The Lazarian family had an important role in the history of the Armenian liberation movement from the eighteenth century. Hovhannes Lazarian (1735-1801) worked to that end through his connections to the Russian court. He bequeathed a big sum of money to the foundation of a high school in Moscow for Armenian children, designating his brother Hovakim as executor of the will. The Lazarian College, founded in 1815, would become an education beacon for the Armenians in the Russian Empire.
Hovakim Lazarian’s younger son, Khachatour, continued the family work. He was born on June 1, 1789. The details about his early life are sketchy. In 1819 he married the daughter of Manuk bey Mirzayan (1769-1817), a well-known trading partner of his father in Moldavia (Moldova), who had been very active during the Turkish-Russian war of 1806-1812.
The obstacles put by Russian high-level bureaucracy, particularly the Ministry of Education, to the activities of the Lazarian College led the Lazarian family to take an unprecedented step. In 1824 Hovakim Lazarian addressed the Council of Ministers to ask that the College be taken out of the ministry’s orbit and put under the direct supervision of the council. Brothers Hovhannes and Khachatour Lazarian, together with two members of the Committee of Educational Institutions, prepared the bylaws of the College, which were approved. The Lazarian College was renamed Lazarian Institute of Oriental Languages in 1828.
Meanwhile, Khachatour Lazarian had been actively involved in the last phase of the Russo-Persian war of 1826-1828. Along with Prince Konstantin Arghoutian and scholar Alexander Khoudabashian, Lazarian prepared a project of autonomy for the Eastern Armenian territories that would be annexed to Russia after the war. The project, entitled, “A Series of Proposals for Georgia and Adjacent Territories,” called for an ample autonomy of Armenia within the Russian Empire and the restoration of the Armenian kingdom with Czar Nicholas I adding “King of the Armenians” to his titles. The project also anticipated the immigration of Armenian population from Persia to Eastern Armenia. Lazarian also lobbied the Russian authorities to incorporate the province of Maku, beyond the border of the Arax River. The idea of Archbishop Nerses Ashtaraketsi (future Catholicos of All Armenians) was to turn its mountains and valleys into a natural protection for the country. However, Lazarian failed in his purpose due to the obstinate refusal of General Ivan Paskevitch, who had fought and won the war. The autonomy project was also rejected, but it contributed to the initial creation of the Armenian Province (1829-1840). He was also a member of the committee that prepared the reforms in the administration of Eastern Armenia. The project, known as Polozhenye, was approved by Nicholas I on March 11, 1836.
To confront the matter of insufficient income for the Lazarian Institute –the family covered the deficits from their own pocket—Lazarian presented a project in 1837 that proposed to unify the five Armenian churches of Moscow and St. Petersburg with the Institute and establish a synergia between them, with the units mutually covering their deficits. He also suggested the creation of a religious section in the Institute for the education of the clergy. The project was approved by Catholicos Hovhannes Karbetsi and the Synod of Etchmiadzin in 1840, and then approved by the czar in 1841. Another project approved in 1848 by Nicholas I turned the Institute into an eight-year educational institution, instead of the previous six-year period.
Khachatour Lazarian’s only son, Hovhannes, passed away at an early age in 1850. His parents and uncle donated 60,000 silver rubles in his memory to establish a preparatory section for the children of Armenian poor families that lacked knowledge of the Russian language to enter the Institute. As an exception, the czar agreed to this donation.
In 1860 Lazarian, a man of progressive ideas in education and always ready to have the best possible level, made a huge donation of 200,000 rubles from his own fortune to improve the educational level of the Institute—now divided into two sections, gymnasium and Oriental languages—and allow the graduates to pursue higher education without additional exams. Czar Alexander II (1855-1881) decorated him with the order of the White Lion. The intervention of the Minister of Education, Count Dmitri Tolstoy, another man of progressive ideas, established a new reform, which reunited both sections while keeping their high educational level. The new curriculum remained unchanged from 1872 to 1918, when the newly established Soviet government closed the Lazarian Institute.
Besides his support for education, Khachatour Lazarian continuously sought to support Armenian Studies among Russian scholars and convince wealthy Armenians of throwing their support “in favor of the Church and the Armenian people, which demand and are thirsty for education and science.”
Lazarian passed away in Moscow on October 10, 1871. A marble bust was installed in the hall of the Lazarian Institute in the same year thanks to the fundraising of Russian Armenians.