burma

It was reported that the first Armenian arrived in 1612, who arrived and stayed in Syriam(now called Thanlyin). A tombstone dated 1725 was discovered in the place(ref: History of Burma, by
G.E. Harvey pg 191). The Armenians are merchant in Burma.

Armenians were deported in large numbers to New Julfa, on the outskirts of Isfahan (Persia), early in the seventeenth century. Many continued on to India and Southeast Asia in the eighteenth century as conditions turned against them in Persia. By the 19th century they were to be found chiefly in Burma, the Malay peninsula (particularly Penang and Malacca), and Java, and were usually accepted as 'European' or 'White'. They tended to emigrate further from around World War I, notably to Australia.

In Burma, major Armenian traders were employed as officials by the Burmese kings, especially in charge of customs and relations with foreigners. They survived the First Burmese War in 1826, when the British annexed Arakan and Tenasserim, but the British conquest of Lower Burma, the commercial heart of the country, in 1852, led to renewed accusations (from the British) that Armenian merchants were anti-British, and even pro-Russian. Nevertheless, the Armenians of Yangon built their church in 1862, on land presented to them by the King of Burma.

The 1871-1872 Census of British India revealed that there were 1,250 Armenians, chiefly in Kolkata, Dhaka and Yangon. The 1881 Census stated the figure to be 1,308; 737 in Bengal and 466 in Burma. By 1891, the total figure was 1,295.

The Armenian Apostolic Church of St. John the Baptist still stands at No. 66, 40th Street (now Bo Aung Kyaw Street) in Yangon. According to its records, 76 Armenians were baptised in Burma between 1851-1915 (Yangon, Mandalay and Maymyo (now Pyin U Lwin)), 237 Armenians were married between 1855-1941 and over 300 Armenians died between 1811-1921.

Syriam(now Thanlyin)
Thanlyin was formerly known as Syriam(usually pronounce as "Tanyin"). It is a city in Yangon Division in Myanmar. It is situated at the confluence of the Yangon and Bago Rivers, the Irrawaddy Delta ; to be exact it is on the southern bank of Bango River. It is just opposite the city of Yangon(also known as Rangoon). The city is the home to largest port of the country, Thilawa port.

The colonial town of Syriam was built by the British for it's port and petroleum refinery plant. It is also a sub-urban town right a few miles away from Yangon, across 1.5 mile-long bridge

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Its history
Thanlyin first came to prominence in the 15th century as the main port city of the Hanthawaddy Kingdom, replacing a silted up Bago port. In 1539, the city became part of the Kingdom of Taungoo. Thanlyin was the base of the Portuguese adventurer/mercenary, Philip De Brito, who was officially a trade representative from Rakhine, he established himself as a local warlord from his base at Thanlyin, and hired his forces on occasion to the Mon in their battles against the Bamar. In 1599, the city fell to the Rakhine forces led by him( Filipe de Brito e Nicote)who was made governor of the city. The city was recaptured by the Burmese in 1613, he was executed by impalement, a punishment reserved for defilers of Buddhist temples. Thanlyin continued to be a major port until it was destroyed by King Alaungpaya in 1756 during the Mon revolt.

The main tourist attraction in Thanlyin is Kyaikkhauk Pagoda and Yeylel Pagoda. There is also the National Races village across the river.De Brito declared independence from his nominal Rakhine masters in 1603, defeated the invading Rakhine navy in 1604 and 1605, and successfully established Portuguese rule under the Portuguese viceroy of Goa. A short-time self-proclaimed King Philip de Brito, a one-time Portuguese mercenary who became the de-facto ruler of Syriam until, in 1613, he was defeated by the Bamar and impaled.In 1613, Burmese king Anaukpetlun recaptured the city, and executed de Brito by impalement, a punishment reserved for defilers of Buddhist temples. The city, an important seventeenth-century port, was destroyed by King Alaungpaya.

Thanlyin remained the major port of the Taungoo kingdom until mid-18th century. In the 1740s, Thanlyin was made the base of the French East India Company for their help in the Mon's reestablishment of Hanthawaddy Kingdom. The arrangement lasted until 1756 when King Alaungpaya of Konbaung dynasty captured the city. From then on, the importance has shifted to Yangon across the river, which Alaungpaya founded just a year earlier.

Thanlyin became part of the British Empire in 1852 after the Second Anglo-Burmese War. The British made the city into the oil refinery center of the country in the early 20th century to process the oil shipped from central Myanmar. The refinery was destroyed during World War II. The Thanlyin refinery was rebuilt in 1957, and underwent expansion in 1979 with Japanese assistance. In 1979 a pipeline was completed between Syriam and the Mann oilfield.

Thanlyin(Syriam) was once an important city on the Irrawaddy Delta but is today a forgotten suburb of Yangon.

Since the 1990s, the city has undergone major changes. Thanlyin was finally connected to Yangon by road in 1993 when the Thanlyin Bridge was built. In the late 1990s, Thilawa Port was built to handle the container ships away from Yangon's ports. The city is home to a national university in Myanmar Maritime University, and local universities in the University of East Yangon and Technological University, Thanlyin. The city's population has increased from 43,000 in 1983 to 123,000 in 1996.

Most people travel to Thanlyin to see the impressive Kyauktan Ye Le Pagoda, which is located approximately 20kms to the south of the city on a small island in Hmaw Won Creek. This pretty temple complex contains a grand collection of artwork.

Visitors to Thanlyin can also cross the Yangon River to explore the town of Kyauktan, where there are a number of good places to eat and a vibrant market.

(source: extract from wikipedia)

Despite many Armenians had contributed to the development of Burmese economy, like other Anglo-Burmese, Burmese Indian and Burmese Chinese; many have migrated and moved to other countries due to negative political development in Burma. The Burmese Armenians, if any still remaining in Burma might be considered as part of the Anglo-Indian or, more correctly, the Anglo-Burmese community. The diaspora of Armenian community in Burma is the lost to the country.......

Related articles/References:

1.Armenians in Burma,
3. Respected Citizens: the History of Armenians in Singapore and Malaysia, by Nadia H Wright, published by Amassia Publishing
4. Blog dated Tuesday, August 4, 2009, Armenian Genocide 1915-1923

1 comment:

  1. Interesting posting but shouldn't there be more attention paid to the organisation of the Armenian mercantile empire in the Far East. Initially this was controlled from New Julfa at the behest of the Persian shah's. Following the Afghan invasion of Persia early in the eighteenth Kolkata became almost as important. Almost all of the trading communities in the Far East had their roots in Persia rather than in the Ottoman Empire or any separate Armenian state. Neil Lee