Monday, May 15, 2017

Birth of Arman Manookian (May 15, 1904)

The Hawaiian scenes of Arman Manookian, an Armenian-American painter with a premature and tragic end, have been rediscovered in the last years.



The elder of three siblings, he was born Tateos Manookian in Constantinople on May 15, 1904. His father Arshag was a printer and publisher of an Armenian newspaper. 


Tateos was a student at the St. Gregory the Illuminator school in Constantinople, whose principal was poet Taniel Varoujan. On the fatidic night of April 24, 1915, Varoujan was arrested (he would be killed on the road of exile months later), and Arshag Manookian and his brother-in-law hid in the family’s print shop to save their lives. Young Tateos’ father somehow fled the Ottoman Empire, only to die in France two years later during the epidemic of the Spanish flu. The Armenians of Constantinople lived in an atmosphere of terror until the end of World War I, with arrests, executions, partial exiles, and rumors and threats of general deportation hanging over their heads. The future painter would spend some time in Egypt during those years. His mother managed to sell the print shop and gave a large amount of money to her sixteen-year-old son, allowing him to leave for the United States.

Tateos Manookian arrived at Ellis Island in April 1920. He went to live with a relative of his mother in Providence, where he studied at the Rhode Island College of Design from 1920-1922. His talent was already apparent, as a state scholarship paid for his tuition to take classes in drawing. In 1923 he enlisted in the Marine Corps with a new name, Arman Theodore Manookian, and claimed American citizenship, which he actually did not have. 

In 1924 Private Manookian was assigned as a clerk to Major Edwin North McClellan, a Marine historian, who had worked for the previous five years preparing a history of the Marine Corps during World War I. History of U. S. Marines and Origin of Sea Soldiers, never published (the only extant complete copy is kept at the New York Public Library), would be eventually completed with more than a thousand pages of text and eight hundred pages of notes, and over a hundred illustrations by Manookian, who also started publishing some of his work in magazines. 

In 1925 McClellan, who was a mentor of sorts during their time together, was dispatched to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and took his talented clerk with him. The archipelago fired Manookian’s creativity, who transformed himself from an illustrator into an artist. His approach to Hawaiian culture was bound with idealization—“no more intriguing artists’ paradise than these mid-Pacific gardens of the Gods,” he stated in 1927—as shown in the historical and mythological images that he created to accompany McClellan’s pieces.

“Hawaiian Boy and Girl” (collection of John and Patsy Dilks)
In 1927 Manookian was honorably discharged as a corporal and decided to stay in Honolulu, while McClellan was called to the mainland and then to Nicaragua. The painter had found work as an illustrator with the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, and would continue working with the magazine Paradise of the Pacific. In the almost six years that he lived in Honolulu he produced paintings, magazine illustrations and, most impressively, murals that “were completely unlike anything that Honolulu audiences had previously seen,” in the words of art historian David Forbes. His use of color was particularly original. Another art historian, John Seed, who has researched Manookian’s life and art in depth, has noted: “His bond with Hawaii suggests a deep longing to be connected to a place and culture, perhaps as a replacement for what had been lost.”
"Men in an Outrigger Canoe Headed for Shore"


After the stock market crash of 1929, the Hawaiian economy declined, with tourism and construction slowing down. Manookian’s workload also went down. In late 1930 he met Cyril Lemmon, a young architect who dabbled in painting. They started working together, and Manookian moved to the home of his new friend, who had recently married.

He continued working until the end of his life, but he was emotionally fragile. The years of terror during the genocide and his uprootedness, as well as his separation from his mother and siblings, who had been able to move to Switzerland in the late 1920s, took its toll. On May 10, 1931, while the Lemmons and a few friends were playing the parlor game “Murder,” Arman Manookian drank poison and stumbled in the kitchen, never to regain consciousness.

A memorial exhibit for the unfortunate painter was held at the Honolulu Academy in the fall of 1933. Manookian’s works are held in several museums, and only 31 of his oil paintings are known to exist. They have become very valuable in the last few years, with several exhibitions held in Hawaii, where he was acknowledged as “Hawaii’s Van Gogh” in the House of Representatives resolution that recognized the Armenian Genocide.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Death of Martiros Sarian (May 5, 1972)

Martiros Sarian, one of the two names of Soviet Armenian culture who earned the title of Varbed (Վարպետ “Master”), was the founder of a modern Armenian national school of painting. 


He was born into an Armenian family in Nakhichevan-on-Don (now part of Rostov-on-Don, Russia) on February 28, 1880. In 1895, aged 15, he completed the Nakhichevan school. He received training in painting at the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture (1897–1903) and then worked in the studios of the noted painters Konstantin Korovin and Valentin Serov. Soon Sarian became a member of a group of Moscow symbolist artists, and he began exhibiting his brightly colored paintings. He had works shown at the Blue Rose Exhibit in Moscow.


He first traveled to Armenia in 1901, visiting the regions of Lori and Shirak, the convents of Etchmiadzin, Haghpat, and Sanahin, Yerevan, and Lake Sevan. His first landscapes depicting Armenia (1902-1903) were highly praised in the Moscow press.

In 1904-1907 Sarian created the watercolor series "Fairy Tales and Dreams." Some pieces of this cycle were exhibited first at the Crimson Rose exposition in 1904 in Saratov and later at the sensational Blue Rose exposition in 1907 in Moscow. Starting from 1908, Sarian completely replaced watercolor with tempera. During this period, he took an active part in the exhibitions organized by the magazine Zolotoye Runo

From 1910 to 1914 he traveled extensively in Turkey, Egypt, northwestern Armenia, and Persia. These trips inspired a series of large, fresco-like works in which he attempted to communicate the sensuousness of the Middle Eastern landscapes. He also incorporated into a number of his paintings the Persian motifs he had seen in the Middle East. Like many Russian artists of the early decades of the 20th century, Sarian was greatly influenced by impressionism. He was also interested in the paintings of Henri Matisse and Paul Gauguin, as can be seen in his use of areas of flat, simplified color.

In 1915 he went to Etchmiadzin to help refugees who had fled from the Armenian Genocide. In 1916 he settled in Tiflis (now Tbilisi) where he founded the Society of Armenian Artists with fellow painters Yeghishe Tateosian, Vardges Sureniants, and Panos Terlemezian. 

He married Lusik Aghayan, daughter of writer Ghazaros Aghayan, in 1917. The newly married couple moved to Nor Nakhichevan, where Sarian continued painting. In 1920 he became director of the museum of Armenian Folklore in Rostov. In 1921 he moved to Yerevan with his wife and two children, Sarkis (future literary scholar) and Ghazar (future composer). He organized and became director of the museum of archaeology, ethnography, and fine arts (now the National Gallery of Armenia). He also participated in the establishment of the Yerevan Art College and the Artists Union of Armenia. In 1922 Sarian designed the coat-of-arms and the flag of Soviet Armenia, as well as the curtain of the First Drama Theater in Yerevan. In 1924 his works participated in the 14th Bienale of Venice. He was awarded the title of People’s Artist of Armenia in 1925.

 From 1926–1928 he lived and worked in Paris, but 40 paintings, most of his work from this period, were destroyed in a fire on board the boat on which he returned to Armenia, where he lived until his death. He spent most of his career painting scenes, especially landscapes of the homeland, often employing the impressionist technique of vivid, dappled color to capture the effects of light. He also painted many floral still lifes, as well as portraits.

In the difficult years of the 1930s, he was criticized as a formalist, since his work did not fit the state-sponsored artistic ideology of socialist realism. Sarian’s creative work was removed from the context of world modern art. A dozen of his portraits, which represented figures who were victims of the Stalinist purges, were destroyed in 1937. His famous portrait of Yeghishe Charents, however, survived. Nevertheless, he managed to continue his work and come out of this period unscathed. In 1941 he won the State Prize for his design of Alexander Spendiarian’s opera, Almast. 

Portrait of Yeghishe Charents, by Martiros Sarian


His work was subjected to new official criticism after World War II. Nevertheless, artistic freedom was more or less regained after the death of Stalin (1953), and Sarian returned to his traditional themes. His series of landscapes “My Homeland” won the State Prize in 1961. His 85th birthday was widely marked, and a documentary on his life and work was released in 1966, when he also obtained the State Prize of Armenia for the third time. The Martiros Sarian house-museum was opened in 1967, when his memoirs were also published. He was also elected as a deputy to the USSR Supreme Soviet several times and awarded the Order of Lenin three times, as well as other awards and medals. He was a member of the USSR Art Academy (1974) and the Armenian Academy of Sciences (1956).

Sarian continued his creative work almost until the end of his days. He passed away in Yerevan on May 5, 1972. He was buried at the Gomidas Pantheon, next to Gomidas Vartabed.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Birth of Henry Morgenthau, Sr. (April 26, 1856)

Righteous men were a plenty during the years of the Armenian Genocide, and Henry Morgenthau, Sr., Ambassador of the United States to the Ottoman Empire, was the prominent American name among them.
Morgenthau was born in Mannheim (Germany) on April 26, 1856. He was the ninth of eleven children to a Jewish family. His father, Lazarus Morgenthau, was a prosperous manufacturer and merchant, who bought tobacco from the United States and sold it back as cigars. However, the American Civil War hit him severely: German cigar exports ceased after a tariff on tobacco imports was set in 1862. Four years later, the family migrated to New York. Despite his father’s unsuccessful attempts to re-establish himself in business, Henry Morgenthau—who knew no English on his arrival at the age of ten—graduated from City College in 1874 and from Columbia Law School in 1876. Beginning a career as a successful lawyer, he would later make a substantial fortune in real estate investments. He married Josephine Sykes in 1882 and had four children. He served as a leader of the Reform Jewish community in New York.
In 1911 Morgenthau, then 55, left business to enter public service. He became an early supporter of President Woodrow Wilson’s election campaign in 1912. He had hoped for a cabinet post, but Wilson offered him the position of ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, with the assurance that it “was the point at which the interest of American Jews in the welfare of the Jews of Palestine is focused, and it is almost indispensable that I have a Jew in that post.” The encouragement of his friend, Rabbi Stephen Wise, led him to reconsider his decision and accept the offer, although Morgenthau was no Zionist himself.
The United States remained neutral after the beginning of World War I, and since the Allies had withdrawn their diplomatic missions following the outbreak of hostilities, both the American embassy and Morgenthau himself additionally represented their interests in Constantinople. American consuls in different parts of the Empire, from Trebizond to Aleppo, reported abundantly about the Armenian plight and documented the entire process of the Armenian Genocide. Morgenthau continuously kept the U.S. government informed of the ongoing annihilation and asked for its intervention. His telegram to the State Department, on July 16, 1915, described the massacres as a “campaign of race extermination.” He intervened upon the Young Turk leaders to stop the mass killings, although unsuccessfully. His friendship with Adolph Ochs, publisher of The New York Times, ensured a wide coverage of the Armenian atrocities throughout 1915.
Morgenthau reached out to his friend Cleveland H. Dodge, a prominent American businessman, who was instrumental in the foundation of the American Committee for Armenian and Syrian Relief in 1915 that would later become Near East Relief (nowadays the Near East Foundation). Finding “intolerable” his “further daily association with men . . . who were still reeking with the blood of nearly a million human beings,” as he wrote in his memoirs, he returned to the United States in February 1916 and campaigned to raise awareness and funds for the survivors, resigning from his position as ambassador two months later. In 1918 he published his memoirs, including his account of the genocide, as Ambassador Morgenthau’s Story (published in Great Britain as The Secrets of the Bosphorus).
He attended the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, and worked with various war-related charitable bodies. He also headed the American fact-finding mission to Poland in 1919 and was the American representative at the Geneva Conference in 1933. He died on November 25, 1946, in New York City, at the age of 90, following a cerebral hemorrhage, and was buried in Hawthorne, New York. Morgenthau was the father of Henry Morgenthau, Jr., Secretary of the Treasury during the administration of Franklin Roosevelt, and the grandfather of Robert Morgenthau, long-time District Attorney in Manhattan, and historian Barbara Tuchman. He appeared in “Ravished Armenia,” the film based on the memoirs of survivor Aurora Mardiganian, commissioned by the Near East Relief. One of his dialogues with Talaat is portrayed in the forthcoming film The Promise. 

Friday, April 14, 2017

Birth of Arnold J. Toynbee (April 14, 1889)

Arnold Joseph Toynbee was an influential British historian, widely read and discussed in the 1940s and 1950s due to his prodigious output of books, papers, articles, speeches, and presentations, especially his twelve-volume A Study of History. He also had an important role in the early documentation and characterization of the Armenian Genocide.
Toynbee was born in London, the descendant of a family with generations of intellectuals. His sister Jocelyn was an archaeologist and art historian. He won scholarships to Winchester College and Balliol College in Oxford (1907-1911), and studied briefly at the British School at Athens. He became a tutor and fellow in ancient history at Balliol College in 1912. A year later, he would marry Rosalind Murray, daughter of historian Gilbert Murray. They would have three children. In 1915 he began working for the Political Intelligence Department of the British Foreign Office. From 1915-1917 he would write nine books, mostly about German and Turkish atrocities, the first of them being his survey of the Armenian Genocide, Armenian Atrocities: The Murder of a Nation (1915), based on much of the documentation collected in The Treatment of the Armenians in the Ottoman Empire (1916), which he co-edited with Viscount James Bryce. The information provided by credible eyewitness accounts of Armenian persecutions, arrests, murders and deportations withstood modern historical scrutiny, despite futile attempts by the Young Turks and their German allies—followed by contemporary denialist writers—to dismiss it as wartime propaganda.
Toynbee served as a delegate to the Paris Peace Conference in 1919. His support for Greece and hostility to the Ottoman Empire during the war earned him an appointment to the Koraes Chair of Modern Greek and Byzantine Studies at King’s College. He became the correspondent for the Manchester Guardian during the Greco-Turkish War of 1921-1922, which resulted in the publication of The Western Question in Greece and Turkey. His change of heart, accusing the Greek military government of massacres and atrocities in temporarily occupied Turkish territory, was followed by enmity from wealthy Greeks who had endowed his chair, and he was forced to resign in 1924.

Toynbee became research professor of international history at the London School of Economics (1925-1956) and director of studies (1925-1939) and director of foreign research (1939-1943) at the Royal Institute of International Affairs, which conducted research for the British Foreign Office. During World War II, he served as director of the research department of the Foreign Office (1943-1946). In 1946 he divorced his wife and married his long-time research assistant, Veronica Boulter.

Meanwhile, he had started publishing his master work, A Study of History. Three volumes appeared in 1934 and three more in 1939. The one-volume abridgement of the first six volumes, published in 1946, sold over 300,000 copies in the United States alone, and the ten-volume edition sold more than 7,000 sets by 1955 in the U.S. Two more volumes would be published until 1961. Toynbee was featured on the cover of Time in 1947, with an article depicting his multivolume study as “the most provocative work of historical theory written in England since Karl Marx’s Capital.” According to historian Michael Lang, “For much of the twentieth century though, Toynbee was perhaps the world’s most read, translated, and discussed living scholar. His output was enormous, hundreds of books, pamphlets, and articles. Of these, scores were translated into thirty different languages. . . . Among intellectuals, response to his work was de rigueur. Indeed, the critical reaction to Toynbee constitutes a veritable intellectual history of the midcentury: we find, for example, Aron, Frye, Huxley, Kennan, Kracauer, Kroeber, Morgenthau, Mumford, Niebuhr, Ortega y Gasset, Popper, Ricoeur, and Sweezy, as well as a long list of the period’s most important historians, Beard, Braudel, Collingwood, and so on.”

After 1960, Toynbee's ideas faded both in academia and the media, to the point of seldom being cited today. However, his work continued to be referenced by classical historians.
He continued producing books and memoirs in the 1960s and 1970s. In 1972 he published, in collaboration, a new one-volume abridgement of the entire Study of History. Meanwhile, after four decades of silence, he spoke in his two memoirs, Acquaintances (1967) and Experiences (1969), of his views regarding Turks and Turkey, but he also became one of the first worldwide known historians to unambiguously characterize the Armenian annihilation that he had documented fifty years before as genocide. He repeated his qualification in his posthumously published Mankind and Mother Earth: A Narrative History of the World (1976).

Toynbee had written in The Treatment of the Armenians in the Ottoman Empire (1916): “In one way or another, the Central Government enforced and controlled the execution of the scheme, as it alone had originated the conception of it; and the Young Turkish Ministers and their associates at Constantinople are directly and personally responsible, from beginning to end, for the gigantic crime that devastated the Near East in 1915.” In Acquaintances (1967), he underscored: ''They therefore decided to deport the Armenians from the war-zone, and this, in itself, might pass for a legitimate security measure. In similar circumstances, other governments have taken similar action. ... In Turkey, however, in 1915, the Ottoman Armenian deportees were not only robbed; the deportations were deliberately conducted with a brutality that was calculated to take the maximum of lives en route.
“This was the C.U.P.'s crime; and my study of it left an impression on my mind that was not effaced by the still more coldblooded genocide, on a far larger scale, that was committed in the Second World War by the Nazis. ... My study of the genocide that had been committed in Turkey in 1915 brought home to me the reality of Original Sin.'' 
The British historian passed away on October 22, 1975, at the age of 86.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Birth of Levon Shant (April 6, 1869)

Levon Shant was perhaps the most important playwright in the history of Armenian theater, but he was primarily a seasoned and accomplished educator. He was also an active participant in the Armenian liberation movement. 

Shant was born Levon Nahashbedian on April 6, 1869, in Constantinople. He lost his parents at an early age and adopted the last name Seghposian after his father Seghpos. He attended the Armenian school of Scutari (now Uskudar) until 1884, and then the Gevorgian seminary at Holy Etchmiadzin for the next seven years. He returned to Constantinople in 1891, where he worked as a teacher. He published his first literary piece in the local daily Hairenik in the same year. In 1893 he departed to Germany, where he studied science, child psychology, education, literature, and history in the universities of Leipzig, Jena, and Munich. Meanwhile, he started his literary career with the poem The Mountain Girl (1892), published under the pen name Levon Shant (shant/շանթ means “lightning”), but soon shifted to a series of novellas (Dreamlike Days and The Outsiders, 1894; Vergine, 1896; The Return, 1896, and The Actress, 1898). After finishing his university studies in 1899, he taught for more than a decade at the Gayanian Girls School in Tiflis and the Diocesan School of Yerevan. He became a member of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation in the 1890s.
The turn of the century brought in him a different literary persona: the playwright. He wrote his first play, The Egoist, in 1901, followed by For Someone Else (1903), and On the Road (1904). After this string of plays inspired in contemporary life, he turned to the historical past and wrote his masterpiece Ancient Gods (1909), published in 1912, which made a huge impact on the Armenian literary world when it was premiered in Tiflis (1913). This was the first of several successful historical dramas he would write over the next two decades: The Emperor (1916), The Enchained One (1918-1921), The Princess of the Fallen Fortress (1922), Oshin the Bailiff (1932).
In Tiflis, Shant participated actively in the gatherings of the literary circle “Vernadun” (Վերնատուն), held at the attic of poet Hovhannes Tumanian’s home, and was in close contact with other writers of the group, like Ghazaros Aghayan, Avetik Isahakian, and Derenik Demirjian. In 1909 he published, together with Hovhannes Tumanian and Stepan Lisitsian, the series of Armenian textbooks Lusaber.
In 1911 he returned to his birthplace, Constantinople, and taught at the Central (Getronagan) and Esayan schools until 1914. By that time he was already married and moved with his family to Lausanne in Switzerland. He returned to the Caucasus in 1915 to supervise the publication of textbooks, but was unable to go back to Europe and remained in Tiflis until 1917, when he returned to Switzerland. However, after the independence of Armenia, he returned to Yerevan, where he became a vice-president of the Parliament of the first Republic. In April 1920 he led a delegation to Moscow to carry out negotiations with the Soviet regime, which would fail in the end. He was imprisoned by the new government after the Soviet takeover, but freed following the uprising of February 1921. In April 1921, after the end of the uprising, he left Armenia.
For the next thirty years of his life, Shant would live abroad, first in Paris, then in Cairo, and finally in Beirut. He wrote political essays, like Nationhood as the Basis of Human Society (1922) and Our Independence (1925). In 1928, together with educator and literary critic Nikol Aghbalian, theater director Kaspar Ipekian, and former prime minister of the Republic, Dr. Hamo Ohanjanian, as well as a group of less known A.R.F. members, he was one of the main founders of the Hamazkayin Armenian Cultural and Educational Society in Cairo. In 1930, together with Nikol Aghbalian, he settled in Beirut, where they founded the Armenian Lyceum (Jemaran) of Hamazkayin in 1930, later known as the Nishan Palanjian Lyceum and currently as Haig and Melanchton Arslanian Lyceum. Shant was the school principal for the next twenty years, while at the same time he taught pedagogy and psychology. He created a unique pedagogical atmosphere in the Jemaran, focused on his belief that the school should educate a humanistic education also linked to the preservation and development of national identity.
Engaged as he was in education and school management, Shant continued with the task of preparing school textbooks. He did not leave literature. In 1945 he published the novel The Thirsty Souls, and from 1946-1951 he published an edition of works in eight volumes, which included a yet unpublished history of Armenian literature. He passed away on November 29, 1951.
His name was banned in Soviet Armenia, as were many other writers who were A.R.F. members or sympathizers. Nevertheless, a monograph about him was published there in 1930, and a collection of his plays appeared in 1968. After the second independence, a school in Yerevan was renamed after him in 1994.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Death of Arshavir Shahkhatouni (April 4, 1957)

Arshavir (Asho) Shahkhatouni went down in history as both a star of Russian and French silent films in the 1910s and 1920s, and as the military commander of Yerevan during the first Republic of Armenia.  
One would say that it was a genetic trait: his father Vagharshak Shahkhatuni (1843-1892) was a colonel in the Russian army, and also the founder of the theater hall of Alexandropol (nowadays Gumri). Arshavir was born in Alexandropol on February 19, 1885. He spent his childhood in Alexandropol, Nor Bayazed (Gavar), Gandzak (Ganja), and Yerevan. He studied at the Mikhailov military school of Tiflis (Tbilisi) and served in Baku in 1905. After the Armeno-Tatar clashes of 1905, he was expelled from the army for refusing to fire over Armenians who had found refuge in a church, as it had been ordered to the battalion he commanded. He went to work in an office and started developing his love for theater as an amateur actor in the local Armenian groups. Over the next seven years (1905-1912), he would gradually become a sought-after name in Armenian theater, both in Baku and in Tiflis. The first Romeo on the Armenian stage, Shahkhatouni was considered, together with Hovhannes Abelian, the preeminent representative of realism in Armenian acting. 
In 1913 Shahkhatouni was offered an important role in “Bela,” a movie by Alexander Gromov. For the next five years, he would live in Moscow, where he studied at the Artistic Theater and followed the classes of famous theater theoretician Konstantin Stanislavski. Meanwhile, he continued his cinematographic career, starring mostly in films with Caucasian themes, such as Alexander Volkov’s “The Conquest of the Caucasus,” “The Fugitive,” “Khaz bulad,” as well as others like “Jealousy,” “Storm,” “Venus’ Fur,” etcetera. He was highlighted as one of the well-regarded names of pre-Soviet cinema, becoming also one of the first Armenian actors to appear in Russian cinematography, along with Hamo Bek-Nazarian and Vahram Papazian.  

Arshavir Shahkhatouni and a poster of the Yerevan exhibition of one of his Russian films, "Khaz Bulat," in 1914
In the crucial year 1918, Shahkhatouni left Moscow and returned to the Caucasus. His former military experience would lead him to participate in the battles of Sardarabad and Pash-Abaran, and after the foundation of the Republic of Armenia, he was designated military commander of Yerevan, receiving the rank of colonel. 
After two years of service, in 1920 Shahkhatouni left Armenia and returned to his old love, theater, this time in Constantinople. He became one of the prominent names in local Armenian theater, until he left the city in late 1922, following the nearing occupation by Kemalist forces. He went to Bulgaria, where he played Hamlet and Othello in Russian with Bulgarian companies in Sofia and Varna. After a year, in 1924 he moved to Paris with America in his sight, but he eventually stayed in the City of Lights, where he became one of the stars of local Armenian theater during the 1920s and 1930s.
Meanwhile, Shahkhatouni developed the second phase of his cinematographic career. In 1926 he was cast in “Michael Strogoff,” a movie by Russian emigré filmmaker Vsevolod Turzhansky, who knew Shahkhatouni from Moscow. A more important achievement was his participation in Abel Gance’s monumental film, “Napoleon” (1927), where he played the role of Napoleon’s childhood friend and later mortal enemy Pozzo di Borgo. He would become friends with such famous names as French filmmaker René Clair and British actor Sir Laurence Olivier. He also participated in five films from 1927-1929.
Armenian national hero Antranig passed away in Fresno in August 1928. In the same year, Shahkhatouni directed and played in “Antranig,” the first Armenian feature movie filmed in the Diaspora with Armenian subject and by an Armenian studio (“Armena-Film”). The film was distributed in several European countries, from Portugal to Sweden, with Turkey protesting against its exhibition. For this reason, it was never shown in the United States, except for one showing in Philadelphia in 1938, in a sound version.  
After sound movies made their appearance, Shahkhatouni’s movie career took a radical turn. Although he participated in a few films at the beginning, he could not continue acting, due to his insufficient knowledge of French. He continued appearing in Russian and Armenian theatrical performances, and wrote two plays, which were performed in the 1940s. However, he did not want to sever his relations with cinematography. He became a make-up expert, and he was credited in many movies of the 1930s, to the point that he was named “a leading professional cosmetician in the world” by the French Journal de la femme (1939). By 1953, forty out of sixty make-up experts working in French cinema had been Shahkhatouni’s students.  
Shahkhatouni, who always lived with nostalgia for his faraway homeland (he would have probably shared the fate of so many people who were victims of the Stalin purges for their participation in the first Republic of Armenia), suffered a fatal blow after the death of his wife Nina in 1950. He had a stroke, and for the next seven years he lived in poverty, practically confined to his home. The fiftieth anniversary of his theatrical career was commemorated in New York, in 1956. He passed away on April 4, 1957. 

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Birth of Catholicos Sahag II Khabayan (March 25, 1849)


During his more than three decades of tenure, Catholicos Sahag II endured and witnessed the Armenian Genocide and the final catastrophe that deprived the Catholicosate of the Great House of Cilicia of its seat of Sis.
He was born Kapriel Khabayan in the village of Yeghek, in the plain of Kharpert, on March 25, 1849. In 1867, at the age of eighteen, he entered the seminary of the Armenian monastery of St. James and was ordained deacon in 1869. He was sent to Constantinople to further his studies, and returned in 1871, becoming a teacher at the seminary. Patriarch Yesayi ordained him celibate priest on July 3, 1877 with the name Sahag. He later became editor in chief of Sion, the monthly publication of the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem, and head of the printing house. For a time, he was a member of the Board of Directors and chairman of the General Assembly of the congregation.
Very Rev. Sahag Khabayan was sent as legate to the Caucasus in 1881. He worked there as a preacher and collected money. On January 10, 1885, he was elected sacristan of Holy Etchmiadzin and on November 24, Makar I, Catholicos of All Armenians, consecrated him bishop.
The See of Cilicia remained vacant after the death of Catholicos Mgrdich I Kefsezian (1871-1894) in November 1894. The interregnum lasted eight years. Catholicos of All Armenians Mgrdich I (1892-1907), best known as Khrimian Hayrig, favored the candidacy of Bishop Sahag Khabayan. On October 12, 1902, 62 delegates from the fifteen dioceses under the jurisdiction of the Catholicosate elected Catholicos Sahag II by unanimity. The ceremony of consecration was held on April 23, 1903, in the monastery of Sis. He would be the last Catholicos consecrated in Cilician lands.
The relations between Etchmiadzin and Sis grew closer during Sahag II’s years, who established the preferential mention of the name of the Catholicos of All Armenians in the Holy Mass with an encyclical. He worked actively to renovate and improve the monastery, which had fallen into disrepair and inactivity. He reopened the seminary of Sis in 1906.
Years of turmoil and destruction loomed ahead. He first witnessed the massacre of Adana in 1909, and, in the first months of the Armenian Genocide, he was exiled to Aleppo, where he witnessed and reported extensively on the misery of the deportees, and then to Jerusalem. Another exile followed in 1917, this time to Damascus. After the end of World War I, he returned to Cilicia, now put under French mandate, with the survivors in 1919.
A second set of catastrophes unleashed in 1920 with the attacks of the Kemalist forces and the passive stance of the French. After the massacre of Marash in February, Sis was evacuated in June, and Hadjin fell to another massacre after an eight-month heroic resistance in October. Catholicos Sahag went to Paris to defend the cause of Cilicia, but in vain. In 1921 the last Armenian remnants left Cilicia and the Catholicos was the leader of his flock. For the next eight years, the historical See of Cilicia would have a wandering life, from Aleppo to Damascus to Beirut to Cyprus. The pastoral letter written by Sahag II in Damascus on February 28, 1922, was highly eloquent in its opening statement: “Greetings to the Armenians of Cilicia, now emigrated and spread throughout the world, greetings to the suffering from the suffering Shepherd, from Catholicos Sahag II of the once Great and now Ruined House of Cilicia.” The document emphasized:
“Make your voice heard, dear children, where are you? I want to follow the trail of your crucifixion, if not to materially and morally help you, at least to share your grief and lighten your yoke and burden. I wish the yoke and burden belonged to Christ. The yoke put by the world and implacable men is asphyxiating, and their burden is heaviest and bitterest.
“(. . .) This lionhearted people, although famished, naked, and homeless in foreign lands, do not beg. They wait for any moral or material help from their families, who remained free of any calamity, terror, and suffering in free countries, although they cried over the unknown tombs of their dearest ones. You cried and gave abundantly to relieve, make live, and defend the overlooked rights of those left alive.”
In 1929 Sahag II appealed for help to the Near East Relief that managed an orphanage in Antelias, then a suburban area of Beirut. The charitable organization leased the property to the Catholicosate for the symbolic price of a dollar per year. Cilicia was reborn in Antelias. In 1930, due to the advanced age of the Catholicos, Archbishop Papken Guleserian, aged 62, was designated Coadjutor Catholicos as Papken I. He was supposed to succeed Sahag II, then aged 81, but this did not happen. Both Church leaders worked together to strengthen the Catholicosate until the premature death of Coadjutor Catholicos Papken I in 1936.
The Armenian community of Lebanon celebrated the thirtieth anniversary of the enthronement of Sahag II on June 18, 1933. President Charles Debbas decorated the Catholicos with the order of the Republic of Lebanon in the first degree.
Sahag II closed a life of continuous service to the Church and his people on October 8, 1939, in Antelias, at the age of 90.