I, MICHAEL JOSEPH MARTIN the 9th and youngest child of my parents JOSEPH ABRAHAM MARTIN & ELEANOR GERTRUDE MARTIN was born in Rangoon, Burma.
My early education began in Rangoon (Burma) till the Second World War. During the war Burma was attacked by the Japanese, which made it necessary for my parents to make suitable protective accommodation for the family. My father had to build an underground trench by the side of the tennis court for the family, since we were not safe in our home. Later my father changed his mind and built another trench away from the tennis court under a large fruit tree. This was a wise decision because on Christmas Day, December 25, 1941 the Japanese dropped a bomb on our tennis court. It was the third largest powerful bomb dropped in Burma. Upon government instructions, my family was sent to Shewbo (in Burma) for a week. Gradually, the situation in Rangoon got worse and became unsafe and dangerous due to the war, so my parents decided to send me and four of my siblings to India (Calcutta) by ship (S.S. Chilka). The journey was full of hardships such as, shortage of food, illness and delays. The plan was for us to stay at my uncle, Aratoon Martin’s home, he was my father’s brother.
My parents admitted me to Armenian College & Philanthropic Academy (“Armenian College”), in Calcutta, India, where I continued my education. I learnt music and was very good at playing the violin and cello. Armenian College had a large musical band, I was one of the band members, which played at various occasions and places. At one occasion the band played at the Governor’s House in Calcutta, and also at a celebration held at the Flury’s restaurant. I was also a very good sportsman. I played Rugby for Armenian College while being a student at the school and also during my bachelor days, I used to go to Calcutta to play rugby for the Armenian Club Team. I held the Best Men’s Cup jointly with late Aris David in the school athletics.
My first employment was at my father’s firm “Martin & Sons” in Calcutta. The firm dealt with Import, Export and as an Agent for various manufacturers. The firm imported various items such as flour, sugar, butter, cheese etc., and exported Methylated Spirits. Having an urge to go into the world with my own capabilities, later I took employment in a jute trading company named “Messrs Sinclair Murray & Co. Ltd.” I worked at their various business locations, first as an assistant and then became the manager. I started their river transport business for a couple of years, and left the company to start my own business.
The first business I started on my own was in water transport and operated under the name “Khulna Shipping Co.” for carrying jute, hessian cloth and exported cargoes. During that time, I also had a restaurant with a friend called “Café Stadium”. We catered to government offices and their functions, to shipping companies, public functions, and the general public. I dissolved the partnership as a result of my partner’s insincere dealings. It was at my restaurant that I met my wife, Veronica Martin. Veronica and her friends were regular customers at my café.
After the dissolution of my restaurant, I entered into jute business on advice from friends. I operated a jute business for a while and then started an Import and General business. My business was with the Power Development Board, which was the supplier for electricity throughout the country and operated under the name of “Martin Trading Company”. Later, I established “Preston Electric Company” which supplied electrical goods to power stations and contractors. After my marriage, I had another company called “Guardian Trading Company” which also supplied electrical goods to power stations and contractors, the name was given by my wife.
My wife Veronica was a teacher by profession. She was the first teacher at the Khulna Port School when it started its operation. Veronica also worked at UNICEF for many years. Later in 1985, she was in charge of the Davidian Girls School hostel in Calcutta, India where she dedicated herself in taking care of the children until the year 2000. Eventually, she retired and returned to Dhaka to enjoy her old age. Her life ended unexpectedly in 2005. Her presence is greatly missed even until today. She was the rock in our family. We have 3 beautiful daughters, Eleanor Martin, Christine Martin and Cheryl Martin. All 3 girls were educated at the Armenian College & Philanthropic Academy and thereafter completed their further studies at college and at Calcutta University.
The Dhaka Church
On the death of Joseph Stephen, who was the Chairman of the Armenian Church in Dhaka, the position was taken by Stephen Nahapiet. Stephen Nahapiet and his cousin Archie Nahapiet (Archibald Nahapiet) were bachelors working at the same Jute Baling & Trading Company “M. Sarkies & Co. Ltd.” in Narangang. Stephen was an engineer and Archie was in charge of the jute business. When Archi passed away, Stephen lost interest in everything due to old age and ill health. His visits to the Church was rare, which lead him to appoint a local individual named Siddik to take care of the church and its properties. Siddik took full advantage of his position. He misused the church for his own benefit. This led to a group of opportunists to try to take over the church for their own benefit. The situation became very serious and in 1986 a group of foreigners, with the support of some influential people wrote to the Armenian Church in Calcutta of their intention to take control of the Armenian Church in Dhaka and all its properties. My wife Veronica at that time was in Calcutta in charge of the Davidian Girls School. The principal of Armenian College Vahan Poladian, and the Wardens of the Armenian Church in Calcutta on receiving the letter saw the gravity of the issue. Mr. Poladian, approached Veronica and advised her to inform me about the letter and that I should immediately take control of the Church and its affairs, and get rid of the opportunists. I took steps right away on receiving the message from Veronica.
My visit to the Armenian Church in Dhaka caused a great surprise and stir. My presence was hastily conveyed to the members of the group. A local influential lady and a man came to the Church to enquire what I was doing there. They were also accompanied by a photographer. On asking the photographer why he was with them, he replied that he was hired by the owners of the property. I told them they were restricted from entering the Church and its premises and forced them out of the premises. Later, it came to my knowledge that the lady and her escort were the same people who conspired to take control of the Church and its properties. After several days of discussions and threats, I told them that the Church is aware of their intentions and legal action would be taken against them if they did not stop their harassment. During that time there was also another gentleman (a foreigner) who came to the Church to meet me. I was away on my personal business work in Khulna. He left his name and number and requested to meet me in order to discuss the affairs of the Church. The following day, I contacted the gentlemen and came to know his intention of taking over the Church. I told him how shameful it was that people like him conspired with the local people to take control of a Christian Church. I also threatened, that I would inform his Embassy and he and any others who were involved in the scam would have their visas cancelled and sent back to their country. Finally, they stepped back and I received an apology letter from them saying that the group was dissolved. The letter I handed over to the Wardens of the Armenian Church in Calcutta.
On taking over charge of the affairs of the Church and its properties, I faced many problems. There were many people who were against me taking over authority. Siddik and his staff were rebelling. They used the Church for their own benefit. My life along with my family was threatened, they tried in different ways to scare me off. The entire church premise was covered with garbage and needed immediate attention. I approached the municipality for supplying transport services to remove the garbage. It took over a week to remove the garbage from the unblessed graveyard using a truck load each day.
The uncut grass grew high and it was difficult to move around. The church and the two houses on the premise were kept in a ruined condition. Siddik was renting out the rooms in the two houses as an earning for himself. I had a difficult time getting rid of the boarders.
When work commenced for repair and all necessary situations were under control, news spread. People would come to the Church premises to see what was taking place. Newspaper reporters would visit regularly and publish articles about the Church. This encouraged enthusiasm and this attention served as a revival of the past glory of the Church. Biman Bangladesh Airlines, one year in their annual calendar included a picture and article about the Church. I was provided a number of copies which I distributed to people who came to visit the Church, and also sent a copy to the Armenian Church in Calcutta, India.
The two houses at No1. and No. 5 Armenian Street was occupied by tenants. I had a very difficult situation for the removal of the tenant at No.1 Armenian Street building. Judgment was obtained from the highest Court and the eviction was done by a Court magistrate and the police. Once evicted, I realized the building was destroyed beyond repair. By the grace of God, I had an idea to reconstruct the building into a market to make a source of income for the Church which was in dire need of funds for its repairs, development and maintenance. The market was constructed and named “Mikhail Market”.
While the work was progressing, steps were taken to clear the plot at No.2 Armenian Street of all the debris and garbage. An architect was hired to prepare the plan and the plan was approved and passed by the Dhaka Improvement Trust. The plan was approved for a 4 storey market construction. I met a lot of hurdles during the construction of the market. A claim was made for the land and I had to go through the Courts to remove the claim and continue construction. After the market was constructed it was named “Armenian Plaza”. This was done to make use of the Church properties and generate a source of income for the Church. The taxes and utility bills for the Church and its properties were not paid for years which I had to clear in an organized and planned way.
The finance for execution of all the work and court cases was an immense problem, and weighed heavily on me. I used family funds and also adopted various methods of securing the flow of funds personally. It was always God’s power and blessings that helped me in all my hardship and endeavours. God always guided me and showed me the way.
The Church was in a sorrowful state, needing urgent immediate attention. Garbage and waste from the tea stalls serving the theatre located near the small graveyard (unblessed graveyard) became a dumping ground. The front of the Church building, facing the main road has a drain which was regularly blocked due to an overflow of dirty sewage water seeping into the Church premises. This caused a bad sink at the Alter in the Church. The ground level of the Church courtyard had sunken in and required raising, and I did it. The front of the Church building also needed raising, as it was affecting the structure of the Church. The situation required immediate attention to save it from destruction. Repairs to the steeple required major attendance and was carried out.
In the evenings, people used to come to the Church premises and sit on the graves and smoke and also play football at the graveyard. Repeated they were asked by me not to do so, but they continued. Some of the graves were sunk in with broken gravestones, they were raised with concrete. Thereafter, no more football could be played. Construction of a new partition railing separating the unblessed graveyard from the blessed graveyard was done.
The archway of the Church premises was in a bad state and required attendance. However, one night the roof collapsed, and I had to repair the entire entrance. Both the Personage and Sexton’s house required repairs. The gate keeper’s quarter was in a dilapidated condition it was reconstructed and extended. The boundary walls of the Church premises was broken and was very low, it needed attention for security reasons.
The Church building was in a very poor condition and required attention both inside and outside. The entire building was cemented, plastered and painted. The roof covering the sides of the church’s prayer hall had broken railings. A thorough repair was carried out and new bollards were placed where required. Windows and doors were repaired, painted and varnished. The Church alter had no curtain, a curtain was installed. The pews were repaired, and new cushions were put on as required.
The front verandah of the parsonage house was not secure. I had it secured with enclosed wall, with a few windows and grills. Two new toilets were constructed attached on the eastside of the building. Electrical wiring was repaired throughout the building. The roofing was replaced due to water leaks.
The Deacon’s building was repaired inside and outside. It was repainted and new electric wiring was installed.
The Staff quarters required repairs and painting and it was done, I also made an additional room for the quarters. The staff and visitor’s toilet was in a bad condition. The toilet had a broken roof with a hole in the floor in place of a commode. A new toilet was built with two rooms, commode and water supply.
I took steps to withdraw the authority granted to Siddik by Stephen Nahapiet and removed some of the staff I felt was necessary to remove. I faced a lot of resistance from them. Local workers (labours) were prevented from working for me at the Church by them and some others. This was done to cause obstacles for me in order to take control of the Church. I had to bring labourers from another city (Khulna) for undertaking the repairs, plastering and painting at the Church. My family, a few of my extended family members and a friend did the painting at the Alter of the Church. We held Christmas Service on January 6, 1987 at the Church, served by a priest of the Church of England with a choir of foreigners and had parishioners who attended. After service all were invited at home for tea and snacks.
Various steps and threats by the locals to make my family and me leave the Church was instigated by people having interest in the Church and its properties. They used to scare us by hanging voodoo stuff from the trees and burying things in front of the house. God always protected us from the evil.
Work continued as I was arranging funds to meet the expenses. The garbage was slowly cleared from the unblessed graveyard area. An area along the side of the personage house, the staff were growing illegal and banned plants. The removal was done with great caution to avoid any problems for the Church.
The shops which existed at No. 3 Armenian Street by the side of the road required repairs. In order to generate income for the Church, repairs were carried out and extension was done in stages.
Help provided to the poor
The Church gave help towards medical treatment for the poor on numerous occasions. A program was also started, where a meal was served once a month to feed the poor and destitute, and milk was provided to the babies.
It is worth mentioning the situation the Church was suffering financially for its existence was well known, but with a sad heart I mention that although everyone was aware of it they showed no knowledge of it. BUT God by his mercy, love and assistance bestowed his blessing, power, guidance and wisdom to meet all necessary requirements. The late Arch Bishop Aghan Baliozian made several visits to Dhaka on his way to Calcutta and appreciated the difficulties that I had to meet. He was also approached by a number of people who insisted that a committee should be formed for the Church. Late Arch Bishop Aghan Baliozian’s instant reply was “Mr. Martin is a competent and fully capable person to singularly handle the Church affairs.” Every visit that he made to Calcutta, he used to come to Dhaka and visit the Church and held service.
The immense hardships I faced were always overwhelmed with the protection, help, strength, guidance, and courage of our Lord God all obstacles were faced free of fear. All work was proceeded with free of fear and I succeeded completing all the necessary work, and was able to develop a source of income to meet the needs and requirements of the Church.
Services are continued to be held on Christmas, Easter, and upon request on Sundays.
The Church has been placed in a sound financial position to meet its requirements. I took over the care and responsibility of the Armenian Church in Dhaka because I considered it my duty to take care of the church and I feel honoured by doing so. The blessings, guidance and protection I received were immense. My service to the church was acknowledged by Karekin II Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians and I was bestowed the St. Nerses Shnorkols Medal as a tribute.
History has always been guidance to the Armenian Nation for their love and protection for the Church, which is upheld. God helps us in our endeavours.