Calouste Gulbenkian (Գալուստ Կիւլպէնկեան) was born on 23rd March 1869 in Constantinople (now Istanbul). He was a businessman and philanthropist of Armenian origin.
He played a major role in making the petroleum reserves of the Middle East available to Western development and is credited with being the first person to exploit Iraqi oil. Gulbenkian travelled extensively and lived in a number of cities including Constantinople, London, Paris, and Lisbon.
Throughout his life, Gulbenkian was involved with many philanthropic activities including the establishment of schools, hospitals, and churches.
By the end of his life Calouste Gulbenkian had become one of the world’s wealthiest individuals and his art acquisitions one of the greatest private collections.
He donated large sums of money to churches, scholarships, schools, and hospitals. Many of his donations were to Armenian foundations and establishments. He required that proceeds from his 5% share of profits from oil should go to Armenian families. He also demanded that 5% of his workers in his oil production for the Iraq Petroleum Company should be of Armenian descent.
Gulbenkyan established the St Sarkis Armenian church in Kensington, London. The church was built in 1922–23 as a memorial to his parents. Gulbenkian wanted to provide “spiritual comfort” to the Armenian community and a place of gathering for “dispersed Armenians,” according to a message written by Gulbenkian to the Catholicos of All Armenians.
In 1929, he was the chief benefactor to the establishment of an extensive library at the St. James Cathedral, the principal church of the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem. The library is called the Gulbenkian Library and contains more than 100,000 books.
He was president of the Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU) from 1930–1932. He was also a major benefactor of Nubarashen and Nor Kesaria, which were newly founded settlements consisting of refugees from the Armenian Genocide.
He died on 20 July 1955 and is buried on the grounds of St Sarkis Armenian Church, which Gulbenkian financed.
The Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, a private foundation based in Portugal, was started at his bequest in 1956. Now, it is among the largest foundations in Europe and continues to promote arts, charity, education, and science throughout the world.
Martin Essayan, the great grandson of Calouste Gulbenkian is a Trustee of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, with responsibility for the UK Branch and the Armenian Communities department.
Click here to learn more about the Foundation.