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Armenians in the Low Countries: Belgium, Holland and Luxembourg

January 19, 2014

1384127_10151787675373043_2119585191_nThere is evidence of Armenians in the Low Countries, that is Belgium, Holland, and Luxembourg, beginning in the eleventh century. Trade became active, however, in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, when Dutch and Flemish merchants arrived in Cilicia and Armenian trading houses opened in the Low Countries. Armenians brought in carpets, dyes, cotton, and spices, concentrating their trade in the city of Bruges, specifically St. Donat’s Church square, where they traded their goods for woollen cloth, Russian furs, Spanish oil, and other items brought from the four comers of Europe.
The Armenian church was built in 1714 on the Kromboomssloot, house number 22. It still stands. The "Armenian Bridge" is in between the two side streets of Kromboomsloot 22 (between the Keizer Street and the Korte Keizer Street).

The Armenian church was built in 1714 on the Kromboomssloot, house number 22. It still stands. The “Armenian Bridge” is in between the two side streets of Kromboomsloot 22 (between the Keizer Street and the Korte Keizer Street).

After the fall of Cilicia, Armenian refugees arrived in Bruges where they were supported by a number of Flemish Christian charities. In 1478 Armenians built a large hostel in Bruges which became the “Armenian Hospice.” By the end of that century Armenians began to move to Amsterdam, the new center of commerce in the region. Dutch sources record Armenian merchants selling pearls and diamonds there in the second half of the sixteenth century.
According to Dutch sources there were some 500 Armenians living in Amsterdam, concentrated in the Monnikenstraat, Dykstraat, and Keiserstraat streets and selling their wares in the Qoster (“Eastern”) Market. In 1713 the Armenians constructed an Armenian Church in Amsterdam and received permission from Etchmiadzin to have their own priest. A number of Armenian merchants were wealthy enough to have their own ships flying the Dutch colours and to be escorted by armed frigates on their journeys to Smyrna.

1400372_10151793557733043_615999062_oA hundred years later, however, due to various European conflicts, particularly the blockade enforced during the Napoleonic wars, as well as the rise of English trading companies, the Armenian community had lost its economic power in the Netherlands. By the mid-nineteenth century, the Armenian church of Amsterdam was closed down and eventually sold. By the end of the nineteenth century most of the Armenian communities in Europe had reached the low ebb of their social and economic influence in their adopted lands. No one could predict that cataclysmic events at the end of that century and the first two decades of the twentieth would bring new, and very different, Armenian immigrants to the shores of Eastern and Western Europe.
 An ancient Amsterdam bridge has been named "Armenian Bridge"


An ancient Amsterdam bridge has been named “Armenian Bridge”

The Armenian communities of Belgium and Holland experienced Europe’s world wars firsthand. During the First World War, many Armenians, who were still Turkish citizens, left Belgium for Holland to escape the German onslaught and from fear of being sent back to Turkey to be drafted. Most returned after the war and a chair in Armenian studies was established in the University of Brussels in 1931, with the famed professor Nicholas Adontz as its first chair holder. The community in Holland had all but disappeared, when it got a minor influx from the Armenians who had left Dutch Indonesia in the 1950s after the nationalist government took over there. More Armenians came to Holland from Iran, Turkey and Lebanon in the 1980s and eventually managed to repurchase the Armenian church in Amsterdam, which had been closed in the 1850s. Although barely 10,000 strong, the Armenian communities of Belgium and Holland are culturally active.

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6 Comments
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  4. Haigo khatcherian permalink

    I thank you for the given information, i am proud to claim myself, armenian

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