Saturday, 16 July 2016

Armenian New... A Topalian... History of Armenia

From the Highlands to the Lowlands

 Bust of Saint Servatius in Maastricht Basilica (the Netherlands)

Armenian traces in the Netherlands and Belgium go way back. Perhaps the
first notable contact was in the 4th century when Armenia became the
world’s first Christian nation and monks spread to all corners of the
world professing Christianity. One such missionary was Servatius who in
the 4th century became one of the first to preach the Gospel in western
Europe. He is believed to be the first to Christianize the Netherlands
and became the bishop of Tongeren (Belgium). According to various
accounts Servatius came from Armenia to western Europe preaching
Christianity. He is considered a Saint and has been credited with many
miracles, some of which continued to manifest after his death in 384 
contributing to popularity of pilgrimages to his remains at one of
Europe’s oldest Basilica (Basilica of Saint Servatius) in Maastrich.
Servatius (Servaas in Dutch) is a patron saint of the city of 
(in Holland), and the towns of Schijndel (in Holland) and Grimbergen 

Other Armenian missionaries like one identified by Belgian 
as Macaire made the Saint Bavon Abbey in Gand his home in the year 1011
before moving on to preach the gospel across Europe.

 Johannes Lingelbach, Gezicht op de Dam (1656) – with Armenian
Merchants, in the lower right corner

Armenian merchants first appeared in the Low Countries in the 12th, 
and 14th century, when Dutch merchants arrived in Cilicia and Armenian
trading houses opened in the Low Countries. Armenians brought in
carpets, dyes, cotton, and spices from Armenia and around the world.
Armenians have been mentioned in the city of Bruges, once a Dutch port,
in the twelfth century. Later, in 1345, Armenians had been permitted to
sell rugs in front of the church in Bruges. In 1478 the Armenians had
established a hospice “National Hostelry” in that city, and a priest
officiating at the Church of the Carmelites. Also in Bruges, Armenian
merchants had their own trading centers, importing cotton goods, 
perfumes and other materials from the Orient and exporting European
goods to markets in the East. Their presence continued well into the
15th century, until Bruges lost its importance as a trading port.

 Armenian Merchant with a hookah by J. Schultz, Amsterdam (1769) – art
collection of Mekhitarist monks at San Lazaro, Venice.

In the 16th century Armenian merchants came to Amsterdam to sell pearls
and diamonds, and to purchase local products for export.
 Armenian merchants arrived in the Republic of the Seven United Dutch
Provinces in three immigration waves during the subsequent 17th and 
 The first wave arrived from Julfa, a suburb of Isfahan, in Iran and
were called ’Jolfalijnen’ or Persians by the Dutch. The second group
came from the main Ottoman seaports Aleppo, Constantinople and Smyrna
and the third from Archangel, Moscow and St. Petersburg.
 The main incentive to migrate was the rise of the Dutch Republic, and
Amsterdam in particular, as a center of global economic activity in the
17th century.

 Armenian Merchant with a monkey, ca. 1700-1725, from National Dutch
State Museum

The Armenian business houses of Amsterdam threw off branches into other
European cities and countries — Venice, Leghorn, Marseilles, Spain.
From the coasts of the Baltic Sea they imported yellow amber, for which
there was a great demand in Smyrna. The import of Persian silk was
almost entirely in Armenian hands from 1700 to 1765. As the
Mediterranean Sea was infested by pirates during that epoch, their 
were escorted by war vessels. Among such sailing ships, one was named
Coopman van Armenien (Merchant of Armenia). A consular report, dated
1653, states that the Armenische Coopman, escorted by the warship
Gelderland, had reached Smyrna in safety.

 Armenian Merchant, Johann C. Weigel (17th c.)

Although most Armenians, particular those coming from Iran, initially
specialised in trading raw silk, they spread their economic risks by
importing a variety of products from Turkey and Iran, including 
stones, Turkish yarn, camel and goat hair, raisins, figs, rice and
coffee beans. They also imported whale teeth from Archangel, amber from
Danzig and mirrors from Venice and exported Dutch products ranging from
Leiden cloth, linen and moquette to furniture and tiles, to Turkey and
Iran. Tiles exported from Holland were reused in the church of Santa
Maria in Cadiz.

Dutch paintings, engravings and poetry show that Armenian merchants had
established themselves firmly within the societies of the Low 
 A Dutch writer has said in De Amsterdammer, a magazine of the date of
August 14, 1887 that:
 “The story of the Armenian community is a golden page in the history
of the city of Amsterdam.”

 Young Armenian leaning at a Window attributed to Caspar Netscher
(Heidelberg 1639 – The Hague 1684)

The Armenian community in Amsterdam was initially small. Approximately
800 Armenian names appear in the notarial acts of the city’s municipal
archives for the period from 1600 to 1800. The community reached its
demographic zenith in 1668 when 66 Armenian family names can be 
Rich Armenians imitated the Amsterdam elite, by ordering gold- and-
silver birth and marriage medallions bearing Armenian inscriptions to
mark births and marriages (see bellow).

 Medal commemorating a Marriage between Hakobkhani, son of Hohan from
the house of Khaldariants – Armenian Merchant from Amsterdam by Johan
George Holtzhey, 1757
 The Armenian Church of Amsterdam

 The Armenian Church at the Krom Boomssloot 20-22, Amsterdam – Jan de
Beijer (1703-1780)
 The first Armenian priest was invited to Amsterdam to hold religious
services in private homes in 1665. A notarial inventory dating from 
refers to an Armenian hiding church in the Koningsdwarsstraat.
 On 30 January 1714 the authorities issued a permit for Armenians to
erect an official church building, visible from the street. In May 
40 Armenian merchants financed the conversion of two warehouses into an
Armenian Church on the Kromboomsloot in the centre of Amsterdam. In 
the outside entrance was embellished with a monumental gable stone with
a lamb and an Armenian text, privately financed by the Armenian priest
Johannes di Minas.
 After serving its purpose for about a century and a half, this edifice
was closed because of the dwindling of its congregation. In 1874, by
order of the Catholicos of Echmiadzin, the building was sold for 10,000
florins. After that, the building housed a Catholic primary school for
girls, for more than a century. After the Second World War the Armenian
community in Amsterdam started to grow, and Armenians bought the
building back in 1989 and today it still functions as an Armenian 
in the center of Amsterdam.

 Armenian Book Printing

 Where there are Armenians there are bound to be Armenian Churches and
books. In 1656 the Patriarch of Armenia sent the priest Mathevos
Tsaretsi (Matheos of Tsar) to Venice in order to investigate whether a
Bible could be printed in the Armenian language. Even though Venice
already had centuries of good relations with Armenians, the Catholic
church made it very difficult for the Armenians to print orthodox
Armenian literature. Thus Tsaertsi decided to try his luck in the
Northern Low Countries which at the time were governed by Protestants
and were known for their religious tolerance for everything besides
Catholicism. Around 1660 Mathevos Tsaretsi (Matheos van Tsar as he was
known in Dutch) settled in Amsterdam and in 1661 the first book in
Armenian was printed titled: “Jesus the Son” (Hisus vordi) (see
image bellow).

 “Jesus Son” (Armenian: Հիսուս որդի), first Armenian book
published in Amsterdam by Matheos of Tsar (1661).
 In 1666 it was finally time and a first printed Bible appeared in
Armenian. The Armenian printers were assisted in cutting and casting of
the Armenian alphabet by none other than Mayor of Amsterdam Nicolaas
Witsen. He personally assembled printing masters such as the Hungarian
letter cutter, typographer and printer Miklós Tótfalusi Kis and the
celebrated Daniël Elsevier who at the time still worked in Amsterdam.
 In a short time, molds of Armenian letters developed in Amsterdam were
sent to printers across Europe. Tens of thousands of Armenian books 
Amsterdam found their way across Europe and Asia. Dutch University
libraries still posses large quantities of Armenian printed books and
maps of that period.
 This beautiful map of the world was made in Amsterdam by brothers
Hadriaan and Peter Damiaan Schoonebeek in 1695.

 Armenian map of the world by brothers Hadriaan and Peter Damiaan
Schoonebeek in Amsterdam, 1695.
 Recent History

 Many Armenian merchants in Amsterdam went to the Dutch colonies in
Southeast Asia in the 19th century to trade, and to set up factories 
plantations, establishing a community of Armenians in places such as
Java in Indonesia. The intriguing history of Armenians in European
colonies is also a fine subject for another post.
 The Napoleonic wars put an end to the Armenian life in the 
The city of Amsterdam was almost depopulated after its occupation by 
French. The Armenian presence in Belgium however was not broken
throughout the centuries, although the size of the community did not
start growing considerably until the end of the First World War and the
forced mass exodus of Armenians from Turkey following the 1915 Armenian
Genocide. During that 20th century Armenian immigrants in both Belgium
and the Netherlands became quite successful trading carpets, tobacco,
diamonds and other jewelry. In the tobacco sector, original Armenian
brands like Davros, Arax, Marouf and Enfi were the only cigarette 
made in Belgium. The Missirian, Tchamkertian, Matossian and the
Enfiadjian families held a monopoly over the tobacco industry in the
country. Another sector the Armenians of Belgium excelled in was trade
of diamonds. A member of the Barsamian family was the President of the
prestigious Diamond Club of Belgium in 1920 at a time when Tcherkezian,
Ipekjian and Hampartsoumian families were top names in the business.

 Cornelia Menheer en Telemak (Arthur) Mardirossian in 1944
 During the second world war some Armenian soldiers were brought to the
Dutch province of Zeeland by the Germans as prisoners of war during the
Nazi occupation, where special battalions were created known as the
Armenische Legion (Armenian Legion). The 812 German battalion consisted
solely of Armenian soldiers was situated in the Dutch isles of the
Zeeland province, especially at Middelharnis. There the Armenians came
in contact with the locals and marriages soon followed. This chapter of
Armenian history in the Low Countries soon became very tragic as nearly
all of the Armenian soldiers were executed by the Germans after
Armenians revolted. Because of the active role the Armenians played
within the Dutch Resistance, the Dutch government has commemorated 
brave Armenians by erecting a memorial.

 Monument in memory of Armenians resistance fighters in Dutch Zeeland
(Middelharnis) who were executed on 9 december 1944 by the Germans.
 Dutch leaders of the resistance would often praise Armenian courage in
resisting the Germans. I’ve made several videos in the past about this
subject, for those interested make sure to watch these video series:
Zealand girls in Armenian arms.
 Another wave of Armenian migrants came to the Low Countries during the
70ies as migrant workers and refugees from Iran, Turkey, Lebanon and
Syria. The final notable wave of Armenians came to the Low Countries
after the fall of the Soviet Union from Armenia and Azerbaijan due to
countless pogroms (such as, 1988 Sumgait pogrom, 1988 Kirovabad pogrom,
1990 Baku pogrom, 1992 Maragha Massacre etc…) during the Nagorno
Karabakh conflict.
 Today the Armenian communities in both Belgium and the Netherlands are
largely successful and have integrated well into the European 
The Armenian community in Belgium counts about 10.000 people and in the
Netherlands slightly lower, estimates range from 6000 to 9000
individuals. Both the Netherlands and Belgium have officially 
the Armenian Genocide and uphold good relations with–-with-Armenian-Merchants-in-the-lower-right-corner.jpgarmenian-merchant.jpgArmenian-Merchant-with-a-monkey-ca.-1700-1725-from-National-Dutch-State-Museum.jpgYoung-Armenian-leaning-at-a-Window-by-Caspar- Netscher-Heidelberg-1639-–-The-Hague-1684.jpgMedal-commemorating-a-Marriage-between-H akobkhani-son-of-Hohan-from-the-house-of-Khaldariants-–-Armenian-Merchant-from-Amsterdam-by-Johan-George-Holtzhey1757.jpgArmenian-Church-in-Amsterdam-exterior.jpgArmenian-church-in-Amsterdam.jpgJesus-Son-Armenian-????? ս-որդի-first-Armenian-book-published-in-Amsterdam-by-Matheos-of-Tsar..jpgArmenian-map-of-the-world-by-brothers-Hadriaan-and-Peter-Damiaan-Schoonebeek-in-Amsterdam-1695..jpgCornelia-Menheer-en-Telemak-Arthur-Mardirossian-in-1944-.jpgMonument-in-memory-of-Armenians-resistance-fighters-who-were-executed-on-9-december-1944-by-the-Germans..jpgimage001.jpg

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