The Armenian Community in Dhaka Gave the City a Special European Charm

The Armenian Community in Dhaka“Turkey denying its crimes seems ridiculous to me,” writes architect and architectural historian Adnan Morshed in an article published in the English Bangladeshi newspaper “The Daily Star”, “Ankara recalled its ambassador from Berlin after the resolution of the Bundestag on the Armenian Genocide. A familiar story, isn’t it?”

After all, after the execution of the war criminal and Islamist radical Motiur Rahman Nizami, Turkey also recalled its ambassador from Bangladesh.

Erdogan showed a scornful attitude towards the genocide of 1971 in Bangladesh… Dhaka has traces of the history of the Armenians. I will try to present it through the Armenian Church of the Holy Ascension on the Street of the Temples.

This church is modest, but its history represents the motley kaleidoscope of the life of Armenians who successfully manifested themselves in the spheres of commerce, education, and political activity in East Bengal. The Survival School taught Armenians persistence, entrepreneurship, and mediation.

Wherever they came to trade, unlike other Asian and European merchants, Armenians learned the local language. This helped them communicate directly with the producers of the goods.

Some historians suggest that they arrived in Bengal as early as in the beginning of the 17th century, most likely from Persia. At the time, Shah Abbas during the Persian Safavid war with the Ottomans resettled about 300 thousand Armenians from the trading city of Old Jugha to the suburb of Isfahan, which would become known as New Jugha.

The official language of the Mughal Empire’s court was Persian. Therefore, the Armenians from Persia easily adapted to the new area. Known for their skillful trade of textiles, they moved to Dhaka, one of the best textile shopping centers in the region. Here, they managed to significantly contribute to the development of the commercial life of the city.

In addition to textiles and raw silk, the Armenians engaged in the trade of Indian saltpeter (which was used as gunpowder), as well as salt and betel nut. At the beginning of the 19th century, the Armenians were among the first to trade jute. They also spread tea in Bengal.

When at the end of the 18th century the weaving business passed to the British, the Armenians began to buy local land and became rich landowners. Among them were Agha Aratun Mikael, Agha Sarkis, Nicholas Markar Poghos, and many others.

The Armenians introduced the residents of Dhaka to horse-driven wagons as well, which would become the main transport in the city until the beginning of the 20th century. In addition, they founded the first western-style department stores in the city.

The influence of the Armenians was not limited to trade in Dhaka.

In 1848, Nicholas Poghos founded the first private school in the city. This school is still considered one of the most prestigious in the Old Town. According to his recommendations, the colonial administration of Britain also organized a municipal government in the city.

The Armenian community in Dhaka was relatively small but prosperous and had a great influence on the local and regional trade. Its representatives mostly lived in Armanitola, a quarter of Old Dhaka named after the colony. Most of the wealthy Armenians of Dhaka settled in European-style mansions in the Old Town. One of the most famous houses of this type was Ruplal House (now abandoned) which was built by Armenian businessman Stephen Aratoon in 1825.

The center of the religious life of the Armenian community was the Church of Holy Resurrection built in 1781 on the ruins of a former chapel and cemetery. The land for the church was presented by a prosperous Armenian Agha Chaik Minas. His wife had died in 1764 and had been buried in the church.

The Armenian church was not impacted by the city noise and bustle. A two-story one building with a bell tower, the church stands out noticeably among the nearby high-rise apartment buildings.

To reach to the churchyard, you need to go through the entire cemetery. Reading the inscriptions on the graves, one can as if dive into the past, into a time when Armenians developed the urban life, giving it a special, European charm…

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  • Tale of Darkest Night in Bengali Genocide
    By Dr. Sylva Portoian from her poetry book “A Poetic Soul Shined of Genocides” (2008)
    available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, …

    I never knew poor Bengalis
    Had also their genocide
    Till I met a young gardener, Mubarak,
    Who spoke about all the details with a broken rank.

    Every Friday, he tended our garden
    To plant flowers, arrange the pots and remove dead leaves.
    Each time he demonstrated how Pakistanis
    Killed their villagers, even those with white beards,

    How their militants raped most of the women,
    Leaving them pregnant, humiliated, speared.
    However, they never killed pregnant women as the Ottomans did
    With Armenians—they were raped and escaped to have illegal sons.

    The gardener made me interested in their genocide.
    I read what I found till I understood the “slayers dine”!
    They started killing university scholars and their
    Students when they wanted to protect their teachers

    From military savages, scary and inhuman,
    Who wanted to vanish unarmed Bengalis,
    Impose their jungle rule on East Pakistan.
    This all was designed by the evil “Pak militants.”

    Stories of victims are many, unwritten yet. After I was
    Informed, I asked others; few knew about “slayers grade”!
    Bloodthirsty Pakistani army enjoyed and covered unpaid.
    Bengalis genocide named “deadly night”* remains in the shade.


    *Killing Bengali Intellectuals’ began at night of March 25, 1971
    in Dhaka continued till the surrender of Pak-army on December 14, 1971.
    This date is called ‘Martyred Intellectual Day’. It is estimated that
    at least one-and-half million people were killed during a nine months period.
    The genocide continued till 1975.

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