Marseille and its surrounding towns

All text will soon be provided in French and Armenian.

Carte sensible de la présence arménienne à Marseille "

A map showing the continuing Armenian presence in Marseille.

Entrer dans Marseille. Dominer la mer depuis le Vallon des Tuves. Faire réparer ses chaussures vers la Plaine et partir à Erevan. Boire un café vers Réformés et passer une heure à Bourj Hammoud. Monter dans un bus en direction de Beaumont et partir à Bolis. Acheter des olives vers la Gare Saint-Charles, se retrouver à Moscou. Commander une pizza arménienne dans n’importe quel food-truck de la ville. Traverser le boulevard Ararat, entrer dans un jardin à Saint-Jérôme et cueillir des abricots du pays. Assister à un match de football en mangeant de la pastèque sur fond de rabiz. Se perdre en Cilicie Boulevard des Grands Pins.

Dans les rues, tendre l’oreille vers des conversations dans une langue étrangère aux accents marseillais. La langue occidentale de ceux qui se sont installés depuis longtemps, puis au fil du temps ; la langue orientale de ceux arrivés plus récemment. Il y a ceux qui s’organisent, ceux qui se croisent, s’évitent ou s’oublient. Ceux qui se retrouvent en quartier, en église, en association, en orchestre, en chorale, en troupe de danse, en école. Marseille et ses arméniens.

French translation of remaining text to follow soon.

Welcome to Marseille.  The panorama of the sea dominates the view from Vallon des Tuves.  Get your shoes repaired near La Plaine and you take off for Yerevan.  Drink a coffee near Réformé and you pass an hour in Bourj Hammoud.  Board a bus towards Beaumont and you travel to Istanbul.  Buy some olives near Gare Saint-Charles and find yourself in Moscow.  Order an Armenian pizza from any food-truck in the city.  Cross Boulevard Ararat, enter a garden at Saint-Jerome and pick apricots from a tree brought from Armenia. Attend a football match and snack on watermelon with rabiz booming in the background.   Lose yourself in Cillicia on Boulevard des Grands Pins.

Dans un restaurant arménien du centre ville.

Dans un restaurant arménien du centre ville.

In the streets, listen out for conversations in a foreign language with a Marseillaise accent.  The western version of the language marks those who have been around a long time.  Then, after a bit of time, speakers of the eastern version of the language came more recently.

Some organize themselves, some meet by chance, some avoid or forget each other.  Those who come together meet in the neighborhood, in associations, in an orchestra, a choir, a dance troupe, at school.  Marseille and her Armenians.

History of migration

The Armenian quarter in Marseille was established in the 17th century behind the current Hôtel de Ville where repositories belonging to merchants and an Armenian chapel have been found. The first Armenian printing house in Marseille was established in 1669 by Archbishop Oskan Yerevantsi, located on rue de la Loge.

From 1850 onwards, Armenian merchants from commercial centers in the Ottoman Empire began to voyage to Marseille and establish their businesses there, along with the beginnings of community life.   With the presence of so many Armenian merchants in Marseille at that time, one of the old streets of the city was named Rue Armeny.

Avenue du 24 avril 1915 dans le quartier de Beaumont.

Avenue du 24 avril 1915 dans le quartier de Beaumont.

Migration after the Hamidian massacres and Armenian Genocide

There was an influx of Armenian migrants from the Ottoman Empire to Marseille during the massacres of 1894-1896 and again, following the Genocide at the start of the 20th century. These destitute Armenians were sent to military camps transformed into refugee camps. The largest of these was called Camp Oddo, taking in around 5,500 refugees between 1922 and 1927.  Armenians then settled in Saint-Louis, Saint-André and Saint-Antoine; rue de Lyon, boulevard Oddo, Saint-Henri, Saint-Jérôme, Saint-Julien, Saint-Loup, Saint-Marguerite, Campagne Frèze and, the most notable of all, Beaumont.

The Armenians who had arrived in the 19th century helped the new arrivals to organise themselves and deal with the French authorities. The Armenian National Union was formed in Marseille in 1923 with an initial objective of supporting the refugees in Camp Oddo.   Homenetmen, the scouting union, was formed in 1924 in Camp Oddo under the name L’Union Générale Arménienne de Scoutisme et de Culture Physique de Marseille (UGA).   La Croix Bleue des Arméniens de France was also formed first in the region. The three major Armenian diaspora political parties, Ramgavar, Hnchakian and Dashnakstoutiune, all established themselves in Marseille in the early 20th century.

Today the Armenian population of Marseille is said to be over 80,000. As the total population of Marseille is some 900,000, this means that almost one in ten people are Armenian there. 

Old and New Diaspora

Marseille continues to be an arrival port for Armenians coming from different areas. Successive waves of migration have come from Lebanon, Turkey (Istanbul and eastern Turkey) and more recently from the Republic of Armenia and now Syria.  As in other Armenian diaspora communities, thèse waves of arrivals create a real mosaïque of different groups giving an impression from within of gréât diversity but from outside, the impression of a strong community gathered around its schools and churches.

Other Armenian organisations in Marseille

Guide destiné aux arméniens nouvellement arrivés à Marseille, en langue arméniene, 1931 - Collection Aram

Guide destiné aux arméniens nouvellement arrivés à Marseille, en langue arméniene, 1931 - Collection Aram

As the Armenian community in Marseille has developed over the decades, many organisations have been added to those mentioned above, enriching the community’s cultural and social life.   These include a local branch of the AGBU, UGAB Marseille,  the Hamaskaïne (Hamazkayin) school, which provides young students with a French-Armenian education, ARAM (Archiving Armenian Memory), founded in 1997 to archive the memory of Armenians in Marseille, UGA-Ardziv (Armenian General Union), the primary Armenian football club, and the Ani Cultural Centre , a community centre where both young and old congregate for meals, group readings, and charity events.

There are many more but this gives an idea of the variety of institutions within the Armenian community in Marseille. 

All photos and map by Maida Chavak