The Armenian Colonies in Ukraine: Conflict, Cooperation, and Assimilation

The early modern period from 1500-1800 has been focused upon in recent scholarship as a unique era separated from the medieval and the modern. This separation is based not merely on chronology but also on a confluence of global events and process which resulted in a rapid development of human civilization in a manner little dreamed of in earlier eras. While the trends and processes of the early modern are not unique to the period and in many instances long predate it, in the period from 1500-1800 they greatly accelerated and fundamentally changed global politics and the global economy. In the past, study of the early modern period has largely focused on Europe, where this period is characterized by the rise of the “nation-state” and consolidation of territories as well as the spread of European influence abroad[1]. In more recent scholarship though, an emphasis on global history has sought to present this epoch not merely as one of a rising Europe, but as a time of increasing connections and horizontal continuity among peoples across the globe[2]. Processes most associated with the early modern period are the rise of global sea networks, rapid population growth, and the development of global networks of trade and exchange which resulted in a greater flow of goods, people, and information than ever before.

While the wealthy and highly organized European joint stock companies like the British and Dutch East India Companies are most often cited as the premier examples of the formation of trade networks in the early modern period, a discriminating focus on only these European endeavours causes one to lose sight of other networks of equal import which in fact predated these European achievements. Indeed, the earliest groups to establish far-flung networks allowing for the long-distance transfer of goods and men were diasporic groups such as the Sephardic Jews and Armenians. The Armenians in particular had great success in the early modern period, and Armenian trade networks like the one centered in New Julfa in the Safavid Empire had outposts as far apart as India, Britain, and Muscovy, and were able to transfer large amounts of capital over long distances using fairly sophisticated accounts and contracts. In most cases, the Armenian communities were able to remain distinct entities, separate from larger local communities, and the Armenian merchants preserved their ethnic identities and the integrity of their network[3]. The Armenian diasporic communities were not all so successful as the Julfans however, and the Armenian outposts far from their homeland were not uninfluenced by the local communities they chose to reside in.

This paper will focus on the Armenian community in the lands of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (Rzeczpospolita Obojga Narodów), which provides an interesting example of the relationship between a large Armenian community with deep roots in the region and a local population undergoing its own religious and economic crises. The Armenians of the Commonwealth played an important role in the economy both as a long-distance traders and skilled craftsmen, and also served as an important support base for the Polish monarchs in a tenuous border region with the Ottomans and Muscovites. Though the importance of the Armenian community both economically and militarily did not change between the medieval and the early modern periods, over the course of the seventeenth century a drastic shift occurred in the way the Armenian community was treated by their overlords. While beforehand the Armenians had received lucrative trading privileges and held significant political and religious freedom, in this period these rights were curtailed due to the rise of Counter-Reformation religious fanaticism and xenophobic ideologies promulgated in reaction to the increasing global connection of the early modern world which threatened the traditional privileges of the Polish ruling elite. As the Armenians practised their own Armenian Orthodox religion, they were in communion neither with the Catholic rulers of the Commonwealth nor with the majority Ruthenian Orthodox populations in the Ukrainian cities where they resided. The limitations on the traditional rights of the Armenians in turn led to more strife as the angered Armenians acted out against their lords, resulting in further persecution. This growing strife with the local community was furthered by economic divisions within the Armenian community itself, as the wealthy merchants became increasingly assimilated into Polish society. This factional conflict, coupled with growing conflict in the region against the encroaching Ottomans and a series of devastating plagues, resulted in the decline of the Armenian population and a significant drop in the importance of this diasporic community. By focusing particularly on the Armenian communities of Lvov (also known as Lwów, L’viv, or Lemburg) and Kamenets-Podolskyi (also known as Kamieniec Podolski or Kamianets-Podilskyi)[4] the causes and process of this decline is made evident, and we see that these Armenian communities are like microcosms which display all the tensions of the greater Commonwealth.

Origins of the Armenian Communities of Ukraine

It is unclear when exactly Armenians first arrived in the area which is now western Ukraine, but existing evidence shows that they were already well established by the time the area came under Polish authority. The first written evidence of Armenian presence in this area is a letter of 1062 issued by the Prince Feodor Dmitrievich of Galicia, in which the prince invites the Armenians to settle in his territory. It has been surmised that the reason the Armenians were invited was in fact to repopulate devastated portions of territory and contribute manpower to the Prince’s wars against the Poles and the Kipchak Turks.[5]

Apart from this one mention of the invitation of Armenians, little is know of the Armenian community of the Early Middle Ages. It is unknown exactly how many Armenians first settled in the territory nor where they originally settled, though some historians such as Vardan Grigorian and Iaroslav Dashkevich have theorized that they first settled in Kamenets as this was the capital of Podolia at the time[6]. It is unclear exactly how the Armenian community fared during the Mongol invasion and subsequent domination of the region, yet it would seem that the Armenians did survive the invasion, for in the mid-14th century the Polish King Kazimir the Great gave privileges to the Armenians of Kamenets in 1344 and to the Armenians of Lvov in 1356, allowing both communities the right to enforce Armenian law amongst their own and the right to exercise the death sentence, likely in the hope of creating a bastion of supporters in their network.[7] It is still unclear exactly how large the Armenian community was at this point and exactly what their role was, though the report of Ghillebert de Lannoy, a French knight and emissary of the King of England and Regent of France does give us some information. De Lannoy visited the city of Lvov in 1421 and records that he was greeted by the Armenian community, which received him in a ceremony separate from that given by the civic authorities. De Lannoy does not wax verbose on the topic of Armenians, yet does note that he was better received by them than by the local authorities, a fact which would seem to indicate both the wealth of the Armenian community and their considerable self-government.[8] A separate record demonstrates the existence of an Armenian community in Kamenets as well in this period, as in 1443 the Armenians of Kamenets were given trade privileges by the Namestnik[9] Jan of Chizhov.[10] Furthermore, Jan noted that he was not granting new privileges, but rather reconfirming old ones, which would suggest that the Armenians had for some time had a role in the commercial life of the region.

The Armenian Colony at the Beginning of the Early Modern Period

Beginning in the late fifteenth and proceeding up until the late sixteenth century a series of privileges given to the Armenians demonstrate their increasing commercial importance. In 1496, the King Jan Olbracht reconfirmed the trade rights of the Armenians, which were reconfirmed again in 1502 and 1507.[11] Further privileges were added beginning under King Zygmunt August, who in 1548 gave Armenians the right to brew and sell beer and other alcoholic beverages, and in 1567 declared that soldiers could not be quartered in Armenian homes in peacetime. In 1574 and 1576, Kings Henry of Valois and Stefan Bathory respectively granted further judicial privileges to the Armenian community of Kamenets.[12] After these edicts, the granting of further privileges ceased, and although the status of the Armenian settlements continued to be reconfirmed by kings throughout the seventeenth century. As will be discussed, this written confirmation came to mean little due to the increasing hostility and suspicion of the Polish authorities towards the Armenians.

Despite this later enmity, in the sixteenth century the Armenian colony flourished and seems to have interacted well with the local population.  The importance of the Armenian colony to commerce is widely attested, beginning with Matvei Mekhovskii, a geographer at Jagiellonian University, who noted in his book of 1517 that  the Armenians were experienced merchants who traded with Crimea, Constantinople, Egypt, and India. Świętosław Orzelski, a noted Polish Protestant intellectual, also briefly commented on the Armenian community and detailed financial transactions between the Polish kings and wealthy Armenian merchants.[13] The Armenian merchant community also benefited from the fall of the formerly Genoese city of Caffa on the Black Sea to the Crimean Khanate in 1475, resulting in a shift towards more northerly trade routes through cities such as Kamenets and Lvov.

While little is known of the day to day life of the colony and its culture, in this period a more diverse set of sources begin to give us some clues about how people lived. Hieronimo Lippomanno, a Venetian diplomat, wrote in 1575 that there were  60 Armenian families in Lvov and 300 in Kamenets, also writing that they imported goods from Turkey, Iran, Egypt, and India, while other sources report that the Armenians were also major players in the horse trade.[14] Judging from this report as well as the privileges granted to the Armenians, it would seem that the town of Kamenets had by far the largest population of Armenians, with another significant group in Lvov and much smaller colonies in other towns in the region (see the map at the beginning).[15]

While most outside observers tend to focus on the Armenian merchant activity, it seems likely that most of the Armenians were in fact not merchants but rather craftsmen, respected as jewelers, tailors, sword-smiths, and furriers.[16] Many Armenians lived close to the main market square of Kamenets and it seems likely that they were vendors of local produce on a much smaller scale than the merchant magnates engaged in the import and export of exotic luxuries from abroad. It would seem that in Kamenets the Armenian community had a particularly strong influence, as in 1586 an Armenian traveller reported that the number of Armenian households had increased to 400. While the exact population of Kamenets at this time is unknown, records show that in 1570 there were only 645 households in Kamenets altogether, indicating that even allowing for exaggeration the Armenians made up a very significant portion of the population, and may indeed have been a plurality compared to the Poles and Ukrainians.[17]

These Armenians seem to have spoken not Armenian, but Armeno-Kipchak, a language which relied largely on borrowings from Kipchak Turkish.[18] There are differing theories as to how this creole arose, with some historians suggesting that the original Armenian colony had come from Khazar lands where they lived in close contact with Kipchaks, and others claiming that the Kipchak influence came later when a second wave of Armenians left Kipchak lands and settled in the Ukraine following the Mongol invasion.[19] Regardless, by the Early Modern period the Armenians of Kamenets and Lvov seem to have spoken Armeno-Kipchak amongst themselves, as well as being fluent in Polish, Ruthenian, and frequently other languages such as Ottoman Turkish and Persian. Because of their linguistic skills, the Armenians were well suited to work as interpreters and emissaries, and were frequently employed by the Polish kings for this purpose, leading embassies to the Ottoman and Safavid Empires[20].

The high education of the Armenians community is further attested to by records which show considerable intellectual activity. Records show that there was an Armenian school in Kamenets in 1592 which had likely existed for some time, though it is unclear exactly what its purpose was. Apart from this, most intellectual activity seems to have taken place within the bounds of the religious community, which was headed by the Armenian Orthodox Bishopric of Lvov, a seat established as early as 1363.[21] The Armenian bishop of Lvov technically was subject to the Patriarchate of Etchmiadzin in Armenia, though due to the great distance between Lvov and Etchmiadzin the Patriarch had little practical influence.

Chronicle-writing was undertaken by the Armenian Orthodox church community from 1492-1537 in Lvov and 1430-1652 in Kamenets. Books of all kinds were copied and composed in the scriptoria of the Armenian churches, and extant examples of Armenian manuscripts show that these communities had an excellent understanding of the craft and produced high quality work. While the majority of manuscripts produced in Kamenets and Lvov were religious in nature, there were also secular works which were copied. Indeed, manuscript culture seems to have been so embedded in the life of the Armenian colonies that no attempts were made to establish an Armenian press until the early sixteenth century, long after Polish and Ruthenian presses had been established in the region. Even when a press was finally established by Ter-Ovanes Karmatenentsi c. 1616, it seems to have printed very little and ceased operation after his death. Only one surviving book, a copy of the Psaltyr, exists from the Karmatenentsi press, and almost nothing is known about the activities of the press or the background of Karmatenentsi himself.[22]

Structure of Government and Law in the Armenian Colonies

By far the most important characteristic of the Armenian communities seems to be their extensive rights to self-govern, which likely explains the long-term cohesion of the community and its lack of assimilation. In both Lvov and Kamenets the Armenian communities were exempt from the justice of the local administrators and instead were allowed to govern themselves, select their own authorities, and dispense their own justice, subject only to the authority of the Polish king. As a result, the Armenian colonies in both Lvov and Kamenets developed complex systems of civic government, which though similar in design differed somewhat in organization. Less is known about the government of the Armenian colony of Lvov, though records seem to show that it was regulated by a council of 12 elders or consuls who selected from among themselves a Wójt, or chief magistrate, also referred to as the advocatus civitatis in the privilege of King Kazimir given in 1356[23]. The precise methods of the selection of these elders is unclear, as is their exact function, though they seem to have held a broad mandate to resolve disputes and legislate on issues relating to the Armenian community, even having some say in ecclesiastical matters.[24] However, the Lvov community did not retain complete autonomy into the early modern period, but rather came under the authority of the local burgomaster as early as 1496, retaining only ecclesiastical authority.[25]

Considerably more documentation remains on the government of the Armenian colony of Kamenets, which seems to have had substantially more governmental structures, likely due to its comparatively large size, and in theory retained full judicial autonomy up until the end of the eighteenth century. The community of Kamenets likewise was led by a Wójt, but the mechanisms for his election and his exact function seem to have differed somewhat from that of Lvov. The office of the Wójt in Kamenets was elective, and the form of the elections was regularly confirmed by the Polish kings. The election was conducted yearly and was conducted by a “council of forty brothers” led by a marshal, and  a group of fifty representatives of the “simple folk”. The fifty lower electors had the right to choose the forty brothers, who would then elect the Wójt from amongst themselves. Though the poorer Armenians were involved in the process through their selection of the brothers, these forty men were to be selected only from the “good, honest, and firmly settled” members of the community, a qualification that has generally been interpreted to mean materially wealthy. This seems to be further corroborated by the rule that the forty brothers be capable of appearing at the election “in befitting attire”.[26] Furthermore, the list of 50 was compiled by the Wójt and magistrates, creating a cyclical system which discouraged any political change. Along with the Wójt, other elected positions included a sub-delegate who would act as magistrate in the Wójt’s absence, and also bureaucrats like treasurers and court scribes.

The courts acted much like a modern adversarial judicial system, with the two sides presenting their arguments before the Wójt in the presence of a jury of 12. Both sides had the option to call witnesses and display evidence, after which the Wójt in consultation with the jury would make a decision and pass a sentence. There has in the past been some discussion of where exactly the Armenian law code used by the colony of Kamenets came from and how they developed such complex jurisprudence. Evidently, much of the law of the Polish Armenians was taken from lawbooks of Smbat Sparapet and Mikhtar Goshta, traditional Armenian sources, yet was also influenced by the Magdeburg Law which was practiced in many Polish cities, as well as Turkic law codes.[27]

One of the main extant primary sources on the Armenian colonies of Ukraine is an archive of court documents which show a broad range of cases. It is interesting to note that the cases of the Armenian court do not involve solely Armenians, but frequently involve members of the local Ukrainian community as well. In one document from the time of the Wójt Sergei, two Armenian merchants brought a case against each other which involved their business partner, a Ruthenian[28]. Similarly, in a case from 1560 (1010 in the Armenian calendar) an Armenian merchant named Mati Malich and his business associate, a Jew named Yakov, brought suit against an Armenian merchant family[29]. In these cases involving outsiders, it seems that non-Armenians are not able to bring suit alone, but rather must be somehow affiliated with an Armenian of the community in order to have recourse to the Armenian court. Similarly, not only people of Kamenets appear in the court but also merchants from other parts of Ukraine and Crimea who use the court of Kamenets to resolve trade disputes and amend contracts, as in the case of Pilip of Lvov who in 1559 went to the court in order to amend a rent contract with an Armenian of Kamenets[30].

The Tumultuous Seventeenth Century – Conflict and the Decline of the Colony

These court documents present us with an image of a prosperous colony with strong institutions, well integrated into the local community yet not assimilated. The few population figures which we have for this period indicate that the Armenian population throughout Ukraine was slowly but steadily growing. Why then, despite this positive outlook, did the Armenian colonies decline so precipitously over the course of the seventeenth century? The answer to this question has little to do with the colonies themselves, but rather stemmed from causes related to the religious and social conflicts which erupted across Eastern Europe in this period.

While the name Rzeczpospolita Obojga Narodów  is usually rendered as “The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth”, it literally translates as The Commonwealth of Two Nations. It was not a centralized state in the manner commonly thought of today, but rather a composite structure of two different entities, the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, which were joined first in dynastic union in 1386 and then in a constitutional union in 1569. The dominant political class in this Commonwealth was not the monarchy, which became an elective position in 1374 and gradually lost power after the end of the Jagiellonian dynasty in 1572. Instead, the powerful and privileged nobility of the Commonwealth held authority through their constitutional privileges and legislative power. Religious freedom was one of the key privileges possessed by the nobility, and one of the most visible symbols of what they considered to be their superiority to other European nobilities. In many respects, this tolerance was the glue that held the Commonwealth together, for despite the Catholic majority in the kingdom of Poland, the lands of the Grand Duchy were majority Ruthenian Orthodox, with significant communities of very wealthy Protestants quickly forming in both territories. It was in this atmosphere of tolerance and minority privilege that groups like the Jews and Armenians were able to thrive and form distinct, commercially successful enclaves.

Despite the overall tolerant atmosphere of the Commonwealth, the Catholic Church had long frowned upon the growth of religious communities like that of the Ruthenian Orthodox and Armenian Orthodox churches, and had continually sought to gain converts in the Eastern lands. As early as 1540, Andrzej Lubelczyk, the Canon of Lvov, had led a determined effort to negotiate a union between the Armenian church in Ukraine and the Catholic church, yet despite his determination his efforts came to naught.[31] During the rule of the Jagiellonian dynasty beginning in 1386, religious proselytism was largely discouraged as the Jagiellonians, themselves only recent converts from paganism, preferred to avoid conflict with their significant Ruthenian populations in the East. This situation changed, however, with the death of the last Jagiellonian king, Zygmunt II August, in 1572.

After the end of the Jagiellonian line, the following monarchs proved to be considerably more indifferent to the religious rights of minorities, and the Catholic Church was quick to take advantage of this. In 1584 Jan-Dymitr Solikowski, the Archbishop of Lvov, forcibly closed Armenian and Ruthenian churches with the aid of local Polish authorities, and claimed in his autobiography that Armenian trade with the Turks was a betrayal of Polish crown. Solikowski’s draconian measures were soon overruled, yet the precedent he set would be remembered.

The situation grew worse for the Armenians with the accession of the Vasa dynasty, a conservative Catholic branch of the Swedish Vasas. The first Polish Vasa, Zygmunt III Vasa, was elected to the throne in 1587 and immediately set into motion a campaign of Re-Catholicization, using all of the tools that had been developed in great Counter-Reformation effort throughout Europe. This campaign was mainly intended to curb the spread of Protestantism in Poland, but resulted in the indiscriminate persecution of non-Catholics throughout the Commonwealth. In 1600, Zygmunt III promulgated a decree limiting where the Armenian community could live in Lvov and specifically forbidding them from living or trading on the main market square and declaring that all properties owned by the Armenians in this area would be confiscated with compensation. Furthermore, Zygmunt coupled this decree with another in which he banned the Armenians from some trades such as distilling.[32] In the decree it is recorded that the matter was brought to the royal attention by members of the community, indicating that Polish and Ukrainian merchants may have resented the wealth of the Armenian community. Apart from royal measures taken against the Armenians, the Catholic Church also began making even more strenuous efforts to convert the Armenians and create propaganda against their community. Mateusz Bembus, a Polish Jesuit, travelled to Lvov in 1629 and attempted to convert the Armenians, describing Lvov as “the devil’s city” due to the large numbers of Armenians, Jews, and Ruthenians, as well as the presence of three bishops of different faiths (Catholic, Armenian, Ruthenian).[33] Sebastian Petrichi, an Italian philosopher and professor of medicine at the University of Krakow in 1632 wrote a treatise entitled: “Who is more suspicious and harmful for the Commonwealth : the Armenians or the Jews?”. In this text, Petrichi declares that the  Armenians are ruffians and small tradesmen who try to push out the Polish, claiming that they refuse to adopt Polish customs, they marry amongst their own, and they have their own “secret republic”.[34]

There are no sources which speak of the immediate effect these measures had on the communities of Lvov or Kamenets, yet Simeon Dpir, an Armenian memoirist from Lvov, reports that from 1608-19 the Armenian communities of Kiev and Lutsk declined sharply and nearly vanished[35]. In Lvov itself, the first sign of unrest appears in a document of 1630 in which the elders of the Armenian community formally complain to the Starosta, the local Polish authority, about the heavy taxes levied from them, claiming that it is a violation of the exemptions granted to them by the kings Zygmunt I and Stefan Batory in the sixteenth century.[36] Previously, the Armenians of Lvov had been exempt from most regular local taxes, and this would indicate a further change in policy towards their community.

Though these harsh restrictions and new taxes enacted against the Armenians would have had a great impact on the small tradesmen and poorer families of the Armenian communities, it seems likely that they had fairly little impact on the small minority of super-wealthy Armenian merchants, who were assimilated into Polish society to a much greater degree and had close ties to the Polish nobility and monarchy.[37] This growing divide between the social strata of the community would led to open conflict in the 1630s, ostensibly over theological matters.

Storm clouds began gathering over the Armenian communities as early as 1627, when a new Armenian Archbishop of Lvov was selected. The Armenian Church in Ukraine had been under great pressure in the past several decades to join with the Catholic Church and adopt Catholic forms and rituals, a pressure which grew once the Ruthenian Orthodox Church entered into Union with the Catholics in 1596. As the Catholic Church gained increasing authority in Lvov and Ukraine as a whole, the Armenian community seems to have feared that their church hierarchy might be tempted to give into these demands, and quite presciently required that the new archbishop sign a document in the presence of the Armenian community and representatives of the community of Kamenets pledging to remain true to the Armenian faith and the Patriarchate of Etchmiadzin. The new archbishop was Nikola Torosian, a member of one of the wealthiest families of the Armenian colony of Lvov, and he willingly signed the document. However, Torosian was quick to abandon the promises he had made and in 1630 on his own authority declared a union between the Armenian Church in Ukraine and the Catholic Church. With the aid of the Jesuits and the civic authorities, Torosian forcibly seized the Armenian church in Lvov and attempted to enforce the shift to Uniate rituals and doctrines.[38]

This move enraged the Armenian community, the overwhelming majority of which seems to have strongly opposed such a union.[39] Documents from the civic court of Lvov show the quickly escalating battle between Torosian and the community as Torosian attempted to force them to observe the new faith. A document dated the 24th of April 1631 records a complaint by the Archbishop against the elders of the community, who had refused to give him the church ornaments traditionally used to observe Easter and had in fact stripped the church even of the regular church silver. The court document records the Armenian elders as having declared “We won’t give a thing – let the Poles give it to him!”.[40] This complaint is followed by a transcript of the civic court on the 30th of May of that same year in which the court declares that in accordance with a royal decree against the Armenians, the civic authority recognizes the mandate of the Archbishop Torosian and holds that the Armenian community must recognize the church union and the new church ritual. The transcript records that after this declaration, one Armenian of the community named Simon Varterishovich stated that “We do not fear this mandate of the king and do not recognize and will not recognize, while our patriarch does not do so.”[41]

This seems to have served as something of a declaration of war, and subsequent reports show the situation escalating further towards physical violence. On the 21st of June, the civic court recorded a suit brought by the elders of the Armenian community against the Archbishop Torosian and the burgomaster of the city in which they accused the archbishop of having used the burgomaster’s soldiers to forcibly seize two Armenian priests who defied him, place them in chains, and imprison them, thereby grossly overstepping even the powers granted to him by the King’s mandate.[42] Unfortunately for the Armenian community, there seems to have been few consequences for the archbishop’s actions. In that same year, the college of Jesuits of the city of Lvov wrote a letter to the city council demanding that the actions of the Armenian court be ended, declaring that it hindered the unification of the Armenian Church with the Uniates and also disturbed the civic authority. In this document, the Jesuits rail at length against the Armenian community of the city, accusing them of uniting with the schismatic Ruthenians and calling all Armenians heretics, claiming that they have no doctrine and that each believes what he wants, and that they attempt to protect their heresy by hiding behind the ancient privileges granted to them by kings long dead.[43]

The atmosphere in Lvov seems to have been growing more poisonous by the month, and the situation must have seemed quite bleak for the Armenians. However, their plight did not go entirely unnoticed by their compatriots, for in a letter from July of 1631 seemingly addressed to the Catholic Archbishop of Lvov, the Katholikos of Etchmiadzin Movses III declared that Torosian had acted entirely against his will and against the agreements previously made between the Katholikos and the Papacy. Movses enclosed copies of correspondence with the pope, and requested that the Catholic Archbishop do everything in his power to end the harassment of the Armenians of Lvov.[44]

As it happened, some of the pressure on the Armenian colony was soon relieved, though not due to the intervention of the Katholikos. King Zygmunt III died in 1632 and was succeeded by his son, Władysław IV, who while still Catholic was more moderate than his father and seems to have been aware of the great tensions that had been created by Zygmunt’s Counter-Reformation policies. Zygmunt seems to have withdrawn his support for the Archbishop Torosian, yet this did not entirely end the conflict. A document from December of 1632 records that the Archbishop Torosian refused to fulfill a royal order to return the Armenian church to the non-Uniate Armenians.[45] As Torosian, in fact, never did give the church back, it would seem that in spite of the change in royal favor local authorities were not particularly keen on assisting the Armenian communities, and confrontations continued between the Armenians and the Catholic Church, the civic government, and the Uniate faction led by Torosian.[46] On April 12th of 1633, the Armenian community again brought a lawsuit against the Archbishop Torosian, also accusing students of the college of Jesuits of acting as his agents in an incident in which they broke into two Armenian homes, seized two Armenian priests who had denied the authority of Torosian, and paraded them through the streets before imprisoning them.[47] This initial document is followed by another dated the 13th of April in which the city council formally refuses to take any action against Archbishop Torosian. This refusal results in yet another complaint by the Armenian community, which is quickly responded to by a counter-complaint from the city council against the Armenians. The result of all this legal action seems to be that absolutely nothing was done to resolve the situation and the dispute continued. In 1634 we hear of yet further complaints against the Archbishop for supposedly stealing the church silver and accusing him of forcibly imprisoning another member of the community. In a letter of 1635, the Starosta (governor) of Lvov, Stanisław-Boniface Mniszek, attempted to explain to the King Wladyslaw IV why he had not yet carried out the King’s command of 1632 to return the Armenian Church to the community.  Mniszek relates a rather amusing story, claiming that he went to the church and attempted to enter it yet was opposed by two Uniate priests, who refused him entrance and told him it was a holy place where secular authority did not belong.[48] This is clearly a poor excuse disguising a lack of desire to fulfill the orders, for had the Starosta actually wished to take the church he could easily have called up enough soldiers wipe out the entire Armenian community, let alone deal with the relatively small number of Uniates who held the church. Once again, the Starosta ignored the king’s request, and 1636 again saw the same cycle of unrest and litigation as the Armenians, this time anticipating Torosian’s actions, complained to the court of his preparations to attack them. The court again did nothing, and the Armenians some time later stated that Torosian had once more seized their priests, bringing a lawsuit against him and the burgomaster. Once more, the city council responded with a lawsuit against the Armenians, and the matter proceeded to go nowhere.[49]

It is interesting to note that while all this conflict was going on in Lvov, Kamenets remained largely untouched by the matter. Though Kamenets too was technically subject to the Archbishop of Lvov, Torosian did not, in this period, make any attempt to extend his authority there, and life for the Armenians of Kamenets largely proceeded as usual, especially after the death of Zygmunt III.[50] This peculiar inequality between the two colonies begs the question as to why Kamenets was so much more peaceful than Lvov. Part of this is undoubtedly due to the larger size of the Armenian colony of Kamenets, which was exceptionally large in proportion to the population of the town and thus made it much more difficult to interfere in internal Armenian matters. Furthermore, while Kamenets was an important trading post for the Armenians, as a town it was something of a backwater, while Lvov was an important cultural center, home to a Catholic archbishop and a college of Jesuits as well as a sizeable Ukrainian Uniate population. Perhaps the most important factor was Kamenets’ status as a frontier post. In this period, Kamenets was the main fortress on the Polish frontier with the Ottomans, and as such was heavily militarized. The Armenian community contributed to the defensive readiness of Kamenets by promising to help defend the walls in case of attack and annually paying a special tax for the maintenance of the defensive works. For this reason, anything that might cause civil unrest in Kamenets was a security concern, and the commanders of the garrison made every effort to ensure that order was maintained.

In light of the complete disregard of the civic authorities for the complaints made by the Armenians, the community soon lost its faith in legal action and began to take matters into its own hands, resulting in more violence. In February of 1636 Archbishop Torosian complained to the civic court that a mob of Armenians led by Anti-Uniate priests had attacked him and his retinue, throwing rocks at them and beating them with sticks. This incident resulted in a lengthy inquiry by the civil authorities into the actions of the Armenian collective.[51]

The Armenians were not the only group growing frustrated with Catholic discrimination – the far more numerous Ukrainians had likewise suffered the same kind of forced church union and unrest quickly rose. Across Ukraine, sectarian tensions had been rising since the late sixteenth century, and as the weakness of royal authority became more and more apparent, oppressed populations began to consider taking matters into their own hands, leading to a number of minor popular revolutions.[52]

The situation exploded in 1648 with the Cossack revolt led by a Ruthenian nobleman, Bohdan Khmelnytsky. Khmelnytsky’s uprising rallied wide popular support across Ukraine as serfs overthrew their Catholic landlords and joined Khmelnytsky’s army. The Cossack force allied itself with the Crimean Tatars and quickly moved westwards across Ukraine, massacring Poles and Jews as it went. Polish armies were defeated at Zhovti Vody, Korsun, and Pyliavtsi. The city of Kiev, as well as most of eastern and central Ukraine, fell to the Cossacks.

In many cases, the Armenian merchant communities of Ukraine openly aided the Cossacks in their rebellion, and the Cossack victories were attributed in part to the materiel and information supplied by the Armenian networks. The Poles in Western Ukraine, hearing rumors of Armenian betrayals in the East, feared similar problems in their own towns and became increasingly suspicious of the Armenians. When Khmelnytsky besieged Lvov, the Armenians were carefully monitored by contingents of German and Jewish soldiers who were considered reliable.[53] In the end, Khmelnytsky was persuaded to abandon his siege of Lvov in exchange for a sizeable ransom, and never took Lvov nor Kamenets. Overall, the Armenian community became extremely wealthy from the conflict, selling supplies to both the Cossacks and Poles and losing their largest competitors due to the Cossack persecution of the Jews.[54]

Following the Khmelnytsky Uprising, the Armenians of Lvov and Kamenets found themselves once more subject to Polish authority, and though portions of the populace were wealtheir they suffered many of the same problems as before. Archbishop Torosian continued his tireless efforts to convert the Armenians to the Uniate faith, and it seems that in this period he was more successful, likely due to the realization that Catholic merchants simply had much higher status in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and that only Catholics could freely operate at the highest levels of society. In 1665 an Armenian Uniate Seminary was founded in Lvov – modelled after Jesuit colleges, this seminary seems to have replaced the older Armenian school as the main source of education for the Armenian community.[55] In 1666, Torosian finally attempted to extend his authority to Kamenets. Once again, the Armenian community repeatedly and strenuously protested his actions, which again included forcibly taking church infrastructure and publicly humiliating local priests. However, at this point Torosian seems to have been quite powerful, and in October of 1666 the Armenian priests of Kamenets accepted the union with the Catholic church.[56] The Armenian communities were gradually becoming more assimilated into Polish society and losing many of their unique institutions.

The fall of Kamenets-Podolskyi to the Ottomans in 1672 quickened this process. Kamenets had by far the largest Armenian population in the Commonwealth, and it suffered greatly from the occupation. Many Armenians were killed in the siege of the city, and many others were enslaved in its aftermath. Much of the remaining colony found life in Turkish-occupied Kamenets to be intolerable – while in other parts of the Ottoman Empire large numbers of Armenians lived quite peacefully, in Kamenets the Armenians had directly participated in the defense of the city and suffered from the depredations of the Ottoman army which pillaged the city after its fall. A large number of Armenians attempted to return to Armenia, yet encountered a storm on the Black Sea and were forced to turn back, landing in Bulgaria and eventually settling in Macedonia with the help of Armenians from Constantinople. A surprisingly small contingent of Armenians from Kamenets went to Lvov, which remained in the Commonwealth, possibly due to continuing enmity towards Archbishop Torosian. The city did revive somewhat after it was retaken from the Turks with the Treaty of Karlowitz in 1699, yet the Armenian colony had shrunk drastically and never came close to its former numbers. The colony suffered further in the eighteenth century during two plagues in 1738-9 and 1770-1 which left the Armenian colony devastated once more.[57] While the colony in Lvov did not have to deal with the devastation of invasion and plague, it assimilated rapidly, and likewise during the eighteenth century became much less distinct from the local community.

The decline of the centuries-old Armenian community of Poland-Lithuania can be viewed as the result of change rising tensions not only within the diasporic Armenian colony but also in the community of the Commonwealth as a whole. In the last quarter of the sixteenth century, we see the rise of virulent strains of official nationalism of the kind described by  the historian Benedict Anderson in his book Imagined Communities. This official nationalism is characterized by an insistence on the superiority of the dominant language, religion, and ethnicity[58]. In this case, a form of Polish Catholic culture heavily influenced by Counter-Reformation dogmas was forced upon the residents of the “colonies” of the Commonwealth, namely the Ukrainian lands in the East. This imposition of  the culture of the ruling majority on the non-Catholic minorities resulted in increasing religious, economic, and ethnic tensions over the course of the seventeenth century which gradually broke down the civic bodies of the community of the Commonwealth. The violent outbursts of the 17th century are symptomatic of this breakdown in civic structure, particularly the Khmelnytsky Uprising which saw extensive ethnic cleansing and class violence resulting in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Jews, Poles, and Ruthenians. The Armenians can be seen as innocent bystanders in a greater confrontation between the Orthodox Ruthenians and Catholic Poles in which the proselytizing impetus also comes to be placed upon the Armenian colony simply due to their perceived status as aliens and their significant presence in the Commonwealth in this particular period. This official emphasis on “Polonization” by the government of the Commonwealth can be compared to other Eastern European powers like the Muscovites who did not adopt similar policies in this period. Indeed, the Muscovite government began cooperating extensively with Armenian merchants in this period, resulting in the rise of large colonies of Armenians in centers like Astrakhan and Rostov-on-the-Don which largely came to supplant the Polish Armenian colonies as centers of the trade between Persia and Eastern Europe[59]. The recalcitrance of the Polish government and repudiation of their former policies of tolerance can perhaps be seen as a kind of reaction to the heightened flow of ideas and people in the early modern period which the Polish ruling classes begin to perceive as a threat to their traditional order. However, it is intriguing that this tension did not remain confined to the early modern but rather can still be seen in the political discourse of the present day Republic of Ukraine. Overall, the plight of the Armenian community is yet another example of the many deep-seated religious, economic, and ethnic tensions which have prevented the formation of any broad and tolerant national community in the territory referred to as Ukraine.


Anderson, Benedict. Imagined Communities. New York: Verso Press, 2006

Aslanian, Sebouh D. From the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean: The Global Trade Networks of Armenian Merchants from New Julfa, Berkley: University of California Press, 2011

Blažejovskyj, Dmytro. Ukrainian and Armenian Pontifical Seminaries of Lviv (1665-1784). Rome: Pp. Basiliani, 1975

Dashkevich, Iaroslav. “Armenians in the Ukraine at the Time of Hetman Bohdan Xmel’nyc’kyj (1648-1657)” Armenia and Ukraine. New York: M.P. Kots’ 2001

Dashkevich, Iaroslav.  Armianskie Kolonii na Ukraine v Istochnikakh I Literature XV-XIX Vekov. Yerevan: Izdatel’stvo Akademii Nauk Armianskoi SSSR, 1962

Dashkevich, Iaroslav “Who are the Armeno-Kipchaks?” Armenia and Ukraine. New York: M.P. Kots’ 2001

Dokumenty na Polovetskom Iazyke XVI v. ed. E.V. Sevortian. Moskva: Izdatel’stvo «Nauka», 1967

Fletcher, Joseph F. “Integrative History: Parallels and Interconnections in the Early Modern Period, 1500-1800” Studies on Chinese and Islamic Inner Asia. Ashgate: Burlington, VT, 1995

Grigorian, V.R. Istoriia Armianskikh Kolonii Ukrainy I Pol’shi. Yerevan: Izdatel’stvo Akademii Nauk Armianskoi SSSR, 1962

Korkotian, K.A. and N.A. Voskanian. “Armianskaia kniga v XV – XVI vv. i armianskoe knigopechatanie vo L’vove v XVII v.” Istoricheskie sviazi I druzhba ukrainskogo I armianskogo narodov v. III Yerevan: Izdatel’stvo Akademii Nauk Armianskoi SSSR, 1971

Klimas, Petras, Constantine R. Jurgela, and Lithuanian American Information Center. Ghillebert De Lannoy in Medieval Lithuania; Voyages and Embassies of an Ancestor of One of America’s Great Presidents. New York, N.Y.: The Lithuanian American information center, 1945.

Kripiakevich, I. P. “K voprosu o nachale armianskoi koloni vo L’vove” Istoricheskie sviazi I druzhba ukrianskogo I armianskogo narodov. Kiev: Izdatel’stvo «Naukova Dumka», 1965

Krivonos, N.K. Armianskie istoricheskie pamiatniki na territorii L’vovskoi oblasti Ukrainy.Yerevan: Zangak, 2000

Kul’chitskii, V.S. “Armianskii “Sudebnik” Gosha I ego primenenie vo L’vove” Istoricheskie sviazi I druzhba ukrainskogo I armianskogo narodov v. II Kiev: Izdatel’stvo «Naukova Dumka», 1965

Kul’chitskii, V.S. “Osushestvlenie pravosudiia v armianskikh poseleniiakh v prikarpat’e”  Istoricheskie sviazi I druzhba ukrainskogo I armianskogo narodov v. III Yerevan: Izdatel’stvo Akademii Nauk Armianskoi SSSR, 1971

Nadel-Golobič, Eleonora “Armenians and Jews in Medieval Lvov. Their Role in Oriental Trade 1400-1600” Cahiers du Monde russe et soviétique, Vol. 20, No. 3/4 (Jul. – Dec., 1979), pp. 345-388

Oleś, Marian. The Armenian law in the Polish kingdom (1356-1519). Roma: Edizioni Hosianum, 1966

Sobranie aktov, otnosiashchikhsia k obozreniiu istorii Armianskogo naroda. Moskva: Tip. Lazarevykh Instituta Vostochnykh Iazykov, 1833

Stone, Daniel. The Polish-Lithuanian State: 1386-1795. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2001

Subrahmanyam, Sanjay. “Connected Histories: Notes towards a Reconfiguration of Early Modern Eurasia” Modern Asian Studies, Vol. 31, No. 3, Special Issue: The Eurasian Context of the Early Modern History of Mainland South East Asia, 1400-1800. (Jul., 1997), pp. 735-762.

Ukrainsko-Armianskie sviazi v XVII veke: sbornik dokumentov ed. Iaroslav Dashkevich. Kiev: Izdatel’stvo «Naukova Dumka», 1969



[1] Subrahmanyam, Sanjay. “Connected Histories: Notes towards a Reconfiguration of Early Modern Eurasia”

[2] Fletcher, Joseph F. “Integrative History: Parallels and Interconnections in the Early Modern Period, 1500-1800”

[3] Aslanian, Sebouh D. From the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean: The Global Trade Networks of Armenian Merchants from New Julfa.

[4] For the purposes of this paper, Russian transliterations of place names will be used as the vast majority of the sources used are in Russian.

[5] Grigorian, V.R. Istoriia Armianskikh Kolonii Ukrainy I Pol’shi. pg. 50

[6] Ibid. pg. 50

[7] Grigorian, V.R. Istoriia Armianskikh Kolonii Ukrainy I Pol’shi. pg. 55

[8] Klimas, Petras Ghillebert De Lannoy in Medieval Lithuania.

[9] A kind of local bureaucrat.

[10] Grigorian, V.R. Istoriia Armianskikh Kolonii Ukrainy I Pol’shi pg. 56

[11] Ibid. pg. 57-58

[12] Grigorian, V.R. Istoriia Armianskikh Kolonii Ukrainy I Pol’shi pg. 58

[13] Dashkevich, Iaroslav. Armianskie Kolonii na Ukraine v Istochnikakh I Literature XV-XIX Vekov. pg. 27-8

[14] Ibid. pg. 28

[15] Grigorian, V.R. Istoriia Armianskikh Kolonii Ukrainy I Pol’shi.

[16] Krivonos, N.K. Armianskie istoricheskie pamiatniki na territorii L’vovskoi oblasti Ukrainy. pg. 9-11

[17] Grigorian, V.R. Istoriia Armianskikh Kolonii Ukrainy I Pol’shi. pg. 61-64

[18] Dashkevich, Iaroslav “Who are the Armeno-Kipchaks?” Armenia and Ukraine 421-479

[19] Kripiakevich, I. P. “K voprosu o nachale armianskoi koloni vo L’vove” Istoricheskie sviazi I druzhba ukrianskogo I armianskogo narodov v. II pg. 122-8

[20] Grigorian, V.R. Istoriia Armianskikh Kolonii Ukrainy I Pol’shi,pg. 71

[21] Kul’chitskii, V.S. “Osushestvlenie pravosudiia v armianskikh poseleniiakh v prikarpat’e”  Istoricheskie sviazi I druzhba ukrainskogo I armianskogo narodov v. III pg. 271

[22] Korkotian, K.A. and N.A. Voskanian. “Armianskaia kniga v XV – XVI vv. i armianskoe knigopechatanie vo L’vove v XVII v.” Istoricheskie sviazi I druzhba ukrainskogo I armianskogo narodov v. III pg. 308-21

[23] Oleś, Marian. The Armenian law in the Polish kingdom (1356-1519). pg. 30

[24] Blažejovskyj, Dmytro. Ukrainian and Armenian Pontifical Seminaries of Lviv (1665-1784). pg. 82.

[25] Grigorian, V.R. Istoriia Armianskikh Kolonii Ukrainy I Pol’shi. pg. 185-195

[26] Grigorian, V.R. Istoriia Armianskikh Kolonii Ukrainy I Pol’shi. pg. 191

[27] Kul’chitskii, V.S. “Armianskii “Sudebnik” Gosha I ego primenenie vo L’vove” Istoricheskie sviazi I druzhba ukrainskogo I armianskogo narodov v. II pg. 145-50

[28] Dokumenty na Polovetskom Iazyke XVI v. ed. E.V. Sevortian, #56

[29] Ibid. #122

[30] Ibid. # 235

[31] Dashkevich, Iaroslav. Armianskie Kolonii na Ukraine v Istochnikakh I Literature XV-XIX Vekov

[32] Ukrainsko-Armianskie sviazi v XVII veke: sbornik dokumentov ed. Iaroslav Dashkevich. #1, #2

[33] Dashkevich, Iaroslav. Armianskie Kolonii na Ukraine v Istochnikakh I Literature XV-XIX Vekov. pg. 61-3

[34] Dashkevich, Iaroslav. Armianskie Kolonii na Ukraine v Istochnikakh I Literature XV-XIX Vekov. pg. 47-8

[35] Ibid. pg. 51-2

[36] Ukrainsko-Armianskie sviazi v XVII veke: sbornik dokumentov ed. Iaroslav Dashkevich. pg. 37-8

[37] Grigorian, V.R. Istoriia Armianskikh Kolonii Ukrainy I Pol’shi.

[38] Grigorian, V.R. Istoriia Armianskikh Kolonii Ukrainy I Pol’shi. Pg 84-5

[39] Ibid.

[40] Ukrainsko-Armianskie sviazi v XVII veke: sbornik dokumentov ed. Iaroslav Dashkevich. #5

[41] Ukrainsko-Armianskie sviazi v XVII veke: sbornik dokumentov ed. Iaroslav Dashkevich. #6

[42] Ibid. #7

[43] Ibid. #8

[44] Ukrainsko-Armianskie sviazi v XVII veke: sbornik dokumentov ed. Iaroslav Dashkevich. pg. 49-55

[45] Ibid. #10

[46] Grigorian, V.R. Istoriia Armianskikh Kolonii Ukrainy I Pol’shi.

[47] Ukrainsko-Armianskie sviazi v XVII veke: sbornik dokumentov ed. Iaroslav Dashkevich. #12

[48] Ukrainsko-Armianskie sviazi v XVII veke: sbornik dokumentov ed. Iaroslav Dashkevich. #18

[49] Ibid. #19

[50] Grigorian, V.R. Istoriia Armianskikh Kolonii Ukrainy I Pol’shi.

[51] Ukrainsko-Armianskie sviazi v XVII veke: sbornik dokumentov ed. Iaroslav Dashkevich. #20, 21

[52] Stone, Daniel. The Polish-Lithuanian State: 1386-1795

[53] Dashkevich, Iaroslav. “Armenians in the Ukraine at the Time of Hetman Bohdan Xmel’nyc’kyj (1648-1657)” Armenia and Ukraine

[54] Nadel-Golobič, Eleonora “Armenians and Jews in Medieval Lvov. Their Role in Oriental Trade 1400-1600”

[55] Blažejovskyj, Dmytro. Ukrainian and Armenian Pontifical Seminaries of Lviv (1665-1784).

[56] Grigorian, V.R. Istoriia Armianskikh Kolonii Ukrainy I Pol’shi. pg. 84-5

[57] Ibid.

[58] Anderson, Benedict. Imagined Communities. pg. 83-111

[59] Sobranie aktov, otnosiashchikhsia k obozreniiu istorii Armianskogo naroda.

About the Author

David Garrison Golubock

The coauthor of this analysis, David Garrison Golubock graduated from the University of Chicago in 2011 with degrees in history and Slavic languages and literatures. He has previously spent a summer in Moscow on SRAS's Russian as a Second Language Program and an academic year studying in St. Petersburg, Russia. He will be participating in SRAS's Home and Abroad Program in Irkutsk over the 2012-2013 academic year.

View all posts by: David Garrison Golubock