Sunday, November 12, 2017

Birth of Giacomo Gorrini (November 12, 1859)

Sympathies for the Armenian plight and cause were not a rare issue in Europe, frequently born from humanitarian concerns. One of those cases was that of Italian diplomat and historian Giacomo Gorrini.

Gorrini was born in Molino dei Torti, near Alessandria, on November 12, 1859. He graduated from the Scientific-Literary Academy of Milan in 1882 with a degree in literature and philosophy, and, after a competition, he entered the two-year advanced course at the Institute of Higher Studies in Florence. In 1884 he published his dissertation, Il comune astigiano e la sua storiografia. Saggio storico-critico (The Commune of Asti and Its Historiography: Historical-Critical Study). After studying for a year at Berlin University, in 1886 he won the concourse for the position of director of the Archives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

For more than twenty years, Gorrini worked in the organization of the archives and published several collections of documents, as well as books and articles of his own derived from his work as a historical consultant. His initial interest in Armenians was reflected in a short study entitled Antichi diritti di casa Savoja sopra l'Armenia (Ancient Rights of the Savoia House over Armenia, 1895), where he outlined the relations between Armenia and the Italian ruling dynasty, and also made reference to Rome and Venice as “remarkable centers of Armenian culture and civilization.” His academic workload did not prevent him from continuing his studies. He obtained a second degree in law from the University of Napoli (1892) and a habilitation to teach modern history from the Institute of Higher Studies in Florence (1894) and the University of Rome (1900). In 1897 he became member of the Higher Council of the State and Kingdom Archives, where he would remain for almost forty years.

In November 1909 Gorrini was designated Italian consul in Trebizonda, but took his new position in September 1910. For the next five years—except for a hiatus due to the Italian-Turkish war of 1911-1912—he was actively involved in the promotion and teaching of the Italian language and the development of commercial initiatives. His reports followed the situation in the region, and also made reference to Armenians and Kurds, and their relations with the central government in Constantinople.

Italy was neutral at the beginning of World War I, but the worsening of relations between Italy and Turkey forced Gorrini to leave his post on July 23, 1915. He would reach Rome on August 19, two days before Italy declared war to the Ottoman Empire. The influential daily Il Messaggero published an interview with the former Italian consul on August 25, 1915, which was published in an English translation in Viscount James Bryce’s and Arnold Toynbee’s Blue Book in 1916. Gorrini was among the first witnesses to give a first-hand account of the massacres and deportations already carried out by the Ottoman government. The interview, revealed his horror and compassion for the victims. He returned to the Foreign Service, where he executed diverse and delicate administrative tasks until 1919.

He reached the rank of general consul in November 1919 and departed to Trebizond for a short mission in April 1920 to close his consular activities, which had been cut short five years before. Upon his return, he was informed of his new destination as Italian representative in Yerevan, the capital of the Republic of Armenia. However, due to the political situation, he only reached Yerevan in April 1921, when the Soviet regime had already been installed. In June 1921 he obtained some railway and mineral concessions from the Soviet Armenian government and returned to Italy for consultations. However, he was ill with malaria and remained in Rome, where he still worked for two more years, until his retirement in January 1923.

He nevertheless continued his archival and academic work, and he also contributed scholarly articles and commentaries to newspapers and journals. He also continued supporting the Armenian Cause. In 1940, at the age of eighty, he published the book Armenia. Testimonianze (Armenia: Testimonies) on the anniversary of the first Armenian independence. He supported the right of the Armenians to an independent homeland, which was inscribed within a future redrawing of the Mediterranean territories according to the imperial goals of Benito Mussolini’s Italy.

Giacomo Gorrini passed away in Rome on October 31, 1950, at the age of ninety-one. Soil from his tomb was deposited in the “Memory Wall” of the memorial complex of Dzidznergapert, in Yerevan, on May 25, 2001.