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Les Arméniens dans le commerce asiatique au début de l'ère moderne

Sushil Chaudhury
Kéram Kévonian

II. Les Arméniens et la Nouvelle-Djoulfa / Armenians and New Julfa

3. Wealthy Merchants and Factors. The Legacy of Julfa

Vazken S. Ghougassian

Texte intégral

1The name Julfa, to a large extent, symbolizes the Armenian international trade in the 16th to 18th centuries, for the dominant number of merchants of Julfan origin, for their large capital, their mercantile network, their enormous commercial success and the international arena of their trade, ranging from Far East to Europe, including North Africa, the Near East, Central Asia, and Russia, and even reaching to Yengiduni Erkirn, the New World or America (Ter Hovhaniants, 1881-1882, i, 159-160, in reference to the Universal Collection of Measures and Yards, Gems and Weights of Kostand of Julfa). In the history of trade, no other mercantile community, except perhaps the Jews, has functioned so successfully and for so long, under foreign domination and largely in a diaspora situation.

2The cradle of this mercantile society was Julfa, a very old but until the late 15th century little known village, established on a rocky and arid strip of land, between river Araxes on the south and a steep mountain range on the north, at the merging point of Ernjak river into Araxes. The sudden emergence of Julfa as a mercantile town in the 16th century is little explored, mainly due to the scarcity of contemporary sources. In the field of Armenian historiography, we have a large gap from mid-15th to 17th century. The archives of All Saviour’s Monastery of New Julfa and the Matenadaran of Erevan do not contain documents of special value from the period and place in question. Furthermore, the almost inaccessible state of a few thousand funerary monuments (khatchk’ars) under Azerbaijani control for the past eighty years and surviving till 2005, has further complicated the matter. Therefore, scholars are left with fragmentary information in manuscript colophons, minor chroniclers, and a few western travellers’ accounts, in trying to deal with the history of the 16th century Julfa. The destruction of that town, in 1604, was followed by the establishment of New Julfa near the Safavid capital Isfahan, and after that the 17th-18th century history of this mercantile society is relatively better documented and studied.

3The aim of this study is to explore the social origin of the merchant families of New Julfa, the political and economic circumstances in which they emerged, their internal community structure and the system guiding the relationship between the wealthy merchant families and their factors.

Social origin

  • 1 A title introduced in the 14th century to replace the old princely tides and to designate the few s (...)
  • 2 A title given to the brothers of a melik’, who headed the family.
  • 3 In the 17th-18th century documents designating the wealthy merchants who provided the capital for t (...)
  • 4 A Persian title given to men distinguished by their wealth, services, virtues and intellect (Bedik, (...)

4The 17th century Armenian sources, including manuscript colophons, epitaphs, patriarchal encyclicals and miscellaneous documents preserved in New Julfa, reveal a number of interesting titles and social terms attached to the names of the male members of the most prominent families of New Julfa or designating them as a group or class of particular rank. These titles and terms include ishkhan (Prince) or melik’1 bek2 (Lord), aghc3 or baron [trsl paron] (Sir), azat (gentry), ordik‘ azatals (sons of gentry), azatatzin (of gende birth), payazat (of noble descent), azatazarm or payazatazarm (of noble birth), azatatohm (of noble family), azgawn metz (of great family) or azgawn azat Jughayetsi (of a gende family from Julfa). In addition, some of them are addressed as tanuter (headman or chieftain) and are praised for being irawaser (truth loving) and ardaradat (just). All of them are known as goyiwk‘ zeghun dovlatawrk‘ (with abundance of possessions, wealthy. Ghougassian, 1998, 47-48) and bear the Persian title of khoja (honourable).4

5Obviously, most of these titles and social terms were of old and hereditary origin and could be traced back to Old Julfa and further beyond, in the 14th-16th century south eastern Armenia in general, when under the rule of Turkmen tribes, and later the Savafid khanates, remnants of the Old Armenian princely families, with the exception of a few Armenian melikdoms in Karabagh, had completely lost their political power and were reduced to mere hereditary chieftains, with their own clan or community. In that capacity, they could hardly maintain more power or rights than the class of azat or gentry nobility of old Armenia (Hewsen, 1972, 294).

  • 5 Beit al-mal: public treasury. According to an old Islamic law, a Christian was not entitled to larg (...)

6Under the tribal domination of Muslim Turkmens, the Armenian nobility suffered economically as well. In the 14th and 15th centuries, most of their ancestral lands were gradually confiscated either by Muslim lords or in the name of the Islamic institution, beit almal.5 Some were forced to convert themselves to Islam to save their properties. Others donated their lands to monasteries to avoid confiscation. Still there were some, who chose the clerical garb and assumed the dual role of a Prince-Bishop or paronter to maintain their properties in the name of a monastery or a church: among others, the Orbelid family in Siwnik and the Hasan Jalalian family in Karabagh, established hereditary primaries in the monasteries of Tatev and Gandzasar respectively. But most of them were forced to abandon their agriculture-based economy and ancestral lands and move to towns or migrate along trade routes, to try their luck in commerce (H. Papazian, 1972, 247-248). Stepanos Dashtetsi reports in the late 17th century that under foreign occupation, Armenians were not entitled to military or any other state service, and were subject to physical persecutions and lootings, and they were disturbed in conducting their private work. Consequently, they had no other choice, but to turn to trade and thus disperse around the world (Baibourtian, 1996, 16).

7Between the 14th and 16th centuries, old Armenian communities were enlarged and others were established in the northern regions of Iran, namely in Tabriz, Sultaniya, Salmast, Urmia, Maragha, Qazwin, Rasht, and Ray. Almost simultaneously, in the late 15th and early 16th century, a number of Armenian villages and small towns, located to the east of Nakhitchevan and along the banks of river Araxes, demonstrated particular revival and economic activities. These places included Julfa, Dasht, Ordupat, Shorot, Meghri and Agulis. Among them, in the mid-sixteenth century, Julfa emerged as a densely populated and important commercial town.

The Rise of Julfa

  • 6 “Letteres Concerning the Voiage of M. J. Newbery and M. Ralph Fitch”.

8The most dependable evidence for dating the demographic growth and economic prosperity of Julfa are the funerary monuments which covered three little hills on the western edge of the town. Originally estimated to number ten thousand, most of these monuments were gradually destroyed since the early last century, but by mid-1970s about three thousand of them were still surviving (Baltrušaitis, Kouymjian, 1986, 20). In November 1998 Azeri crews, equipped with bulldozers and other heavy machinery, were observed for several days—from the Iranian side of the border—in conducting systematic destruction of hundreds of monuments in the cemetery of Old Julfa and transporting the broken stones to unknown destinations on board cargo trains. In spite of protest manifestations through Unesco, all remaining monuments in Old Julfa have been destroyed in November 2002 and December 2005 by Azeri authorities. Based on printed inscriptions of a small number of these monuments and on site inscriptions, it is generally concluded that only a small number of these monuments are from the late 15th and early 16th centuries. The monuments dated between 1560 and 1604 not only present a much greater number but also are more richly and artistically designed and carved, naturally at a greater expense. Therefore this should mean that by the late 16th century, Julfa had reached its demographic as well as economic peak. According to a topographic survey made by Sumbat Ter Avetisian in the 1920s, the ruins of Julfa cover a parcel of land, more or less two kilometers long and five hundred meters wide. That means the town occupied a total of one hundred hectares of land, hardly enough for more than two thousand houses. This is confirmed by two western travellers, John Newberry and John Cartwright, who passed through Julfa in 1581 and 1600 respectively. Newberry estimated three thousand houses in Julfa (Halduyt, 1598-1600, ii),6 while according to Cartwright (1611, 35-36. Cited by Carswell, 1968, 73), the town consisted of two thousand houses and ten thousand souls.

9In view of the 16th century political turmoil in the region, at first glance, the rise of Julfa remains very puzzling. The establishment of the Safavid kingdom in Iran in 1501, brought about a period of one and a quarter century of wars with the Ottoman Empire, beginning with the battle of Chaldiran (1514) and ending with the treaty of Zuhab (1639). Armenia being divided between these two ferocious enemies was a battleground during all this time. The “scorched earth” policy, aiming to deny supplies to the advancing enemy, was adopted by both the Safavids and the Ottomans during these wars in the second half of the century. According to the Ottoman historian, Ibrahim Pechevi, in 1554 alone, during the Ottoman invasion of Erevan, Karabagh and Nakhitchevan, “to the length of four-five days’ journey, all villages, towns, fields and constructions were destroyed to such a degree, that there was no trace of constructions and life” (Safrastian, 1961, 34). With the treaty of Constantinople in 1590, the young Safavid Shah Abbas I ceded to the Ottomans large territories, including eastern Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan. But under Ottoman rule, these areas again turned into battleground, this time between the Ottoman army and Jelali rebels, who swept across the eastern part of the Ottoman Empire during the last decade of the 16th century. Consequently, heavy taxation, religious persecutions, physical insecurity and plunder forced Armenian notables and high ranking clergy to flee to Iran and seek the Shah’s protection. According to the 17th century historiographer, Arakel Davrizhetsi (1896, 16), among the people who sought asylum in Iran were a number of Armenian meliks and beks from Karabagh, the coadjutor Catholicos Melkiset and the people of Dasht, a village in the immediate vicinity of Julfa.

10During this entire turbulent century, until the destruction of Julfa in 1604, we have very little indication of physical hardship suffered by the inhabitants of Julfa. In a manuscript colophon dated 1584, a certain Khoja Grum complains about the difficult times, adding that the people of Julfa had fled to Agulis (Ter Avetissian, 1970, i, 84). However, it seems that, unlike other areas of Armenia, Julfa generally remained free of plunders and destruction during most of these wars, as indicated in another manuscript, copied only eleven years later, in 1595 (ibid., 271). Was this because of its geographical location, far from cities of military importance, except for Nakhitchevan, its neutrality as a town inhabited only by Armenians, or its financial means to pay large ransoms and secure peace? We simply do not know, and in the absence of hard evidence, any conclusion in this respect will be speculative at best.

11The economic prosperity of Julfa was closely connected with a surge in Europe for raw silk in the 16th century and the Levantine trade of that commodity. Located near an international trade route which passed from Tabriz to Erevan and continued towards Erzerum, and being in a reasonable proximity to silk producing centres of Karabagh, Shirvan, Gilan and Mazandaran, the Armenians of Julfa were heavily involved in the traffic of silk—from the points of production to the two most important silk markets of the time, namely Aleppo and Brusa. The silk was sold for silver or cash to the European trading companies, who lacked the flexibility and the mobility to reach the remote regions of silk production. By the end of the 16th century, the merchants of Julfa had expanded the geographical scope of their trade, reaching Europe in large numbers, as indicated by evidence in the Venitian archives (Alishan, 1896, 160).

  • 7 In 1584, Julfa was headed by a certain tanuter (headman) Mala Petros. In 1595, a certain melik Sult (...)

12The economic prosperity of Julfa, to a certain extent, must also be related to its khass or khassaye sharife (royal estate) status. Like Agulis, which was a khass property as early as 1425 (L. Khachikian, 1955, i, 337), Julfa may also have originally been declared khass property in the pre-Safavid period. This was a privileged status, because in khass estates, taxes were collected in the name of the Royal Household only and by special officials called khassedar. These officials also served in the capacity of a darugha (police prefect), to judge criminal cases and guard the estate against internal or external violators of law and order. In financial matters, the khass estates were free from the arbitrary intervention of other State officials. Sometimes a local headman or a wealthy merchant would lease the right of tax collection in the khass estate and perform all the duties of a khassedar (H. Papazian, 1972, 260-261), as seems to have been the practice in Julfa.7

13It is hard to get a clear and full picture of the internal administration and community structure of the 16th century Julfa. But based on fragmentary evidence, one may assume that it was more or less similar to the set up of the 17th century New Julfa, which we shall discuss below. But at this point, we shall turn the page of Old Julfa being sure that, on the eve of its destruction in 1604, Julfa was a rich town, capable of hosting a three-day lavish reception for Shah Abbas I (Arakel Davrizhetsi, 1896, 24-25), in houses, for which, according to the Shah’s own estimates, “up to two thousand tomans were spent” (The Decree of Shah Abbas: August-September 1605. Ghougassian, 1998, 201).

The Settlement of New Julfa

  • 8 The central part of Armenia, mainly the province of Ayrarat. The name Chukhuri Saad—literally meani (...)

14The forced deportation of hundreds of thousands of Armenians from the provinces of Chukhuri Saad,8 Nakhitchevan and other neighbouring areas to Iran was one of the most devastating blows to Armenia and the Armenian people in the entire course of their history. The deportations by Shah Abbas I were carried out in the harshest possible conditions, followed by complete destruction of all vacated towns and villages (Savory, 1978-1986, ii, 857). However, for the two thousand families of Old Julfa, the deportations were less catastrophic, because they were given a few days’advance notice to prepare for the road, were allowed to take with them their movable belongings and were provided with means of transportation during their journey to Isfahan. Upon their arrival, they were granted a large parcel of land at the southern bank of river Zayendeh-Rud, across the Safavid capital city, Isfahan, where the town of New Julfa was soon to be constructed (Arakel Davrizhetsi, 1896, 57-60). After the initial shock of the deportation and resettlement, they were able to resume their normal trade activities.

  • 9 Cf. also V. Papazian, infra, chap. 13.

15From the early years of his reign, Shah Abbas I (1587-1629), pursued a systematic policy, aimed at the economic development of his realm. He had established royal monopoly on the production and export of raw silk (Bayani, 1937, 223), reorganized the customs services, appointed special security forces and officials (rahdars) for the safety of the trade routes (V. Papazian, 1986, 160)9 and collection of road taxes according to the official rates, and built carvanserais on many roads for the use of the trade caravans (Chardin, 1735, iii, 55). Between 1602 and 1622, he gradually occupied the island of Bahrain, captured the port of Gombroon (renamed Bandar Abbas) and the island of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf and expelled the Portuguese, who had established full control over the seaborne trade between India, the Persian Gulf and Europe, since early 16th century (Savory, 1980, 115-117).

16The destruction of Old Julfa and establishment of New Julfa was also part of the Shah’s economic policy. He had realized that, with their decades-long experience in international trade and being settled under his direct control, the Armenian merchants not only would be instrumental in the export of raw silk and development of Iran’s international trade, but also they would help increase the state revenue and their profits would be channelled back to Iran. Therefore, he treated the Armenian merchants of New Julfa as a privileged class, justifying his policy against Muslim teachers and leaders, saying:

“Do not be offended or blame me for the little and frivolous love 1express for them (the Armenians). After spending fortunes, with great effort and many plots, I was able to transfer them to this country, not for their own sake, but for our own benefit, so that our country may develop and our nation may grow” (Arakel Davrizhetsi, 1896 [1669], 64-66).

17The royal monopoly established in the trade of silk during the reign of Shah Abbas I and the failure of large European trading companies to conclude solid and long-lasting trade agreements with the Shah, gave the Armenian merchants a unique opportunity for close collaboration with Shah Abbas I. In 1618, they outbid their European contenders and gained the exclusive right for the export of the Iranian raw silk (Baibourtian, 1966, 220).

18Following the death of Shah Abbas I in 1629, royal control of the trade gradually diminished. The Armenian merchants being out of royal patronage, expanded their trade independently and soon they established commercial networks throughout Iran, India, Russia and several European countries (Ferrier, 1973, 41-44). According to the famous French traveller, Jean Chardin (1735, iii, 122), who first arrived in Isfahan in 1666,

“In Turkey the Christians and Jews carry on the main foreign trade, and in Persia the Christians and Indian Gentiles. As to the Persians, they trade with their own countrymen, one province with another, and most of them trade with the Indians. The Armenians manage alone the whole European trade, the reason whereof is, because the Mohametans cannot strictly observe their religion among the Christians, with relation to the outward purity it requires of them”.

  • 10 It is very interesting to note that, under Ottoman occupation between 1589 and 1603, Old Julfa was (...)
  • 11 Places where goods were received, weighted, assessed and stored.

19New Julfa was granted a semi-autonomous status. The town was considered the right and property of the Queen Mother, who was entitled to receive, on behalf of the Royal household all taxes collected in New Julfa (Chardin, 1735, II, 109).10 The Armenian merchants were placed under her protection and most of them maintained shops and warehouses in a large caravanserai,11 built and owned by the Queen Mother and located in the Royal Bazaar of Isfahan (Tavernier, 1684, 1st Part, 152-153. De Bruyn, 1737, 253). Through their close relationship with the Queen Mother, the merchants of New Julfa had therefore a strong link with the Safavid royal court.

  • 12 Two separate lists of New Julfa tasnak (wards) are presented by Ter Hovhaniants (1880-1881, i, 40-4 (...)

20New Julfa was constructed on a particular plan, reflecting its communal structure. The main avenue named after the famous Khoja Nazar, the second mayor of New Julfa, crossed the town from east to west. Ten parallel streets crossing Nazar Avenue from north to south, formed twenty quarters or wards (tasnak). Each ward was headed by a tanuter (headman) or tasnakawag (warden), representing the most prominent families of New Julfa.12 Most probably, these families traditionally enjoyed the same prominence in Old Julfa, because the titles and terms indicating noble origin, as pointed out earlier, were most commonly used for the members of these families in 17th century New Julfa. The inhabitants of each ward were somehow affiliated with their respective headman, either as followers or trade associates.

21The chief administrator of the internal affairs of New Julfa was the kalantar (mayor) who was selected by the community or the headmen and confirmed in his office by a royal raqam (decree). He was the liaison between the royal court or the Safavid state and his community. He was responsible for the timely collection and transfer of taxes to the royal household. He was also the chief judge in civil matters which concerned his community. But besides the kalantar, the headmen of the wards, as a collective body, had great influence and power. Their official duty included the collection of taxes in their respective wards. However, they played a greater role in the internal administration and overall economic affairs of New Julfa (Ghougassian, 1998, 61-65). Their leading role in the economic affairs is best reflected in a petition dated 1671, which was submitted to the Russian court by Grigor Lusikov, during his trade negotiations on behalf of the Armenian merchants of New Julfa. The petition is signed by the kalantar, the heads of twenty two Armenian ‘trade companies’ from New Julfa, and by Ustabashi (head of craftsmen) Hakobjan, a former naghashbashi (head of royal painters) at the Safavid court and the leader of a faction in the community, originally deported from Erevan.

22Most of the names listed in the petition correspond to the known tasnaks (wards) of New Julfa. Furthermore, in the document, the signatories are designated as enker awagner (fellow elders), ghekavar antsink‘ (leaders), hayerits lavagounere (the best of the Armenians) and the heads of kupanekn (the companies) (Sh. Khachikian, 1988, 27-28).

23Politically and economically favourable conditions, coupled with strong community structure and wealth brought from Old Julfa, gave an enormous boost to the trade of this mercantile community. In the 17th century, practically most of the adult male population of New Julfa was involved, in one way or another, in the local or international trade. The English traveller John Fryer, an official of the East India Company, who visited New Julfa in 1677 has best understood and described the commercial life and method of New Julfa. According to his observation:

“They improved the Glory of Spahan by their unwearied Industry, there being many of them Credible Merchants at this time, accounted worth an hundred thousand Thomand (each Thomand being Three pounds and a Noble); so mightily do they increase under this Umbrage, in Riches and Freedom; for whilst they sit lazily at Home, their Factors abroad in all parts of the Earth return to their Hives laden with Honey; to which Exercise, after they themselves have been brought up, they train their children under the safe conduct of Experienced Tutors, who instruct them first to Labour for a Livelihood, before they are permitted to Expend” (Fryer, 1698, 268. Cited by Carswell, 1968, 77).

24Indeed, the commercial success of this mercantile community largely depended on the wealth of great merchants, the hard work of their factors, the practical training of the younger generation, but above all, the mutual trust and the traditional law, guiding the relationship between the wealthy merchants and their factors.

  • 13 Among many others, Zakaria Aguletsi (Diary. 1938) and Stepanos Hayrapetian of New Julfa (Ghougassia (...)

25In the above quoted passage, the merchants who “accounted worth a hundred thousand tomans” and who sat “lazily at home”, were normally senior members of merchant families involved in trade for generations, or individual merchants who had accumulated great wealth after decades-long hard work and constant travels.13 They would hardly leave Isfahan, except for an official mission or very important business. However, the junior members of these families would travel as part of their commercial training or for the sake of new ventures. Sitting at home, these merchants managed their enormous capitals and closely followed the commercial transactions of their factors abroad. Mainly being involved in wholesale trade, they also maintained large warehouses, filled with goods brought from abroad or ready for export. In trade, they would not make direct bargains, leaving that task to middlemen or stock-jobbers, as Jean Chardin reports (1988 [1735], 280).

  • 14 See the example of Khoja Minassian family (Sh. Khachikian, 1988, 81-100).

26The merchant families were well organized as “trade companies,” headed by the father of the family, or in his absence, the eldest brother. Each male member of the family was entitled to a certain share of the company. As long as the company existed, the profits were accumulated on the capital and members of the family were entitled only to a certain annual amount for their own expenditures. They could increase their personal shares in the company, by reinvesting the money they could save from their annual allowance or by using the dowry of their wives. However, individuals were allowed to invest their own capital (enalmal) independendy, but their complete separation from the family trade was unusual and not appreciated14. Besides their large capital and inner family cooperation and strength, the greatest asset of these wealthy merchants or trade companies were their network of factors, mostly recruited from their kith and kin or their own surroundings. In order to qualify as a factor, the person had to first prove himself as a trustworthy and hard working individual, with some training and experience in trade and adequate knowledge in measures, weights, numbers and currencies. The family background was also essential in thrusting a factor, because in addition to moral and social considerations, the family was also expected to be the guarantor for his debts. The case of Zakaria Aguletsi is very typical in all these respects.

27At the age of seventeen, in 1647, Zakaria Aguletsi (= of Agulis), accompanying his older cousin, ventured out of his hometown, with a single load of raw silk, provided by his family. For two years he continued his small trade, reaching Smyrnia, Constantinople, Tiflis, Tabriz and Isfahan. In 1649, a wealthy merchant named Astwatsabov, asked Zakaria to accompany Arzan, his illiterate factor on a trade mission, promising to later provide Zakaria with a separate capital. However, upon his return from the said mission, Zakaria was denied credit, because of the bad reputation of his own brother Shemavon (Diary, 1938, 159-160). Only five years later Zakaria was able to secure credit from another wealthy merchant, Masehents Kirakos (ibid., 43), and trade as his factor for nine years, until 1663, when he settled his accounts with Kirakos, and as a rich man continued his trade independently and made his own investments with other merchants or factors (ibid., 62).

28The traditional law guiding the relationship between the wealthy merchants and their factors was very elaborate, well founded and efficiently implemented. It occupied an essential part in the internal life of this mercantile society in the 16th to 18th centuries. In its written and edited version, the trade law guiding the merchants of Julfa has survived in the Lawbook of the Armenians of Astrakhan (Poghossian, 1967). Compiled in 1765, the Lawbook includes a very lengthy chapter (Book i, chap. xiv), with 178 articles, covering the order of trade. In the introduction of the book, the authors clearly state that, in compiling their work, they have adopted the “trade order and laws” of the Armenians living under Persian rule, especially in Isfahan. They also state that, following the practice of Persians, the Armenians of Persia conducted their trials orally (ibid., 5-7), meaning the trade laws followed by the merchants of New Julfa were not written and codified under a single cover. However, the authenticity of the Astrakhan version of the trade laws is confirmed by many, albeit fragmentary references, found in the 17th century trade documents and correspondence from New Julfa and several Armenian and foreign travel accounts.

29According to these laws, the association of creditor merchant and factor was one of the four major categories in the order of trade. The creditor merchant was known as agha or master and his factor was referred to as enker or associate (Book i, chap. xiv, art. 3). When the creditor merchant provided the capital, the associate had to submit to him a letter of association (enkeragir) in his own handwriting (ibid., art. 4). But if the associate would also make a partial investment, the letter of association ought to be in duplicate, one submitted to the creditor merchant and the second remaining with the associate (ibid., art. 7). If the creditor merchant granted in writing full authority to the associate, the latter would be free in conducting his trade according to his own judgment and would not be accountable for any possible loss (ibid., art. 9). However, if at the time of forming the association, the creditor would provide the associate with a letter of advice (ordnagir), the associate was bound to follow the advice of his master in all of his transactions. Otherwise he was fully responsible for any possible loss (ibid., art. 10). The associate was bound to keep an accounting book and register in full honesty all his transactions with their respective dates. If he was illiterate, he ought to ask someone else to write for him. If, upon request, the associate failed to submit his account book to his master, he would be imprisoned, fed only with bread and water and occasionally whipped, up to one year, after which, he would still be held responsible for the capital received from his master (ibid., art. 11. Poghossian, 1967, 130-133).

30Each associate was bound to reveal to his master the name of every person with whom he made a transaction. Also, he was not allowed to give or send anything to anybody, including his own family, children or wife, without the knowledge of his master (Book i, chap. xiv, art. 12). If needed, the master would provide credit for the basic needs of the associate’s family, while the latter was travelling abroad (ibid., art. 13). Upon the request of the master, the associate was bound to promptly return and submit his accounts to the master. If he failed to do so without any legal reason, all the profits he made after that date would go to the master alone and he would be accountable for any possible loss (ibid., art. 14). Upon arrival to his home base, the associate was bound to go first to his master and submit to him his accounts, goods and even his personal clothing and belongings, before heading for home. If he failed to do so, he would suffer the punishment reserved for thieves (ibid., art. 15). After the accounts were carefully audited by the creditor merchant, the two sides would exchange letters of settlement (tomar) and the master would return to the associate the original letter of association (ibid., art. 16. Poghossian, 1967, 133-134).

31During their travels for trade, the factors were entitled to a minimum allowance for their food and clothing and therefore were forced to manage their lives very economically and “study all the arts of thrift,” as John Fryer has observed (Crooke, 1909-1915, ii, 249). For their hard labour, torturous travels and dangerous encounters with bandits on the caravan routes, they were normally entitled to 25-30% of the total profit made during their trade. Even they were expected to share with their masters occasional commissions which they earned by performing services for other merchants.

32The creditor merchants had the social advantage of belonging to the leading class of the community or the circle of headmen, who, together with senior Armenian clergy would judge and settle trade disputes. If suspected in violation of the agreement with his creditor, a factor could hardly afford not to return home and escape from justice, knowing well that his family would be held responsible for his misdeeds and debts, and wherever he goes, he will be treated badly by fellow merchants. Therefore, every factor would try to do his utmost to save face and succeed, in order to create a better future for himself and for his family. Despite the disadvantages in their association with a creditor merchant, but thanks to their decades-long hard work and determination, generations of Armenian factors in the 16th and 17th centuries flourished economically and became wealthy merchants in their own rights, bringing their share to the economic glory of the community of New Julfa.



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1 A title introduced in the 14th century to replace the old princely tides and to designate the few surviving members of the old Armenian nobility (Hewsen, 1972, 293).

2 A title given to the brothers of a melik’, who headed the family.

3 In the 17th-18th century documents designating the wealthy merchants who provided the capital for the factors.

4 A Persian title given to men distinguished by their wealth, services, virtues and intellect (Bedik, 1678, 456).

5 Beit al-mal: public treasury. According to an old Islamic law, a Christian was not entitled to large properties. If he refused to convert to Islam, his estate could be declared beit al-mal property.

6 “Letteres Concerning the Voiage of M. J. Newbery and M. Ralph Fitch”.

7 In 1584, Julfa was headed by a certain tanuter (headman) Mala Petros. In 1595, a certain melik Sultanvale was in charge of the town. And yet, in 1603, when Shah Abbas I entered Julfa, he was hosted by Khoja Khachik, whose family is later known as Shahikhasenk. Ter Avetissian, 1970, i, 84, 271. Eganian, Zeytunian, Antabian, 1984, i, 878.

8 The central part of Armenia, mainly the province of Ayrarat. The name Chukhuri Saad—literally meaning the ditch of Saad—has been derived from the name of Amir Saad, the chieftain of Saadlu tribe, who dominated the area in late 14th and early 15th centuries.

9 Cf. also V. Papazian, infra, chap. 13.

10 It is very interesting to note that, under Ottoman occupation between 1589 and 1603, Old Julfa was considered the property of the Sultan’s mother (Alishan, 1893, 441). Most probably the relation of the people of Julfa with the Safavid Queen Mother also dated back to the 16th century, when as a khass estate belonging to the Royal houshold, Julfa could have been her fief.

11 Places where goods were received, weighted, assessed and stored.

12 Two separate lists of New Julfa tasnak (wards) are presented by Ter Hovhaniants (1880-1881, i, 40-42).

13 Among many others, Zakaria Aguletsi (Diary. 1938) and Stepanos Hayrapetian of New Julfa (Ghougassian, 1998, 69) are typical examples of such merchants who started their trade with limited means.

14 See the example of Khoja Minassian family (Sh. Khachikian, 1988, 81-100).


Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church, New York, NY. (États-Unis)

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