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08 September 2014

Armenians in Rangoon

Elizabeth Carapiet Jacob’s legacy for a new Armenian Church in Rangoon.

Records of how the Armenian Church in Rangoon was funded and built after the disastrous fire of 1850 are all but lost. The original church was a wooden structure and was consumed by the unforgiving flames of that calamitous incident.

My chance finding of this Will and its contents give a unique and precious insight into how one individual of the Armenian community in Rangoon was desperately hopeful that her legacy could help to rebuild a new and better church for the local Armenians to worship at.

Source: British Library L/AG/34/29/86/87
In the name of the Lord God Amen. I Elizabeth Carapiet Jacob who was born in Rangoon and who am a resident thereof and an Armenian by nation and a Christian by faith being in a tranquil and perfect state of mind, make this my last will that the same may continue from after my deceased. I hereby direct that my respectable executors shall cause my body to be interred after my decease in the Armenian Burial Ground in this city [Rangoon] at a moderate expense and then call in and collect my entire estate and receive my dues and pay my debts and give and pay the residue to my heirs and successors in manner following, that is to say.

I give and bequeath the sum of one thousand and five hundred Companys Rupees to the Holy Deiparous Church of Rangoon to this end that they shall purchase a house in Calcutta with the said one thousand and five hundred Rupees and accumulate the net amount of the rents after payment of charges until the same shall have risen to five hundred Rupees when they shall lay out the amount at interest and on the said Holy Deiparious Church of Rangoon being about to be re-erected they shall give the said five hundred Rupees and the interest thereof whatever the same may amount to, to the managers of the Holy Deiparous Church of Rangoon in order that that sum being added to the amount of the national contributions the said church may be re-erected at Rangoon to the pride of my nation and the Glory of God and then afterwards they shall transmit the net produce of the rents minus charges from time to time to the managers of the Holy Deiparous Church of Rangoon for the purpose of supplying the necessaries and expenses of the said church.

Elizabeth made this bequest in her Will because in December 1850 the original Armenian Church was razed to the ground by a catastrophic fire that swept across the whole of the city.

Reports of the fire were carried in Indian newspapers as well as others around the world
Elizabeth's Will was written in the Armenian language by a local community member.
It was then read back to her in the Burmese language before she signed it.
The Will was translated into English in Calcutta by the Court appointed
interpreter George Aviet.

Later on in the Will Elizabeth goes on to say:

If the English Government restore or procure the restoration of our lost properties then I direct that my executors shall obtain my share and portion which will be more than fifty thousand Rupees and invest the same in the purchase of a few houses in Rangoon if that city remain under the Sovereign authority of the English but if it should not then they shall buy houses at Calcutta and with the net produce thereof minus charges establish a school at Rangoon for the purpose of educating the children of indigent Armenians gratuitously and the well regulated management thereof shall be assigned to patriotic and well disposed men to be elected and approved of by the nation.

And after making payments and distributions in this manner should the residue of my estate amount to more than one thousand Companys Rupees then I direct that my executors shall with that amount purchase one or two houses under the Flag of the English Government either at this place or at Calcutta and transmit the net produce minus charges thereof to my the officiating Priests of the Holy Deiparous Church in Rangoon but if it should not be more than one thousand Rupees then I give and bequeath the same subject to the pleasure of my respectable executors to be disposed of as they may think best.

In confirmation I affix my seal and signature to this my will in the presence of three witnesses this day the twenty seventh day of the month of July in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and fifty two. Elizabeth [her x mark] Carapiet Jacob

We the undersigned bear testimony that she in our presence sealed and signed this will and acknowledged it to be her last will and testament at Rangoon 27th July 1852. C.P. Catchick J.S. Jordan Carrapiet Zecharia.

A true translation of the annexed Armenian will 8th September 1852. Geo. Aviet.
Elizabeth’s husband, Carapiet Jacob who had been born in Julfa, died in Rangoon in August 1850 leaving his entire estate, valued at around fifty thousand Rupees to Elizabeth. She appointed her nephew Stephen Gabriel Eleazar as power-of-attorney to enable her to obtain probate in the Courts of Calcutta for her husband’s estate. Stephen’s English and native languages (he lived in Calcutta rather than Rangoon) were likely to be more proficient than the two languages she knew which were Armenian and Burmese. It would seem that Carapiet and Elizabeth did not have children as besides the bequests by Elizabeth to the Holy Deiparious Church of Rangoon (the Armenian Church of Rangoon), she left legacies for various nephews; children of her sister Margaret.

Sharman Minus, whose family were very much part of the Armenian community in Rangoon has a very interesting blog that recalls history and a number of personal memoires of this almost forgotten Church, it can be found here Chasing Chinthes.

It is also quite a timely find because there will be an Armenian Pontifical visit to the Far East at the end of September. His Holiness, Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians will be in Asia from September 28th to October 5th.

As announced on the respective Facebook pages of the Armenian communities in Hong Kong and Singapore - see links below.

Armenians in Singapore - South East Asia

The following press release by the Henri Arslanian, Chairman of the Armenian Community in China says:

Dear friends,

We are pleased to announce that His Holiness Karekin II, Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians will be in Asia from September 28th to October 5th.

You will see below the details of 2 important events that will take place in Singapore and Myanmar to celebrate the visit of His Holiness. As the dates coincide with the National Day Golden Week in China, I am sure that many of you will be interested in attending these events.

SINGAPORE - Sunday 28th September 2014 - time tbc - Holy Mass will be celebrated in the Armenian Church of Singapore. His Holiness will also bless two Khachkars recently installed in the Church gardens. Lunch will be served following the Holy Mass. Please rsvp with the community in Singapore if you will be able to attend:

MYANMAR - Saturday 4th October 2014 - time tbc - Holy Mass will be celebrated in the Armenian Church in Yangon. More details will be announced soon.

I know that many of you will be very interested in attending these events due to their historical importance. I will of course attend both the Singapore and Myanmar events to represent the Armenian Community of China.

Look forward to seeing you all soon.

Henri Arslanian
President, Armenian Community of China

It is a very exciting time to have a current Catholicos scheduled to visit the Armenian Church in Myanmar. It has been a back-water for a number of years and has just a handful of Armenians who have chosen to stay in Yangon. It will be a wonderfully historic occasion. I cannot find a reference to a previous Armenian Patriarch visiting the Armenian Church in Rangoon. However, in 1876 there was a visiting Armenian Prelate to Hong Kong, who had already seen the communities in Penang and Singapore. It is likely that he also went on to visit the community in India perhaps he also made the journey to Rangoon.

Extract from the North China Herald and the S.C.&C. Gazette December 1, 1876

Report from Hong Kong

Among the passengers who have arrived and departed by the ‘Arratoon Apcar’, is the name of the Armenian Prelate, Archbishop Gregoris. The Right Reverend gentleman has come on to Hongkong as a traveller, to know and see something more of the Chinese and Chinese cities than he has done in Penang and Singapore. The few Armenian residents at Hongkong possessing no special place of worship, the Prelate was unable to hold any service, but he read prayers (of course, in the Armenian language), over the grave of S.A. Seth at the Protestant Cemetery, as the tombstone was being put up. The Right Reverend Father, in his full robe, and with a hat of a peak shape, presented a sight never before seen in this part of the world. Though an Archbishop, under whose See are the Armenian churches in India and Persia, he is only 42 years old, and has made a favourable impression on his few resident countrymen, to whom he made a pleasant address on Sunday last at the residence [Caine Road] of Mr. C.P. Chater. 

The grave of Seth Aviet Seth in Hong Kong over whose tomb the Archbishop said prayers.

The inscription says:

“Sacred to the memory of Seth Aviet Seth who was one of the earliest merchants of Singapore. He came to China in 1845. Born in Madras and died at Hong Kong on 11th February 1875 aged 65 years. Be ye also ready: for in such as hour as ye think not the son of man cometh. St. Matthew XXIV. 44.” 

For those interested in their Armenian family history roots in Burma, the LDS film number 1356948 [Item 2] contains the records of St. John the Baptist Armenian Apostolic Church in Rangoon. It will have a comprehensive list of the only recorded Armenian births, marriages and deaths in Burma that are still available. The LDS film has more entries than those held at the British Library.