Saturday, June 28, 2014

June 28, 1292: Fall of Hromkla

Hromkla means “Roman Castle” (Qal'at al-Rum in Arabic, Rumkale in Turkish ). It was the Armenian name of a fortress built on the right bank of the Euphrates River, on the place of its confluence with the Parzman (Merzumen) Creek, 50 kilometers west of Urfa (Edesa).

A strategic border crossing during Byzantine domination of the area, Hromkla was surrounded by water on three sides and by inaccessible rocks on the remaining, with a four-layer wall.

Around 1080-1086 the fortress was occupied by the short-lived Armenian princedom of Philartos (Filaret) Varajnuni, and afterwards by the Armenian prince Kogh Vasil. After the death of the latter (1112), the dux Baldwin II of Edessa seized the fortress from his son, also called Vasil, and offered it to his relative, Joscelin I de Courtenay, who would succeed him as Count of Edessa (1119-1131).

The Seljuk invasions had forced to move the Holy See of the Armenian Apostolic Church outside Armenia in the middle of the eleventh century. After various moves, Catholicos Grigor III Pahlavuni (1113-1166) settled in Hromkla in 1149 and two years later bought the fortress from Beatrice, wife of count Joscelin II de Courtenay, who had been imprisoned in 1150 after the fall of Edessa in 1144.

Catholicos Grigor III rebuilt the fortifications of Hromkla and founded two magnificent churches, St. Gregory the Illuminator and St. Mary. The church of St. Savior was built at a later time. Hromkla became a cultural center during the tenure of Grigor III’s successor, the famous Catholicos St. Nerses IV Shnorhali (1166-1173). Many old manuscripts were collected and illustrated, and new ones were copied and written. Hromkla was famous for its school of miniatures. Two councils held there in 1178 and 1179, with the participation of almost all Armenian archbishops and bishops, studied and rejected the proposal to join the Greek Orthodox, and recognized the authority of the Catholicosate over all Armenians. 

Hromkla was a domain of the Catholicos until the beginning of the thirteenth century, when King Levon I of Cilicia (1198-1219) turned the fortress into part of the court domains. 

In May 1292 the Mamluk Sultan of Egypt, Melik-al-Ashraf, besieged the fortress. After a heroic resistance of 33 days by the population and the Armenian troops, the superior number of the attackers and the impossibility to obtain outside help forced the defenders to surrender on June 28. The guardians were killed, the fortress was ransacked, and most of the population, including Catholicos Stepanos IV, was taken prisoner. The fall of Hromkla was considered by contemporary historians as a catastrophe. The seat of the Catholicosate was moved to Sis, in Cilicia proper where it would remain until 1920. 

The church of St. Mary was turned into a mosque after the sixteenth century, during Ottoman dominion, and the other churches were ruined (the  remains of the Catholicoi Grigor III and Nerses IV were buried at the church of St. Gregory the Illuminator). The bombing by Ibrahim Pasha of Egypt, in 1839, destroyed Hromkla for good. Until the beginning of the twentieth century, St. Gregory the Illuminator Church was a sanctuary for Armenians and Yezdies (who called it Der Nerses).

Friday, June 20, 2014

Death of Ghazaros Aghayan - June 20, 1911

Ghazaros Aghayan was one of the important names in the literary and education awakening of Eastern Armenians in the late nineteenth century.
He was born on April 4, 1840, in the Armenian village of Bolnis-Khachen, currently in Georgia. After receiving elementary education in his birthplace, in 1853 he entered the Nersisian School of Tiflis, but left after a year. He would become an autodidact.
He worked as a typographer in Tiflis, Moscow, and St. Petersburg. In 1867 he returned to the Southern Caucasus, and became the manager of the printing house of Holy Etchmiadzin and the editor of the monthly Ararat of the Holy See (1869-1870). He later entered the educational field and taught in schools of Akhaltskha (Akhaltsikhe), Alexandropol (Gumri), Yerevan, and Shushi (1870-1882), and was also the diocesan director of the Armenian schools of Georgia.
He was a theoretician of education. The aim of his pedagogical system was to develop “strong, smart, and virtuous” citizens. He gave preeminence to learning the mother tongue and to moral and esthetic education. He was against corporal punishments and favored co-ed schools, as well as practical education and physical education. He wrote many works in the field, and his textbook “Study of the Mother Tongue” was particularly appreciated; its first volume, with 33 printings, was the most commonly used first-grade textbook in Armenian schools for four decades (1875-1916).
Ghazaros Aghayan and Hovhannes Tumanian
Aghayan, who wrote the first autobiographical novel in Armenian literature (“Arutin and Manuel,” 1867) was also a famed author of children’s poetry and tales; his tale “Anahit” (1881) is a classic of the genre. His fairy tale “Aregnazan” and his poem “Tork Angegh” are also well-known works.
He worked in the editorial boards of the monthly Portz and the children journal Aghbiur. In 1895 he was arrested with the charge of being a member of the Hunchakian Party; he was exiled first to Nakhichevan-on-the-Don, and then to Crimea (1898-1900). He remained under police surveillance until the end of his life. In the 1900s he was the elder member of the literary cenacle “Vernatun” (Attic), together with Hovhannes Tumanian, Avetik Isahakian, Levon Shant, and Derenik Demirjian. He passed away on June 20, 1911, in Tiflis.
Aghayan was the father-in-law of renowned painter Martiros Sarian (1880-1972) and maternal grandfather of composer Ghazaros Sarian (1920-1998).

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Birth of Tigran Petrosian - June 17, 1929

Armenia was not an independent state in the 1960s, when Tigran the Great was the king of the world. Tigran Petrosian put Armenia and Armenians on the world map of chess. His almost impenetrable defensive playing style earned him the nickname “Iron Tigran” by Soviet grandmaster Lev Polugaievsky.
Petrosian was born in Tiflis on June 17, 1929. He learned to play chess at the age of 8, though his father, who was illiterate, encouraged him to continue studying. He was orphaned during World War II and was forced to sweep streets to earn a living.
He began training at the Tiflis Pioneers’ Palace in 1941, and became a candidate Master at the age of 17 (1946). He then moved to Yerevan and won the Armenian chess championship. He earned the title of Master during the USSR junior chess championship of 1947.
After moving to Moscow in 1949, Petrosian's career as a chess player advanced rapidly. In 1951 and 1952 he earned the titles of International Master and Grandmaster. In the tournament of candidates for world championship of 1953, he arrived in fifth position. After the 1956 candidates’ tournament, he made a turnaround in his production. He went on to win the 1959 and 1961 USSR championships, and after winning the candidates’ tournament of 1962 in Curacao, he earned the right to challenge Mikhail Botvinnik, another Soviet player, for the title of world chess champion. Petrosian won the match in 1963 with a final score of 12.5 to 9.5.
Upon becoming world champion, Petrosian became editor-in-chief of the chess monthly Shakhmatnaya Moskva (1963-1966) and campaigned for the publication of a chess newspaper for the entire Soviet Union. This newspaper became known as 64. He would become its founding editor from 1968-1977. He earned a Ph.D. in Philosophical Science at Yerevan State University in 1968, with his dissertation entitled “Chess Logics: Some Problems of Logic of Chess Thought.”
After successfully defending his crown in 1966 against Boris Spassky, Petrosian, who had won the Soviet championship in 1969, was challenged again by the same player in the same year. This time, Spassky won the match by 12.5-10.5.
The Armenian player continued his career and participated four more times in the candidates’ tournament (1971, 1974, 1977, and 1980). He won again the Soviet championship in 1975. He participated as a representative of the USSR in ten Chess Olympiads from 1958-1978, where he obtained the third all-best performance of all times (79.5 per cent, with only one defeat on 129 games) and won six individual gold medals.
Petrosian photographed during a match with rival Bobby Fischer in Belgrad, Yugoslavia, 1970.
In his 1973 book on grandmasters of chess, New York Times journalist Harold C. Schonberg said that “playing him was like trying to put handcuffs on an eel. There was nothing to grip.” Boris Spassky, Petrosian’s successor, described his style of play: “Petrosian reminds me of a hedgehog. Just when you think you have caught him, he puts out his quills."
Petrosian passed away of stomach cancer in Moscow on August 13, 1984. He was buried in the cemetery of Vagankovo, where world chess champion Garry Kasparov unveiled a memorial on his grave in 1987, depicting the laurel wreath of a world champion and an image contained within a crown of the sun shining above the twin peaks of Mount Ararat.  In the district of Davtashen, in Yerevan, a monument honoring the world-famous player was opened in 2006 on the street that carries his name.
Tigran Petrosian contributed enormously to popularize chess in Armenia. The country became a great power in the chess world after independence. Grandmaster Tigran L. Petrosian, born a month after his death, was named after him.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Death of Vahan Cardashian - June 9, 1934

An American-educated lawyer, Vahan Cardashian became the pioneer of the Armenian Cause lobby in the United States at the beginning of the twentieth century.
Cardashian was born on December 1, 1883, in Caesarea (actual Kayseri). He lost his father at an early age, and, after elementary education at a local Armenian school, he attended the French lyceum and the Talas American College. In 1902 he immigrated to the United States and attended the law school at Yale University from 1904-1908. In 1907 he married Cornelia Alexander Holub, a women rights advocate. Meanwhile, he published several books, A Brief Commentary on the Eastern Question, The Ottoman Empire of the Twentieth Century, and Actual Life in Turkish Harem.
After graduation he went into private practice. Cardashian took a job as adviser of the Ottoman embassy in Washington D.C. in 1911 and general counselor of the consulate in New York. He was designated head of the Ottoman Chamber of Commerce and, in 1915, high commissioner of the Ottoman exhibition at the Panama-Pacific Universal Exposition in San Francisco. At the Exposition, he learned that his mother and sister had perished in the Armenian Genocide. He did not abandon his post, but started a secret campaign of letter-writing to inform American officials of the ongoing annihilation. He had already warned Secretary of War Lindsay Garrison in July 1914:
"I have information, bearing on the program of the Turkish Government, to be put into operation in the event of Turkey's being involved in the European War with reference to all the native and foreign Christians in Turkey . . . Unless some powerful restraining forces are brought into play from without, you can rest assured that the Turk, with the opportunity for untrammeled action, such as he now believes to enjoy, will perpetrate upon helpless humanity the most ghastly horrors of his entire loathsome career."
When the Ottoman embassy discovered Cardashian’s backdoor work, he was fired. In early 1916, he sued for divorce from his wife. At the end of the war, Cardashian relied on his diplomatic and high society contacts to spearhead a lobbying effort, to which he committed his own personal resources. To reach beyond the Armenian American community, he founded the American Committee for the Independence of Armenia (ACIA) in December 1918. He gathered there some of the most prominent names of the day in American politics: James W. Gerard, former ambassador to Germany, who was the driving force of the ACIA along with Cardashian and the chairman of its Executive Board; Charles Hughes, 1916 presidential candidate of the Republican party; William Jennings Bryan, former Secretary of State; senator Henry Cabot Lodge (Massachusetts); and many others.
Cardashian’s tireless efforts included tours, letter campaigns, a flood of editorials in various newspapers, memoranda to the highest rank of officials, and many books and pamphlets.  The ACIA advocated for American recognition of the Republic of Armenia and an American mandate. It had 23 branches in thirteen states.
In the end, the ACIA efforts were fruitless, as the isolationist majority in the Senate, ironically headed by Lodge himself, rejected the American mandate over Armenia in May 1920. A few months later, the independent republic collapsed, and the Armenian Cause took another direction. However, Cardashian did not calm down. In 1924 he created the American Committee Opposed to the Lausanne Treaty (ACOLT) and led a successful campaign to block the ratification of the Treaty of Lausanne by the U.S. Senate. The ratification was rejected by the Senate in January 1927, citing Turkish failure to execute the Arbitral Award of President Woodrow Wilson as the main cause.
Exhausted and penniless after a two-decade long crusade for Armenian rights, Vahan Cardashian passed away on June 9, 1934, at the age of fifty-one. He was buried in Cedar Grove cemetery in Long Island. The legacy of the lone crusader for the Armenian Cause is a remarkable example for future generations.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Death of Vazken Shoushanian - June 2, 1941

Vazken Shoushanian, a talented young writer of the “School of Paris,” was also one of the orphans of the Armenian Genocide.
He was born in Rodosto (nowadays Tekirdag), a city of Eastern Thrace, on February 9, 1902. His birth name was Onnig. He studied and graduated from the local elementary schools. In September 1915 the Shoushanian family was deported to Asia Minor, from where they continued on the exile routes. Onnig lost his father, mother, brother, and sister on the deportation routes between 1915 and 1917. Meanwhile, he had reached Aleppo in February 1916. The young orphan, deprived of any family support, managed to survive doing various menial work in Aleppo and elsewhere until the end of the war, when he went to Constantinople and then to Rodosto.
In 1919, Shoushanian entered the Agriculture School of Armash, and moved to the Republic of Armenia with the rest of his schoolmates in September 1920. Caught in the whirlwind of the end of the independence and the beginning of the Soviet regime, the students finally left the country and returned to Constantinople in May 1921.
In July 1922, Shoushanian came to the United States, but he was not admitted in Ellis Island due to trachoma and he had to return to Constantinople. Months later, he managed to travel to France. He became a factory worker, and in the meantime, he studied agronomy from 1923-1926 in Valabre, near Marseilles. Meanwhile, he had started to write poetry, prose, and essays in the Armenian press of the Diaspora under the name Vazken Shoushanian, including Hairenik daily and monthly, in Boston. He had also become a member of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation and in his twenties he represented the party at the Socialist International. He would pursue studies of Social Sciences in Paris and graduate in 1930.
From 1931-1932 he was part of the literary group Menk, which published the homonymous journal and gathered, for a short while, the most promising names in Armenian literature in the Diaspora, such as Shahan Shahnour, Zareh Vorpouni, and others.
Shoushanian was already a noted writer when in 1932-1933 he became entangled in the internal struggles of the A.R.F. and was left outside the party. However, as he wrote in a journal entry of 1939, he considered himself a member, “whether I have a party card or not.”
In the last years of his life, Shoushanian remained on the margin of Armenian life. He worked at a French boarding school in Rouen from 1933-1939. The school was closed due to the war in 1940 and Shoushanian made a dangerous trip to bring the students to their homes. After a seven-year absence, he then returned to Paris.
He caught pneumonia in the spring of 1941 and died practically alone, forgotten by almost everyone, in a Paris hospital. He did not have a tomb and was buried in an unmarked grave.
Few of his books were published in his lifetime; some remained scattered in the press, while others were left unpublished. His archives, in the end, went to Armenia, and some of his work started to be published in the 1950s, with publication still continuing until this day. A famous passage in his Journal was a testimony of his love for the Armenian language: “Armenian language, how much I love you! No girl on earth can brag that has received so much warm affection, so much love, so much entreaties from me. The fidelity that I feel towards you is more powerful than this miserable life of ours. I would like to study you until my last moment, your ultimate accents and your ultimate words, your internal music and the road you have traced in history. You are our prayer and our pleasure, Armenian language, I love you.”