Armenian College and Philanthropic Academy Calcutta 1821
One of the most important phenomena for the Armenian educational and cultural life is the Armenian College and Philanthropic Academy (ACPA) of Kolkata, in India. It may surely be said that it is one of a kind. It has been existing almost for two centuries and is still serving its noble purpose by educating students and imparting knowledge and wisdom.The contributions of this respectable institution and its pious and honourable founders, Astvatsatur Muradghanian and Mnatsakan Vardanian, are indeed invaluable.It is considered to be the unification of the existing private Armenian schools prior to 1821.Margar Hovhannisian is considered to be a pioneer in establishing schools for the Armenian students. From 1763, he has been engaged in trying to educate the Armenian youth in his own home. However, the first regular school was established in 1798 with the efforts of Harutyun Galutsian. For around three quarters of a century it had taught the mother tongue to students and this has led to even higher endeavours. Soon after, H. Galutsian’s school had not been enough and therefore, a new, orderly and national school was required.The idea of establishing a national school was Astvatsatur Muradghanian’s, a benefactor of the Armenian College. In his will dated 30th July, 1797, he left Rs. 8,000 towards the establishment of the Armenian College.
Unfortunately, two years after writing the will, he died and for about two decades his wish fell into oblivion.
Later, another Julfa born merchant, Mnatsakan Smbat Vardanian of Saidabad, revived the need to have a school. In 1816, he published “Hravirak” pamphlet through which he urged his compatriots to donate money for this noble cause. He managed to collect Rs. 59,583.
Thus, finally on 2nd of April, 1821, in the vicinity of the Armenian Holy Church of Nazareth, at 358, Old China Bazaar Street, the Armenian College and Philanthropic Academy was established. Four years later, Galutsian’s school joined ACPA and he himself became the Principal, serving till the end of his life (10th Nov. 1833). Mnatsakan Vardanian donated Rs. 10,000 to the Armenian Holy Church of Nazareth.
After 60 long years, in 1884, the school finally settled on Free School Street (now Mirza Ghalib Street), in the present compound which was bought for Rs. 48,000. The establishment is known to be the birthplace of famed British writer William Makepeace Thackeray (1811-1863). There is a marble slab near the right entrance door of the building.
Further renovations, changes and additions in and around the building included the Main School building, the Hall building, “Mary Apcar” building, the Office building, a new building along the street and the swimming pool.
The Main School building was a three-storeyed construction that included the senior dormitory, class rooms and the chemistry laboratory. The Hall building was a double-storeyed edifice built in 1890 by the efforts of Mr. Seth and Mr. Movses. The first floor had a stage which served as a theatre during concerts and cultural programs as well as the dining hall of the school, designed for 200 people. The “Mary Apcar” building was constructed in 1896 by Harutyun G. Apcarian in memory of his second daughter Mary. The first floor of the two-storeyed edifice was let out on lease and the second floor served as the junior dormitory.
In 1929, another building was bought with the assistance of the Armenian Church and in 1930 was amalgamated to the school as the Office building.
In 1828, on the 7th of April, the “Araratian Library” was opened. It is famous for its rich collection of old Armenian manuscripts and books. The library is called “Araratian” in the honour of Mount Ararat, the place where Noah’s Ark landed after the flood. Part of the books was gifted by Armenian literates and part of it was bought with the money of received donations. The library was administered by the rector and was used by the students as well as Armenians from outside. On 1st of June, 1924, the Armenian Publishing House was transferred to Armenian College and thus began the publishing work that lasted over 50 years. The first publication of the school was probably the 10 page long booklet, “The Meaning of Reverend, his Attire and the Ceremony of Holy Liturgy”.
ACPA continued its Publishing House till the beginning of the 1980s but only calendars were being published during its last years.
In 1930, a plot next to the school was bought and was transformed into a playground. At the same time, at the southern part of the playground a swimming pool was constructed with the help of benefactor Petros H. Kretian and till today it serves both boys and girls of the College.
To have an overall knowledge of Armenian College, one must know about Davidian Girls’ School too.
In the beginning, ACPA had a girls’ section with special teachers and separate classrooms. Unfortunately, it closed down in 1842. After some time, Hovhannes Avdalian established a private school for girls in his own home and called it the Second Galutsian School, in the honour of his teacher. However, this one too closed down.
On 16th of February, 1846, M. D. Taghiadian opened a girls’ school and named it Saint Sandught. Later, a boys section was added too. Overall, there were 35 pupils (15 girls and 20 boys).
Unfortunately, Saint Sandught closed down six years later and the education of Indian-Armenian girls was ignored till 1922. In that same year, David Avetic Davidian founded the Davidian Girls’ School completely with his own efforts and invited Mrs. Sandught Hovhannisian to teach in the new institution. The latter devoted herself to the school. In course of time, the number of the girls grew.
Mr. Davidian left most of his money towards the development of the School before his death in 1936 and was buried in the grounds of Holy Nazareth Church. In accordance with his will, the school opened a boarding section and the aim was to make it a secondary school.
In 1949, while retaining its autonomy, the Davidian Girls’ School (DGS) joined ACPA and appealed to West Bengal Secondary Education Board to recognize the entity of ACPA and DGS, as one co-educational school. This appeal was adopted in 1953, following which the collaboration between the two schools was reinforced. In 1958, ACPA received the status of a Higher Secondary Educational Institution.
The history of ACPA is filled with highs and lows. Unfortunately, its social and educational aspects have been neglected for years. Fortunately, however, in 1999, the High Court of West Bengal transferred the administration of the school to the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin and thus, the academic interest of the school was safeguarded. In the same year, the first group arrived from Armenia. The college has educated students from India, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Azerbaijan and Armenia.
In 2006, ACPA celebrated its 185th Anniversary with grandeur. The celebrations were indeed remarkable. The college received a number of honourable and distinguished guests on the occasion, including the Governor of West Bengal.
The February of 2007 is remembered for the first Pontifical visit of His Holiness, Karekin II, the Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians.
In 2008, His Holiness visited Kolkata a second time and presided over the 300th Anniversary celebrations of the Armenian Holy Church of Nazareth.
Evidently, during its long history, ACPA has provided a valuable service to the Armenian people, giving them a number of famous names. Overall, the college has given knowledge and wisdom to thousands of Armenian youth, who have later managed to use their knowledge and earn prestigious positions, while being helpful to their countrymen.
On April 06, 2010, a bilingual (Armenian and English) yearbook, titled ‘Indian Armenians’ was first published and released in Armenian Collage and Philanthropic Academy. The founder of the yearbook is Very Rev. Father Khoren Hovhannisyan, Pastor of Armenians in India and Manager of Armenian Collage and Philanthropic Academy. The yearbook began with the letter of blessing by His Holiness Karekin II, Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians. The ‘Indian Armenians’ yearbook is the first of its kind, an unparalleled achievement. It illustrates the daily life of community and ACPA including the Pastor’s meetings, pilgrimages and various functions held at the Armenian College. Moreover, the Yearbook contains articles about the rich and glorious past of the Armenians in India.
The yearbook will be published annually and it will reflect the activities of the Indian Armenian Community and ACPA.
Finally, if the Armenian spirit and language still survive in India, we owe it to Armenian College and Philanthropic Academy, which has kept the beauty of our wonderful language alive and even flourishing in a country so far away from our home.