Monday, June 25, 2018

Birth of Levon Orbeli (June 25, 1882)

Levon (also known as Leon) Orbeli was the middle brother in a family of scientists and an important physiologist, mostly active in Russia, who made important contributions to this discipline.

Orbeli was born in Darachichak (nowadays Tzaghkadzor), in Armenia, on June 25, 1882. He was the brother of archaeologist Ruben Orbeli (1880-1943) and orientalist Hovsep (Iosif) Orbeli (1887-1961). The family descended from the princely Orbelian family, which ruled over the region of Siunik between the thirteenth and fifteenth centuries.

The future scientist graduated from the Russian gymnasium in Tiflis in 1899 and continued his studies at the Imperial Military-Medical Academy of St. Petersburg. He was still a second-course student, when he started working in the laboratory of famous physiologist Ivan Pavlov in 1901, the same year when Pavlov developed the concept of conditioned reflex. Orbeli's life and scientific career would be closely connected with Pavlov’s work for the next thirty-five years.

He graduated from the Military Medical Academy in 1904 and became an intern at the Naval Hospital in the Russian capital. He joined Pavlov as his assistant in the Department of Physiology at the Institute for Experimental Medicine from 1907 to 1920. He was sent abroad to do research from 1909-11, working in Germany, England, and Italy.

Afterwards, Orbeli occupied many top positions in the Russian scientific world. He was head of the laboratory of physiology at the P. F. Lesgaft Scientific Institute in Leningrad (the new name for St. Petersburg during the Soviet times) from 1918 to 1957. Meantime, he was professor of physiology at the First Leningrad Medical Institute (1920-1931) and at the Military-Medical Academy (1925-1950), which he also directed from 1943 to 1950.

In 1932 he entered the USSR Academy of Sciences as corresponding member and was elected academician in 1935. After Pavlov’s death, Orbeli became Russia’s most prominent scientist. He developed a new scientific discipline, evolutionary physiology, consistently applying the principles of Darwinism. He devoted particular attention to the application of the principles of evolution to the study of all the nervous subsystems in animals and man. He promoted the study of human physiology, especially vital activity under unusual and extreme conditions. His more than 200 works on experimental and theoretical science included 130 journal articles.

Levon Orbeli was director of the Institute of Physiology of the Academy (1936-1950) and of the Institute of Evolutionary Physiology of the USSR Academy of Medical Sciences (1939-1950), where he was elected academician in 1944. He served as vice-president of the USSR Academy of Sciences (1942-1946), where he founded and headed the Institute of Evolutionary Physiology in 1956. He was an academician of the Armenian Academy of Sciences in 1943 (his brother Hovsep was the founder) and had an important legacy in the development of physiology in Armenia. The Institute of Physiology of the Academy of Sciences carries his name.

He received many honors for his extraordinary scientific work. He was member of many foreign societies and earned the State Prize of the USSR (1941) and two important prizes of the Soviet Academy of Sciences In 1937 and 1946. He was bestowed with many decorations, including the title of Hero of Socialist Labor in 1945.

In the last years of Stalin’s life, sciences became the target of state repression. At a joint session of the USSR Academy of Sciences and the Academy of Medical Sciences in 1950, the official doctrine of “Pavlovism” was promulgated and many prominent physiologists, including Orbeli, were denigrated and blamed for being non-Marxists, reactionaries, and having Western sympathies. Like many others who were victim of these political games, Orbeli would be rehabilitated after the death of Stalin in 1953.

He passed away on December 9, 1958, in Leningrad, where he was buried. A museum in the town of Tzaghkadzor (Armenia), inaugurated in 1982 (picture), on the centennial of Levon Orbeli’s birth, is dedicated to the three Orbeli brothers.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Deportation to Altai (June 14, 1949)

The great wave of repression of 1936-1938, which cost the lives of millions of Soviet citizens, had several thousands of victims in Armenia, including many people who were exiled to Siberia. During and after World War II, a second, less well-known wave would shatter many areas of the Soviet Union, including Armenia.

The preparations, in utmost secrecy, started in January 1949. By command of the Ministry of State Security of the USSR, lists of former Armenian Revolutionary members (Dashnaks), former war prisoners and members of the Nazi-sponsored Armenian Legions, repatriates, and their families were prepared.

On May 28, 1949, the ministry gave the order, and the next day, the USSR Council of Ministers, with Stalin’s signature, approved the “extremely secret” resolution No. 2214-856: “On the transportation, repopulation, and work allocation of those expelled from the Georgian, Armenian, and Azerbaijani Soviet Socialist Republics, as well as the coastal areas of the Black Sea.”

A group of high-ranking officials of the Ministry of State Security arrived in Yerevan, led by Lieut.-Gen Yuri Yedunov, deputy head of the Second General Committee. The latter was well experiences in these matters, since he had managed the expulsion of the so-called families of “bandits and kulaks” of Latvia (28,981 people) on March 25-28 of the same year.

On the night of June 13-14, 1949, the unexpected happened. Both the locals, who already knew the Stalin inferno, and the repatriates, who took pains to get used to the whims of the totalitarian regime, were taken by surprise. Deportations were common as punishment from the 1920s, but they had skipped Armenians so far. That night, 2,754 families (12,300 people) were exiled from all regions of Soviet Armenia to the Altai territory, in the southeast of Western Siberia. Around twelve percent (1,578 people) of the deportees were repatriates. Of those families, the greatest number came from Yerevan (461) and Echmiadzin (182). Interestingly, the massive expulsion had no ethnic grounds; the deportees were known by the label of “Dashnaks.” The targeted repatriates were those with former Greek and Turkish citizenship.

They were sent by train in cargo wagons, and traveled for about two weeks until they were placed in the collective farms and state farms of the Altai region, without knowing why they were moved and what their fault was. The mass deportation was legalized much later, from November 1949-June 1950. A special committee adjunct to the Ministry of State Security prepared documents in the name of the elder of the exiled family or the member of the family who was the cause for exile.

The deportees were told that there was no return and they would stay there until their death. They were warned about leaving their area of residence, which would be penalized with 20 years of prison or forced labor. They had to present themselves once a week at the guard’s office to sign papers that confirmed their presence.

The exiles wrote letters addressed to the highest hierarchy of the country (Stalin, Beria, Malenkov, Voroshilov), as well as Grigor Harutiunian, First Secretary of the Armenian Communist Party, asking for leniency and explaining that they had committed no crime to deserve such a punishment. However, most of the time, those letters were useless, and the response was standard: “Your issue is not subject to review.”

The exiled families were involved in lumbering or farming. Neither their education nor their expertise counted. The repatriates, in particular, had big issues with language, since they mostly did not speak Russian, and this complicated their interactions at work and with the authorities. The children received their education only in Russian.

After Stalin’s death, the life of the exiled had some improvement. They were not allowed to return, but they could make “illegal” movements within the region of Altai, change their residence, find another job, et cetera. The authorities started giving encouraging responses to the letters written after Stalin’s death. A special commission was set up in 1954 to review the cases of the deportees. In the next two years, they were absolved of their “crimes,” and by 1956 the overwhelming majority of the exiled families were back in Armenia.

There is very little documentation about this tragic episode of Soviet Armenian history. It remained totally unspoken until the fall of the Soviet Union. Since 2006, June 14 is commemorated in the Armenian calendar as Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Repression. A memorial complex to the victims of repression during Soviet times was opened in Yerevan on December 3, 2008. Today there are some 6,000 victims of repression from 1937 and 1949, and 8,400 descendants of those victims living in Armenia.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Death of Ara Sarkissian (June 13, 1969)

Ara Sarkissian is considered the founder of Soviet Armenian sculpture.
He was born in the suburb of Makrikeuy, near Constantinople, on April 7, 1902. He studied at the local Dadian School, and after 1914, when his family moved to the neighborhood of Pera, in the city, he attended the Essayan School. After working menial jobs during the war to make some money, he studied at the local Art School from 1919-1921 and then he moved to Rome to continue studies there, but after half year he entered the Vienna School of Masters (1921-1924). In both schools he already showed progress in sculpture, and the impact of World War I and the Armenian Genocide leaned him towards tragic subjects.
Still a student, in 1921-1922 he collaborated in Rome, Vienna, and Berlin in the logistics of the Operation Nemesis, at a time when the liquidations of former Ottoman Prime Minister Said Halim pasha and genocidaires Behaeddin Shakir and Jemal Azmi were being planned. Sarkissian appears as A.S. in the Armenian original of Arshavir Shiragian’s memoirs (1965), although his mention has been eliminated in the English translation. 
In 1924 Sarkissian was granted Soviet citizenship in Vienna and the next year he settled in Yerevan, where he would live the rest of his life. In 1926 he organized the Soviet Armenian chapter of the Association of Painters of Revolutionary Russia and was elected its president. Six years later he became the founding president of the Painters Union of Armenia until 1937. In 1945 he became the founding director of the Institute of Art of Yerevan (now the Art Academy of Yerevan) until 1959, and later he was head of chair and director of the atelier until his death.
In the 1920s and 1930s Sarkissian’s busts of Armenian writers and intellectuals were characterized by their expressiveness. During World War II, he sculpted busts of Armenian soldiers and various patriotic compositions. One of his best works, the statue of Bolshevik revolutionary Sergei Kirov, was installed in Kirovakan (formerly Gharakilise) in 1942, but after the fall of the Soviet regime and the renaming of Kirovakan into Vanadzor, it was retired in 1992. During his life he participated in many exhibitions in Yerevan, Tbilisi, and Moscow.
In 1949 he was elected corresponding member of the Soviet Academy of Arts and became a full member in 1958. In 1963 he earned the title of People’s Artist of the USSR.
Sarkissian’s most recognizable works are the statues of Hovhannes Tumanian and Alexander Spendiarian in front of the Yerevan Opera House (1957), which he co-authored with Ghugas Chubarian, and the statues of Mesrob Mashdots and Sahak Bartev in the courtyard of the main building of Yerevan State University.
Ara Sarkissian's participation in the Operation Nemesis and his involvement with the Armenian Revolutionary Federation had remained unknown in Soviet Armenia for obvious political reasons. However, in the last years it has been disclosed that his dismissal from the post of director of the Institute of Art in 1959 was due to the fact that he had a brother in Greece who was an A.R.F. leader and whom he met that year in Brussels. It is suspected that his sudden death on June 13, 1969, two days after being discharged from the hospital after a surgery for a broken foot, was linked to the previous discovery that the sculptor had been involved in the Operation Nemesis four decades before.
Ara Sarkissian was posthumously awarded the USSR State Prize (1971). The two-floor house that he shared with painter Hakob Kojoyan became a house-museum dedicated to both artists in 1973.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Birth of Vartan Makhokhian (May 31, 1869)

Ivan (Hovhannes) Aivazovsky is the premier seascape painter in Armenian art, but his younger contemporary, Vartan Makhokhian (also spelled Mahokian), comes to a close second.

Makhokhian was born on May 31, 1869, in Trebizond (Trabzon). His father was a merchant who made sure that his six children had a good education. Makhokhian took an interest in drawing at the local Armenian school, and learned to paint when he continued his studies at the Sanasarian College in Erzerum (1882-1887), before returning to his hometown after five years of study. His artistic interests were not limited to painting, since he also learned to play violin and studied music theory.

His uncle persuaded Makhokhian to pursue an artistic career. At the age of twenty-two, he began studies at the Berlin Academy of Arts under the guidance of Eugen Bracht and Hans Gude. After graduating in 1894, he traveled to Crimea, where he met Aivazovsky and painted various sea scenes. He went back to Trebizond in 1895 and became a witness of the Hamidian massacres.

He fled to the port of Batum, in Georgia, and then to Europe. He held one of his first exhibitions in 1900 in Berlin. For the next two decades, he would be the subject of many articles in the European press. In 1904 he was accepted into the Berlin Artists' Association. He traveled to Egypt, where he had exhibitions in Alexandria and Cairo, then to Denmark, and finally settled in the island of Capri, in Italy, a place chosen as residence by well-known artists and intellectuals. Makhokhian returned to Germany in 1907 and participated in various exhibitions in Berlin, Düsseldorf, and Munich.

"Seaside scene. Norway" (Vartan Makhokhian)
The painter returned once again to his hometown in 1908, after the Ottoman Constitution was restored. He continued working there for the next six years, and after the beginning of World War I, Makhokhian moved again to Europe and this time he settled in Nice, France, where he would remain until the end of his life. He composed the symphony “The Sobbing of Armenia” from 1915-1917, reacting to the loss of his family in Trebizonda during the genocide, which was first performed in Monte Carlo (1918). He participated in the Paris Salon in 1921, 1922, 1923, and 1927, and had solo exhibitions in Nice (1918, 1931, 1936), Marseilles (1923), Paris (1925), and Monte Carlo (1932). The painter was awarded the Legion of Honor in 1925 and became a French citizen two years later.

From 1927-1930 Makhokhian also participated in the collective exhibitions of the “Ani” Artistic Society in Paris, and thus became better known in Armenian circles.

After a long illness, the painter passed away in Nice on February 10, 1937, at the age of 67. His works are found in the National Gallery of Armenia, the Art Museum of Nice, the museum of the Mekhitarist Congregation in Venice, and other places, as well as in many private collections.

Monday, May 28, 2018

First Commemoration of Independence in Soviet Armenia (May 28, 1988)

During the Soviet regime, the history of the first independence of Armenia was thoroughly distorted and the commemoration of May 28 was logically forbidden. The explosion of the Karabagh Movement in 1988 would change the general outlook. The claims to reunite the autonomous region of Mountainous Gharabagh to Armenia were accompanied by claims to address social, economic, and cultural burning issues of the present and hidden or distorted issues of the past.

Movses Gorgisian, May 28, 1988
From February 1988, huge crowds gathered at Theater Square (now Freedom Square), in front of the Yerevan Opera, in peaceful rallies to claim for the return of Gharabagh to Armenia. One such rally was held in the afternoon of May 28, 1988, to commemorate the seventieth anniversary of the first independence. The well-attended gathering was organized by the Union for National Self-Determination, a political party founded by dissident Paruyr Hayrikian in 1987. Hairikian had been imprisoned in early 1988 for claiming that the Sumgait pogrom had been instigated by the Soviet leadership, and he would be stripped of Soviet citizenship and deported to Ethiopia. Other members of the party had taken charge, especially Movses Gorgisian (1961-1990), assisted by Mekhak Gabrielian. The “Mashtots” Union, an organization for the defense of Armenian language and culture, was also involved in the preparation.

After Gabrielian’s opening remarks, the first to take the stage was Movses Gorgisian, who started his message by saying: “People! I will show you something, don’t be afraid” He raised the tricolor flag of the first independence, until then a taboo subject, and he was echoed by several participants in the rally, who raised a total of seven flags in different places. “Do not be afraid of raising the tricolor flag of the republic,” added Gorgisian. He went on:

“The Armenian nation today celebrates the day of our statehood within the body of the Soviet Union, it is impossible to take that from us. We have prepared a message; we are addressing the government[s] of Armenia and the USSR to ask something: on this day, on May 28, in 1918 it became the day of the Armenian Republic, and the government has the obligation to approve it as the day of creation of our republic, in the same way that April was approved as mourning day.”

Banners placed on the stage read: “To proclaim May 28 day of united, all-national struggle for the just solution of the Armenian Cause” (Մայիս 28-ը հռչակել Հայ Դատի արդար լուծման համազգային պայքարի միասնութեան օր), “The only road to salvation of the Armenian people was found on May 28, 1918” (1918 թ. Մայիսի 28-ին գտնուեց հայ ժողովրդի փրկութեան միակ ուղին), “Today’s Armenia would not be a republic without May 28” (Առանց Մայիսի 28-ի այսօրուայ Հայաստանը հանրապետութիւն չէր լինի).

The main speakers were two noted linguists and intellectuals, Varag Arakelian and Rafayel Ishkhanian. Arakelian made a brief historical introduction and condemned the policy of Soviet Armenian authorities to lead the most glorious page of the last 500 years into oblivion. Ishkhanian rejected the label of “A.R.F. republic” that some people used to denigrate the first independence, while noting the A.R.F. majority in the government. He highlighted the role of Aram Manoukian as organizer of the victories of May and founder of the Armenian republic:

“The enemy reached Yerevan. The supreme command of the Armenian forces, led by Nazarbekov, had decided to hand Yerevan to the enemy and to organize the defense near Lake Sevan. The National Council of Tiflis had agreed with this decision. There was one man in Yerevan who said ‘No, if we hand Yerevan, then we will hand Armenia. If we hand Yerevan that means the end of the Armenian people.’ That man was Aram Manoukian. Unfortunately, I don’t see his picture here.” People held pictures of General Antranik, Karekin Nejdeh, various fedayis and also Hayrikian, who was then in a Moscow prison.

After the speeches, the doors of the Opera opened and the secretary of ideological issues of the Central Committee of the Armenian Communist Party, the first secretary of the City Committee of the party, and other officials came out. They tried to take out the tricolor flags from the square, but in vain. They were met with cries of “Shame, go away!” Later on, poet Sylva Gabudikian had a televised speech, where she argued that the tricolor flag fragmented the nation, as it divided Armenia from the Diaspora.

Ironically, the next day the newspapers, all government-controlled, published the following news piece released by Armenpress: “On May 28, in the Theatrical Square of Yerevan, some people, veiled behind slogans related to Mountainous Gharabagh, tried to raise the issue of P. Hayrikian, known for his anti-Soviet declarations. They attempted to encourage people into illegal activities. Those attempts were condemned by those gathered there.”

From then on, the flag of the first Republic of Armenia would start appearing in the demonstrations for Gharabagh, and the idea of independence would begin taking roots. Two years later, on August 23, 1990, the Republic of Armenia would be reborn instead of the Armenian Socialist Soviet Republic, and the referendum for the independence would be held on September 21, 1991, while the once powerful Soviet Union was collapsing.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Death of Parsegh Ganachian (May 21, 1967)

The best known of Gomidas Vartabed’s “five disciples” and an accomplished composer and choirmaster himself, Parsegh Ganachian is also known as the author of the arrangement for the Armenian national anthem “Mer Hayrenik.”
He was born in Rodosto (Oriental Thrace, today in Turkey) on April 17, 1885. He was the son of a shoemaker, and at the age of three, his family moved to Constantinople, where he received his primary education at the elementary school of Gedikpasha. During the massacres of 1896, the Ganachians moved to Varna, in Bulgaria, where the young Parsegh continued his studies at the local Armenian school and studied music theory, violin, and conducting with violinist Nathan Bey Amirkhanian. The family moved again in 1905, this time to Bucharest (Romania), where Ganachian continued his studies of violin and he also took upon piano studies with composer Georges Bouyouk.
After the restoration of the Ottoman Constitution in 1908, Ganachian returned to Constantinople, where he founded the first Armenian orchestra, “Knar.” His encounter with Gomidas in December 1910 and the concert of the 300-strong “Kusan” choir in early 1911 were crucial for his career. He entered Gomidas choir. The great musician selected eighteen members of the choir as his students, and the number gradually diminished to five, of which one of them was Ganachian.
The future composer was drafted by the Ottoman army in World War I and played in the military orchestra until he was exiled to Diarbekir, where he fell gravely ill. He was sent to Aleppo, and he was there when the armistice was signed in November 1918. Along with other surviving intellectuals, Ganachian gathered young people and organized concerts to the benefit of the exiles, creating a wave of enthusiasm in the audiences. At that time, he composed the “Volunteer March” (Կամաւորական քայլերգ / Gamavoragan kaylerk), better known as “Harach, Nahadag” by the first words of its lyrics, written by poet Kevork Garvarentz. He later went to Cilicia, where he also gave concerts, and then returned to Constantinople.
In the Ottoman capital, the Gomidas students organized a group and presented concerts, created a Gomidas Fund and published Gomidas’ works in three songbooks. They also organized choirs and dealt with the education of the new generation. Ganachian composed his well known “Lullaby” (Օրօր /Oror) for soloist and choir.
The Gomidas’ students were sent to Paris to continue their musical education. Going to the French capital in 1921, Ganachian followed the courses of famous composer René Lenormand (1846-1932). Between 1922 and 1932 he toured Aleppo, Egypt, and Cyprus, forming choirs and giving choral concerts. From 1926-1930 he also taught music at the Melkonian Educational Institute. In 1932 he settled in Beirut, teaching at the College Armenien or Jemaran (later the Neshan Palandjian College). In 1933 he organized and directed the choir “Kusan,” which achieved great success in both Armenian and Lebanese circles from 1933-1946. The choir also had presentations in other Lebanese and Syrian cities, as well as in Egypt. It continued its activities until 1961.
Ganachian maintained and promoted the musical principles enunciated by Gomidas, deeply entrenched in national roots. He composed 25 choral songs and orchestral fragments, as well as around 20 songs for children. He also arranged Armenian and Arabic folk songs. Among his most important compositions are the opera “The Monk,” with Levon Shant’s play The Ancient Gods as its libretto, and the cantata “Nanor,” which depicts the pilgrimage to the monastery of St. Garabed in Moush. He also produced arrangements for the Armenian anthem, as well as the Lebanese and Syrian national anthems (1936).
Ganachian lost his sight in 1945, but his choir continued its performances. His works were partly published in Beirut and Yerevan. Among other awards, he was awarded the National Order of the Cedar (1957) by the Lebanese government for his achievements in the cultural life of Lebanon. 
The composer passed away on May 21, 1967, in Beirut. The Armenian cultural association Hamazkayin established an arts institute carrying his name in Lebanon. An art school also bears Ganachian’s name in Yerevan.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Death of Keri (May 15, 1916)

Keri, a veteran leader of the Armenian liberation movement at the turn of the twentieth century, became also a prominent military figure in the last years of his life.

He was born Arshak Kavafian in 1858 in Erzerum, where he graduated from the local Armenian school. He was twenty-four when he entered the short lived self-defense organization “Defender of the Homeland,” founded in 1882. He adopted the pseudonym Keri, meaning “uncle.” He went to Kaghezvan, in the province of Kars (under Russian rule), in 1889 and unsuccessfully tried twice, in 1889-1890, to cross the Russian-Turkish border into Western Armenia with groups of fedayees. He became a member of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation soon after its foundation in 1890, and was active in the region of Kars from 1891-1892. In 1893 he finally was able to go to Erzerum with a group of freedom fighters, and in 1895 he led an armed group that protected the locals and the prelate during the Hamidian massacres.

In the early 1900s Keri was back in Kars under the command of the local A.R.F. committee. In 1903 he moved to the region of Sasun and participated in the Sasun uprising of 1904. After its defeat, he went to the region of Van and back to Eastern Armenian in 1905.

During the Armeno-Tatar conflict of 1905-1906, Keri was one of the leaders of the self-defense I in the region of Zangezur (Siunik), where he mostly fought in the front of Angeghagot. Afterwards, with fifteen years of fighting experience in both Ottoman and Russian empires, he went to Persia, where he fought alongside Yeprem Khan, one of the leaders of the Persian Constitutional Revolution, from 1908-1912. Yeprem was killed in battle in May 1912 and Kavafian had his killers liquidated, taking the leadership of the Caucasian troops until the end of the conflict late that year. 

After the declaration of World War I, Keri joined the Armenian volunteer movement attached to the Russian army as the commander of the fourth battalion in 1914. He led his battalion in the battle of Sarikamish, between the Ottoman and Russian armies, in late 1914-early 1915. The courage of the Armenian soldiers and Keri’s military genius was crucial in the Russian victory.
Keri's career came to an end on May 15, 1916, when he was on his way to Mosul. Surrounded by Turkish troops and separated from a Russian detachment, Keri led the charge of his soldiers in the middle of the night and was able to break the Turkish encirclement, but he was killed in the battle. His body was transferred to Tiflis and buried in the Armenian cemetery of Khojivank, along two other freedom fighters, Nikol Duman (1867-1914) and Mourad of Sepastia (1874-1918). A procession of 30,000 people participated in the burial. However, the cemetery was mostly leveled during Soviet times, and Keri’s tomb also disappeared.