Armenians in Singapore come together to revive community

by Harvey Bazarian

Published: Sunday May 08, 2011

Singapore's Church of Surb Grigor Lusavorich.

Author with Pierre Hennes (center) during Singapore community's get together.

SINGAPORE-One sometimes wonders about the lost communities of the Armenian Diaspora. Singapore's 175-year-old Church of St. Gregory the Illuminator, comes to mind as an example.

Singapore's Armenian heritage has not disappeared. The community, which had leaders that established notable Singapore institutions, such as the first church, The Straits Times (founded in 1845 and still the highest-circulation national daily newspaper), Raffles Hotel and the national flower - Vanda Miss Joaquim (named after Ashkhen Hovakimian), dissolved when Japanese forces occupied Singapore during WWII.

Today, the community is very much alive and growing. Approximately sixty members gathered recently to commemorate the Armenian Genocide and celebrate Easter.

In true Armenian style, the event started with a generous picnic. With no clergy available, an Armenian opera singer, Gayane Vardanyan sang three Sharagans with an emotional Soorp Soorp and Hayr Mer. She also recited two eloquent poems in Armenian.

One of the community leaders and organizers, Pierre Hennes (an American in Singapore for over eight years) explained that the community of approximately 80 people is made up of one third who are descendants of the original Armenian settlers and families, one third who are from Armenia, and one third expatriate professionals from all around the Diaspora...and five Singapore-newborns this year.

Young Armenia-born professional musicians include concert conductor, cellist Gevorg Sargsyan, Naira Mkhitaryan and Ani Umedyan. Other professionals have come from Australia, Cyprus, Turkey, France, United States and Georgia.

The Church celebrated the 175th anniversary of its consecration over the weekend of March 26 and 27, 2011. Over 160 Armenian brothers and sisters travelled to Singapore from 19 countries - the event was graced by both Armenian and local senior clergy such as Archbishop Aghan Baliozian of Australia and Archbishop Vosskan, Ambassadors and Government Officials.

The events helped raise over $50,000 in donations, of which 100% will be dedicated to the repairs and maintenance of the Church and grounds: the Church Committee operates with no overheads. Significant repairs at the Church were recently completed to correct damage caused by termites and humidity. The large Rectory needs similar restoration work and new electrical wiring.

The Church's beauty makes it a major tourist attraction. The Church sits like a gem in the modern city-state. In 1973, the building was designated a national monument by the National Preservation Board. While often used for weddings, the small Syrian and Coptic (Egyptian) communities lease the Church for regular religious services.

The interior has a marble altar with a picture of the Last Supper. The picture of the Last Supper is common in Asian Armenian churches while in the U.S., churches usually have the Virgin Mary and Christ Child.

However, churches are about serving religious needs. Critical to the community's future is creating a trust to fund a monthly Badarak with a priest from Australia and preserve the Church well into the future. With many young children and immigrants from areas without a church heritage, religious education is essential. The Church is a splendid symbol of not only Singapore Armenians, but our worldwide Church.

Individuals and foundations from Asia and around the world have provided much-needed generous financial support to the Church.

Parish leaders Greg Basmadjian, Greg Soghomonian and Pierre Hennes have three goals: to fund a regular monthly Church service, preserve the two buildings and continue to grow the population by seeking Armenians who are moving to this vibrant financial and trade center.

For more information about the Church and community in Singapore and other churches in Asia, please visit: www.armeniansinasia.org. For other queries, or to learn more about how you can contribute, please contact: singapore@armeniansinasia.org.

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Carolann Najarian. Courtesy image

Calendar of Events

Veteran Armenian American activist Carolann Najarian will present her father's memoirs on surviving the genocide and settling in America, at a Boston area event on October 30; for details about this and other upcoming Armenian happenings in America consult the Calendar of Events.






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