The earliest records of what is known as Belgium today go as far back as the 4th century, when Armenian priests, merchants and intellectuals dropped anchor in Belgian ports including a certain Saint Servais, an Armenian bishop who visited town of Tongres, east of Brussels. Belgian hagiographers such as Macaire mention Armenian preachers in Gand in the year 1011.
Armenian began to become a meaningful presence in the 14th century, with Armenian merchants appearing to trade carpets in Bruges. By 1478, Armenians had established a hospice. In Bruges, Armenian merchants also started importing cotton goods, spices, perfumes and other materials from the Orient and exporting European goods to markets in the East. Their presence continued well into the 15th century.
The genocide of 1915 brought a new influx of Armenians to the country. They became known for their trades in carpets and rugs, tobacco and jewelry. In the tobacco sector, original Armenian brands like Davros, Arax, Marouf and Enfi were the only cigarette brands made in Belgium. The Missirian, Tchamkertian, Matossian and the Enfiadjian families held a monopoly over the tobacco industry in the country. As more refugees poured into Belgium from Turkey in the early 20th century, business boomed and the newcomers found a good life to settle into.
Another sector the Armenians of Belgium excelled in was the diamond industry. A member of the Barsamian family became president of the prestigious Diamond Club of Belgium in 1920, with the Tcherkezian, Ipekjian and Hampartsoumian families as top names in the business. Following in their footsteps, business by the Artinian, Oskanian and Arslanian families alongside around 50 smaller dealers, became the epicenter of the industry. Experts and traders have continued their work in Antwerp’s One Square Mile Diamond District.
Today the “Committee of Belgian Armenians” that started in the late 1920s is very active. It is also officially recognized by the Belgian government, representing about 11,000 Armenians living in the country. They include the first generation refugees from Turkey, large groups that came from Iran in 1970, from Lebanon and Syria during the last half century, and recently from Armenia.
The “Eglise Armenienne Apostolique Sainte Marie-Madeleine” is the main church of the Armenian Apostolic Orthodox community. It is related to the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin Armenian Apostolic Church. The building was erected and consecrated in May of 1990, through the generosity of benefactors Mr. and Mrs. Khachig and Madeline Khatchigov. There exists also an Armenian Catholic and Armenian Evangelical community in the country. .
The Armenian community center, established in the 1980s, is home to a multitude of social gatherings and cultural programs.
Armenian-Belgian relations have been quite friendly since Armenia’s independence in 1991, especially in trade. Armenia currently has an embassy in Brussels as well as missions to the European Union and NATO. Belgium is also one of the countries to have recognized the Armenian Genocide.