Saturday, September 25, 2010

Armenian Church of the Holy Resurrection - An Oasis of Calm in Dhaka Tales

While doing my readings about the Armenian Church of the Holy Resurrection in Dhaka, I realized I didn't know where Armenia is. I needed references to appreciate the church’s origins and history. Armenia, as it turns out, is a landlocked, mountainous and democratized country at the crossroads of Western Asia and Eastern Europe. In fact, it is surrounded by the following: Turkey, Georgia, the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, Azerbaijan and Iran. How much more interesting can you get? Heck, I have never even heard of Nagorno or Karabakh! On more familiar grounds, my religion (Catholicism) would mention Mount Ararat for easier reference. Mount Ararat, in the book of Genesis, is where Noah’s Ark came to rest after the Great Floods.

With a distinct Biblical past, the predominant religion of Armenia is Christianity and the roots of its church go way back from the 1st century, founded by 2 of Jesus’ disciples: Saints Thaddeus and Bartholomew, who spread the religion in Armenia between 40-60 A.D. The Armenian Church is described as “very conservative, very ritualistic”. I wasn’t even aware that one of my favorite directors, Atom Egoyan (“Chloe”, “Exotica”, “The Sweet Hereafter”, etc.) is Armenian. In Dhaka, Armenians settled in the early part of the 18th century. They were merchants trading jutes, silks and textile. Their presence grew into a neighborhood, Armanitola, where the Armenian Church of the Holy Resurrection now stands.


The area is right in the heart of Old Dhaka, a narrow street congested with vendors and rickshaws. I got off my ride looking at the gated church. Right across the church was a dilapidated building with several vendors selling potatoes and other vegetables. The gate in front of the church was padlocked, but it didn’t take long until someone from the dizzying crowd went out to fetch the church’s caretaker, a quiet gentleman who would be mentioned several times in Lonely Planet and Wikipedia – Mr. Martin, aka Michael Joseph Martin (Mikel Housep Martirossian). He is touted to be the last Armenian in Dhaka.

He unshackled the chain and started running around, fixing the grounds. What greeted me was a cemetery with rectangular mounds spread across a gray lot. To my left was the church, with light yellow arches welcoming you inside the white walled structure. Mr. Martin didn’t say much, but he did tell me that the Archbishop visits once yearly from Australia. Mr. Martin started taking care of the church in the mid-80’s and is known to give private tours without the pressure placed on you to hand him payment. As I have mentioned before, Bangladeshis never harass their visitors with money. In this country, you don’t feel like you have to pay for every move you make. Sadly, this isn’t so in countries all over the Indian subcontinent.


The church was constructed in 1781, listing over 200 deaths between 1833 -1918, over 250 baptisms and over 50 marriages. With a lot of history before me, it was easy to feel humbled by the precious calm inside the church. Mr. Martin turned the lights inside as I offered a silent prayer for my family and my travel. I like these moments. They give me a feeling of calm and a sense of belonging, despite my not being Armenian.

On the Sunday of November 16, 2008, His Holiness Karekin II, Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians, paid a one-day visit to the Armenian Church of the Holy Resurrection, during his pontifical visit to India where bigger Armenian communities reside in Kolkata and Madras.

No mass is being celebrated here these days, unless Armenian priests and bishops come for a visit. There aren't even reminders that sometime during the liberation of the country in the 70’s, the place was heavily pilfered; graves were desecrated; silver ornaments and the organ were stolen. The church has become an oasis in Dhaka’s mind-numbing chaos. The locals still call it “Armani Church”, which is amusing. The street name: Armenian Street. Quite easy, if you’ve chipped off a slice of your cerebellum.

I stood after my prayers and handed Mr. Martin a donation. He wouldn’t have minded if I gave him just a smile, but I was grateful to him for accommodating my presence. I would have regretted missing a visit, like my regrets with Lalbagh.

This is the Eye in the Sky.

This grave stone inscription reads: "A fond wife's tribute to her deeply mourned and best of husbands. Catchick Avietick Thones. September 1877. Age: 56 years."

At once calm and eerie.

Armenian Church of the Holy Resurrection. This photo only courtesy of wikipedia's Mak and his students Arafat and Hossein.

Up next: Star Mosque


If you wanna see Yerevan, Armenia's capital, in pictures, here's my friend's travel blog on Armenia, looking majestic - like those old glorious places. I particularly loved the surreal sculptures scattered all over the place: click here.

Armenian Street in Armanitola, a few blocks from the Armenian Church.

Dhaka's Chowk Bazaar, circa 1908, the commercial center. This photo only courtesy of Ershad Ahman's

Khor Virap Monastery against the imposing beauty of Mount Ararat. This photo only courtesy of wikipedia's Andrew Behesnilian.


pamatayhomesick said...

very well said...nice, simple capture, but elegant!

eye in the sky said...

thanks, ever.

Trotter said...

Hi Eye! Lovely post! Couldn't imagine there was an Armenian Church in Dhaka...
But you may see some pictures from Armenia in the old Blogtrotter... ;)

Blogtrotter Two is almost leaving Costa Smeralda. But still has some new pictures for you to enjoy!!! Drop a line and have a great week!

eye in the sky said...

Little miracles do happen. lol