The East India Company's observation in 1699 about the Armenians that “most certainly they are the most ancient merchants of the world” was perhaps no exaggeration.
From the beginning to the end of the pre-modern era, Armenian merchants ventured out of their homeland to different parts of Asia and Europe. They settled in important cities and ports far away from home.
And thus they created an efficient long-distance trade network with a strong link with their main centre at New Julfa, a large settlement established by Armenian refugees in Isfahan, Iran.
This “trading diaspora” of the Armenians was a unique feature of the business world of the 17th and 18th centuries.
Armenian traders took the overland route to travel to India through Afghanistan and Tibet in the 12th century. They became the first merchants to carry back from India spices, muslin and precious stones to Europe and the Middle East.
Aware of the Armenian merchants' integrity and shrewd nose for business, Mughal Emperor Akbar invited them to settle in Agra, the imperial capital. In 1562, he married an Armenian, referred to as Mariam Zamani Begum in Abul Fazal's Ain-I-Akbari.
Some records show Armenian traders came to Dhaka around 1613, soon after it became the capital of Mughal Bengal. In the beginning, textile trade was their main prop of the city.
The Armenians were the first, not the Europeans or other Asians to foresee the bright prospects of jute in Dhaka. They are reputed to be the pioneers of jute trade here in the second half of the 19th century.
Some Armenians in Dhaka shifted to landholding in the late 18th century in the wake of the decline in textile trade following the British conquest of Bengal in 1757.
The Armenian community contributed a lot to the civic life of Dhaka. It was Nicholas Pogose, an Armenian Zaminder, who founded the first private school, Dhaka Pogose School, in 1848. The school is still running.
Armenian merchant Shircore, the founder of GM Shircore & Sons, pioneered transport “revolution” by introducing hackney carriage. The business house was probably responsible for popularising tea in Dhaka.
The Armenians were also pioneers in introducing European and British goods in Dhaka and in setting up western-style departmental stores. CJ Manook, GM Shircore, JA Minas, and Anania were some of the prominent Armenians to open big stores in the city.
Sources: armeniancollege.in, indiaprofile.com and works of Sushil Chaudhury
Compiled by Wide Angle Desk