Saturday, December 21, 2013

Birth of Arpiar Arpiarian - December 21, 1852

Arpiar Arpiarian was not only an influential Armenian writer of the nineteenth century, but also the pioneer of realism in Armenian literature, and, as many of his pioneer, a political activist, to which he ultimately sacrificed his life.

Arpiarian was born aboard a ship. His parents, who were originally from Akn (an Armenian town near the Euphrates River where noted poets like Siamanto and Misak Medzarents were born), were traveling from the Black Sea port of Samsun to Constantinople. The family settled in the suburb of Ortakiugh (Ortaköy), where Arpiarian attended the local Tarkmanchats Armenian School. At the age of fifteen, he was sent to Venice, where he attended the Murat-Raphaelian school of the Mekhitarist Congregation. He studied Armenian language and history with the famous Mekhitarist poet and scholar Ghevont Alishan, and he also became familiar with French and Italian literature.

After his graduation from the school, he returned to Constantinople, where he worked as a bookkeeper and then was offered a secretarial position at the Armenian Patriarchate. However, his true call was journalism and literature.

He started contributing to the newspapers Masis, in Constantinople, and Mshak, in Tiflis. He wrote articles flavored with satire in the latter, under a pen name, about various aspects of Armenian life in Constantinople. He visited the Caucasus in 1884 on the election of Catholicos Makar I and met Grigor Artzruni, the influential editor of Mshak, as well as several famous writers, like Raffi, Perch Proshian, Ghazaros Aghayan, and others. This visit left a lasting impact on his life and outlook. He later became an editor of Masis, along with famous writer and politician Krikor Zohrab. Simultaneously, he launched a daily called Arevelk with the aim of promoting closer links between Western and Eastern Armenians.

Arevelk attracted many writers who became the core of literary realism among Armenians. Arpiarian is considered the founder of that literary movement, which revolutionized Armenian literature. He was the mentor of a generation of Armenian realist writers, such as Dikran Gamsaragan (1866-1940), Levon Pashalian (1868-1943), and, later, Yerukhan (1870-1915).

Politics had already attracted Arpiarian since the early 1880s, and in 1889 he joined the Social Democrat Hunchakian Party, of which he would become one of its main leaders. He was among the chief organizers of the Kum Kapu demonstration in light of Sultan Abdul Hamid II’s treatment of Armenians. Arrested as a revolutionary, he was released in 1891. In that year, he founded and edited a new and very influential daily, Hairenik, which was suppressed by the sultan in 1896.

Arpiarian fled the Hamidian massacres in 1896 to London, where he published two monthly reviews, Mard and Nor Gyank, in the next few years. In the same year, the fracture of the Hunchakian Party began as a result of ideological dissent. He led one of the split factions, the Reorganized Hunchakians (Veragazmial Hunchakian), which rejected the socialist ideology of the party and eventually left it. Bitter partisan quarrels would continue over the next years and Arpiarian would make many enemies among his former comrades.

He traveled to Paris and then to Venice in 1901-1902. In the Italian city, he wrote his most successful and popular work, the novella The Crimson Offering (Կարմիր ժամուց), where he depicted the opposition between the revolutionary youth of the provinces, symbolized by a priest, Der Housig, and the conservative stance of the Armenians of Constantinople, represented by Hairabed Efendi, a trustee of the church where the priest had been called to serve. Arpiarian settled in Cairo three years later, where he edited the literary monthly Shirag.

On February 12, 1908, his political enemies assassinated him while Arpiarian was returning home from the market. His last words were “I am Armenian.” Writing after his death, poet and political activist Vahan Tekeyan (1878-1945) noted: “There were two people inside him, the patriot and the skeptic. The first killed him.”

However, Arpiarian’s name has continued to resonate in Armenian literature more than a hundred years after his death.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Birth of Chahan de Cirbied - December 16, 1772

The Institute Nationale des Langues et Civilisations Orientales (INALCO, National Institute of Oriental Languages and Civilizations), commonly known in French parlance as Langues O’, is an institution of higher education located in Paris, with roots that go to the seventeenth century. It is the direct heir to the Ecole des Jeunes de Langues founded by Colbert, prime minister of Louis XIV, in 1669, and of the Ecole des Langues Orientales Vivantes recreated by the Convention in 1795, shortly after the French Revolution.

Ninety-three languages and civilizations are taught at this institution. One of them is Armenian, and it happens that it has been taught there for 215 years, making INALCO probably the oldest establishment throughout the world that has taught Armenian on a university level. However, its mission is not only to learn about languages, peoples, and cultures on a purely academic level, but to know, in the primary sense of the term, all the others, the interlocutors and testify the richness and diversity of the people of the world.

The roots of the Armenian Chair at the former Ecoles des Langues Orientales Vivantes (School of Living Oriental Languages) are related to Napoleon Bonaparte and to a little-known Armenian writer, Jacques Chahan de Cirbied, whose Armenian name was Hagop Shahan Chrbedian (Յակոբ Շահան Ջրպետեան).

Cirbied was born in Edesa (nowadays Urfa). He had settled in Rome (where he became a priest), in Florence, and in Genoa between 1789 and 1792, and it seems that he met Napoleon somewhere in Italy. He moved to Paris in 1792, and his courses of Armenian were officially announced on December 11, 1798, to commence effectively in 1799. Unfortunately, Cirbied’s knowledge of French was poor, and for this reason his courses had to be temporarily interrupted between 1801 and 1811.

An imperial decree dated February 27, 1812, issued in Moscow, where Napoleon was engaged in the Russian campaign, gave Cirbied the title of professor at the l'École Spéciale des Langues Orientales (Special School of Oriental Languages).

Cirbied published eight books in French between 1811 and 1830. Among them, we mention: La grammaire arménienne (Armenian Grammar, 1811 and 1823), Histoire arménienne (Armenian History, 1818), and Grammaire de Denis de Thrace (Grammar of Denys of Thrace), 1830. He was succeeded in 1827 by his disciple P. E. Vaillant de Florival. He put himself to the service of Russia and was a member of the secret committee created by the governor of Yerevan, I. F. Paskevitch, to elaborate the bylaws that would regulate the relations between the Armenian Church and the Russian Empire (the Polozhenie, which would be issued in 1836). Cirbied passed away in 1834.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Birth of Hagop Oshagan - December 9, 1883

When Hagop Oshagan, one of the foremost Armenian writers of the twentieth century, passed away at the age of 65, he left many thousands of pages of published works in newspapers and many more that were unpublished. In Beirut alone, 33 volumes of published or previously unpublished works bearing his name were published after his death, between 1958 and 2013.

He was born Hagop Kufejian in the village of Sölöz, near Brusa, in Asia Minor. He was a dropout from school and an autodidact, who read voraciously the classics of the nineteenth century, including Dostoyevsky, his inspiration for his novels. He published his first story in 1902, but his literary career started after 1909 in Constantinople. By 1914 he was already known by his literary criticism and his short stories. He became, along with Gostan Zarian, Kegham Parseghian, Taniel Varoujan, and Aharon, the founder of the short-lived monthly Mehyan, with the hope of starting a literary movement among Western Armenians that was cut short by the genocide.

He was on the Turkish list of targeted intellectuals, but he managed to escape persecution and arrest, and lived in hiding in Constantinople until early 1918, when he surreptitiously crossed the border into Bulgaria, where he married Araksi Astarjian. They would have three children, Vahe, Anahid, and Garo, of which the first two would be writers. (Vahe Oshagan would become one of the leading intellectuals of the Diaspora in the second half of the twentieth century.) They returned to Constantinople after the Armistice. Kufejian started to use the name Hagop Oshagan around 1920 in the newspaper Jagadamard. He became a teacher and continued his literary production. In 1922 he published another short-lived journal, together with Zarian, Vahan Tekeyan, Shahan Berberian, and Kegham Kavafian, but the new attempt at a literary revival was cut short by the retreat of the Allied forces from Constantinople and the victory of the Kemalist movement in Turkey. He left the city, as many other Armenian intellectuals and much of the community did, and moved back to Bulgaria. After 1924, Oshagan worked as a teacher, first in Cairo, then in Nicosia, at the Melkonian Educational Institute, and finally, after 1934, at the Seminary of Jerusalem. He forged his reputation as a charismatic literature teacher, and a demanding literary critic.

Oshagan published two collections of short writings in the early 1920s, but then he focused on his novels. His literary life was defined by the Catastrophe (he practically coined the term Aghed to name the event that had swept over Western Armenian culture in 1915), as he shifted into the literary reconstruction of the lost world. His magnum opus, Mnatsortats (The Remnants), a three-volume novel published in 1932-1934, depicted the life of a Western Armenian family and the complicated Turkish-Armenian relationship on the eve of the Catastrophe. However, he was unable to write a projected final volume where he intended to represent the deportation itself. The first volume of this novel has just been translated into English by G. M. Goshgarian.

He also wrote the “novel of Western Armenian literature,” Panorama of Western Armenian Literature, a monograph that encompassed the period 1850-1915 in ten volumes, of which only the first was published at the time of his death, and the last nine were published in the next quarter of a century.

Hagop Oshagan passed away in Aleppo on February 17, 1948, on the eve of a planned visit to the killing fields of Der Zor. He was buried at the Armenian Cemetery of the city, in an imposing funeral attended by some 20,000 people.