On Saturday, November 9, 2013, the Armenian community of China, known as ‘ChinaHay’, as well as more than one hundred guests including many from overseas gathered in Hong Kong to attend a significant event: the official opening ceremony of the newly established Jack & Julie Maxian Hong Kong Armenian Center.
Honorary guests included prominent Armenians: His Holiness Karekin II, Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians, His Grace Bishop Haigazoun Najarian, Primate of the Diocese of Australia and New Zealand, His Eminence Archbishop Aram Ateshian, Patriarchal Vicar of Constantinople, His Excellency the Armenian Ambassador to China, Mr. Armen Sargsyan as well as the Honorary Consul of Armenia to Thailand, Mr. Arto Artinian.
The two-day celebration began with a ribbon-cutting ceremony followed by the blessing given by His Holiness at the beautiful Center altar built specially for religious events. ‘Armenian couples will marry here, and Armenian kids will be baptized in this house,’ Jack Maxian mentioned in his welcoming speech. ‘We will arrange Armenian meetings in this Center, festivities devoted to Armenian culture, and foreigners will be surprised that the Armenian people are able to build an Armenian house outside of their own land,’ said Mr. Maxian.
In that evening, His Holiness Karekin II granted a special award – St. Nerses Shnorhali Medal of Honor – to Mr. and Mrs. Maxian for their devotion to the nation. ‘We are happy to see that Armenian national identity is so well preserved in a remote country like China, despite the small size of the community,’ said Karekin II. His Holiness also visited the grave of Sir Paul Catchik Chater, probably the most famous Armenian in Asia, who moved to Hong Kong in 1864 from CalcuttaIndia and became one of the most successful businessmen in the history of Hong Kong with streets, parks and buildings across Hong Kong still bearing his name.
Speaking on behalf of the Armenian Community of China, Mr. Henri Arslanian, highlighted the symbolic importance of this event and presented Mr. and Mrs. Maxian with a real piece from Ararat mountain, in appreciation of their years of devotion to the community and to celebrate their efforts in bringing the idea of creation of Armenian Center to life in Hong Kong.
Jack Maxian, in his inauguration speech highlighted, approaching the guests: ‘I am convinced that, very soon, with your personal and collective commitment, the capacity of the Center will multiply and the Armenian community of China will become exemplary in its patriotic and Armenian-oriented activity.’
Jack and Julie Maxian generously donated a large collection of paintings to adorn the walls of the Center, all of which were made specially for this occasion.
On the second day of the great celebration, Bishop Haigazoun Najarian held the Holy Mass, the first celebrated in the Centre. The guests also enjoyed brunch, after which they attended a lecture by Professor Sebouh Aslanian, Chair of Armenian Studies at UCLA, who travelled to Hong Kong for the occasion and who described the role of Julfan Armenian merchants in the early modern world of the Indian Ocean and up to Manila and China.
Later, the guests learned that Armenian language, history and culture classes would soon be offered at the new Centre in Hong Kong via the Armenian Virtual College (AVC). Mr. Yervant Zorian, the founder of the AVC, described how the educational institute has been helping similar communities worldwide and the enthusiasm of the AVC’s team in working with the Armenian Community of China in the coming years.
From now on, the Jack and Julie Hong Kong Armenian Centre will host Armenians from China and all over the world, hold events with guest speakers, exhibitions, invite Armenian artists to perform, but most importantly will be a gathering venue for Armenians and their friends.
Armenians have been traveling and living in China for centuries. In 1910, the Armenian Relief Society created the Armenian Club of Shanghai as a station for Armenian refugees in Shanghai. The Club evolved over the years into a social Club where the community gathered and where Armenian weddings, baptisms and events would took place. In 1923, the 400 people strong Armenian community of Harbin in Northern China built their first Church. Most of the Armenians in China left China around 1949 following the communist takeover of China. The Armenian Club of Shanghai was converted to private ownership by the Communists in 1949 and the Armenian Church was destroyed as part of Mao’s Cultural Revolution in the late 1960s.
The Armenian community of China has been growing considerably over the last years. It currently consists of approximately five hundred Armenians living in the country, mainly in the cities of Hong Kong, Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Shanghai, Nanjing, and Beijing.