Andrew Andersen







It is hard to define the beginning of the exodus of Armenians from their historical home. Reportedly, it was Roman Emperor Augustus who settled Vindelica (mod. S. Bavaria/Germany) with retired legionnaires from the regiments recruited in Armenian lands.


However, the first documented wave of mass emigration from Armenia started as early as the 6th Century AD when large  Armenian colonies were established in the Byzantine cities of Constantinople (now Istanbul/Turkey) and Philippopolis (now Plovdiv/Bulgaria).



Several centuries later, new migrants from Armenia brought Paulician heresy with them to Philippopolis. Between the 11th and 12th Paulicianism spread it all over Thrace (modern Bulgaria, North-Western Greece and European Turkey) in the form of Bohumil movement. Subsequently, the Armenian-born heresy was brought to Bosnia and further on, to Southern France where its followers were defined as Cathars and Waldensians.


Many Armenian immigrants became famous Byzantine statesmen and generals. One could mention, amongst many others, Nerses – the conqueror of Italy and Johan Curquas – the defeater of Arab invaders. Byzantine Armenians were also heavily involved in commerce and construction.


Armenian officer

(Byzantian Guard, ca 880)

Reconstruction: Angus McBride




With the decline of Bizantine Empire, many Armenians moved to Bulgaria. Beginning with the Middle Ages, significant Armenian migrations to this country continued until 1913. Since then, almost all the major cities of Bulgaria, among them Plovdiv, Tyrnovo, Ruse, Sofia, Varna and Bourgas,  have old and noticeable Armenian communities.


The first really massive exodus of Armenians from their historic homeland  occurred after the collapse of the Bagratid Armenian Kingdom at the end of 11th century. Tens thousands of Armenians from Vaspurakan and other southern provinces of the embattled kingdom moved to Cilicia where they established a new Armenian state and further  to Syria, Egypt and Abyssinia (Ethiopia). On the other hand, Ani, Dvin and other northern cities and provinces of Armenia became the source of Armenian emigration to the Crimea and further to Lithuania, Ruthenia and Poland, as well as to the lower Volga and further to the new-formed Tatar States in the heartland of Eurasian plains.


Armenian archer in Polish-Lithuanian ranks

(late 16th century)

Reconstruction: Angus McBride


In Ruthenia King Leo of Galicia and Lodomeria greatly favored Armenian immigration  in the second half of the 13th century. Since its birth in 1270, the city of Lwow became the major Armenian centre of Eastern Europe and Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Lvov Armenian community survived until the end of the 19th century when it became largely polonized.


One of the major spheres of Armenian activity in eastern Europe was commerce. Polish Kings from Kazimier the Great (1333 – 1370) to Jan Sobieski (1676 - 1696) used to grant the Armenians commercial and other privileges. However, Armenian life in Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth was not restricted to the commerce only. Since the 14th  century, many Armenians fought in Polish-Lithuanian ranks against the Teutonic knights, Tatars, Turks and Moscovites taking part in many historical battles.


In Middle Volga area the main centre of Armenian Diaspora was Kazan, the capital of the Khanate of Kazan. In 1552 Kazan was taken by the Moscovites under Czar Ivan the Terrible largely due to the fact that Armenian gunners refused to shoot at their fellow-Christians. For some unclear reasons after the capture of Kazan, Ivan the Terrible ordered all the Armenians to be impaled in spite of their defection.


The decline of Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth between the 17th and 18th centuries, was marked by the Armenian influx from the commonwealth to Romania and further to Western Europe.


In Romania (at that time the principalties of Moldova and Muntenia), strong Armenian communities formed in the cities of Bukharest, Yassy, Suceava and Botoshani.


In Western Europe Armenian immigrants from central-Eastern Europe settled predominantly in the cities that had had strong Armenian presence since the 13th century. Those cities included Venice,

Genoa, Naples, Marseilles, Lyon, Paris, Bruges, Amsterdam, Nuremberg, Frankfurt, Seville, Cadiz, Lisbon and London. Most of Armenians living in Western Europe were known as traders and craftsmen. In Italy and France Armenians were famous as Architects and masons.


In the aftermath of the Safavid conquest of Armenia in 1500, tens thousands Armenians were deported to inner Persia from Naxcivan and other Eastern areas of the country. Mass deportations continued until the late 17th century. As a result, Armenians formed strong colonies in Isphahan and Nor-Julfa. The 20th century was marked by significant decline of the above Armenian communities due to heavy emigration (especially after the Islamic revolution of 1979). However, in the 17th and 18th centuries Armenian colonies in Persia played an important role in building up commercial connections between the Far and Middle East and between both of them and Europe.


In early 18th century Armenians of Isphahan and Nor-Julfa established new colony in the port of Bandar-Abbas in Persian Gulf from where they developed a chain of c smaller colonies in India (Surat, Bombay, Calicut and consequently Madras and Calcutta). Indian- Armenian colonies became soon quite prosperous and numerous their trade connections stretching further to Indonesia, Tibet, China, Burma and the Philippines. At the same period, Armenian merchants were also establishing connections between Iran and china via the Silk Route. In Burma Armenians managed to build an impressive commercial fleet based in the port of Rangoon that for a while was dominant both in the Indian Ocean and South China Sea. Burmese Armenians managed to monopolize the precious stones’ trade in South-East Asia and some of them became statesmen especially during the reign of King Alangpaya who untied the country in 1752.



In Egypt a prosperous Armenian Colony was found in the 13th century by the immigrants from Cilicia in Alexandria. Since the 14th century Egyptian Armenians stared to expand their trade network futher into Africa establishing new colonies in Abyssinia (mod. Ethiopia). By the end of the 18th century, Armenian commercial net in Northern Africa stretched as far as Mombasa and Zanzibar (modern Kenya and Tanzania). 


The last two decades of the 19th century were marked by the beginning of direct Armenian influence over the decision-making of Egyptian government of Mohammad Ali. At that period in Egypt, there were quite a few statesmen with Armenian roots among them  Boghos Bey and Nubar Pasha.


The second half of the 20th century witnessed almost total disappearance of Armenian community in Alexandria. Most of the Egyptian Armenians were forced to leave Egypt as a result of the nationalist and xenophobic policy of Nasser.


The second half of the 20th century also witnessed practical disappearance of Armenian colonies of Kenya and Ethiopia due to the policies of the autocratic regimes of Arap Moi in Kenya  (1978-2002) and the red terror under Mengistu Hayle Mariam in Ethiopia (1977-1991).



Armenian magnate from Alexandria

(late 18th century)

Reconstruction: Angus McBride




One of the first Armenian “national” flags used in the  1th – 18th centuries




It would hardly be an exaggeration to say that the 17th and the 18th centuries were the golden age for the Armenian Diaspora around the world.

During more than 200 years Armenian network covered most of Europe, Asia and Northern Africa and started penetrating the Americas. That allowed Armenians to accumulate considerable financial power and greatly expand their political influence in many countries.


However, world Armenian network started declining at the beginning of the 19th century due to the policy of British colonialism. In contrast to their Portuguese, Dutch and French predecessors, new British dominators of Asia and Africa considered Armenian merchants to be their competitors and launched the policy of ousting them from the market. As a result, Armenian network in Asia and partially Africa was severely damaged although never totally dismantled. Meanwhile, Armenians succeeded in building up new successful communities in both North and South America.

By the beginning of the 20th century the major centres of Armenian business and cultural life outside the Armenian core lands, included but were not limited to Istanbul and Trebizond in Turkey, Tbilisi and Baku in Russian Empire, Tehran, Isphahan and Busher in Iran, Alexandria in Egypt, Madras in Asia, Batavia (today’s Jakarta) in Dutch East Indies (Indonesia), Boston, New York, Philadelphia and San-Francisco in the USA.


The policy of extermination and deportation of Armenians, Greeks and Aysors in Turkey (1915-1922) resulted in the destruction of Armenian communal life in Trebizond and Istanbul and at the same time enforced the remaining Armenian centres in the USA, France, Georgia and Russia.


As of today there are approximately 2 million Armenians living in Diasporas outside Armenia and Karabakh. That includes:


600 000           in the USA (California)

250 000           in France

50 000             in Argentina

350 000           in Georgia

800 000           in Russia

100 000           in former Soviet Central Asia (the –stans”)

40 000             in the Ukraine













Armenians in Diaspora Encyclopedia (Hye Spurk Hanragidaran )

Ayvazian, Hovannes (Ed.), Sarkisian, Aram (Ed.)


Haykakan Hanragidaran Hradarakoutun / 2003






A Concise History of the Armenian People

Bournoutian, George


Mazda Publishers / 2003