Armenians in the Low Countries: Belgium, Holland and Luxembourg
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.
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.