Armenians in Cyprus

The Armenian community in Cyprus is of long standing, as witnessed, for example, by the historical Armenian quarter of the capital Nicosia and the ancient Magaravank monastery complex, now marooned in the Turkish-occupied north of the island. The population grew during the nineteenth century and continued to receive refugees with each wave of persecution in the Ottoman Empire and of course during and after the 1915 Armenian Genocide (more recently, too, from Egypt, Lebanon and Iran following political crises in those countries).

Most if not all Armenians fled the Turkish military occupation in 1974 and in particular the Armenian community abandoned Famagusta and sought refuge in the Greek half of the island.

The Google Map shows the location of Armenian communities past and present, places of worship and cemeteries across Cyprus.

 

This blog and map were first published by bluebirdresearch in 2012.

Syriac settlements in Tur Abdin, Turkey

The Google Map shows some of the Syriac (Suroye or Assyrian) communities in the Tur Abdin region of Kurdistan in SE Turkey, together with a few of their surviving Syrian Orthodox monasteries. In addition, some settlements slightly further afield are also shown, north towards Batman and east towards Cizre.

The map uses the Syriac (rather than modern Turkish) place names. The Turkish toponym can be seen by zooming in on the map. As part of an aggressive Turkification programme, from the 1920s nearly all non-Turkic place names in Turkey were eradicated; this was systemised and codified in article 1 of the 1936 Law for Provincial Rule (Türkiye Büyük Millet Meclisi Zabıt Ceridesi, v12, pV,  s1). 91% of place names in Mardin province, which covers Tur Abdin, have been Turkified.

Place names on the map are given in simplified transliteration from the Turoyo (modern Aramaic) used by the Syriacs, without the use of diacritics. As a place name can be transliterated in different ways, some variants are also shown (click on a pin to see). Places are ordered using the Latin alphabet.

Included are some places of historic occupation with no extant Syriac population (due to genocide, persecution and emigration).

It is estimated that there were 200,000 Syriacs in this region prior to the 1915 massacre and deportation of Christians in Anatolia. The Syriac population of Tur Abdin is now as little as 1,765 (2015 figure; according to a register of the community kept by the Mor Hobil & Mor Abrohom monastery).

Armenian Karakala, Kars

Among the Californian Armenian community is a disproportionate number of descendants of immigrants from the small village of Karakala, or Kara-Kala, near Kars. On incoming American passenger lists and in naturalisation records, the place of origin of these immigrants will usually be shown as Russian Armenia, because the region around the city of Kars became the Russian Karsskaya oblast from 1878 to 1917. Before that period, the region was part of the Ottoman Empire and therefore a minority of US immigration records, especially for those Armenians born in Karakala before 1878, may state Turkey or Ottoman Empire, rather than Russia, as place of birth.

There is little to be found on the internet – at least, in the English language and of value to genealogists – about Karakala. There is confusion as to its exact whereabouts. The primary reason for this confusion is that the place name is not unique: there are multiple candidates. Furthermore, place names changed under modern Turkey and some Armenian villages were completely razed and have disappeared from the map. However, the true location of Armenian Karakala can be determined with confidence.

Imperial Russia, like other late 19th century empires, took a lively interest in demographics and ethnography (not least because nationalism needed to be monitored as the single biggest challenge to empire). Russian gazetteers of the period show the administrative geography (the hierarchy of local government from regional capital down to village), the population breakdown and usually something of the ethnicity (natsionalnost or nationality in Russian) of the inhabitants. The colossal 1897 Russian Census was a monument to just such a preoccupation with the population of empire.

Gazetteers for Kars oblast record the entire population down to the smallest villages of no more than 50 inhabitants. The Russian gazetteers for the 1900s and 1910s show consistently that there were nine places called Karakala in Kars oblast. However, Armenian Karakala – the source of the Californian immigrant population – is readily identified. Each of the various entries for the settlements named Karakala gives the nationality of its population. In this respect, while cities and towns in eastern Anatolia were usually of mixed population, the villages in the hinterland tended to be occupied by a single people. Only one of the nine places named Karakala had an Armenian population: of the remaining eight, seven were Muslim villages, identified carefully as Kurdish, Turcoman/Turkish and even Karapapak, and one a Yezidi village.

Under Russian rule, Armenian Karakala seems originally to have been classed as an obshestvo (community) in its own right, with the nearby Turkmen selo or village of Hadzhi-Halil subordinate to it, within the okrug (or district) of Magaradzhik (a Greek Orthodox village). However, later Karakala lost its obshestvo status and became simply a selo like Hadzhi-Halil in Magaradzhik obshestvo inMagaradzhik okrug. The other two villages in the immediate grouping were Azat (which was Greek Orthodox) and Kany-Kei (another Armenian settlement).

Across Kars oblast, the majority of Armenian settlements were growing rapidly during the years leading up to WW1, due to natural growth (families were large) and in-migration. Karakala was an exception to this trend. In 1902, the village comprised 464 souls (as they are described in the gazetteers) residing in 43 households; in 1908, 400 and in 1910 408; by 1914, it had 489 souls living in 79 homes. All were Armenian. The explanation for the mid-1900s dip and the otherwise relatively slow growth in population size and reduction in household size in Karakala is the significant emigration from the village to North America.

So where is Karakala? It is situated 17.5km SSE of Kars and is today called Merkezkarakale. The prefix Merkez (“central”) simply signifies its location in Kars Merkezi, or the central district of the Kars province of modern Turkey; this name was not used during either the Ottoman or Imperial Russian eras. 8km to the NNW is Azat; about 5km to the N is Magaradzhik, now called either Mağaracık  or Ataköy in Turkish; 5km to the NW is Kany-Kei, now known as Gelirli; and 2km to the S is Hadzhi-Halil, now spelt Hacıhalil in modern Turkish.

The first Google Map shows Armenian Karakala, marked with a yellow pin, in the context of the other Armenian settlements in Kars.

 

The second Google Map shows Armenian Karakala, marked with a yellow star instead of a pin, along with the non-Armenian villages named Karakala.

 

A third Google Map shows Armenian Karakala in the context of the surrounding villages of different ethnicity or nationality. The Armenian villages are marked with blue pins, and Karakala is the one marked with a blue star instead of a pin at the centre of the map.

 

There is an old photograph of the village of Armenian Karakala online:

Karakala old photo

Armenian Karakala – photo © molokane.org

If one studies Merkezkarakale in satellite view at high magnification on the  Google Map, one thing that is noticeable and common to both photograph and satellite image is the village’s linear structure – essentially it is a single street with plots to the left and right set back at different short distances from the road. Although 100 or more years may have passed, and the village will have been rebuilt and extended, and perhaps shifted its centre of gravity, its basic plan seems remarkably similar today. The axis of the village is NW to SE. The road in the satellite view, extending off to the right half way down the village street (heading roughly N), looks like a more organic recent development. The old photograph seems to have been shot from an elevation and may have been taken on the rising ground SE of the village.

Merkezkarakale

Merkezkarakale today, orientated to match old village photograph 

This is the only village named Karakala with a linear settlement plan in the former Kars oblast.If one looks at each of them in turn at high magnification on the Google Map, it will be seen that all of the others are organic, sometimes seemingly random, clusters of low buildings. Merkezkarakale is the only one with the planned look and feel of a linear village. It has been suggested that Armenian Karakala was built shortly after the Russian administration arrived in 1878; if so, then this would be consonant with the appearance of a “modern” rectilinear and planned layout.

It is not clear whether there are any surviving genealogical records for Karakala; and, if so, where they are held; and whether they cover both the Armenian Apostolic and the village’s burgeoning Armenian Protestant or Evangelical sect known as the “Jumpers” which generated many of the emigrants to California. The 1908 Kars oblast gazetteer explicitly describes the village as Armenian Protestant, so we know that the correct place has been identified.

Among the surnames of the original immigrant Armenian families with roots in Karakala are Katanian, Keosababian, Mooshagian, Nalian, Perumian, Shaharian and Stepanian.

This blog and the accompanying maps first appeared on the bluebirdresearch website in 2010 and 2011.

Russian Old Believers in Estonia

11 communities of Russian Old Believers (starovery) remain within the borders of modern Estonia. Nine of these are situated around the lake known in Estonian as Peipsi järv and to the Russians as Chudskoe: Kallaste, Kasepää, Kolkja (two parishes), Kükita, Mustvee, Piirissaar, Raja and Varnja. These are the Prichudie (“by Chudskoe”) parishes (there are, in addition, smaller settlements without a parish church). The other two communities are in the Estonian capital Tallinn and in the university town of Tartu.

Like the Amish in America, the Old Believers are a throwback to an earlier age, maintaining a life of simplicity and religious observance. Those in Estonia arrived in the late C17th, from cities such as Moscow and Novgorod, following persecution in the Russian heartland. An early monastery was established at Räpina but was destroyed in 1719. Persecution sought out the Old Believers again during the reign of the reactionary autocrat Tsar Nicholas I (1825-1855) and there was pressure to conform to the Russian Orthodox Church: Old Believers were forbidden to baptise, marry or bury according to their own rites. They were not officially recognised and tolerated until a religious freedom act of 1905.

The Prichudie communities were largely self-contained but had connections with co-religionists in, for example, Pskov and Moscow, and in Rīga and Vilnius. The inter-War independence of Estonia, and the drawing of an international border north to south bisecting Peipsi, made communication with communities in Soviet Russia difficult. The annexation of Estonia into the militantly atheist USSR created greater problems – for example, many Old Believers were deported to Siberia in March 1949, although some were able to return after the Thaw following the death of Stalin in 1953. Yet the Old Believers and their customs survived the turmoil of C20th and remain largely intact today in their fishing and onion-growing villages on the edge of Lake Peipsi in re-independent Estonia.

There is of course, as well as a population in Russia, an Old Believer diaspora abroad, in Canada, USA and Australia, established in the C19th and C20th. However, because of the various doctrinaire schisms within the starovery themselves, it is not clear how these often discrete communities are inter-related in family history terms and how many, if any, of these have direct kinship with the Estonian population. Records in state archives in Tartu and Tallinn appear to be extensive and there would seem to be good prospects for family history research for anyone knowing or believing themselves to have roots in this small but fascinating community.

The Google Map shows both the parishes and the Old Believer settlements without parish status.

 

The original version of this blog appeared on the bluebirdresearch site in 2010.

Armenian Apostolic churches in Constantinople

This Google Map shows the Armenian Apostolic (or Gregorian) churches in İstanbul, Turkey for which there are known surviving historical parish registers of use for Armenian family history research. 

The churches in İstanbul, or Bolis as it is known in Armenian, are under the jurisdiction of the Armenian Patriarchate of Constantinople.

There are other destroyed and surviving Apostolic churches for which there are no known extant historical parish registers of baptism, marriage and burial. These are not shown on the map. Similarly, Armenian Catholic churches are not mapped.

 

A version of this article and the accompanying map were originally published by bluebirdresearch in 2011.

 

 

 

Armenian communities in Jordan

This simple Google Map shows the location of the Armenian communities and places of worship in Jordan, including the modern Baptism Site church on the River Jordan at Al Maghtas.

The Armenian population in Jordan is today highly concentrated on the Al-Ashrafieh district of the capital, Amman.

 

 

 

Setomaa – Seto communities in Estonia

Setomaa is a land that does not exist on maps, inhabited by the Seto, or Setu, a small nation which is both threatened by assimilation and experiencing something of a cultural renaissance.

It is divided by the border between Estonia and Russia.

On the Estonian side, the Seto live in Mikitimäe and Värska parishes in Põlvamaa, and in Meremäe and Misso parishes in Võrumaa. A traditional Seto settlement differs from an archetypal Estonian settlement in being a compact or linear village rather than a looser cluster of scattered dwellings and farmsteads. Also, the Seto are Russian Orthodox, rather than the typical Lutheran religion of Estonia, and worship in a distinctive wooden chapel known as a tsässon.

On the Russian side, the Seto live mainly between the towns of Petseri (Pechory in Russian) and Irboska (Izborsk in Russian), which lie on the western edge of Pskov oblast, part of the Northwestern Federal Okrug of Russia. The Seto are a recognised minority in Russia but this does not prevent assimilation. According to the 2002 census, only 197 Russian citizens declared themselves to be of Seto nationality (there were also some 28,113 Estonians). It is of course likely that some Seto stated that they were Estonian, or indeed Russian, or chose not to declare any nationality.

During Estonia’s first period of independence, from 1920 to 1940, however, before the German and then the Soviet occupation, all of Setomaa was in Estonia, in the then county of Petserimaa with its county town at Petseri. Petseri grew up around its monastery (now known as the Pskovo-Pechersky Dormition Monastery) which, as well as being the major landowner in Setomaa, was the spiritual centre of Russian Orthodoxy among the Seto.

Previously, before WW1, all of Setomaa was in the Pskov gubernia of the Russian Empire. For this reason, the population here did not acquire surnames as the Estonians did during the period from the 1810s to the 1830s. I have read that the Seto did not take surnames until 1921, before then using a simple Russian style combination of forename and otchestvo (patronymic). This date seems late but may well be true. After all, looking further west, not all Swedes had a surname as such until the Släktnamnslagen 1901 made fixed family names compulsory.

There must be a Seto diaspora. Possibly, it will be concentrated in Siberia and elsewhere across Russia, rather than in Australia, North America and Scandinavia. Presumably, Seto would have been among the June 1941 and March 1949 Soviet deportations of Estonians to Siberia and the descendants of those who survived and have not returned to Estonia might now live in the Ural and in the regions of Krasnoyarsk, Novosibirsk and Omsk in Siberia.

The Google Map shows the small communities in Estonia where the Seto reside – most of the mapped place names possess a tsässon, often of very modest dimensions. The two red pins indicate places on the Russian side of the border with known Seto residents; it is of course probable that Seto live silently in other places adjacent to Estonia.

 

A version of this blog was first posted on the bluebirdresearch website in 2010.

Yezidis in Kars Oblast

The Armenians, the Assyrians and the Greeks were not the only nationalities to be largely removed from Asia Minor as Turkey aggressively redefined itself as a single-nation state in the post-Ottoman era. The Yezidis (Yazidis) – Kurds with their own distinctive non-Islamic religion – have also disappeared, either being killed or converted to Islam, assimilating into the Kurdish population, or crossing the border into the Republic of Armenia (in more recent times, many have emigrated to continental Europe, particularly to Germany).

The Google Map shows the location of the former Yezidi villages of the Kars oblast or province of the Russian Empire circa 1910 before it was re-taken by the Turks after the end of WW1. During the Russian era (1878-1918), the distinctiveness of the Yezidi was recognised and these villages constituted their own administrative district or okrug. Many had arrived in the region during the 1880s, having been displaced from further west in Anatolia. The Yezidi population of Kars oblast was approximately 2,386 in 1892.

 

A version of this blog post and its accompanying map were first published by bluebirdresearch in 2011.

The Armenian community in Iran

There has been an Armenian community in what is today Iran and what was formerly Persia for many centuries, and some extremely ancient Armenian Apostolic churches are to be found in the north of the country – for example, the so-called “black church” of Surp Tade Vank south of the town of Maku and the Surp Stepanos Maghartavank monastery in a gorge near Julfa which form part of a UNESCO-recognised world heritage ensemble of exceptional interest.

Armenians of the Ottoman Empire sought refuge in Persia at the time of the 1915 Genocide, while other immigrants arrived after the Russian Revolution, and the Armenian population of Iran may have risen to a million or more at its peak. Today, however, the community is dwindling due to emigration, although not due to political or religious factors, as one might assume. While there is some inevitable discrimination given that modern Iran is by definition an Islamic state, a majority of those local Armenians leaving Iran are doing so for economic reasons and emigrating particularly to USA (rather than to the Republic of Armenia or Western Europe). Some of the traditionally strong Armenian communities, such as those in the New Julfa (or Nor Jugha) quarter on the south side of Isfahan and in the city of Tabriz and the vicinity of Urmia, have seen significant drops in population. Although the actual figures seem to be unknown and the process of emigration is continuing, it is thought that the total Armenian population of Iran may have fallen to as low as 75,000 in the years since the 1979 Islamic Revolution overthrew the liberal, westward-leaning Shah.

The Armenians in Persia also had strong links with India and especially with the British in India, operating alongside (and often on behalf of) the Honourable East India Company along the overland trade routes to the subcontinent. This is why there are Armenian churches in various cities in India, even though the actual Armenian community is now greatly reduced in number. Armenian cemeteries are also important for those British family historians with East India Company connections, as the burials of the British usually took place in Armenian cemeteries where there was not a Church of England or other Protestant church. In Iran this practice remained prevalent until the end of the 19th century. A very good example of this is at the port of Bushire (Bushehr) in Iran.

The Google Map shows the Armenian communities and places of worship (not all extant today) in Persia / Iran in the late 19th and 20th centuries. Many of these are in the far NW of the country around Lake Urmia, where Armenians have lived among Assyrians, Azeris, Kurds and other peoples for centuries. Some churches have been damaged by earthquakes and war but generally the Iranian state has been sympathetic to the Armenian heritage (compared to the neglect and destruction it has suffered in Azerbaijan and Turkey). Spellings of place names on the map have not been standardised.

 

This blog and map were first published by bluebirdresearch in 2012.

Catholic communities in Karadag, Kosovo

This Google Map shows a Catholic enclave in an otherwise Muslim area of south-eastern Kosovo known as Skopska Crna Gora in Serbo-Croat, as Mali i Zi i Shkupit in Albanian, and as Karadağ in Turkish. All three names translate to English as “black mountains”.

This small population was known locally as the latini (being of the Roman Catholic faith) and probably was no larger than 5,000 during the second half of the C20th. What is particularly interesting is that there were not just Albanians (as one might have expected in Kosovo) but also Croats among the Karadag Catholics. For example, Stublla was an Albanian Catholic village, while Letnica, Šašare, Vrnavokolo and Vrnez were Croat Catholic villages. Kabaš had a Croat majority with a minority of Albanian inhabitants.

The isolated Croat community, distant from its Croatian congeners, was ethnographically distinct. The older women wore Turkish-style dimije; the inhabitants of Vrnavokolo spoke fluent Albanian. Originally, it was served by a single church dedicated to the Madonna, the Letnička Gospa, in the village of Letnica.

In the context of the growing fragmentation of the former Yugoslavia and the likelihood or at least fear of conflict spreading to their part of Kosovo, it was perhaps predictable that the Croat population should decide to emigrate en masse to independent Croatia. In 1992/93, the majority were resettled as refugees in a cluster of villages recently abandoned by Serbs in Slavonia – Bastaji, Ćeralije, Đulovac, Koreničani and Voćin (shown as green pins on the Google Map). The 2011 census of Kosovo showed only 70 Croats remaining across the municipality of Vitia which covers Letnica and district: presumably mostly the elderly and their carers who refused to emigrate, perhaps supplemented by some returnees from Slavonia.

The Catholic Albanians of Karadag have their own church in Stublla, dedicated to Shën Gjergji (St George) and this community survives, despite some societal pressure for Kosovar Albanians to be Muslim. Additionally, there is a complicated and improperly understood history of crypto-Catholicism in the region, with such outwardly Muslim but inwardly Catholic adherents known locally as laramanë (formally, in Latin, as occulti, or secret).