SINGAPORE — One sometimes wonders about the lost communities of the Armenian diaspora. Singapore, whose 175-year-old church, The Armenian 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 Strait Times (national newspaper) and Raffles hotel, dissolved when Japanese forces occupied Singapore during WWII. Today, the community is very much alive and growing. Approximately 60 members gathered 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 Hyre Mer. She also recited two eloquent poems in Easter Armenian.
Community leader and organizer, Pierre Hennes (US) explained the community is made up of one-third original families, one-third Hyeastayns and one-third expatriate professional people totaling about 80 people with five newborns this year. Young Armenian born professional musicians include concert conductor, cellist Gevorg Sargsyan, Naira Mkhitaryan and Ani Umedyan. Professionals include leaders from Turkey, France, United States and Georgia.
The church celebrated the 175-year of concretion March 27, with Archbishop Aga Baliozian of Australia who is mentoring the Singapore church. The community received generous donations including one from Rhode Island to restore the church repairing termite, water and paint damage. The large rectory needs similar restoration work and new electrical wiring. The church’s beauty makes is 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) Church community will lease the church for 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 US, churches usually have the Virgin Mary and Christ Child.