Friday, 21 September

Two Expelled Armenian Students Return to India

Indian Benefactors Come to the Aid of Karen and Andranik 

On Armenian Independence Day, September 21, Father Khoren Hovhannisyan, Pastor of the Armenians in India and Manager of the Armenian College and Philanthropic Academy of Calcutta, organized a reception for the community.

At the same time College students and guest had sat down to dinner, also attended by RA Ambassador to India Ara Hakobyan, a lone Armenian youth was parading through the streets of Calcutta waving the tricolor flag of Armenia. He was Karen Mkrtchyan, one of the two students expelled from the school back in August of this year. This is how he was celebrating Armenian Independence Day.

The recent events that rocked the tranquility at the Calcutta Armenian College become the subject of much heated debate and discussion. Even the Holy See at Etchmiadzin, which oversees the school’s operation, was forced to respond to the unfolding crisis. The students had declared a hunger strike to protest the expulsion of their classmates. When Etchmiadzin decided to send Father Ktridj Devejian, the personal assistant to Catholicos Garegin II, to India to resolve the matter, the students halted the strike. The hopes of the students were dashed when they were given the following ultimatum – “Either you stay or go. No one is holding you here.” The decision was taken and the two students were expelled.

Father Ktridj “ducks” Hetq questioning

After returning to Armenia, Father Ktridj went on Shant TV to comment on the Calcutta crisis. The clergyman never explained what caused the unrest in the first place Father Ktridj had also promised to talk to Hetq after his return and provide some insights on the matter. We were never able to get such answers.

Those of you who have been following this unfolding drama from the start will have noticed that main “culprits” behind the crisis were identified as Andranik Gevorgyan and Hayk Poghosyan. Surprisingly, those expelled were Andranik Gevorgyan and Karen Mkrtchyan. Father Khoren Hovhannisyan, with the help of the Calcutta Police, was not only able to defend his “wounded” ego, but used the occasion to “tidy-up” a number of longstanding matters that had been hounding him.

This was the opportune moment for him to strike. The College Manager was able to get the church board to end the financial sponsorship of Karen Mkrtchyan and to force him to return to Armenia by special decree. It seems that no one paid attention to the question why Karen was expelled and not Hayk. It still remains a mystery today. For some unknown reason, Father Khoren assumed that it was Karen who was supplying information to Hetq.  Perhaps this is why he decided to punish Karen, not Hayk.

The Calcutta Armenian Church Committee was so willing to express its loyalty to Father Khoren that it was ready to discontinue the students’ scholarships even though the La Martiniere School were they were enrolled had never issued a complaint against them Karen and Andranik returned to Armenia, with the hope of going back to India. The boys’ relatives never understood why the best students at the school had become “rebels”.

Local Indians support expelled students

But local Indians came to their assistance. They were never officially expelled from the school. The La Martiniere administration never went so far, hoping that the boys would return to complete their studies. Andranik Gevorgyan and Karen Mkrtchyan returned to India last month. An influential Indian businessman from Chennai (Madras) assumed   financial sponsorship for Andranik. Not only did the Indian businessman promise to pay for the boy’s educational expenses, but afforded him the chance to play on one of the city’s famous rugby teams.

The squad, with help from Andranik, won the Indian rugby championship this year. It is likely that Andranik will also be picked to play on the Indian national team as well. At the championship, Andranik faced his former teammates playing for the Armenian College. Other than Andranik, there are no other Armenians living in Madras. But there is the newly renovated St. Astvatzatzin (Holy Virgin Mary) Armenian Church and the stalls of Indian vendors that rent space from the church. The Calcutta Armenian Church Committee oversees all revenues derived from the location.

The present Armenian church, situated in Armenian Street, was erected in 1772, and dedicated to the Holy Virgin Mary, the site being the old Armenian burying-ground on which, moreover, a chapel stood, where they worshipped while the present church was in course of erection.

The ground was the property of the famous Agah Shameer. His wife, Anna, had been buried there in 1765, and a room built to her memory. This room, which is still known as “Shameer’s Room” was attached to the church that was built seven years afterwards.

Why not replace Indian caretakers with Armenians?

Indian residents also look after the church’s daily upkeep. At one time the Committee had decided to bring a family from Armenia for resettlement at the church. The aim was to have them serve as church custodians. This plan has never gotten off the ground.

Andranik has been living in the house of his Indian sponsor until he finds a suitable place to rent. Karen has returned to Calcutta to resume his studies at La Martiniere. He has been denied access to the Armenian College grounds. He lives in the house of an Indian friend, even though the College and a residence for homeless Armenians have many empty rooms.

Calcutta has three Armenian churches where Indians now serve as caretakers. Wouldn’t it be nice if this responsibility was handed over to young Armenian men with no place to call home?

P.S. The Armenian Church Committee of Calcutta, which oversees and manages the assets and income of the Indian Armenian community, is a formidable benevolent institution. Its resources derive from the inheritances bequeathed by Armenian benefactors and donations. In its 2009 financial report, the Committee notes a sum of 64,528,544 rupees (approx $1.4 million) in expenditures for the year.

Large sums are also allocated for numerous health and educational institutions in India. It has been widely reported that a significant sum is annually allocated for the renovation of Armenian churches and schools in communities where there are no Armenians. In fact, the students at the Armenian College make up the only remaining core of the Indian Armenian community. Without them, the preservation of the community and its financial resources, and the need to spend such funds, would not be viable. (According to Indian law, these funds cannot be taken out of the country.

They must be spent locally. If and when the community ceases to exist, all its wealth reverts to the state.) It turns out that these former students of the Calcutta Armenian College do not receive sufficient financial assistance to continue their education. They have been forced to resume their studies at lesser schools in Calcutta. Indian benefactors and friends have come to the rescue of Karen and Andranik.

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