Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Death of Manuk Abeghian - September 25, 1944

Manuk Abeghian was one of the most important scholars of Armenian Studies in the first half of the twentieth century. At the conclusion of his remarkable career, he became one of the founding members of the Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Armenia in 1943.

Abeghian was born on March 17, 1865 in the village of Astapat, in the historical Armenian province of Nakhichevan (today in territory of Azerbaijan). He was the son of an agriculturist. After his initial studies in the school of the monastery of Karmir Vank, in 1876 he entered the Kevorkian Seminary of Etchmiadzin and graduated in 1885. He taught for many years in schools of Shushi (Karabagh) and Tiflis. In 1893 he went to Europe and became an auditor at the German universities of Jena, Leipzig, and Berlin, as well as in the University of Paris. In 1898 he was awarded his doctorate at the University of Jena, where he defended a dissertation on the ancient Armenian beliefs.

He returned to the Caucasus and was a teacher in his alma mater, the Kevorkian Seminary, until 1914. Then, he moved to Tiflis, where he taught at the Nersisian Lyceum until 1918.

He moved to Armenia in 1921 and became a professor at Yerevan State University; he also was the dean of the Faculty of History and Literature from 1923-1925. In 1935 he earned a second doctorate, this time in Armenian philology.

Abeghian was a foremost scholar in a variety of disciplines of Armenian Studies. He was a pioneering figure in the study of Armenian mythology. Besides recording several variants of the Armenian national epics David of Sassoun, he was the author of its first specialized study (1889). Together with his colleague Garo Melik-Ohanjanian, they both prepared a three-volume edition of all available variants of the epics (published between 1936 and 1951). Abeghian was also one of the authors of an integral version of the epics, which condensed all the variants into one single text (1939). He also published critical editions of Armenian popular songs and medieval poetry.

Among his major works was the two-volume History of Ancient Armenian Literature (1944-1945), which was left unfinished because of his death. Many of his studies were published in a collection of eight volumes between 1966 and 1985.

Abeghian’s name was linked to the reform of Armenian orthography in 1922. After the sovietization of Armenia, the new regime started a policy aimed at the simplification of Armenian orthography, whose ultimate purpose was to eliminate the Armenian alphabet and replace it with Latin script. In 1921, Abeghian presented his personal views as a report in a conference organized by the Commissariat (Ministry) of Education. The same report was used a year later by the Commissariat, without consulting with Abeghian, to decree, on March 4, 1922, the reform of the orthography. For this reason, it is common to call the reformed orthography with the name of “Abeghian spelling.” The excesses in this reform motivated a new change in the Soviet Armenian orthography—used today in Armenia, the former Soviet Union, and among the “new diaspora” formed after the migration of the past 25 years—in 1940, which made it closer to classical orthography (used today by the Diaspora, both speakers of Western Armenian and of Eastern Armenian, in the case of Iran).

Manuk Abeghian passed away in 1944. The Institute of Literature of the Armenian National of Academy carries his name.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Birth of Victor Hambardzumyan - September 18, 1908

It is hard to say that any Armenian was thinking of reaching the stars, theoretically speaking, during the childhood of Victor Hambardzumyan. However, he was able to do it and to become the pioneer of Armenian astronomy in the twentieth century, following the path opened by such a predecessor as seventh century astronomer Anania Shirakatsi.

Hambardzumyan was born in Tiflis (Tbilisi), the capital of Georgia. His father Hamazasp (1880-1965) was a lawyer, graduated from the University of St. Petersburg (1908), a writer, and a scholar of Classical philology; he would later teach classical literature at Yerevan State University, become a Ph.D. at the age of 73, and publish his translation of Homer’s Iliad into Armenian in 1956.

Young Victor went to study to Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) in 1924, where he attended the department of Physics and Mathematics of Leningrad State Pedagogical Institute and then of Leningrad State University. He published his first scientific article at the age of 18, in 1926, and another article published in 1929, coauthored with physicist Dmitri Ivanenko (1904-1994), brought his work into prominence; it demonstrated that atomic nuclei could not be made from protons and electrons. Three years later, the discovery of neutrons (the other component of atoms, together with protons) confirmed the theory.

Hambardzumyan married in 1930 and taught at his alma mater, Leningrad University, since his graduation in 1931. He founded and headed the first astrophysics chair in 1934, and directed the astronomic observatory from 1939-1941. During the war, the scientific laboratories were evacuated in 1941 to the autonomous republic of Tatarstan, where Hambardzumyan (a correspondent member of the Academy of Sciences of the Soviet Union at the age of 31, in 1939) directed them for the next four years. In 1943 the Armenian Academy of Sciences was founded, and Hambardzumyan was appointed vice president. He became its president in 1947 and was re-elected successively until 1993, when he became honorary president.

By the 1950s, Hambardzumyan had already become one of the founders of theoretical astrophysics. He made several important contributions to science throughout his career, such as quantum field theory, the idea of active galactic nuclei, stellar evolution, and many others.

The astrophysical observatory of Byurakan
The astrophysical observatory of Byurakan was founded in 1946. Hambardzumyan became its first director from 1946-1988. In 1953 he became a full member of the Soviet Academy of Sciences, and in the 1960s he was president of the International Astronomical Union (1961-1964) and the International Council of Scientific Unions (1966-1972). He was member of several foreign science societies and won various state awards in the Soviet Union. His textbook “Theoretical Astrophysics” (1952) was translated into many languages, including English. “There can be no more than two or three astronomers in this century who can look back on a life so worthily devoted to the progress of astronomy,” wrote Nobel Laureate Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar (Physics 1983), on the 80th anniversary of Hambardzumyan’s birthday.

A member of the Communist Party since 1940, the astronomer was a member of the Central Committee of the Armenian party and a delegate to the Soviet Supreme of the USSR for almost fifty years. In 1989 he was elected to the USSR Congress of the People’s Deputies, which existed between 1989 and 1991. In September 1990, together with several Armenian intellectuals, he was on a hunger strike for two weeks to support the claims in the Karabagh movement.

A worldwide known personality of science, Hambardzumyan was also deeply attached to his national roots. In the last years of his life, he wrote as a testament of sorts (August 29, 1994):

“My will to the following generations, to my grandchildren and great grandchildren, is to master the Armenian language. Everyone has to make his/her duty to study the Armenian language and be proficient in it. We don’t transmit blood to the generations, but ideas, and the most valuable among those ideas is the Armenian language for me. Each generation has the obligation of teaching the Armenian language to the next one.”

Hambardzumyan passed away on August 12, 1996, in Byurakan and is buried next to the Grand Telescope Tower. The astronomic observatory has been named after him, as was an asteroid discovered in 1972.

Victor Hambardzumyan is featured on the 100 dram bill of the Republic of Armenia

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Death of St. Sahak Partev - September 7, 439

Sahak Partev was the tenth Catholicos of the Armenian Church for a period of almost fifty years, with interruptions, but this was not the main reason he was sanctified by the Armenian Church.

He was born on September 29, 348, and was the son of another important Catholicos, Nerses the Great (353-373); his mother belonged to the Mamikonian family. The first Catholicoi were all descendants of St. Gregory the Illuminator. Some of the Catholicoi had been married and had children before consecrating to religious life; their wives would leave world life afterwards and become nuns.

The future head of the Church was educated in schools in Caesarea, Alexandria, and Constantinople. He knew Greek, Syriac, and Persian. He was elected Catholicos in 387 and worked actively with king Khosrov IV to restore the unity of Greater Armenia, which had divided between the Persian and Byzantine empires in the same year. After the dethronement and exile of Khosrov III (388) by the Persian king, Sahak I was also deprived of the patriarchal throne in 389. The efforts of the next king, Vramshapuh (388-414), who was Khosrov’s brother, made it possible to restore the Catholicos in his position.

Sahak Partev had a fundamental role, together with Vramshapuh, in supporting the work of St. Mesrop Mashtots that led to the invention of the Armenian alphabet at the beginning of the fifth century, as well as to the creation of a school network to teach the new alphabet and the cultural work that created the Golden Age of Armenian literature in that century.

Historian Ghazar Parpetsi wrote that Mesrop Mashtots and the other translators, whenever needed to make any phonetic comparisons between the Armenian and Greek languages, took their questions to Sahak I, because he had received a classical education and had a comprehensive knowledge of phonetics and rhetorical commentary, and was also well versed in philosophy.

Sahak I worked to arrange and organize the Armenian calendar of religious festivities. He wrote many rules related to the ecclesiastic and secular classes, the officials, marriage, and other issues. He composed various liturgical hymns and prayers, and he played a significant role in the translation of the Bible, which was completed in 435.

The Catholicos wrote polemical letters against various sects, as well as letters to the Byzantine emperor Thedosius II, the Patriarch Proclus of Constantinople, bishops, and a Byzantine governor. In these letters, the Catholicos, together with Mashtots, presented the orthodox position of the Armenian Church after the Ecumenical Council of Ephesus (431). The letter to Proclus, in particular, was read at the Council of Constantinople (553), after the letter of Cyril of Alexandria, as proof of orthodoxy.

Sahak Partev passed away on September 7, 439, in the village of Pelrots, in the province of Bagrevant, and was buried in the city of Ashtishat, in the region of Taron. With his death the line of St. Gregory the Illuminator came to an end.

The Armenian Church remembers Sahak Partev’s memory twice a year. The first on the Saturday eight days before the Great Carnival (Barekentan), between January 24 and February 28, and the second on the Thursday following the fourth Sunday of Pentecost (between June 1 and July 16), when he is remembered along with Mesrop Mashtots as the Holy Translators.