The story of Ovanessoff and Benlian families have been interconnected, since Maral Ovanessoff’s father, Stepan Ovanessoff moved to London from Birmingham and met Edward Benlian when he started attending the Youth Club at newly founded Hay Dun (Armenian House), where the hub of the London’s small Armenian community was then (500 people approximately in the 1950s).
Edward Benlian was born in Istanbul (then Constantinople), whose father moved his very profitable Tabriz carpet business to London in 1889. He was too young to serve during WW1 but has been running his father’s business from a very young age when his father tragically passed away in a railway accident. Edward was very active in the community, founding a society to support the Genocide refugees in 1920s, and becoming one of the founder members and later the director of the Armenian Community Council.
He wife Shoushane was also a popular member of the community, becoming the chairperson of the Ladies Committee. They would hold regular garden parties in their home for all the students and make them feel welcome. Having no children, Edward left all his wealth to the Benlian trust, which contributes to the number of Armenian and non-Armenian causes, and mainly concentrates on supporting Armenian students at home and abroad.
Both Stepan Ovanessoff and his daughter have been working for the Benlian trust and its worthy causes, and while we were talking to Maral about the story of the Benlian family, she also shared the stories of her maternal grandparents, which you can read in this section.
Edward spoke only Turkish and English, because it was forbidden to speak Armenian in Gesaria, but had a strong Armenian spirit. He was very active in Armenian community council and set up the Armenian Poor Relief Society to help families from the 1915 genocide. He’s also co-founder of Hay Dun (Armenian House, where the current Armenian Embassy is hosted).
Edward and his wife
When he died in 1972, he left most of his estate to the Armenian Community, with very specific instructions.
But most of all he wanted to support students – maybe because it was something he never had the chance to do himself? Benlian trust awards grants to students from low-income families are studying well and participate in the Armenian community.