Armenians in Italy

There are currently 3.000 Armenians in Italy mainly residing in Milan, Rome and Venice. Besides the general population, there are monastic communities on the island of San Lazzaro (Venice) and at the Moorat-Raphael College of Venice as well as Armenian clergy at the Holy See (Vatican).

The oldest information about Armenians living in Italy goes back to the 6th-8th centuries. Later, in the 9th-10th centuries, a great number of Armenians moved to Italy from Thrace and Macedonia. They were the descendants of Paulicians chased from Armenia by emperor Constantin.

As to Armenian communities, they were formed in Italy in the 12th-13th centuries, when active trade was going on between Cilician Armenia and Italian big city-republics of Genoa, Venice and Pisa. Under Cilician Armenian king Levon II (1187–1219) (also known as King Leo II of Armenia), treaties were signed between the two parties, according to which Italian merchants had the right to open factories and to develop industrial activities in the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia, with Armenian merchants doing the same in Italian towns. These treaties were periodically renewed, throughout the existence of Cilicia. The invasion of Tatars and Mongols in the 13th century brought in a new influx of Armenians.

Beginning with the 15th-16th centuries the process of catholicizing Armenians was strengthened in Italy which greatly contributed to their assimilation with Italian people. Nevertheless, some Armenian organizations continued to function with the aim to preserve national identity. As a result, Armenian books were printed in Venice.

The beginning of the 18th century saw the creation of the Armenian Congregation of the Mechitarists, founded in Venice, on the St. Lazzaro Island (San Lazzaro degli Armeni). It exists today with its monastery, library, manuscript depository and publishing house, and is considered as a centre of Armenian culture in Italy.

There is also the reputable Moorat-Raphael College in Venice for general education with student body from Armenians from many countries and Collegio Armeno (The Pontifical Armenian College) in Rome for preparation of clergy in the Armenian Catholic Church.

Among the most famous Armenian names in Italy in earlier centuries was Gjuro Baglivi (Giorgio Baglivi), whom the Enciclopedia Italiana (known as Treccani) holds to be “one of the most eminent men in the history of medicine”. Baglivi was the name of a doctor of Lecce who adopted him as an orphan of a Julfa family. Other famous Italians of Armenian origin are the Venetian engineer Anton Sourian, the Venetian abbot and author Zaccaria Seriman, the poetess Vittoria Aganoor and the chemist Giacomo Luigi Ciamician.

In spite of their small numbers, the Armenians in Italy have achieved notable successes in the country’s cultural life. For example, often mentioned are the book and film critic Glauco Viazzi (Jusik Achrafian, 1921–1981), the art critic Eduardo Arslan (Yetwart, 1899–1968), the musician Angelo Eferkian (1910–1982), the Arslan family of ear, nose, and throat specialists in Padua and Genoa, and Alessandro Megighian (1928–1981), former president of the European Academy of Gnathology. The first three were commemorated in a praiseworthy initiative from 1982 to 1984 in Venice, under the general title “Armenians in Italian culture.”

A recently known famous Italian with Armenian ancestry is the showman Paolo Kessisoglu (1969), whose grandfather, born Keshishian, moved from Anatolia to Genoa at the beginning of 20th century fearing aggressions in Turkey (though having already changed his surname to a more Turkish version).

Gevorg Petrosyan is a famous Armenian kickboxer and muay thai fighter living in Italy and fighting out of Satori Gladiatorium in Gorizia, Italy.

In 2000, Italy recognized the Armenian Genocide and in 2006, erected a monument in remembrance of the victims. The Lark Farm, adapted from the book “Skylark Farm”, showcases the story of the Arslan family of Italy.

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