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The Armenians of Cyprus According to Western Travellers

Hervé Georgelin - Lecturer, Department of Turkish and Modern Asian Studies, National and Kapodistrian University of Athens
Thomas A. Sinclair - Associate Professor, Department of Turkish and Middle Eastern Studies, University of Cyprus

 

Abstract

Based on the corpus of the Zefyros programme, this paper focusses on travellers’ perceptions of Armenians in Cyprus. How were Armenians identified in the local social fabric? Were authors aware of the historicity of the Armenian presence there? How did they perceive Armenians’ links with Armenians elsewhere (in the early diaspora)? Is there variation among authors and according to the period when the writer reported his observations? Are there narrative patterns concerning Armenians which are repeated from one author to another?

First readings of the corpus bring to light a large palette of travellers’ impressions. Due to their limited number, Armenians were not perceived by all travellers. Girolamo Dandini (1685) did not see them at all, focussing on the Maronites, while Anton Friedrich Büsching (1764) asserted they were few and poor and could not explain why they had a bishop and a monastery in the countryside. Much earlier, Stefano Lusignan (1573), probably for family reasons, knew about the connections between the island and the Cilician Armenians and emphasised the population’s mobility. He posited that Armenians followed Guy of Lusignan to Cyprus when he lost Jerusalem to Saladin. He also knew the details of the organisation of the Armenian Church and how those residing in Cyprus were linked with the Holy See of Cilicia. Lusignan located another bishopric in Famagusta and foresaw its decline in importance. This degree of knowledge may be explained by the fact that the author can hardly be considered as a Western traveller, but as an insider writing in a Western language.

The corpus may reveal some shifts in intercommunal relationships. Vinzenz Briemle (1729) emphasised the closeness of Armenians, duly identified as Christians, to Ottoman authority: ‘They are submitted to the Turks, by whom they are – because of their good nature and customs – loved more than other peoples, and needed at their service.’

 

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