Thursday, January 31, 2013

Opening of Yerevan State University - January 31, 1920

On May 16, 1919, the Council of Ministers of the Republic of Armenia adopted a resolution to found a university in Yerevan. However, the lack of an adequate building forced the establishment of the University outside the capital. The opening ceremonies were held with great pomp on January 31, 1920, in the building of the Commerce School of Alexandropol (now Gumri). The first rector was a law scholar, Yuri Ghambarian (1850-1926).

The inauguration was attended by the leadership of the republic, as well as by many guests from abroad. The first class was a lecture by the famous Armenologist, Stepan Malkhasiants (1857-1947) on February 1, 1920. During its first year, the university had one school (Faculty of History and Linguistics), 262 students and 32 professors. Famous specialists who had graduated abroad and had extensive experience in teaching and scholarship were invited to teach, such as Hakob Manandian, Manuk Abeghian, Stepan Malkhasiants, and others.

The University was moved to Yerevan in June 1920, but the grave political situation of the country made it impossible to restart classes until the sovietization of Armenia in December 1920. Historian Ashot Hovhannisian, the Commissar of Education of Soviet Armenia, issued a decree on December 17, 1920, renaming the university the Popular University of Yerevan. Historian Hakob Manandian was elected rector. The Popular University had two sections, Social Sciences and Biology. In October 1921, it expanded to five sections (Natural Sciences, Oriental Studies, Technics, Pedagogy, and Soviet Construction). The Faculty of Natural Sciences turned into Faculty of Agronomy, while the Faculty of Medicine was opened in March 1922. The university was renamed Yerevan State University in 1923. It functioned initially on the first floor of the Teachers’ Seminar, a black tufa building on Astafian (now Abovian) Street. Other remarkable scholars became faculty members, among them linguists Hrachia Adjarian and Grigor Ghapantsian, historian Leo (Arakel Babakhanian), literary scholar Arsen Terterian, archaeologist Ashkharbek Kalantar, art scholar Bishop Gareguin Hovsepiants (future Catholicos of the Holy See of Cilicia), philologists Yervant Ter-Minasian, Bishop Mesrop Ter-Movsisian, and Karo Melik-Ohanjanian, and others. Now its central building is on the beginning of Alex Manoogian Street (formerly Mravian).
In the academic year 1933-1934, the university had five faculties: Economic Sciences, Natural Sciences, History and Literature, Physics and Mathematics, and Pedagogy. The latter became the ground for the Pedagogical Institute (now the Armenian State Pedagogical University “Khachatur Abovian”). In the same year, the Faculty of Natural Sciences branched out in Biology and Chemistry.

Many teachers were arrested and killed during the Stalin purges of 1936-1938, while others were exiled and lived for years outside Armenia. Some of them died, while others were able to return after the death of Stalin in precarious health.

The number of schools increased over the years. In 1935-1936 there were eight and in 1991 they had turned into seventeen. Yerevan State University made an important change in its educational programs in the academic year 1995-1996, when it adopted a three-level program: bachelor (4 years), master (2 years) and graduate (3 years).

The university has given about 90,000 graduates since its inception. Today it has about 13,000 students in its 22 branches. More than seven hundred of its 1,200 teachers have one or two doctorate degrees. More than thirty full members of the National Academy of Sciences currently have educational and scholarly functions at the university.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Death of Aram Manoukian - January 29, 1919

Aram Manoukian was one of the main protagonists in the foundation of the first independent Republic of Armenia in 1918.

Born as Sergei (Sarkis) Hovhannisian in the village of Zeyva (nowadays David Bek, district of Kapan in Siunik) in 1879, he graduated from the Diocesan School of Shushi, in Gharabagh, one of the main Armenian schools in the region. He joined the ranks of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation when still a student. He was sent to Baku in 1901 as an activist. After a year spent in Kars (1903-1904), he settled in Van, where he developed his political activities for more than ten years, with a very short interruption. He had already acquired the pseudonym of Aram Manoukian and would later be known simply as “Aram of Van.”
He became one of the main leaders of the party in the region of Van and the soul of the resistance of the city against the Turkish orders of deportation in April 1915. After the deliverance of the Armenian population by the arrival of the Russian troops and the Armenian volunteers, Aram was named governor of Van until the unexpected retreat of the Russian forces two months later.

Between 1916 and 1917 he worked at the Armenian National Bureau of Tiflis and at the A.R.F. Bureau, dealing with the issues of Western Armenian refugees. He was one of the main organizers of the First Congress of Western Armenians in 1917. 

He was sent by the Armenian National Council to Yerevan in December 1917 as plenipotentiary representative to organize the resistance against the Turkish offensive. On January 5, 1918, on the eve of Armenian Christmas, Aram decreed a general mobilization. He declared: “In these conditions, our people can make miracles. I have often had the opportunity to realize that the sense of duty of our villagers is authentic. It is a sign of awareness. One call by the National Council is enough for him to leave his home and to rush to arms, when there is nothing that compels him to do so. At the time, the mobilization by the Russian government was always executed on the force of terror.”

He took severe measures to stabilize the situation as head of the Special Committee, and was proclaimed dictator during an assembly of representatives of the population of Yerevan in March 1918.

His organizing skills and his unflinching patriotic fervor led the Armenian population of the plain of Ararat to stand up against the invaders: “We are alone and we can only rely on our forces,” he proclaimed, “both to defend the front and to establish order inside the country.” He was the driving force behind the successful outcome of the battles of Sardarabad and Pash Abaran that, together with Gharakilise, ensured the proclamation of the independence on May 28, 1918.

Afterwards, he practically led the country until July 23, 1918, when the government of the Republic, created in Tiflis and headed by Prime Minister Hovhannes Kajaznuni, arrived in Yerevan. He was named Minister of Interior and held that position until his death. After the assassination of Kachatur Karjikian, Minister of Jobs and Health, he was also acting minister from November 15 to December 13, 1918.

Aram Manoukian died on January 29, 1919, from typhus that he contracted when visiting the camps of refugees from the genocide. His biographer, Arshaluys Astvatzatrian, has left the following description of his burial:

“The interment of Aram was an expression of great popular mourning. Thousands of people had come to give their final respect to the man to whom they had entrusted their fortune in the hardest days. I know what Aram was for Yerevan, but anyway, when we took out the coffin from his home, what I saw outside woke me up from the impact of the great loss and amazed me: wherever you looked, it was a human sea, in the street, on the roofs, windows, balconies, everything was occupied. The whole city, old and young, had come out to the street. From the church of Peter and Paul until the cemetery, the funeral carriage was empty: they were carrying the coffin on their shoulders and the carriers were mainly the Armenians from Van, who were particularly fond of Aram. In front of the A.R.F. House there were funeral speeches. Nikol Aghbalian’s words were superb and unforgettable. Hovhannes Kajaznuni and Abraham Gulkhandanian spoke at the cemetery. That day, the capital of Armenia was in mourning . . .”

Aram Manoukian’s tomb is currently at the City Cemetery of Yerevan (Tokhmakh-Gol). The street where he died was renamed Aram Street after the collapse of the Soviet regime.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Death of Bedros Tourian (January 21, 1872)

It has been said that Armenian literature had two great foes whose names started with the letter թ (t): tuberculosis (թոքախտ, tokakhd) and Turks (թուրքեր). Five famous poets were among the victims of the terrible illness, related to poverty and malnourishment. One of them was Bedros Tourian, the great name of Armenian romanticism.

Tourian was born in Scutari, a suburb of Constantinople, on May 20, 1851 (Julian calendar, equivalent to June 1 in the Gregorian calendar). His father, Abraham Zmbayan, was a struggling blacksmith in a poverty stricken family, named after his profession (Turkish zımba “chisel”), from which his son derived the Armenian translation Tourian (Armenian դուր[tour]“chisel”).

Young Bedros studied at the Armenian lyceum of Scutari, where he was a pupil of the future great Armenian satirist, Hagop Baronian (1843-1891). He was thirteen when he wrote his first poem. He was particularly interested in theater. He read Lamartine, Victor Hugo, Alfred de Musset, and other contemporaries of French romanticism. In 1866 he wrote his first play, “Vart and Shushan.” Another noted contemporary, poet Meguerdich Beshigtashlian (1828-1868), who would die of tuberculosis shortly thereafter, read it and exclaimed: “This young boy will overcome me.”

He finished school in 1867 and started working to help his parents. He first was a secretary for a moneylender and then for a merchant. However, he soon left these menial jobs to devote himself to literary and theatrical works. He worked on the editorial board of the newspaper Orakir and gave private lessons, and later became an actor in Hagop Vartovian’s theatrical group. On the advice of the latter, he started to write plays. Some of them were performed during his lifetime, mostly being historical plays which were the favorite of the Armenian public. His tragedy “Artashes I the Conqueror” brought him 10 golden Turkish pounds, but his other plays did not ensure financial gains, although they were warmly received by the public. He wrote a total of 10 plays and also translated Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” into Armenian. His last play, “Theater or the Wretched,” abandoned the historical subject for social and realist issues, opening a new page in Armenian theatrical literature.

On February 2 2012, Bedros Tourian's relics (fragments of his skull) mixed with the soil brought from the poet's grave from the Armenian cemetery of Constantinople were placed in the memorial wall at Yerevan Pantheon Cemetery.
He was famous for his plays during his life, but he became a celebrated poem after his death. He wrote a total of 39 poems, of which 26 were composed in his last year of life. His patriotic poems did not survive time, but his lyrical and love pieces ensured him a place in the pantheon of Armenian poetry. Early in 1871, the first signs of the feared tuberculosis appeared. Some of his most well-known pieces, such as “Lake” and “Complaint,” were written at that time. Aware of his forthcoming end, he rode the roller coaster of emotion, complaining to the Almighty in one poem and beseeching forgiveness in another. Unrealized dreams and an anxiety to live caused him deep pain and sorrow, which are reflected in his writing. He did not publish any book in his lifetime, but a volume of his poems and plays was posthumously printed in 1872 by a group of friends and admirers. An English translation of his complete poems by James Russell has been published by Harvard University Press.

Tourian passed away on January 21, 1872. He was 21 years old. The Armenian community wished to do a solemn burial. The youth requested Patriarch Meguerdich Khrimian (Khrimian Hayrig) to allow the burial with an orchestra. Khrimian, visibly moved, answered: “I don’t allow it, but I pardon it.” The coffin was followed by 4,000 youngsters. The poet was buried in the cemetery of Scutari. His friends built a memorial; the inscription was written by Tourian’s young brother, who later would become Patriarch Yeghishe Tourian (1852-1930), also a poet and writer.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Death of Nubar Pasha - January 14, 1899

Throughout history, statesmen of Armenian origin have also served in different countries in the world. One of them was Nubar Pasha, who spent most of his life in Egypt, where he became Prime Minister three times. 

Nubar Nubarian was born in Smyrna (Izmir) in 1825. He was the son of an Armenian merchant, Mgrdich Nubarian. His mother was a relative of Boghos Bey Yusufian, an influential minister of Muhammad Ali, Viceroy of Egypt (1805-1849) and the founder of the modern Egyptian state. 
Nubar was educated in Switzerland (Vevey) and France (Toulouse), and acquired an excellent command of the French language. He went to Egypt before he was eighteen. He first was trained as secretary to Boghos Bey, Minister of Commerce and Foreign Affairs, and in 1845 started his state career, first under Muhammad Ali (second secretary), the heir apparent Ibrahim Pasha (first secretary), and then under the latter’s successor, Abbas Pasha.

He was the Egyptian representative for various diplomatic missions in London and Vienna between 1850 and 1854, and he was rewarded with the title of bey for his success. In 1856 the new viceroy, Said, appointed him as his chief secretary, and then charged him with the important transport service from Egypt to India. Despite his success in that task, he was dismissed by Said and then rehired again as principal secretary, until the death of the viceroy in 1863. 

Said was succeeded by Ismail Pasha, who recognized Nubar’s ability and charged him with a mission to Constantinople to smooth the way for several ambitious projects: the completion of the Suez Canal, the change in title to that of khedive, and the change in the order of succession. Nubar obtained the consent of the Sultan for the completion of the Canal and was made a pasha by Ismail. After his return from Paris, where he went to complete the arrangements for the construction of the Suez Canal, he was made Minister of Public Works. In 1866 he became Minister of Foreign Affairs and succeeded to complete the other two projects; in 1867 Ismail was declared khedive of Egypt, with succession in favor of his eldest son. 

Despite mounting opposition, Nubar Pasha was able to replace the antiquated system of capitulations of the Ottoman Empire in Egypt by mixed international civil courts and a uniform code, instead of seventeen consulates administering seventeen different codes. 

Ismail’s extravagant administration brought Egypt to the verge of bankruptcy, and prompted Great Britain and France to intervene. Representatives of both countries were included in the Egyptian cabinet, with Nubar as Prime Minister (1878-1879), who tried to reduce the khedive to the position of constitutional monarch. However, Ismail incited a military rising against him. Nubar was dismissed, but finally the British and the French realized that the situation was not to their advantage and Ismail was deposed in 1879. Nubar remained out of office until 1884, when he was designated Prime Minister by Ismail’s son Tawfiq. He was forced to carry out a policy which he openly disapproved, but which the country was forced to accept under British dictation.

Nubar was dismissed from his post in 1888 and returned for a short stint as Prime Minister between April 1894 and November 1895, when he retired after completing his fifty years of service. 

He lived afterwards between Cairo and Paris, where he died on January 14, 1899. His son Boghos Nubar Pasha (1851-1930) was one of the founding members and first president of the Armenian General Benevolent Union (1906-1928).

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Death Of Srpouhi Dussap - January 3, 1901

Srpouhi Dussap was a pioneering Armenian feminist and the first Armenian female novelist. She was born Srpouhi Vahanian in 1842 to a well-to-do Armenian Catholic family in Constantinople. Her brother Hovhannes (1832-1891) had an important career in the Ottoman administration (he was Minister of Justice from 1876-1877).
Srpouhi Vahanian lost her father when she was a young child and grew under the care of her mother, Nazli Arzoumanian, a very well-educated woman. Her daughter also received a good education in French institutions. She developed little interest in the Armenian language until she was put under the tutoring of the famous poet Meguerdich Beshigtashlian (1828-1868). Afterwards, she started her literary career, writing her first pieces in classical Armenian. 

Srpouhi Vahanian-Dussap married a French musician, Paul Dussap. Together they operated a literary salon in the European style, where prominent intellectuals, writers, and public activists would gather to discuss social, political, and literary issues. 

Srpouhi Dussap worked tirelessly for the emancipation of women. She attacked traditional patriarchal structures and male oppression, that were rampant even in the more cultured and cosmopolitan capital of the Ottoman Empire. She worked for the Armenian Women’s School Society and secured funds from local banks, theatrical performances and other sources.

Dussap’s first work of fiction, Mayda (1878), written in the form of an epistolary novel,became an event. It sold hundreds of copies in a few weeks. Despite its glaring flaws that were criticized by her contemporaries, the novel marked a turning point in Armenian literature for its advocacy of women’s rights. Her next novels, Siranoush (1884) and Araxi (1888), did not generate the same level of controversy, but they marked further developments in her thought.

She abandoned writing after her third novel because of her ill health, but continued her charitable and educational labor. However, personal tragedy struck her in 1892. After her return to Constantinople following a two-year sojourn in France, her young daughter died of tuberculosis. She retreated to religious mysticism, hoping to communicate with her dead daughter’s spirit, and also burnt most of her archives. At the time of her death, she had already become a recognized name and poet Zabel Asadour (Sibil, 1863-1934) and novelist Zabel Essayan (1878-1942) were already following the path she had opened.