The Armenians From Dhaka


The Armenians

We continue with our river cruise, circa 1880. There are many mansions
lining the waterfront. After all, if you are a big shot, this is the
place to build your house. This one, for example, was built by Manuk,
a zamindar of Armenian descent:

But what is an Armenian doing in Dhaka? Armenians, like other foreign
ethnic groups, came to the subcontinent in search of new
opportunities. The earliest Armenian grave in Dhaka that I am aware
of, is dated 1741, so it is reasonable to assume that the first
Armenians arrived some time prior to that. At that time Dhaka was
still a large and prosperous city in the post-Mughal period. Initially
these people found success as contractors in the salt trade. As Dhaka
declined in the early years of British rule, the Armenians stayed on,
now working on behalf of the East India Company. The Armenian Church,
founded in 1781, was a focal point of this community, and still today
remains perhaps the most significant of Dhaka’s historic
churches. Eventually Armenians sought opportunities in other
commodities, such as jute and leather, and were quite successful in
this regard. By 1900 there were around half a dozen families of
Armenian zamindars in Dhaka, such as that of Manuk. Over time this
community has gradually whithered away. As of a few years ago, there
was just one Armenian left in Dhaka, who used to look after the
church. I don’t know if he is still alive or not (he would be 77 this
year). The church, to the best of my knowlege, hosts
multi-denominational (as opposed to Armenian) services today.