Monday, November 4, 2013

Birth of Shahamir Shahamirian - November 4, 1723

The so-called “group of Madras,” which developed its activities in the small Armenian community of that city of India, was one of the most interesting phenomena of Armenian history in the eighteenth century. One of its driving forces was a wealthy Armenian merchant, Shahamir Shahamirian.

Shahamirian was born in Nor Jugha, the notable Armenian community established at the beginning of the seventeenth century as a suburb of Isfahan, the Persian capital. He migrated to Madras and made an important fortune in commercial activities. Influenced by the progressive ideas of a group of fellow Armenians who were engaged in a drive to liberate their homeland from foreign yoke, Shahamirian established the first Armenian printing house of Madras in 1771 on behalf of his young son Hakob (1745-1774). A year later, he published a book co-authored by Hakob and his teacher Movses Baghramian, one of the theoreticians of the group, entitled «Նոր տետրակ, որ կոչի Յորդորակ» (Nor tetrak, vor kochi Hordorak, namely, “New Fascicle Called Advice”).

Hakob Shahamirian, a talented young man who died at the age of 29 in Malacca (Malaysia), seems to have authored much of the text of the most important book produced by the Madras group, «Որոգայթ փառաց» (Vorogayt parats, “Snare of Glory”), in 1773. The book was left unfinished, apparently, at his death, and meanwhile, his father published another pamphlet authored by Baghramian, «Նոր տետրակ, որ կոչի Նշաւակ» (Nor tetrak, vor kochi Nshavak, namely, “New Fascicle Called Target”) in 1783. This was the bylaws of self-government for the Armenians of Madras.

Even though it has been said that Snare of Glory was published in 1773, it seems more likely, according to scholars, that the book was actually completed by Baghramian, Shahamir Shahamirian, and perhaps others, and published around 1788-1789. This book was a collection of laws, a Constitution of sorts (521 articles) intended for the future Armenian state to be created after liberation from foreign rule. According to its text, the highest legislative body, the Armenian House (Hayots tun), was bound to be formed by representatives of the people. At its turn, the Armenian House would form an executive body. To this aim, thirteen representatives would be elected, one of which would become nakharar (“minister,” with a rank equivalent to prime minister) by lottery, and the others would be his advisors. The nakharar would be the first executor of the laws and the commander in chief. Snare of Glory, which also established a judicial system and mandatory education for girls, was a project to create a constitutional democratic republic at a time when such an idea was still on the works in the West and had been only achieved in the newly-born United States of America. Some of its concepts have certain similitudes with the American Constitution, it has been observed.

Shahamir Shahamirian tried to get in touch with the Georgian king Heraclius II (1744-1801) in order to achieve the liberation of the Southern Caucasus from Persian and Turkish domination through an Armeno-Georgian alliance. However, understanding that such an alliance was not enough, he later established contacts with the Russian courts, as well with other activists of Armenian liberation, such as Prince Hovsep Arghutian, Hovhannes Lazarian, and others. He passed away in 1797.