Thursday, December 24, 2015

Death of St. Krikor Datevatsi (December 25, 1409)

Until April 23, 2015, when the martyrs of the Armenian Genocide were canonized, Gregory of Datev (Krikor Datevatsi) was the last saint of the Armenian Church.

Krikor Datevatsi was born in 1346 in the district of Vayots Dzor, in the province of Siunik (southern Armenia). At the age of seven, his parents sent him out for education. He later continued his education in the famed University of Datev, where he was a disciple of Hovhan Vorotnetsi (1315-1386), another saint of the Armenian Church commemorated on the twentieth day of the Great Lent.

In 1371 Krikor and his teacher went in pilgrimage to Jerusalem, where the 25-year-old student was consecrated celibate priest. On the way back, Krikor was ordained vartabed and received the doctorial staff from Vorotnetsi. The Matenadaran preserves a Bible copied in 1297, which Datevatsi illustrated in 1378.

Two years later, teacher and disciple moved to the convent of Aprakunis. After the death of Hovhan Vorotnetsi in 1388, Krikor became the head of the convent and gave courses of philosophy, theology, grammar, musical theory, and other subjects.

In 1390 he returned to Datev and congregated many students coming from various areas of Siunik and Armenia in general to continue his educational activities. His hundreds of students, among them famous writers like Tovma Medzopetsi and Arakel Siunetsi, played a remarkable role in Armenian cultural and religious life.

St. Gregory's mausoleum located adjacent to St. Peter & Paul Cathedral at Tatev Monastery in the Siunik province of Armenia. 

During his tenure, the University of Datev reached the pinnacle of its flourishing as a center of science, culture, art, and spiritual life. It had three schools (philosophy and theology, calligraphy and manuscript illumination, and music), where they taught philosophy, religion, Armenian language and grammar, literature, history, rhetoric, manuscript copying, miniature painting, natural sciences and astronomy, mathematics, architecture, music and singing, pedagogy and social sciences, and other subjects. Studies lasted seven to eight years. The university had a rich library, with more than ten thousand manuscript books. The monastery would be totally destroyed and set to fire by Shahrokh, youngest son of Tamerlan, in 1435.

Krikor Datevatsi left an abundant corpus of works, including sermons, commentaries of the works of Aristotle and David the Invincible, and theological works. The most important of his works was the Book of Questions, a sort of encyclopedia that has been compared to the works of Western theologians like Thomas Aquinas and Albertus Magnus. This book also contained a critique of the doctrines of the Catholic Church, since Catholic missionaries had entered Armenia since the fourteen century and created the Armenian branch of the Dominican order, called Fratres Unitores, with proselytizing aims. He also wrote a book of sermons divided into two parts, For the Summer (Ամառան) and For the Winter (Ձմեռան).

Tatev Monastery above the Vorotan gorge in wintertime.

In 1408, apparently due to the political unrest after the death of Tamerlan in 1403, Datevatsi and his students moved to the monastery of Medzop, near Lake Van, but returned to Datev after a year. The great teacher and writer passed away on December 25, 1409, after a short illness. He is commemorated by the Armenian Church on the Saturday before the fourth Sunday of the Great Lent. 

The cultural and religious stature of Datevatsi earned him a place among the twelve statues (the second to the left) surrounding Mesrob Mashdots and his disciple Koriun on the front of the Matenadaran, the library of manuscripts in Yerevan. The St. Gregory of Datev Institute, founded in 1987 by the Armenian Religious Education Council (AREC) under the aegis of the Armenian Prelacy, has also preserved the memory of his name.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Death of Emil Artin (December 20, 1962)

People of Armenian descent are also, in a certain way, part of Armenian history. One of the leading mathematicians of the twentieth century, Emil Artin, and his son Michael, an emeritus professor at MIT who also specialized in algebra, have enabled another mathematician, Carl Faith, to write: “The Artins or Artinians are true mathematical royalty despite the assertion by Euclid: there is no royal road to geometry.”

Emil Artin was born in Vienna (Austria) on March 3, 1898. He descended from an Armenian merchant who had settled in the country in the nineteenth century. His father, also called Emil, was born in Austria from mixed Austrian and Armenian descent, and was either an opera singer or an art dealer. His mother Emma Maria Laura was an opera singer.

Emil lost his father in 1906 and his mother remarried a year later to Rudolf Hübner, a prosperous manufacturer in Reichenberg (now Liberec in the Czech Republic). After a year in a boarding school, he returned to Reichenberg in 1908, where he pursued his secondary education until 1916.

Emil Artin matriculated at the University of Vienna, having focused on mathematics. His studies were interrupted by the military draft in 1918. He stayed in Vienna from 1918-1919, when he matriculated at the University of Leipzig. In June 1921 he was awarded the degree of Doctor of Philosophy, based on his oral examination and his dissertation, “On the Arithmetic of Quadratic Function Fields over Finite Fields.”

Artin moved to Göttingen, considered the "Mecca" of mathematics at the time, in the fall of 1921. After a year of post-doctoral studies in mathematics and mathematical physics, in 1922 he accepted a position offered at the University of Hamburg, and by 1926 he had been promoted to full professor, becoming one of the two youngest professors of mathematics in Germany.

In August 1929 Artin married Natalia Naumovna Jasny (Natascha), a young Russian émigré who had been a student in several of his classes. Their first two children, Karin and Michael, were born in 1933 and 1934. Artin’s situation became increasingly precarious after Adolf Hitler became chancellor of Germany and the Nazi regime was established, not only because his wife was half Jewish, but also because Artin made no secret of his distaste for the Hitler regime.

In July 1937 Artin lost his post at the University. Thanks to the efforts of colleagues already relocated to the United States, a position was found for him at Notre Dame University in Indiana. After the arrival of the Artin family to the United States, the mathematician taught at Notre Dame for the rest of the academic year. He was offered a permanent position the following year at Indiana University, in Bloomington, where he taught from 1938-1946. His third son, Thomas, was born in November 1938.

In 1946 Artin was appointed Professor at Princeton University, which had become the center of the mathematical world following the decimation of German mathematics under the Nazis. He and his wife were granted American citizenship in the same year.

Artin was one of the leading algebraists of the century. He worked in algebraic number theory, and also contributed to the pure theories of rings, groups and fields. He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1957. In 1958 he moved permanently to Germany, where he was offered a professorship at Hamburg. His marriage was seriously frayed, and he divorced his wife in 1959. He was granted German citizenship in 1961, and passed away of a heart attack in Hamburg at the age of 64, on December 20, 1962. The University of Hamburg honored his memory on April 26, 2005 by naming one of its newly renovated lecture halls The Emil Artin Lecture Hall.

Before that, the Emil Artin Junior Prize in Mathematics was established in 2001. It is presented usually every year to a former student of a university in the Republic of Armenia, who is under the age of thirty-five, for outstanding contributions in algebra, geometry, topology, and number theory. The award is announced in the Notices of the American Mathematical Society.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Death of Catholicos Mateos II (December 11, 1910)

Mateos II was Patriarch of Constantinople and Catholicos of All Armenians in an extraordinarily difficult period of Armenian history, at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century.

The future ecclesiastic was born on February 12, 1845, in Constantinople as Simeon Izmirlian. He studied at local schools (Bezjian and Kum Kapu) and became a teacher at the St. Mary Church of Ortakeuy in 1862. After being ordained deacon, he was ordained a celibate priest (vartabed) with the name Mateos in 1869. Patriarch Mgrdich Khrimian noted his intellectual capability and turned him into his personal secretary. His impeccable credentials and active service earned him the rank of dzayrakuyn vartabed in 1873. He was elected primate of Balikesir in 1874 and two years later was consecrated bishop. In 1881 he published a voluminous book in Armenian (1300 pages), The Patriarchate of the Holy Armenian Apostolic Church and Aghtamar and Sis.

Izmirlian’s religious and political activities were at times inseparable from each other. In 1886-1890 he was primate of the diocese of Egypt, but had to resign for health reasons. He returned to his hometown, where he was ordained archbishop, and in December 1894 he was elected Patriarch of Constantinople. His activism in order to improve the situation of the Armenians in the provinces led him to constant clashes with the authorities. His tenure coincided with the Hamidian massacres of 1894-1896. His insistence on democratic reforms and Armenians rights, as well as his protest against the massacres earned him the title of “Iron Patriarch.” The Ottoman authorities tried to force him to present a letter that expressed his satisfaction with the situation, but Patriarch Izmirlian refused. Abdul Hamid II pressured him to abdicate, and in July 1896 he was exiled to Jerusalem for the next twelve years.

After the proclamation of the Ottoman Constitution (July 1908), Archbishop Mateos Izmirlian returned from his exile to Constantinople and was elected once again Patriarch after the resignation of Patriarch Maghakia Ormanian in October 1908. However, he did not remain in that position for long. Catholicos of All Armenians Mgrdich I Khrimian had passed away in October 1907. The National Ecclesiastical Assembly gathered in Holy Etchmiadzin elected Archbishop Mateos to replace Khrimian Hayrig in October 1908. The election was confirmed by a Russian imperial decree of April 15, 1909. The newly elected Catholicos departed from Constantinople in May. After introducing himself to Czar Nicholas II in St. Petersburg, he arrived in Etchmiadzin in June and was consecrated on September 13, 1909 as Mateos II.

Catholicos Mateos II would have a brief tenure of 15 months. He became the first Catholicos to make a pilgrimage to Ani, the ruined capital of medieval Armenia, by then within the Russian borders. His plan of action included the renewal of monastic life, the improvement of the Kevorkian Seminary, and the solution of various administrative issues.

The Catholicos passed away on December 11, 1910 and was buried in the courtyard of Holy Etchmiadzin. His correspondence was posthumously published in Cairo (1911).

Monday, December 7, 2015

The Spitak Earthquake (December 7, 1988)

Earthquakes have frequently hit Armenia throughout history. Soviet Armenia had three major quakes in the first fifty years of existence in Leninakan (1926) and Zangezur (1931 and 1968). The fourth earthquake would be the worst, prompting a global effort for relief that remained unprecedented in the history of the former Soviet Union.

The seismic movement in the northern region of the Republic of Armenia occurred on Wednesday, December 7, 1988 at 11:41 am local time (2:41 am in the U.S. East Coast). The earthquake measured 6.8 on the surface wave magnitude scale. It was coincidental with the political turmoil that had been produced by the Karabagh movement since February 1988. In November of the same year, tens of thousands of Armenian refugees had arrived from Azerbaijan, and an unknown number of them had settled in the seismic area.

The cities of Spitak, Leninakan (nowadays Gyumri), and Kirovakan (nowadays Vanadzor) were greatly affected with large loss of life and devastating effects to buildings and other structures. Smaller outlying villages away from the big cities were also severely affected. Leninakan and Kirovakan were the second and third cities of Armenia by population.


Some of the strongest shaking occurred in industrial areas with chemical and food processing plants, electrical substations, and power plants. The nuclear power plant of Metzamor, 47 miles from the epicenter, did not experience damage, but vulnerability concerns triggered its shutdown from February 1989 until 1995.

Many buildings did not hold up to the shaking of the earthquake and just came down like houses of cards. A saying in Leninakan at the time made reference to the resistance of old buildings from pre-Soviet time: “Leninakan went away, Gyumri remained.” The scrutiny by earthquake engineering experts found fault in the substandard quality of construction during the period of Leonid Brezhnev (1964-1982). Lack of effective medical care and poor planning also contributed to the substantial scope of the disaster. Most hospitals collapsed, killing two-thirds of the doctors, destroying equipment and medicine, and reducing the capacity to handle the critical medical needs in the region.



Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, who was in New York on his first day of official visits with President Ronald Reagan and Vice President George H. W. Bush at the time of the earthquake, formally asked the United States for humanitarian help within a few days of the earthquake, the first such request since World War II. One hundred and thirteen countries sent substantial amounts of humanitarian aid to the Soviet Union in the form of rescue equipment, search teams, and medical supplies, but private donations and assistance from non-governmental organizations also had a large part of the international effort.

A group of French recording artists and actors came together with French Armenian writer and composer Charles Aznavour to record the 1989 song “Pour toi Arménie” (For you Armenia), with lyrics and music by Aznavour himself, as a call for help for the Armenians. Aznavour, together with his brother-in-law, French Armenian composer Georges Garvarentz, formed a foundation called “Aznavour for Armenia.” Almost two million copies of the disc were sold, which allowed the foundation to build 47 schools and three orphanages for the victims of the disaster.



As of July 1989 about $500 million in donations had been delivered to the Armenians from 113 countries. Most of those funds went into the initial relief work and medical care plus the beginning portion of the rebuilding phase. Yuri S. Mkhitarian, an Armenian State Building Committee official, gave an updated damage report that stated that 342 villages had been damaged and another 58 destroyed. One hundred and thirty factories had been destroyed and 170,000 people were out of work. Officials acknowledged that the work to complete the rebuilding may take up to five years or longer, a supposition that more than doubled Gorbachev's estimate of two years.

The number of victims of the earthquake was officially given as 25,000, even though there were estimates of up to 100,000. The material and moral impact of the earthquake was long-term. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the second independence of Armenia (1991), including the economic crisis and the Kharabagh war, became a hurdle to complete the efforts of reconstruction. Rebuilding in major cities and villages was completed after years, and still there were people living in makeshift homes twenty-five years after the earthquake.

A bronze sculpture by Frederic Sogoyan, “Armenian Earthquake,” which expresses Armenian gratitude for the aid provided after the catastrophe, was dedicated on March 1991 on the north lawn of the American Red Cross national headquarters in Washington D.C. The inscription reads: “To the American people / from a grateful / Armenian people / Earthquake assistance / December 7, 1988.”