• Thursday, January 29, 2015 - 05:30

The News Minute | August 28, 2014 | 07:51 pm IST

A 150 year-old church standing peacefully in the midst of a busy city in downtown Yangon is one of the last remains of one of the Myanmar's gradually diminishing communities, the Armenians.

At a time there were a few hundred Armenian families in Burma which has now dwindled down to not more than 10 to 20 families who are part Armenian, said Reverend John Felix, priest at the Armenian Orthodox church of St. John the Baptist, one of the oldest churches in the country in a BBC report ."To judge from church records, there were once a few hundred Armenian families in Burma but the last 'full' Armenian died last year. ,” 

Armenian history dates back to the 17th century when large members of the community escaped the Ottoman Empire and settled in present-day Iran. The community then worked its way up to form a strong commercial network, stretching from Amsterdam to Manila.

According to BBC, during the 19th century the church was built on land given by Burma’s king to the Armenian trading community because of the close rapport that they shared with the Burmese royal court. 

Political and economic instability, however, has forced this small community to look elsewhere for a home and many of them have migrated to Australia, said BBC.

However, the Church’s Orthodox lineage has allowed for a steady increase in the number of visistors at the only Orthodox Church in Myanmar’s largest city. A number of diplomats, business travelers and tourists visit the church and Ramona Tarta, a Romanian business woman was one among those who happened to find the church, according to the BBC.

"My faith is very important to me. Wherever I am in the world, I seek out an Orthodox church. But I was about to give up on Yangon. I thought it was the only city I'd ever lived in which had no Orthodox place of worship," she said to BBC.

The church’s worshippers hardly ever crosses the single digit, but Ramona believed that the church could use its Orthodox standing to attract more attention and ensure survival, said the BBC report. She has now set up a Facebook page in an attempt to open up the church’s existence to more people around the world.

Myanmar’s history has for long been tinged with violence within the country. Lately, the country has been slowly moving towards a better democracy, thus opening up to more foreign investment and commercial activity. A better economy and a reach out for support from people across the world could do wonders for this Armenian church's continued existence.