Saturday, May 24, 2014

Death of Teotig - May 24, 1928

Almanacs were very fashionable in the Western world at the beginning of the twentieth century, when a real fever of publication started in the Armenian realm. Almanacs (daretsuyts) of very different size, quality, and duration—sometimes confused with yearbooks (darekirk)—would be published until the 1970s. In the history of Armenian almanacs, Teotig and his almanac would become synonyms and models.
Teotoros Lapjinjian was born in 1873 in Scutari (Üsküdar), a suburb of Constantinople on the Asiatic side of the Bosphorus, in a modest family that migrated from Erzinga. He would later adopt his childhood nickname Teotig as a literary pseudonym.
After primary studies at the local school, he first attended the Berberian College, but could not graduate due to financial problems. For a while, he attended the American-financed Robert College (now Bogazici University), which he could not finish either. In 1889, at the age of 16 he went to work as a bookkeeper in a store.
However, his avid interest in books and reading led him to self-teaching. He was just past his teens when he started to contribute literary pieces and essays to various newspapers. Meanwhile, he became a “bibliomaniac,” as he called himself: “I have not eaten, drunk, or bought clothes, and have allocated all my earnings to books,” he confessed once.
In 1902 he married Arshaguhi Jizvejian (1875-1922), a young woman educated in Paris and London. Three years later, he won the prestigious Izmirlian Literary Prize for a voluminous work on the Armenian dialect of Constantinople, which remained unpublished until the present.
1907 would become a crucial date in Teotig’s life. With the crucial assistance of his wife, he started the publication of his lifelong project, Amenun daretsutyse (Ամէնուն տարեցոյցը “Everyone’s Almanac”). For the next twenty-two years, the nineteen volumes, with a total of 8,500 pages, would offer the reader the most complete information about every aspect of Armenian life. The most important writers of the time would contribute literary pieces and articles on the most various topics. The almanac became a sort of illustrated encyclopedia of Armenian life during the first quarter of the twentieth century, with much information and photographs of unique nature in its pages.
In 1912 Teotig produced a book called Dib oo Dar (Typeface and Letter), on the 1500th anniversary of the creation of the Armenian alphabet (which at the time was commemorated in 1913) and the 400th anniversary of Armenian printing. In the same year, he published a collection of short stories, The New Year.
Teotig became one of the targets of the Turkish secret police at the beginning of World War I. In March 1915, right after the publication of the 1915 issue of the almanac, he was arrested and on the grounds of trumped-up charges, a war tribunal sentenced him to one year in the central prison of Constantinople. In March 1916, just out of prison, he was arrested in the street and sent to Anatolia with a caravan of deportees. He reached Bozanti, in Cilicia, where a group of Armenian young people was able to rescue him and hide him in a workplace of the Constantinople-Baghdad railway. He remained there, with a false identity, until the armistice of Mudros in November 1918, when he returned to Constantinople.
He resumed the publication of his beloved almanac. In the meantime, in 1919 he published Memorial to April 11 (April 24 in the old Ottoman calendar), on the first commemoration of the arrests of April 24, with 761 biographies of intellectuals. He also published a booklet, The Catastrophe and Our Orphans, in 1920, and wrote a lengthy study on the Armenian clergy victims of the genocide, commissioned by the Armenian Patriarchate, which was posthumously published in 1985.
His wife Arshaguhi, a writer and educator, died of tuberculosis in a sanatorium in Switzerland in 1922, and Teotig was left with their only son, Vahakn. In the same year, the triumph of Kemalism in Turkey prompted him to leave his birthplace and become an exile. He would live in precarious conditions in Corfu, Cyprus, and finally Paris, continuing the publication of his almanac in Vienna, Venice, and Paris. He passed away in Paris on May 24, 1928, when the publication of the 1929 issue was halfway. His son had come to the United States, where he would die in the 1960s.
In 2006, the Cilicia Publishing House of Aleppo, with the sponsorship of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, started to reprint Teotig’s almanac in a photographic edition introduced and indexed by Aleppine intellectual Levon Sharoyan. Unfortunately, only 13 volumes had been published until 2011, when the catastrophic Syrian civil war disrupted the project, as well as the entire life of the Syrian Armenian community.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Death of Simon Vratzian - May 21, 1969

The last Prime Minister of the first Republic of Armenia, Simon Vratzian, was born in 1882, in the village of Medz Sala, near Nakhichevan-on-the-Don (today Rostov-on Don, in the northern Caucasus). He studied in the local Armenian and Russian schools, and in 1900 he was admitted in the Kevorkian Lyceum of Etchmiadzin, of which he was a brilliant graduate in 1906. By that time, he was already a member of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation. He had participated in the protests against the confiscation of the properties of the Armenian Church by the imperial regime (1903-1905), in the first Russian Revolution (1905), and in the Armenian self-defense during the Armeno-Tatar conflict of 1905-1906.
He was a representative of the A.R.F. Student Union to the fourth General Assembly of the party (Vienna, 1907), which would have a decisive importance in its ideological orientation. He later went to St. Petersburg, where he studied law, agronomy, and pedagogy at the university. In 1910, when the persecution against the A.R.F. had peaked in the Russian Empire, he went to Karin (Erzerum), where Rostom, one of the founders of the party, had settled, gathering around him many experienced and promising members in order to dedicate himself to the development of Western Armenians in the country itself.
Vratzian edited the A.R.F. organ Harach in Karin for a year (1910-1911), and then, by Rostom’s recommendation, he was sent to Boston, where he edited Hairenik, then a biweekly, until 1914. He returned to Karin and participated in the crucial eighth General Assembly of the A.R.F., where he was elected a member of the Bureau and left for Tiflis, in the Caucasus. There, he took the editorship of the party daily Horizon and was elected member of the Armenian National Council, which dedicated itself to the organization of the volunteer movement.
After the independence of Armenia, Vratzian moved to Yerevan, where he was elected member of the Parliament and collaborated with the governments of Hovhannes Kachaznuni and Alexander Khatisian. In May 1920, when Hamo Ohanjanian became prime minister, Vratzian took the position of Minister of Labor and Agriculture, until the fall of the government in November 1920. As prime minister from November 24 to December 2, 1920, he would become the witness of the final agony of the independence after the defeat in the Armeno-Turkish war, which would force the sovietization of the country to escape destruction. He signed the agreement to transfer power to the Revolutionary Committee of the Bolsheviks, and he also became the president of the Committee of Salvation of the Homeland, which led Armenia after the rebellion of February 18, 1921.
After the re-establishment of Soviet power in April 1921, Vratzian took the road of exile and settled in Paris, where in 1924 he became the editor of Droshak, the A.R.F. central organ, until its demise in 1933. He wrote his monumental work, The Republic of Armenia, which he published in 1928, with a second, revised edition published in 1958. He was a prolific writer on political, historical, and literary subjects, and published and edited a journal of history and culture, Vem, between 1933 and 1939.
During the war, he moved to the United States, where he was one of the founders of the Armenian National Committee in 1945 and participated in the lobbying for the Armenian Cause during the founding meetings of the United Nations in San Francisco. In 1952, after the death of writer Levon Shant, Vratzian succeeded him as principal of the Nshan Palandjian Lyceum of Hamazkayin in Beirut, a position that he maintained until his death. He worked actively to consolidate the economic foundations of the Lyceum and continued the publishing of books, including a revised edition of The Republic of Armenia in 1958 and his memoirs in six volumes, “On the Path of Life."
He had written: “The regimes are a temporary phenomenon. The leaders are temporary. Nations and fatherlands, the people sitting in their homeland, are eternal. The freedom-loving Armenian people, which had trampled death with death, forged the independence of the fatherland. The Republic of Armenia continues to live in the heart of the Armenian people as a burning reminder of the past and a lively hope of the future.” He was far from imagining that Armenia would become an independent country less than a quarter of a century after his death in Beirut on May 21, 1969.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Death of Stepanos Nazariantz - May 9, 1879

The nineteenth century was a period of awakening for Armenians both in the Ottoman and the Russian Empire. In Russia, one of its pioneers was Stepanos Nazariantz, a journalist, teacher, and orientalist.
He was born on May 27, 1812, in Tiflis (now Tbilisi), in the family of a priest. The Nersisian Lyceum, founded by the primate of the Armenian Apostolic Church in Georgia, Nerses Ashtaraketsi, was opened in 1824, and Nazariantz studied there between 1824 and 1829. He became also one of the first Armenian students of the Caucasus to study in Dorpat (now Tartu, in Estonia), which had one of the best, German-speaking universities in the Russian Empire.
In Dorpat, Nazariantz first studied at the gymnasium for a year (1833-1834) and then at the schools of Medicine (1835-1836) and Philosophy (1836-1840). He wrote his doctoral dissertation on the work of Persian poet Ferdowsi, Shahnameh (Book of Kings). From 1842-1849 he was the chair of the Armenian language department at the University of Kazan. Later he moved to Moscow, where he was professor of Persian language and literature at the famous Lazarian Lyceum until his death. From 1869-1871 he was also principal of the lyceum.
Influenced by European enlightenment and Russian social movements of the 1840s, Nazariantz wrote against the ruling feudal system and its ideology. He was a fervent advocate of modernization, as well as of patriotic ideas, such as the struggle against Turkish domination. He saw education as the key of Armenian progress, and supported the development of secular instruction and methods of pedagogy that were consistent and age-appropriate. He advocated the use of Modern Armenian, and perhaps his greatest achievement was the publication of the monthly Hiusisapayl (Aurora Borealis, 1858-1864), together with his younger associate Mikayel Nalbandian, which had an important role in the development of Eastern Armenian. The monthly became the voice of progressive ideas, and ran afoul of the Armenian establishment due to the discussion of sensitive issues, such as his criticism of serfdom and clerical power. Nazariantz and Nalbandian developed principles to modernize literary criticism among Armenians.
Nazariantz wrote a number of books in Russian (A Brief Survey of Thirteenth Century Armenian Literature, 1844; A Survey of Armenian Literature in the Modern Period, 1846) and Armenian (Discourse on Experimental Psychology, 1853; First Spiritual Nutrition for Armenian Children, 1853; Source Book of Religion, 1854, and Review of Modern Armenian Speaking, 1857). He also wrote poetry and translated many works, including those of Swiss poet Friedrich Schiller. He passed away on May 9, 1879, in Moscow.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Death of Levon I - May 2, 1219

The Armenian state of Cilicia (1080-1375) started as a princedom under the rule of Rupen I (1080-1095). It played an important role during the first Crusades under the Rupenian dynasty. In a hundred years, it would become a kingdom due to the efforts of Prince Levon II.
Levon (known as Leo in non-Armenian sources) was born in 1150. His father Stepan, the third son of Prince Levon I (1129-1137), was murdered by the Byzantines in 1165. His paternal uncle, Mleh I (1169-1175), had made a host of enemies and was assassinated by his own soldiers in Sis. Levon’s elder brother, Rupen, elected to succeed Mleh, was imprisoned in 1183 by Prince Bohemond III of Antioch, who had begun hostilities against him in alliance with Prince Hetum III of Lambron.
Levon became regent during his brother’s absence. Rupen was released in 1187 after the payment of a large ransom and cession of two cities to Antioch. He relinquished power to his brother and retired to the monastery of Drazark.
Levon II had an initial rapprochement with Bohemond III as a result of the alliance between Byzantium and Sultan Saladin of Egypt. He even married Isabelle, a niece of his rival’s wife.
He approached Frederick I Barbarossa, the German emperor, when he entered the Armenian territories on his way during the Third Crusade, but the emperor drowned in Cilicia in 1190. Nevertheless, Levon participated in the siege of Acre and in 1191 he joined King Richard the Lionheart in the conquest of Cyprus.
Levon II was intent upon ensuring the security of Cilicia. He entered in conflict with Saladin, who died in 1193, and Bohemond III, whom he took prisoner in the same year. A solution of the conflict between Cilicia and Antioch was found when Raymond of Antioch, son of Bohemond III, married Levon’s niece Alice. However, Raymond died soon and Alice and her infant son Raymond-Rupen were returned to Cilicia. The Armenian prince determined that his great-nephew should inherit Antioch on the death of Bohemond III.
Levon II pressed for a royal crown and sought the assistance of German emperor Henry VI and Pope Celestine III. The latter required submission of the Armenian Church to Rome, but this was opposed by the Armenian bishops. Byzantine emperor Alexios III sent Levon a royal crown, and the negotiations between an Armenian embassy headed by Bishop Nerses of Lambron and the Byzantine side in Constantinople centered on religious questions, and were fruitless in the end.
Finally, Levon II was crowned on January 6, 1198, in Tarsus by Catholicos Gregory VI Abirad, and received another royal insignia by the Papal legate, Archbishop Conrad of Mainz. After the fall of the Bagratuni kingdom of Ani in 1045, an Armenian kingdom had been restored. He was Levon II when a prince, but after his coronation, he became Levon I, because he was the first king of that name. He would issue coins with the legend “King of All Armenians” (Takavor Amenayn Hayots).
Levon I was entangled in the conflict of succession of Antioch. When Bohemond III died in 1201, although the barons had sworn allegiance to the king’s great-nephew Raymond-Roupen, Bohemond’s second son, Count Bohemond of Tripoli, opposed the validity of the oath and was installed as Bohemond IV of Antioch. The Papacy, the Templars, the emir of Aleppo, and the Seljuk Sultan of Konia were involved in the conflict at one time or another. Levon was finally able to install Raymond-Roupen as prince of Antioch in 1216.
Meanwhile, he received “injurious information” about his wife Isabelle. The king imprisoned her in the fortress of Vahka, where she died around 1206. He married Sibylle, the half-sister of King Hugh I of Cyprus, in 1211. His daughter Rita (d. in 1220) married King John I of Jerusalem in 1214.
However, before his death in 1219, Levon quarreled with his great nephew Raymond Roupen and named his young daughter Zabel (born in 1215) as his rightful heir. Levon I is known in Armenian history as Levon I Medzakordz (the Magnificent). Several years of conflict for the succession of the throne of Cilicia would ensue. Finally, in 1226 Zabel would marry Hetum, son of Constantin of Baberon, and this would end the long dynastic and territorial rivalry, unifying the two most powerful families of the kingdom: the Rupenians and the Hetumians.