Franciszek Wasyl
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This book is the result of a combined interest in historical demography and the history of the Polish Armenians. Historical demography, which is already a very well-developed field of historical reflection, rests on a defined and established methodology that has been used – and sometimes even improved – by its successive practitioners. The history of the Armenians, understood as an account of events in the life of this collectivity and its institutions (social, religious), also has a place among the academic sub-disciplines. It is not difficult to see what distinguishes these two lines of interest. Demography is concerned with quantitative analysis: “demographic facts” that it examines for their biological (births and deaths) or biological-cultural (marriage) substrata. But in the classical formulation the history of the Armenians can be presented as the sum of enquiries into the fate of individual people or families (genealogy), or as the history of the collectivity and its institutions as a whole (history of the church, social history).

Following its title, this book seeks to fuse the methodologies of both fields so that they supplement and enrich one another. This is best illustrated by an example. Marian Rosco Bogdanowicz (1862-1955), who was descended from the Polish Armenians, recalls in his memoirs a family tragedy that took place as the 1830s gave way to the 1840s. The memoirist’s grandfather, Antoni Rosco Bogdanowicz, had: “… a single son and four daughters, of which three [were] pretty and comely maidens and one was the disabled, but exceptionally good and worthy, Serafina, who was very nearly as short as a dwarf.”1 One day the girls went to bathe in the Bug (the event took place in Sokal). One of them struck a whirlpool and started to sink. Her two sisters, and a girlfriend standing close by, hastened to her aid. The result: “… all four drowned before the eyes of the petrified, disabled Serafina, who remained on the bank.”2 A demographer discovering this tragic episode in the story of the Bogdanowicz family in the local death records might conclude that the number of deaths resulting from unfortunate accidents in the river tended to increase in the summer. Yet because a series of important facts set in train by this event on the Bug remain concealed, our desire for a closer and deeper understanding is not satisfied: “Under the influence of this catastrophe my grandfather did not want to return to the Sokal lands. Instead he settled in his home (now the Baworowski palace) in Lwów at ul. Czarnieckiego 4.”3 The family moved to Lwów as a result of the calamity, which is not something we would be able to glean from demographic sources. But this was not the most important matter. As a consequence of the young girl’s death: “Serafina’s father and aunt inherited much more wealth than they could otherwise have expected.”4 The physically unattractive maiden had become an alluring prospect on the local matrimonial market. To avoid potential dowry hunters, the girl’s family: “… arranged for her to marry her virtuous and exceptionally understanding cousin, Robert Bogdanowicz.”5 The case of Serafina exemplifies the interventions made by close family members both to preserve kinship and to secure the economic success of the new couple. This girl of “dwarfish height” provided her husband with such comfort and peace of mind that he: “… flung himself wholeheartedly into his beloved historical studies.” Perhaps in this way he found compensation for what may have been lacking in his married life.6 The marriage produced two sons: “Zygmunt, an excellent musician, […] committed suicide for reasons that have not yet been explained. The second was Stanisław.”7 This brief excerpt from the life and times of the Rosco Bogdanowicz family demonstrates how two angles of historical enquiry can supplement and clarify each other.

As it was in the author’s case, initial interest in the Armenians often flows from the enchanting myth that surrounds them in Polish literature. Though intricately layered, it can be defined in a brief phrase: “Newcomers from the Orient.” The meaning and origin of these fantasies of the Armenians lies in the Old Polish Period. Adopted by a historiography in thrall to multi-culturalism, this myth is now enjoying a renaissance that is damaging to the historical reality it seeks to describe and explain. After all, the scent of the cardamom and roots the Armenians traded in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries does not mask the odour of the goat meat and Hutsul cheese they carried in their bags as they drove herds of oxen to Ołomuniec.8 There is no doubt that these “Simple Armenian people in Galicia”9 deserve to be studied and discussed with the “oriental” lenses removed and with greater attunement and sensitivity to the ties of the Armenians with their new homeland.

Some explanation of the book’s territorial and chronological scope is in order. The fundamental territorial unit is Galicia. It was there that the Armenians, preserving elements of Polish cultural heritage while adapting to the cultural and legislative influence of Vienna, formed their most numerous and well-defined settlements. The research does not cover Bukovina (an integral part of Galicia in 1774-1849), where a considerable group of Polish Armenians and Romanian Armenians lived. That land, which is sharply polarised religiously and socially, and hence extraordinarily interesting historically, requires a book of its own, based on a separate study of the sources.10

The book’s chronological scope is governed by the author’s historical interests and by the available sources. The pre-autonomy period in the history of Galicia has been researched far less extensively than the later phase. Yet it was a time of momentous social and civilizational changes marked by the demise of the Polish state and by transformations characteristic of the whole of nineteenth-century Europe. The lack of any profound studies of this period has left it remote from academic enquiry and exposed it to mythologization and shortcut thinking. For clarity’s sake, the argument turns back to the Old Polish Period (Stanisławów) and, sometimes, reaches forward into the second half of the nineteenth century (Lwów). The purpose of this, however, is always to provide a thorough record of the facts and events of Armenian society in pre-autonomy Galicia. No great harm is done on this account to the demographic enquiries.

The book contains six chapters and an annexe of sources that comprises sixteen censuses of the Armenian-Catholic population. Not only do these registers supplement the narrative, they also document Armenian families and so provide a potential platform for genealogical enquiry and a starting point for further research. To collect them here seemed useful for the additional reason of providing access to unpublished documents and to those dispersed across a variety of publications.

The opening chapter provides an account of the sources used and of the literature related to the subject. It assembles and describes denominational lists of the faithful, registers of marriages, baptisms and deaths (Armenian Catholic and Roman Catholic), the Josephine and Franciscan measures (cadastres), and valuable cartographic material of the period. This makes up the bulk of the source documentation employed. The chapter then proceeds to a literature review, which covers both historical demography and the history of the Armenians. In the first case the presentation is more selective; it omits work that contributes no substantial new content or ideas to demographic research. This decision is justified by the comparatively recent appearance of a volume summarizing the accomplishments of Polish historical demography.11 For the requirements of this book, effort has also been made to consult the western literature, which offers interesting interpretative perspectives. The historiography of the Polish Armenians is presented with reference both to recent research and literature and to the attainments of the field’s founding authorities. Nineteenth-century publications are, however, treated as historical sources.

Chapter two offers an account of the history and organisation of the Armenian collectivity in the period under investigation. The study seeks to capture and elucidate all of those features that mark it as separate and distinct against the background of other collectivities inhabiting the same area at the same time. This difference was definitely not one of nationality: the Armenians were Poles. More than that, they should properly be termed Poles of Armenian origin rather than Polish Armenians.12 To settle on an exclusively ethnic identification of this group also seemed a trap. The term “ethnic” is, after all, so imprecise that its overuse in contemporary historiography is sometimes quite astonishing.13

The identity (and self-definition) of the Armenians was forged through the rite they belonged to, their family relationships (resulting from this affiliation), their social aspirations, their professional activity (as merchants, landowners, craftsmen) and their concentration in tight-knit settlements in particular areas (at least at the beginning of the period studied). It was within the orbit of the Armenian Catholic Church that “Armenianness” presented its most vivid credentials. This was where the local community gathered, and it was there that every Armenian celebrated and witnessed the most important events in their lives. The second chapter, therefore, sets out the organizational and territorial structure of the Armenian Catholic diocese, whose centre was in Lwów, and presents estimates of the extent of the Armenian population in the period studied. At the turn of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in Galicia there arose a group of Austrian nobility of Armenian origin. It is extremely interesting to trace the genealogy of these ennobled Armenian families in the context of their mutual relationships and family connections. Joining the nobility also offers ample scope for contriving origins, assembling bogus genealogies and fabricating family myths. While acknowledging that the question of Armenian ennoblement requires broader and deeper study, as well as a type of archival enquiry different from that presented here, a decision was nevertheless taken to offer an outline account of this important section of the Armenian community.

One way of developing a sharper image of Armenian marriage, which is the central theme of chapter three, is to examine the marriage registers. The tools of historical demography permit these documents to be examined by reference to a number of typical parameters, such as average age at marriage and the seasonality of marriage ceremonies. Prevailing marriage customs, which are reflected in both the relevant provisions of canon and state law and age-old traditions and practices, are also examined. The cases that proved interesting were those that deviated from the norm, such as bachelors marrying older women (in most cases widows), or married life riven by discord. Outlier instances such as these, which are recorded in documents, marked the horizons for the positive and negative perceptions held by Armenians at that time of the institution of marriage, the course of the marriage ceremony itself and the organising principles for a couple’s life together. This chapter also scrutinizes mixed marriages, which are treated as a means of gauging unions that took their course against the background of different rites.

Where there was marriage, the birth of offspring naturally followed. And it is on Armenian children and their place in the family that chapter four concentrates. It bears repeating where the Armenians are concerned that offspring were absolutely numerically dominant in the populations of that time. Children had the predominant influence on the good fortune of the family: they determined its form and constituted its capital. Room has therefore been made in this chapter to describe the period of awaiting and expecting offspring and to examine the marital fertility rate through a reconstruction of selected families. Reference to childbirth manuals made it possible to portray the state of medical knowledge and the fears involved in giving birth. This chapter also attempts to reconstruct the world of the handywomen and lay midwives to whom Armenian women entrusted their lives. Matters of customs and norms, and of alliance and association, occupied a distinct place in the context of the events that were a child’s birth and baptism. Among the Armenians, a child was baptised and confirmed at the same time. In addition to the child and its parents, witnesses also occupied a central place in this double ceremony. By paying attention to the principles for selecting witnesses, the popularity of certain notables and the configuration of baptismal names, it is possible to delineate circles of people who are kin, or who are joined in a community of interests, and thereby open a window onto the world of the Armenians in the Lwów cathedral. A section of the chapter is devoted to children of unmarried parents in the world of the Armenians in Galicia. This phenomenon is investigated statistically with regard to its scale and social causes. The chapter concludes with an analysis of the list of first names typical for Polish Armenians. It is worth researching this question in greater depth because onomastics distinguishes Armenians sharply from groups belonging to other rites.

Chapter five is devoted to the Armenian family. The major sources for this section of the book were the recovered status animarum volumes – essentially lists of parishioners – as well as other Armenian rolls. Variety is added to this valuable, though somewhat static, perspective by information obtained from registers of births, baptisms, marriages and deaths, and from taxation documents and diary entries. In some cases cartography has been drawn upon as a supplementary resource to provide a precise visualisation of the location of Armenian manor houses and of the topography of Armenian settlements in the towns studied. The legal forms regulating the various levels on which Armenian families functioned have also been addressed. In this respect the Armenian family is studied through the lens of documents that remain from the administration of gmina law, including inheritance cases, divorce cases and records of family trading companies.

It seemed that the best way to present Armenian families in Galicia was to select a small sample of them and to marshal the relevant source material. The Abgarowicz family of Stanisławów thus serves to illustrate the position of a small, prospering and industrious stratum of Armenian origin living in that town. Though their sagas could happily pack several separate volumes, the Krzeczunowicz family of Bołszowce and the Nikorowicz family of Lwów and Grzymałów are presented here to demonstrate the landowning model in which members of the free professions also played a significant role. This passage in the book is to be treated as a prelude to further biographical studies. Of prime importance at this stage, though, is to relate the typical strategies employed by the nobility of Armenian origin in the period studied to ensure that marriage enriched their clans.

The book concludes with a chapter on death in the world of the Armenians. The pre-autonomy era is an exceptionally interesting one for researching funeral rites and arrangements. What we might describe as the theatre of death was changing in the Old Polish Period under the influence of the decrees of Joseph II. Austrian state law of the late eighteenth century, which included provisions for certifying death and ways of preparation of the funeral, regulated treatment of the deceased very precisely. The appearance at that time of cemeteries, which initially had earth graves and only later gravestones and tombs (whose tablets of course provide a separate historical source), opened up a new symbolic space. All of these stages in the journey to the next world – enveloped in metaphysical angst and concluding in funeral orations – make for an absorbing research topic that historians have been exploring for many years.

Death was prefigured by disease and, in some cases, by a steadfastly borne old age. The investigations of the Armenian Catholic death registers therefore pay particular attention to the diseases that prevailed in this social group, as well as to the age of the deceased. The data gathered is then compared with the deaths of believers from other rites. The book that recorded miracles attributed to the painting of the Mother of God in the Armenian Catholic church in Stanisławów served as an important source for understanding the emotions and feelings that accompanied illnesses and dying. These records are treated as evidence of the faith of the Armenians of that period. Entwined as they are with faith and the miraculous, these records augment the somewhat more analytical interpretations offered by demography. Based on the available sources, the concluding chapter also offers an account of ageing and the aged in the world of the Armenians of the period.

The material is enriched throughout by illustrations, which are mainly photocopies of extracts from the documents analysed. Along with maps, the registers kept by industrious parish priests, which represent their own specific cyclical and seasonal order, offer such an abundance of valuable information that the study could not proceed without investigating their contents too.

The English translation preserves the Polish spellings of place names. Hence Lwów rather than Lvov, Lviv or Lemberg. Likewise Stanisławów rather than Iwanofrankiwsk. This reflects the historical toponymic reality. In documents, these names appeared primarily in Polish or were translated from that language into Latin or German for the purposes of state or church administration. For the same reason, Polish orthography has also been retained for Armenian given names and surnames.

From the late eighteenth century into the early nineteenth century, macaronicisms – in this case weaving single Latin words, or even whole Latin phrases, into Polish texts – were used with gusto in documents, and especially in letters, court papers and speeches. Where possible, elements of this baroque rhetorical ornamentation have been retained in the translation.

An edition of selected historical sources appears at the end of the book. It should be stressed that it offers readers an introduction but is not a definitive critical edition (it employs the orthography of the original).

But for very many helpful and sympathetic people, this book could not have been written. The seminars conducted by Professor Zdzisław Budzyński in the Department of Statistics and Historical Demography at the University of Rzeszów supplied the technical know-how and nose for source selection invaluable to a demographically inclined historian. I would also like to extend my warm thanks to Professor Krzysztof Zamorski for his intellectually inspiring publisher’s review. I am likewise thankful to Paweł Siemianowski for translations from the German and to Dr Janusz Szyszka for reviewing the manuscript.

Gratitude is also due to Professor Konrad Wnęk of the Jagiellonian University for his review of this volume, which appeared in the pages of Przeszłość Demograficzna Polski [Poland’s Demographic Past]. Guided in life, including in academic life, by the motto “what does not kill you makes you stronger”, I humbly accept his critical remarks and reservations. That is not to say, though, that I agree with all of them.

A further debt of gratitude is owed to Mark Aldridge for his hard work on the English version of the monograph. Our many discussions of the finer points of the two texts over coffee and cigarettes shall remain for ever a fond memory. I should also like to thank, on his behalf, Izabella Wieczorek, Kaja Kozłowska, Maciej Piątek and George Lisowski.

For a priceless exchange of ideas and for the comfortable working conditions afforded me under the auspices of the Jagiellonian University, I extend my most profound tokens of gratitude, however, to Professor Krzysztof Stopka.

Last but not least, I thank Dorota: for everything.


M. Rosco Bogdanowicz, Wspomnienia [Recollections], preface by A. Knot; prepared for printing, footnotes and translation from foreign texts by J. Gintel, Kraków 1959, vol. 1, p. 10.




Ibid., p.p. 10-11.


Ibid., p. 10.


Ibid., p. 11.




Ibid., p. 13.


Depiction of Polish Armenians of the nineteenth century after L. Jabłonowski, Pamiętniki [Memoirs], prepared with an introduction and footnotes by K. Lewicki, Kraków 1964, p. 86.


The words of Henryk Golejewski. See H. Golejewski, Pamiętnik [Memoirs], prepared for publication by I. Homola, B. Łopuszański, J. Skowrońska, Kraków 1971, vol. 2, p. 77.


The Armenian society in Bukovina was described at the beginning of the twentieth century by Johann Polek. See J. Polek, Die Armenier in der Bukowina, Czerniowitz 1906.


C. Kuklo, Demografia Rzeczypospolitej przedrozbiorowej [The Demography of the Pre-partition Republic of Poland], Warszawa 2009.


The term “Ukrainian Armenians” present in the historiography of our eastern neighbours and in the émigré historiography is a curiosity that is not even worth any particular explication. See K. Stopka, “Ormianie polscy czy ukraińscy? O sposobie pisania historii Ormian na ziemiach dzisiejszej Ukrainy zachodniej” [Polish Armenians or Ukrainian Armenians? Writing the history of the Armenians on the territory of today’s western Ukraine], Lehahayer. Czasopismo poświęcone dziejom Ormian polskich, 2010, vol. 1, p.p. 149-171.


Ladislav Holý drew attention to the imprecision of the term “ethnicity” in an inspiring article. See L. Holý, “Kulturowe tworzenie tożsamości etnicznej: Berti z Darfur” [The Cultural Construction of Ethnic Identity: the Berti of Darfur], Zeszyty Naukowe Uniwersytetu Jagiellońskiego. Prace Socjologiczne, 1973, issue 15 (Identity and the Minority Situation), edited by Z. Mach and A. K. Paluch, p.p. 105-121. One is in full agreement with the following extract: “Only when we establish the meaning of the idea of ethnic identity in a given culture can we determine the contexts in which this construct is meaningful. This means that a full and accurate understanding of the form and course of ethnic processes depends directly on comprehending the way in which identity is interpreted culturally.” Ibid., p. 121. On the subject of the ethnicity of the Armenians in Galicia, see F. Wasyl, “Dziwna etniczność. Kształty tożsamości Ormian galicyjskich” [A Curious Ethnicity: Faces of Armenian Identity in Galicia], Krakowskie Pismo Kresowe, 2012, vol. 4, p.p. 69-90.

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