HONG KONG—On Sat., Nov. 9, the Armenian community of China, known as “ChinaHay,” along with more than 100 guests, including many from overseas, gathered in Hong Kong to attend the official opening ceremony of the newly established Jack & Julie Maxian Hong Kong Armenian Center.
Honorary guests included His Holiness Karekin II, Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians; His Grace Bishop Haigazoun Najarian, Primate of the Diocese of Australia and New Zealand; His Eminence Archbishop Aram Ateshian, Patriarchal Vicar of Constantinople; His Excellency the Armenian Ambassador to China, Armen Sargsyan; and the Honorary Consul of Armenia to Thailand, Arto Artinian.
The two-day celebration began with a ribbon-cutting ceremony followed by the blessing given by Catholicos Karekin II at the beautiful center altar built especially for religious events. “Armenian couples will marry here, and Armenian kids will be baptized in this house,” Jack Maxian said in his welcoming speech. “We will arrange Armenian meetings in this center, festivities devoted to Armenian culture, and foreigners will be surprised that the Armenian people are able to build an Armenian house outside of their own land.”
That evening, Catholicos Karekin II granted the St. Nerses Shnorhali Medal of Honor to Mr. and Mrs. Maxian for their devotion to the nation. “We are happy to see that Armenian national identity is so well preserved in a remote country like China, despite the small size of the community,” he said. His Holiness also visited the grave of Sir Paul Catchik Chater, likely the most famous Armenian in Asia, who moved to Hong Kong in 1864 from Calcutta India and became one of the most successful businessmen in the history of Hong Kong with streets, parks, and buildings across Hong Kong still bearing his name.
Speaking on behalf of the Armenian community of China, Henri Arslanian highlighted the symbolic importance of this event and presented Mr. and Mrs. Maxian with a real piece from Mt. Ararat in appreciation of their years of devotion to the community and to celebrate their efforts in bringing the idea of creating an Armenian center to life.
Jack Maxian, in his inauguration speech, said, “I am convinced that, very soon, with your personal and collective commitment, the capacity of the center will multiply and the Armenian community of China will become exemplary in its patriotic and Armenian-oriented activity.” Jack and Julie Maxian generously donated a large collection of paintings to adorn the walls of the center, all of which were made especially for this occasion. The guests also enjoyed a wonderful Armenian dinner prepared by Julie Maxian for the occasion.
On the second day of the great celebration, Bishop Haigazoun Najarian held the Holy Mass, the first ever celebrated in the center. The guests also enjoyed brunch, after which they attended a lecture by Prof. Sebouh Aslanian, the Chair of Armenian Studies at UCLA, who traveled to Hong Kong for the occasion and described the role of Julfan Armenian merchants in the early modern world of the Indian Ocean, and up to Manila and China.
Later, the guests learned that Armenian-language, history, and culture classes would be offered at the center via the Armenian Virtual College (AVC). Yervant Zorian, the founder of the AVC, described how the educational institute has been helping similar communities worldwide and the enthusiasm of the AVC team in working with the Armenian community of China in the coming years.
The Jack & Julie Hong Kong Armenian Center will now host Armenians from China and all over the world. It will hold events with guest speakers, hold exhibitions, invite Armenian artists to perform, but, most importantly, it will be a gathering venue for Armenians and their friends.
Armenians have been traveling to and living in China for centuries. In 1910, the Armenian Relief Society (ARS) created the Armenian Club of Shanghai as a station for refugees in Shanghai. The club evolved over the years into a social club where the community gathered and where Armenian weddings, baptisms, and events took place. In 1923, the 400-strong community of Harbin in northern China built their first church. Most of the Armenians in China left the country around 1949 following the communist takeover. The Armenian Club of Shanghai was converted to private ownership by the Communists in 1949, and the Armenian Church was destroyed as part of Mao’s Cultural Revolution in the late 1960’s. The Armenian community of China has been growing considerably over the last few years. It currently consists of approximately 500 Armenians living in the country, mainly in the cities of Hong Kong, Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Shanghai, Nanjing, and Beijing.