Thursday, October 23, 2014

October 23, 1908: Birth of Anna Ter Avetikian

This name is probably unfamiliar to the English reader. Anna Ter Avetikian was the first female architect of Armenia and the designer of some recognizable buildings in Yerevan.

She belonged to a family well-known to older inhabitants of the capital of Armenia. The Ter Avetikians had been instrumental in the construction of many historic buildings, such as the small hall of the Philarmonia of Yerevan, the old building of Yerevan State University, and the first hospital of the city, located on Abovian Street. Their efforts had succeeded in the creation of the first drinking water network of Yerevan.

In 1924 Anna Ter Avetikian entered the department of Architecture of the Technical School of Yerevan State University, which became the grounds for the Yerevan Polytechnic Institute in 1933 (now the State Engineering University of Armenia). She graduated in 1930. In 1926, while still a student, she started working in the studios of two renowned architects, Nikoghayos Buniatian and Alexander Tamanian (the author of the master plan of Yerevan and of many of its most characteristic buildings). Later she went to work in design organizations.

The designs of Ter-Avetikian were used for the construction of about forty buildings in Yerevan (schools, residential buildings, and administrative buildings). These included the building of film makers at the corner of Mashtots Avenue and Koriun, where the legendary coffee shop “Ponchikanots” (the ponchik is a kind of donut) and the Mayakovsky School are located.

An inscription on a building designed by Anna Ter-Avetikian where Armenian filmakers lived during the Soviet period in central Yerevan.
She married architect Konstantin Hovhannisian (1911-1984), who also worked in the studios of Buniatian and Tamanian in the 1930s, and together they designed the buildings of the Yerevan Police, the Yerevan Fire Station (on Sakharov Square), and the “Sasuntsi Davit” cinema (demolished in the 1980s). Her husband was the head of the excavations of Arin-Berd (1950-1972) and dug out the remnants of the citadel of Erebuni.

Anna Ter Avetikian was a laureate of the Soviet overviews of female architects in 1938 and 1956, and received a diploma from the international exhibition of Paris, “Women in Art and Popular Creation” in 1938. Her design of the building of film makers earned her the first prize in the all-Soviet competition of female architects of 1948. In 1967 she received a congratulatory note from the Supreme Soviet of the Armenian Republic and in 1968 she became an emeritus architect of Armenia.

She also won recognition and honors from the independent Republic of Armenia: the golden medal “Alexander Tamanian” (2002) and the golden medal “Yerevan” of the Yerevan City Hall. In 2012, at the age of 104, she gave an interview to the news agency Mediamax, in which she said:

“I can’t single out any one of the buildings. Is it possible to say which one of your children is your dearest?

“All my buildings are built with national style. That was not only conditioned by traditions, but by seismic and weather conditions, as well as the characteristics of national psychology.

“All cities change, and that’s natural. There are periods of flourishing and decline. However, people build the city and its environment is created thanks to them. The old city has to be maintained; keeping the link of time educates people and ties them to their history and roots.”

Anna Ter Avetikian passed away at the age of 105. Her passing was announced on January 16, 2013, by the news agency A1+.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

October 21, 1978: Death of Anastas Mikoyan

Anastas Mikoyan was perhaps the only politician that lived through the first half century of the Soviet regime, from the days of Lenin to the first years of Leonid Brezhnev’s rule in the 1960s, and remained at the highest positions of the Communist Party. He was also a controversial name with regards to Armenian history. (His younger brother Artem was the co-founder of the Mig aviation design bureau, which would produce the military jets.)

Mikoyan was born on November 13 (25), 1895, in the village of Sanahin, nowadays the neighborhood of the city of Alaverdi, in the province of Lori (Republic of Armenia). After graduating from the local school, he studied at the Nersisian School in Tiflis and the Gevorgian Seminary in Etchmiadzin.

In 1915 he formed a workers’ soviet in Etchmiadzin and formally joined the Bolshevik faction of the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party. He edited two newspapers in Baku and led the Bolshevik clandestine network after the collapse of the Commune of Baku in June 1918. He was among the 26 commissars who fled from Baku and the only one who escaped death when the others were shot in September 1918. The circumstances have remained shrouded in mystery.

In 1919 Mikoyan became the head of the Baku board of the Caucasian committee of the Russian Communist Party. After a short stay in Moscow, he returned to Baku as representative of the Military-Revolutionary Committee of the XI Red Army. In December 1919 he wrote a report to Lenin where he insisted on the need to put an end to the Armenian Question and to renounce the idea of the formation of a united Armenian state. In 1921 he co-signed a letter sent to Lenin by Nariman Narimanov, the head of the Military-Revolutionary Committee of Azerbaijan, which said that Gharabagh and Nakhichevan should remain under the authority of Soviet Azerbaijan.

Afterwards, Mikoyan moved to Moscow, where he continued his political career. He was in Stalin’s inner circle; he became People’s Commissar of Trade of the Soviet Union in 1926 and Commissar of Food Industry in 1931. He developed a comprehensive program for the Soviet food industry and, in this regard, he visited the United States for two months in 1936 with his wife Ashkhen (died in 1962) to study the American methods of production. He initiated the production of ice cream in the Soviet Union, which remained under his personal supervision until the end of his tenure.

The Caucasus trio: From left to right, Mikoyan, Joseph Stalin, and Sergo Ordzhonikidze.

Mikoyan was elected a full member of the Politburo of the Communist Party in 1935 (he would keep this position until 1966) and became deputy chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars in 1937. He was among those who executed Stalin’s policies, including signing documents that condemned to death hundreds and thousands of people during the Great Purge.

In September 1937 Stalin dispatched him, along with Georgy Malenkov and Lavrentiy Beria, with a list of 300 names to Yerevan, to oversee the liquidation of the Communist Party of Armenia, which was largely made up of old Bolsheviks. Over a thousand people were arrested and seven of nine members of the Armenian Politburo were sacked from office. On September 22, 1937, Nikolai Yezhov, head of the NKVD (predecessor of the KGB) from 1936 to 1938, transmitted to Stalin a petition by Mikoyan to execute 2,000 Armenians, instead of the initial 1,500. During the celebration of the 20th anniversary of the NKVD at the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow, on December 20, 1937, Mikoyan praised Yezhov for his tireless work: “Learn the Stalin way to work," he said, "from Comrade Yezhov, just as he learned and will continue to learn from Comrade Stalin himself.” On the other hand, he helped the families of purged friends who had remained without any assistance. He also saved Marshal Hovhannes Baghramian, a hero of World War II, from repression and exile in 1937.

Mikoyan had an outstanding role during the war. Trade, army supply, and production of light and food industry were under his supervision. In 1941 he became a representative of the State Defense Committee, which was the supreme state authority during the war, and was decorated with the order of Hero of Socialist Labor in 1943 for his remarkable job. After the war, he continued to be Minister of Foreign Trade until 1949. Despite his position, his teenage children Sergo and Vano were exiled on trumped-up charges, but returned shortly after the end of the war. His son Vladimir, a pilot in the Red Air Force, had died in combat during the war.

During the 19th Congress of the Communist Party in October 1952, despite his speech filled with praises of Stalin, Mikoyan was not elected to the presidium of the congress. Although he was elected a member of the Central Committee of the party, he did not make it to the presidium of the party. During the plenary session, Stalin rained invectives over Mikoyan and Molotov, first deputy chairman of the USSR Council of Ministers, and expressed publicly his lack of trust in them. Stalin’s death in March 1953 probably saved Mikoyan’s career and life.

Ernesto "Che" Guevara, First Deputy Premier Anastas Mikoyan of the Soviet Union, and Fidel Castro meet after the successful revolution in Cuba.

The “survivor,” as he would be labeled by Time magazine, maintained a neutral position in the struggle for power after Stalin’s death. He supported Nikita Khrushchev after he imposed himself over Beria as the strongman of the Soviet Union and backed his policy of de-Stalinization. He returned to the post of Minister of Foreign Trade (1953-55) and then became first deputy chairman of the USSR Council of Ministers (1955-1964). Nevertheless, he never gave a public assessment of Stalin’s crimes. In 1954 he visited Armenia and gave a speech in Yerevan, where he encouraged Armenians to reprint the forbidden works of Raffi and Yeghishe Charents.

The veteran politician, who visited the United States several times during Khrushchev’s time, would have a crucial intervention in the solution of the Cuban missile crisis of 1962. Two years later, he would become chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR shortly before the coup that ousted Khrushchev and replaced him by Leonid Brezhnev, but he was forced to retire in 1965. Mikoyan was one of the few Old Bolsheviks who was spared from Stalin's purges and was able to retire comfortably from political life. He died on October 21, 1978, at the age of 82, from natural causes and was buried at Novodevichy Cemetery in Moscow. Last April, an initiative to erect a statue of Mikoyan in Yerevan gave room to a heated controversy that shows that the Soviet legacy is far from being resolved.

Monday, October 13, 2014

October 13, 1668: Completion of the first printing of the Armenian Bible

After more than two and half years of work, the printing of the first edition of the Armenian Bible was finished in Amsterdam (Netherlands) in 1668. The tenacious efforts of Voskan Yerevantsi, a bishop of the Armenian Church, had finally achieved an elusive target that had been pursued for several decades.

Voskan (1614-1674) was the son of parents from Yerevan, who had been part of the deportation of Armenians from Eastern Armenia to Persia ordered by Shah Abbas I in 1604 and settled in New Julfa (Nor Jugha), the Armenian suburb of Ispahan founded by the Persian ruler. He studied at the monastery of All Saviors and, against the wishes of his parents, he was consecrated a celibate priest. After a few years of further study in Holy Etchmiadzin and Yerevan, he returned to New Julfa. Invited to Etchmiadzin by Catholicos Pilipos I Aghbaketsi in 1634, he was appointed abbot of the monastery of St. Sargis in Ushi, where he took classes in Latin, philosophy, geometry, and astronomy from the learned Dominican monk Paulo Piromalli, a Catholic missionary in Armenia, and taught Armenian to him.

In 1655 Catholicos Hakob IV Jughayetsi (1655-1680) sent his secretary, Movses Tzaretsi, to Europe with the aim of establishing a print shop. He did not find support in Italy and went to Amsterdam, where conditions were more favorable for printing, as the Netherlands were outside the sphere of influence of the Catholic Church. He was able to establish a print shop, but his attempt at printing the Armenian Bible ended in failure. Before his death in 1661, he asked his friend, the merchant Avetis from Jugha, to take over the print shop and continue his work. Avetis, at his turn, asked his brother, Voskan Yerevantsi, to come to Amsterdam. The latter had already been consecrated as bishop and was commissioned by the Catholicos to continue the task.

The first page of the Gospel of Matthew from the first printed Armenian Bible of 1668.
Bishop Voskan arrived in the Dutch port in 1664 and took over the direction of the “Holy Etchmiadzin and St. Sargis” print shop. Between 1664 and 1669, he printed 14 Armenian books, including the first printed book by a living Armenian historian, the Book of Histories by Arakel of Tabriz (1669). He and his disciples Karapet Andrianatsi and Ohan Yerevantsi started the printing of the Armenian Bible on March 11, 1666, which would result in a beautifully illustrated edition of 21 x 26 cm. (8.27 x 10.23 inches) and 1464 pages. This achievement would become enough to give Voskan Yerevantsi a place of honor in the history of Armenian printing, following the first printer of Armenian books, Hakob Meghapart.

Voskan moved his print shop to Livorno, Italy, in 1669, and three years later to Marseilles, France. He would print eight more books, including the first mathematical textbook, which was also the first printing in Modern Armenian, entitled Art of Calculus (Արհեստ համարողութեան, 1675). He died on February 4, 1674, before the printing of the textbook was complete. His print shop remained active until 1686 and a total of 40 books were printed.

The original text of the Armenian Bible has had ten editions since 1666 (the last one was printed in Vienna by the Mekhitarist fathers in 1929). Very Rev. Hovhannes Zohrabian’s edition, printed in Venice in 1805, is regarded as the most valuable by Biblical scholars.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

October 8, 451: Opening of the Council of Chalcedon

The fourth ecumenical council that convened in Chalcedon became a turning point in the history of the Armenian Church, even though the Armenian Church was not represented at Chalcedon.

The first ecumenical council at Nicea (325) determined that Jesus Christ was God, “consubstantial” with the Father. This meant that God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) are “of one being” in that the Son is “born” or “begotten” “before all ages” or “eternally of the Father’s own being, from which the Spirit also eternally “proceeds.” The confession of Nicea, recited in every Holy Mass of the Armenian Church, states: “We believe (...) in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of God the Father, only-begotten, that is of the substance of the Father (...) who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven, took body, became man, was born perfectly of the holy Virgin Mary by the Holy Spirit. By whom he took body, soul and mind and everything that is in man, truly and not in semblance.”

This was reaffirmed at the first council of Constantinople (381) and the council of Ephesus (431). One of the fathers of the Church, Cyril of Alexandria (d. 444) taught that “There is only one nature (physis), since it is the Incarnation, of God the Word,” which was held as orthodoxy.

In 446, an aged monk from Constantinople named Eutyches started teaching a subtle variation of this doctrine. His teachings were considered heretical, but he was rehabilitated in a council marred with scandal, held again at Ephesus (449) and supported by Byzantine emperor Theodosius II (408-450) where he publicly professed that while Christ had two natures before the incarnation, the two natures had merged to form a single nature after the incarnation. Pope Leo I denounced the council as a “synod of robbers” and refused to accept its decisions.

The threat of a schism led the new Byzantine emperor, Marcian (450-457), to hold a new council at Chalcedon (451) from October 8 – November 1, 451, which condemned the work of the council of 449 and professed the doctrine of the incarnation presented in Leo’s Tome, a document prepared by the Pope, which confessed that Christ had two natures, and was not of or from two natures. A special committee appointed by the Council decided unanimously in favor of the orthodoxy of Leo’s Tome, and determined that it was compatible with the teachings of Cyril of Alexandria. The confession of Chalcedon stated: “We, then, following the holy Fathers, all with one consent, teach people to confess (...) one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, only begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably.”

The formula on the nature of Christ adopted by the Council of Chalcedon was severely criticized by various Oriental sees. Many local councils rejected that doctrine. Resistance reached the point that Byzantine emperor Zeno I (474-491) issued a document called Henotikon in 482, which considered the doctrinal resolutions of the first three councils (Nicea, Constantinople, and Ephesus), while the Council of Chalcedon and Leo’s Tome were not mentioned at all.

At the time of the Council of Chalcedon, Armenia was in crisis. A few months before, in May 451, the battle of Avarair had been fought, and the Armenian Church was in no position to have its say on the issue. The situation changed after the Treaty of Nvarsak (484), when the situation stabilized with Persian Armenia under the government of Vahan Mamikonian. The Armenian Church adopted the doctrine of the Henotikon, and this position was officially confirmed by the Council of Dvin (506).

The followers of the Council of Chalcedon have frequently accused the Armenian Church of monophysitism, but this is not true: the Armenian Church follows the doctrine of Cyril of Alexandria established at the third ecumenical Council of Ephesus (431) that reaffirmed the decisions of the Councils of Nicea and Ephesus.