Saturday January 5, 2013
Of Kim Kardashian and Armenian Street

WHAT has celebrity Kim Kardashian got to do with Armenian Street?
Well, for a start, she's surely the most famous Armenian and the only
one that young people can identify with although she lives in the
United States.

She is a fourth generation Armenian and while her mother is English,
she speaks strongly of her ethnic origins although she was born and
raised in Los Angeles. Kardashian is a massive reality TV show star
and more recently made global news for being pregnant with rapper
Kanye West's child.

Armenia is a landlocked country surrounded by Turkey, Azerbaijan,
Iran, Georgia, but the Armenian diaspora are now spread all over
Europe, Australia and the US.

During the early days of Penang, there was a significant number of
Armenian businessmen and traders who made Penang their home.

Most of these Armenians were brought in from India and many settled in
Penang, Malacca, Yangon, Singapore and Batavia, the old Jakarta.

But more importantly, they helped to make Penang grand. High on the
list has to be the Sarkies Brothers - Martin, Togram and Arshak - who
set up the E & O Hotel and the Raffles in Singapore. Certainly, these
hotels remain among the grandest in the region.

The brothers also ran the Sea View Hotel in Tanjung Bungah and for a
while the Crag Hotel in Penang Hill, according to reports.

The other famous Armenian included trader and planter Arathoon Anthony
- in which Aratoon Road, off Burmah Road, is named after. He later
founded the stock broking firm of A.A. Anthony and Co.

The Anthonys, according to reports, were among the Armenian diaspora
that settled in Shiraz in Persia, now modern Iran, and then in Mumbai
and in Kolkata before coming to Penang.

The well-known George Town Dispensary, opposite Komtar in Penang Road,
was set up by Dr Thaddeus Avetoom, who is said to have set up practice
in Beach Street.

Those keen to find out more about these respected Armenians can read
the work by Nadia Wright who has researched the communities in
Malaysia and Singapore.

Ilsa Sharp wrote: `The Sarkies of the E & O shared with their fellow
Armenians a cultural trait: the sort of flamboyance and open
extravagant often associated with Russians, or even Italians. The
Armenians love entertaining, good company, song and dance, the arts,
food and wine - even in hostile climes, they always try to plant their
beloved grapevines, as they also did in Penang, at the church

The local Hokkiens calls Armenian Street pun thau kong hang as there
was a Tua Peh Kong kongsi-house in the street and is said to be also
known as the Kian Tek Tong secret society where they kept their
gods. Some older Penangites call the street phah tang keh or striking
copper street as there was once Malay braziers' shops there.

In fact, Armenian Street was once known as Malay Lane because it was
an early Malay settlement.

According to Khoo Salma, there were powerful Malay chiefs at Armenian
Street such as Syed Mohamed Alatas and Che Long - who forged an
alliance with the Red Flag secret society.

Khoo Tian Poh, the Red Flag head, even gave his daughter to Syed
Mohamed to be his second wife. Today, Armenian Street has regained
its shine - thanks to the work of Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic
with his beautiful murals there and in Muntri Street, Weld Quay,
Penang Road, Ah Quee Street and Cannon Street.

Armenian Street is part of the heritage trail and has now become a
must-stop for visitors, who want to catch a glimpse of the state's
history and the wall paintings.