Armenians in Hungary

 

The history of Armenian-Hungarian friendship is about 1000 year old.

An estimated 30,000 Armenians live in the Hungary today, making up roughly 0.01% of the population. Approximately two thirds of this population is found in Budapest and the surrounding Pest county. Armenians in Hungary have established 31 “self-governments” and roughly half of them speak Armenian as their mother tongue. The Armenian Catholic Priesthood has existed here since 1924 and hosts a number of cultural programs, as does the Armenian Cultural and Information Centre in Budapest.

 

Armenians were present from early on in Hungary (then Kingdom of Hungary), clearly attested in a document issued by Hungarian King Ladislaus IV the Cuman (late 13th century). Here, they were even allowed to found their own trading towns, the most notable one being Szamosújvár (today Gherla, Romania) called Armenopolis/Armenierstadt or Hayakaghak (Հայաքաղաք). There were entirely Armenian towns built by Armenian refugees 500 years ago in old Hungary. One of the historical seals of the ancient village of Talmacs included that of Bishop Martin, head of the Armenian Bishopric in the region. Similar records are found in the church records of Budapest, where Armenus Aegidius is mentioned as one of the city elders in the 15th century and Ermeni Stephanus as Chief Justice in the 16th century.

The first Armenians to reach Hungary presumably came from the Balkans in the 10 – 11th century. Traces of Armenians can be found from between 1001 and 1038, under the rule of King Stephan. King Béla IV granted them territory in 1243 in Esztergom, the old capital of the country, as well as the right to build monasteries. Later, princes of Transylvania would grant them many other rights and freedoms, as Armenians were seen as honoured guests within the country. The first Hungarian king to visit Armenia was Andrew II in 1216. The largest wave of Armenians to arrive to the region was in 1672 by the encouragement of Prince Michael I of Apafi, granting the 8,000 immigrants special privileges. They would soon control over 25% of the region’s commerce and industry. The prince signed a special decree on February 7, 1696, urging all local rulers to treat the Armenians with special care. This decree forbade the governing individuals from prosecuting or treating harshly the special guests of the monarchy, instead allowing the Armenians to establish their own courts, local administrations and community affairs. This special relationship was only altered many years later upon the loss of Transylvania to Austria, and would require the threat of emigration to regain some of the privileges lost in the war. However, in 1700, the threat paid off and Armenopolis, now known as Gherla, became the centre of the Hungarian-Armenian community. A “Council of Elders” was established in 1714, to be recognized as the rulers of the city by the next year. Soon after, the businessmen would approach the Austrian Emperor to grant them Erzsebetvaros (Elizabeth-town), as it was rapidly becoming a second centre of the Armenian community with a school established in 1729 (it would be expanded in 1744 through the generous  donations by a local names Bedros Kapayan) and another all-girls school established in 1730. Not only were they granted the city in 1733, but the other minorities were pushed out and the Armenian population granted privileges such as tax exemption, permission to choose own leadership and permission to build and expand their city. Until as late as 1916, the elected mayors of the city were of Armenian origin.

In Hungary, many Armenians were involved in trade, exporting wood for boat construction in England and France, as well as the care and business of livestock. Alongside the rich merchant class, there were also artisans and tannery owners who exported thousands of pieces of processed leather to neighbouring countries.

In 1686, an Armenian tailor by the name of Kapriel Tokhatetsi is said to have had a major role in helping the local Hungarian authorities in the war of liberation against the Ottoman Turks. He not only provided his people with vital military information, but also blew up the Turkish military depot of the city. He was known as a hero in the region of Buda. During this time period, the Armenian population raised over 100,000 florints to donate to the war effort and 15,000 for the necessary repairs. The 1700’s also saw major donations to the Hungarian government and to the establishment of the Hungarian academy of Science. Two of the 13 martyrs of Arad in 1849, Vilmos Lázár and Ernő Kiss, were Armenians fluent in the Carpathian Armenian language. The battle against Austrian authorities for the liberation of Hungary had hundreds of Armenian men enlisting, including 3 generals` Vilmos Lázár and Ernő Kiss and Janos Czetz. As mentioned, the first 2 were executed, while Janos managed to escape to Argentina, later founding the country’s military academy. Lieutenant Ernest Kiss had been the Deputy Minister of Defence.

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