On February 15th 2015 AGBU Holland hosted a lecture by mr. Khachik Balikjian. The Armenian community has since long had a place in the Netherlands, a history dating back to the 17th century. It was then that Armenian merchants came to the Netherlands to trade. They sold a variety of goods, including silk, cotton, diamonds and other gemstones.
While the Armenians maintained their own language and religion, they were open to European influences, such as for example printing. The Armenian intelligentsia quickly realized that printing could be very beneficial to the propagation of the Armenian language, religion and culture. Mr. Khachik Balikjian spoke very passionately during his lecture, fascinating the attendees with his story and the accompanying pictures of documents, books, paintings and buildings.
Armenian printed works
Most of the Armenian merchants that settled in the Netherlands originally came from Persia. That is why, from 1714 until 1780, the building that now houses the Armenian Church was known as the Persian Church. The building was originally acquired by Babon Sultan, one of the Persian-Armenian merchants who settled in the Netherlands, for the sum of 1975 Dutch guilders. The church plays a central role in the history of the Armenian community in the Netherlands. The Armenian Church and Armenian printers were strongly connected, because all of the priests were printers as well. They worked together with punch cutter Christoffel van Dijk while being financed by Armenian merchants from Persia. Armenian printing flourished in and around Amsterdam, notably leading to the first printing of the Armenian bible in 1666.
Arakel Di Paulo
Balikjian then moved on to discuss the life of Arakal Boghos, known in the Netherlands under the name Arakel Di Paulo. He was a beloved member of the Armenian community and was a board member of the Armenian Church in Amsterdam for 33 years. All his belongings were donated to the Armenian Church in Amsterdam on his request. At the end of the 19th century the Armenian community diminished in size, causing the Armenian Church to become vacant. From 1875 onwards the church served as a school, led by an order of Augustinian nuns for over 100 years. In 1989, the church was redeemed by the Armenian community. AGBU helped make the reacquisition possible by providing a large financial contribution.
After the lecture was finished, the attendees were given the opportunity to ask questions. Asked “why is it important that the information around the history of the Armenian community in the Netherlands is propagated?”, Balikjian answered: “Without roots, a tree cannot grow. Our history gives us a voice and a right to speak – these facts and events can sustain the Armenian identity among the expatriated.”
Harout Palanjian, board member for AGBU Holland, recognized the tremendous value of Balikjian’s work in his acknowledgments: “mr. Balikjian has both proper knowledge of and access to many valuable documents pertaining to our history in the Netherlands. He is a great asset to our community.”