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.
Maral Ovanessoff on Edward Benlian and The Benlian Trust
Mr Edward Benlian one of the pillars of the Armenian community and the founders of Hay Dun, 1961. He came to London as a young boy with his family from Gesaria, Caesaria, Gayseri (modern day Kayseri) before WW1. His father, Ezepos Benlian, became a prominent carpet merchant in the City of London, who was quite wealthy. He died as a result of a train accident on his way to work, when his son Edward was only 14 years old. He left school and took over his father’s business.
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 Shoushane would host a garden party at his home in Wimbledon for members of the Armenian Youth Society. They didn’t have children and his wife died of cancer before him.
When he died in 1972, he left most of his estate to the Armenian Community, with very specific instructions.
Benlian Trust support a number of Armenian and non-Armenian charities: HAY DUN, Armenian school in France, Surp Prgic in Istanbul, K Tahta school and Saturday school in London, Hayashen playgroup, other cultural events, Cancer research, Middlesex hospital, Arthritis charity, Salvation Army, etc.
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.