Armenians in Burma

Armenians in Burma

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


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

Armenians in Burma suffered over time from their close association with the independent Burmese rulers. Major Armenian traders were employed as officials, especially in charge of customs and relations with foreigners. They survived the First Burmese War in 1826, when the British annexed the fringe provinces of Arakan and Tenasserim. However, the British conquest of Lower Burma, the commercial heart of the country, in 1852, led to renewed accusations 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

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 Anglo-Burmese community.


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

Further reading

*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).

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