Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Death of Kristapor Kara-Murza - March 27, 1902

This year is the 160th anniversary of the birth of composer Kristapor Kara-Murza, introducer of choral music in Armenian culture. He was born on March 2, 1853 (February 18, according to the old Julian calendar) in the town of Gharasu-Bazar, currently Bielogorsk, in the Crimea (Ukraine). He started to play piano and flute at age 8 and also took private lessons from music teachers in the town. He developed his abilities to read and write music. He was just a teenager when he started to organize and offer concerts. 

He moved to Tiflis, the capital of the viceroyalty of the Caucasus, in 1882, and then to Baku from 1885-1892. He was the editor of musical criticism for the daily Mshak, edited by Grigor Artzruni. Kara-Murza offered the first concert of choral music in Armenian history, with a program of patriotic songs, at the theater founded by Artzruni in Tiflis. This was a novelty, as Armenian music was fundamentally written on a one-voice basis, as opposed to European four voices (polyphony). During the next seventeen years, until his premature death at the age of 49, the composer organized some 90 choral groups in fifty cities of Armenia and outside the country, including Tiflis, Baku, Etchmiadzin, Nakhichevan-on-the-Don, Odessa, Batum, Moscow, Kars, Shushi, Constantinople, and others, and gave more than 250 concerts with the participation of 6,000 people.

Kara-Murza’s most important achievement was the collection of Armenian religious and popular songs, and their musical arrangement and conversion into polyphonic music. In 1887 he premiered his arrangement of the Divine Liturgy in a concert in Baku. He taught music at the Kevorkian Seminary of Holy Etchmiadzin in 1892-1893, and later settled back in Tiflis, where he gave special courses to musical conductors.

He also composed songs with lyrics by Armenian poets, as well as music a cappella, and also arranged operatic melodies. He presented in Baku fragments of Faust, the famous opera of French composer Charles Gounod (1818-1893), in Armenian translation. Kara-Murza arranged 300 choral and popular songs, among them such classics as “Dzidzernag,” “Zinch oo zinch,” “Kezi mernim,” “Khorodig,” “Lepho lele.”  He also composed and transcribed popular dances, and became the precursor to the modern song and dance ensembles.

In recent years, Kara-Murza has been credited with the composition of the music of the song “Mer Hairenik,” with lyrics by Mikael Nalbandian (1829-1866), which he premiered in Tiflis, in 1885. His music was the basis for the arrangement by Parsegh Ganachian (1885-1967), one of Gomidas’ disciples, which is performed today as the Armenian national anthem.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Birth of Nikol Aghbalian - March 24, 1873

An accomplished intellectual, educator, and public figure, Nikol Aghbalian was a self-appointed missionary of Armenian values wherever he went and wherever he worked, from the Caucasus to Beirut.

He was born in Tiflis in a working-class family. He graduated from the Lyceum Nersisian in Tiflis and the Kevorkian Seminary in Etchmiadzin, and he dedicated himself to teaching. At the same time, he started writing literary criticism for the monthly Murj, and the quality of his writing attracted the attention of the readership and the intelligentsia. Despite his precarious financial situation, he managed to follow university courses in Moscow, Paris, and Lausanne, although he was never able to graduate.

Aghbalian became a member of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation at a young age and he used his intellectual qualities to service the political cause. Since 1905, he was among the leading members of the Vernadun, the circle of intellectuals that gathered in the attic of poet Hovhannes Tumanian’s house to discuss literary and cultural issues of the day.

He was the principal of the Armenian school of Tehran between 1909 and 1912. He returned to Tiflis in 1913, where he became the editor of the A.R.F. newspaper Horizon and vice president of the Armenian Writers Society.After the beginning of World War I, Aghbalian was one of the founders of the Armenian National Council and played a crucial role in the organization of the Armenian volunteer movement that gave several battalions of Armenian soldiers to the Russian army fighting on the Caucasian front. When the retreat of the Russian forces brought thousands of survivors of the Armenian genocide from Western Armenia, he devoted himself to the daily work of sheltering, nourishing, and treating those refugees.

After the establishment of the Republic of Armenia, Aghbalian was elected a member of the Parliament and in 1919-1920 he became Minister of Education and Art. He established the grounds of the University of Yerevan and sponsored various educational and cultural initiatives. It is a well-known fact that his sponsorship of the yet unknown poet, Yeghishe Charents, whom he gave a job at the ministry, permitted him to concentrate on his literary creations.

After the sovietization of Armenia, he was incarcerated by the Bolshevik regime on February 9, 1921, and he was able to save his life, as well as many others, thanks to the popular rebellion of February 18, which liberated the prisoners, who had been condemned to death. After the end of the rebellion, he left Armenia and went to Tabriz, in Iran. A short time later, he moved to Alexandria (Egypt), where he worked as a teacher until 1928. In that year, he was among the initiators and founders of the Hamazkayin Armenian Educational and Editorial Society (today Hamazkayin Armenian Educational and Cultural Society). Later he moved with his friend and associate, the writer and educator Levon Shant (1869-1951), to Lebanon, where they founded the Armenian College (Jemaran) of Hamazkayin in Beirut (later Nshan Palanjian College and today Melanchton and Haig Arslanian College).

Until his death on August 15, 1947, Aghbalian followed an active schedule as a teacher and scholar. He taught the history of Armenian literature, Classical Armenian, and Armenian classical literature. He also organized a cycle of widely attended popular lectures to attract the interest of the Armenian community towards its literature and culture. He remained one of the intellectual referents of the Diaspora in its first decades.

His extended activities as a public figure and an educator did not allow Aghbalian to complete many of his projects. However, he managed to publish several books on Armenian literature and politics, and a four-volume collection of his works was published in the late 1950s in Beirut.

His family remained in Yerevan after his exile in 1921. His name was forbidden in Armenia until the final years of the Soviet regime. His name and his work were fully rehabilitated after the second independence. Some of his works, as well as monographs about him, have been published, and a school has been named after him.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Birth of Alexander Tamanian - March 16, 1878

Alexander Tamanian was the founder of Armenian modern architecture. His vision for Yerevan was going to turn the village-like capital of Armenia in the 1920s into a modern city. 
Tamanian was born in Krasnodar (Northern Caucasus). He graduated from the Arts Academy of St. Petersburg in 1904. His first work was the reconstruction of the Armenian church of St. Catherine in St. Petersburg in 1904-1906. Following the excavations of Nikolai Marr in Ani, he projected the museum of Ani in 1908, which was not realized. 

He would develop a very successful career as architect in Russia. His blueprints for different building in various cities of Russia from 1907-1913 (the house of Scherbatov in Moscow, in 1911-1913, won the golden medal of the City Duma) applied the forms of classicism and Russian architecture of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. He was elected full member of the Russian Art Academy in 1914 and became president of the Council of the Russian Art Academy, with status of vice-president of the Academy, in 1917.

The independence of Armenia in 1918 opened a new page in his life. He moved to Yerevan in 1919 to serve his country. He designed the coat-of-arms of the Republic, together with painter Hakob Kojoyan, which was restored as Armenia’s national coat of arms in 1992. Following the sovietization of Armenia, he left for Iran in 1921 and accepted the invitation of the Soviet Armenian government to return in 1923. 

Thereafter, and until his death on February 11, 1936 in Yerevan, he developed a very active professional life. In 1923 he was designated deputy chairman of the State Planning Committee. He became chairman of the Committee for Conservation of Monuments in 1924. 

In the same year, he created the master plan of the city of Yerevan, which signaled the beginning of Soviet city construction in Armenia. It was conceived for a city of 150,000 inhabitants (Yerevan had 25,000 at the time of the first Republic) and became the basis for the subsequent blueprints of the city. In 1934 he started the project for “Great Yerevan” (500,000 inhabitants), which remained unfinished. 

He also designed the plans for various cities between 1925 and 1933, including Gumri, Vagharshapat, Stepanakert, Gavar, and Hrazdan among others. He designed and built in Yerevan the morgue of the Medical Institute (1926-1933), the astronomical observatory (1930-1933), the National Library (1932-1938), and others, and his talent as a great architect was recognized particularly with his master plan of Yerevan, and the buildings of the Government House (1932-1941, State Prize of the USSR in 1942) and the Opera and Ballet Theater and Concert Hall (1926-1953). 

These two buildings predetermined and conditioned the architectonical solutions for
the most important urban points of Yerevan: the ensemble of the Republic Square (State Prize of Armenia in 1970), the area adjacent to the Opera Theater (the blueprint won the Great Golden Medal of the World Exhibition of 1937 in Paris), and the construction of the Northern Avenue, recently executed. Tamanian’s creations reinterpreted the principles of classical Armenian architecture with new quality, and opened new ways to develop their traditions in what has been called the “Tamanian School.” In 1936, Poet Yeghishe Charents wrote his poem “Vision of Death,” the third one with this title, in memory of the recently deceased architect. He started with the following lines:

“He saw a solar city...

As a sundial, drawn upon the blue side of pure marble,

here is the map of the city.

Avenues, streets, extending in circles,
and in the center, a granite altar reaching to the sky.”

Monday, March 11, 2013

Approval of the Polozhenye (Statute) of the Armenian Church - March 11, 1836

The Russian Empire conquered Eastern Armenia between 1805 and 1828. Bishop Nerses Ashtaraketsi (1771-1857) had supported the Russian conquest of Eastern Armenia in the belief that liberation from Persian rule would bring greater freedom to the Armenian people. However, he had been blindsided; his opposition to General Field Marshal Ivan Paskevich (1782-1856), who was the commander of the Caucasian front during the Russo-Persian and Russo-Turkish wars of 1826-1829, earned him to be exiled to Besarabia as primate of the Armenian diocese in 1828. 

The Russian government immediately took measures to regulate its relations with the Catholicosate of All Armenians, headquartered in Holy Etchmiadzin. Paskevich obtained special permission from the government to establish a set of rules. He formed a four-member committee in 1829, which produced a statute of the Armenian Church on January 8, 1830. 

The preliminary version was revised in Saint Petersburg, the capital of the Russian Empire, and after certain changes it was presented to Czar Nicholas I (1825-1855), who approved it on March 11, 1836. These bylaws, officially titled “On the Management of the Spiritual Activities of the Armenian Gregorian Church,” were included in the eleventh volume of the Russian code, and popularly known as Polozhenye (“statute,” in Russian). (The name “Gregorian” is a misnomer of the Armenian Church, as it was not founded by St. Gregory the Illuminator, but by the Apostles Thaddeus and Bartholomew.)
The Polozhenye, composed of 141 articles, greatly reduced the political powers of the Armenian religious leadership, including that of the Catholicos, while preserving the autonomy of the Armenian Church. It established a Synod that would oversee the activities of the Catholicos. After 1836, in agreement with the new regulation, the Catholicos of Etchmiadzin was to be elected in congresses in Etchmiadzin, in which religious and non-religious dignitaries would participate. 

Nerses Ashtaraketsi, elected Catholicos of All Armenians in 1843 (1843-1857) fought to restore the rights of the Catholicos curtailed by the Polozhenye. Realizing that one tyranny had been replaced with another, Catholicos Nerses frequently overlooked the Russian-approved statutes and worked on his own. He concentrated all ecclesiastical power in his hands and did not complete the members of the Synod. He made sure that the resolutions of the Synod were not approved and thus reduced its effectiveness to naught. He even wrote a new statute for the Armenian Church that was not submitted to the government for approval, but he used it as the Church’s own guideline.  

Nevertheless, the Polozhenye continued to be applied in Eastern Armenia until the fall of the Russian Empire in 1917.