Small group big part of S'pore's heritage

They may not be Singaporeans, but Mr Pierre Hennes and Mr Pavel Karapetyan are volunteers at the Armenian Church on Hill Street.

The men from Armenia call Singapore home and are part of a small committee in charge of organising lectures, film screenings and music performances featuring Armenian culture for this year's HeritageFest.

The Singapore HeritageFest started last weekend and will run till May 18.

Mr Hennes, a venture capitalist, said: "We want to increase the visibility of our community because we take care of heritage not only for Armenians but also for Singapore".

The men are also helping to organise tours of the Armenian Church on May 9 and 10. The church is the oldest building in Singapore that has not undergone any structural changes.

"There are about 100 Armenians in Singapore," said Mr Hennes, 42, who has lived here for the past 12 years.

Despite its small number, the community has made significant contributions to Singapore's heritage.

Many icons here can trace their roots to members of the Eastern European community.

For instance, the national flower, Vanda Miss Joaquim, was named after Armenian horticulturist Agnes Joaquim.

She reportedly created the hybrid - the first in Singapore - in her Tanjong Pagar garden in 1893.

Ms Joaquim's tombstone can be found in the memorial garden of the Armenian Church, which was built in 1835 and is the oldest Christian church in Singapore.

Members of the Armenian community include descendants of Armenians who were in Singapore in the 19th century.

At the church's 175th anniversary in 2010, then Minister of Foreign Affairs George Yeo called it "the fastest growing community", with six babies born that year.

"Mr Yeo had said, 'You must share your secrets with the whole country,'" recalled Mr Karapetyan, 37, referring to Singapore's low birth rate.

One of his three children was born that year. The business manager, who imports Armenian beverages, has lived here for six years and manages weddings at the church.

He likes living in Singapore for its pro-business environment and good education system for his kids.


Mr Karapetyan's favourite local dish is laksa. "It has many spices, like Armenian food," he said.

Armenians here usually meet during Christian holidays, where they bond over food, classical Armenian poetry and songs.

"There are Armenian communities all over the world, and we really settle down for a long time and contribute to society," said Mr Hennes.

This article was first published on April 25, 2015.
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