Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Birth of Ivan Aivazovsky (July 29, 1817)

Ivan Aivazovsky is considered one of the greatest marine painters in history. Famous Russian story writer Anton Chekhov popularized the winger word “worthy of Aivazovsky’s brush,” used for “describing something ineffably lovely."

Aivazovsky was born Hovhannes Aivazian on July 29, 1817, in Feodosia, a port on the Black Sea in Crimea. He received parochial education at the local St. Sargis Armenian Church and was taught drawing by a local architect. He attended the Russian gymnasium of Simferopol from 1830-1833 and then studied at the Imperial Academy of Arts from 1833-1837, graduating with gold medal two years in advance.

The promising painter was sent by the Academy in 1840 to study in Europe. He first traveled to Venice, where his brother Gabriel was a member of the Mekhitarist Congregation (he would leave the congregation and return to the Armenian Apostolic Church in the 1850s). Aivazovsky studied Armenian manuscripts and became familiar with Armenian art. After a four year sojourn in Italy and France, with visits to half a dozen European countries and prolific exhibitions, he returned to Russia in 1844.

Upon his return, he was appointed academician of the Imperial Academy of Arts, from where he had graduated seven years before, and appointed the official artist of the Russian Navy. After traveling to the Aegean Sea and Constantinople in 1845, he settled in his hometown, Feodosia. The Academy gave him a title of professor of seascape painting in 1847, while the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences elected him a member in the same year.

He married English governess Julia Graves in 1848 and had four daughters. They separated in 1860 and divorced in 1877 with permission from the Armenian Church, since Graves was a Lutheran.

Aivazovsky would receive many honors throughout his life: first non-French artist to receive the Legion d’Honneur in France (1857), Order of the Medjidie (Ottoman Empire, 1857), honorary member of the Moscow Art Society (1857), Order of the Redeemer (Greece, 1859), Order of St. Vladimir (Russia, 1865), Order of Osmanieh (Ottoman Empire, 1874), member of the Academy of Arts of Florence (Italy, 1876), honorary member of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts of Stuttgart (Germany, 1878), and others. He held fifty-five solo exhibitions over the course of his career in the Russian Empire, Europe, and the United States (New York, Chicago, and San Francisco, 1893), and participated in many collective exhibitions. He was one of the most prolific artists of his time: he created around 6,000 paintings during his almost sixty-year career. The vast majority of his works are seascapes, but he often depicted battle scenes, Armenian themes, and portraiture. He never painted his pictures from nature, but from memory. His artistic memory was legendary. The Ninth Wave (1850, State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg) is generally considered his masterpiece.

American Shipping off the Rock of Gibraltar, 1873

Aivazovsky visited Russian Armenia for the first time in 1868. The next year, he participated in the opening ceremony of the Suez Canal in Egypt, and became the first artist to paint the Canal. He continued his travels abroad during the next three decades, including a trip to the United States in 1892. In 1880, he opened an art gallery in his Feodosia house, which became the third museum in the Russian Empire, after the Hermitage Museum of St. Petersburg and the Tretyakov Gallery of Moscow. Two years later, he remarried to a young Armenian widow, Anna Burnazian. He said that he “became closer to [his] nation” by marrying her. His career across the civil ranks of Russian government reached its highest position in 1896 when, at the age of 79, he was promoted to the rank of full privy councillor.

Aivazovsky was deeply affected by the Hamidian massacres of 1894 and 1896. He painted a number of works on the subject. More symbolically, he threw the medals given to him by the Ottoman Sultan into the sea and told the Turkish consul in Feodosia: "Tell your bloodthirsty master that I've thrown away all the medals given to me, here are their ribbons, send it to him and if he wants, he can throw them into the seas painted by me." He spent his last years in his hometown, to which he contributed many efforts to its improvement.

Aivazovsky passed away on May 2, 1900, in Feodosia and was buried in the courtyard of the St. Sargis Church. A quote in Classical Armenian from Movses Khorenatsi’s History of Armenia is engraved on his tombstone: “Born as a mortal, left an immortal memory of himself.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Assassination of Djemal Pasha (July 21, 1922)

The Nemesis Operation, approved by the Armenian Revolutionary Federation in its 9th World Assembly, held in Yerevan in September-October 1919, had a long list of Turkish leaders responsible for the Armenian Genocide among its targets.

One of them was Ahmed Jemal, minister of Marine of the Ottoman Empire and member of the leading triumvirate of the Committee of Union and Progress (Ittihad), together with Talaat, minister of Interior, and Enver, minister of War. Jemal had taken the command of the IV Ottoman Army, based in Syria, and had overseen the execution of the second phase of the genocide, when the survivors of the caravans of deportees were dispatched and killed in the  camps along the Euphrates River. He had also been in charge of the assimilation of Armenian orphans.

Some targets of the operation, such as Talaat and former grand vizier Said Halim, Behaeddin Shakir (leader of the Special Organization) and Jemal Azmi (the “monster of Trebizond”), had been liquidated in Berlin and Rome, under the supervision of the special body created by the A.R.F. (Enver would be killed by a Bolshevik Armenian in August 1922, in Central Asia.) Jemal Pasha was also in Berlin, but had been able to avoid the Armenian avengers.

On July 26, 1922, The New York Times published a dispatch of the Associated Press, with byline Tiflis:

“Djemal Pasha, former Minister of Marine in the Turkish Unionist Government, Chief of Staff of the Afghan Army, has been assassinated here. Two Armenians are charged with the crime.

“Djemal Pasha was accompanied by two aides, who were also shot dead. He was traveling to Kabul from Berlin, where he had made important purchases from [sic] the Afghan Army."

The Central Committee of the A.R.F. in Georgia still operated, although clandestinely, after Georgia had become a Soviet republic in March 1921. It organized the killing, according to Simon Vratzian:

“At the initiative of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation’s Central Committee of Georgia, on July 21, 1922, in Tiflis and in broad daylight, the last surviving member [of the Ittihad triumvirate] and friend and accomplice of the Bolsheviks, Jemal Pasha, was assassinated. The incident had a shocking effect on everyone. The Cheka made innumerable arrests but did not dare to violent measures for fear of retaliations. Dro got permission from Moscow and quickly left for Tiflis, where all the distinguished Dashnaktsakans had been arrested. Dro’s prestige in the eyes of both the Dashnaktsakan comrades and the Bolsheviks was so great that it was possible for him to get the members of the Central Committee and other prisoners out of jail with conditions acceptable to both parties.”

Little is known about the details of the operation. The name of Stepan Dzaghigian (who would later die in Siberia, exiled during the Stalinist purges) has been mentioned as one of the executors, helped by Petros Ter Poghosian and Ardashes Gevorgian. A fourth name, Zareh Melik-Shahnazarian, has also been mentioned as their collaborator in the last years, with the archives still waiting to yield their secrets.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Birth of Arshag Tchobanian (July 15, 1872)

An influential literary critic and political activist, Arshag Tchobanian would become a sought-after name in the first half of the twentieth century.

He was born in Constantinople on July 15, 1872. He lost his mother when he was a year old. After graduating from the Makruhian School in his neighborhood of Beshigtash (1886), he entered the newly founded Getronagan (Central) School in 1886. He graduated in 1891, when he had already started his literary contributions to the most important newspapers of the time, Arevelk and Hairenik. He published his first two books in 1891 and 1892. He taught at his alma mater in 1892-1893 and, after a year sojourn in France, continued his teaching. In 1895 he published a literary monthly, Dzaghig, but, due to the political repression and the Hamidian massacres of 1895-1896, he decided to leave Constantinople for good. He settled in Paris, where he would live the rest of his life.

Tchobanian became the leading voice of the Armenians in France and a promoter of Armenian literature and the Armenian Cause in Europe, with many publications in various journals and newspapers, and a series of books in French, along with his own wide production in Armenian. Among his books in French, the most important would be the three-volume Roseraie de l’Arménie (Rose Garden of Armenia), dedicated to Armenian medieval poetry, a subject of which he was a respected translator and scholar.

Between 1898 and 1911, he published the literary journal Anahid, which would become an influential name in Armenian literature. He also wrote for many Armenian newspapers throughout the world.

Tchobanian adopted ideological positions closer to the Reorganized Hunchakian Party, created after the division of the Hunchakian Party in 1896. Later, he entered the ranks of the Liberal Party, created after 1908 in Europe by members of the Reorganized Hunchakian Party.

The Armenian writer was an activist of the Armenian Cause during World War I and denounced the genocidal policy of Turkey. He was the editor of the newspaper Veradznunt from 1917-1919 and became a member of the Armenian National Delegation led by Boghos Nubar in February 1919. He was sent to Lebanon and Cilicia in 1920 to negotiate with the French authorities, at a time when Cilicia was still under French mandate, before being abandoned to the forces of Mustafa Kemal.

In October 1921 Tchobanian entered the Democratic Liberal (Ramgavar Azadagan) Party, founded in Constantinople, and was elected first chairman of its Central Board. During the 1920s, along with the party, he adopted a position favorable to cooperation with Soviet Armenia to further its economic and social development, including the settlement of Armenian refugees and orphans. He visited year the United States from coast to coast in 1926-1927. In 1929 he relaunched Anahid, which would last until 1949, with a pause between 1940 and 1946 due to World War II.

Tchobanian would continue his literary and public activities until his death on June 8, 1954, killed by a car when crossing a street in Paris at the age of 82.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

July 5, 1921: Mountainous Gharabagh Becomes Part of Soviet Azerbaijan

The establishment of the Soviet regime in the Southern Caucasus between April 1920 and April of 1921 included the solution of ethno-territorial conflicts such as that of Mountainous Gharabagh, which had been in dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan since 1918.
Soviet Russia had recognized the mountainous area of Gharabagh as a disputed zone and, in August 1920, after an agreement signed by Soviet Russian and the Republic of Armenia, Russian forces had been temporarily deployed in the region.
On November 30, 1920, one day after the Armenian Bolsheviks had proclaimed Armenia as a Soviet republic (the power was actually transferred on December 2), the Revolutionary Committee of Azerbaijan (the highest executive power of the country at the moment) recognized that Gharabagh, Zangezur, and Nakhichevan, territories formerly pretended by Azerbaijan, were indivisible part of Armenia.
The National Council of Azerbaijan, on the basis of the agreement signed by Soviet Azerbaijan and Soviet Armenia, proclaimed Mountainous Gharabagh as indivisible part of Armenia by the declaration of June 12, 1921. On the basis of the November 30, 1920 declaration and the agreement signed by the Soviet governments of Azerbaijan and Armenia, Armenia also made a similar declaration.
The text of the decree approved by the government of Armenia was published in the Armenian and Azerbaijani press (Bakinski rabotchi, organ of the Communist Party of Azerbaijan, June 22, 1921), thus confirming legally the union of Mountainous Gharabagh to Armenia. In the context of international law, this was the last legal act regarding Mountainous Gharabagh during the Communist regime.
The fact was totally overlooked by the Caucasian Bureau of the Communist Party of Russia, which invited to a plenary session on July 4, 1921 in Tbilisi, where the union of Mountainous Gharabagh to Soviet Armenia was confirmed as a fact. However, by suggestion of Moscow and the immediate intervention of Joseph Stalin, the decision of the previous day was revised in the wee hours of July 5 and a new resolution was imposed, which established that Mountainous Gharabagh would be part of Soviet Azerbaijan as an autonomous region. This resolution was an unprecedented legal act in the history of international law, when the party body of a third country (Russia), without any legal grounds or jurisdiction, decided the status of Mountainous Gharabagh after another decision had been agreed before.
The Soviet republics of Azerbaijan and Armenia were included in the process of the formation of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in December 1922. Despite the resistance of the Armenian population, on a small fraction of the territory of Gharabagh, by decision of the Central Executive Revolutionary Committee of Soviet Azerbaijan, on July 7, 1923, the Autonomous Region (Oblast) of Mountainous (Nagorno) Gharabagh was formed as part of the Soviet Socialist Republic of Azerbaijan, without having any common borders with Armenia.
This would not solve, but just freeze the question of Gharabagh for the next six decades and half, until the popular explosion of 1988 and the beginning of the Gharabagh movement.