Friday, June 29, 2012

Death of Karekin I, Catholicos of All Armenians - June 29, 1999

Thirteen years ago, the untimely death of Karekin I, Catholicos of All Armenians (formerly Karekin II, Catholicos of the Holy See of Cilicia) was a hard blow to the Armenian Church worldwide. Much has been said and written about the life and deeds of the Catholicos, but it is never too late to recall his memory one more time. 

Born in Kessab, a piece of Armenian Cilicia which miraculously remained in Syria after the sanjak of Alexandretta (Hatay) was transferred to Turkey by the French mandate in 1939, Nishan Sarkissian entered the Theological Seminary of Antelias in 1946 and graduated six years later. In 1952, he was ordained a celibate priest and renamed Karekin, after the recently deceased Catholicos Karekin I Hovsepiants. He joined the brotherhood of the Armenian Catholicate of Cilicia.

After he defended his doctoral thesis in 1955, he received the degree of “vartabed” (doctor of the Church). He was a faculty member and then served as dean of the seminary. He studied theology for two years at Oxford University. In 1963 he became an aide to Catholicos Khoren I. The same year he was elevated to senior archimandrite and in 1964, consecrated bishop.

In the 1970s, he served in important administrative positions. From 1971-1973 he was Prelate of the Diocese of New Julfa (Iran) and in 1973 he received the rank of archbishop. He was appointed Pontifical Legate of the Eastern Prelacy from 1973-1975 and Prelate from 1975-1977. He left his position in 1977 when he was elected Catholicos Coadjutor of the Catholicate of Cilicia. He served in this position until the death of Catholicos Khoren in 1983, when he became Catholicos Karekin II of the Holy See of Cilicia.

His ecclesiastical, administrative, and intellectual activities, including his ecumenical contacts and his frequent and valuable publications in Armenian, English, and French on theological, Armenological, philosophical, ethical and other subjects, had already earned him a position of importance in the hierarchy of the Armenian Church. He bolstered his activities during his twelve-year tenure as Catholicos (1983-1995). He developed a close relationship with Catholicos of All Armenians, Vazken I (1955-1994).

Upon the death of Catholicos Vazken, Catholicos Karekin II was elected Catholicos of All Armenians in April 1995 and thereafter became known as Karekin I. These were the first years of the second independence of Armenia. The newly elected Catholicos was called to have a central role in the resurgence of the Armenian Church after the collapse of the Soviet Union. However, his health failed him and his pontificate was extremely brief. After a painful battle with cancer, he passed away on June 29, 1999.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Death of Karekin I Hovsepiants, Catholicos of the Holy See of Cilicia, June 21, 1952

“Armenian people, believe in your past, in your history, in the God of your fathers, in their immortal and alive soul, and you will not die. Believe that you will live and act with that believe, work and hope... and you will not die.”

These words belong to Karekin Hovsepiants, one of the most remarkable figures of the Armenian Apostolic Church in the twentieth century. A Church leader, he was also a distinguished scholar of Armenian studies and a name of national proportions.

Karekin Hovsepiants (his birth name was also Karekin) was born in the village of Maghavuz (Karabagh) in 1867. He studied in the Kevorkian Seminary of Holy Ecthmiadzin from 1882-1890. He pursued higher studies in Germany (Leipzig, Halle and Berlin) from 1892-1897, and obtained his doctorate in Theology from Leipzig University with a dissertation on the origins of monothelitism, the Christological doctrine about how the divine and human relate in the person of Jesus that formally emerged in Armenia and Syria in the seventh century.

Karekin Hovsepiants returned to the Caucasus and had a flourishing activity. He was ordained a celibate priest in 1897. After three years of intense teaching at the Seminary of Holy Etchmiadzin (1897-1900), which he had to interrupt due to health problems, he was designated Vicar of the Armenian diocese of Tiflis and participated actively in the intellectual life of the Armenian community (1900-1902). He was later the principal of the diocesan school of Yerevan (1902-1905), dean of the Seminary (1905-1907), editor of Ararat, the journal of the Catholicosate (1906-1907), abbot of the monastery of Saint Hripsime (1907-1914), again dean of the Seminary (1914-1917). In the meantime, his research and publication had gained him the respect of the Armenian intelligentsia.

In 1917, Catholicos of All Armenians Kevork V consecrated him as bishop. In May 1918 Hovsepiants participated actively in the crucial battle of Sardarabad and was decorated for his bravery by the government of the newly-founded Republic of Armenia. In 1920, he established a chair of Armenian Art and Archaeology at the newly created Yerevan State University. After the establishment of the Soviet regime, the chair was closed, most probably because the religious content of art ran counter to Soviet ideology.

He continued his ecclesiastic and intellectual activities and in 1927 he was designated Primate of the diocese of Russia, Crimea, and Nor Nakhichevan. In 1932 he became a member of the Supreme Spiritual Council of Holy Etchmiadzin and in 1934 was designated nuncio for the Armenian Diaspora by Catholicos Khoren I. He traveled through different communities and from 1936-1938 he tried unsuccessfully to mend the split in the Armenian Church of America. From 1938-1943 he was Primate of the Armenian Diocese of America.

He was elected Catholicos of the Holy See of Cilicia in 1943 but due to the difficulties of World War II he was only able to take the position in 1945. The Catholicate had just come out from the very difficult years following its establishment in Antelias in 1929. During his seven-year tenure, Catholicos Karekin I gave a powerful momentum to administrative, ecclesiastic, educational, and publishing activities, and turned the Catholicate into a focus of Armenian life in the Diaspora. He also continued to publish very important works about Armenian history and art. After suffering two heart attacks in 1950, he was confined to bed until his passing on June 21, 1952.

Shortly after his death, a twenty-year-old seminarian, Neshan Sarkissian, was ordained a priest and took the name Karekin in remembrance of the late Catholicos. He would go on to become Catholicos Karekin II of Cilicia and later Karekin I of All Armenians.

Friday, June 15, 2012

The Twenty Hunchakian Gallows - June 15, 1915

One of the main episodes of the repression exerted against the Armenian leadership in the initial phase of the Armenian genocide was the case of the Hunchakian Party activists who were hanged in Constantinople in 1915. 

The Social Democratic Hunchakian Party was founded in Geneva in 1887 by a group of Eastern Armenian students. It had pursued revolutionary activities with the aim of the self-defense of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire. After the Ottoman Revolution of 1908, it maintained a certain distance from the Young Turk party. The coup d’état of early 1913 that practically concentrated the power in the hands of a triumvirate (Talaat, minister of Interior; Enver, minister of War, and Djemal, minister of Navy) was not well-received by the Hunchakian Party, which was concerned with the safety of Ottoman Armenians. The 7th General Convention of the Party, held in Constanta (Romania) in September 1913, stressed that the dictatorial government of the Young Turks would make impossible that the aim of an independent Armenia (which was the declared aim of the party in its political program) would be accomplished. 

The convention adjourned with two main objectives: 
  1. The party would become again a clandestine organization.
  2. It would carry a plan to assassinate the leaders of the Young Turk party.

An Armenian double-agent, who was also a member of the party and attended the meetings, reported these developments to the Turkish government. The Ottoman Armenian delegates to the convention were arrested as soon as they went back to Constantinople. By the end of 1913, a total of 140 members of the party had been arrested.

Lengthy mock trials followed, while the prisoners endured terrible conditions in the Turkish prison. Finally, twenty-two members of the party were sentenced to death by hanging. The sentence was carried out for twenty of them (two were fugitives) on June 15, 1915, in the central square of Constantinople, known as Sultan Bayazid Square. As one of the prominent Hunchakian leaders, Paramaz, who was among the sentenced, said before his hanging, “You can only hang our bodies, but not our ideology.” The sacrifice of the Twenty Hunchakian gallows, also known as the “Twenty Hunchakian martyrs,” became an example and inspiration for political action of the following generations.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Congress of Berlin (June 13 – July 13, 1878)

The fourth and final Russo-Turkish war of the nineteenth century (1877-1878) ended with a humiliating defeat for the Ottoman Empire and the signature of the Treaty of San Stefano on March 3, 1878. By this treaty, the Russian Empire tried to settle the Eastern Question and alter the balance of power in the Balkan Peninsula to its own advantage. Article 16 of the treaty established: “As the evacuation by the Russian troops of the territory which they occupy in Armenia, and which is to be restored to Turkey, might give rise to conflicts and complications detrimental to the maintenance of good relations between the two countries, the Sublime Porte engages to carry into effect, without further delay, the improvements and reforms demanded by local requirements in the provinces inhabited by Armenians, and to guarantee their security from Kurds and Circassians.” This meant that the Ottoman Empire agreed to carry reforms in Armenia under the immediate supervision of Russian troops before their evacuation.

Catholicos Nerses Varjapetian
The terms of the treaty, particularly with reference to the Balkans, alarmed the Great Powers, as well as Serbia and Greece. Russia had to agree to the organization of a congress in Berlin, where the terms of the Treaty of San Stefano would be revised. The Congress of Berlin lasted a month. An Armenian delegation was sent by Patriarch of Constantinople, Nerses Varjabedian, to present their case. Since they did not represent any country, the delegation, led by former Patriarch Meguerdich Khrimian (Khrimian Hayrig), was not allowed to participate. On July 13, the Treaty of Berlin was signed to replace the Treaty of San Stefano. Diplomatic maneuvers led by Great Britain succeeded in restoring for Turkey most of what it had lost in the war and San Stefano. Article 61 of the new treaty watered down article 16 in the following way: “The Sublime Porte undertakes to carry out, without further delay, the improvements and reforms demanded by local requirements in the provinces inhabited by the Armenians, and to guarantee their security against the Circassians and Kurds. It will periodically make known the steps taken to this effect to the Powers, who will superintend their application.” It meant that the Ottoman Empire was supposed to carry reforms with no mention of Russian supervising forces; those reforms would be guaranteed by the European powers. Besides, the term “Armenia” had been replaced by “provinces inhabited by the Armenians.”

The Armenian delegation returned with empty hands to Constantinople. Upon his return, Khrimian Hayrig pronounced his famous homily of the Iron Ladle, in which he stated that each power at Berlin had taken a share of the contents of a great soup bowl with an iron ladle, whereas he had only a “paper ladle” (a petition) and thus could bring nothing back to the Armenian people. His sermon marked a turning point in Armenian political consciousness.

The Russo-Turkish war and the Treaty of Berlin marked the internationalization of the Armenian Question. For the next four decades, until the outbreak of World War I, Armenians would claim from the European powers that they forced Turkey to execute the promised reforms. The Turkish government would carry a policy of violence until the ultimate level: genocide.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Birth of St. Nerses Shnorhali (June 4, 1102)

Every time we sing “Aravod Looso” (Morning of Light) during the morning service at church or “Norahrash bsagavor” (Newly and Marvelously Crowned) at the festivity of Vartanantz, we are singing two of the most inspired sharagans written and musicalized by Nerses Shnorhali. We are also repeating his words when we recite “Havadov Khosdovanim” (In Faith I Confess) during Lent. One of the most beloved saints of the Armenian Church, he was born on June 4, 1102 (some sources say 1098 or 1101). He was a member of the Pahlavuni princely family and the grandson of the noted writer, Grigor Magistros Pahlavuni. Shnorhali (literally “filled with grace”) had been the title of several known members of the Church, but it became synonymous with Nerses after his time.

The fall of the Armenian kingdom of the Bagratunis in 1045 and the destruction of the capital Ani by the Seljukid Turks in 1064 had forced the Holy See of the Armenian Church to move from the capital in 1081. After several changes of place, Grigor III had settled the see in the fortress of Hromkla (Hrom-kla, “Roman Fortress”), on the banks of the Euphrates River, very close to the border of the Armenian state of Cilicia, in 1149 (it remained there until 1292). His brother Nerses, whom he had ordained at the age of 18 and who was consecrated a bishop at the age of thirty, was also known as Nerses Klayetsi. He was the right hand of Grigor III during his long reign (1113-1166) and succeeded him as Catholicos Nerses IV until his death in 1173.
A prolific writer and theologian, some of Shnorhali’s best known works are his Tught Unthanragan (General Epistle), a message of guidance in the Christian faith for the Armenian people, and his poem Hisus Vorti (Jesus the Son). Both have been translated into English. Many of his songs and hymns were incorporated into the regular service of the Armenian Church. His pioneering spirit of ecumenism and his leadership have been historically recognized.