The Armenian Community in Madras: Pioneers in Culture, Politics, and Trade

Tucked away in historical archives, an image dating around 1790 from the British Library in London shows representatives of the Armenian community in Madras (now Chennai), India. Behind them, one can see Madras’s St. Mariam Astvastsatsin Armenian Church and St. Gevorg’s castle, as well as merchant ships—both Armenian and British—anchored in the Bay of Bengal. This visual tapestry offers a glimpse into a community that was not just thriving but also incredibly influential.

A Land of Firsts

The Armenian community of Madras was nothing short of pioneering. It was here that Shahamir Shahamiryan founded a printing house in 1772, a significant cultural and intellectual endeavor. His printing house served as the birthplace of transformative works that had an everlasting impact on Armenian history and thought.

The Vision for a Free Armenia

One of the most pivotal publications to come out of Shahamiryan’s press was Movses Baghramyan’s book “New notebook to call Yordorak.” This book presented a plan for the liberation of Armenia, a vision that was revolutionary for its time.

The Foundations of Armenian Law and Democracy

Shahamir Shahamiryan himself made a substantial contribution to Armenian political thought with the publication of “Vrogait Parats.” This work is considered one of the cornerstones of Armenian law and presented the constitution for a Republic of Armenia governed by a democratic parliamentary system.

Media Innovations

Between 1794 and 1796, another groundbreaking milestone was achieved in Shahamiryan’s printing house. Harutyun Shmavonyan published “Azdarar,” the first Armenian press magazine. This periodical opened up new avenues for discussion and community engagement among Armenians.

Legacy and Influence

Today, the contributions of the Armenian community in Madras stand as a testament to their ingenuity, resilience, and cultural richness. From laying the groundwork for modern Armenian political thought to pioneering media, this diaspora community played a vital role in shaping not just their new homeland in India but also the future of Armenia itself.

The image of Armenian community representatives in Madras, with the Armenian Church and the Bay of Bengal in the backdrop, captures more than just a moment in time. It captures a community that was at the forefront of cultural, political, and social revolutions. As we look at the photograph today, it serves as a historical touchstone and a source of inspiration for what a small but determined community can achieve.

For anyone interested in the entwined histories of Armenia and India, a deeper look into the works and legacies of figures like Shahamir Shahamiryan and Movses Baghramyan is a must. They not only shaped the Armenian diaspora but also left an indelible imprint on Armenian history and identity.

Based on status: Gevork Nazaryan

Translation and editing Vigen Avetisyan

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