A Brief Overview Of The Armenian Community In Romania

Editor-in-chief of Ararat
The oldest evidence of Armenian presence on Romanian territory is an inscription on a tombstone dating back to 967; it was found at the White Fortress (Cetatea Alba). At around the same time, the presence of an Armenian colony in Transylvania is likewise documented. Hungarian chroniclers Simon de Kezai and Thuroszi attest the fact that during Duke Géza's and King Stephen's rule respectively (997-1038) – along with Poles, Greeks, Spaniards and others – a number of Armenians, bestowed with privileges and aristocratic titles, had been settling down in the kingdom. Armenians from Moldavia plied their trade as merchants, craftsmen: commonly well-to-do people who, as a result of their privileges, had amassed a small fortune; the trade they exerted made the Principality of Moldavia thrive. Along these lines, Nicolae Iorga observed: "The Principality of Moldavia was created by way of commerce and those who chose that path thus became co-founders of the national state, in Moldavia. Therefore, Armenians are, in a certain manner of speaking, the forefathers of Moldavia". In Wallachia, Armenians settled down at a later date, in the 14th century; mention was made thereof between the years 1400-1435 in Bucharest, Targoviste, Pitesti, Craiova, Giurgiu. After 1500, the presence of Armenians was also documented in Dobrudja. Nonetheless, the most important writ that could stand as a "birth certificate" of all Armenians on Romanian soil is a piece of writing dated the 30th of July 1401, whereby King Alexander the Good (1400-1431) approved of the investiture of an Armenian bishop in Suceava, the Moldavian city of coronation. Today, the original document can be found in the Archives of the Armenian Bishopric in Lvov. After granting them the right to have their own bishop, Alexandru the Good released a further writ on the 3rd of October 1407, wherein he summoned Armenian merchants from Poland to pay their mite to the prosperity of Moldavian cities and towns; in return, he himself vowed exemption from customs taxes or from any other current tributes. In Suceava, 700 Armenians would settle down, another 3000 – in 7 Moldavian urban locations: Jassy, Botosani, Dorohoi, Vaslui, Galatz, Hotin. During the reign of Stephen the Great (1457-1504), approximately 10,000 Armenians migrated to Moldavia; the number of Armenians totalled 20,000. "Armenian carts" leaving Moldavian cities would normally carry cattle, grain, and cheeses to Europe and the Levant, and bring back fabrics, carpets, embroideries, silk, spices, in their stead. Again, we may find a conclusion in the writings of Nicolae Iorga, who maintains: "All in all, there could not be at that time a question of a Moldavian market, ergo of trade, sans Armenians". In Transylvania, in a 1281 document of King Ladislau IV, mention is made of a "Terra Armenorum" and a "Monasterium Armenorum" which were in the possession of the Armenians. An intensely cardinal event in the life of Transylvanian Armenians was the founding, in the year of the Lord 1700, of the settlement Armenopolis, nearby the village of Gherla. Armenians had already inhabited the place since 1672 and, on the blessing of Emperor Leopold I (1657-1705), they would build the Armenian city in exchange for the sum 25,000 florins, following the permission granted by Vienna. The city of Armenopolis was built on lands bought by Armenians; the project would be carried out by the architect Alexanian. Thus, 3,000 Armenians settled down in the city, which was to become an important manufacturing centre throughout Transylvania. The second town populated by Armenians was Elisabetopolis (present-day Dumbraveni) where a colony had been founded as early as 1658. In 1799, by Imperial Fiat, the two Armenian cities were pronounced "Free Royal Cities". The Armenian inhabitants – who had embraced the Catholic faith as a result of Bishop Oxendius Varzarescu's plight – were granted privileges, as well as the permission to self-rule, the right to have their own courts of justice and their own laws. In Wallachia, Armenians settled down at a later date. By a writ released by King Mihai Racovitza dated the 15th of February 1742, Armenians in Bucharest were granted permission to erect a church in Soapmakers' Street. In 1820, King Alexander Sutzu allowed Armenians, on the grounds of a Charter of Reorganization of the Guild, to single-handedly elect four bishops, who, in their turn, then elected a head. The guardians and their leader would watch over guild discipline and dispense justice amongst the Armenians, should conflict arise. In all Romanian provinces, so-called Armenian companies, i.e. civilian regulatory bodies deciding on issues regarding Armenian tradesmen and craftsmen, as well on relations between Armenian colonists and the Romanian administration, were in place. In their important settling centres, Armenians built churches. Mention is made therein only of a handful of places of worship they have erected, still used for services today: churches Saint Mary in Botosani (1350), Saint Mary in Jassy (1395), The Holy Cross in Suceava (1521), the monasteries Zamca (1551) and Hagigadar (i.e. 'fulfillment of wishes', built in 1512). Armenian churches can also be found at Roman, Targu Ocna, Galatz, Focsani, Constantza, Pitesti. A special place is held by The Armenian Cathedral Holy Archangels Michael and Gabriel, inaugurated in 1915. In Transylvania, places of worship are of Catholic faith: at Gherla (Saint Solomon – 1724, The Holy Trinity Cathedral – 1776), at Frumoasa, Dumbraveni or Gheorgheni. After the Church, the most important element used to preserve Armenian national identity has been language. The first Armenian emigrants spoke the Armenian that constituted the point of departure for a new dialect formed in Moldavia. In its lexis, words from: Romanian, Polish and Turkish-Tatar, and – in Transylvania – Hungarian, were included. These dialects would vanish at the onset of the 20th century; the spoken language remained the vernacular of the tens of thousands of emigrants, new-comers from the Ottoman Empire after the 1915 Genocide. Regrettably, Armenian-speaking literature has not yielded sonorous names to travel beyond the community's space; nonetheless, these names are of value to the history of Armenian culture in the Diaspora. Mention will be made of Grigore Goilav, Grigore Buiucliu, Zareh Balbul, Harutiun Arslanian, or Grigor Covrighian. The Armenian written press has been highly active. Over the last 100 years, more than 30 papers and periodicals that have played an important role in the community's life have been in print. The first Armenian newspaper on Romanian-speaking territory was a weekly called "Aror" (Plugul), issued in Galati as early as 1892, which nevertheless witnessed a brief existence. The first Hungarian-speaking Armenian publication named "Armenia" was issued at Gherla between 1887-1907, under the guidance of historian Cristoff Szongott. A series of publications in Armenian and Romanian language followed thereafter, leading to present-day publications such as Ararat and Nor Ghiank owned by the Armenians' Union of Romania. ARARAT was re-issued in 1990; it picked up on the tradition of a same-named publication from the inter-war period that had been founded in 1924 by publicist Vartan Mestugean. In its turn, NOR GHIANK ('New Life') is an Armenian-speaking monthly magazine which has been in print since 1950 without any lapses. Originally a weekly, it stands out as the most long-lived publication of the Armenian Diaspora, having been issued continuously for over fifty years.Armenian high profile figures in Romania have been countless and excelled in various areas - from Moldavian Kings: Garabet Ioan Potcoava (1592), Ioan Voda the Armenian (the Terrible – 1572-1574) to Petru Vartic, counselor to Petru Raresh. Peter the Armenian worked as a diplomat in the service of Mihai Viteazul. Manuc Bei Mirzaian was Prince of Moldo-Wallachia (and a diplomat), Vasile Misir – president of the Chamber of Deputies and minister (1901-1908), Grigore Trancu-Iasi activated as an economist and minister. Then, there were general Iacob Zadig and general Mihail Cerchez. General Hovhanes Czecz acted as commander of the Transylvanian Revolutionary Army in 1849. Literary critic Garabet Ibraileanu, musicologist Emanoil Ciomac, art collector and art critic Krikor H. Zambaccian, Oriental researcher H. Dj. Siruni, Ana Aslan, PhD – member of the Romanian Academy, scholar Spiru Haret, philosopher Vasile Conta, composers Carol Mikuli, Matei Socor, and Mihail Jora; painters Simon Hollosy, Abgar Baltazar, Nutzi Acontz, Hrandt Avakian, graphic artist Cik Damadian, sculptress Ioana Kasargian, philosopher Aram Frenkian, the Acterian siblings – Jeny, Haig and Arshavir, parapsychologist Levon Mirahorian, may constitute further examples. A special place on this list is held by Romanian-born Catholicos Vasken I, Supreme Patriarch of all Armenians. The Armenians' Union of RomaniaThe Armenians' Union of Romania was founded on January 25th 1919 with a view to aiding Armenian refugees in Romania following the 1915 Genocide. The first president of the Union was Grigore Trancu-Iasi. He was followed by Armenac Manissalian, who dedicated most of his activity to the support of more than 20,000 Armenians who had requested Romanian citizenship. After 1990, the Armenian community brought the organization back to life; the concept was that of preserving the indigenous cultural and spiritual heritage of Armenians. AUR (Romanian abbreviation: UAR) is represented in Parliament and financed from the state budget. Starting in 1994, the AUR awards were instituted to be bestowed on Armenians who have made a significant contribution in various fields, thereby enhancing the community's prestige. Amongst the laureates, prestigious names can be found: the writers Arshavir Acterian and Stefan Agopian, Prof. Krikor Pambuccian PhD, baritone David Ohanesian, Prof. Berdj Ashgian PhD, poetess Anais Nersesian, physicist Maricel Agop, radio producer Paul Grigoriu, publicist Arshag Bogdan Caush, pianist Harry Tavitian, publicist Vartan Arachelian, music critic Dumitru Avakian, actor Toni Zacarian, sound engineer Anushavan Salamanian, baritone Eduard Tumageanian.

by Mihai Stepan Cazazian