Pontifical Legation of the Western Europe

Armenians in Belgium

The plaque dedicated to the memory of Daniel Varoujan at Ghent University’s Library

The earliest records of what is known as Belgium today go as far back as the 4th century, when Armenian priests, merchants and intellectuals dropped anchor in Belgian ports including Saint Servatius․ Arriving from Jerusalem to Tongeren (a city in present-day Belgium) he was ordained a bishop (381-382) and preached Christianity. Avoiding the attacks of the Huns, St. Servatius moved the episcopal see from Tongeren to Maastricht, where he died in 384․ His remains are in the main Catholic church of Maastricht, which bears his name.

Belgian hagiographers such as Macaire mention Armenian preachers in Ghent in the year 1011. Makar of Antioch, traveling through Europe as a preacher, arrived in Ghent (Belgium).  In Bavo’s Abbey, taking care of the plague-infected, he too became infected and died in 1012.  After his death, so many miracles were performed on his grave that in 1067 his body was transferred to a separate chapel, and he was canonized by the Catholic Church.

The first Armenian merchants entered Belgium in 1340, and in 1345 were permitted the right to trade in carpets near the Cathedral of Bruges. Later, until the 15th century, they provided imports of rare goods, cotton, various spices and oriental perfumes.

There is little information about the visits of Armenians to Belgium in the following centuries. It is known that in 1708, Archbishop Tovmas Nurijanyan from Vanand was buried in the Astvatsatsin Mother Cathedral.

In 1906-1909 a noted Armenian poet of the early 20th century, Daniel Varoujan, attended the Philosophy and Literature Faculty of the Gent University.

While the Armenian presence in Belgium was continuous throughout the centuries, the size of the community were not growing considerably until the end of the First World War and the forced mass exodus of Armenians from Turkey following the 1915 Armenian Genocide.

Armenians settled in Belgium at the turn of the 20th century were known for their trades in carpets and rugs, tobacco and jewelry. In the tobacco sector, original Armenian brands like Davros, Arax, Marouf and Enfi were the only cigarette brands made in Belgium.

Over the past 40 years, due to geopolitical events in various countries of the Middle East, as well as the crisis following the earthquake in Armenia and the collapse of the Soviet Union, Armenians residing in different countries have embarked on the migratory route, also settling in the Kingdom of Belgium.

Today there are Armenian communities in different cities․ Brussels, Antwerp, Liege, Charleroi, Kortrijk, Ghent, Mechelen, Namur, Ostenda, Genk and elsewhere.

The  Armenian church, “Eglise Armenienne Apostolique Sainte Marie-Madeleine” is the main church of the Armenian Apostolic Orthodox community. It is related to the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin. The church structure was erected and consecrated on May 6, 1990․ The church was consecrated by Archbishop Gout Nagashyan, the Patriarchal Legate of Western Europe at that time. H.H. Vazgen I Catholicos of All Armenians and H.H. Karekin II, Catholicos of Cilicia also attended the service.

The exact number of Armenians in the country is unknown, but is unofficially estimated to be 30,000.