India and the Armenians

One could say that India has been known to the Armenians since time immemorial. This is because many of the earliest Armenian-language texts that survived after Mesrop Mashtots contain information about it.

Here is an incomplete list of authors who addressed the topic of India in their books, stored in Matenadaran: Movses Khorenatsi, 5th century; Yeghishe, 5th century; Eznik of Kolb, 5th century; Abraham of Khostovan, 6th century; David Anhaght, 6th century; Anania Shirakatsi, 7th century; Bishop Sebeos, 7th century; Movses Kaghankatvatsi, 7th century; Stepanos Asoghik, 10th-11th centuries; Thomas Artsruni, 10th century; Aristakes Lastivertsi, 11th-12th centuries; Matevos Urhayetsi, 10th-11th centuries; Vardan Areveltsi, 13th century; Stepanos Orbelian, 13th century; Fable writer Vardan Aygektsi, 12th-13th centuries; King of Cilicia Hetum, 14th century; Philosopher Grigor Daranagetsi, 16th-17th centuries, and many others, including a whole list of unknown authors.

But the list of authors who mentioned India is headed by Agathangelos, or Agafangel, who wrote in Armenian with Greek letters in the 4th century. This is how most of our friends on Facebook do it, however, using Latin or Cyrillic letters.

If we can understand Agafangel, since the nation’s archives, scriptoriums, and any written evidence were destroyed, and in the 5th century it took the approval of the then behind-the-scenes power, the decree of King Vramshapuh and Catholicos Sahak, and the genius of Mesrop Mashtots for the meticulous scientific work of restoring the alphabet, then it’s a shame for our contemporaries, between you and me.

So, India, which has been mentioned in Armenian books since the 4th century of our era, was during a period when most of the modern ethnic groups of Europe and Asia were in the process of forming and did not have their own literacy.

Meanwhile, in such a global mincing of laymen’s minds as Wikiality, you won’t find a single reference to Armenian sources, because the authors of the article would have to rewrite all the chapters about this great country and the “Greco-Persian” influence on its culture. By the way, there are no references to Greek and Persian sources either – and where would they come from, if it’s not about raids?

Armenian texts have an interesting specificity. The warmth with which Armenians speak about the peoples of India starkly contrasts with the prejudice erected by subsequent colonizers. “The Brahman people are clean and honest, they lead a simple and modest life. They never allow anything unseemly… They have no need for courts or judges, as there is no one to punish or call to order. The entire people obey the common law, against which no one goes…” ; “Indians never wear armor, do not take a sword in their hands and do not go to war; they love peaceful life.”

They never offend each other, do not fight each other, they never deceive, do not lie, there is no dishonesty in their words…” — Armenian authors report. An unknown author describes in detail the borders of India, the seas that wash its shores, the climate, fauna and flora, as well as the appearance and anthropological features of Indians.

It’s interesting that, being guests in all countries and on all continents, studying and describing nature and locals in detail, Armenians never descend to a dismissive tone, do not condemn them – even with a significant gap in cultural level or difference in beliefs and rituals.

That is, even from the presentation of impressions, it is noticeable: missionaries came, not colonizers. Enlighteners came who would make a significant contribution to the establishment of local technologies, crafts, and culture, not robbers who, in addition to taking away valuables, would also damage the reputation of an entire people to justify their own atrocities.

The same friendly connotation is present in the texts of the noble Russian wanderer of the 15th century, Afanasy Nikitin, who in vain tried to get rich in India or at least get out of debt bondage: “I met many Indians and told them about my faith, that I am not a busurmanin, but a Christian, and they did not hide from me about their food, trade, prayers, and did not hide their wives from me; I asked all about their faith, and they say: we believe in Adam, and But – this is Adam and all his kind.

In India there are 84 faiths, and all believe in But, and faith with faith does not drink, does not eat, does not marry… And there is Indian country, and all people walk naked, and the head is not covered, and the breasts are bare, and the hair is braided into one braid, and all are bloated, and children are born every year, and they have many children”. I wonder if the lost parts of Nikitin’s notebooks testified to his meetings with Armenians? Without them, he certainly wouldn’t have come to India and left. What a terrible force you are, editors and publishers!

Archive records of the period of the Great Mughals testify that, starting from the 13th century up to the final colonization by the English at sea and on land by the middle of the 18th century, the Armenian merchant class of India did not pay taxes to the treasury, as it provided the entire fullness of India’s import, supplying it with everything necessary.

In the waters of the Indian Ocean and on the navigable rivers of this subcontinent, the fleet owned by Armenians was so great that the Armenian Sea Society of India had its branches in London, Constantinople, Singapore, Harbin, and 28 other Chinese and Indian coastal cities.

It is known that in Malabar, Bengal and other coastal areas Armenians had their own, called “Armenian”, berths and warehouses. Of course, the English tried later to destroy all Armenian traces, but, for example, the berth and warehouse buildings built in the 18th century by the Calcutta Armenian Manvel Azarmalyan have survived to this day.

The great country of India was so well-known to the Armenians and studied by them that at the commercial school in New Jugha, for example, not only were Bengali, Punjabi, Marathi, and other Indian languages studied, but also its economic geography, commerce, units of measurement, and circulating currency.

Leading Indian expert Kostand Jughaetsi, who taught there in the 17th century, even wrote a textbook about the economic life of this country. It includes a list of Indian cities with large Armenian communities and active business activities: Multan, Lahore, Akbarabad (now Agra), Kashmir, Hyderabad, Shahzadapur, Daulatabad, Surat, Kochi, Sirhind, Shahjahanabad (now Delhi), Patna, Jalapur, and others.

Moreover, he detailed the prices of hundreds of goods, lists of precious stones by their weight and cost, and other useful knowledge for the upcoming merchant class. What does this information give us?

Firstly, it tells us that the Armenian merchant education system of that time provided high competence for future specialists: Bologna had already been built in the Apennines, but its harmful “process” was not yet present.

Secondly, we realize that no one had heard about inflation yet, and prices were stable. But thirdly and most importantly, this book is still kept in the Matenadaran, along with other books by Armenians about India, which was very familiar and friendly to them.

An interesting source on the history of India at the end of the 18th century is the “Biography of Hyder Ali” by Indian Armenian Akop Simonyan, who personally knew this hero. The early orphaned son of a military commander, Hyder Ali started with leading a small detachment of 5 horsemen and 50 infantrymen, but a few years later he had already 15,000 horsemen, 7,000 infantrymen, and 4 cannons at his disposal.

After some time, he leads the Mysore army, and then becomes the actual ruler of the principality under a stay-at-home Raja. The organizer of the new Indian army with thousands of infantry, cavalry, a hundred guns of various calibers, Hyder annexed a dozen neighboring principalities to the possessions of Mysore, seized the outlet to the Malabar Strait, and became a serious threat to the approaching English.

Hyder won brilliant victories in many fateful battles – both in direct clashes and in guerrilla warfare, where his flying squads, attacking the enemy in the most unexpected places, inflicted numerous rapid blows on him. But the tricks of greedy colonizers are diverse: from attempts at direct intervention to inciting local opposition to rebellion and bribing fortress commandants.

Simonyan writes: “Once after deep reflections, Hyder Ali said: ‘I can destroy their resources on land, but I cannot dry up the seas, and I will be the first to tire of a war in which I can achieve nothing by military action…’ He was close to the truth, but he had no idea of the absolute treachery of his enemy: in the heat of the decisive battle, it suddenly turned out that Hyder Ali… ‘died suddenly in his palace'”.

The original of this work is lost. Fortunately, it was fully published in the Madras Armenian magazine “Azdarar” in 1794-1795.

Yes, the first Armenian magazine was indeed published in India. But not the last Armenian one in this country: it was followed by “Madras” (1793-1795); “Shtemaran”, “Calcutta” (1822-1823, 1845-1848, 1848-1852, 1949-1955, and you can admire the persistence of publishers); “Azgaser”, “Azgaser Araratyan”, “Usumnaser” (1849-1853); “Ekhbayraser” (1862- 1863); “Aga”, “Ara” (already in English for a changing readership).

Residential quarters of Armenian merchants and intellectuals in the trading port of Surat and the capital of the Great Moguls, Lahore, are confirmed by archival documents from the 16th century, Hyderabad was founded by Armenians, and this is another case when “X” or “G” instead of h at the beginning of a word once again confuses us.

And also, my dear ones, remember that Bombay, Golconda and Machilipatnam were also founded and rebuilt by Armenians as “Armenian cities”. From here Armenian manufacturers and merchants conducted large-scale and quite important for the country export to Europe, Levant, Ottoman Empire, and Mediterranean ports of Venice, Livorno, in the Arabian and Persian gulfs.

In Calcutta, a funny thing happened: through the mediation of Armenians, the English received from the Great Mogul the right to create factories in the deserted areas of Bengal and Calcutta. But when they arrived in Calcutta, they found an ancient cemetery with Armenian tombstones – this was the oldest Armenian settlement Gugul. So one can say that Armenians have been “googling” since time immemorial.

The authority of Armenian sailors was so well-known and high, that their red-yellow-red tricolor with the Lamb of God in the field, becoming a symbol of peace and honesty in deals, was the access code to most ports of the world.

Moreover, documents of the English East India Company testify that many European and Asian states or companies sailed under the Armenian flag for safe movement and free visiting of the world’s ports.

Interestingly, on land, the function of the Armenian flag was performed by the Armenian national costume, and there are many cases known when foreign merchants, going on caravan trips, dressed in Armenian clothes.

If in Arabic tales the caliph disguises himself in a merchant’s costume to travel around the country and remain unrecognized, – be sure that the Armenian national clothes, or simply taraz, are meant.

By the way, the name Taras traces its etymology precisely from him: this is how Armenians often named their newborns born in Slavic Lands with the typical features of our people.

And it has nothing to do with the name Toros, except for the Armenian origin. However, the costume as a system of remote signaling was important – very important! Holy times, when people judged by the clothes and said goodbye by the mind – in the case of Armenians, the entrance and exit were identical – lasted quite long, until the mid-19th century.

The construction of the first caravanserais for halts, and then the first comfortable hotels not only in Georgetown, Prange, Rangoon, on the island of Java, but first in most European and Asian transit points around the world, and even more so in their Constantinople, – this is the work of indefatigable Armenian logisticians.

In short, overcoming distances and natural obstacles for their implementation – bridge building, shipbuilding, management of ships and hotels – is the favorite field of activity of this people.

Moreover, their specific handwriting cannot be confused with anything else, because the curls of the horns of that very lamb, which is an homonymous pair of an Armenian as such (hai-hoi) since time immemorial, are considered something like an Armenian logo, depicted in the curls of “Ionic” columns, profiles of “Roman” arch bridges, ornaments of ancient ceramics.

And the oldest images of a lamb on the walls of caves – this is like often encountered cheeky scratches on the walls of architectural masterpieces “Petya, Petros, Peter was here” and so on. In this case, it is Hai, an Armenian.

But the main thing that distinguished Armenian commercial endeavors was the system of trade routes, which ran on land and necessarily had well-equipped halts, caravanserais.

Then they continued along rivers and seas – and travelers on the shores expected well-equipped ports.

And this Armenian business was always in the reliable hands of ambitious and disinterested, but humane and literate daredevils, who on horses and camels, galleys and boats ensured the circulation of goods necessary for humanity along all developed routes and at the same time shared knowledge and absorbed them.

Many fragments of the Great Silk Road, which venerable scientists are ready to attribute to the Persians, the Chinese, or even Matroskin the cat, still serve humanity with their original, Armenian, names.

Such is, for example, the high-mountain border pass between Pakistan and Afghanistan, named Khyber (Brought by Armenians), where a brave independent tribe lives, who are friends with the Taliban and can’t stand the CIA’s Al-Qaeda project.

When I read the often-encountered lines by historians, writers, and political experts saying “Armenia was at the crossroads of trade routes, and therefore…”, I am surprised at the authors’ superficial approach.

Indeed, with a close enough look at the Ancient world and the Middle Ages, it becomes clear that throughout their history, Armenians were not coincidentally located on, but rather built these trade routes themselves, creating them wherever necessary, and Armenia has perpetually been not an accidental intersection, but a generator of international trade.

And not only Armenia, but any Armenian settlements around the world. Thus, the khachkar (cross-stone), with its invariant images, including the ones with ends broken at a right angle, is not a random, invented, or imported object of Armenian worship, but a road map.

Yes, it’s a clearly marked route, commanding the Armenian to go North and South, West and East, to carry Love and Knowledge and share them with people. And it’s not by chance that the logo of this Divine assignment is associated by Christians with the Son of God – the one who in his lifetime corresponded with the Armenian king Abgar who accepted his faith and sent him his “acheiropoietos” (not-made-by-hand) image.

But let’s return to India and its new, and tragic, political situation. Simple Armenians were the first captains, skippers, and pilots of the English East India Company that began approaching India; they trained its crews.

They familiarized the company with the routes on their own trusting heads and initially served as the only intermediaries between the local authorities and the European colonizers.

For trade between India and Manila, the East India Company used exclusively Armenian ships. Trade with the Philippines was conducted under the flag with an “Armenian lamb”.

The agreement of joint activity from June 22, 1688, says: “Starting from the present time they [Armenian merchants] are free to move at any time for free in the direction to India and from India to other countries on any company’s ships, enjoying the same privileges that are granted to any free person”.

And by “free people”, of course, they meant the English. In the same agreement, the colonizers benevolently allowed their recent mentors:

“They may travel from any company’s station to any port or any area in India, through the Southern Seas to China and Manila on the company’s ships and conduct trade with China and Manila or any other port and location within the scope of the company’s agreements on equal terms with the English.” And thanks for that. But temporarily.

During the struggle between France and England for dominance in India, the victorious side invariably wreaked havoc specifically in the Christian Armenian quarters. In 1746, during the French capture of Madras, 33 houses were looted and destroyed belonging solely to the merchant Petros Voskanyan, a counselor to the English company, and his property was transported to Pondicherry.

Upon the promise of the French governor Dupleix to return the property if Voskanyan would switch sides, the merchant responded with a typical Armenian “I don’t need your coat”: “All the wealth I own, I have created thanks to the English and I consider myself obliged to remain loyal to them.”

At the same time, he asked that his expropriated vast riches be distributed among the Indian poor, “… because I don’t think the glorious French state needs my humble estate”. 10:0, as they say, and the ten here is the independent and noble spirit of the merchant, and zero is all his accumulated capital.

At the same time, not only French but also English frigates with relentless enthusiasm bombarded, captured, and robbed Armenian trading ships. In 1746, off the coast of Madras, English admiral Griffin quite piratically seized an Armenian trading ship with cargo worth 120,000 rupees, and the English court played into his hands, justifying that the booty was just too great!

As a result, the ship and the goods were left to the English as an Armenian souvenir, and a collection of several hundred pages of documents, compiled in Surat, Calcutta, Madras, and other centers during the period 1733-1740 and related to Armenian-Indian relations, is today stored in the British Museum. The museum’s cataloguer, Conybeare, reports that all the documents in the collection are written in Armenian and Indian languages.

Yet for some reason it is kept in the homeland of the thief. Well, okay. Why not? After all, it is not excluded that one day justice will reign on our Earth, and the British Museum will be used by the court of humanity as a gigantic evidence room of a criminal state that looted all over the world and directed part of the stolen resources to maintain the image of a cultured and decent country.

Here is a letter from the Armenian merchant Agha Ovaness Akop, sent by him on April 23, 1783, to the Archbishop of New Jugha: “Our Armenian merchants have lost more than 200,000 rupees because of a ship that sailed from China and was captured at sea by pirates.

Recently, M. attacked and robbed a ship heading from Bengal to Surat, and we lost 250,000 rupees.”

Here is a letter from February 28, 1797, written by Ovannes Seth in Surat and sent to his father in New Jugha. Not a letter, but a real Sinbad the Sailor’s adventure. “My director Agha Marut bought a ship and named it ‘Arshak.’

He loaded it with goods for export worth 150,000 rupees. He appointed [our respected brother] Mr. Seth as the supervisor of the cargo and paid him a salary of 8,000 rupees. He was also given goods worth 20,000 rupees to sell in Malacca and 15,000 rupees to sell in other ports.

Seth converted all his property into goods and loaded them onto the ship, on which he was the cargo supervisor. The ship ‘Arshak’ with all the passengers safely reached Madras and from there safely crossed to Penang.

Here part of the goods were sold, and, having made the necessary purchases, they went to Malacca. When they were still at sea, not far from Malacca, they were attacked by three French frigates, which opened fire and captured the ship. Having looted everything on the ship, the pirates landed the passengers on the shore in Penang, from where the latter, deprived of all their property, reached Surat.”

That’s where an armed Venetian Armatur was needed, not the Lamb of God! But the Armenian merchants of India chose pacifism as their weapon and got it in full. The West is the West, and, having dealt in its own way with the qualities of the lamb, the East India Company soon pushed aside Armenian shipowners.

They ousted them in a specific way: they unleashed pirates who opposed the lamb with a skull crossed with bones, which, in the usual Western manner, was named inversely, exactly the opposite, “Jolly Roger”.

You think “gangster” is about what? About that very skull, in Armenian “gang”, which was chosen by the first robbers in the service of their European states. How can we see that they were in service? Because a gang/ster is a “skull [in service] of the owner”.

Learn the Armenian language – and all the twists and turns of history will open up to you like in a developer solution, I guarantee it.

Often piracy was committed by privateers – teams of ships that aimed to hunt pirates – if you believe the special licenses issued to them by the royal courts of both countries.

This was the case with the famous privateer William Kidd, who had an English royal license to tune in the waters of French ships but looted the Armenian 400-ton ship “Quedagh Merchant” full of all sorts of goods.

Out of a crew of 90 people, only four were, presumably, planted foreigners, and it was they who treacherously switched sides to the side of the criminal in the service of the crown. After receiving news of the capture of the ship, its renaming into the romantic “Adventure Prize” and its use as a pirate ship, not only the Armenian merchants of Surat but also the Great Mogul Aurangzeb were outraged.

He was the one who ordered the closure of the English factory. The East India Company, which began to suffer losses, bombarded the English Parliament and court with complaints, as a result of which the sea robber Kidd, who appeared a year later in the Indian port, was transported to London, where he was tried and safely hanged along with two accomplices, hanging the bodies in the port as a lesson to others.

But not as a lesson to the descendants of Armenian merchants. Today in Yerevan, in one of the hypermarkets, there is a children’s attraction “Captain Kidd’s Treasures”.

So the once hanged criminal, not only is he placed in the same row with great literary heroes like Captain Grant, Captain Nemo, Captain Tatarinov, and a whole galaxy of great Armenian helmsmen, but he is also honored to be immortalized in the homeland of those he once robbed!

Overall, we’ve put up with the ignorance of our oligarchs. But not to such an extent! Maybe next is the “laughter room” with Enver and Talyat? Who will finally educate these greedy ignoramuses?

By the way, the cost of the cargo of the ship looted by Kidd was not returned to the owners. Armenians were bankrupted by any Jesuitical means: they were put in jail and held for several months without charges and interrogations, and when they were unexpectedly released, they were surprised: the business turned out to be burnt out, often literally. Less than two hundred years have passed since the beginning of cooperation with the English, as surrounded by them and their accomplices from all sides, like Baloo the bandar-log in the fight at the cold caves, Armenians simply disappear from India.

Their trail is overgrown with lianas and ferns, like the forgotten great city of the prince over twenty princes, described by the mustachioed and browed genius of English prose, a native of Bombay, Rudyard Kipling. The same Kipling who resolutely refused the title of Sir during the Anglo-Boer War and managed to refuse seven government awards from England by the end of his life, but accepted the Nobel Prize.

Stay simple, conversing with kings,
Stay honest, speaking with the crowd;
Be straight and firm with enemies and friends,
Let everyone, in their time, count with you.

He wrote that – a brilliant contemporary of the remarkable Komitas, who fell into deep depression at the same time as him in 1915 and died exactly three months after him, in January 1936. A coincidence? Well, well.

Of course, in this article I omitted a great number of Armenians who, like in Russia, settled in no less friendly India and founded the textile and arms industry, jewelry business, and even the film industry.

I didn’t write about the great Armenian women, one of whom is remembered by humanity as the reason for the construction of the Taj Mahal in her bright memory, another – the fact that her great-granddaughter became Princess Diana, who was possibly killed by the pirate license of the royal court. Another was the legendary Vivien Leigh.

There were many of them – remarkable enlighteners and entrepreneurs of their time, loyal wives and talented women. But our theme is the seas, so in the next issue, we will change the azimuth and cross to Europe.

by Lia Avetisyan

Translated by Vigen Avetisyan

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