Thursday, January 28, 2016

Birth of Armen Dorian (January 28, 1892)

Anyone may probably cite a dozen major or less major names in Armenian literature who became victims of the genocide of 1915. Even among scholars, however, the name of Armen Dorian probably does not ring a bell. At the age of 23, he was one of the youngest writers to be caught in the roundup of April 23-24 and sent to death.

He was born Hrachia Surenian on January 28, 1892 in the city of Skopje, the current capital of the Republic of Macedonia. At the time, his birthplace was still part of the Ottoman Empire. His father was a contractor of roads and bridges.

There was no Armenian community and no school there. Hrachia first studied at a local Greek school and then at the French school of Manastir (current Bitola, also in Macedonia). The family later moved to Constantinople, where the future poet received his higher education at the Mekhitarist School of Pangalti, which belonged to the Viennese branch of the congregation. He graduated in 1911 and traveled to France, where he continued his studies at the Sorbonne.

It is not clear why and when he took his literary name. When in Paris, he joined the French literary scene and founded the French newspaper L'Arène in 1912. Filled with dynamic and progressive ideas in poetry, he followed the current known as “paroxyste,” first proposed by poet Nicolas Beaudoin (1881-1960) in 1911, which was a French correlative to another avant-garde movement, futurism. He also published poetry booklets.

As immersed as he was in French literature, Dorian did not leave aside his Armenian roots. He wrote and published both in French and in Armenian, and did not sever his links with the Armenian literary life in Constantinople.

Immediately after his graduation in 1914, he received an invitation to return to Constantinople as headmaster in his alma mater, the Mekhitarist School of Pangalti. He also taught in four other schools, and contributed to local journals with Armenian and French poems. He was arrested at the Modern School in the night of April 24, 1915.

Armen Dorian, together with some 150 people, including poets Taniel Varoujan and Roupen Sevag, among others, was initially sent to Çankırı. Thirty exiles were able to return to Constantinople in one way or another. From the remaining hundred and twenty, in June 1915 a first caravan of 52 people was dispatched with destination to Deir-er-Zor. One of the fifteen survivors of the entire group of 120, Mikayel Shamdanjian, wrote: “At the time, we were not familiar with that name. From the first caravan, only the Protestant bookseller Baronian, as the result of petitions, was excluded and returned to Constantinople. All the other comrades, including the promising and pleasant Armen Dorian, went to become the victims of the roads of Elbistan. . . . Armen Dorian became part of the first caravan because, as someone who had absorbed French humor, was dazzling and had always a song in his lips.”

Dorian’s poetry has remained dispersed in the Armenian and French journals of the time. Other poems were posthumously published in the Armenian press. His brother Zenob Surenian, who had settled in Austria, in 1931 published a small collection of poetry entitled Un poète français d’origine arménienne (A French Poet of Armenian Origin).

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Birth of Ivan Galamian (January 23, 1903)

Musicians would not develop their innate talents without their teachers. In the second half of the twentieth century, Ivan Galamian was a world-known violin teacher who taught many of the best-known violinists at the time, such as Itzhak Perlman and Pinchas Zukerman.


Ivan Alexander Galamian was born of Armenian parents in the city of Tabriz (Iran) on January 23, 1903. Soon after his birth, his family migrated to Moscow. He studied violin at the School of the Philharmonic Society of Moscow with Konstantin Mostras until he graduated in 1919. Still a teenager, the newly installed Bolshevik government threw him in jail. The opera manager at the Bolshoi Theater rescued Galamian; he argued that he was a necessary part of the opera orchestra, and the government allowed him to go free. Soon thereafter, he moved to Paris, where he studied with Lucien Capet in 1922-1923. He debuted in the French capital in 1924. After performing throughout Europe as a recitalist and soloist with orchestras, he eventually gave up the stage in order to teach full-time, due to a combination of nerves, health, and a fondness for teaching. Cellist Leonard Rose, later his colleague at the Juilliard School in New York, noted: “He told me that he had all the ambitions to be a great concert artist, but his nerves would bother him so much he would have backaches for weeks after concerts. So he said the hell with it.”

He became a faculty member of the Conservatoire Rachmaninoff, where he taught from 1925-1937. He moved to the United States in 1937, where he married Judith Johnson in 1941, and became a citizen in 1944. In this period of time, his teaching abilities made him known everywhere. He was appointed to the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia in 1944, and became the head of the violin department at the Juilliard School in 1946. He was also director of the Meadowmount Summer School of Music in Westport, N.Y., which he founded in 1944 and continues to be in operation today. He wrote two violin method books, Principles of Violin Playing and Teaching (1962) and Contemporary Violin Technique (1962). Almost anyone who wanted to be a violinist knew there was time to be spent under his tutelage. Parents would fly to New York with their would-be prodigies, and teachers from all over the world sent him their most gifted students.

Galamian incorporated aspects of both the Russian and French schools of violin technique in his approach, which was described in the New Grove Dictionary of Music as “'analytical and rational, with minute attention to every technical detail.” “However,” the dictionary continues, “he rejects the enforcement of rigid rules and develops the individuality of each student. Mental control over physical movement is, in his opinion, the key to technical mastery.”

The teacher for generations of world-class violinists passed away on April 14, 1981. As Judith Karp wrote in The New York Times, “It was not entirely unexpected; at 78, the legendary Armenian pedagogue had been in less than perfect health for some time. But there was always a burning force in Mr. Galamian that almost made one believe he could defy nature's rules; it was the force of his own wry conviction that ‘I cannot die as long as there are students around who want to learn to play the violin.’”

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Birth of Antoine-Jean Saint-Martin (January 17, 1791)

A sketched portrait of Saint-Marie 
Antoine-Jean Saint-Martin was a pioneer of Armenian Studies in Europe at the beginning of the nineteenth century.

He was born in Paris on January 17, 1791 in the family of a prosperous merchant. He attended the Collège des Quatre-Nations, with the intention of entering commerce. However, his intellectual interests led him to a different field. At the age of twenty, he already mastered Armenian and Arabic. He would also learn by himself Persian, Syriac, and Turkish, as well as the basics of several other languages, such as Zend (the language of the Persian sacred books) and Georgian.

In 1818-1819 Saint-Martin published his masterwork, the two-volume Mémoires historiques et géographiques sur l'Arménie. This collection of studies and translations, which was quite influential in Armenian scholarship throughout the nineteenth century, had been completed in 1811, according to the author. It was reviewed very favorably, and on September 2, 1820, he was elected a member of the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-lettres, a branch of the prestigious Institut de France.

He later entered the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as a consultant. In 1822 he was among the founders of the famous Société Asiatique, and directed the publication of its journal, the Journal Asiatique. In 1824 he was appointed director of the Bibliothèque de l'Arsenal. Among other works, in 1825 he published the Armenian text and the French translation of the fables of Vartan Aykegtsi, a work of the thirteenth century, and in 1827, the translation of the chronicle of Mardiros Erznkatsi, a bishop who traveled to Spain in the fifteenth century.

Based on the text of Movses Khorenatsi in his History of Armenia about the cuneiform inscriptions left by the mythical queen Semiramis in Van, he induced the French government to send German young scholar Friedrich Eduard Schulz to the Lake Van region in 1827. A year later, he published Schulz's first report on the remains of the hitherto unknown civilization of Urartu.

Saint-Martin passed away on July 17, 1832, at the age of 41, victim of the second pandemic of cholera in Paris. His translation of the History of Armenia by Catholicos Hovhannes Draskhanakerttsi was posthumously published in 1841.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Birth of Nikol Duman (January 12, 1867)

Nikol Duman was one of the protagonists of the Armenian national movement of liberation from its early days until his death, from the expedition of Khanasor until the Iranian Constitutional Revolution. As national hero General Antranig once wrote, “Duman could rule over everyone and give orders, and everyone would know where to be and what to do.”

He was born Nikoghayos Ter-Hovhannisian in the village of Kishlak (nowadays Tzaghkashat) of the district of Askeran (Mountainous Gharabagh). His father, a priest, sent him to the Diocesan School of Shushi in 1876, from where he graduated in 1887. For the next four years, after a short stint at the Ecclesiastical Council of Shushi, he worked as a teacher at the Armenian schools of the Northern Caucasus.

The revolutionary movement had started among the Armenians of the Caucasus with the foundation of the Social Democrat Hunchakian Party (Geneva, 1887) and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Tiflis, 1890). Education was the way to sow the seeds of the future and to attract the sympathy of the people. In 1891 Ter-Hovhannisian’s former schoolmate Hovnan Davtian was appointed principal of one of the Armenian schools of Tabriz, in Iranian Azerbaijan, and invited him as a teacher. Tabriz was a hub of revolutionary activities. In 1892 Ter-Hovhannisian participated in the first general assembly of the A.R.F. and, after Davtian’s departure to Geneva as newly-appointed editor of the party organ Droshak, he took a new teaching position in the nearby city of Salmast in 1894. A year later, he went to the nearby monastery of Derek, a center of revolutionary activity, and participated in the victorious self-defense fights against Turks and Kurds.

The tall, black-bearded fighter was one of the leaders in the combats of Saray-Boghazkiasan a few months later. The defeated Kurds, deeply impressed by his bravery, called him Duman (“storm”) in their songs. Nikoghayos Ter-Hovhannisian, whose first name was already shortened to Nikol, became Nikol Duman.

In the same year, Duman went to Van with a group of fifty fedayees (freedom fighters). In 1896 he came up with the idea of avenging the death of the young Armenians who had defended Van during the Hamidian massacres and who had perished in an ambush by the Kurdish Mazrik tribe during their retreat to Persia. The outcome was the expedition of Khanasor (July 1897), in which Duman was one of its leaders. He later went back to the Caucasus and settled in Baku. In 1904 he attempted to cross into Western Armenia to help the rebellion of Sassoun with a group of fedayees, but he engaged in combat with Kurdish gangs near the Turkish-Persian border and could not reach his aim.

Nikol Duman led the Armenian self-defense forces in the province of Yerevan and the plain of Ararat during the Armeno-Tatar inter-ethnic conflict of 1905-1906. Later, he left the Caucasus and went to Europe to avoid the persecution of the Czarist police. One of the “intellectual fedayees,” he stated his opposition to the “Caucasian Project” approved in the crucial 4th General Assembly of the A.R.F. (Vienna, 1907), which allowed the party to enter in an alliance with Russian revolutionaries. He also published a booklet, Project of Popular Self-Defense (Geneva, 1907), which became one of the mainstays of the strategic literature of the Armenian liberation movement.

In 1910 he was one of the representatives of the A.R.F. in the congress of the Second International held in Copenhagen (Denmark). A year later, he participated in the Iranian Constitutional Revolution, where the party had been active since 1908, and led the victorious defense of Tabriz against the counter-revolutionary forces in September 1911. When the Russian intervention turned the tide against the revolution, in late 1911 Nikol Duman gathered his group of fedayees and went to Western Armenia, where he stayed until 1913. Finally, he returned to the Caucasus.

At the beginning of World War I, Duman was opposed to the organization of the Armenian volunteer battalions in the Caucasus, since the 8th General Assembly (Erzerum, 1914) had not approved it. He was a natural candidate to lead one of them. However, his wandering and active life had taken its toll on his health. After his arthritic pains, he had got infected with tuberculosis. He could not stay in the hospital, waiting patiently for death while his comrades were in the battlefields. He had only one solution: on September 27, 1914 he committed suicide. He was buried in the cemetery of Khojivank, in Tiflis, near Simon Zavarian, one of the founders of the A.R.F.