Thursday, February 28, 2013

Birth of Martiros Saryan - February 28, 1880

The 20,000 dram banknote of the Republic of Armenia features painter Martiros Saryan, who was one of the two people publicly known and recognized in the twentieth century as Varbed (“Master”); the other was poet Avetik Isahakian (1875-1957).

Saryan was born in the Armenian community of Nor-Nakhichevan (the town is today part of the city of Rostov-on-the-Don, in the Northern Caucasus). His ancestors were from the medieval capital of Ani and had first migrated to Crimea in the Middle Ages. Afterwards, they moved to Nor-Nakhichevan, founded by Empress Catherine II of Russia in 1780. The town and its surrounding villages were the birthplace of many important figures of Armenian history, such as Mikael Nalbandian, Simon Vratzian, and Catholicos Guevorg VI, to name just a few.

Martiros Saryan studied in the public bilingual (Armenian and Russian) school of his town and graduated in 1895. After following elementary studies of art in his birthplace, he studied painting from 1897-1904 in the School of Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture of Moscow. He visited Eastern Armenia for the first time in 1901-1902 and sojourned in Yerevan, Vagharshapat, and Ani, among other places. This trip was crucial for his formative years, as it gave him a fundamental knowledge and appreciation of the history, culture, arts, and customs of his people. Following graduation, he completed two years of postgraduate studies in portrait technique. He was in close touch with many members of the Russian intelligentsia and participated in various collective exhibitions in Moscow. He visited Constantinople, Egypt, and Persia in 1910-1913.

From an initial period of pure realism, after 1903 he entered a phase characterized as being “fantastic” painting. His works of the 1910s, while they marked a certain return to realism, were far from being purely realistic. He merged the color thinking of Paul Gauguin, the tri-dimensional understanding of Paul Cézanne, the linear view of Vincent Van Gogh, and certain principles of Armenian medieval miniature, fresco painting, and architecture achieving an entirely “Saryanesque” quality.

He worked in the Moscow Committee to Aid Armenians during the years of the Armenian Genocide and traveled to Echmiadzin in order to help the Western Armenian refugees. The psychological shock he suffered from the dire situation of the refugees was strong enough to have him moved to a hospital in Tiflis. In 1916 he participated in the formation of the Union of Armenian Artists, together with several famous painters (Vardgues Sureniants, Panos Terlemezian, Yeghishe Tadevosian, and others). He later returned to his birthplace.

He moved to Armenia in 1921 with his family and settled in Yerevan. He was named director of the State Museum of Armenia. He also contributed to the organization of the Committee of Conservation of Antiquities and Art, of which he was president, the Union of Workers of Plastic Arts and the Art Institute of Yerevan. He created the coat of arms of Soviet Armenia together with the painter Hakob Kojoyan, who was one of the coauthors of the coat of arms of the Republic of Armenia (the one in use today), in 1921. He participated in the fourteenth Biennale of Venice in 1924. He received the Grand Prix of the World’s Fair of Paris in 1937 for his decoration of the pavilion of the Soviet Union. His works of the Soviet period, perhaps the most known by the general public, marked a return to realism.

Saryan continued to be actively involved in public life and was president of the Union of Painters of Armenia from 1945-1951. He received various honors: full member of the Academy of Arts of the Soviet Union in 1947, full member of the Academy of Sciences of Armenia in 1956, Popular Painter of the USSR in 1960, Hero of Socialist Work (1965), etc.

The house-museum of Martiros Saryan that contains a good portion of his artistic works was opened in 1967. Other paintings are housed in the State Gallery of Armenia and its branches, the Tretiakov Gallery in Moscow, museums of various former Soviet countries, and private collections in the United States, France, and other countries.

Saryan passed away at the age of 92 in Yerevan, on May 5, 1972. In 1986, his statue was erected on the homonymous square, in front of the Opera. One of the central streets of the capital is also named in his honor.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Birth of Artur Tarkhanian - February 23, 1932

Some of the most representative buildings of the city of Yerevan are related to the name of architect Artur Tarkhanian.

He was born in Yerevan in 1932. He graduated from the Polytechnic Institute (now Yerevan State Engineering University) in 1957. Upon graduation, he started his career at the Haypetnakhagitz (Armenian State Project) Institute. He taught at Yerevan State University of Architecture and Construction since 1968. He was conferred the titles of Emeritus Architect of Armenia in 1972 and of People’s Architect in 1987, and became an honorary member of the Moscow branch of the International Academy of Architecture in 1992.

Tarkhanian was distinguished with several all-Soviet prizes, among them the Creativity Medal for Young Architects (1962 and 1968), achievements of Soviet architecture in the period 1973-1977, Best Construction of the Year (1982), Best Creation of the Year (1985). He also received the Anania Shirakatsi Medal of the Republic of Armenia (1998). 

Tarkhanian’s name is linked, together with his coauthors, to some of the best known buildings and monuments, such as:

- The branches of the Social Sciences institutes of the National Academy of Sciences (1955-1972);
- The monument to the victims of the Armenian Genocide on the Tzitzernakaberd hill (1967);
- The “Ayrarat” cinema hall, formerly known as “Rossiya” (1970-1974, winner of the prize of the Council of Ministers of the Soviet Union in 1979);
- The Youth Palace (1970-1985, winner of the Prize of the all-Soviet Communist Youth Union in 1981);
- The Sports and Music Complex (1984, winner of the State Prize of the USSR in 1987);
- The Zvartnots Airport (1981, winner of the State Prize of Armenia in 1985);
- The monument to painter Martiros Saryan (1986);
 - The monument to singer Charles Aznavour in Gumri (2001); etc.

The prize-winning Youth Palace has been regarded as one of the representative works of Soviet modernism. Unfortunately, this collective work of Tarkhanyan and his colleagues Hrach Poghosyan and Spartak Khachikian was sold by the government and demolished by its new owner in 2006—the same year of Tarkhanian’s death—despite expert opinion that the building only needed to be renovated. The 18-floor Youth Palace, containing a hotel, a revolving cafe on the top floor (like the Marriott Hotel in Manhattan), two halls with a capacity of 1,000 and 300 seats, and its many artworks, which had been a popular place in the 1970s and 1980s, went down into history. Until today, the site remains empty.
Artur Tarkhanian (middle) reviewing architectural plans with colleagues.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Birth of Hayganoush Mark - February 14, 1885

Armenian female writers were not very common at the beginning of the twentieth century. Following the line opened by Eliz Gesaratsian, Serpouhie Dussape, Zabel Asadour, and Zabel Essayan, along came Hayganoush Mark, who became the mainstay of Armenian feminism in Constantinople during the first half of the twentieth century.

There are several options for her year of birth, as she gave different dates. However, her tombstone says 1885. She studied at the Essayan Lyceum, where one of her main teachers was poet Zabel Asadour (1863-1934). She entered the literary arena at the turn of the twentieth century. Besides her poetry and prose, she was particularly active as a journalist and an advocate for female rights and social issues.

Her activism prompted her to publish the journal Dzaghig (1905-1907) at the age of 24. Despite its short duration, Dzaghig focused the attention of female writers and opened a window on their issues. She married journalist Vahan Toshigian in 1907 and moved to Smyrna, where she published the women’s page of his newspaper Arshaluys. 

Her most important achievement was the publication of the journal Hay Guin (1919-1933) in Constantinople. Published in the aftermath of the Armenian Genocide, the journal raised issues of feminism, the situation of women survivors, and other social questions until the rise of Kemalism. Hayganoush Mark’s incisive style gained her wide popularity. Afterwards, mounting political pressure on the Armenian community forced her to tone down her articles, until the closing of the journal by the Turkish government in 1933. The reasons remained unclear.

She published a volume of literary works, From My Moments of Idleness, in 1921. The fiftieth anniversary of her literary and journalistic work was celebrated in 1954 in Istanbul. A book called Hayganoush Mark: Her Life and Deeds was published in 1954. Her health worsened in her last years and she moved to the Armenian Hospital of Istanbul, where she passed away on March 7, 1966. Her library and belongings were bequeathed to the Seminary of Surp Khach (closed years later by the government and turned into a high school).

Friday, February 8, 2013

Signature of the Armenian reform plan - February 8, 1914

The defeat of the Ottoman Empire in the Balkan war (1912-1913) created favorable conditions for the revival of the stipulations of the Treaty of Berlin of 1878. Its article 61, never put into practice, had established that the European powers would guarantee the implementation of administrative reforms within the provinces of the Empire inhabited by Armenians. 

Guevorg V (1911-1930), Catholicos of All Armenians, was the driving force behind the creation of the Armenian National Delegation, presided by Boghos Nubar Pasha (1852-1930), which lobbied the European powers to facilitate the enactment of reforms in the Ottoman Empire. The failure of the government to fulfill Armenian hopes after the revolution of 1908 and the restoration of the Constitution, coupled with the coup d’état of the Young Turks in early 1913, were enough to look forward to European intervention, as many other times in the past. 

The complicated politics of the period also favored such an intervention. France, Great Britain and Italy were anxiously trying to limit German overgrown influence in the Ottoman Empire, while Russia encouraged the Catholicos to appeal to the imperial government through the viceroy of the Caucasus for intervention. The project of reforms was prepared by André Mandelstam, the dragoman (translator) at the Russian Embassy in Constantinople, and representatives from the Armenian National Assembly, the main legislative body of the Ottoman Empire. The project was introduced and discussed at the meeting of the French, British and Italian ambassadors. It suggested the formation of a single province through the union of the six Armenian vilayets (Bitlis, Diarbekir, Erzerum, Mamuret-el-Aziz, Sivas, and Van) under either an Ottoman Christian or a European governor general. This official would be appointed by the European powers for the next five years to oversee matters related to Armenian issues. German strong opposition succeeded in obtaining several important modifications, such as the division of the region into two provinces headed by inspector-generals. They would be posted in Van and Erzerum.

L.C. Westenenk
Finally, the project was signed into law on February 8, 1914, by the Ottoman Empire (represented by Grand Vizir Said Halim Pasha) and Russia. Two European officials were selected as inspector-generals: Louis Constant Westenenk, an administrator for the Dutch East Indies, and Major Nicolai Hoff, of the Norwegian Army. Hoff was already in Van when World War I started on July 28, 1914, while Westenenk was preparing to depart for his post in Erzerum. The Ottoman Empire took advantage of the situation to expel the inspector-generals and, on December 16, 1914, a month and half after entering the war, abolish it. Anti-Armenian organized violence that would lead to the genocide was already on its way.