Friday, November 9, 2012

Death of Father Ghevont Alishan - November 9, 1901

Father Ghevont Alishan was one of the foremost names in nineteenth century Armenian scholarship and literary history. He authored several mammoth books on Armenian history, archaeology, and geography, which are still regarded as precious primary sources.
Kerovpe Alishan was born in Constantinople on July 18, 1820. His father, Bedros Alishanian, was an antiquarian and numismatist. He was sent to the monastery of San Lazzaro, the center of the Mekhitarist Congregation in Venice, in 1832. He studied for four years at the seminary and then continued his higher studies. In 1841 he became a teacher at the Moorat-Raphaelian School of the Congregation, in Venice. He started to contribute his poems to the flagship journal of the Mekhitarists, Bazmavep, published since 1843. He became principal of the School in 1848. The Italian rebellion against Austrian rule in that year, as part of the revolutionary movement that exploded throughout Europe, fired his imagination. He wrote several patriotic poems, of which the most famous was the one dedicated to Vahan Mamikonian (nephew of Vartan Mamikonian, the hero of the battle of Avarayr) that starts with the words Բա՛մբ, որոտան... (Pamp, vorodan...). This would become a celebrated patriotic march, a sort of unofficial Armenian hymn until the first decades of the twentieth century.
Between 1850 and 1853, Alishan visited some important European cities, such as Rome, London, Paris, Berlin, and Vienna, where he studied Armenian manuscripts and cultural artifacts, and gathered materials for his future investigations. During his journey, he translated the fourth chant of Lord Byron’s famous poem, Childe Harold.
He became the principal of the Mekhitarist school of Paris, Samuel-Moorat, from 1858-1861. He quit his position in November 1861 and returned to San Lazzaro. Again in 1866 he took the helm of the Moorat-Raphaelian School and worked as a principal until 1872. Afterwards, he abandoned the educational field to concentrate on his scholarship of Armenian Studies until his death on November 8, 1901.
He was one of the pioneer names in Armenian romantic poetry and his works, written between 1840 and 1852, were collected in five volumes published in 1857-1858. Most of those poems, however, were written in classical Armenian (krapar) and remained inaccessible for the general public. He became celebrated for a small collection of works written in modern Armenian (ashkharhapar) between 1847 and 1850.
His main contribution to Armenian culture was his important scholarly work. He executed a methodical plan of collecting information and systematically reconstructing Armenian antiquity. His poems and his works made him a household name. He never visited Armenia, but his extensive research was famous for its geographical accuracy. He wrote about Armenian ancient and medieval history, literature, mythology, and other issues. Some of his most important works include “Shirak,” “Sisakan,” “Sisuan,” “Ayrarat,” “Nerses Shnorhali and His Family,” “Ancient Belief or Armenian Pagan Religions,” “Armenia and Venice."