On the 23rd February 2020, CAIA welcomed Emilia Ashken Wyszynski to deliver a presentation about ‘Nor Arax’, an Armenian village in Bari, a port city by the Adriatic Sea, Southern Italy. What connects her to this village was her grandfather, Diran Timurian, who lived there alongside fellow Armenians of that time who had fled persecution from the Ottoman Empire.

The beginning of the presentation focused on the historical reports of Armenian influences in Italian culture. Some examples mentioned included San Lazzaro degli Armeni (meaning “Saint Lazarus of the Armenians”), a small island in the Venetian Lagoon which housed the monastery of the Mekhitarists, an Armenian Catholic congregation. Another historical example of Armenians in Italy was that of the Church of Santa Maria de Armenis. This church was part of the ancient monastery Benedictine, the name of which is likely due to the presence of Armenian population in Matera.

There was reference to the notable Armenian poet Hrand Nazariantz, the commitment of whom provided ground for establishing Nor Arax, a village for Armenian refugees in the countryside of Bari. The foundation of this village and the barracks used to house people gave an opportunity for exiled Armenians to work, build a school and chapel – a home away from home. More specifically, these Armenians helped establish and maintain the productions of oriental carpets. The carpets were the outcome of skilled workers who cultivated their knowledge from their homeland, used it to colour their wool, design and weave their creations as a symbol of and tribute to their heritage. An interesting fact was that certain train carriages of the time were furnished with carpets originating from Nor Arax.

It was highlighted that the word ‘Arax’ (from Nor Arax) was a reference to the river flowing through Armenia, Turkey, Iran and Azerbaijan. This, according to Emilia Wyszynski, held a symbol of water, new life and opportunity. It was not, therefore, surprising that the speaker gave credit and recognition to Italians of that time, without the compassion and generosity of which Armenian settlement and industrial contribution would never have had ground to flourish.’ Written by Marilena