Thursday, September 22, 2016

Referendum on the Independence of Armenia (September 21-23, 1991)

On August 23, 1990, the “Declaration on the Independence of Armenia” approved by the Supreme Council (former Supreme Soviet) of the Republic of Armenia initiated the process of independence according to the legal framework established by the Soviet Constitution, which was assumed to last up to five years.

Mikhail Gorbachev, the last First Secretary of the Soviet Union, organized a referendum to preserve the Soviet Union, held on March 17, 1991, to ask whether the constituents considered “necessary the preservation of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics as a renewed federation of equal sovereign republics.” Six republics, including Armenia, boycotted the referendum, which nevertheless had almost 70% of approval in the remaining nine republics. On March 1, the Supreme Council had issued a resolution to organize a referendum to allow Armenia to legally secede from the USSR.

The preparations in the spring and summer were not only on a legal and organization level, but also took the form of an ideological struggle. The new democratic authorities led by the Armenian National Movement (ANM), which had come to power in August 1990, struggled both against those forces that considered independence a dangerous and meaningless movement, or pushed for a declaration of independence without referendum. The legalist position of the Armenian authorities and the steps taken towards the establishment of democracy were heavily praised by the international press, since they did not leave room for any opposition from Moscow and ensured an orderly transition.

The month prior to the referendum was heavy in changes that impacted on the public reception: the successful resistance of democratic forces against the failed putsch of August 1991 in Russian that tried to re-establish the old Soviet order; the recognition of the independence of the three Baltic states; the proclamation of independence by the Supreme Councils of various republics, et cetera.

The campaign for the “Yes” multiplied its efforts in the first twenty days of September, and the declarations by public figures and organizations from Catholicos Vazken I to the Writers Union had a cascade effect that countered the anti-propaganda of Moscow agents and anti-independence forces. Levon Ter Petrosian, president of the Supreme Council, issued a declaration on the evening of September 19: “… We are taking a decisive step, which must be followed with the proclamation of the independence of Armenia by the Supreme Council. But we are all aware that independence is not a goal in itself for us. Independence is just a means to reach Freedom, because the supreme goal is freedom. Only the independent statehood of the nation may ensure freedom for each individual and people. We do not go towards independence with sentimentalism; we go with awareness, rationality, and true political calculation . . .” 

The organization of the referendum fell upon the Central Electoral Committee headed by the vice-president of the Supreme Council, Babken Ararktsian. The referendum was orderly held and in a festive environment. On the third Saturday in September 1991, people across Armenia left their homes to do something they had never done before: vote in a referendum. Old and young alike crowded voting stations, determined to make their voices heard. Even newly married couples, still attired in wedding garb, set aside time to cast their vote. The 117 observers invited from more than two dozen countries and international organizations did not report any irregularity and noted that Armenia was the only country holding a legally binding referendum.

The participation in the referendum of September 21 was 95.4 per cent of legally registered voters (2,163,967 people), and 94.39 per cent of them (2,042,627 people or 99.51% of the actual voters) voted “Yes” to the question posed to them: “Do you agree that the Republic of Armenia becomes an independent, democratic state out of the U.S.S.R.?”

Armenia had become independent by the will of its citizens. On Monday, September 23, the results of the referendum were introduced to the session of the Supreme Council, which passed the historical decision:

“Faithful to the declaration on the independence of Armenia, based on the norms of human rights and free determination of nations, with the goal of creating a democratic, juridical society, on the grounds of the results of the referendum held about coming out of the U.S.S.R. on September 21, 1991, the Supreme Council of the Republic of Armenia proclaims the Republic of Armenia an independent state.”

September 21 became, rightfully, a holiday. The Supreme Council addressed the population in the following terms, which were an anticipation of what Armenia would see in the next twenty-five years:

“The return to identity will not be easy. We are just starting to walk on the road of freedom. The path crossed by civilized humankind shows that this is not a matter of one day and, especially, it is not an easy road. Therefore, prudently incorporating the experience of progressive states, we must be able to maintain and enrich ours. Yes, we are going towards the family of the entire humanity, but under our own flag, with our independent statehood and our own profile. New trials wait for us on the road of freedom. This will be a daily test for us. Let’s keep our enthusiasm, but let’s also be filled with realism; let’s be dreamers, but with alert judgment.”

The Soviet Union collapsed barely three months later, on December 25, 1991, and the Republic of Armenia was accepted as a full member of the international community as a sovereign state, joining the United Nations on March 2, 1992. Meanwhile, as a result of the referendum held on December 10, 1991, the Republic of Mountainous Gharabagh had also proclaimed its independence as a second Armenian state, yet unrecognized to this day.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Death of Harry K. Daghlian (September 15, 1945)

A memorial was dedicated to Haroutune Krikor “Harry” Daghlian Jr. in New London, Connecticut, on May 20, 2000, in the presence of his siblings, Edward and Helen Daghlian. Its inscription reads:

A brilliant scientist on the Manhattan

Project. His work involved the determination

of critical mass. During an experiment gone

awry, he became the first American casualty

of the atomic age. Though not in uniform,

he died in service to his country.
Harry Daghlian, Jr. was born in Waterbury, Connecticut, on May 4, 1921. Soon after his birth, the family moved to New London, where he completed his primary and secondary education. His father was an X-ray technician and then supervisor of the X-ray laboratory at the Lawrence Memorial Hospital. His interest in mathematics and physics was fostered by his parents and his uncle, Dr. Garabed K. Daghlian, who was a professor of Physics and Astronomy at Connecticut College, located in the outskirts of New London.

In 1938 the younger Daghlian graduated first in his class of mathematics from Bulkeley High School and at age 17 he was able to begin undergraduate studies at MIT. He would eventually transfer to Purdue University in Indiana because he was fascinated with physics, especially particle physics. He graduated from Purdue in 1942 and began graduate studies in West Lafayette, while becoming a physics instructor.

Robert Oppenheimer, the head of the top secret Manhattan Project, was recruiting scientific personnel for Los Alamos, in a race against time to create an atomic bomb before Germany did. In 1942 physicist Marshall Holloway arrived at Purdue on a secret assignment from the Manhattan Project and worked with a group there, which included three senior level investigators, and a graduate student, Daghlian, who worked with Purdue’s cyclotron to produce deuterons. The Purdue group moved to the Los Alamos laboratory in September 1943, and Daghlian followed them a year later. He first worked as part of the “Water Boiler” group at the Omega Site, and later joined the Critical Assembly Group, also located at Omega. His last major assignment was as an assistant in preparing the plutonium core at the MacDonald Ranch House for the Trinity test in Alamogordo, New Mexico.

The world’s first nuclear weapon was successfully tested in Alamogordo on July 16, 1945. World War II would come to an end almost a month later, on August 15, after two nuclear bombs had been dropped over the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, with an outcome of hundreds of thousands of victims.

Less than a week after the end of the war, while Daghlian was continuing his research at Los Alamos site, he was involved in a deadly accident while doing experiments concerning the critical masses of a sphere of plutonium and the building of a radiation shield with tungsten carbide bricks.

On August 21, after doing two criticality tests in the morning and the afternoon, Daghlian decided to do the third tests in the evening, after hours, for reasons unknown. While close to finishing the construction of the assembly, the addition of the fifth brick showed the possibility that this would be beyond the levels of criticality. He accidentally dropped the brick into the center, triggering a critical reaction. He pushed the brick from the assembly with his right hand, but this was not enough and he was forced to disassemble the pile by hand to stop the reaction.

The young scientist received a dose of 510 rems of neutron radiation while he was solving the potentially very dangerous issue. He was rushed to the hospital, where he immediately showed symptoms of acute radiation poisoning. His right hand began to swell and he developed overwhelming nausea. The high dose received made it impossible to effectively treat him. His symptoms worsened, and after horrifying physical deterioration, he passed away on September 15, 1945, at the age of 24. As his memorial inscription acknowledged fifty-five years later, Harry Daghlian was the first American casualty of the atomic age. 

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Birth of Grikor Suni (September 10, 1876)

Coming from a family of musicians, Grikor Suni was a relevant name in Armenian music in the beginning of the twentieth century, and had an important activity in the United States during the last two decades of his life.

Grikor Mirzaian Suni was born on September 10, 1876, in the village of Getabek, in the region of Gandzak (nowadays Ganja, in Azerbaijan). At the age of two, he and his family moved to Shushi, the capital of Gharabagh. He enrolled in 1883 in a parish school and lost his father in the same year.
He studied from 1891-1895 at the Gevorgian Seminary of Etchmiadzin, where he was a classmate of Gomidas Vartabed, whom he befriended. After graduation, he organized a polyphonic choir and gave a concert of popular songs collected and arranged by him.
After pursuing private lesson in St. Petersburg from 1895-1898, he received a scholarship to attend the state conservatory, majoring in music theory and composition. He had two famed Russian composers, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and Alexander Glazunov, among his teachers. Meanwhile, he was hired as choir director of the local Armenian church, and prepared arrangements of religious music. He graduated in 1904 and published a collection of popular songs in the same year.
In the late 1890s, Suni entered the ranks of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, where he remained until 1910. He composed the lyrics and music of the party’s anthem, Mshag panvor.
In 1905 Suni returned to the Caucasus, and taught music at the Nersisian School of Tiflis until 1908. In 1906 he wrote the operetta Aregnazan, based on lyrics of writer Ghazaros Aghayan, which was staged by the Armenian Theatrical Company of Tiflis.
In October 1908, fearing political persecution in Russia, Suni escaped to the Ottoman Empire with his family. He first settled in Trebizond (Trabzon), and organized concerts of Armenian choral and orchestral music in the region. In 1910 he moved to Erzerum, where he taught at the Sanasarian School during the next four years. He also continued collecting folk songs and dances, and organizing choirs.
At the breakout of World War I, the composer moved back to Tiflis, where he continued teaching and directing. He was also one of the founding members of the Society of Armenian Musicologists. After a sojourn in Tehran (1919-1920), he returned to Tiflis, but his poor health led him to move to Constantinople (1921), where he taught music and choral singing at several schools, and conducted a choir. Months after the Ottoman capital had been occupied by the Kemalist forces, in September 1923 Suni and his family arrived in the United States and settled in Philadelphia.
During the next decade and a half, the composer, who had adopted a pro-Soviet outlook as a result of his ideological affinities, participated actively in the artistic life of the Armenian American community, particularly on the East Coast. He also continued composing. A collection of choir music was published in Yerevan, in 1935.
Grikor Suni passed away in Philadelphia on December 18, 1939. Several fascicles containing songs by him were posthumously published in the 1940s in Philadelphia. One of his grandsons is historian Ronald Grigor Suny, professor of History at the University of Michigan.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Opening of the Getronagan High School (September 1, 1886)

The Getronagan (Central) High School was a project of the Armenian community of Constantinople, which aimed at providing education with a productivity level that would be above the standards of foreign schools.

The project was initiated by Nerses Varjabedian (1837-1884), Armenian Patriarch of Constantinople, in 1882. He invited major donors to the Patriarchate on December 16, 1882, to gather funds for the renovation of the Patriarchate and the establishment of the Getronagan School. Due to his illness, the Patriarch realized that he would not be able to continue these projects, and before his death in 1884, he assigned priority to the establishment of the school with the donation, and postponed the repair work at the Patriarchate. The Patriarch Nerses Varjabedian Foundation was established to realize the project. 

The initial plan was to establish a secondary school in the neighborhood of Ortaköy. The first board of trustees was formed in the beginning of 1885.

The school opened on September 1, 1886, with 64 students as first year students. The opening ceremony was led by Catholicos of All Armenians Makar I (1885-1891) and Armenian Patriarch of Constantinople Harutiun Vehabedian (1885-1888). The five-year program of the school was divided into two phases. In the first three years, they taught Religion, Armenian, Turkish, French, History, Geography, Mathematics, Science, Law, Commerce, Health, Stenography, and Painting. In the last two years, the last four were replaced by Political Economy, Accounting, and Pedagogy. The first faculty included some noted names in the Armenian intelligentsia, such as educator Reteos Berberian, writers Minas Cheraz, Hovsep Shishmanian (Dzerents), Tovmas Terzian, Srabion Hekimian, historian Madatia Karakashian, Gabriel Noradungian (future Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Ottoman Empire), etcetera.
The school population had grown to 148 students when the class of 1891 (18 students) graduated.  The first principal was Minas Cheraz, who held the position until 1889. He was succeeded in 1890 by Harutiun Mosdichian, who introduced changes to the educational system, such as the opening of the departments of Science and Literature. His tenure ended in 1896, when the school was closed. It was reopened in 1897, with an additional elementary school that served as free preparatory school for those students coming from the provinces.

After a period of decadence from 1897-1909, coincidental with the tyrannical period of Sultan Abdul Hamid II, the Getronagan School recovered its past brilliance under principals Mardiros Nalbandian (1909-1913), Kegham Kavafian (1917-1927), and Bedros Adruni (1927-1933).  Intellectuals like Gomidas Vartabed, Levon Shant, Vahan Tekeyan, Gostan Zarian, and others taught in the school. In 1929 the primary school was closed and replaced by a one-year preparatory section. From 1935-1951 the lyceum section of another venerable school, the Essayan School, was joined with the Getronagan.
The school had famed teachers, but also remarkable graduates, including linguist Hrachia Ajarian, writers Arshag Tchobanian, Misak Medzarents, Vahan Tekeyan, Yerukhan, Hagop Siruni, Nigoghos Sarafian, Aram Haigaz, actor Armen Armenian, Armenologist Haig Berberian, photographer Ara Guler, pianist Sahan Arzruni.

The Getronagan Alumni Union was founded in 1947 and organizes cultural activities, which also contribute both materially and morally to the welfare of the school. It has branches in France, the United States, and Canada. As of 2001, the Getronagan High School had 182 students.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Death of Roupen Sevag (August 26, 1915)

Two of the most gifted poets of their generation, Taniel Varoujan and Roupen Sevag, were almost the same age (Varoujan was a year older), and were friends in life and in death.

Roupen Chilingirian was born in Silivri, a city in Eastern Thrace (European Turkey) 37 miles from Constantinople, on February 28, 1885. He belonged to a well-to-do family, and had two sisters and three brothers. He studied at the local Askanazian School and then went to the American lyceum of Bardizag from 1899-1901. Then he entered the renowned Berberian School of Scutari, in Constantinople, which he graduated with highest grades in 1905. Reteos Berberian, a famous pedagogue and founding director of the school, noticed his interest in science. He advised him to go to Switzerland and pursue a career in medicine. Thus, he entered the medical school of the University of Lausanne, where he studied for the next six years. 

In 1905 the medical student published his first poem in the newspaper “Masis.” Two years later, he adopted the pseudonym Roupen Sevag (sevag = “black eyes”) and published his first piece in prose.
In the same year (1907) he met Helene (Jannie) Apell, a seventeen-year-old student at the girls’ lyceum of Lausanne, who was from an influential German military family. They fell in love, but they had to overcome the resistance of both of their families. Finally, they married in Lausanne in 1910, while the religious ceremony was held in the Armenian Church of Paris. 

Sevag published prolifically in the period between 1908-1914 in newspapers and literary journals of Constantinople and Smyrna, as well as in the publications of the Mekhitarist Fathers of Venice. During a vacation in Constantinople, he founded the short-lived newspaper Surhantag (1908) with a group of friends. He was also involved in political activities, and became a member of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation. In 1910 he published his first book of poetry, The Red Book, where the echoes of the Adana massacres of 1909 were noticeable. He planned to gather many other lyrical and patriotic poems in three more books, but this would never happen.

From 1911-1914 Sevag worked as an assistant physici
an at a hospital and a clinic in Lausanne. His medical experience would lead him to publish a series of fine short stories under the general title of Pages from the Doctor’s Journal, which would be posthumously published. His poetry and prose made him well-known in Armenian literary circles.
He settled with his wife and their two-year old son Levon, in Constantinople in May 1914. Their daughter Shamiram would be born a few months later. He was conscripted in November 1914, when the Ottoman Empire entered World War I, and began to serve as a military physician in Chanakkale and Istanbul. After the roundup of April 24, 1915, he was arrested on June 22 and exiled to Chankiri, where he arrived six days later. His wife, supported by her parents in Switzerland, started a frantic round of correspondence and interviews with the German embassy and the Ottoman authorities to secure his liberation. Efforts by the family and the embassy, which were a matter of discussion between Germany and the Ottoman government from July-August 1915, would be fruitless.

When in Cankiri, Sevag continued his medical activities. He cured the daughter of a Turkish chete (bandit), Arabaji Ismail. The latter asked him to save himself by converting to Islam and marrying his daughter, but Sevag refused the offer.

On August 26, 1915, Roupen Sevag, Taniel Varoujan, and three other prisoners who had been victims of the roundup by sheer chance were dispatched to Ayash. Six hours away from Cankiri, in a place called Tuney, a group of Kurdish bandits organized by the local secretary of the Committee of Union and Progress, Oghuz, savagely killed the five unfortunate prisoners. Documentation from the Ottoman Interior Ministry, recently published by historian Taner Akcam, shows that Talaat Pasha himself was involved, if not the killing itself, but the subsequent release of the criminals and the care for their welfare. 

The efforts of Janni Chilingirian-Apell to save her husband had not been welcome either by the Ottoman government or, more importantly, the German embassy. On September 11 the Interior Ministry conveyed information about the murder to the embassy and suggested that Sevag’s widow be sent to Germany with her children. They actually left for Switzerland. She continued to pursue justice, but to no avail. Her final letter to the Germany embassy from Lausanne, on November 27, 1915, contained a strongly-worded appeal for the crimes that were committed against Armenians and her husband: “Try to save whatever you can save by using the most definite resolve. If you do not make use of every possibility within your possession, the blood of innocent women, children, the sickly, and the elderly will ascend to the heavens and damn Germany.” Her anger against the betrayal of her country was so deep that she would refuse to teach her children a word of German, and she would keep and pass Roupen Sevag’s memory to them until her death in 1967. Levon Chilingirian passed away at the age of 93, in 2005, and Shamiram Folco-Sevag is still alive at the ripe age of 102. 

In 1942 the editor of the journal Sovetakan Grakanutiun of Yerevan, Rouben Zarian, published three poems of an eighteen-year-old unknown poet, Paruyr Ghazarian. In memory of Roupen Sevag, he decided to use his last name and create a pseudonym for the promising poet. The career of one of the luminaries of Soviet Armenian poetry, Paruyr Sevak (1924-1971), had started.

In the 1980s Roupen Sevag’s nephew, Hovhannes Chilingirian, founded the Roupen Sevag house-museum in Nice (France), which was moved to Holy Etchmiadzin in 2013. A school was named after Sevag in Yerevan (1995). 

Previous entries in “This Week in Armenian History” are on the Prelacy’s web site (

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Death of Sergey Mergelyan (August 20, 2008)

Sergey Mergelyan was an outstanding, world-famous mathematician, who established the grounds for the development of information technology in Armenia.

He was born in Simferopol, Crimea (then Russia), on May 19, 1928. His father Mkrtich Mergelov was born in Akhalkalak (Javakhk), and his mother Ludmila was Russian. Mergelov founded a factory of paper in 1936, but he was exiled to Siberia with his family for engaging in private economic activities. His wife and son were somehow able to return after a year of exile. Later, he was also freed and, before the German attack on the Soviet Union in June 1941, he met by chance Kristapor Toumanian, deputy commissar (minister) of Industrial Cooperation of Armenia, who suggested that he come to Armenia and found a factory for the production of cartons. In late 1941 the Mergelovs moved to Yerevan.

It was a completely foreign environment for the Russian-educated young Sergey, who knew no Armenian and was unaware of Armenian culture. But he went on to become a perfect speaker of the language, with deep feeling for the culture of his people. Years later, his surname would become Mergelyan.

He showed his precocious talent in school years. He won the republican Olympics of mathematics and physics when an eighth grader at Mravian School. Afterwards, he rendered the exams for ninth and tenth grades, and entered the School of Physics and Mathematics of Yerevan State University in 1944, at the age of sixteen.

He passed the first year and most of the second year courses in one year, and started attending third year courses. Mergelyan graduated in three and a half years, instead of the normal five, and in 1947 he was sent to Moscow for graduate work at the Steklov Mathematics Institute of the Academy of Sciences of the Soviet Union (now the Russian Academy of Sciences). Just two years later, on February 19, 1949, he defended his Ph.D. dissertation on the approximation theory in mathematical functions. The scientific council of the institute assessed it as a study of exceptional value, and unanimously awarded him both Ph.D. and Doctor of Science degrees. The acquisition of the highest degree of Doctor of Science at the age of twenty-one became a record, unbeaten to this day, in the former USSR and present-day Russia.

In 1951 Mergelyan developed a powerful method that allowed him to demonstrate his famous theorem of approximation by polynomials (the “Mergelyan theorem”), giving the ultimate solution to a chain of studies started in 1885 by mathematicians Karl Weierstrass and Carl Runge. Later works would include theory of functions of complex variables, theory of approximation, and theory of potential and harmonic functions. His work would lay the ground for the modern complex approximation theory.

Mergelyan won the USSR State Prize in 1952, and the following year he established another unbroken record as he became a corresponding member of the Soviet and the Armenian Academies of Sciences at the age of twenty-five. This was an honor, whether in Russia or in Armenia, that many remarkable scientists were unable to achieve in their entire lifetime. The young mathematician was a poster boy for propaganda of Soviet science abroad during the next decades.

In 1956 Mergelyan became a full member of the Academy of Sciences of Armenia and the founding director of the Yerevan Scientific Research Institute of Mathematical Machines (popularly known as the Mergelyan Institute), an important research facility at Soviet level and a pioneer of the informational technology and software industry in Armenia. At the same time, he taught at Yerevan State University and at the Yerevan Pedagogical Institute. In 1961 he moved to Moscow as deputy academician-secretary of the Mathematics Institute of the Soviet Academy of Sciences, where he created and directed the section of complex analysis until 1970.

He returned to Armenia as vice-president of the Armenian Academy of Sciences (1971-1974), and was also chair of Numerical Analysis at Yerevan State University (1972-1979). However, envy and slander would pursue him for the next fifteen years. He was demoted to director of the Computing Center of the Academy (1974-1979), and sector head of the Mathematics Institute (1979-1982). In the end, he would be designated rector of the Pedagogical Institute of Kirovakan (nowadays Vanadzor) from 1982-1986, a minor position in the third city of Armenia that was unbecoming of his status. In 1986 he left Armenia and returned to Russia, where he taught at Moscow State University and worked at the Mathematics Institute.

In the 1990s Mergelyan received an invitation to teach in the United States, first at Brown University and then at Cornell University. After a three-year stint, he returned to Moscow, but in the end he came back to America in 1996 with his wife Lidia, and settled in Sacramento. There was a failed attempt to have him return to Armenia in the late 1990s; his wife was already gravely ill with cancer and needed constant medical oversight, and the harsh experience of the 1970-1980s had deeply scarred the elder scientist.

Mergelyan’s wife passed away in 2002, and the mathematician moved to Los Angeles. On his eightieth birthday, he received the medal “Mesrop Mashtots” from the government of the Republic of Armenia in May 2008, and his jubilee was celebrated by the Academy of Sciences, a few days later. These final acts of recognition came in the last stage of his life. He died on August 20, 2008. According to his last will, he was buried at the Novodevichie Memorial Cemetery in Moscow, Russia, along his wife and mother. His legacy lives in the generations of students formed by him, and in the institute founded by him in Yerevan, popularly known as “Mergelyan’s Institute,” although it does not officially bear his name.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Birth Of Vahan Cheraz (August 16, 1886)

Vahan Cheraz in scout uniform
Armenians had an important role in the development of sports in the last years of the Ottoman Empire. Among those pioneers was Vahan Cheraz, who later became one of the founding members of the scout movement of the Armenian General Union of Physical Education (Հայ Մարմնակրթական Ընդհանուր Միութիւն), better known by its initials as Homenetmen (Հ.Մ.Ը.Մ.).

Cheraz was born in Constantinople on August 16, 1886. His father Kaspar, a lawyer, was brother of a famous writer and public figure, Minas Cheraz (1852-1929), who had been a member of the Armenian delegation to the Congress of Berlin in 1878, accompanying Khrimian Hayrig.

He first studied at the French religious school of St. Benoit, in the neighborhood of Pera (Beyoglu). In 1901 he went to London, where he lived with his uncle Minas and studied for four years. He returned to Constantinople in 1905 and graduated from the Getronagan Armenian School in 1906. In 1905 Shavarsh Krisian, a pioneer of Armenian sports, had founded the first Armenian soccer team, Baltalimanı (many such teams would be named after Armenian districts). Upon his return, Cheraz had brought a soccer ball and founded a soccer team with the students of the Getronagan School, which was called “Santral” (Central, the French translation of the school’s name). In 1906 he founded another team called Proti. In 1908 both teams merged into the “Tork” team (named after a pagan Armenian god of strength), under his leadership. By 1911 the number of Armenian soccer teams had become 65.
“Tork” soccer team in 1911. Vahan Cheraz is pictured sitting in the middle.

Meanwhile, he worked from 1906-1911 as an inspector at the Constantinople port. He served in the Ottoman army from 1911-1912, and then he left the capital for Europe. He left for Paris and worked for an antiquarian until 1914. He later moved to Marseilles, where his uncle lived, and after the beginning of World War I, he traveled to Tiflis, where he enrolled in the first battalion of Armenian volunteers, under the command of Antranik, and fought in Persia from 1915-1916. After the dissolution of the volunteer groups, Cheraz went to work in the orphanages of the Russian Union of Cities, in Sarikamish and Erzerum, until 1917. 

When the October Revolution broke out in November 1917, the Russian troops withdrew from the Caucasian front. Cheraz returned to military service as a member of Antranik’s reorganized battalion and fought in the front in 1917-1918, and later in Persia and Zangezur in 1918-1919.

He became seriously ill at the beginning of 1919 and, after almost two months of illness, he went to Constantinople in search of medical treatment. He recovered and became scout head of the recently founded Homenetmen. At the same time, he worked as a translator for the British general headquarters, since Constantinople was under Allied occupation from 1919-1922.

Upon the invitation of the government of the Republic of Armenia, Homenetmen was officially invited to share their knowledge and expertise in sports and scouting. The Executive Committee sent three members, Vahan Cheraz, Dikran Khoyan (later pastor of St. Stephen Church in Boston and Soorp Khatch Church in Washington), and Onnig Yazmajian to Yerevan.  Their successful efforts were short-lived. After the establishment of the Soviet regime, Homenetmen was banned in the country.

In September 1920 the Armenian-Turkish war started, and Cheraz enlisted in the Armenian army. Later, he participated in the February 1921 uprising against the Soviet regime and settled in Alexandropol (later Leninakan, now Gumri). From 1921-1924 he worked for the Near East Relief (known in Armenia as Amerkom, abbreviation for Amerikian komite, “American Committee”) in different capacities, including head of the scouting branch in Alexandropol. 

He married a survivor of the Armenian Genocide, Vartanush Antreasian, whose first husband, a school principal had been burned alive, along with his students. Cheraz’s tragedy started a few days after his marriage, in November 1924, when he was arrested by the NKVD (predecessor of the KGB) on trumped-up charges of being a spy for England and the United States. He was sentenced to three years of exile in Siberia, but freed after five months thanks to an amnesty. He returned to Armenia, but could not find work, and after a short stint again at the Near East Relief, he remained unemployed.

He was arrested again, in September 1927, along with other Armenian employees of the Near East Relief, and imprisoned in Tiflis. He was charged with spying and being a member of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation. He denied both charges, since he had never belonged to a political party. However, the interrogator came to the following “conclusion”: “to recognize [Cheraz] as an element socially dangerous and extremely suspicious in espionage.” On January 9, 1928, he was sentenced to death. Days later, before parting ways with his cellmates, he told them: “Farewell, friends. I know why they are taking me. It doesn’t matter, let them eat my head. But be sure that victory is ours. Don’t despair, remain always brave. Long live free Armenia, long live the Armenian people. Don’t forget me.” He left behind his wife and a one-year-old daughter. His wife Vartanush would be killed in the prison of Gumri during the Stalinist purges of 1937, at the age of 42, falsely accused of being an A.R.F. member and holding meetings of activists at her home, but, essentially, for having been Cheraz’s wife and having a brother abroad. Their ten-year-old orphaned daughter was adopted by her uncle Vartkes Antreasian, who changed her last name, fearing persecution. Buragn Antreasian-Cheraz currently lives in Yerevan.

Today, a street in Gumri and a sports school are named after Vahan Cheraz. A plaque on the front of the city’s Tumanian library says: “Vahan Cheraz, founder of the scout movement in Armenia, lived in this house from 1925-1927."