The Forgotten Armenians of Manchester July 06, 2016 18:49 2 Comments

After weeks of anticipation, Henrikh Mkhitaryan has become the first Armenia international footballer in the English Premier League, much to the excitement of Armenian communities everywhere across the world. 

The 27-year-old Mkhitaryan, who was born in Yerevan and is Armenia’s all-time top scorer was signed by one of the world's biggest football clubs, Manchester United.

“I’m very happy that everyone can be proud of me because it’s an honor for me too, to be the first Armenian player in England,” the former Borussia Dortmund forward told Manchester United TV channel, MUTV.

Though Mkhitaryan's impending arrival in Manchester is a first for the small, landlocked country of Armenia, Armenians have been leaving their mark on the city for almost 200 years, contributing immensely to its rich multicultural history.

First settling in Manchester as silk merchants in 1835, Armenians from Constantinople and Smyrna set up dozens of textile businesses in the city, a testament to their entrepreneurial spirit. 

Inside the Manchester Central Library’s archives are the documents of one such Armenian entrepreneur, Simpad Arabian, who grew up in Constantinople as part of the wealthy Armenian merchant class, left Turkey for Egypt during the outbreak of the First World War, and sought work in America before later moving to Manchester to become a textile shipping merchant.

Certificate of identity issued to Simpad Arabian on 12. Sept, 1929 by the Home Office (Manchester Central Library Archives)

 

As their numbers grew after waves of persecution in the Ottoman Empire, first in the 1880s and then during the Armenian Genocide in 1915, they raised funds and established the Holy Trinity Armenian Apostolic Church of Manchester in 1870, the oldest Armenian church in Western Europe. The church also became a social center in addition to serving the community’s spiritual needs.

Holy Trinity Armenian Apostolic Church of Manchester, 1970

 

Rev. Haroutune Yegwartian, taken in 1896. (Manchester Central Library Archives)

 

In 1908, the Armenian Ladies Association of Manchester was established, pledging to help the social progress of Armenians in England and “help keep the inside of the church bright.”

(Armenian Ladies Association of Manchester, Manchester Central Library Archives)

 

The history of the Armenian community in Manchester is still being unearthed today.

In 2013, a volunteer at the Manchester Central Library archives began investigating the history of her home named “Massis,” later discovering its Armenian connection and the family who lived there. “Like many Armenians who moved to Manchester, Karnig Funduklian was a businessman, and the family textile/shipping business Funduklian & Sons benefited from the then booming cotton trade within the city,” she wrote.

Family group showing Mr. K. Funduklian, his wife and 3 children, cousin, and servants in c.1900 (Manchester Central Library Archives)

 

Three years prior, artist and author Neil Roland discovered how one Armenian family had lived in the house built in the final years of Queen Victoria’s reign before he bought it. The Arschavir children, Arto, Adrine and Ara were born in the house.

“Even now, 98 years after the birth of Arto and just three weeks since his death, this house is still offering up secrets and signs of their long and happy tenure here,” he wrote.

Perhaps the most well-known Armenian-Mancunian connection in recent years comes in the form of David Dickinson (born David Gulesserian), renowned antiques expert host of the British TV show, “Dickinson's Real Deal.” Dickinson, who was adopted, discovered that his biological grandfather Hrant was an Armenian silk merchant who came to Manchester from the Ottoman Empire in the early 1900s at the age of 16 to set up a thriving trading company.

David Dickinson 

 

Though the community has since dwindled, the Holy Trinity Armenian Apostolic Church of Manchester still exists as does the Armenian Taverna restaurant. Established in 1968, it serves traditional Armenian fare like Ishkan trout and the yoghurt and cucumber salad known as “Jajuk.”

Just before last year’s Armenian Genocide centennial, BBC Radio produced a five part audio series on the Armenian Diaspora in Europe - with Manchester featured in the first episode.

“Despite everything that history has thrown at this community, somehow the Armenians have managed to survive all around the world,” says writer Charles Emmerson in the program, as he shares insights from both established and new members of this forgotten community.

"In England if you say 'I'm Armenian,' people will say 'what do you mean, aluminum?'" one man says.

As Mkhitaryan gets ready to move up in the football world, his forthcoming contribution to Manchester is sure add to the city's significant Armenian history.

 

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