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Sunday, 22 December 2019

Early Armenians in Dacca



It is often repeated that the ‘founding fathers’ of the Armenian church in Dacca were Messrs Sarkies, Kevorke, Pogose and Petrus respectively. Numerous reports tell us the land was donated by ‘Armenian nobleman Agha Catchick Minas’ (also known as Agha Catchik Emnias). Let’s explore some of these individuals and take a peek into a small period of their lives.

For the early Armenian settler in Dacca life was constantly challenging, one-sided and often unfairly stacked against them. Saddled with troubles with-in and with-out of this small community, these ‘big-named’ individuals who strove to make a living weren’t just trying to outwit their competitors but also some of their more notoriously tricky British chiefs. Along side that, some were in constant battle with their own community and families as well. 

A perfect example of this is in 1773 when Khoja Michael Ter Stephanoss, more commonly known as Khoja Michael Sarkies, entered into a partnership with Coja Kevorke jointly running salt farms in Savagepore and Selimabad under contract to the East India Company. They reported directly to Richard Barwell, the Chief of Dacca. Barwell was ruthlessly ambitious and, according to correspondence written in January 1769[1] to his sister Mary in England, he was: “willing to spend five thousand pounds[2] for the chiefship of Dacca and Patna……to supervise the collection of the revenues.” Barwell got his wish in 1772 and quickly became a law unto himself. He decided to take away the contract Sarkies and Kevorke had already been given to supply salt to the East India Company. Through no fault of their own, their losses were immense because of Barwell’s double dealing and greed for more revenue[3], something he tried unsuccessfully to prove in Court. A protracted enquiry ensued in Calcutta at the Supreme Court, and all the evidence stacked in the favour of the Armenian partners whilst Barwell was found to be trading in an unorthodox and underhand manner. His unauthorised demand of Rs125,000 to be paid directly to him, circumnavigating the official East India Company contract, was Barwell’s downfall.[4]  Although their names and reputations were honoured and kept in tact, their finances took a huge blow, something they never recovered from, as can be seen from this extract of the case summary.[5]
…..That in the month of February 1774, Mr. Barwell dispossessed Coja Keworke and Coja Michael of the Farm and gave it to two other men. It does not appear that any other reason was assigned for dispossessing Coja Keworke, but the claim Mr. Barwell sets up to his right to the Farm, and to dispose of as he thinks proper.

It does not appear by any deed of conveyance or other instrument produced to the Committee, that there was any assignment or transfer, made either by the original nominee, or the two securities, of their property in the Farm to Mr. Barwell.

The Committee are of opinion that no such assignment or transfer from the nominee to Mr. Barwell could be valid, without the consent of the two securities, who in that case must have been allowed to relinquish their engagements with the Company; since it would be a manifest injustice to oblige them to answer for the performance of stipulated engagements in behalf of any person, to whom the original nominee might think fit to transfer his right, and for whom they had not agreed to become security.

It appears that very shortly after Mr. Barwell had dispossessed Coja Keworke and Coja Michael of their Farm, he restored it again to them, on conditions very disadvantageous to them, and different from those on which they first held it……………that Mr. Barwell has not produced any leases or grants whatsoever from Government, in support of his claim to the Salt Farms of Selimabad and Duckan Savagepore.

That Mr. Barwell has appropriated to his own use considerable sums, arising from the Salt Farms abovementioned, to the prejudice of the Company. That Mr. Barwell’s being engaged, intermeddling, or being anyway concerned, directly or indirectly, in the Inland Trade in Salt, from 1st August 1774, is against Law.

That Mr. Barwell’s declaration, “That if the present Chief of Dacca does not engage in this emolument, he thinks himself better entitled to it than any Armenian or Bengalee, who would otherwise benefit in his room”, implies a determination in him not to relinquish the above emolument.

That Coja Kaworke and Michael are the only persons who appear to have had in fact the original management of the Farms in question, or upon whom the Company could have had a claim, supporting the quantity of Salt contracted for had not been delivered; and that these persons, in February 1774, were dispossessed of the Farms, and afterwards restored to them, by the sole authority of the Chief, without any order of the Council of Dacca.

That the sums received by Mr. Barwell on account of the Farms, whether voluntarily paid or violently extorted from Coja Kaworke and Michael, do not invalidate their right to the Farms.

That Coja Kaworke and Michael should be put into possession of the two Farms, for the remainder of the term of the original lease, on condition of their making good to the Company all balances which may be now due on account of their engagements as securities for the nominal Farmers, and of their delivering to the Company the additional quantity of ten thousand Maunds of salt annually, which had been collusively reserved for the use of the Chief of Dacca.

Barwell appeared to believe his own lies, confidently thinking he was invincible and above the law. He was of the opinion that his was the only one that mattered, and he was superior even when pitted against E.I.C. contemporaries who presided over this long and tedious enquiry in the Supreme Court in Calcutta.
Portrait of Richard Barwell and his son circ 1780. Oil on canvas by Joshua Reynolds.[6]

Khoja Michael Sarkies (Coja Michael) as a Zamindar, continued to live and trade in Dacca extending partnerships in his salt business to Johannes Ter Daniels and Stephanus Arratoon of Calcutta. In 1765 he also conducted trade with Joseph Saffor Shahriman but found himself to be a creditor of Shahriman when he died in 1766, Khoja Michael was owed around 600 Rupees[7]. Meanwhile, the other partner Khoja Kevorke, went to Calcutta and settled there with his wife and family. Familiar Armenian Calcutta names such as Manuk, Avietick, Owen, Zorab, Emin, Stephen Gaspar, Vardon, Arathoon, Jordan, Bagram, Vertannes, Michael, Cavorke and George, all descend from him whose full name was Khoja Kevorke Ter Simon, and there are a number of living descendants scattered around the world today. Khoja Kevorke died in Chinsurah in 1790, the same year as his business partner Khoja Michael who died in Dacca.  Kevorke’s estate was initially estimated to be approximately Rs464,900[8]. The reconciliation of Kevorke’s accounts was protracted because his widow challenged the estate of her husband’s late partner, Khoja Sarkies for outstanding monies. This lengthy process eventually led to her retrieving Khoja Kevorke’s share of the partnership funds, once settled, taking other deductions into account the figure finalised at around Rs60,000[9]. A handsome sum indeed for the Kevorke estate, but how much more would they have had if it was not for the crooked Barwell?
Gabriel Cavorke fought for her husband's share of the Sarkies/Kevorke partnership spoils
Meanwhile the estate of Khoja Sarkies was estimated to be around 5 times more than Khoja Kevorke’s, calculated to be in excess of Rs302,986[10]. 

Some of the other early Armenian settlers in Dacca arrived at a time when the country was in crisis. 1787 saw a devastating famine, coupled with unprecedented early flooding in March of that year. Armenians rallied around to help, not just other Armenians but also their friends, local people and the communities of Dacca. Far from landing on Indian soil and stepping into the rhythm of a comfortable and economically progressive commerce, the Julfan Armenians immediately became immersed in the same poverty and diseases that were engulfing the lives of Dacca locals at this time. Basic food such as grain and fresh water were in very short supply and to add to an already desperate situation a large fire broke out and over 7000 huts were destroyed. These weren’t just homes, but also storage huts containing vital food supplies. Many hundreds of lives were lost in the fire; the famine went on to claim thousands more.  People left Dacca for other districts, there was very little for local people to stay for, whilst others from the countryside flocked to the city for help in the hope their famished families would get food. Wealthier inhabitants did indeed help those in dire straights, their stockpiles of precious grains were now the staple supplies, and at the height of the disaster, between 9 and 10 thousand people a day were fed through public contribution. A small number of Armenians made up this group, and although the situation quickly escalated from bad to near hopeless, they did what they could to help each other and the people around them.

One of those who survived the famine and who was sufficiently well placed to help Muslims and Christians alike was salt and property merchant Khoja Michael Sarkies. He had been born in Julfa around 1732 and as we have already seen, during his time in Dacca was one of the most prominent and successful of his Zemindar contemporaries. It was to Michael Sarkies that other migrating Julfan Armenians turned to when they wished to settle in Dacca.

His uncle, Martyroos Ter Stephanoos, known as Khojah Martyroos came from Persia his native country to Dacca and was supported liberally by Michael Sarkies. Family ties were naturally strong, and Sarkies ensured his uncle was comfortable in his new life.

Khoja Michael Sarkies died in 1790 without leaving a will.  As a successful businessman and having accumulated his wealth, he didn’t think to write his last will and testament, perhaps believing ‘his word was his bond.’ His valuable estate, which contained Zemindaree lands at Dukhun, Shahbazpore and several houses and other property in Dacca became fiercely fought over by relatives.  It was claimed by Susan the daughter of his paternal uncle Kerakoos Ter Stephanoos, that he (Khoja Michael) had no legitimate issue, and she was, according to the Armenian law, entitled to one share of his estate. Martyroos Ter Stephanoos another paternal uncle was entitled to the remaining share.[11] This claim was contested by Khoja Michael’s natural, but illegitimate son Arratoon. Illegitimate he may have been, but Khoja Michael made it perfectly clear that Arratoon was his heir apparent. Khoja Michael swore a public declaration in front of a local Dacca Judge to this effect, and it took another one of those prolific Armenian court cases to make it stick. The case against this public declaration of heir apparent was brought by Khoja Avietick Ter Stephanuse (Susan’s granddaughter Hannaye’s second husband) against Khoja Michael’s son, Khoja Michael Arratoon. It was ultimately dismissed on the 24th July 1818,  with Khoja Michael Arratoon[12] being recognised as the legitimate heir, but he had to flight tooth and nail to prove himself against the baying family circling the late Khoja Michael’s wealth.
Khoja Michael Sarkies's family tree chart showing descendants and extended family
Turning to Avietick Ter Stephanus, who it must be said, did not conduct his personal life as conventionally as we perhaps do today. His first wife Hannaye, having died, he then had a relationship with his Muslim slave girl with whom he had an illegitimate son Gabriel. The slave girl eventually converted and became a Christian and Avietick Ter Stephanus named his son as his natural and legitimate heir. Double standards from Avietick because it wasn’t that long ago that he did not want to accept Khoja Michael’s own illegitimate son as a recognised legitimate heir, yet Avietick was doing exactly what Khoja Michael did for his own son.  There is a branch of the Stephanus/Harney stem from Dacca that is descended from Avietick Ter Stephanus and the young slave girl. Today there are living descendants from this union all around the world.

Family tree chart showing Avietick Ter Stephanus's descendants
One wonders if Avietick brought the case because of his own financial difficulty and needed to bail himself out of trouble using his late wife’s grandmother’s inheritance. This rare document containing details of his property for sale in Dacca survives today in Liz Chater’s private archive.

Sheriff’s Sale
Calcutta 13th July 1815
Notice is hereby given, that on Thursday the twentieth day of July instant, precisely at noon, the Sheriff of Calcutta will put up to Public Sale at the lower verandah of the Court House opposite the entrance into the sheriff’s office by virtue of a writ of Fieri Facias* in his hands against Avietick Ter Stephenuse.
The right title and interest of the said Avietick Ter Stephanuse of in and to a large upperroomed messuage with the ground and appurtenances thereto belonging situate at Dall Bazar in the city or town of Dacca standing on about five Biggahs of ground more or less, lately in the occupation of Richard Walpole Esquire Collector or Dacca.
The condition of sale may be known by applying at the Sheriff’s office.
* A writ of execution authorizing a sheriff to lay a claim to and seize the goods and chattels of a debtor to fulfil a judgment against the debtor.
Thursday 13th July 1815
Advertisement for sale on the 20th July instant the property of Avietick Ter Stephanuse.
(No. 89)
Entered.

Administration of the estate of Michael Sarkies was granted to his son Arratoon Michael and Martirus Padre Stephen less than 3 weeks after he died
 The background to Khoja Avietick Ter Stepanuse’s claim was that in the year 1803 Susan, daughter of Kerakoos Ter Stephanoos, made a will in which she bequeathed her entire property to Michael Arratoon, the illegitimate son of Khoja Michael Sarkies by his Dacca native concubine.  In 1807 Susan revoked the will, and made another in favour of her grand-daughter Hannaye Avietick Ter Stephanoos. Michael Arratoon, who on hearing of the first will of Susan being revoked in favour of the second will, brought an action in the Supreme Court against Avietick Ter Stephannos and his wife Hannay Avietick Ter Stephannos.  Michael Arratoon wanted to establish the validity of the first will and attempted to have the second will set aside.  The Courts decided that the second will was quite valid and should be upheld.  However, as the property was not subject to the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court, Michael Arratoon was nonsuited and directed to bring his action in that jurisdiction where the lands might be situated. 

Hannaye Avietick Ter Stephannos was a cousin to the late Khoja Michael Sarkies. She died in 1814 and her husband Avietick being her sole heir was entitled to all the property that she possessed at the time of her death.  Michael Arratoon stated in court that his father (Khoja Michael Sarkies) “….had no ancestral property,  he came from Persia to Bengal and settled in Dacca, where by merchandize he contrived to accumulate considerable property, both real and personal……..”.

The Court statement went on to say: “….that Galoos [aka Kaloos], the husband of Susan [daughter of Kerakoos Ter Stephanoos,and the grandmother of Hannaye] also came to Dacca, and they being in extreme distress in the famine which occurred in Bengal in Bengali Calendar 1194 [1787], Khoja Michael Arratoon’s father (Khoja Sarkies) gave them shelter at their house. Khoja Marytroos also came from Persia his native country to Dacca and was supported liberally by Michael Sarkies.  They all lived in harmony together without coming to any kind of division.  As we have already seen, feeling the approaches of old age, Michael Sarkies took his son to Mr. Douglas the Judge of the city of Dacca, and in his presence publically acknowledge Michael Arratoon as his sole heir, representative and successor. On his [Michael Sarkies’s] death in 1790 he was recognised as such by the public authorities.  Michael Arratoon had been in possession of the whole property ever since that period.  Michael Arratoon and his uncle Martyrose Ter Stephannos took out letters of administration (see image) to recover outstanding debts due to the estate of Michael Sarkies. Michael Arratoon gave Susan as the surety of his due discharge of the trust placed in him, which she never would have undertaken had she possessed any right of inheritance.  The claim of Avietick Ter Stephannos through his wife was wholly unfounded, as he could have no right of inheritance while the uncle [Martyroos] survived”.  On 24th July 1818 the claim of Avietick Ter Stephannos was dismissed by the fourth Judge of the Dacca Court of appeal on the grounds that Susan had no right of succession that the claim of Avietick Ter Stephannos through her was groundless.


Avietick was so enraged at the prospect of Arratoon Michael potentially selling off property and land, he placed a warning notice in the local papers advising potential purchases to refrain from such acquisitions.

Meanwhile, Arratoon must have been finding the whole process rather trying, and made a point of notifying the public that he was “going up river” for a change of air.

In 1797 Marytrose Stephanno made a will to the following effect:

“I Martroose Stefanoos, not being indebted to any one, nor having any demands upon any one, do make this my last will and testament.  My brother’s son Michael Sarkies died in Dacca in the year 1790, without having executed a will, leaving a son named Arratoon by a concubine.  As the deceased in his lifetime acknowledge the said Arratoon to be his son, I do by these presents constitute him my executor.  At the present time there are only surviving, besides the said Arratoon, of the relations of the deceased, I Matroose his uncle, Susan married to Galoos, daughter of another paternal uncle, and Kamsuna the widow of my paternal uncle.  On the death of Michael Sarkies, I Martroose, and his son Arratoon, took out letters of administration from the Supreme Court, and have been in joint possession in ever since, the management of the property being confined to the said Arratoon.  I am entitled to a share of the estate by inheritance, and with respect to that share, whatever it may be proved to be in a Court of Justice, a will may be taken after my death to the grandson of my brother (the said Arratoon), whom I acknowledge to be my successor and lawful heir, in the same manner as my brother’s son, Michael Sarkies acknowledged him to be his son and heir.”


Probate of the esetate of Martyruse Ter Stephanuse
Probate of this will was duly obtained and filed in Court.  This document establishes two points: first, that Matroose, Arratoon and Susan the wife of Galoos, were heirs to the deceased Michael Sarkies, and were in joint possession of his landed and other property from the time of his death in 1790, to the time of the execution of Martroos’s will in 1797, and secondly, that Arratoon proved the will in the Supreme Court and there admitted that Matroose was entitled to one third of the property in right of inheritance and that he [Arratoon] was legatee of Matroose.  Legal debate continued for some time, but it should be noted that Susan died in 1808,[13]  but not before she was appointed Administratrix of the estate of her son-in-law Aviet Gregory who had died in the early part of 1797 in Dacca.

The Administration notice of Aviet Gregor's estate was granted to his mother-in-law Susan
 Meanwhile the estate of Khojah Sarkies continued to be subject to very bitter challenges through the Courts.  It is no wonder that it was not fully settled for many years.

The estate accounts make interesting reading and often give a unique insight into the life of the deceased that would not normally be available. In this instance, it can be seen that prior to his death, Khojah Michael Sarkies had taken steps for the Armenian Church in Dacca to have bells.

Cash paid Aga Abraham the balance of the price of a pair of large bells
31 March 1792: From this extract it can be seen that a cash sum was paid to Aga Abraham which was the balance of the price of a pair of large bells for the present day Armenian Church, Dhaka. Those same bells remained on the ground until at least 1835 when the unlikely bell-raiser, or at least someone who thought it should be done, wrote in his Will of his last wish and intention. Avietick Ter Stephanuse, the husband of Hannaye aka Anna Avietick gave bold and decisive instructions in his Will. Hannaye was a 1st cousin twice removed to the late Michael Sarkies. As we have already seen, her husband Avietick had clashed in Court with Arratoon Michael the natural, albeit illegitimate son of Khoja Michael Sarkies regarding the intestate estate.  Avietick appears to have suffered mixed fortunes financially, he nevertheless had a desire to see Khojah Sarkies’s name attached to the church. Avietick wrote:

“I direct my executor first to discharge my debt to every one individually then to collect my outstanding demands either with or without taking legal measures and afterwards to build a steeple in a conspicuous place in our Saint Arrathoon’s Church at Dacca and to suspend the pain of large bells that are in the aforesaid church and to write on the one side of the steeple in Armenian and English character to the memory of myself and of my wife the late Mrs. Hannay (sic) and of my parents and also on the other side to be written to the memory of the late Aga Michael Sarkies and his family and the cost for this whatever it may be my executor is bound to pay.”

Clearly devoted to the Armenian Church in Dacca, this bequest was one to ensure the remembrance of those he considered to be important, and perhaps it was also meant as a sideways swipe at Arratoon Michael. Certainly he aimed to make sure future generations knew of these early steps in the history of the church, and he attempted to be recognised, literally, with the writing on the wall. However, things do not appear to have gone to plan. According to Mesrovb Seth[14], we find that in fact Johannes Carapiet Sarkies was the contributor who funded the steeple in 1837. Could this be a case of J.C. Sarkies usurping Avietick’s last wish and stealing the glory of who built the church tower?  It was not Avietick’s name on the memorial tablet, but Johannes’s.

“This magnificent steeple was erected by the means and at the expense of Johanness Carapiet Sarkies Esq., son of the late Carapiet Sarkies Esq., to the honour and glory of our Saviour Jesus Christ and in remembrance of all his ancestors of happy and blessed memory, in the month of July 1837, in
the ancient capital of Dacca."

The church bells were eventually raised into position, whether under the instruction of Avietick Ter Stephanuse or Johannes Carapiet Sarkies is unknown. The bells remained insitu until the 1980s. In correspondence dated 1985 it was reported that a rather audacious theft by unknown persons had occurred: “….in recent months, one of the big bells out of a set of 5 from the Church bell-tower was brought down and put on some push-cart and sold outside to some bell-metal workers……” no double melted down for a few Taka.

To put the size of this community into perspective with the rest of Dacca, in 1840 there were approximately 40 Armenian families in the city, yet here we are nearly 180 years later talking about this incredibly small minority community and how much they achieved, although not always smoothly. Their in-fighting and quick-fire quills to start court cases has given us much to muse about in the 21st century.

We are fortunate to have incredibly gifted Armenian historians, who have studied the trading patterns and routes from Persia to India and Bangladesh during the 18th century and beyond.  For those who wish to read about this relationship between Asia and Persia, I would recommend Dr. Sebouh Aslanian’s “From the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean The Global Trade Networks of Armenian Merchants from New Julfa”.

The Dacca Armenian Church land contributor, Agha Catchick Minas and his brother Howan were from the extensive trading Minas family of New Julfa. 

Their father, Khojah Emnias Minas, had suffered a most horrendous death having been burned alive at the stake by Nadir Shah in January 1747 in Isfahan’s central square[15]. 

The brothers were both traders and landowners in Dacca. Their respective first wives, Catchick’s Sophie[16] and Howan’s Khathaie[17] had died within two years of each other at Dacca in 1764 and 1766 respectively. Both men went on to marry a second time.

As a wealthy landowner Agha Catchick possessed a number of villages in Dacca from which he received rental income. However, by 1791 he was part of the Armenian merchants and traders living in Saidabad where had remarried to Mariam Gregory. In May of that year, in what can only be described as the equivalent of our modern day social media, a furious Agha Catchick placed a classified ads notice in the local newspaper, describing in detail an unprecedented personal account of how he had been humiliated and cuckolded by Mariam. One can only imagine the kind of sensation this outburst caused amongst the readers in Bengal. Clearly, he felt strongly enough about the situation that he thought himself impervious to those quietly gossiping about him. His tone and style was strong and resolute and he sought to be as disparaging of her as he could.
I CATCHIK EMNIAZ, an Armenian, now an inhabitant of Saydabad, but late of Dacca in the Province of Bengal , a Merchant: and sorry to be obliged to give the following notice to the Public, but my own security demands it: Whereas MARRIAM CANOOM my present wife, who was the Daughter of GREGORY of the family of AGAS AVETICK, did on the 23d day of December 1787, elope from me her Husband, without any cause or pro-vocation whatever, under a presence that the was going to take a walk to Berhampore, taking with her Jewells and other things belonging to my Estate to a very considerable amount, and in her way to Berhampore she exchanged her Bearers to prevent discovery, for Ticka Bearers, and at Calcapore she took up and cohabited with the Dutch Company's Doctor called Doctor VERNAM, and went to Patna , of which I was quite ignorant of, and for some time concealed herself in the house of a native shroff there, until they could obtain protection at the Danish Factory there under the Danish Flag, which in a few days they accomplished, and here it is, I must say some thing of her general behaviour to me and in my house after our marriage, which behaviour was so undutiful and untoward, that I cannot pass over it in silence.

She kept company with people of bad character expressly against my repeated order to the contrary; admitted them to my house, bribed my servants to form excuses whenever she went out By which I found myself ridiculed and laughed at daily, yet I never used her ill for all this, but often talked and conversed with her on the impropriety of it, which she regarded not, but continued her bad behaviour with great untowardness by giving away and wasting my property, Monies, Jewells, and other articles the made away with, without my knowledge. I should not have said so much on the subject of her behaviour, was it not for what follows: that since her first cohabitation with Doctor VERNAM, this Doctor happened to die at Patna , and she not finding it easily to dupe every man, was rendered incapable of getting any assistance from any body in the scheme she having went away, she therefore after eight or nine months came under the protection of the  Danish Colour to Serampore, and from thence to Calcutta; from whence she wrote me a Letter of penitence desiring my pardon, and wishing to be reinstated in my house again, to which I have not complied, and I have written in answer to it that I would not admit a woman of that character,  and an enemy to my life and property into my family. This therefore is to give notice to all to whom it may concern, that I will not be responsible for any act whatever  of her the said MARRIAM CANOOM, nor will I pay any Debt or Debts which she may contract either in my name or any name whatsoever, on any pretence, the 18 May, 1791.

Agha Catchik’s brother and business partner Howan Emnias also owned property in Dacca. A third business partner was Astwasatoor Papook of Calcutta[18]. Astwasatoor died in 1787 and following his death the partnership between them was wound up with Both Catchik and Howan as executors. However, Catchik passed away in 1798 leaving Howan to wind up both estates. When Howan passed away in 1804 the outstanding estates of his partners was far from finalised and his son Muckertich was left with the unenviable task of unravelling a very complicated set of inter-connected accounts, claims and counter-claims.

Properties belonging to Howan Emnias at Sydabad were advertised for sale in 1805
26 December 1805 Calcutta Gazette

and in 1807 his property in Dacca was also put up for sale. This advertisement contains important location information, and offers insight into how close the community were located in relation to the Armenian Church in Dacca. “One lower and three upper roomed houses situated behind the Armenian Church in Dacca, built of the best pucka materials with a well laid out garden the whole standing on five Biggahs of ground.” The importance of this incredible statement tells us that the area around the church was not heavily built upon but in fact contained large open spaces; something that won’t be recognisable in today’s Dhaka.

9th April 1807 Calcutta Gazette
As part of the Dhaka Armenian Heritage Project, we were fortunate to be given access to this photograph. It is of some of the Armenian community gathering at Mr. Michael’s home around the 1930s/40s and, with an extraordinary piece of luck, shows the Armenian Church located in the background.  This is excellent corroborative evidence of how the community continued to live close to the church 130 years after Howan Emnias with open green spaces and single storey residential properties surrounding it.

Mr Michael's lunch party pictured in the grounds of his house. In the background can be seen the top of the Armenian Church, Dhaka this shows how close the community lived to the Church and how spacious and open the area was.
Our early Armenian pioneer settlers literally built the foundations on which today stands the beautiful Armenian Church. Those early pioneer settlers also unwittingly left a legacy and insight into their lives by the very disputes they chose to argue about in the public forum of the local judicial Courts.  Today there are scores of descendants around the world whose ancestor was Khoja Michael Sarkies, many of them are unaware of their turbulent ancestors’ past and the wonderful Armenian heritage they are part of.


[1] Bengal Past and Present Vol 10 January-June 1915. P.233
[2] By today’s standard of living that is a value equivalent to in excess of £600,000
[3] Reports from Committees of the House of Commons, Vol VI East Indies 1783
[4] The District of Bakarganj, It’s History and Statistics, 1876.
[5] Bengal Revenue Consultations of 28th April 1775.
[7] The Will of Joseph Shahriman states he had an outstanding balanced owing to Coja Michael of Dacca.
[8] Will Administration. British Library L/AG/34/29/1/58 1790.
[9] Will Accounts. British Library L/AG/34/27/22/164
[10] Estate accounts BL: L/AG/34/27/18/83
[11] Report of Cases Determined in the Court of the Sudder Dawanny Adawlut, Calcutta, by W.H. McNaughten, Registrar of that Court, 1820.
[12] Confusingly, Arratoon Michael was often referred to as Michael Arratoon. It was a common practice for Armenian families to use the patronymic naming style, i.e. the son would use the father’s Christian name as a surname.
[13] Avietick Ter Stefanoos, Appellant v Khaja Michael Aratoon, Respondent , 8 February 1820, Dacca Supreme Court.
[14] Armenians in India, P. 573
[15] From the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean. The Global Trade Networks of Armenian Merchants from New Julfa.  P.95. Professor Sebouh Aslanian
[16] Inscriptions on Tombs or Monuments Bengal, P.207
[17] Inscriptions on Tombs or Monuments Bengal, P.208
[18] Estate accounts: BL L/AG/34/27/34/23

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