Archive for May, 2012

Armenian Monastery in Romania to Celebrate 500 Years

May 31st, 2012    |    No Comments »

Bishop Datev Hagopian, the Primate of the Diocese of the Armenian Church of Romania, is visiting the Eastern Diocese this week. He will celebrate the Divine Liturgy at New York’s St. Vartan Cathedral on Sunday, June 3. A reception will follow during which Bishop Hagopian will speak about the activities of Armenian communities in Romania and preparations for the celebration of the 500th anniversary of Hagigadar Monastery in Suceava.

Armenians became an important element in the life of the Romanian principalities in the 14th century. In 1350, the first Armenian Church was built there, and on July 30, 1401, the “founding document” of the Armenian colony was issued, appointing Bishop Hovhannes to the episcopal seat in the citadel city of Suceava.

Armenians thereafter settled in the Romanian provinces, established communities, and built numerous churches in over 18 cities. Among these was Suceava, the capital of Moldavia until 1564 and an important trading center, which had a large Armenian population and as many as seven Armenian churches—two of which (built in 1513 and 1521) are still extant. Armenians also established two monasteries: the Zamca Monastic Complex and Hagigadar Monastery (1512), located on a hill outside of town, known for its reputed miraculous power of granting wishes to believers. Hagigadar is still a popular pilgrimage destination.

The Hagigadar Monastery will turn 500 this year, and in August a large celebration is planned to mark the anniversary. His Holiness Karekin II, the Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians, will travel to Romania on this occasion. Some 3,000 pilgrims from Europe and other parts of the diaspora are expected to take part in the celebration.

In Transylvania, a strong and stable community was established by 1700. Armenians purchased the right to build their own town from the Austrian Emperor Leopold I for 25,000 florins. Its first inhabitants were 70 Armenian families, and the town was given the name of Armenopolis (now known as Gherla). The earliest Armenian presence in Wallachia was in Bucharest (1413), but a significant community arose in the 16th century. In the province of Dobrogea, the Armenians had churches in Constanta (1760), Silistra (before 1630), and Bazargic (1830).

Following the terrible events of the late 19th century culminating in the Armenian Genocide of 1915, Romania opened its doors to Armenian refugees, who found a safe haven in the country. The influx of a large number of Armenians benefited the existing Armenian community in Romania. Many remained in the capital of Bucharest or the seaport of Constanta, while others settled elsewhere.

The pride of the Armenian community in Romania is still Levon Garabed Baljian, who became His Holiness Vasken I, of blessed memory, the 130th Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians. He was born in 1908 in Bucharest, and as a young man became a teacher at the Armenian school while continuing his studies to receive a degree in philosophy and pedagogy. Ordained a priest in 1943, his meteoric rise within the ranks of the clergy propelled him in a dozen years from vartabed to Primate of Romania in 1948, to the episcopate in 1951, and ultimately, in 1955, to consecration as the Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians.

In 1940, there were about 40,000 Armenians in Romania. The ravages of World War II were deeply felt by the Armenian community, which experienced a sudden change in its economic, social, and religious status with the introduction of communism. Life became increasingly difficult, with private lives and businesses threatened. Some families were able to leave the country by the late 1940s, moving to the West in search of freedom; others migrated to Soviet Armenia in two waves, in 1946 and 1948.

With the bulk of the community still in Romania, a new opportunity to leave appeared by 1960, when a large number of Armenians were able to exit Romania having been classified as “displaced persons.” The American National Committee to Aid Homeless Armenians (ANCHA) was formed as a result of the efforts of the Armenian philanthropist George Mardikian, who first became aware of the plight of Armenian displaced persons in post-World War II Germany. Mr. Mardikian, together with Suren Saroyan, spearheaded a massive effort of relocating thousands of Armenian refugees, including those from Eastern Europe. Mr. Saroyan was also instrumental in including ANCHA under emergency legislation created to deal with U.S. immigration policies.

From 1960 to 1973, a large number of Armenians from Romania migrated to the United States with a stopover in Beirut, Lebanon. After 1973, Armenians from Romania came to the U.S. through Rome, Italy, under various programs such as the Tolstoi Foundation and the International Rescue Committee.

Today, Armenians in Romania number about 5,000. Nevertheless, its members are well established and respected citizens who bring their contributions to the fabric of the country.

The Diocesan Center is located in Bucharest, with the Soorp Hreshtagabetats Cathedral serving as its spiritual center. Bishop Datev Hagopian became the Primate of the Romanian Diocese  a little over a year ago, and has since established new parish councils, youth programs, religious education activities, and other programs.

(Information on the Romanian-Armenian community compiled by Dr. Louiza Kubikian.)

The Hagigadar Monastery in Suceava turns 500 this year.