A Graveyard in Dacca, Bangladesh

“Armenian Graves, Inscriptions and Memorials in India   DACCA 1722-1977” by Liz Chater.

Review by Jirair Tutunjian, Toronto, 14 October 2011
 
“Dedicated” and “thorough” are two adjectives that come to mind to describe Liz Chater after reading her “Armenian Graves, Inscriptions and Memorials in India DACCA 1722-1977.”
 
A descendant of an Armenian family with roots in Dacca, India (now Dhaka, Bangladesh), Ms. Chater has spent years documenting the history of the tiny but affluent Armenian communities of India, starting in the early 18th century to the middle of the 20th century. She tells their story through tombstones, epitaphs, memorial inscriptions. Color and black-and-white photos of hundreds of these monuments illustrate the book.
 

“Armenian Graves, Inscriptions and Memorials in India   DACCA 1722-1977” by Liz Chater.

Review by Jirair Tutunjian, Toronto, 14 October 2011
 
“Dedicated” and “thorough” are two adjectives that come to mind to describe Liz Chater after reading her “Armenian Graves, Inscriptions and Memorials in India DACCA 1722-1977.”
 
A descendant of an Armenian family with roots in Dacca, India (now Dhaka, Bangladesh), Ms. Chater has spent years documenting the history of the tiny but affluent Armenian communities of India, starting in the early 18th century to the middle of the 20th century. She tells their story through tombstones, epitaphs, memorial inscriptions. Color and black-and-white photos of hundreds of these monuments illustrate the book.
 

Between 2005 and 2009 she visited India several times as part of her original research into Armenian family histories and of Armenian communities in India. She photographed as many Armenian graves in India as she could before the damaged, ageing, moss-covered, weather-worn stones vanish forever. The Dhaka gravestones at the Armenian Holy Resurrection cemetery were of particular interest to Ms. Chater since her ancestors had lived, worked and buried there or in the environs.
Four years ago her trip to Dhaka had to be cancelled because of disturbances in Bangladesh. Determined to salvage the history of the Armenians who had lived there long ago, she commissioned—at great personal expense–a local photographer to capture the Armenian graves of Dhaka. Now hundreds of those gravestones are photographically salvaged in her remarkable book. The inscriptions are sometimes in Armenian, sometimes in English or in both languages. The Armenian inscriptions are often in yergatakir and in krapar, indicating the affluence of the Armenian families and their close ties to their church and community. Each gravestone is a page from our history.
 
In addition to the professionally-shot photos, the 151-page book includes the family trees of some of the more prominent Armenian families. Thus famous family names recur–Arratoon, Martin, David, Lucas, Chater, Sarkies… The reader also notices the “evolution” of the names from Armenian to English or to nondescript… Garabed becomes Carapiet, Boghos becomes Pogose, Kaloustian becomes Galston/Galstan/Galstaun. Haroutune becomes Aratoon/Arratoon, Harutiwn; Martirossian changes to Martin; Nikoghayosean transforms to Nicholas while Khachik/Khachadoor/Tsatur become Catchatoor/ Chater .
 
The above names have disappeared or are slowly disappearing as the community vanishes. Ms. Chater is not hopeful about the preservation of the Dhaka gravestones, located in the bustling Armanitola district of Dhaka. The Holy Resurrection church and the graveyard are attended by a Mr. Martin, the lone Armenian left in the city.
 
What also makes Ms. Chater’s effort particularly noteworthy is that she travelled, researched, designed and published the book at her own expense. She says in her introduction, “I am completely unsupported and unfunded and I have no association or affiliation with any organization, company, institution, research centre or university although over the years, I have approached many people and organizations for financial assistance to enable me to further research Armenians in India. No help, financial or otherwise was forthcoming.”
 
The 151-page and profusely illustrated book is a very small part of her research about Armenians in India and the Far East. She has amassed a vast amount of details about 12,000 individuals who lived in India and farther east for nearly 300 years. Chater has also researched old British records and found information on many of the Armenians buried in Dhaka. In addition to a trove of documents, she has a collection of 4,000 photos of graves and over 2,000 copies of newspaper material from the 1780s to the present.

One hopes the Armenian government, institutions, organization and individuals who are interested in preserving the history of our far-flung Diaspora would take the initiative and financially support Ms. Chater’s noteworthy research and help her publish other books about the Iranian-Armenians who, starting 300 years ago,  left their homes in New Julfa and established communities across East Asia.
 

You can order the book directly from Ms. Chater by contacting her at LizATchater-genealogy.com or her website www.chater-genealogy.com
 
1 comment
  1. Well-intentioned efforts can go astray

    Even the most well-intentioned efforts can go astray when the possibility of profiting from them arises, and there are definitely those in the Diaspora who make a career out of victimization while being (deliberately or not) blind, deaf, and dumb to the problems of Armenians living in Armenia today. Unfortunately, though, your own xenophobia plays just as equally into the hands of those in power.

    If I had a wish for you it would be to step out of your normal thought channel and try to see people as individuals, not as stereotypes or lock-step representatives of a race or type—for you that means seeing Diaspora Armenians, Turks, Azeris, and Jews as people, which, of course, they are.

    Authoritarian governments count on racist knee-jerk reactions to keep power, because they know how to manipulate them to their advantage and profit from them both in power and in money. Meanwhile, your habit of insulting people instead of trying to engage and inform them does more harm than good, since people tend to ignore you then.

    So give it some thought, okay?

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