Armenians in Western Europe

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The Armenian communities of Western Europe had also declined by the end of the nineteenth century. The arrival of refugees from Russia and the Ottoman Empire expanded some established centers and created new ones as well. Of all the Italian cities which had Armenian communities, Venice has remained the only one with a significant Armenian presence, due to the Mekhitarians of San Lazzaro and their Murad-Raphaelian school on the main island. The Armenian communities of Belgium and Holland experienced Europe’s world wars firsthand. During the First World War, many Armenians, who were still Turkish citizens, left Belgium for Holland to escape the German onslaught and from fear of being sent back to Turkey to be drafted. Most returned after the war and a chair in Armenian studies was established in the University of Brussels in 1931, with the famed professor Nicholas Adontz as its first chair holder. The community in Holland had all but disappeared, when it got a minor influx from the Armenians who had left Dutch Indonesia in the 1950s after the nationalist government took over there. More Armenians came to Holland from Iran, Turkey and Lebanon in the 1980s and eventually managed to repurchase the Armenian church in Amsterdam, which had been closed in the 1850s. Although barely 10,000 strong, the Armenian communities of Belgium and Holland are culturally active.

France is the only Western European nation to have received a major influx of the survivors of the massacres and genocide, as well as refugees from the political upheavals in the Middle East. Members of the Armenian middle class of Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, and European Turkey who had been educated in France or in local French schools, and who spoke French as a second language, settled in France during the 1930s. In the Second World War, Armenians served in the French army and in the Resistance. Following the war, many Armenians, who escaped the political and military revolutions in the Arab world emigrated to France. The French community not only has grown to some 250,000, but has become the most active Armenian community in Europe. Some thirty-five Armenian churches, twenty of them Apostolic, serve the Armenians who are concentrated in Paris, Marseilles, Lyon, and Nice. Armenian newspapers, organizations, schools, and institutions of higher learning thrive as well, including the Mekhitarian school in Kvres.

The French-Armenian community has produced artists such as Aznavour, Carzou, and Jansem and scholars such as Sirarpie Der Nersessian. The widely-respected scholarly journal Revue Des Etudes Armeniennes is published in Paris.

A number of post-World War II communities have appeared in Western Europe as a result of political upheavals in the Middle East and are growing steadily due to recent Armenian emigration from the former Soviet Union. The most active of these are in Austria, England, Germany, Scandinavia, and Switzerland. There had been a few Armenians in Austria as early as the seventeenth century and the first coffee-house in Vienna was reportedly established by an Armenian. A number of Armenians from the Polish army had settled in Vienna after they helped to repulse the Turks in 1683. The arrival of the Mekhitarians in 1811 opened the doors to a small number of students from Russia and Turkey. England received a few Armenian merchants from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries who in 1780, set up an Armenian press in London. Others arrived after the First World War. Geneva is one city in Switzerland that has a significant Armenian presence. Six churches and a number of cultural centers serve the 50,000 Armenians who live in these communities.

Related articles:

  1. Armenians in Eastern Europe
  2. Armenian Diaspora in the Last Hundred Years (1895-1994)
  3. The Cilician Kingdom of Armenia (1080-1375 A.D.)

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