Armenian Genocide Day, Armenian Church, Calcutta (Kolkata)
Armenian Genocide Day
24 April, Armenian Church, Calcutta (Kolkata)
Also see my blog post on Armenians of Calcutta (Kolkata)
“When we were marching from Mosul, Jumman [a sweaper of Bengal Ambulance Corps] saw an Armernian child on the banks of a stream near Ras al-‘Ain and picked him up. His mother must have died, and his father must have been killed… Jumman took on the responsibility of looking after the boy and named him Babulal. He used to call Jumman father (‘Baba’).”
Abhi le Bagdad by Sisir Sarbadhikiri
Source: Amitav Ghosh’s Blog
The amazing account came from a Bengal Ambulance Corps (BAC) volunteer Sisir Sarbadhikari’s diary which was later published as a book named Abhi le Bagdad (literally meaning Onwards to Bagdad). Written in Bengali it is a amazing first hand account of World War I (WWI). It is quiet likely that the Armenian boys parents were victims of the notorious Armenian Genocide.
The Armenian Genocide also known as the Armenian Holocaust, the Armenian Massacres and, traditionally among Armenians, as the Great Crime was the Ottoman government’s systematic extermination of its minority Armenian subjects from their historic homeland in the territory constituting the present-day Republic of Turkey. It took place during and after World War I and was implemented in two phases: the wholesale killing of the able-bodied male population through massacre and forced labor, and the deportation of women, children, the elderly and infirm on death marches to the Syrian Desert. The total number of people killed as a result has been estimated at between 1 and 1.5 million. (Source: Wikipedia)
24 April is considered as the Armenian Genocide day because on this very day in 1915 about 250 Armenian intellectuals were arrested in Constantinople and were sent to prisons in the interior of Anatolia, where most of them were summarily executed.
Armenians all over the world observes 24 April as the Armenian Genocide Remembrance day. Calcutta (Kolkata), housing a Armenian community for over three hundred years, is no exception. The Armenian Genocide Day Remembrance Service was scheduled to begin at 10:30 am.
The service is held in the Armenian Church, which happens to be the oldest Christian Church in Calcutta (Kolkata). The Armenian Church compound houses a Genocide Memorial designed by Rev. Vazken Stepanian and was set up in 1965 to mark the 50th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide.
In 2013 the Armenian Genocide Day Remembrance Service was scheduled to begin at 10:30 am. I reached the Armenian Church, officially known as the Holy Church of Nazareth, at about 10 am and found the small Armenian Genocide Memorial already decorated with flowers and candle stand.
The Armenians arrived at 10:30 and was lead by Rev. Fr. Geghart Ghabaghyan, as Rev. Father Khoren Hovhannisyan, pastor (priest) of Armenians in India, was out of town. Unlike the Armenian Christmas and Good Friday the Armenian Genocide Remembrance day has a secular feeling and the service is attended by the non Armenian staff members of the Armenian College.
The rituals begin with the distribution of flowers and lighting of the candles at the memorial. The service soon begin and the prayers are lead by Rev. Fr. Geghart Ghabaghyan and assisted by the students of the Armenian College, Calcutta (Kolkata).
The choir sings on and an Armenian student swings the smoking thurible, a metal censer suspended from chains, in which incense is burned during worship services. The entire service was in Armenian and although I didn’t understand a word of it but it did have a long lasting mesmerising effect.
The Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day Service ended with the the placing of the flowers, which was distributed earlier, on the Genocide Memorial.
The service was over in little over an hour and Armenian community of Calcutta (Kolkata) soon left along with the staff and students of the Armenian College but I stayed back in the church wondering about the horrific events that happed about a century ago.
- Santanu Das of King’s College, London who first informed me about Sisir Sarbadhikari’s book Abhi le Bagdad
- Amitav Ghosh, best selling author, not only for his amazing blog but also for his constant inspiration.
- My Armenian friends Liz Chater and Max Galstaun for providing valuable informations.
- Rev. Fr. Geghart Ghabaghyan and the entire Armenian community of Calcutta
- The staff and students of the Armenian College, Calcutta (Kolkata)