Monday, December 16, 2013

Birth of Chahan de Cirbied - December 16, 1772

The Institute Nationale des Langues et Civilisations Orientales (INALCO, National Institute of Oriental Languages and Civilizations), commonly known in French parlance as Langues O’, is an institution of higher education located in Paris, with roots that go to the seventeenth century. It is the direct heir to the Ecole des Jeunes de Langues founded by Colbert, prime minister of Louis XIV, in 1669, and of the Ecole des Langues Orientales Vivantes recreated by the Convention in 1795, shortly after the French Revolution.

Ninety-three languages and civilizations are taught at this institution. One of them is Armenian, and it happens that it has been taught there for 215 years, making INALCO probably the oldest establishment throughout the world that has taught Armenian on a university level. However, its mission is not only to learn about languages, peoples, and cultures on a purely academic level, but to know, in the primary sense of the term, all the others, the interlocutors and testify the richness and diversity of the people of the world.

The roots of the Armenian Chair at the former Ecoles des Langues Orientales Vivantes (School of Living Oriental Languages) are related to Napoleon Bonaparte and to a little-known Armenian writer, Jacques Chahan de Cirbied, whose Armenian name was Hagop Shahan Chrbedian (Յակոբ Շահան Ջրպետեան).

Cirbied was born in Edesa (nowadays Urfa). He had settled in Rome (where he became a priest), in Florence, and in Genoa between 1789 and 1792, and it seems that he met Napoleon somewhere in Italy. He moved to Paris in 1792, and his courses of Armenian were officially announced on December 11, 1798, to commence effectively in 1799. Unfortunately, Cirbied’s knowledge of French was poor, and for this reason his courses had to be temporarily interrupted between 1801 and 1811.

An imperial decree dated February 27, 1812, issued in Moscow, where Napoleon was engaged in the Russian campaign, gave Cirbied the title of professor at the l'École Spéciale des Langues Orientales (Special School of Oriental Languages).

Cirbied published eight books in French between 1811 and 1830. Among them, we mention: La grammaire arménienne (Armenian Grammar, 1811 and 1823), Histoire arménienne (Armenian History, 1818), and Grammaire de Denis de Thrace (Grammar of Denys of Thrace), 1830. He was succeeded in 1827 by his disciple P. E. Vaillant de Florival. He put himself to the service of Russia and was a member of the secret committee created by the governor of Yerevan, I. F. Paskevitch, to elaborate the bylaws that would regulate the relations between the Armenian Church and the Russian Empire (the Polozhenie, which would be issued in 1836). Cirbied passed away in 1834.