Monday, June 29, 2015

Death of Hampartzum Limonjian (June 29, 1839)

Hampartzum Limonjian, better known by the sobriquet Baba Hampartzum, was one of the most important figures of Armenian music. He opened a new era in Armenian songs, as he cleaned them from foreign influences, and became the creator of the Armenian new musical notation, which helped maintain the heritage of popular and spiritual songs.

Limonjian was born in Constantinople in 1768. His childhood was marked by poverty. As soon as he had learned how to write and to read, he became an apprentice in a tailor shop and, after learning the trade, became a tailor himself.

He had an innate love for singing and music, and in his free time he devoted himself to learning music, and this is how he advanced in musicology. He later became a student of Zenne Boghos and learned Armenian religious music. He met Turkish dervishes and in a short time learned the style of their classical singing. The mystic teachings of the dervishes made a great impact on him, as well as their introspective life and their prayers that were accompanied by songs, music, and ritual dances.

Afterwards, Hampartzum Limonjian, who was already known as Baba Hampartzum, studied also European musical theory. His acquaintance with Hovhannes Chelebi Duzian became crucial. Hovhannes Chelebi, who was also a music lover, noted the exceptional abilities of Baba Hampartzum and had him hired as a music teacher in the Mekhitarist School of Constantinople. Simultaneously, he also worked as a scribe for the Balians, who were the imperial architects.

Once he assured his living, Baba Hampartzum strove to improve his musical knowledge. He took lessons from Greek musicians and maintained his links with the dervishes. He also studied old Armenian religious songs and tried to transcribe them. The European notation was not appropriate and he invented an Armenian notation system that resembled the khaz (the Armenian notation used in the Armenian hymns or sharagan) and corresponded to the European musical scale. He worked on his invention until 1815. In 1837 he wrote his autobiography, in Turkish, where he wrote about the motives that had led him to create the Armenian notation.

Hampartzum Limonjian had a group of students who continued his work, among them his son Nezen Zenob (1810-1866), Tamburi Alexan, Apisoghom Utudjian, Aristakes Hovhannesian, Bedros Cheomlekian and Hovhannes Muhendisian.

He passed away on June 29, 1839, at the age of 71. Decades later, Kevork IV, Catholicos of All Armenians, took the initiative to organize the teaching and the promotion of the notation system invented by Baba Hampartzum, which was particularly important in the maintenance and the normalization of Armenian religious music.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Assembly of Shahabivan (June 24, 444)

In a period when the kingdom had fallen (428) and the country was divided between Persia and Byzantium, the Armenian Church rose as the main unifying force. Victim of various accusations, after the fall of the kingdom Catholicos Sahak Partev was retained in Persia, and Surmak, from the house of Aghbianos—rival to the house of St. Gregory of Illuminator—became Catholicos, supported by the Persian king Vram V, although he never enjoyed the support of the Armenian Church. After his death in 443, Hovsep I Hoghotsmetsi, a student of Mesrop Mashtots, was elected Catholicos and was recognized both by the Church and by new Persian king Yazkert II.

Catholicos Hovsep and governor of Armenia Vasak Siuni agreed to convene a national-ecclesiastical assembly in the town of Shahabivan, in the district of Dzaghkotn of the province of Ayrarat (Great Armenia), which was the headquarters of the Armenian royal army. The assembly was attended by 40 bishops and other ecclesiastics, as well as many laymen, including princes, members of the military, etcetera. It started on June 24, 444.

The assembly was convened, mainly, to confirm the rules established by the Apostles and the Council of Nicea, which many ecclesiastics had broken, and to reaffirm the internal order and moral norms of the Armenian Church, as well as to give its judgment upon various heresies and wrongdoings.

The assembly of Shahabivan was canonical, but its resolutions, unlike other cases, were the only ones that established punishment for various transgressions. For these reason, its resolutions took the character of a judicial code. Only one of the 20 rules had an advisory character. Otherwise, ten rules (six of them fully, and four partly) were devoted to ecclesiastics, and they established canonical and criminal punishments for canonical violations and transgressions. Nine rules in their totality and four of them partly were about princes and villagers, with different punishments. Interestingly, while villagers received corporal punishment (beating), the princes were only sentenced to advice, fine, and repentance.

However, some transgressions had the same punishment for both villagers and princes. The fines established for villagers were half or less than half of the fines for princes. The rules took into consideration the economic situation of both social classes.

According to the resolutions of the assembly, all fines would go to the churches and homes for the aged, and in certain cases a portion of the fines would be distributed among the poor. In the canons of the assembly, women and men were equal before the law: “Whether male or woman, the canon applies.”

The assembly passed severe resolutions against the heresy of the Messalians. This heresy, which had originated in the fourth century, denied that the Sacraments gave grace, including baptism, and declared that the only spiritual power was constant prayer that led to possession by the Holy Spirit. The adult members of heretical families were confined to leper colonies, while the children were delivered to the Church, which took their spiritual education in its hands.

The assembly of Shahabivan was very important in the consolidation of the grounds of the Armenian Church and the formation and development of a corpus of Armenian law. It might also be said that its momentum was still felt a few years later, when the attempt of Persia to impose Zoroastrianism met a fiery Armenian resistance symbolized by the battle of Avarair in 451.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Birth of Axel Bakunts (June 13, 1899)

Axel Bakunts was the most important prose writer in the first generation of Soviet Armenian literature. As many other intellectuals, he would also become a victim of totalitarianism.

Bakunts was born Alexander Tevosian on June 13, 1899, in Goris (Zangezur), in a family with eleven children. As he wrote in his autobiography, “my parents had had land and wealth, but I did not see either that land or that wealth. I recall horrendous poverty and a house filled with children. . .” He studied in the parish school from 1905-1910 and then he was admitted in the Kevorkian Seminary of Etchmiadzin, where he studied until 1915. After his short story, “The Fool Man,” published in the children’s monthly Aghbiur in 1911, a satirical piece appeared in July 1915 in the newspaper Paylak under a pseudonym, that cost him a stint in prison, as it was a criticism of the mayor of Goris and the provincial administration. The Seminary was closed in the school year 1915-1916 due to the flow of refugees from the genocide, and after 34 days, the future writer was freed from prison and invited to teach at the village school of Lor, in Zangezur.

By then, Alexander had been replaced by Axel, as his friends called him after the name of the character he played in a comedy, “The Newly Married,” by Norwegian writer and Nobel laureate Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson. He would later adopt the family name Bakunts as his pseudonym.

He graduated in 1917 from the Seminary, and in the fall he became a soldier in the battlefronts of Erzerum and Kars, until his participation in the crucial battle of Sardarabad in late May 1918. He worked in Yerevan as a proofreader and reporter in 1918-1919, and in 1919-1920 he studied at the Polytechnic Institute of Tiflis and taught at the high school of an orphanage. After three years of studies at the Agricultural Institute of Kharkov (Ukraine), in 1923 he returned to Armenia, where he worked as an agronomist. In the same year, the authorities organized the so-called “liquidation” of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation in a conference of party members, and 24-year-old Bakunts chaired the conference.

He worked in Goris from 1924-1926 as head of the land section of the executive provincial committee, and moved in 1926 to Yerevan, where he was deputy head in the Land Commission of the republican government until 1931. After a short stint at the Nor Ughi journal, he dedicated himself to literary activities until 1936.

Bakunts started a serious literary career in 1924, and his short stories soon established his reputation as a gifted writer, which was strengthened by his first collection, Mtnadzor (The Dark Valley), published in 1927. Together with Yeghishe Charents, Gurgen Mahari, and other first-rate writers, he was also involved in the literary movements of the time, and fought for the development of Armenian literature in years when the Soviet regime had not yet established its iron fist over culture. Besides several collections of short stories (The White Horse, The Walnut Trees of Brotherhood, etcetera), he published the satirical novel Hovnatan March and also wrote three novels that were lost. He also wrote the screenplays for the films Zangezur and The Son of the Sun.

As Charents wrote in a poem dedicated to his friend Bakunts, “Sadness flows in your Dark Valley / And longing of childhood in the familiar valley, / But work to ensure that in that dark valley / Your bright road will not be lost forever.” There was an insidious campaign against both writers, as well as their friends, especially by fellow writers who tried to follow faithfully the directives of the Communist party. Political accusations started to pile up and Bakunts, together with other names, was victim of a round up on August 9, 1936. He was charged with “anti-revolutionary, anti-Soviet and chauvinist activities.” He was tortured for eleven months in jail. All his attempts at defending himself were useless, and his letters remained unanswered. As many others who were subjected to the terror installed by Stalin in 1936-1938, he was finally given a 25-minute trial and summarily condemned to the firing squad. He was shot on July 18, 1937.

His name disappeared from public recognition until the death of Stalin in 1953. He was later rehabilitated and Bakunts became a classic of Armenian literature in the twentieth century. In 1957 his childhood house became a house-museum.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Death of Vahram Papazian (June 5, 1968)

From Constantinople to Yerevan and from Paris to Moscow, Vahram Papazian would become the most accomplished Shakespearean actor of the Armenian scene worldwide for half a century.

He was born in Constantinople on January 6, 1888, in a middle-class family. He graduated from the Esayan School (1902) and the lyceum of Kadikoy (1902-1904), and had his debut on the stage in 1904. Then he went to the Murad-Raphaelian School of the Mekhitarist Congregation, in Venice, where he studied from 1905-1907.

In 1907 he departed for Paris and then for Baku, where he performed with an Armenian theater group for a few months. After this experience, he returned to Italy and studied at the Art Academy of Milan from 1908-1911. Famed actress Eleonora Duse was among his teachers. During his student years, he performed with Italian itinerant groups and gradually perfected his roles (Othello, Romeo, and Hamlet, among them). He returned to Constantinople in 1908 and his performances of Othello, at the age of 20, earned him the applause of Armenian audiences and the press. He went to Paris in the early 1910s to study the different currents of theater and become closely acquainted with acting techniques. As a professional actor, he performed from 1910-1913 in Constantinople and Smyrna, and from 1913-1917, in Baku and Tiflis. He enriched his repertory with a roster of roles in Armenian and non-Armenian plays.

Papazian as the title character in Shakespeare's Othello
Papazian played in fifteen Russian silent movies from 1917-1918 with the pseudonym of Ernesto Vahram, and would later play in three more films in 1922-1923. In 1920 he returned to Constantinople, where he performed until 1922. After the occupation of the city by the Kemalist forces, he settled in Soviet Armenia. He would perform and direct in Yerevan, Baku, and Tiflis between 1922 and 1927. He moved to Moscow in 1928 and then performed in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) from 1929-1931. In 1932 he played in Lithuania, Letonia, and Estonia, and in the same year he left for Paris, where he played Othello with the Odeon Theater group; his performances were singled out by the French press. In 1933 he visited Berlin, where he met the famous director Max Reinhardt and studied closely the German school of acting.

Thereafter, he returned to the Soviet Union and was distinguished as People’s Artist of Armenia and Georgia in 1933, and People’s Artist of Azerbaijan in 1935. He toured the cities of the three countries in 1934-1935, and continued his tour through Russia and Ukraine from 1936-1941. He played in Moscow in 1941 and settled in Leningrad from 1941-1944, where he survived the German blockade.

After years of new presentations in Russia, Ukraine, Central Asia, and Transcaucasia, from 1946-1954, Papazian finally settled back in Yerevan as a member of the Sundukian Academic Theater, and he also directed plays in Yerevan and Leninakan (now Gumri). He returned to cinema in four films from 1953-1964, and in 1956 he was given the title of People’s Artist of the Soviet Union. In the last fifteen years of his life, the actor revealed himself to be an accomplished writer with his two-volume memoir, Retrospective Regard (1956-1957). He also wrote his reminiscences on Western Armenian actors, My Heart’s Duty (1959), and several books on performance analysis about the roles of Hamlet, Othello, and King Lear.

His art belonged to the classical school, enriched by elements of neo-romanticism and psychological realism. His performances of Shakespearean roles were grounded on the traditions of ancient tragedy and the Renaissance, as well as his own Armenian viewpoint.

Vahram Papazian passed away in Leningrad on June 5, 1968, and was buried in the Pantheon of Yerevan. The State Theater of Stepanakert (Karabagh) carries his name.