Armenians in Burma

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The first Armenians in Burma arrived in 1612, and dwelt in Syriam, the first tombstone being dated 1725. They were merchants.


Armenians were deported in large numbers to New Julfa, on the outskirts of Isfahan (Persia), early in the seventeenth century. Many continued on to India and Southeast Asia in the eighteenth century as conditions turned against them in Persia. By the 19th century they were to be found chiefly in Burma, the Malay peninsula (particularly Penang and Malacca), and Java, and were usually accepted as 'European' or 'White'. They tended to emigrate further from around World War I, notably to Australia.

In Burma, major Armenian traders were employed as officials by the Burmese kings, especially in charge of customs and relations with foreigners. They survived the First Burmese War in 1826, when the British annexed Arakan and Tenasserim, but the British conquest of Lower Burma, the commercial heart of the country, in 1852, led to renewed accusations (from the British) that Armenian merchants were anti-British, and even pro-Russian. Nevertheless, the Armenians of Yangon built their church in 1862, on land presented to them by the King of Burma.

The 1871-1872 Census of British India revealed that there were 1,250 Armenians, chiefly in Kolkata, Dhaka and Yangon. The 1881 Census stated the figure to be 1,308; 737 in Bengal and 466 in Burma. By 1891, the total figure was 1,295.

The Armenian Apostolic Church of St. John the Baptist still stands at No. 66, 40th Street (now Bo Aung Kyaw Street) in Yangon. According to its records, 76 Armenians were baptised in Burma between 1851-1915 (Yangon, Mandalay and Maymyo (now Pyin U Lwin)), 237 Armenians were married between 1855-1941 and over 300 Armenians died between 1811-1921.

Notable Armenians of Burma[edit]

Thackers Indian Directory lists many Armenian language names in Burmese business and government. The Sarkies Brothers (a group of four Armenian brothers, best known for founding a chain of hotels throughout Southeast Asia) first opened the Eastern & Oriental Hotel in Penang in 1884 before expanding their business to the Raffles Hotel in Singapore and The Strand Hotel in Yangon in 1901. Many Armenians remaining in Burma might also be considered part of the Anglo-Indian or, more correctly, the Anglo-Burmese community. Another famous Burmese Armenian is Diana Abgar. Another well-known Armenian businessman who emigrated to Burma from Turkey around the beginning of the 20th century was Aratoon Hovsepian (aka Aratoon Elias) married to Serpouhi (ne Vartanian). He purchased a property in Sagaing, Upper Burma in 1907 where he operated an ice factory. With all the money they were able to save they brought Serpouhi's brother (Petros) and two sisters (Seranoosh [later married Joseph Sarkies] and Vartani) and Aratoon's sisters (Margaret and Anna) from Turkey. In 1917 they moved to Maymyo where Aratoon worked for a British firm that had the contract with the Burma Railways to operate the restaurants in their system. His official title was "Inspector, Burma Railway Refreshment Rooms". Aratoon liked the work and the pay but not the constant travelling. He decided to go into business for himself and open a bakery and confectionary business. In order to earn the necessary funds to start this venture he decided to open a taxi business. Going to Calcutta he purchased two cars (an Overland and an Oakland) and had them shipped to Rangoon. Serpouhi became the dispatcher and the venture was a great success. By 1919 they had accumulated enough money to open the Continental Confectionary in Rangoon.


  • GE Harvey, History of Burma: From the Earliest Times to 10 March 1984 (1925) p 346

Further reading[edit]

  • Margaret Sarkissian, 'Armenians in South-East Asia', (1987) 3 Crossroads, an Interdisciplinary Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, 1-33.
  • K. S. Papazian, Merchants from Ararat, a brief survey of Armenian trade through the ages, (New York: Ararat Press 1979)
  • Denys Lombard and Jean Aubin, (eds), Asian merchants and businessmen in the Indian Ocean and the China Sea, (New Delhi: Oxford University Press 2000).
  • Nadia H Wright, Respected citizens: The history of Armenians in Singapore and Malaysia, (Ammasia Publishing, 2003)
  • Vahé Baladouni and Margaret Makepeace, (eds), Armenian Merchants of the Seventeenth and Early Eighteenth Centuries: English East India Company Sources, (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1998) 294 pp (the index at pages 281-283 lists about 100 Armenian merchants by name).
  • Ilsa Sharp, There Is Only One Raffles, The Story of a Grand Hotel (Souvenir Press Ltd. 1981, ISBN 0 285 62383 4)

See also[edit]