The UK Armenian diaspora is presently seen as Armenians who emigrated to the UK following the 1950’s from various diaspora locations, as well as from Armenia following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Before all this, there was a thriving Armenian community with the pre-World War 1 community centered in Manchester. Armenians had developed strong interpersonal links with British society via Indian trade links and other global trade activities. Yet at the turn of the century, these traders began to form a community. Based around community centres and churches, the Armenian community began to thrive as a unit that was within the upper echelons of British society with politics being conducted through personal connections between financial and political notable figures.
As World War 1 descended over Europe and the Middle East, this community saw a change in its working practices and communal structure. Whereas before the community had existed as a ‘trade diaspora’ they now began to take on a more communal structure with activities channeled through community means rather than interpersonal ones. Many Armenians volunteered to fight for Britain, those who remained faced different horrors. Constant news stories were published detailing the horrors of the Middle Eastern theatre, in events that later came to be known as the Armenian Genocide. Diplomatic complaints went unheard and many Armenians lost their faith in a Armeno-British cultural affinity and engaged in lobbying activities and protests in order to raise the case of the Armenians with the British government. As a result, the war and the Genocide despite being worlds away from the life of UK-Armenians, significantly changed their behaviour and structure.
Being part of the diaspora, it becomes very difficult to see how it changes and evolves over a lifetime. But, like everything in life, diaspora communities change their structures in response to internal and external stimuli. By learning about such diaspora transformations in the past, we can increase our understanding of them and hope to be better prepared for inevitable transformations in the future.
Vahe Boghosian will be lecturing on the 1913-1919 UK-Armenian Diaspora on Sunday 12th February at the Hayashen Centre.
Featured image: A cart piled with ragged possessions and five Armenian refugee children during the British Army Dunsterforce’s defense of Baku, from the Imperial War Museum archives