Friday, December 1, 2017

Death of Tigran Yergat (December 1, 1899)

A short-lived and forgotten name of Armenian letters and political struggle in the late nineteenth century, Garabed Bilezikji was born in Constantinople from a Catholic family of amiras (upper class merchants) in 1870. His father died at the age of 28 and his mother, who belonged to the well-to-do Tingir family, returned to her father’s home with her children.

Little Garabed was given private lessons of Turkish and Armenian, and learned Greek through his nanny. In 1880 he moved to Paris with his mother and entered the boarding school of the Dominican fathers in Argueuil. He graduated in 1887 with honors. After spending a year in the United States, where he studied American literature and perfected his English, he came back to Paris in 1889 and took a modest position at a bank, while devoted to literary and political activities, and adopted the pseudonym of Tigran Yergat.

He maintained close relations with Emile Zola, Jean Jaures, Maurice Barres, and other remarkable figures of French intellectual life, which opened the doors of the press to him. He published many articles in French journals about the peoples of the Orient, Oriental life and customs, and the Armenian Question. He contributed to Nouvelle Revue, Le Figaro , and other publications, and was a much-sought lecturer.

In 1893 the Tingir family lost most of its fortune due to the economic crisis in Turkey, and Yergat was forced to return to Constantinople. He taught French and clandestinely contributed to Revue des Revues with patriotic poems by Kamar Katiba in French translation and articles denouncing the anti-Armenian policies of Sultan Abdul Hamid II. He also wrote articles calling for revolutionary action in the newspaper Hairenik of Constantinople. In August 1896, when the Armenian Revolutionary Federation executed the occupation of the Ottoman Bank, Tigran Yergat’s brother, Mardiros Bileziji, a bank employee, was persuaded by the leaders of the group, Armen Garo and Hrach Tiryakian, to write in Turkish the famous warning to the sultan by the Armenian revolutionaries. Yergat would tell his mother: “They entered the bank like heroes, but they should have exploded the building rather than leaving it like that, without any result. Would my brother have been lost there? Who cares, it would have been for the glory of Armenia…” 

Tigran Yergat also showed his capacities for political and lobby efforts. He was in close contact with Patriarch Mateos Izmirlian (1892-1896), who was finally exiled to Jerusalem by Hamid due to his continuous protests against the “Red Sultan.” He also was the subject of persecution, which forced him to leave Constantinople in October 1896 with help from the secretary of the British embassy.

He went to Greece, where he would mostly spend the next years. He actively cooperated with the Crete rebellion of 1897 and the subsequent Greek-Turkish war, becoming a member of the political organization “Eteria” and working to create a rapprochement between Greek and Armenian revolutionaries. In 1898 he took upon himself the organization of a French military expedition to Cilicia, which remained unfinished due to his death. In fact, his health took a fast turn to the worse early that year. He was forced to move to Cairo, near his brothers, looking for a recovery. During his short sojourn in Egypt, he became a member of the A.R.F.

However, in the spring of 1899, upon his mother’s entreaties, Tigran Yergat returned to Constantinople, physically devastated. He was taken to the hospital, where he passed away on December 1, 1899. An obituary published in the A.R.F. organ Droshak stated: “The storm of revolution, the adoration of epic feats existed in Tigran Yergat as an embodiment of protest, framed within a tender smile. Alas! A wild disease, tuberculosis, destroyed that kind and honorable life.”