Denis Finning, who lives in North London talks about the history of his family. The maternal side of his family – the Balabanians – came from Smyrna. They were very wealthy and influential, claiming direct descent 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. He had 10 children with his wife Sourpouhi Tchilinguirian, 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 they left Turkey, including Sourpouhi, who then moved to Manchester after her husband’s death. However, Denis Finning’s grandfather Megeurditch Balabanian stayed on, managing his father’s businesses and marrying an Armenian from Russia, Takouhui Lazarof.
Megeurditch died after the birth of their daughter Irma (Denis’s 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 did not leave in 1915, because as a wealthy family their position was relatively safe. However, they decided to move in 1921 when the situation had become very tense, just before the Great Fire of Smyrna in 1922.