Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Death of Grigor Artzruni - December 19, 1892

Grigor Artzruni was one of the most prominent names in Armenian journalism during the nineteenth century. He founded and edited the most important newspaper of Russian Armenians, Mshak. 

He was born in Moscow in 1845, but he moved to Tiflis during his childhood. After studying in the Russian gymnasium of the city, he went back to Russia to continue his higher education in Moscow and St. Petersburg. After graduation, in 1867 he was admitted to the University of Heidelberg (Germany), where two years later he graduated with a Ph.D. in Political Economy and Philosophy. Afterwards, he spent a year in Venice and Vienna, studying Armenian with the Mekhitarist Fathers. He taught in 1870-1871 at the Gayanian Girls Schools, and on January 1, 1872 published the inaugural issue of Mshak, which he would edit until his death.

His newspaper became the most important voice of Armenian progressive thought and a champion of political liberalism. He worked towards the introduction and the absorption of the ideas of European liberalism, adapting it to Armenian reality. He was an ideologue of freedom and justice, equality of rights, and democracy, at a time when the Russian Empire was going through political upheaval. Artzruni made an important effort to minimize the distances between Eastern and Western Armenians; among the prominent contributors to Mshak were the great Eastern Armenian novelist Raffi (1835-1888), who first published several of his masterpieces in the newspaper, and his Western Armenian colleague Arpiar Arpiarian (1854-1908).

Artzruni’s efforts also turned the cause of the liberation of Turkish Armenians a focus of the activities of Armenians in Russia. The internationalization of the Armenian Question after the Treaty of Berlin (1878) also resulted in the politicization of the Armenian youth and the subsequent creation of the Armenian political parties.

As the editor of Mshak, he played a role in the birth of all three parties: the Armenagan (1885), the Hunchakian (1887), and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (1890). Mshak’s circle,according to Kristapor Mikayelian, one of the founders of the ARF, had a central role in the creation of the Federation of Armenian Revolutionaries (Hay Heghapokhakanneri Dashnaktsutiun), a union of all revolutionary groups, which became the forerunner of the party. Novelist and playwright Shirvanzade (1858-1935), who was not a sympathizer of the ARF, wrote the following in his memoirs:
“The young group surrounding Artzruni set the foundations of the ARF. The main forces were Dr. Hovhannes Loris-Melikian, Kristapor Mikayelian, Simeon Zavarian, Martiros Shatirian, Kostandin Khatisian, Levon Sargsian, Gabriel Mirzoyan, and a few others, whose names I have forgotten. 

“. . . Those two [Mikayelian and Zavarian] came to visit Grigor Artzruni and exchanged information. That group, together with a few bourgeois, organized the twenty-fifth anniversary of Grigor Artzruni’s journalistic activities, and turned that celebration into a sort of prelude to the ARF.

“The ARF was organized with Grigor Artzruni’s knowledge and sponsorship, but without his immediate participation. Artzruni feared endangering the existence of Mshak, which was above everything else for him. Realizing that people wanted to use his popularity to raise money, he did not believe very much in the sincerity of their friendship.”

Grigor Artzruni died in Tiflis at the age of 47. His burial was a national event throughout the Caucasus. Russian authorities even tried to block the ceremonies. The police made an effort to contain the thousands in the funeral procession away from the main thoroughfares of Tiflis. After his internment (December 27, 1892), there were incidents with the police and dozens of Armenians were arrested and imprisoned.