Historical overview

History of Armenian-Swedish relations

Scandinavia was mentioned by the seventh century Armenian astrologer and geographer, Anania Shirakatsi, in his Geography: “There is another island opposite the frontier of Samarita and Germany called Skandia, where dwell the Goths and several other nations.” According to Roberth R. Hewsen, Skandia was “possibly southern Norway or Sweden.”

Early contacts between Armenia and Sweden started from the beginning of Middle Ages. According to a Swedish legend dating from the tenth or eleventh century, a navigator by the name of Petrus was enchanted by the beauty of an Armenian princess, and travelled to Armenia searching for her. After many adventures, he found her and married.

The Vikings – the ancestors of the Swedes and other Nordic people – and their captives may have been responsible for the cultural transmission of those elements from the Orient to Scandinavia. The Viking campaigns (during the eighth and ninth centuries) extended the reach of Scandinavia to Western European, Baltic, and Slavic peoples, and through them to the peoples of the Near East, including Armenia. From 850 A.D. onwards, the Vikings, together with Slavic tribes, carried their campaigns into the Byzantine Empire and the Caucasus (in 860, 862, 913-914, 944, 969, 1030-1033, 1048-1050). The Vikings interacted with Armenians particularly in the Byzantine Empire and its capital city they called Miklagård or Mikligardur (Big City) – the Viking name for Constantinople. It was primarily there that the Vikings were influenced by different cultures. They occasionally carried Armenians with them to the North. Around 914, the Vikings reached Northern Armenia via the Volga River and the Caspian Sea. They traded with, but frequently simply plundered the regions they reached, and returned to their home countries with ample spoils.

The Armenian historian Daskhurantsi mentions the campaign of the Nordic tribes in Transcaucasus, and the capture of Partav (autumn 943). Partav (also known as Berda) was the capital city of the “Eastern part of Armenia” from 462 onwards. This evidence provides a basis for the Swedish scholar Carolus Johannes Tornberg to conclude, that several old bracelets and necklaces found in Sweden “probably came from the Berda village of Armenia, without being dispersed on the way.” Some other excavated objects, Tornberg proposed, had been taken from Dvin – the ancient Armenian capital city.

Ingvar Vittfarne (1016-1041), the leader of Viking campaign to Caucasus, visited Armenian capital Ani in 1030´, he met also Georgian queen Mariam from Armenian dynasty (Matts G. Larson, Ett ödesdigert vikingatåg, Stockholm, 1990, p. 65).

Armenians and Varangians interacted also within other historical contexts. The Byzantine Emperor Constantine VII Porphirin mentions, that during the reign of the Emperor Romanos I Lecabenos (920-944), there were Armenian and Varangian regiments in the Byzantine army. In 1038, the Byzantine Emperor Michael IV sent a special army to Sicily, which consisted of Armenians, Varangians and Normans from Italy. Armenians and Varangians fought in the famous Manazkert battle – August 19, 1071 – between Byzantine and Seljuk armies, in the town of Manazkert in Armenia Major.

Hence, the similarities between the old Scandinavian and Armenian cultures, and the archaeological facts found in Sweden, can be explained by the presence of the Vikings and the Varangians in Medieval Armenia, and its neighbouring countries.

In 1568, an Armenian traveller and writer, Pirzade Ghapanetsi, visited the countries of Western Europe, including Denmark and Sweden. He mentions the name of the latter country in his short travel-notes as “Shivec’oc’ yerkirn” (the land of the Swedes). This is the first mention of Sweden in Armenia literature. During 1654-56, the Swedish traveller Matson Köpping who visited Iran and Western Armenia has written in his memoires that “Armenians are known … for their sanity, devotion and faithfulness”. In 17th century, some Armenian tradesman from Nor Julfa (Iran) visited Sweden. They reached Europe through Russia by the route which was historically called “Armenian”. Some information about the “Armenian road” can be found in Ghukas Vanandetsi’s guidebook on commerce, publiched in 1699 in Amsterdam. The author mentions taxes charged on silk in Russian cities. In enumerating the countries of the world and their capital cities, Vanandetsi also mentions, “Kopnhag” (Copenhagen) and “Estokolm” (Stockholm), as well as some islands that belong to Scandinavian cultures – “Zeyland” (Zealand), “Gotland” and “Oyland” (Öland). The main export articles of tradesmen from Julfa to Sweden comprised silk, jewels and weapons Naturally, the passage of rich caravans would be source of considerable profit for any country, and therefore both the Russian and the Swedish royal courts competed to have the Persian-Armenian trade pass through their own statеs, thereby monopolizing the transit of Oriental Goods. Sweden had a particular interest in this matter. The Swedish King Carl (Charles) XI considered this commercial route too roundabout. Through Arkhangelsk, it was possible to make only one trip per Year, while through one of the Baltic Sea ports, it would be possible to make more than one trip a year. Hence, the Swedish King Carl XI sent a delegation for negotiations. The delegation, headed by Fabritius as a Swedish envoy, went to Persia, to negotiate directly with the Armenian merchants about re-directing Persian trade through Sweden. In new Julfa, Fabritius had an official meeting with twenty Armenian merchants who traded with European countries. With the Armenian merchants sitting on carpets, and Fabritius and his party sitting on ottomans, they discussed re-directing the Persian-Armenian trade through Sweden. The Persian authorities approved of the suggestion to establish commercial contacts with Sweden, and through it, with the other European countries. The Armenians, trading Holland through the Mediterranean Sea, had also suffered many losses due to the French pirates, so that entering Holland via the Baltic Sea seemed more prudent. Back in Russia, Fabritius succeeded in getting the Russian governments agreement to allow Armenian merchants to proceed to Western Europe from Novgorod, or the city of Narva – a port eight miles upriver from the Gulf of Finland, which leads to the Baltic Sea - part of the Swedish territory at the time. The rise of Narva was part of a Swedish campaign to divert the flourishing transit trade away from the White Sea to the Baltic.

On 27 September, 1687, the Armenians signed a commercial contract with Sweden, granting them permission for a two-year tax-exemption in Sweden. The handwritten text of this contract, consisting of eight pages, is kept in the Stockholm Royal Library. There exists also a French translation of this manuscript, indicating to us that the Armenian merchants communicated with the Swedes in French, a language widely used in 17th century Sweden. This contract, highly favourable to the Armenian traders from Julfa, also granted them permission to open factories in Stockholm (extant buildings, as well as newly purpose-built places of manufacturing) under royal protection. A hostel-cum-storage was built for Armenian merchants in Narva, with the support of the Swedish Royal Curt. The Armenian merchants paid a two percent tax on goods they exported to their homeland from Sweden, and a one percent tax on goods they acquired in other European countries for transport to Persia via Sweden. Thus, export through Novgorod exceeded export through Arkhangelsk. The New Julfa trade between the Baltic ports and Western Europe went first to Narva, then overland to Moscow, and then down the Volga river – “… the Narva route in the 1690s became a much –used alternative outlet for Persian silk.”

The Great Northern War of 1700 to 1721 between the alliance of Russia, Denmark, Norway, and Saxony (later Hanover and Prussia) against Sweden, brought an end to the important and unique trade between the New Julfa Armenians and Europe, a trade that had been advantageous to both.

Armenians in Sweden (17th – 19th centuries)
Begining from 18th century, many Armenians often served as intermediaries for the Europeans in their dealings with Oriental officials. Thus, some Armenians in the Ottoman Empire were involved in serving the Swedish Embassies in various countries.

One of them was Zachariasz Gamocki (Gamotzcki), originally from Lemberg (Lvov). Gamocki stayed in Sweden, involved in Swedish diplomacy and eventually became an interpreter of Turkish for the Swedes. In 1665, Gamocki was sent as an emissary to the head of Cossacks Bogdan Khmelnitski, the hetman of the Cossaks in the Ukraine, and later probably visited the Ottoman Empire as well. He promised Khmelnitski that Sweden would never invade Poland again on behalf of the Swedish King. A portrait was presented to him during the palace parade in Stockholm in 1672.

The family of d’ Ohssons – three generations of dragomans (interpreters) – worked at the Swedish Embassy during 17th and 18th centuries. In 1721, Hagop Djamdjioghlu or Djamjian (1685-d. after 1757), one of the first Armenian students at the University of Paris and translator of one of Isaac Newton’s works into Armenia, was appointed as a dragoman of the Swedish Embassy in Constantinople. At the same time, another Armenian, Johannes Mouradgia or Jean Mouradgea (Hovannes Muradjayan, 1721-1787), became the first dragoman of the Swedish consulate in Smyrna (now Izmir). A paper in French, written by Mouradgia and addressed to a Swedish official, is kept at Uppsala University library. In this same document Mouradgea’s signature also exists in Armenian.

Over the years, the Mouradgian family became closely associated with Swedish diplomatic life in the Ottoman Empire. The names of Jean Mouradgea’s son and grandson – Ignatius Mouradgea and Abraham Constantine d’Ohsson – are well known in Swedish diplomacy history.

Abraham Constantine d’Ohsson was a member of the Swedish Academy of Literature and Art beginning in 1823 and was an honourable member of the Scientific Union of Uppsala beginning in 1828. He bequeathed his library (300 books and 17 Oriental manuscripts) to the Lund University in Sweden.

D’Ohssons, who were decorated by the Royal Family and given their own coat of arms in appreciation of their work, were not the only people involved in the Swedish diplomatic life. In the 19th century, Sweden continued its policy of appointing Armenians as representatives to the Ottoman Empire. Jean or Jiovanni Anastasi (d’ Anastasi, 1770-1857), an Armenian merchant from Damascus served as Swedish-Norwegian Consul General in Egypt from 1828 to 1857 (first in Alexandria, later in Cairo). He obtained Egyptian antiquities and presented them to Sweden. In the beginning of the 19th century, Paul Seraphino (probably Sarafian) of Armenian origin was the first dragoman of the Swedish Embassy in Constantinople.

Ohan (Hovhannes) Demirgian (1836 - 1877), also known as Habib Bey, was born in Cairo. He was the son of Stephan Bey Demirgian and Pembé (daughter of Ohan Terzi, after whom he was named). Stephan Bey Demirgian (?-1860) was the Foreign Minister of Egypt in 1849-1859, who assisted Ferdinand Lesseps to open the Suez channel. In 1844-1853, Ohan lived in France and studied at Stanislas Collage and in Versailles. He spent two years in England, continuing his education there and returned to Egypt in 1855. There he Married Arouse Araigian, in 1859.

In 1866 Ohan came to Sweden as a messenger of Khedive Ismail Pasha of Egypt. He offered Swedish King Karl XV a pair of Berberian Horses. Demirgian settled in Sweden and got Swedish citizenship in 1867. Esteemed by king, Demirgian was appointed as first master of the horses at his court. In 1871 he became Evangelian-Lutherian.

Demirgian had a house in Över-Järva near Ulriksdal (not far from Stockholm). According to one hypothesis, he or one of his brothers built a chapel in Över-Järva with Armenian architecture elements. (Sometimes Swedes characterised it as a “Moslem chapel,” which is nonsense). There he organised festivities for the King. He also received the Swedish Wasa medal.

An esteemed Armenian philologist of the 19th century, Norayr Byuzandatsi (Néandre de Bysance or Norayr N. de Bycance, his real name was Stepanos Gapezian, 1844-1916) lived in Sweden from 1882 to 1903. A former member of the Mekhitarian catholic congregation of Venice, he left the religious order, married a Swedish-Jew, Selma Jacobson (a photographer of the Swedish court, who was baptized in the Armenian Church and took the Armenian name Satenik), and settled in Stockholm. He published a “French-Armenian dictionary” with the financial support of his wife (1884, Constantinople). Norayr Byuzandatsi also wrote articles in “Aftonbladet” and “Stockholm dagbladet” dailies about the Armenian massacres.  

Byuzandatsi bequeathed his fortune (also the archive and library), estimated 125 thousand Swedish crowns, to the “Fredrika Bremer” foundation of Swedish women, as a separate section named after his wife (“Selma Jacobsson-Norayr”). In the beginning of the 1980s this foundation united with the others and under the title “Fredrika Bremer förbundets förvaltade fondar.” Athough Byuzandatsi died in Venice, some years later his ashes were transferred to Stockholm and buried near his wife’s tomb.

It is known that Ludvig Nobel was one of the first entrepreneurs who started to export oil from Baku to Europa in 1881. During that time the Nobel brothers have established close trade cooperation with notable Armenian businessmen in the oil industry of Baku. They have started their operation in Baku since 1875 and played an important role in raising the quality of oil exports to level of European and international standards. However before them, almost in 1850-1854s the Armenian businessmen have started to rent the oil wells and extract oil, which was significantly advanced due to the trader Hovhannes Mirzoyan, especially since 1871.

Armenian studies in Sweden
There were researches ond scholars of Armenian studies in Sweden, Denmark and Norway, who where interested in Armenian history, literature and culture.

The date of establishement of Armenian studies in Scandinavia can be considered the year 1723, when the latin translation of the brief “History of Armenia” of Movses Khorenatsi was published in Stockholm։ It was produced by the Swedish orientalist, philosopher and lecturer of the Uppsala University, Fredrik Brenner. He was the first European scholar who studied the works of Khorenatsi. During the first half of 18th century, the notable Swedish theologian Olof Celsius has written a thesis on the Armenian Church at the Uppsala University.

The interest of swedes in the Armenian church has continued during the next century also. Not only famous Swedish linguist, but also theologians, historians, culturologists and geographers were interested in Armenia. The Swedish orientalis and art schientist Fredrik Martin performed an in depth study of Armenian carpets. The ethnographist Nikolas Fokker has included the Armenian and Caucasian rugs description in his work on the oriental carpets.

Two professors theologians of the Uppsala University were interested in the Armenian reality, and the Associated Proffessor of Soviet Studies and history of Lund University, Clas Göran Karlsson has written an books and articles on the Armenian Genocide, as well as analytical review of the last years of Soviet Armenia. The Swedish researcher Ulf Björklund has dedicated a research to the Armenian Diaspora, which was published in Stockholm in 2001 as well as several articles on the same topic (Armenians of Athens and Istanbul: the Armenian diaspora and the ‘transnational’ nation, 2003).

Armenian cultural heritage in Sweden
There Are several Armenian manuscripts kept at the famous library of the Uppsala University. They were first found and described by the French armenologist Fredrik Makler. Some specialist also consider that the carpet with bird ornament, kept at the Stockholm History Museum and the remnants of the birt ornamented carpet, kept at the Göteborg Museum of Decorative Arts, are also Armenian. There is also another Armenian carpet of 17th century at the Stockholm National Museum.

Scandinavian missionaries and the Armenian
Since the end of the 19th century many Swedish missionaries have worked in Armenia and in areas of Iran and the Ottoman Empire, inhabited by Armenians. For thirty years this region became one of the most important regions of the Swedish Missionary Organisation (“Missionsförbundet”).

The first Swedish missioneries to appear in the Caucasus were Lars Erik Högberg (1859-1924) and Nils Fredrik Höijer (1857-1925). In August 1886 they visited an Armenian Protestant pastor, teacher Sarkis Hambarsumiantz (Hambarzumoff) in Shemakha (Transcausasus), who had worked with missionaries from Basel since 1860s.

Högberg visited Armenia and worked in Karadagh, as well as Tabriz where he opened a children school in 1889. Among the first three pupils was an Armenian. Later in his memories, Högberg characterized the Armenians as “an intellectual nation”, who had the imprint of hundred-year compulsion.

The Armenian Evangelical Union was organised in Tiflis (now Tbilisi) by Nils Fredrik Höijer’s initiative in July of 1887. Later the American Lutheran Union was founded in Shemakha (Transcaucasus) under the protection of the Swedish Missionary Organisation. The Swedish Missionary Organisation had official representative of Armenians in the Caucasus, Asia, and Eastern Europe. Among them were Sarkis Levonian (Kars, Alexandrapol (now Gyumri) and Karakalla), Sohrab Sarkissian (Yerevan and Ejmiadzin), Patvakan Tarayan (Baku), Isayia Toumaniantz (Central Asia), Is. Makosiantz (Shusi), Abraham Melek-Jehanyants or Djehanjants (North Caucasus and Central Asia), Grigor Georgiantz (Ottoman Empire and Bulgaria), Smbat Baghdasarian (Rumania). Missionary J.E. Lundahl characterized them as a “very godly and gifted people” and praised their knowledge of languages. According to him, Asaturiantz, Djehaniantz and Patvakan Tarayants spoke also Turkish, Russian, German, English, and Swedish in addition to their mother tongue.

A number of Swedish missionaries have visited Armenia and worked with Armenians in some Oriental countries. They have usually written about them in their books or in the Swedish press. Elin Anna Charlotta Sundvall (1853-1921) worked for nearly thirty years in Ejmiadzin, Yerevan, Shushi and other Armenian towns and villages beginning in 1888. She helped Armenian refugees during the First World War and worked in the Heftevan village orphanage in Salmast (öPersia). Later Sundvall was active in Ararat valley villages. Her reports about her missionary work sometimes appeared in the Swedish missionaries’ press. Sundvall was buried in Yerevan.

Erik John Larsson (1857-?) also worked among the Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, Persia, and the Caucasus. He authored two books about massacres in Turkish Armenia and missionary work among Armenians, as well as a poem about Ararat.

Per Persson (1867-1953), theologian and priest, worked among Armenians and published the booklet “Armenians and their needs,” including some statistics on the inhabitants of western Armenia.

Olga Moberg (1880-?) began her work with Armenians in Tiflis in 1909. Her article “Among Armenian women and children” was included in Erik John Larsson’s book “Near the feet of Ararat.” Years later Moberg translated a book on the Armenian genocide written by M. Piranjan from German to Swedish.

Missionary Wilhelm Sarwe (1858-?) also visited Armenia (Yerevan, Ejmiadzin, Ararat, and Shushi). In 1902 he visited the ruins of the old Armenian capital Ani with Swedish teacher Maria Anholm and English woman, Mrs. French. He wrote about Armenian people in his reports in the Swedish missionary press and in his book “Among Russia’s Peoples.” The book is illustrated with photos that include photos of Armenians and Armenian buildings. The chapter “Armenian Rome” introduces the Armenian religious centre – Ejmiadzin and Sarwe’s meetings with Armenian clergymen, among them armenologist Galust Ter Mkrtchian. In the chapter “The Armenian refugees,” he mentions that after the massacres of 1895-1997 there were about 120 000 orphans in Armenia. Sawre describes Armeinans’ domestic habits, thus: “The Armenians, he says, are a fine and developed nation. There are clever and undertaking traders, many hold high posts and usually try to make a better life or everybody in the community. Their houses are pleasant and the family life is patriarchal. They usually have many well-bred children. Armenian and Tartarian (Caucasian Tartars – A.B.) villages are so different from each other, as different are the missionary place of residence in Congo and the pagan village.”

Sweden and the Armenian Cause
In 1894-1896, thousands of Armenians became victims of the massacres, ordered by Turkish Sultan Abdul Hamid II (“Hamidian massacres”). Turks systematically exterminated Armenian people, destroying their towns and villages, and carrying out denationalization. In April of 1915, the young Turks Government of the Ottoman Empire decided to destroy the Armenian cause at once with total deportation and extermination. More than 1, 5 million Armenians were murdered in Western Armenia and the Ottoman Empire until the beginning of the 1920.

Sweden, being far away from these events, was not as well informed as other Western European countries. However, the interests of Swedes in the Armenian situation was expressed in publishing many booklets about this issue in Swedish.

Researcher Norayr Byuzandatsi gave lectures and wrote articles about Armenian massacres in Swedish periodicals, calling Swedish society to assist Armenians. The list of Swedes who donated to the Armenian refugees was published in a Swedish daily. In 1897 Swedish society collected more than 5, 000 French Francs for Armenian refugees. Swedish missionaries also worked and taught in the towns of Western Armenia. In 1897, John Larsson published a booklet in which he elucidated about the situation of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire as well as the Hamidian massacres. Another Swede, N. Werner, described the bloodshed in Armenia. In the same year the booklet “Dying Armenia,” translated by Paul Tronet, was published.

The Swedish public was informed about the Armenian persecutions through the books of various Swedish and foreign authors, such as “Your Brother’s Blood” by German writer Maria von Otter and “Hagob and his Little Friends” by Elisabeth Franke.

A group of Scandinavian missionary women played an important role in the protection and gathering of Armenian orphans during and after the genocide in Western Armenia and the Ottoman Empire. The names of Maria and Anna Jacobsens and Karen Jeppe from Denmark, Bodil Björn and Thora A. Wedell-Jarlsberg from Norway, as well as Hedwig Bull from Estonia and many others are beloved by the Armenian people. In this respect the names of some Swedish missionaries are also remembered with gratitude and thankfulness.

In 1901, the Missionary Society of Swedish women sent Alma Johansson (1880-1974) to Mush. She stayed there until December of 1915. As a member of the German Missionary Union and the Swedish branch of “Women Missionaries’ Labour” (“Kvinnliga Mission Arbetare”) Johansson worked primarily in the hospital of Mezreh and in Mush. At the end of 1915, she returned to Sweden, but after five years went to Constantinople and helped Armenian orphans in Uskudar and Makrikyoy (1920 - 1922), and later, Salonika, Greece (1923 - 1941). In Salonika, Johansson established a factory for Armenian refugee women. Owing to this Swedish woman more than 200 Armenian women got jobs and a source of income for five years. After 1941 she returned to Sweden, but kept her contact with Armenians, who called her “Sireli mayrik” (“Dear Mama”). Alma Johansson wrote two booklets: “An Exiled People” (1930) and “The Life of Armenian Refugees” (1931), both of which were translated into Armenian and French.

The memory of Alma Johansson lives still among Armenians.

During 1917, a peace conference was held in Uppsala. The program lift contained 90 points about the peace of selected nations. The issue of Armenia’s peace was the point No. 9. One of the big protests in March 1917, was devoted to the Armenian people. The initiators were Swedish politician Carl Lindhagen, social-democrat leader Hjalmar Branting (1860-1925), and writer Marika Stjernstedt (1875-1954). This demonstration showed the Armenian cause had certain importance for Swedish internal policy.

Hjalmar Branting (future Prime Minister of Sweden) made an opening speech. He called the massacres of the Armenian people, “organized and systematically executed genocide (folkmord)” and charged the Swedish press for its long silence about the massacres.

The other activists of pro-Armenian movement in Sweden were Söderberg, J. Hirn, Ficher, Professor Ebbe Tuneld (1877-1947), French colonel Michof and Baron de Voux, living in Stockholm, Mrs. Lindhagen, Her Holiness Princess Ingeborg and Prince Gustav.

In February 1921, representatives of four Scandinavian countries met in Stockholm to discuss assistance to the Armenian people. Four committee branches were established in each country. They decided on two directions. First, to influence the Scandinavian political spheres for taking an Armenian mandate, and second, to save Armenian women and children from the Moslem captivity.

The Swedish committee for Armenia (“Svenska kommittéen för Armenien”) was built with the theologian Nathanael Beskow, teacher Dagny Thornwall, pastor Samuel Thyssel, rector of Methodi’s theological seminary Jonathan Julén, clergyman Hagbard Isberg, church historian Hjalmar Holmquist, and John Waxtröm published a roll call to Swedish society to assist the Armenian refugees with the title “Save Armenia!” They wrote, “The Swedish committee would like to convey warmly to the Swedish people that they take active measures to inform the Armenian nation that they have friends in the North who want to be nearby them with a human solidarity.” From March 9 until November 21 the “Swedish committee” collected 11, 294 Swedish crowns. This money was transferred to the “German committee for saving people in Armenia.”

The most active supporter of the Armenian affaires was Frederick Natanael Beskow (1865-1953). The Armenian case was the primary subject of his attention for more than 10 years. Beskow, a theologian, rector of Djursholm School and an important public figure, published more than 15 articles in Swedish periodicals about Armenia (specially, in “Kristet samhelsliv,” where he was co-editor).

In February 1924, Beskow organised an event in Stockholm concerning Armenia in which several Swedish scholars participated.


Artsvi Bakhchinyan, Armenians in Scandinavia



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