Photo by Nancy Gandhi.
On reading the coverage in The New Indian Express dated March 3, 2007 about the visit of His Holiness Karekin II Nersissian, 132nd Catholicos of All Armenians, to Chennai (Madras), mfifty years, to the days I was undergoing management training in Mumbai (Bombay). Those days Mumbai had a number of restaurants owned by Armenians, which served good food at reasonable prices. An Armenian lady owned the guesthouse on Woodhouse Road where I was staying. They were all nice people.
The report also prompted me to look up the details of the relationship between Armenia and India. Well, it is pretty old – could be even more than two millennia! The Armenians were great traders. Emperors and kings welcomed them. Quite a number of them settled down at different places in India. Several were merchant princes. Some held important positions during the Mughal period and the British Raj.
Coming down to local details as stated in The New Indian Express, the throne of the Catholicos at The Holy Etchmiadzia, the headquarters of the Armenian Orthodox Church, and some of the curtains there, were made in Chennai. An Armenian, Kojah Petrus Woskan, built the famous Saidapet Bridge. The Technical Director of the present Tamil Nadu Rugby Team is an Armenian named Emil Vartazarian. Some students from that country are studying in the city’s educational institutions.
But, the last of the descendants of Chennai’s Armenian settlers died in September 2006. In fact, the population of the Armenian community in India has dwindled down to 275!
His Holiness Karekin II, visited the Armenian Church at Parry’s Corner, Chennai. This church is in disrepair. Talks are on with Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) for restoration work with the support of the Armenian Church in Calcutta.
In the cemetery of Calcutta’s Armenian Church is a beautiful monument in memory of the one million Armenians who perished in the First World War. His Holiness is also visiting Calcutta and Mumbai during his present unofficial tour of India.