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Armenian community of Thessaloniki October 31, 2014

Posted by usbngo in Older Posts.
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The Armenian diaspora started many and many years ago. From the Antiquity Armenian people emigrated abroad but their emigration grew in size at the end of the 19th century from the Ottoman Empire and Russia Empire. Right now the Armenian population around the world is estimated around 10 million.

If we talk about Armenian community in Greece in 1890 there was a small community of Armenians in Athens and in Piraeus. They were about 150 people which turned into 600 after the incorporation of Thessaloniki and some cities of Macedonia after the Balkan Wars.

After the Hamidian massacres some Armenians escaped and they arrived at the port of Piraeus. They were more than 1,000  but, after the genocidal campaign of the Ottoman Empire against the Armenians and Greeks, Greece welcomed about 80,000 Armenians. The refugees mostly came from Cilicia, Smyrna, Ionia, Constantinople and other regions of Asia Minor. The Greco-Armenians were very active in art and commerce. A lot of Armenians came to Greece also to build the railway from Istanbul to Thessaloniki and after the completion they stayed in the area.

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Armenian Cemetery

About Thessaloniki the first stable settlement of Armenians in Thessaloniki was in March of 1881. They started celebrate their Masses in the Greek Orthodox churches. Once the community grew and became stable and stronger, they raised money to buy land so that they could build their own church. They also received help from others parish and contributions from other Armenian communities abroad. This is attested to by the inscription (in Armenian) which is set into the building above the door: “This Church was erected in the name of the Holy Virgin with the support of the community in Thessaloniki on the 16th of November of the Year of Our Lord 1903 and by the Armenian calendar 1352”. The church was designed by a very important italian architect, Vitaliano Poselli, who was one of the major figure in the architectural history of the city. The Armenian Father Michael Hovannesian also started to keep registers of baptisms, marriages and deaths, very important archives of the community. They are still in existence. In1887-1888 the community also builded its own cemetery, now close to the “Aghios Dimitrios” Hospital. In 1887 the Armenian priest also started to teach to the armenian children and in 1907 , next to the church was founded the first Armenian school. In 1896 in Thessaloniki there were around 320 Armenians and the population remained stable until after World War I, when it doubled to 500-600. During the initial phases of the community’s history the limited number of Armenian and its social composition permitted it to be not associated with the activities of the Armenian patriotic organizations and the revolutionary parties during the decades of the 1880s and 1890s. For this reason the Armenians of Thessaloniki escaped, in 1894-96, the terrible experiences of their brothers in Constantinople, Trebizond and in other cities and areas of the Ottoman Empire.

From 1910 to 1912 the community created  different institutions, one for example to relieve the orphans and other victims of the Cilician tragedy and another one to take care of Armenian prisoners in the First Balkan War. In the summer of 1915, with the news still branded on their minds of the systematic genocide practised in Ottoman Turkey the community of Thessaloniki organized many manifestations.

The biggest community’s growth occurred during the years 1920-1923, after the I World War, and the number of Armenians reach 10,000 in 1923.Thousands of Armenian refugees came from Eastern Thrace and in Asia Minor and a new phase began, marked by significant changes in its size and social character.The Armenians were determined to maintain their identities and they weren’t interested about greek citizenship and the majority of the population remained under the poverty line.  Starting in the autumn of 1924 and over the next three years more than 3,000 Armenians, or one in three of the total 1923 population, left the city. By 1929 the community numbered barely 6,500.

During the summer of 1946  began a real exodus of Armenian fellow citizens. The main destination was the Soviet Union, that invited armenian emigrants to settle in Armenia. By November 16, 1947, some 4,600 Armenian residents of Thessaloniki had left the city. A goodly number of Armenians also left Thessaloniki in the next five years. They went to Western Europe or Latin America. In 1953 the population was around 1100 people and the families were more or less 450.  This number has remained fairly stable and the current Armenian population of the city is about 1,200 but the community organize many cultural and political activities, especially after the creation in 1987 of the “Armenian Cultural Centre”.

(Tommaso Sartori)

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