Sunday, July 28, 2013

Birth of Heranush Arshagian - July 28, 1887

Tuberculosis, the “romantic disease,” as it was regarded in the nineteenth century, had its own share of victims among Armenian poets from 1868 to 1924. Between those dates, several prominent names in Armenian literature, aged between 21 and 40, died due to that dreaded illness, including Megerdich Beshigtashlian (1828-1868), Bedros Tourian (1851-1872), Misak Medzarentz (1886-1908), Vahan Terian (1885-1920), Mateos Zarifian (1894-1924). Less prominent names were also among its victims. There was a young poet who joined that list, whose name still appears in some anthologies: Heranoush Arshagian.

She was born on July 28, 1887, in the suburb of Beshiktash, in Constantinople. Her father Hagop Arshag died when she was three; he had been a prominent activist in the Armenian community. The young girl entered the Sisters’ School of Makrikoy, where she stayed for a year and half. Afterwards, she transferred to the Makruhian girls’ school in her birthplace. She was a very successful student and her teachers admired her essays.

However, her studies were interrupted when the physicians advised that the only possible cure for the deadly disease was to spend time within a natural environment, far from the city, and to breathe the fresh air of a village. In 1902 Arshagian moved with her family to a farm outside Yedi-kule, another suburb of the Ottoman capital. It appears that she wrote her undated poems between 1903-1904, influenced by her imminent death and the beauty of nature that surrounded her.

The sky is blue; the pretty eyes
Watch us with infinite blue.
Blue are all the sweet objects,
The infinite seas, the soft flowers,
The immaterial clouds, the enlightened soul
When comes out from its closet.
I have loved that color, faint or burning,
As it smiles constantly through the tones of white.
I have loved it as if it were incense,
As I love the fire-haired stars.
In the middle of the pages of a beloved book
I put a very humble, blue flower,
To make sure that whoever sees it one day
Will remember my sweet emotions with the flower

She read a poem by another young poet, Hrand Nazariantz (1880-1962), entitled “A Sister,” in an issue of the journal “Puragn” (1904). The poet spoke about his dream of having a sister to share his thoughts. Arshagian send him a warm letter: “If you wish a sister, I need a brother; let’s find together what we don’t have . . .” They started to correspond.

The young poet, according to her friends, had written prolifically including a novel, several novellas, various poems in French, and some five dozen poems in Armenian. She passed away on March 27, 1905, a few months before her eighteenth birthday. Some of her writings were published in the journal “Dzaghig,” edited by writer Haiganoush Mark. Nazariantz published a book about her life and poetry in 1910, where he gathered 24 poems and some excerpts from her letters. This was, essentially, her literary testament.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Signature of the Treaty of Lausanne - July 24, 1923

It has been frequently said that the Treaty of Lausanne marked the burial of the Armenian Cause, even though neither Armenia nor Armenians were mentioned there.

This peace treaty signed in the Swiss city officially ended the state of war that had existed between Turkey and Great Britain, France, Italy, Japan, Greece, Romania, and Serbia (which had become the Kingdom of Yugoslavia after 1918) since the onset of World War I. It replaced the Treaty of Sèvres (August 10, 1920), which had been signed between all those parties and the Ottoman Empire but had been rejected by the Turkish national movement led by Mustafa Kemal (Atatürk), as a reaction to the defeat of Turkey and the significant loss of territories. After defeating the Republic of Armenia in the September-November 1920 war and provoking the loss of its independence under a Soviet regime, crushing Greece in the so-called “war of independence,” achieving the ethnic cleansing of Greeks and Armenians from Asia Minor and Cilicia, and abolishing the sultanate in November 1922, the forthcoming Republic of Turkey—proclaimed in October 1923—was able to dictate favorable terms to the Allies.

The Treaty of Lausanne was signed as an outcome to the Conference of Lausanne (November 1922-February 1923, April-July 1923). It ended the conflict and defined the borders of the modern Turkish state except for its border with Iraq. Turkey gave up all claims to the remainder of the Ottoman Empire and in return the Allies recognized Turkish sovereignty within its new borders. The treaty came into force in August 1924. Interestingly, the U.S. Senate refused to ratify it in 1927.

The treaty, composed of 143 articles, led to the international recognition of the sovereignty of the new Republic of Turkey as the successor state of the defunct Ottoman Empire. From a legal standpoint, it only partially replaced the Treaty of Sevres with new clauses regarding Eastern Tracia (the area of European Turkey) and the Greek-Turkish frontiers. The lobby of both the Delegation of the Republic of Armenia, chaired by Avetis Aharonian, and the Armenian National Delegation, presided by Boghos Nubar pasha, was unable to maintain the clauses of the Treaty of Sevres relative to Armenia. However, the Treaty of Lausanne stayed silent about the section on Armenia of the Treaty of Sèvres, which was regulated by the arbitral award of U.S. President Woodrow Wilson in November 1920. Article 16 of the Treaty of Lausanne established:

“Turkey hereby renounces all rights and title whatsoever over or respecting the territories situated outside the frontiers laid down in the present Treaty and the islands other than those over which her sovereignty is recognised by the said Treaty, the future of these territories and islands being settled or to be settled by the parties concerned.

“The provisions of the present Article do not prejudice any special arrangements arising from neighbourly relations which have been or may be concluded between Turkey and any limitrophe countries.”

The Treaty of Lausanne also contained a section (articles 37 to 45) about the protection of the rights of minorities (Moslem and non-Moslem) in the Republic of Turkey. Their continuous and documented violation over the decades became a highlight of modern Turkey and led to the migration of most remaining members of those minorities, particularly Greeks and Armenians among others.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

End of the Republic of Mountainous Armenia - July 10, 1921

Historical circumstances have created the existence of two independent Armenian republics, one fully recognized (Armenia) and the other unrecognized (Mountainous Karabagh), since 1991. However, there was another time in the past century when two Armenian republics coexisted, although under completely different circumstances.

The first Republic of Armenia existed from May 28, 1918 to December 2, 1920. The southern part of the Republic, the territory of Zangezur or Siunik, confronted the assault of Turkish, Azerbaijani, and Soviet Russian forces at one time or another during the two years, under the leadership of Garegin Nezhdeh. The area remained unoccupied after the establishment of the Soviet regime in Armenia.

The anti-popular measures exerted by the Revolutionary Committee that had seized power in late 1920 triggered a revolt, and the Bolshevik regime was temporarily ousted on February 18, 1921. Armenia briefly restored its independence under the authority of the Committee for the Salvation of the Fatherland (C.S.F.), led by the A.R.F.

In mid-February, the forces of Autonomous Siunik occupied the area of Vayots Dzor, which constituted the nexus of the region with the rest of the country. The Armenian resistance lasted until April 2, when some 12,000 refugees, including 4,000 members of the military, left Yerevan before the occupation by the Red Army. Vayots Dzor became the door to enter Siunik and be free of Communist persecution. On April 26, 1921, the second congress of Zangezur proclaimed the Republic of Mountainous Armenia, with Nezhdeh as prime minister. Resistance was aimed at ensuring the escape of the refugees from Communist rule towards Persia and maintaining the region within the borders of Soviet Armenia.

Meanwhile, the internal crisis in Soviet Armenia continued, and to solve it, Moscow sent an influential and well-regarded Bolshevik, Alexander Miasnikian (1886-1925). His take was that the errors committed by the Revolutionary Committee should be rectified at once. On May 18 he was designated President of the Soviet of Commissars (Ministers) and War commissar. Negotiations between Soviet Armenia and Mountainous Armenia started, with Nezhdeh’s number one condition being: “Zangezur must be totally part of Armenia.”

Datev Monastery, located in the heart of Zangezur.

As the Soviet Armenian government could not guarantee the achievement of that condition, the negotiations failed, and hostilities began again. The morale of the Armenians of Siunik was lowered by the stance of the refugees, many of which, rather than fighting, were just interested in fleeing to Iran as soon as possible.

The Soviet Armenian government finally received a positive answer from Moscow and declared that Zangezur would be part of the Soviet Armenian republic. The main towns of Siunik fell one after the other between June 22 and July 5. Nezhdeh conceded defeat and crossed into Iran on July 10.

In hindsight, there is no doubt that the heroic resistance of the short-lived Republic of Mountainous Armenia had not only ensured the physical safety of its population against the Azerbaijani advance, but also of thousands of politicians, intellectuals, military, and others from the Bolshevik persecution. Above all, Zangezur was kept in Armenia, and the Turko-Azerbaijani project of a geographic union failed. The fate of the two other contested areas, Karabagh and Nakhichevan, during the decades of existence of the Soviet Union, and the strategic position that Zangezur maintains today in the geopolitical map of the area are proof that the Armenian sacrifice, this time, was not in vain.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Death of Aghasi Khanjian - July 9, 1936

The death of Aghasi Khanjian, First Secretary of the Communist Party of Armenia from May 1930 to 1936, unleashed the beginning in Armenia of the Great Purge, the Soviet campaign of political repression orchestrated by dictator Joseph Stalin from 1936-1939.

Khanjian was born in Van on January 30, 1901. He studied in the Central School of Van. His family emigrated from the city after the heroic defense of 1915 and settled in the Caucasus. Between 1917 and 1919, he was one of the organizers of Spartak, the Marxist student’s union of Armenia. At the time of the first Republic of Armenia, he served as the secretary of the Armenian Bolshevik underground committee, and in 1920, became secretary of the Yerevan city committee.

From 1922-1928, Khanjian worked for the Communist Party in Leningrad (nowadays St. Petersburg). He was transferred to Yerevan in 1928 and rose rapidly in the party ranks because of Stalin’s patronage. In 1930 he became first secretary of the party and was able to remove the old Bolshevik leaders who had been in charge since the early 1920s.

He was a friend and supporter of many intellectuals, such as Yeghishe Charents (1897-1937), Axel Bakunts (1899-1937), and fellow Vanetzi, Gurgen Mahari (1903-1969). The three would be victims of Stalin after Khanjian’s death: Bakunts was shot, Charents died in prison, and Mahari was exiled to Siberia for ten years and then six more years.

However, Khanjian had one formidable opponent, Lavrenti Beria, the chief of the party in Georgia and very close to Stalin, who was on his way to turn Transcaucasia (he was regional secretary of the party) into his personal domain. The traditional Georgian-Armenian rivalry and Khanjian’s level of popularity in Armenia were enough to turn him into a potential rival.

In his memoirs, Vahram Alazan (1903-1966), another Vanetzi writer who was victim of the Great Purge, wrote that, when Khanjian had gone to Moscow for a plenary conference of the Communist Party, one of Beria’s henchmen, Khachik Mughdusi, who was in charge of the NKVD (the future KGB), had arrested several prominent party intellectuals, among them Nersik Stepanyan. Stepanyan was brutally beaten and forced to “confess” that he had a counterrevolutionary, Trotskyite, and nationalistic group, which was supposedly led by Aghasi Khanjian. Beria’s agents sent Stepanyan’s “confession” to Tbilisi. Khanjian returned from Moscow to Yerevan in early July 1936.

"Two days after our conversation, on July 9," Alazan wrote, "Beria invited Khanjian to the session of the presidium of the Transcaucasian Regional Committee in Tiflis. In that session, Beria made public the testimony extorted from Nersik Stepanyan and demanded Khanjian’s confession that he was a nationalist and had sponsored N. Stepanyan’s nationalist group."

After that session, Beria killed Aghasi Khanjian in his office and declared officially that Khanjian had ostensibly committed suicide to trigger enmity between the Armenian and the Georgian people."

Khanjian’s body was brought to Yerevan and buried on July 12 in an insignificant cemetery of Yerevan. Political attacks had already been orchestrated in the press and his death marked the beginning of a wave of terror that would end with thousands of Armenian political leaders, intellectuals, officials, and even ordinary people shot, imprisoned, exiled, or labeled “enemy of the people.” This wave of terror, that would last until early 1939, has been sometimes labeled a second April 24.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Death of Hovhannes Abelian - July 1, 1936

The three Abelian brothers, originally from Shamakha (current Azerbaijan), became noteworthy personalities in different aspects of Armenian culture and history in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The elder brother, Nerses (1855-1933), an engineer by trade, was among the students who founded the Union of Patriots (1882) in Moscow, one of the first Armenian political groups in the Russian Empire. The middle brother, Alexander (1858-1940), was a prolific playwright, and the younger one, Hovhannes, turned to be one of the stars of Armenian theater for more than fifty years.

Hovhannes Abelian was born in 1865 in Shamakha. After the violent earthquake of 1872, most of the Armenian population of the city started to move to Baku, which was coincidental to the development of this city as a world-known oil center. The young Hovhannes gave his first steps on the stage in 1882, in a Russian group. He moved to Tiflis (Tbilisi), the main Armenian cultural center of the Caucasus, in 1886 and entered the playgroup of the Armenian Dramatic Club. He lived and played between Tiflis and Baku for the next two decades, and became an unsurpassed interpreter of the works of famous playwright Shirvanzade (Alexander Movsisian, 1858-1935), who incidentally was his cousin. He played some 300 roles in his long career, including plays by Gabriel Sundukian, Levon Shant, and Hagop Baronian, but also works by Russian and European playwrights, from Nikolai Gogol to William Shakespeare.

In 1908 Abelian joined forces with another famous Armenian actor, Armen Armenian (1871-1965), brother of theater director and playwright Kaspar Ipekian (the founder of the Hamazkayin theater group in Lebanon, 1883-1952). The Abelian-Armenian Theater Group, with several very important names in the cast, started a three-year long tour of Armenian cities and communities in Eastern Armenia, the Caucasus, Western Armenia, Iran, and Turkey. In 1909 it went to Constantinople and another famous actor, Hovhannes Zarifian (1879-1936), joined them. After several performances in the Ottoman capital, following the cultural revival brought by the restoration of the Ottoman Constitution in 1908, the Abelian-Armenian-Zarifian Theater Group divided into three branches, which performed in Smyrna (Izmir), Anatolia, and the third one, led by Abelian and Zarifian, in Izmit, Bardizag, Adapazar, Eskishehir, and Rodosto (Tekirdag). They ended their run in 1911, with performances in Baku, Nor Nakhichevan, and Moscow.

During the 1910s, Abelian—who was equally qualified to play in Armenian and Russian productions—continued his professional activities and performed in the Caucasus, but also in Moscow and Petersburg, as well as Iran and Central Asia. He left the Caucasus in September 1920 and moved abroad with his family. For the next three years, he performed in Constantinople, Smyrna, Cairo, Alexandria, Berlin, (where he played “Othello” with a German group, performing his signature role of Othello in Armenian), Paris, Brussels, and London. He arrived in the United States in 1923 and performed in many communities on the East Coast and the Midwest (New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Detroit, and Chicago) for the next two years.

However, Abelian’s aim was not to stay abroad. In 1925 he accepted an invitation of the government of Soviet Armenia and settled in Yerevan. He was conferred with the title of Popular Artist of the Republic in 1925 and entered the First Theater (now the Sundukian Theater). He would continue to play with the same enthusiasm and talent of his younger years until his death on the stage, in Yerevan, at the age of 71. The dramatic theater of Vanadzor, the third city of Armenia, bears his name.