Armenians in Italy

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Armenians in Italy
Giorgio Baglivi.jpg
Ciamician-Giacomo 01a.jpg
Total population
Regions with significant populations
Milan · Rome · Venice
Armenian · Italian
Mainly Armenian Apostolic Church
Armenian Catholic Church · Protestantism
Related ethnic groups
Armenian · Hamshenis · Cherkesogai

Armenians in Italy covers the Armenians who live in Italy. There are currently 4.000 Armenians in Italy mainly residing in Milan, Rome and Venice;[2] another main centre of Armenian culture and history is Padua[3]

Besides the general population, there are monastic communities on the island of San Lazzaro (Venice) and at the Moorat-Raphael College of Venice as well as Armenian clergy at the Holy See (Vatican).


The oldest information about Armenians living in Italy goes back to the 6th-8th centuries. Later, in the 9th-10th centuries, a great number of Armenians moved to Italy from Thrace and Macedonia. They were the descendants of Paulicians chased from Armenia by emperor Constantin.

As to Armenian communities, they were formed in Italy in the 12th-13th centuries, when active trade was going on between Cilician Armenia and Italian big city-republics as Genoa, Venice and Pisa. Under Cilician Armenian king Levon II (1187–1219) (also known as King Leo II of Armenia), treaties were signed between the two parties, according to which Italian merchants had the right to open factories and to develop industrial activities in the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia and Armenian merchants could do the same in Italian towns. These treaties were periodically renewed, as long as the Cilician Armenian Kingdom existed. In the 13th century the number of Armenians in Italy increased because of the new wave of emigrants after the invasion of Tatars and Mongols.

Beginning with the 15th-16th centuries the process of catholicizing Armenians was strengthened in Italy which greatly contributed to their assimilation with Italian people. Nevertheless, some Armenian organizations continued to function with the aim to preserve national identity. As a result first Armenian books were printed in Venice.

Besides, in the beginning of the 18th century the Armenian Congregation of the Mechitarists (Armenian: Մխիթարեան, also spelled Mekhitarists), was founded in Venice, on the St. Lazzaro Island (San Lazzaro degli Armeni). It exists up till now with its monastery, library, manuscripts depository and publishing house, and is considered as a centre of Armenian culture in Italy.

There is also the reputable Moorat-Raphael College in Venice for general education with student body from Armenians from many countries and Collegio Armeno (The Pontifical Armenian College) in Rome for preparation of clergy in the Armenian Catholic Church.

San Lazzaro Island[edit]

19th century postcard of San Lazzaro degli Armeni
The cloister of the monastery on the island of San Lazzaro (Saint Lazarus) near Venice, Italy, headquarters of the Mechitarists.

The Monastic Headquarters of the Mekhitarist Order is on the island of St. Lazarus in Venice (San Lazzaro Monastero Armeno in Italian). It is located on San Lazzaro degli Armeni, (Armenian: "Սուրբ Ղազարոս Կղզի", English: Saint Lazarus Island), a small island in the Venetian Lagoon, lying immediately west of the Lido; completely occupied by an Armenian Catholic monastery that is the mother-house of the Mekhitarist Order. It is considered as one of the world's foremost centers of Armenian culture.

The beginnings of the island's Armenian history started when Mekhitar da Pietro and his seventeen monks built a monastery, restored the old church, and enlarged the island to its present 30,000 square metres, about four times its original area.

Its founder's temperament and natural gifts for scholarly pursuits immediately set the Mekhitarist Order in the forefront of Oriental studies: the monastery published Armenian historical, philological and literary works and related material, renowned for their scholarship and accuracy as well as for the beauty of the editions, on its own multilingual presses.

The island also houses a 150,000-volume library, as well as a museum with over 4,000 Armenian manuscripts and many Arab, Indian and Egyptian artifacts collected by the monks or received as gifts.

The Mekhitarist Order also publishes the longest-running Armenian periodical, the academic "Pazmaveb".

Collegio Armeno in Rome[edit]

Gregory XIII in 1584 had decreed the erection of a college for the Armenians (Bull "Romana Ecclesia"), but the plan fell through. When the Collegio Urbano of the Propaganda was founded later, there were always some places for Armenian students to study.

Finally, in 1885, thanks to the generosity of some wealthy Armenians and of Leo XIII, the Collegio Armeno (The Pontifical Armenian College) was granted the Church of S. Nicola da Tolentino in the street of that name and the original wishes and decree of Gregory XIII relaized after so many years.

The president of Collegio Armeno is an Armenian prelate; the students numbering from 20 to 25 study and attend lectures at the Collegio Urbano of the Propaganda, and wear red sashes and large-sleeved Oriental cloaks.

Moorat Raphael College in Venice[edit]

Two wealthy Armenians from India, namely Mkertich Murat and Edward Raphael made donations to establish an Armenian college in Venice that was named Murat-Raphael College (Collegio Armeno Moorat Raphael) in honour of the donors.

The property housing the college was the Palazzo Ca'Zenobio, built in prestigious Baroque style in 1690, and a subtle example of Venetian art and life in the 17th century, as testified by the beautiful Sala degli Specchi and Sala degli Stucchi. The college also maintained high academic level of education, reputable teaching staff, both clergy and laity, and the college had beautiful gardens. Moorat Raphael College has been closed recently, and the location serves as a motel, but occasionally art exhibitions, summer schools and workshops are organized to keep the special artistic atmosphere of the college.

Cardinal Krikor Bedros Aghajanian and the Vatican[edit]

The Georgian-born Cardinal Grégoire-Pierre Agagianian (Krikor Bedros Aghajanian (Armenian: Գրիգոր Պետրոս Աղաճանեան) (September 18, 1895—May 16, 1971) was a leading prelate of the Armenian Catholic Church. He served as Patriarch Catholicos of Cilicia for Armenian Catholics from 1937 to 1962, and Prefect of the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith (Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples) in the Roman Curia from 1958 to 1970. Agagianian was elevated to the cardinalate in 1946 by Pope Pius XII.

Cardinal Agagianian was born in Akhaltsikhe (in modern Georgia), he studied at the seminary in Tbilisi and the Pontifical Urbaniana University in Rome. He was ordained as a priest on December 23, 1917. He entered the teaching Faculty of the Pontifical Armenian College in Rome in 1921; he became later the Rector of the same college from 1932 to 1937. Appointed Titular Bishop of Comana on July 11, 1935, he was elected Patriarch Catholicos of Cilicia of All Armenians by the Armenian Catholic Synod, on November 30, 1937, with the name of Gregory Peter XV. On February 18, 1946 he was elevated to the College of Cardinals by Pope Pius XII.

During the 1958 papal conclave, following the death of Pius XII, Agagianian received a large number of votes, eventually approaching the majority needed for election. This was confirmed by the elected pope himself, Pope John XXIII. The newly elected pope John XXIII appointed Cardinal Agagianian to be a member of the leading body of the Second Vatican Council together with Cardinals Leo Joseph Suenens, Julius Döpfner and Giacomo Lercaro. Aghajanian was Pro-Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith from 1958 and full Prefect from July 18, 1960 to October 19, 1970. He died in Rome on May 16, 1971.

Famous Italians of Armenian Origin[edit]

Among the most famous Armenian names in Italy in earlier centuries was Gjuro Baglivi (Giorgio Baglivi), whom the Enciclopedia Italiana (known as Treccani) holds to be "one of the most eminent men in the history of medicine". Baglivi was the name of a doctor of Lecce who adopted him as an orphan of a Julfa family. Other famous Italians of Armenian origin are the Venetian engineer Anton Sourian, the Venetian abbot and author Zaccaria Seriman, the poetess Vittoria Aganoor and the chemist Giacomo Luigi Ciamician.

In spite of their small numbers, the Armenians in Italy have achieved notable successes in the country's cultural life. For example, often mentioned are the book and film critic Glauco Viazzi (Jusik Achrafian, 1921–1981), the art critic Eduardo Arslan (Yetwart, 1899–1968), the musician Angelo Ephrikian (1913–1982), the Arslan family of ear, nose, and throat specialists in Padua and Genoa, and Alessandro Megighian (1928–1981), former president of the European Academy of Gnathology. The first three were commemorated in a praiseworthy initiative from 1982 to 1984 in Venice, under the general title "Armenians in Italian culture."

A prominent living writer and academic is Antonia Arslan, from Padua.

A recently known famous Italian with Armenian ancestry is the showman Paolo Kessisoglu (1969), whose grandfather, born Keshishian, moved from Anatolia to Genoa at the beginning of 20th century fearing aggressions in Turkey (though having already changed his surname to a more Turkish version).

Gevorg Petrosyan is a famous Armenian kickboxer and muay thai fighter living in Italy and fighting out of Satori Gladiatorium in Gorizia, Italy.


In 2000, the issue of Recognition of the Armenian Genocide was floored as a bill in the Italian Parliament that went on to recognize the Armenian Genocide. A memorial dedicated to the victims of the Armenian Genocide was inaugurated in 2006 in the center of Rome.


Besides the San Lazzaro degli Armeni, Italy has a number of very important churches and religious establishments.

  • St. Gregory Church (Rome)
  • Holy Cross Armenian Church (on Calle Degli)
  • St. Blaise (Surp Vlas) Armenian Catholic Church (Rome)
  • San Nicola de Tolentino Armenian Catholic Church (Rome)
  • Armenian Apostolic Church of the Forty Martyrs (Milano)

Also operating are the Levonian Monastery and the Armenian Immaculate Conception Order.

See also[edit]


External links[edit]