Finding the entrance to the Armenian church was easy enough - located near Babu Bazar, in a district called Armanitola, it is impossible to miss the yellow building behind a wall. The building is unique enough to be remarkable in the old district of Dhaka, which mostly holds old trade houses, mosques, and shops. If there would be any doubt, the sign saying "Armenian church 1781" next to the entrance is as clear as can be. The real question is: how to enter? I found a metal lock on the metal gate, and even though it was a Sunday, there was no sign at all that this church would open at all.
When asked in a shop opposite the church, a helpful guy came with me and simply banged on the gate, until someone indeed showed up, unlocked the gate, and let me in - closing the gate behind me. As soon as I was inside, the frantic pace of life in the streets of Dhaka was brushed off my shoulders, and I found tranquility in this sacred place. The 18th century church stands in the middle of a cemetery. Most of the tombs are tombstones, but some have ornate decorations, and few even have a statue on top. I was struck by the texts on the gravestones, which also gave an insight in the history of the Armenian community in Dhaka. Once a wealthy and prospering group heavily involved in the trade of the region - notably jute and leather - the Armenians now have all but died, which explains the state of abandonment that one feels.
In fact, the person letting me in and opening the church itself for me, turned out to be a Hindu - and told me that no, there would be no service that day. In fact, there only is a service twice a year, when the Armenian archbishop from Australia comes here for service. Otherwise, the church is only opened for the occasional visitor - and judging from the visitor book, there had been more than I expected. The interior of the church looked serene, with an old copy of the holy book, lying on a traditional cloth, had pages falling out. The baptistery, in a separate room just outside the main building: I wondered when it had been used for the last time. According to my new friend, there are still nine Armenians in Dhaka, but as far as I found out later, the caretaker, Mr. Martin, might be the only one - and I am not even sure he is still alive. When I was outside, examining more of the old tombstones and contemplating history and the inevitable rise and decline of ethnic groups, I wondered if this special oasis of peace would be able to withstand the crazy pace of the city just outside its gates. I certainly hoped it would.
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