50) Refugees - 100 years ago: another history, the same story

The history of Armenian refugees in Romania started in late 19th Century, after The Hamidian genocide of 1895-1896: “As many as 350,000 Armenians were massacred under the orders of Abdulhamid II, also known as the Red Sultan. As a result, a good part of the Armenian community in the Ottoman Empire took refuge in Romania. To this day, about 10% of the Armenian community in Romania are descendants of the people who came here after the first genocide. The first refugees were still fairly well off, and they could leave the Ottoman Empire with some savings. Which is why they opened stores here, went on with their lives, and integrated perfectly in Romanian society” explains the historian Eduard Antonian (co-author of "Armenian Genocide - Testimonies"; published in 1998 by Ararat Srl).

198 orphans refugees of the Armenian Genocide, in Constanta Port (1923).
The children, aged between 8 and 15 years were sent to Strunga orphanage - Eastern Romania
(Photo source: the Union of Armenians)

Following the 1st World War Armenian massacres, around 20,000 refugees, about a quarter of which were orphaned, found shelter in Romania and were helped out by the fellow Armenians who were already living here. They came in several waves. Eduard Antonian reconstructed the route taken by those who, for an entire century, were trying to escape a world of death and destruction: “In Istanbul, as it happened with my grandfather and his children, they took a French boat and went to Constanta (town located in the Dobruja region of Romania, on the Black Sea coast). The boat carried a few thousand orphans from the genocide. In Romania there was a well organised Armenian community, and a wealthy one. There were major figures of their time among them, such as Krikor Zambaccian, Grigore Trancu-Iasi, the Manisarian brothers, the biggest grain wholesalers in south-east Europe.
The Union of Armenians was set up in 1919 for the specific purpose of helping the refugees, and its first president was Grigore Trancu-Iasi. When the refugees reached Constanta, the public was horrified. The newspaper "Adevarul" in 1915 had correspondents in Istanbul, who sent in reports on the genocide and the Romanian public opinion was already aware of what was happening to the Armenians in the Ottoman Empire.

Armenad Manisarian, the second president of the Union of Armenians, went to Prime Minister Bratianu and asked what was to be done with the Armenian refugees. Bratianu asked him if he vouched for the refugees from all points of view. And Manisarian said yes. They got official approval, and all the refugees settled here, and later got citizenship. Refugees came here with the so-called Nansen passports, which were granted to stateless people, and were valid only one way. When the orphans got here, the Armenian community mobilized and bought several hectares in Strunga, near Iasi. They built an orphanage there, with a school and teaching staff, and this is where the orphans grew up. They learned trades and built a life for themselves, and many were adopted by Armenian families. Many of them opened shops, like my grand-grandfather, who opened a cobbler shop in Bucharest.
In 1945 a part of them, hoodwinked by Soviet propaganda, repatriated to Armenia. They were told that they now had their own country. In 1991, when Armenia declared its independence, some of the children of those who went to Armenia with the Red Army came back to Romania.”

The Story
Photo © Misak Kalajyan