Armenians in India

Written by Dr.Mesrob Jacob Seth

Edited by the webmaster

(Armenians in India, 1982-Published by Armenian Church Committee of Calcutta)

A Christian Colony in Kabul

Altough Kabul is outside the scope of this work, but as a large number of Armenian gunners were, according to Fr.Tieffentaller, taken from Lahore to Kabul, by Ahmad Shah, in 1755, it will be interesting to follow their fortunes in their new abode.

The Armenian gunners from Lahore were not however the first settlers at Kabul, for according to the traditions which had been handed down to the remnants of the colony which still existed in that city up to the close of the last century, a large number of Armenians had settled there during the reign of Nadir Shah two hundred years ago.

Sir. Edward Maclagan, a great authority on the history of the Jesuit Missions in India, says, in his The Jesuits and the Great Mogul, that "Benedict Goes when passing the borders of this country (Kafiristan) in 1603, had heard accounts of Kafiristan which led him to believe that there might be Christians there, and this belief had been reaffirmed in Father Kircher's work, China Illustrata, published in 1667. A few years later the Fathers in Mogor learnt from some Armenians who had come to Agra from Kabul that the inhabitants of Kafiristan (who were not Muslim) bore a cross traced (escripta) on their heads and had probably at one time been Christians.

Fired with the prospect of this new opening for their efforts, the Jesuits of Agra obtained permission to undertake a Mission to Kafiristan, and the task was entrusted to Father Gregorio Roiz, then at Agra." From the above it appears that there were Armenians at Kabul in 1670, long before the days of Nadir Shah or Ahmad Shah.

Very little is known of the history of that isolated colony, although Kabul, in common with the other cities in India and the East, was under the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the extensive Perso-Indian diocese, the hedquarters of which was at Julfa, the Armenian suburb of Ispahan. It appears that up to the thirties of the last century, priests were regularly sent to Kabul from Julfa, but owing to the apathy of the prelates who succeeded the Archbishop Carapiet, no priests were sent there, perhaps the spiritual welfare of the small community in the midst of a fanatical people, was not considered to be of sufficient importance by the worthy dignitaries who sat on the episcopal chair in the Cathedral at Julfa, with the result that the small flock, which had dwindled down to about thirty families by that time, was left without a shepherd, their dead being deprived of a Christian burial and their children of the sacrament of baptism, as can be seen presently.

In the Report of the Peshawar Mission, C.M.S., for 1870-71, there is an Appendix, under the captain "Some account of the Armenian Christians in the city of Cabul," which is reproduced here in extenso, as it is highly interesting.
"There are now eighteen Armenian Christians in the city of Cabul, six are males and twelve females. One of them was educated in our Peshawar Mission School and has a fair knowledge of English. One of the women became the wife of the late Ameer Azim Khan and the mother of Sardar Ishaq Khan, whose name has frequently figured prominently in the recent disturbance in Cabul. She is now a prisoner in Fort Ghuznee.

The Rev. Joseph Wolff(a Jewish convert to Christianity. He was the first Missionary to go to Kabul) in 1832 when in Cabul ministered to the Armenians, and relates in his Diary that he preached to them in Persian in their Church. Then there were four Armenian men and nineteen ladies and children. In 1839 when Lord Keane marched to Cabul, the Chaplain, the Rev. G. Pigott, baptised two of the children. And in 1842 the Rev. J. N. Allen, Chaplain to General Nott's force, bapticed three others. One of them is now a member of our Peshawar Church.

Since then two young men came to the Peshawar Mission for baptism and have since returned to Cabul. This small Christian community has for many years been permitted by the Cabul Government to worship God in their own little church. But they have frequently suffered from the numerous political changes which have taken place in that land of anarchy and bloodshed. Only last year several of them were imprisoned by the Ameer and were at last released through the intercession of the Missionary at Peshawar.

In such a position of uncertainty they have not been able to make much effect towards the spread of Christianity, but on two occasions they have sent enquirers to Peshawar, who were afterwards baptized, and whose names are still borne on the books of our Peshawar Misssion. It is related by the Armenians that they once baptized a convert from Mohammedanism under the following remarkable circumstances.

An Afgan robber, having dug through teh roof of the Armenian church, descended and collected all the silver vessels of the place with the intention of stealing them. But in attempting to ascend through the aperture of the roof of the church, he fell three times. Believing that the Almighty had arrested him in the very act of theft, this Afgan robber at once delievered himself up to the Armenians and begged for Christian baptism.

This Afgan convert, the first fruits of Afganistan, died only a few years ago. The Rev. J. N. Allen's account of his visit to the Armenian Church at Cabul in 1842 is particularly interesting, and we now give it, in extenso, with the hope that it may awaken an interest in a people who have for many generations maintained a Christian profession amidst Mahomedan bigotry and hatred."

"1842, October 1st.I went into the town and accompanied by Captain Boswell, 2nd Regiment, Bengal N.I. set forth to make inquiries respecting a small community of Armenian Christians, of whom i had heard from my friend the Rev. G. Pigott, who had baptized two of their children when he visited Cabul in 1839, as Chaplain to the Bombay Army under Lord Keane.
After some inquirey, we discovered them in a street inthe Bala Hissar, leading from Jellalabad Gate; their buildings were on the North side of the street. We went up an alley and turned into a small court on the left, surrounded by buildings and filled with the implements of their trade. A little door led from this court into their church, a small dark building, but procuring lights, I found it was carpeted and kept clean, apparently with great care.

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