Author: KONTOGEORGIS DIMITRIOS
The Armenian community of Braila (Brăila), albeit one of the oldest in the city, had never been a numerous one. The Armenians were, nevertheless, well integrated to the city’s social fabric and succeeded in exerting a considerable economic influence, far exceeding their restricted number. Already during the Ottoman period (1540-1828) some Armenians had settled in Braila and it is indicative that one of the main neighborhoods of the latter was named “mahalaua Armenească” [i].
This neighborhood was situated in the vicinity of the Ottoman fortress (cetate), nearby the old Iaşi road, which was named in the 1850s strada Galaţi, and was one of the city’s key routes. In 1828 after the expulsion of the Muslim population, in the aftermath of the Russian conquest of Braila, a part, at least, of the Armenian inhabitants remained in the city. According to the census of that year, there were about 25 Armenian families (c. 125 persons), in a population of 591 families (c. 3.000 persons). [ii] The majority was engaged in trade, while others worked as artisans. [iii] Their number diminished steadily in the following decades, as in 1838 79 Armenians were counted, [iv] and in 1860 out of a population of 25.000 people only 48 Armenians lived in Braila. [v]
The Armenian community remained small in the last decade of the 19th century; thus, only 100 Armenians were registered in the Municipal 1891 census, amounting just 0,20% of the city’s population (46.715). Their number increased significantly until 1899, when 242 Armenians resided in Braila, c. 0,40% of the total (56.630). [vi] The vast majority (199) were Ottoman subjects, constituting 12,50% of the 1.586 Ottoman inhabitants of Braila. [vii] It was only after the First World War and the Armenian Genocide that the community witnessed a substantial growth, due to the refugees from the Ottoman Empire. Approximately 100 families lived in Braila during the 1920s, amounting probably to c. 600 people. [viii]
Though a systematic research on the economic and social stratification of the Armenian community has not been attempted till now, it seems that they were divided into two major categories. On the one hand many Armenians, usually migrating seasonally from the Ottoman Empire, were dockers, or, less frequently, were employed as laborers at constructions and industries. [ix] The eminent Armenian merchants and entrepreneurs were not many, but their contribution to the city’s economic life was more substantial than their number would allow. An outstanding case was N. G. Tetorian. One of the most influential bankers in the 1850s and 1860s and member of the local elite merchant association (Deputăţia Mercantilă), [x] he was also especially active in real estate, and owned many imposing buildings at the city’s centre. [xi] He was furthermore shareholder in various maritime insurance companies. During the last decades of the 19th century, another Armenian, the Romanian citizen Byzant Youghaperian, became one of the most visible entrepreneurs in the port. He was owner of a few riverboats (schlepps), editor of the most authoritative Annuaire of Danubian navigation, [xii] and shareholder in one of the city’s most forward-looking banks (Credit Belgo-Român).
The church of the Armenian community, built probably in the 1830s, must have been a relatively plain and wooden building, which was destroyed by a fire in 1861-1862. [xv] A few years later (1868-1871) a new church was built in another location, at the city’s centre (str. Galaţi), where it exists until today. The lot was donated by a couple of prosperous Armenians (Maria & Hagi Ovanez Bosnechian) and the construction was financed by members of the community and the Russian consul Boscoff. [xvi] Its architecture followed standard, and simplified, features of Armenian traditional ecclesiastical architecture. [xvii]
Our knowledge for the inner-workings of the Armenian community is meager. It should be underlined, though, that the increase in the number of permanent Armenian inhabitants of Braila after the First World War induced prominent and prosperous members of the community to establish various philanthropic foundations and associations. One of the most active was the Regional Committee which collected funds for the Armenian Orphanage near the Moldavian city of Târgu Frumos. [xviii]
[i]See Nicolae Iorga, Cei dintâi ani în nouă Brăila românească, (Bucureşti: 1929), 12, 71. It is unknown from which areas did the Armenians migrate to Braila.
[ii]The medium size of a family in Wallachia during that era has been estimated to about five people.
[iii]Maria Stoica, “Comunitatea armenilor din Brăila”, Analele Brăilei, X (2010), 421.
[v]Anale Statistice pentru cunoştinţa partei Muntene din România, 1:II (1860), 98-99. It should be underlined that the accuracy of the 1859-1860 census has been questioned.
[vi]Leonida Colescu, Recensământul general al Populațiunei României, (Bucureşti: Serviciul Statisticei Generale, 1905), 378-379.
[vii]Colescu, Recensământul general al Populațiunei României, 89.
[viii]Stoica, Comunitatea armenilor, 422.
[ix]Cf. Ilie Didicescu, Privire asupra bisericii române a oraşului şi judeţului Brăila, (Brăila: 1906), 217-218.
[x]Nicolae Mocioiu – Stanca Bounegru – Gheorghe Iavorschi – A. Vidis, (eds.), Documente privind istoricul oraşului Brăila (1832-1918), v. I, (Bucureşti: Direcţia Generală a Arhivelor Statului din Republica Socialistă România, 1975), 172-174.
[xi]Maria Stoica, Brăila. Memoria oraşului-Imaginea unui oraş românesc din secolul al XIX-lea, (Brăila: Muzeul Brăilei-Editura Istros, 2009), 229-231.
[xii]Cf. Byzant N.Youghapérian, L’Annuaire du Danube, édition 1894-1895, (Brăila: Ânteia Tipo-Litografia P.M. Pestemalgioglu, 1895).
[xiii]Emil Octavian Mocanu, , Portul Brăila de la regimul de porto-franco la primul război mondial (1836-1914), (Brăila: Muzeul Brăilei-Editura Istros, 2012), 422.
[xiv]For some cases see Iorga, Cei dintâi ani în nouă Brăila românească, 56-57˙ Constantin C.Giurescu, Istoricul oraşului Brăila din cele mai vechi timpuri până astăzi, (Bucureşti, Editura ştiinţifică, 1968), 163.
[xv]The church was located at the city’s centre. See Stoica, Brăila. Memoria oraşului, 214 and eadem, Comunitatea armenilor, 421. According to another source the church was destroyed in 1850, see Nae A. Vasilescu, Oraşul şi judeţul Brăila odinioară şi astăzi: Schiţe istorice şi administrative din oraşul şi judeţul Brăila, (Brăila: Typo-Lithografia Pericle M. Pestemalgioglu, 1906), 67.
[xvi]Stoica, Brăila. Memoria oraşului, 214-215 and eadem, Comunitatea armenilor, 422-423.
[xvii]Stoica, Brăila. Memoria oraşului, 215. For the various renovations of the church, in particular in the inter-war period, see Stoica, Comunitatea armenilor, 423-424.
[xviii]Stoica, Comunitatea armenilor, 430-434.
Anale Statistice pentru cunoştinţa partei Muntene din România, 1:II (1860), pp. 44-109
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Cristocea, Spiridon, Oraşul Brăila în catagrafia din anul 1838, Brăila: Editura Istros a Muzeului Brăilei, 2012
Mocioiu, Nicolae – Bounegru, Stanca – Iavorschi, Gheorghe – Vidis, A. (eds.), Documente privind istoricul oraşului Brăila (1832-1918), v. I, Bucureşti: Direcţia Generală a Arhivelor Statului din Republica Socialistă România, 1975
Didicescu, Ilie, Privire asupra bisericii române a oraşului şi judeţului Brăila, Brăila 1906
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