Respected Citizens: The History of Armenians in Singapore and Malaysia
Respected Citizens: The History of Armenians in Singapore and Malaysia – Book Review
Armenians have long established settlements beyond their historic homeland – whether through choice or force. From the eighteenth century, Armenian traders from Persia and India ventured into Southeast Asia. By 1802 they had established themselves in Penang and by 1820 had settled in Singapore. The Armenians played a significant role in the early development of both these British colonial outposts, earning reputations as respected citizens.
Their numbers were minute, with no more than 830 living in Singapore and British Malaya. But their achievements were quite incommensurate with these numbers. Four of Singapore’s icons: the Straits Times newspaper, the Vanda Miss Joaquim orchid, Raffles Hotel and the Church of St Gregory owe their existence to the enterprising Armenians.
In Malaysia, Penang’s famed E & O Hotel and the stockbroking firm of A. A. Anthony are reminders of their presence, while the anthem of the state of Johore was composed by Mackertich Galistan.
Today, little is known of the Armenians in these two countries. Often mistaken by locals for Jews, they have been overlooked in history. The presence of only a handful of descendants of the old community, belies their early significance.
This book is testimony to the achievements of the Armenian pioneers in Malacca, Penang and in particular, Singapore, which boasted the largest Armenian community. It details the dynamics of that community, as well as focussing on St Gregory’s Church, Raffles Hotel the Vanda Miss Joaquim orchid and the major Armenian commercial concerns. The true role of Ashkhen (Agnes) Joaquim in hybridising the hybrid which bears her name is described. The book also outlines the principal Armenian families, following their fortunes and fats in this part of the world.
Based on extensive research from newspapers, church, cemetery and official records, interviews with Armenians and their descendants, this seminal social history of the hitherto neglected Armenians of Singapore and Malaysia is vital reading for anyone interested in Armenian diasporic history.
The author, Nadia H. Wright is the daughter of an Armenian war bride from Alexandria, Egypt, who has undertaken 18 years research to publish this valuable book about communities which no longer exist.