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 Merchants to Magnates, Intrigue and Survival : Armenians in London, 1900-2000
Titre : Merchants to Magnates, Intrigue and Survival : Armenians in London, 1900-2000 / auteur(s) : Joan GEORGE -
Editeur : Gomidas Institute, London
Année : 2009
Imprimeur/Fabricant : Gopsons, Noida
Description : 15 x 23 cm, 282 pages, cover photo in colors
Collection :
Notes :
Autres auteurs :
Sujets : Armenian in London, XX century
ISBN : 9781903656822
Lecture On-line : non disponible

Commentaire :

Joan George was always curious about her Armenian ancestry. Her mother, Marie-Nevarte Manoukian, born into Manchester's Armenian community, became assimilated when she married Roger Chorlton, a member of an old established Manchester family. However, despite having an English father, upbringing and education, Joan's interest in her ethnic origins remained.
After spending most of her long life in the south of England, with varied interests expressed in freelance writing, she finally decided to research the socio-political and family backgrounds of the Manchester Armenians. The result was Merchants in Exile: the Armenians in Manchester, England, 1835-1935.
Joan was then persuaded to write something similar about the Armenians in London. With some trepidation she decided to cover the twentieth century.
Between 1913 and 1938 the London Armenians' views were expressed in two learned journals: Ararat: a Searchlight on Armenia and Massis. Surprise sources for World War II were found in the memoirs of three intrepid ladies and in several English books. More recently, Armenian community records and other articles also gave fresh insights into the London Armenian community.
Joan did not live or work in London during WWII. Anxious to shake off the restrictions of boarding school and a sheltered home, she did a variety of war jobs, finally becoming a Red Cross ambulance driver. Stationed in Yorkshire, it was there that she met her future husband, Merrick George.
Politically to the left of centre, Joan exposes the European powers' imperial interests in the declining Ottoman Empire, and the West's fear of Communism in the post World War II years. Both were important factors in Armenia's ongoing problems.

by Christopher J. Walker

Armenians have been visibly present in Britain for more than 100 years. They have appeared in many guises - as engineers, doctors, intellectuals, financiers, carpet dealers, musicians or political refugees. London has been the main place of settlement, though Manchester was more important in the late nineteenth century. They have become partly assimilated, yet usually stayed distinct, in a manner which one could call exemplary in these days when the issue of multi-culturalism is debated.
This work by Joan George, written in a useful chronological manner, gives us a dual picture. Armenians are observed finding their way through the maze of Britishness and British social customs, and also showing solidarity with their fellow Armenians in the homeland. In the earlier and critical time covered by this book, the mother country was divided between the Ottoman Turkish Empire, where conditions were usually bad, and sometimes indescribably so, and Russia, where life tended to be considerably better, though occasionally subject to outbreaks of bad government.
The Armenian presence in Britain often seems to have been underpinned by admiration for British qualities of 'fair play', of decency, and of upright, basically Christian values. To a great extent this was the public face of Britain until the end of the 1950s, when diversity, vigour and fun intruded colourfully, breaking the mask of unity (which was maintained by not a little hypocrisy). Political currents had however long been active within Britain working in other directions. For instance, in foreign policy. The Armenian presence in Britain grew when British foreign policy favoured Ottoman Turkey, almost without intermission, from the time of the Ochakov Crisis of 1791 to Lord Salisbury's operational shift of British Mediterranean diplomatic activities from Constantinople to Cairo in around 1897. Even up to 1914, foreign policy, and the opinions of the military and global strategy communities, tended almost automatically to subscribe to things Turkish. It says much for Armenians' optimism that they continued to see Britain as a good place to live throughout this time.
We also get a vivid sense of the political pressures that British Armenians could be subject to, in a story that Joan George relates concerning Professor Garabed Hagopian, who was living in Fulham, south-west London. This gentleman had been editing a journal which openly discussed the misrule (and worse) that Armenians were then subject to in the Ottoman Empire. The Ottoman Turkish sultan Abdul Hamid apparently knew of this publication, and put in a complaint about it to prime minister Lord Salisbury. Owing to the unspoken and unofficial alliance between Britain and Turkey, this led to the visit of two CID officers to Hagopian's home. A firm speech in the House of Commons by James (later Lord) Bryce, the outspoken champion of Armenians, put a stop to any further similar police harassment.
World War I was the most critical, and indeed appalling and shocking, time for Armenians. The picture of the community in London during 1914-18 is strongly painted: committees, relief activities, and speeches. At this time Britain was, for the first time for decades, officially on the side of Armenians. As well as detailing the London Armenian war effort, Joan George reminds us of Armenians who were killed in action on the Western Front, serving in the British Army.
There is much here too on the lighter side of life for London Armenians: we are informed about minor power struggles, set forth in the engaging manner of soap-operas, and learn of moments of personal illumination. The author has been assiduous in searching out grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the Armenian pioneers in Britain. The range of Armenian business interests shown here is remarkable too: members of the community hailed from the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia today), Japan, India, Iran, Ethiopia as well as all around the eastern Mediterranean, and often remained in personal and commercial contact with the lands of origin.
Joan George also makes us aware of the Armenian presence in Britain in World War II. We come across the flying ace Noel Agazarian, who, despite having his first Oxford University entrance rejected on the grounds of being a 'coloured gentleman, was welcomed there by the more progressive Wadham College. He then went on to join the University Air Squadron, before becoming a flying ace in the Battle of Britain. He was eventually shot down in the Libyan desert. The fate of his brother Jack too is remembered here: as a member of SOE, he was caught in Paris by the Gestapo, tortured and murdered in March 1945.
The Armenian presence in Britain was so diverse that, almost without a break, we switch from the horrors of the Nazi occupation of Europe to the Zorian String Quartet, an ensemble by which the violinist Olive Zorian and her colleagues brought progressive culture to the British at a time when they were barely aware that they wanted it.
The Armenian presence in Britain can perhaps be summed up as resembling an array of different streams flowing into the broad, occasionally diverse, arcane and alternative river, which is British national life. Sometimes they have created a riff of turbulence; more often they have engaged creatively with existing British qualities.
And finally, although seriousness predominates in any history or social study of Armenians, it is hard to resist the self-description of Michael Arlen (Dikran Kouyoumdjian), the novelist of the Mayfair set, a man of fashion who was also a complex human being: 'Every other inch a gentleman.'

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