Armenian College and Philanthropic Academy turns 195 this year

In November Kolkata will witness the biggest congregation of Armenians in recent times. They will gather in the city to be a part of celebrations lined up by their alma mater – Armenian College and Philanthropic Academy (ACPA), which will turn 195 this year. The get-together of sorts will also help the community relive its past, connecting with old acquaintances now spread across the globe, the Times of India reports.

Amid all the hype, ACPA has embarked upon the most difficult task of creating a databank of Armenians from Kolkata. “This is the first such databank since 1956,” said Rev. Zaven Yazichyan, the India-Armenian Spiritual Postorate, ACPA.

Entrepreneurial and devout Christians, Armenians arrived here in early 1600s, some 60 years prior to East India Company. When Kolkata – then Calcutta – was the British capital, the Armenians poured money into colonial mansions, virtually transforming the wilting city into what Kolkata eventually became.

Though they called it their home, Armenians started leaving ‘Calcutta’ even before the British started moving out. For the last six decades, their numbers have dwindling alarmingly. The city of 4.5 milling barely has 150 Indian Armenians left now. According to the Armenian General Benevolent Union news magazine, the number of students dropped from 206 in 1961 to just six in 1998. Among the 68 students studying here now, only two are Armenian-Indians. The school relies on students from abroad – mostly immigrants from Iraq, Iran, Russia and Armenia – to fill its dormitories.

“Kolkata is the last surviving home to Armenians in India, and the 195-year celebrations will tell this to the world and bring to the fore the proud past that we Armenians have,” said Rev. Yazichyan.

The school is being renovated in a big way and several projects are being taken up. The Araratyan library has been computerized and its books are being preserved with modern methodology. The school has tied up with different international educational institutions. The swimming pool, which is the second oldest in Kolkata, is getting a new lease of life. The school has also started weekly online chat on Skype so that students can interact with their parents living abroad.

Even as numbers have been diminishing every year, two more Armenian Indians will be added next year, informed Sasoon Zarookien, an alumnus who hails from Tehran. So instead of brooding over the vanishing world of Armenians, the celebrations will re-establish Armenian’s bond with Kolkata, felt Yazichyan.
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