Have you ever wondered why one of the central streets of Chisinau got the name “Armenian”? The answer is simple and hidden right in its name. Armenians settled in Moldova in the 14th century and, according to some sources, even in the Middle Ages. They mainly migrated here from Crimea.
In 1401 an Armenian bishopric was founded in Suchava. The Armenians settled in the towns of Sorok, Bender, Chisinau, Kaushan, and later in 1792, at the site of the Armenian settlement of Chorna, they set up the city of Grigoriupolis (the city is now situated in Transdniestria), the construction project of which was approved by the Empress Catherine the 2nd. According to one of the versions, the city got its name in the honor of Grigor Lusavorich.
In 1818, when Chisinau gained city status, Angel Noure became the first mayor of the city. Due to this status, Chisinau became the center of the province of Bessarabia in the Russian Empire. However, it turned out that local Armenians made a contribution to getting Chisinau’s status as a city, making it the center of Bessarabia (later Moldova).
According to some sources, all this became possible thanks to the Armenian merchants of Bessarabia. It was them who bribed the representatives of the Russian regime, thanks to which Chisinau was granted city status. Due to the Armenian merchants, Chisinau stepped forward from Bender, becoming the center of the region.
Chisinau, the center of Bessarabia, also becomes a center for consolidating Armenians in the region. Already in 1830, the Armenian Diocese of Bessarabia and the New Nakhijevan Diocese are being set up, the center of which becomes Chisinau again. The diocese included the Don Territories, the Crimea, Malorussia and Novorussia, Moscow, and St. Petersburg.
In 1895, the diocesan center became New Nakhichevan, and as a result, the role of Chisinau and the Armenian community became relatively low. According to data from 1897, 427 followers of the Armenian Apostolic Church and 6 Armenian Catholics resided in Kishinev.
The Armenian community of Moldova enjoyed certain privileges. The representatives of the rich class had the right to hold state positions, to carry noble titles. In Moldova, Armenians mostly were engaged in trade and various crafts. In Chisinau, they were mainly cigarette fabricants. In addition, most of the city’s barbers were also Armenians.
The Armenian national liberation movement activist, then the leader of the Armenian Diocese of Bessarabia, later the Spiritual leader of All Armenians Nerses Ashtaraketsi, lived and acted in Moldova for many years. Archbishop Gabriel Ayvazyan, the brother of the celebrated painter Hovhannes Aivazovsky, also used to live in Moldova, as well as the poet Harutyun Alamdaryan and many others.
Perhaps the most prominent representative of the Armenian community in Moldova was Manouk Bey Mirzayan, a prominent merchant, landowner, diplomat who had been awarded by the Turkish authorities with the ‘’Bey’’ title, had been also awarded orders for invaluable services to the Russian Empire.
Throughout the Russian-Turkish war, Manouk Bey assumed the role of a mediator in the talks, and in 1812, The Russian-Turkish reconciliation agreement was signed in one of Bucharest’s hotels. In 1813, he moved from Bucharest to Transylvania, then to Chisinau. He founded the town of Hnchesht, where his fortress was located. Mirzayan also contributed greatly to Moldovan winemaking as a French technology investor.
Manouk Bey also visited Armenia and provided financial support to the Church of the Holy Cross in Echmiadzin, as well as in Mush, Jerusalem, and other monasteries. Near the Armenian Church of Bucharest in 1817, he founded the first Armenian school in Romania.
Armenian community today
The street named “Armenian” (Armeneasca) has been preserved in Chisinau up to now. The Armenian community has left a great cultural heritage in Moldova. The monastery of Saint Astvatsatsin (1804) the church of Resurrection of Christ (1915) is still there and serves people. Chisinau’s oldest Armenian cemetery has also been preserved.
The Armenian community has been reborn since the early 1990s. At present, there are 9-12000 Armenians living in Moldova, who actively participate in the economic and cultural life of the republic. In Chisinau, there is an Armenian Sunday School, the ‘’Ani’’ Center of Armenian Culture, which goal is to preserve Armenian traditions and Armenian architectural monuments.