The Hindu, India
Jan 1 2012

Madras miscellany

An Armenian representation

The Armenian Ambassador to India, H.E. Ara Hakobyan, was in Madras
last week to inaugurate the Consulate office of Armenia in the city.
The first Honorary Consul of Armenia in Madras is Shivkumar Eashwaran,
a businessman. The inauguration was an occasion to remember the
Armenian presence in Madras as far back as the 1660s, a fact attested
to by the finding of a tombstone with the date 1663 near Little Mount.
The name engraved on it was `Khoja David Margar'.

The Armenian presence in Madras began to increase from 1688 when the
East India Company, finding the Armenians `sober, frugal and wise',
gave them the same trading rights as English freemen. These privileges
were granted after negotiations between Coja Panous, Calendar of
Isphahan, and the Company in London. The agreement was dated June 22,
1688 and was in due course communicated to the principal Armenian
merchant in Madras, `Gregorio Paroan', and his fellows. By these
terms, they could not only trade on the same terms as the English but
also had all the rights of British subjects in Madras, including the
right to own land in Fort St. George, White Town.

It was also promised to them that as soon as there were 40 Armenian
merchants in Madras, ground would be granted to them to build a
permanent church. This was done in 1712 and for the next seven years
the church received 50 a year from the Company to maintain a priest,
under terms of the grant.

The first known house of an Armenian in Fort St. George is what is
called Admiralty House today. It was built by Coja Nazar Jacob Jan who
arrived in Madras in 1702. On his death in 1740, it passed into the
hands of Coja Sultan David to whom it had been bequeathed. On Coja
David's death the house, by then known as `The Great House on Choultry
Street', was inherited by his son, Aga Shawmier Sultan (Suthanoomian).
This house was taken over by the Company post-1757 and served in town,
as Governor's residence, Governor's entertainment space and the venue
of sessions of the Admiralty Court. Robert Clive too lived in this
building after his marriage.

Aga Nazar Jan was the first of the great Armenian merchants of Madras
and was followed by the legendary Coja Petrus Uscan - who has
warranted much space in this column in the past - Aga Shawmier Sultan,
and Aga Samuel Moorat. When Samuel Moorat died in 1816, his son Edward
Moorat ran through his huge patrimony in enjoying a life of luxury.
With his death, the Armenian presence in Madras began to fade.

One Armenian of this era who left a different kind of mark was the
Rev. Harathun Shimavonian, who started in Madras in 1794 the first
Armenian journal in the world, Azdarar, and published several Armenian
classics before he died in 1827.

Madras once had a substantial Armenian presence, but the Armenians
followed the seat of power (they had started in Agra) and were a few
thousand in number in Calcutta during the heyday of the Raj. Their
numbers warranted starting a school there and Armenian College still
exists, struggling on with an intake of orphans from Armenia. Perhaps
it's time to establish a branch of that institution in Madras. It was
a thought that struck me at the reception when I met one of the few IT
entrepreneurs in Armenia. Why doesn't he partner someone in Madras and
establish an IT training centre for young Armenians in an Armenian
College, Madras branch?

From: Baghdasarian