Did You Know? (23)

The Ottoman Bank

By Jirair Tutunjian, 25 September 2022

All twelve founders of the Ottoman Bank (1856) were non-Turks. Eight were Armenian, one was Greek, one French, one Russian and one English. The bank was established by Imperial Decree.

According to Edward Utudjian (“Armenian Architecture from the 4th to 17th Centuries”) there is some evidence that Armenians settled in the British Isles as early as the seventh century, especially in Ireland where there are traces of the influence of Armenian church architecture.

Scores of letters were exchanged between King Hetoum and the English King Henry III in which the latter called for assistance during the passage of the Crusaders through the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia. It was during this period that a wave of Armenians settled in England, fleeing the Mongol invasion of Armenia.

Exiled in France, King Leon V, the last king of Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia, visited England in 1385 to promote the reconciliation of England and France in an effort to undertake a combined campaign against the Egyptian Mamluks who had overrun Cilicia. Despite his many efforts, King Leon was unsuccessful to reconcile the kings of England and France.

In the 17th century, a number of Armenians who had fled from Holland settled near Plymouth, England. Oliver Cromwell (the ruler of England) was one day passing through the Armenian quarter when he decided to know the political views of the Armenians. Their reply was “Give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto god what is God’s”. The answer angered Cromwell who scolded them and said he wanted a firm commitment from them on his return. When he came back some time later, the Armenians had all returned to Holland.

The prosperous Armenian mercantile families of India began their decline because of rivalries among colonial powers (England, France, and Portugal), long wars between the Indians and the Europeans, competition with greater foreign capital, more modern methods of commercial transactions, and the discriminatory policies of the ruling British government.

Hovsep (Joseph) Emin went to England in 1754 to learn the art of war so as to liberate Armenia. Through his friendship with Lord Northumberland he entered the Military Academy at Woolwich to learn the art of war. He spent many years in London to persuade influential people like Edmund Burke and George Montagu, Count of Halifax, to undertake a military expedition to liberate Armenia from the yoke of the Persians and the Turks. He failed, but his example and idea lived on in Armenian life, inspiring many others after him.

Armenian cultural renaissance in the 18th and 19th centuries was greatly assisted by the money and initiative of the Armenian merchants in India. The latter financed the building of churches and schools in Smyrna, the publishing of books in Venice, an setting up of printing presses in major Armenian communities.

The mid-19th century witnessed the visits of a number of European travel writers to the Ottoman Empire.  Armenians became very sensitive to disagreeable comments these writers made about them. They reacted violently in their press, especially against a certain Charles MacFarlane whose book (1830) on the Armenians was dubbed “a pack of lies” by the Armenian press. Much later came the anti-Armenian Frederick Burnaby’s “On Horseback through Asia Minor”.

As a result of the Crimean War and the presence of the British army in Constantinople, there was a resurgence of interest in English literature among the Armenians of the Ottoman Empire. English novels were translated and the plays of Shakespeare staged. The interest in English literature faded after the disastrous treaty of Berlin in 1878 and the betrayal of the Armenians by the British.

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