Denis Finning, who lives in North London, talks about the story of his family. The maternal side of his family – the Balabanians, come from Smyrna. They were a very wealthy and influential family, claiming that they descended directly from the tenth century Bagratuni princes of Armenia. Denis Finning’s great-grandfather Sarkis was a famous businessman in the city, owning properties and trading silk. With his wife Sourpouhi Tchilinguirian, he had 10 children, one of whom died very young. Of the nine children in the surviving family picture taken in Smyrna, there were four sons and five daughters.
After the massacres of Armenians in Istanbul and in Eastern Anatolia in 1895, referred to as the Hamidian massacres, most of the family decided life was getting too difficult and around 1901 decided to leave Turkey, including Sourpouhi, who moved to Manchester after her husband’s death. However, Denis Finning’s grandfather Megeurditch Balabanian stayed on, managing his father’s businesses and married an Armenian from Russia, Takouhui Lazarof.
Megeurditch died after the birth of their daughter Irma (Denis’ mother) and son, leaving his widow in a situation when it was unacceptable for a middle-class Armenian lady to be seen in public out on her own. Takouhui’s son also died tragically a few years later. Interestingly, the family didn’t leave in 1915, because as a wealthy family their position was relatively safe. However, they decided to move in 1921 when the situation was very tense, just before the Great Fire of Smyrna in 1922.