Ukrainian Armenians demonstrate on Armenian Genocide issue

The Rich History of Armenians in Ukraine


MAHWAH, N.J. — According to the official Ukrainian census, 99,894 Armenians were permanently settled in Ukraine in 2001, not counting the large number of workers coming from Armenia and other republics to earn their livelihood. As a result of the precarious political situation in the Caucasus region in the post-Soviet period, the country’s Armenian population has almost doubled by now, again not including a very large number of temporary Armenian immigrant laborers. Today, the Armenians of Ukraine compose the fifth largest Armenian diaspora community in the world.

Historical Overview

Armenians were first mentioned in Ukraine during the Kievan Rus period. In the tenth century, individual Armenian merchants and craftsmen worked in the palaces of various Ruthenian princes. However, large numbers of Armenian immigrants fled the Seljuk invasions and settled in southwestern Ukraine in the 11th century after the fall of the capital Ani, generally in the areas of Caffa (Feodosia), Sudak and Solkat in the Crimean peninsula. As a result, the peninsula began to be called Arminia Maritima [Maritime Armenia]. This number is recorded as having increased in the 12th-15th centuries after the conquest of the Mongol tribes. A smaller number of Armenian immigrants settled in central Ukraine, including Kiev, as well as in the western part of the country, near Potolia and Kalijina, near the city of Lviv, which in 1267 became the headquarters of the Armenian Church.

Feodosiya’s Armenian Church of Archangels Michael and Gabriel, 15th century. Restored in the 20th century. Exterior.

At the end of the 13th century, when the Armenian population migrated from the Crimea to the Polish-Ukrainian border, it brought with it the Armeno-Kipchak language, which until the 16th and 17th centuries was used within the Armenian communities of Lviv and Kamianets-Potilsk, which today is called Ukraine.

After the fall of Crimea to Ottoman Turkey in 1475, the Armenians of Crimea again took up the staff of exile and left Crimea, settling in the northwest of the country, where there was already a flourishing national life. The community gradually became integrated into the local Polish population, while maintaining the Armenian Catholic Church.

Odessa’s St. Gregory the Illuminator Church

In the 14th century, Crimea fell under the influence of the Russian Empire, which encouraged the Crimean Armenians to settle in Russia. and large numbers of Armenians moved to Rostov-on-Don. Twenty years later, the Russians occupied the peninsula and a large number of new immigrant Turkish-Armenians settled there and formed new colonies.

The Armenian church in Yalta, Crimea

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During World War II, in 1944, Armenians, Greeks, Bulgarians and Tatars were deported from the Crimea as “anti-Soviet” elements. It was not until the 1960s that they were allowed to return to their homeland. During the Soviet era, Armenians came with other nationalities of Soviet rule to work in heavy industry factories in the eastern part of Ukraine.

The Armenians of Ukraine Today

The largest number of Armenians living in Ukraine is concentrated in the Donetsk Oblast – about 16,000 Armenians. There are Armenian communities in Dnipro, Kharkiv, Kherson, Kiev, Luhansk, Mykolaiv, Zaporizhia and Odessa, where the great Ukrainian-Armenian artist Sargis Ortyan spent most of his life. The city of Lviv is considered to be the “spiritual center” of the Armenians, becoming the headquarters of dioceses of the Armenian Catholic and Armenian Apostolic Churches. However, after the Second World War, the Catholic Church did not use its church there, which remained under the authority of the Armenian Apostolic Church.

Armenians continued to constitute a historical presence in Crimea until 2014, when the Russians occupied Crimea. Nine thousand Armenians make up 0.43% of the population of the region and are concentrated in large provinces such as Sevastopol. It should be noted that the great sea painter Hovhannes Aivazovsky lived and created in the city of Feodosia in the Crimean peninsula. Half of the Armenians are Russian-speaking, 43 percent are Armenian-speaking and the remaining 7 percent are Ukrainian-speaking.

The History of the Armenian Church of Lviv

St. Mariam is a small Armenian church built in 1363-1370 with the help of merchants from Caffa. It is said that it was built in the style of Ani Cathedral. In 1437 it was enlarged with different sections, but today only the southern part remains. After the fire of the city in 1527 left it in ruins, a new church was built in 1571 with a new stone structure. From the 17th century until 1945, the church was owned by the Armenian Catholic leadership of Lviv. During the Soviet era, the Armenian Catholic Church experienced difficulties.

Lviv’s Armenian cathedral

Prior to the visit of Pope John Paul II, the local Ukrainian authorities handed over the cathedral to the Armenian Apostolic Church, on the condition that the Armenian Catholic and Apostolic Churches use it as a place of worship. The Diocese of the Armenian Apostolic Church was established in 1997 in Lviv.

The visit of Catholicos of All Armenians Karekin II

On May 18, 2003, the cathedral was reconsecrated by Catholicos of All Armenians Karekin II. The ceremony was attended by the Speaker of the Armenian National Assembly Armen Khachatryan, former President of Ukraine Leonid Kravchuk, the notables of the Armenian community of Ukraine, French-Armenian singer Charles Aznavour and his son, actor Armen Jigarkhanyan, and the Ambassador of the Republic of Armenia to Ukraine Hrachya Silvanyan, as well as the representative of the Patriarch of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Archbishop Augustin (Markevich).

The church has been undergoing renovations since 2009. Poland has been financially helpful to the renovation work conducted under Polish-Ukrainian supervision.

(Translated from the original Armenian.)

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