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Armenians in Crete Print E-mail

 The presence of Armenians in Crete dates back to Byzantine times. It is known that in the 10th century, there were two Armenian colonies in Asia Minor, in Priini and Platanio. During the crusade against Crete in 949 AD, there were Armenians participating on the matter of Thracicians . After the occupation of Crete , many Armenians who served  in the military, settled on the island along with their families, thus gaining a new homeland. To those settlers we owe the names to places at Sitia(Armenian village), at Amari(Armeniana), at Kisssamo(Armenohorio), at Monofatsi(Armanogia), as well as name places such as Armenokampos, Armenokkastelli, and Armenopetra.   Proof that Crete had commercial ties with Armenia, in the beginning of the 14th century, can be traced to the decisions of the Venetian Senate, where we are informed that the Venetian’s commercial fleet came through Crete on it’s way back from Armenia. According to Nikolaos Tomadakis, information about the settlement of Armenians in Crete comes from two places. Both answer to papers dated to 1363, from where the Venetian’s decided to accept Armenians from Armenia and Pontos. The revolution that broke out at Handaka and its bloody repression against the noblemen enabled Armenians to settle in Crete, because the clashes had deteriorated the population and displaced many of its merchants and inhabitants. The word Armenis as a surname is born. Venetian historian Andreas Kornaros mentions the settlement of noble Armenians from Constantinople in Crete, where for the first time Armenis as a surname is used. Four tombstones with Armenian names at the entrance of St.Luke’s tomb at  Hania’s cemetery, during the same time, is further proof of Armenians’ existence in the island. The stones were damaged heavily from the many visitors at the tomb. The stones were removed during the tomb’s renovation, and thanks to the Archaelogical Society today the can be found archived at the Archaelogical Museum in Hania. All four bear the inscription “This is a resting place”. Additionally, religious documents from 1670-1715 suggest the presence of Armenians in the capital of Crete, as Greeks and Europeans followed Venetian authorities during the handover of the city of Handaka  which was taken over by the Turks. During Turkish rule, old Armenian families migrated to Crete from Constantinople, Divrik and Yerevan. From witnesses of Armenian families’ relatives we learn that from 1905 on there were seven Armenian families who dealt in the textile and coffee trade. The main reason they settled in Heraklion was the existence of the old Armenian church of St. john the Baptist ( Sourp Garabed).
After the Asia Minor conflict about 2000 Armenians sought refuge in Crete. They came from Smirni,Maghnisia,Aivali, Odemisio,Perghamo,Prousa and Kesaria. They settled in the main cities of Heraklion(230 families), Rethimno(46 families),Sitia(24 families) and Hania(27 families).At Heraklion the Armenian church served as the gathering place for all Armenians. A parish council was formed, as well as an athletic club, youth school, which included two Armenian and a Greek teacher, a kindergarten and a library. The school which operated till 1946, had 200 students, but the number diminished significantly as Armenians migrated to Soviet Armenia.
The Armenian church of Heraklion is referred to as the oldest surviving church in Europe. In the year 1669, when Handakas was handed over to the Turks from the Venetians a Turk merchant named Amro, purchased the church from an Armenian mother. Since then it has been able to survive as an Armenian church. During the Turkish reign of over 200 years, Sourp Garabed and the Greek church of St. Mathew were the only two functioning churches .At its courtyard there is a modest  memorial of April 24, commemorating the Armenian Genocide. According to an inscription at the front of the church, it was built in 1669, but it may have been rebuilt at the site of ancient ruins earlier. Outside the church there are about 30 headstones with Armenian engravings. They are made of white marble and belonged to Armenian immigrants from the 17th century. The Armenian  cemetery is  located outside the Venetian walls , a short distance from the Armenian church, on the west side of Heraklion, occupying 4 acres. The land was given to Armenians during the Ottoman reign.


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