During the first half of the twentieth century, it might be said that the field of Armenian Studies was built upon a quartet of pillars in the fields of philology and history: Stepan Malkhasiants (1857-1947), Manuk Abeghian (1865-1944), Nicholas Adontz (1871-1942), and Hakob Manandian (1873-1952).
Stepan Malkhasiants was born on November 7, 1857, in Akhaltskha (Javakhk, now in Georgia). After finishing the Armenian parochial school and the Russian provincial school of the town, in 1874 he entered the newly opened Kevorkian Lyceum of Vagharshapat, which depended on the Holy See of Etchmiadzin. Upon graduation in 1878, he pursued higher education at the Faculty of Oriental Studies of the Imperial University of St. Petersburg. He graduated in 1889 with a doctorate in Philology, specialized in Armenian, Sanskrit, and Georgian. In 1885, still a university student, he published a critical edition of tenth century Armenian historian Asoghik’s Universal History. Two years later, he published his translation of William Shakespeare’s King Lear, directly from the English. In 1892 he would publish a translation of Macbeth .
From 1890-1910 Malkhasiants worked as a teacher at the Nersisian School of Tiflis, where he also was principal from 1903-1906. Meantime, he married Satenik Benklian. During those two decades, he published important studies about the Armenian language and orthography, as well as ancient literature, such as The History of Sebeos and Movses Khorenatsi (1893) and Study of the History of Pavstos Buzand (1896). He also published, in collaboration, a critical edition of Ghazar Parpetsi’s History of the Armenians (1904). He was an active contributor to the Armenian press in the Caucasus, particularly the journal Ararat of Holy Etchmiadzin and the daily Mshak of Tiflis.
Malkhasiants continued his educational work in Tiflis during the 1910s, when he was principal of the Hovnanian girls’ school (1910-1914). Then he accepted an offer as principal of the Kevorkian Lyceum in Vagharshapat (1914-1915), but when the lyceum was closed in 1917, he returned to Tiflis and became principal of the Gayanian School.
In 1917 Malkhasiants was one of the founders of the Armenian Popular Party, which in 1921 would become one of the founding parties of the Armenian Democratic Liberal (Ramgavar Azadagan ) Party. He moved to Armenia in 1919, and taught for a year at the primer university opened in Alexandropol (nowadays Gyumri). His report to the National Council (Parliament) of Armenia became the basis for the adoption of the tricolor flag of the Republic of Armenia (1918-1920), which would be re-established after 1991. He had the honor of presenting the opening lecture at Yerevan State University on February 1, 1920.
Malkhasiants continued his scholarly activities during Soviet times. In the last decade of his life, he published an impressive number of studies: the Russian translation of Sebeos’ History of Heraclius (1939), a critical edition of the medical treatise of Amirdovlat Amasiatsi (1420-1496), the Modern Armenian translation of Movses Khorenatsi’s History of Armenia, and a monograph, On the Enigma of Khorenatsi, all in 1940, and the Modern Armenian translation of Pavstos Buzand’s History of Armenia (1947). In 1940 he received a title of doctor honoris causa, and in 1943 he was elected member of the founding body of the Armenian Academy of Sciences.
Malkhasiants’ name, however, has become synonymous with his monumental Armenian Explanatory Dictionary (1944-1945), a four-volume work of 2380 pages in three columns, which he compiled between 1921 and 1943. This dictionary was unprecedented in the history of Armenian lexicography, as it included the lexicon of Classical, Middle, and Modern Armenian, old and new loanwords, and many dialectal terms, with a total of 120,000 entries. It gave the grammatical definition of each word, synonyms and antonyms, and examples for most terms. The dictionary became a fundamental source for all dictionaries of the Armenian language and bilingual dictionaries published afterwards in Armenian and abroad. It won the State Prize of the Soviet Union (called Stalin Prize at the time) in 1946, and it was reprinted three times (Beirut, 1956; Teheran, 1982; Yerevan, 2008). An interesting feature is that it was printed in classical orthography upon Malkhasiants’ insistence. The prolific scholar passed away on July 21, 1947, at the age of ninety.