Bhaswati X Bhattacharya, a fellow in residence at the Centre for Modern Indian Studies at Gottingen, is working to publishing a book on her research into the Armenian community of India, which will be released soon.
The book is about Armenians in India from 1700 to 1947. “I begin with the trade network in the pre-colonial period to see what is changing in the colonial times, how the identity formation takes place during the late colonial period, and the effects of all this on the current situation of the community,” she said in an interview with dnaindia.com.
As a PhD student of Indian maritime commerce, she found Armenians being mentioned in all European sources. Her inquiry took her to their church in Barabazar, the Armenian College and a few leading members of the community in Calcutta. It was while talking to them that she decided to pursue this study as a post-doctoral research.
“Writing about Armenian commerce in the pre-colonial period, Armenian scholars tend to show the importance of New Julfa in Persia in this network. New Julfa was important as it was the main centre of Armenians in the East since the evacuation of rich merchants and others of Julfa in Armenia in early seventeenth century by the Persian Emperor Shah Abbas. But my research demonstrates why from the late 17th century Indian settlements became important for Armenians, and how from the early 18th century Armenians in these settlements became more and more financially independent of New Julfa (commercial contact notwithstanding). My research emphasises how, beginning from scratch sometimes, these merchants built up their networks, based at places like Madras, Calcutta etc. The identity formation in the colonial period is an eye-opener,” Bhaswati X Bhattacharya said.
Speaking about the perspectives of the Armenian community in India, she said: “The community needs to open up and broaden their horizons a bit, and not focus on a single entity or region else they will remain just a footnote. However, I see change coming from other corners that have raised hopes and are good, healthy signs. Armenian and Indian citizens marrying without having to ask for the community’s approval. Armenia always looked to the West but new business relations between Armenia and India have begun in the wake of economic liberalisation. These have opened up new opportunities and people are not looking up to the old authorities.