Armenians in Moldova

Armenians in Moldova have settled in the principality of Moldavia since the late Middle Ages, and were well-known as a merchant community.

The first Armenians in Moldova arrived in 14th century from Little Armenia in Cilicia, when their Kingdom with capital in Sis felt in 1375 to the Muslims, and Armenians spread through the Mediterranean Basin. Some of them arrived in the Principality of Moldavia, and from there some made to Kingdom of Poland. As well-acquainted with the commerce between Europe and Levant, Armenians were successful in Moldavia, and already during the reign of Alexander the Good had established themselves as a community. At one time they were persecuted due to competition they made to Moldavian merchants. However, Moldavians were always tolerant to their Christian, albeit separate Church. Most of Armenians settled in fairs, as merchants, and some in villages as renters. They were well known for preserving their traditions and church.

According to ancient Armenian historical documents, Armenian churches were built as early as 1350 in Botoşani, in 1380 in Cetatea Albă, in 1395 in Huşi, and a number of others in 1551. Later, in the 17th century, more Armenians moved and settled in Moldova from Poland to escape the Catholic domination of their church.

After their number has decreased very much over time, in the early 20th century, there were only 2,000 Armanians in Bessarabia. In 1930, there were 1,511. Nowadays, there are less than 2,000 Armenians in Moldova, mostly in Chişinău, Bălţi, and Tighina (173).

When the Russian empire arrived at the river Dniester in 1792, Empress Catherine II of Russia ordered building a city on the eastern bank of the river, named by royal decree Grigoriopol. Some believe it was so named after Grigory Potyomkin, other that it was named after Gregory the Illuminator (Sourb Grigor Lousavoritch), the patron saint of the Armenian nation. Armenian settlers were brought in to found and build this city. Later, Armenians moved on to more prosperous regions, such as the capital city Chişinău, and the city of Odessa in neighboring Ukraine, amongst others. Today, only 62 Armenians remain in the Grigoriopol sub-district, Transnistria, but its history is still strongly linked to the region’s early Armenian settlers.

Today there are 785 Armenians in Transnistria, including 360 in Tiraspol.

In the 1930 Romanian Census, there were 1,511 Armenians in the nine counties of Bessarabia, including 583 in Lăpuşna County (490 in the city of Chişinău, 66 in the city of Hînceşti), 407 in Cetatea Albă County (366 in the city of Cetatea Albă), 242 in Bălţi County (158 in the city of Bălţi), 73 in Ismail County (40 in the city of Ismail), 60 in Soroca County (14 in the city of Soroca), 58 in Tighina County (46 in the city ofTighina), 42 in Orhei County, 38 in Cahul County (22 in the city of Cahul), and 8 in Hotin County.

According to estimates, in the Soviet era, the Armenian community of Moldova was 5,000 strong.

In the 2004 Moldovan Census, Armenians were not among the 8 major reported ethnic minority groups, numbering less than 2,000 in the territory controlled by the central government. In the Tiraspol-controlled areas, there were 980 Amrenians, including 785 in Transnistria (360 in the city of Tiraspol), and 195 in other localities under Tiraspol control (173 in the city of Tighina). In the main part of Moldova, Armenians live mostly in the capital Chişinău, and a small community in Bălţi.

Armenians in Romania

Armenians have been present in what is now Romania and Moldova for over a millennium, and have been an important presence as traders since the 14th century. Numbering only in the thousands in modern times, they were culturally suppressed in the Communist era, but have undergone a cultural revival since the Romanian Revolution of 1989.

The earliest traces of Armenians in what was later Moldavia are dated by 967 (recorded presence in Cetatea Albă). Early Armenian Diasporas stemmed in the fall of the Bagratuni rule and the Mongolian invasions. In 1572-1574, Ioan Vodă cel Cumplitwas Hospodar was Prince of Moldavia, grandson of Stephen the Great, son of Bogdan III, with his Armenian concubine Serpega.

Armenian expatriates were awarded tax exemptions at different times in the Danubian Principalities’ history. Encouraged to settle as early as the 14th century, they became a familiar presence in towns, usually as the main entrepreneurs of the community – for this, in early modern Botoşani and several other places, Armenians as a guild were awarded political representation and degrees of self rule. A considerable number of noble families in the Principalities were of Armenian descent.

In Bucharest, an Armenian presence was first recorded in the second half of the 14th century – most likely, immigrants from the Ottoman-ruled Balkans, as well as from the area around Kamianets-Podilskyi and towns in Moldavia; throughout the 19th century, a large part of Armenian Bucharesters had arrived from Rousse, in present-day Bulgaria. The Gregorian Armenians were given the right to build a church around 1638 – it was rebuilt and expanded in 1685, but was damaged by the Russian attack during the 1768-1774 War with the Ottomans.

Citizenship was bestowed on the community only with the decision taken by the international protectorate over the two countries (instituted after the Crimean War and the ensuing Treaty of Paris) to extend civil rights to all religious minorities.

After the Armenian genocide of 1915, Romania was the first state to officially provide political asylum to refugees from the area.

In 1940 about 40,000 Armenians lived in Romania. Under communist rule, Armenians started to leave the country, and Nicolae Ceauşescu’s regime eventually closed all Armenian schools.

Since 1989, there has been an Armenian cultural and political revival in Romania. As of 2002, there were 1,780 Armenians, many of them from mixed families, and the number of native speakers of the Armenian language is 721. There is one Armenian church in Bucharest on what is called Strada Armenească (“Armenian Street”).

The community presently publishes the periodicals Nor Ghiank (in Armenian), Ararat, and the state-sponsored Lăcaşuri de cult.

Romanians of Armenian descent have been very active in Romanian political, cultural, academic and social life. Most worthy of mention would be for example His Holiness Vazgen I, Catholicos of Armenia. Another would be Iacob Zadig was a general in the Romanian Army during World War I.