Monday, March 23, 2015

Massacre of Shushi (March 23-26, 1920)

The city of Shushi, capital of Karabagh and the third Armenian center in the South Caucasus after Tiflis and Baku, had a population of 43,869 inhabitants, according to the Kavkaskii Kalendar (Caucasus Calendar) published in Tiflis in 1916. Fifty-three per cent of the population (23,396 people) was Armenian, while 44% was Tatar (later called Azerbaijani).

After the independence of Armenia, the situation of Karabagh remained in a sort of limbo due to the Azerbaijani pretentions over the region and the pro-Azerbaijani attitude of the British representatives in the region, interested in securing the oil of Baku. Clashes between Azerbaijanis and local Armenians in 1919, as well as Armenian massacres incited by Azerbaijani Governor-General Khosrov Bek-Sultanov, ended with a British-brokered temporary agreement on August 22, 1919 that lasted a few months.

Sultanov broke the terms of the agreement in the beginning of 1920 and tightened the Azerbaijani blockade around Karabagh. He gathered armed forces in strategically important locations and armed the local Turkish population. Well-aware that the Armenian population was much less armed, he made preparations for “the final resolution of the Nagorno Karabagh issue,” as he wrote in one dispatch to the Azerbaijani government. On February 19, 1920, Sultanov issued a demand to the Armenian National Council of Karabagh "to solve urgently the question of the final incorporation of Karabagh into Azerbaijan." At their eighth congress held from 23 February to 4 March, the Armenians responded that Azerbaijan's demand violated the terms of the temporary agreement of August 1919 and warned that "repetition of the events will compel the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabagh to turn to appropriate means for defense."

The commanders of the Armenian self-defense tried to anticipate Sultanov’s movements. A small Armenian detachment entered Shushi in the early morning of March 23, 1920, when the Turkish population was celebrating the festivity of Novruz, and tried to take over the barrack, according to an uprising plan previously developed. The exchange of fire served as a signal for Shushi’s armed Turkish population, the Azeri army soldiers, and Kurdish gangs abounding in the town to attack the Armenian district, plunder and set everything on fire, and start a horrible massacre of the Armenian population. According to historian Richard Hovannisian, "Azerbajani troops, joined by the city’s Azerbaijani inhabitants, turned Armenian Shushi into an inferno. From March 23 to 26, some 2,000 structures were consumed in the flames, including the churches and consistory, cultural institutions, schools, libraries, the business section, and the grand homes of the merchant class. Bishop Vahan (Ter-Grigorian), long an advocate of accommodation with the Azerbaijani authorities, paid the price of retribution, as his tongue was torn out before his head was cut off and paraded through the streets on a spike. The chief of police, Avetis Ter-Ghukasian, was turned into a human torch, and many intellectuals, including Bolshevik Alexander Tsaturyan, were among the 500 Armenian victims."

The Armenian quarters of city of Shusha destroyed by Azerbaijani armed forces in 1920 with the defiled Cathedral of the Holy Saviorin the background.
The Armenian quarters of city of Shusha destroyed by Azerbaijani armed forces in 1920 with the defiled Cathedral of the Holy Saviorin the background.
Much of the population fled, and the Armenian section of the city was completely destroyed. According to data of 1921, some 8,000 Azerbaijanis lived in Shushi, and the number of Armenians was about 300. The Armenian section remained in ruins for several decades.

The historical Armenian city became an Azerbaijani city during the Soviet period, until the Armenian forces of self-defense liberated Shushi on May 9, 1992, in one of the most crucial moments of the Karabagh war.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Birth of Alan Hovhaness (March 8, 1911)

Armenian American composer Alan Hovhaness is said to be one of the most prolific composers of the 20th century.

He was born Alan Vaness Chakmakjian in Somerville (Massachusetts), on March 8, 1911. His father, Haroutioun Chakmakjian (1878-1973), was a professor of chemistry at Tufts College and author of a popular English-Armenian dictionary, as well as onetime editor of Hairenik. His mother, Madeleine Scott, was of Scottish ancestry, and did not especially approve that he learned about Armenian culture from his father. Until her death in 1931, the composer would sign his earliest music as Alan Scott Vaness.

Alan Hovhaness was a precocious composer who already penned operas by age 14. After initial studies at Tufts College, he studied composition at the New England Conservatory of Music, in Boston. In the 1930s, he composed mostly chamber music in Western modes of expression.

He would shift to a fusion of Western and Eastern music in the 1940s, starting with his job as organist at St. James Armenian Church in Watertown, where he was exposed to the Armenian liturgy and the works of Komitas Vartabed. “It was through Komitas that I got the idea of saying as much as possible with the fewest possible notes,” he would write later. He got rid of most of his earliest music, and started anew to seek out his Armenian heritage. His “Armenian period” lasted from 1943 to 1951, and was benefited from the performances of important works and rave reviews in the mainstream press. The Friends of Armenian Music, a committee headed by pianist Maro Ajemian and her sister, violinist Anahid Ajemian, were instrumental in supporting him in various capacities. Maro Ajemian performed and recorded many of his works. 

Alan Hovhaness conducts the Ani Symphony.
Alan Hovhaness conducts the Ani Symphony at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City on April 21, 1989, in one of several events sponsored by the Prelacy on the occasion of the 1000th anniversary of the Great Cathedral of Ani.

After a three-year stint at the Boston Music Conservatory (1948-1951), while he had married for the third time, Hovhaness gradually acquired considerable reputation. He received academic honors and a steady flow of commissions. He embarked on a more Western phase of writing and devoted himself to full-time composing. His Symphony No. 2 (Mysterious Mountain ) that premiered in 1955, brought him national recognition. MGM Records released 8 long-plays of all-Hovhaness records from 1955-1957. “Mysterious Mountain” was recorded in 1958 by Fritz Reiner and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and became his most famous recording and most-performed orchestral work. To this day it is considered to be one of the best recordings ever made.

After a Fulbright research scholarship in India (1959-1960), Alan Hovhaness also visited and studied in Japan and Korea. He also visited the former Soviet Union in 1965, including Soviet Armenia. He shared his time between New York and Switzerland in the mid-1960s, while steadily maintaining his prolific output. He settled in Seattle, Washington, in the early 1970s. At this time, his music veered towards a more Western neo-romantic expression. In 1977 he married his sixth wife, Japanese soprano Hinako Fujihara. In the same year, he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

In 1991 the American Composers Society and the Eastern Prelacy, by initiative of Archbishop Mesrob Ashjian, celebrated the 80th birthday of Alan Hovhaness at Carnegie Hall. He directed his own works, including the premiere of his symphony No. 65 “Artsakh,” dedicated to the heroic fighters for the liberation of Karabagh and commissioned by the Prelacy.

The composer continued to be active until his 85th birthday. In 1996 his health suffered a marked decline. He passed away on June 21, 2000 at the age of 89. His official catalogue includes 67 symphonies and 434 works.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Armenia Becomes a Member of the United Nations (March 2, 1992)

The Supreme Council of the Republic of Armenia declared the independence of Armenia by 213 votes to 0 on September 23, after the popular referendum of September 21 had answered with an overwhelming “Yes” to the question whether Armenians wanted independence.

The three Baltic republics (Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania) had been incorporated into the United Nations in September 1991, and thus, Lithuania recognized the independence of Armenia in November. However, international recognition essentially started after December 10, 1991, the date when the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) was officially dissolved. Ironically, Turkey was among the first countries to recognize Armenian independence on December 24, 1991, one day before the United States, but has refused to establish diplomatic relations until the present.

The Republic of Armenia officially applied for membership in the United Nations on January 23, 1992. Six days later, the U.N. Security Council discussed the application of Armenia in its session 3035 and advised the U.N. General Assembly to incorporate the newly independent Republic as a member (resolution 735, January 29, 1992).

On March 2, 1992, Ambassador Samir S. Shihabi of Saudi Arabia opened the meeting of the U.N. General Assembly as its president. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali placed on the agenda the application of nine countries, eight of them former Soviet republics (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kirguizia, Moldova, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan), as well as San Marino, which previously had enjoyed observer status. The Republic of Armenia was represented by Foreign Minister Raffi Hovannisian; Armenian ambassador to the United Nations, Alexander Arzumanian, and Armenian ambassador to the United Kingdom, Armen Sargsyan. Some 30 representatives of the Armenian American community were also attending, including Archbishop Mesrob Ashjian, Prelate of the Eastern Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church, of blessed memory.

A large crowd gathered on March 2, 1992, to witness the raising of the tricolor of the Republic of Armenia in front of the United Nations headquarters in New York City.

The need to find a solution to the ongoing crisis of Karabagh was noted by the representatives of the United States, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the Russian Federation, and the European Community. Foreign Minister Hovannisian spoke and, after greeting those present in Armenian, continued speaking in English and declared that Armenia wanted a peaceful resolution of the issue.

The resolution 46/227 of the General Assembly was approved on the same day. Due to the civil war, the membership of Georgia was to be approved in July 1992.

The representatives of the invited countries, led by Boutros-Ghali, were invited to the ceremony of the raising of the flags at 1:30 p.m. Thousands of Armenians had gathered outside the United Nations headquarters and their overwhelming applause greeted Raffi Hovannisian while he raised the Armenian flag. The tricolor floating in front of the United Nations became a symbol of Armenia’s membership in the international community.

In remembrance of this historic date, the government of the Republic of Armenia issued a resolution on March 23, 2012, which established March 2 as the day of the diplomat of the Republic of Armenia.