Friday, July 31, 2015

Death of Hamo Ohanjanian (July 31, 1947)

Ohanjanian was a prominent member of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation in the first half of the twentieth century and also served as Prime Minister of the Republic of Armenia.

He was born in Akhalkalak (Javakhk, nowadays Georgia) in 1873. After his elementary studies in his birthplace, he moved to Tiflis, where he graduated from the Russian lyceum. He entered medical school in Moscow (1892), where he joined the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, and because of his participation in student agitation, he was left out of the university. He returned to Tiflis, and in 1899 he continued his studies in Lausanne (Switzerland), which he finished in 1902. He returned to Tiflis in 1902, where he became a leading figure of the party, and in 1905 was elected a member of the Eastern Bureau of the A.R.F. He would coordinate the popular action that opposed the confiscation of the properties of the Armenian Church in 1903 and he established relations with Russian and Georgian revolutionaries during the revolutionary movements of Russia in 1905-1907. He played an important role in the crucial A.R.F. Fourth General Assembly (Vienna, 1907), where he helped preserve the unity of the party by stopping extreme-left and extreme-right wing dissension.

In 1908 the Czarist government launched a persecution against revolutionary parties, including the A.R.F. Ohanjanian, together with 160 party members, was arrested. He was sentenced to hard labor in Siberia during the infamous “Trial of the Tashnagtsutiun” in 1912. Roubina Areshian, one of the organizers of the failed attempt against Sultan Abdul Hamid in 1905, followed him there and married him.

In 1915 Ohanjanian was set free thanks to the intercession of Catholicos Kevork V and Caucasus viceroy Ilarion Vorontsov-Dashkov. He returned to Tiflis and assisted the volunteer battalions as a physician, as well as the refugees from Western Armenia.

After the Russian Revolution of 1917, he departed to Petrograd and Kharkov to exhort Armenians to bring their help to the refugees. In May 1918 he participated in the battle of Gharakilise, where his elder son (born from his first marriage to Olga Vavileva) was killed.

After the birth of Armenia, Ohanjanian became a member of the Delegation of the Republic presided by Avetis Aharonian to participate in the Peace Conference in Europe. He remained in the West until the beginning of 1920. In October 1919 he was elected member of the A.R.F. Bureau during its Ninth General Assembly held in Yerevan.

He returned to the Armenian capital in January 1920 as Minister of Foreign Affairs in the cabinet of Alexander Khatisian. Following the failed Bolshevik uprising of May 1, 1920, Khatisian resigned, and Ohanjanian was charged with forming a new government on May 5, 1920. It was called the Bureau-Government, because all of its members were members of the A.R.F. Bureau.

Ohanjanian’s premiership coincided with the most crucial period of the Republic of Armenia, which would practically lead to its demise. The Treaty of Sevres was signed on August 10, 1920, but the following Armeno-Turkish war, started in September, ended with the defeat of the Armenian army. Ohanjanian resigned on November 23, 1920. Simon Vratzian would become the fourth and last prime minister, and ten days later the Soviet regime was established.

Ohanjanian, with other A.R.F. leaders, was imprisoned in January 1921 during the wave of terror that followed the Sovietization. The prisoners were saved by the popular rebellion of February 1921. After the end of the rebellion in April 1921, Ohanjanian moved to Zangezur and then to Iran. In the end, he settled in Egypt, where he would live until his death.

Besides his political activities as a party member, Ohanjanian, well-aware of the importance of language and culture for the preservation and development of the Armenian identity in the Diaspora, became a founding member of the Hamazkayin Cultural Association in 1928 and its chairman for the next 18 years. He also provided important support for the establishment of the Armenian Lyceum of Beirut in 1930.

The former prime minister of the Republic of Armenia passed away on July 31, 1947 in Cairo, where he was buried.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

The Expedition of Khanasor (July 25, 1897)

The Armenian massacres of 1895-1896 ordered by Sultan Abdul Hamid II were executed with the active participation of Kurdish tribes. This extended also to the aftermath of the self-defense of Van in early June 1896, organized by the three Armenian parties (Armenian Revolutionary Federation, Armenakan, and Hunchakian). The fight ended after a truce brokered by the British consul, Major W. H. Williams, who guaranteed the safe passage to Persia of some 1,000 people who had participated in the self-defense. However, the retreating group, badly armed, was attacked by the Kurdish Mazrik tribe. More than 300 young people, headed by Bedo (A.R.F.), Mgrdich Avedisian (Armenakan), and Mardik (Hunchakian) on their way to Persia, were killed by the Kurdish bandits.

Less than ten days after the massacre, on June 18, 1896, a regional assembly of the A.R.F. decided to take punitive measures against the Kurdish groups that had become a tool in the hands of the Turkish government, and particularly against the Mazrik tribe.

There were discrepancies about the feasibility of such a strike. However, these were overcome after the fall of 1896, when a regional assembly of Tiflis passed a resolution that approved the expedition. Afterwards, Nigol Tuman, one of the A.R.F. military chiefs and a main proponent of the attack, went to Baku and secured the necessary financial means.

The group was composed of 235 foot combatants and 40 horsemen. The expedition group was commanded by Sarkis Mehrabian (he would be later known as Vartan of Khanasor), with Hovsep Arghutian and Nigol Tuman as his assistants.

The Mazrik tribe settled in the plain of Khanasor, surrounded by hills. The group crossed the Persian-Turkish border near Salmast on the night of July 24, 1897, passed through the Araul mountain and surrounded the plain from all sides.

Some 250 tents were spread in the plain. The attack started at daybreak. The Kurdish tribe practically lost most of its male members; some estimates claim between 1,200 and 1,500 casualties. Women and children, however, were spared, following the directives of Nigol Tuman. Sharaf Bek, the Kurdish chief, took advantage of the circumstance and escaped, wearing female clothing.

The Armenian force suffered 19 casualties, including Aristakes Zorian (Garo), the brother of Rostom (Stepan Zorian), one of the founders of the A.R.F.

Neighbor Kurds and Turkish regular forces came over. In order to avoid being surrounded, the military council of the expedition decided to leave the plain and to fall back to the mountain. The enemy was unable to stop the organized retreat of the Armenian fedayees, who fought the whole day in the mountain and in the night, when the Kurds stopped the attack, crossed the border back to Persia, and later returned to the Caucasus.

The expedition of Khanasor, besides its military success, was also a moral success, as it showed that Armenians had the necessary spirit to fight back against the Kurds and stop their attacks. The song composed by one of its participants, Dervish Toros (Kalust Aloyan), summarized that spirit in its first stanza:

Hail fell over the plain of Khanasor / The fedayees of the A.R.F. took revenge in the valley...

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Death of Yeghia Demirjibashian (July 19, 1908)

Yeghia Demirjibashian was born in Khasgiugh (Haskoy), a suburb of Constantinople, on May 8, 1851. He completed his education at the local Nersesian and Nubar-Shahnazarian schools, and graduated with distinction. From early youth he was a solitary person and an avid reader, with an encyclopedic mind. He was principally captivated by books that represented the sadder aspects of life, its vanity, and the reality of death, which seemed to suit his melancholic disposition.

He worked for a while at the Printing Office of the government, and as a secretary of the administrative assembly of the ministry of Public Works, but he quit his job with the intention of going to Paris. Family situation shook his delicate psyche and his physical health, and the project failed. He was in love with a young lady who had decided to marry a wealthy man. Out of desperation, he attempted to commit suicide in 1874, but failed. Deeply concerned about his condition, his family found the means to send him to Marseilles with the advice to studying economics. Instead, he spent his time reading voraciously and even trying to publish a newspaper in French, Le Moniteur littéraire et financier de Marseille.

He returned to Constantinople in 1876 and became involved in the dispute over the grammar and spelling rules of Modern Armenian that his classmate Minas Cheraz (1852-1929) had suggested, and that ultimately met the rejection of the Armenian Education Council.

In 1879 he began publication of the Philosophical Dictionary, with the aim of introducing a critical spirit and freedom of thought into literature. He published critical articles and book reviews in the periodical Masis from 1880. He also launched two newspapers, Kragan yev imasdasiragan sharjum (1883) and Yergrakunt (1884); while the first was filled with his own articles, the second had contributors such as Krikor Zohrab, Reteos Berberian (another of his classmates), and Yervant Odian. Both papers ceased publication in 1888. He also briefly edited other publications. Besides the Philosophical Dictionary, his only other books would be two bilingual dictionaries, Armenian-French (1894) and French-Armenian (1896).

By 1889 Demirjibashian’s health started to deteriorate, and he sank into despondency. His main desire became to die and to attain Nirvana, to which he frequently referred in his writings. The pessimistic mood that engulfed him was aggravated by the loss of his mother in 1890, following the death of his young brother. His father had passed away years before. He continued his work as teacher and editor until 1893, when he attempted suicide again, but a boatman saved him from the sea. He frequently changed his place of residence, driven by a persecution complex. In 1895, during one of those moves, he rang the bell of a house in Pera. The landlady, a Hungarian woman called Mrs. Ellen Nisen, took pity on him, gave him a room in her house, and eventually became his guardian angel, as Demirjibashian himself recognized more than once. The financial support of an aunt allowed him to travel to Geneva, Vienna, and Budapest in 1897, but this did not help his situation. He returned to the hospitality of Mrs. Nisen, who compassionately took care of him. After a year spent in the National Hospital (1901-1902), the illness practically confined him to his home, and then, to his bed. In the end, on July 19, 1908, he hanged himself during his hostess’ absence with a scarf that she had given to him as a present.

A talented but eccentric figure, Demirjibashian reflected his psychological turmoil in his writings. His artistic sensitivity produced moments of deep emotion, but his poetry was not balanced enough to become a finished product. He would leave hundreds of poems, but not a single literary work finished. Several collections of his poetry were published posthumously. The library of the Armenian Cultural Foundation in Arlington, Massachusetts, carries his name.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Death of Yervant Ter-Minasian (July 12, 1974)

Yervant Ter-Minasian had a short and eventful ecclesiastic career (he left the Church at the age of 31), when he was already an important name in Armenian scholarship. He would still be active for the next six decades and leave a prolific legacy.

He was born in the village of Harich, now in the province of Shirak (Republic of Armenia), on November 19, 1879, into a family of priests. He graduated from the school of the local monastery in 1892 and entered the Kevorkian Seminary of Holy Etchmiadzin. After his graduation in 1900, Catholicos Mgrdich Khrimian sent him to Germany, where he studied theology and ancient languages at the universities of Berlin and Leipzig with famous theologian Adolf Harnack among other professors. He defended his dissertation in 1904 with a study of the relations between the Armenian and Syriac Churches, published in German in the same year, which became the cornerstone of this field.

Back in Etchmiadzin, Ter-Minasian was consecrated celibate priest (vartabed) in 1905 and taught at the Kevorkian Seminary, becoming also the director of the printing house of the Holy See. He published a revised version of his doctoral dissertation in Armenian (1908), as well as half a dozen books, including several textbooks, between 1906 and 1909. An ongoing polemics between conservative and liberal members of the congregation about reform in the Armenian Church ended with an article by the young vartabed, published in the monthly Ararat of the Catholicosate, being publicly burned by order of the locum tenens, Archbishop Kevork Surenian (later Catholicos Kevork V), in 1909. This polemics led him to leave the Church in February 1910. He would later marry and have five children. Nevertheless, his relations with the Holy See soon returned to normalcy. In 1944 he even declined an offer from Catholicos Kevork VI to return to the Church and become a bishop.

Ter-Minasian devoted himself to his pedagogical vocation. He taught in schools at Alexandropol (Gumri, 1910-1917) and Tiflis (1918-1919). In late 1919 he was entrusted by the government of the Republic of Armenia to become one of the organizers of the University of Yerevan, and was a professor there in 1920. After the fall of the independent republic, he became scientific secretary of the Scientific Institute of Etchmiadzin (1921-1922) and then principal of the school of second degree of Vagharshapat (1922-1928) and teacher until 1930.

Ter-Minasian’s past both as a former ecclesiastic and as researcher in ecclesiastic history was not politically correct in the Soviet regime. He took as many precautions as he could to avoid unpleasant surprises: after 1930, when he moved to Yerevan, he earned his living as one of the most authoritative experts of the German language in the country. Furthermore, he would be one of the foremost translators and editors of Marxist classics (Marx, Engels, Lenin) from German and Russian. He initially taught at the Pedagogical Technical School (1930-31) and the Agricultural Institute (1940-1947) as German teacher and chair of the foreign language department. He also taught at Yerevan State University with the same positions from 1943-1948.

In 1945 Ter-Minasian was invited by the Academy of Sciences to deliver a lecture on “The Armenian Literature of the Golden Age,” which was published as a booklet in 1946. The word vosgetar (ոսկեդար, “Golden Age”), commonly used to describe Armenian literature of the fifth century A.D., became a pretext for political attacks, and the almost seventy-year-old scholar was fired from his position at the university in 1948.

Two years later, he was able to take a part-time job as a teacher at the Institute of Foreign Languages, and in 1951 he got a position as senior researcher in the Institute of Linguistics of the Academy of Sciences. He became head of the section of dictionary writing in the same institute from 1955-1970.

Ter-Minasian left an important work in the field of bilingual dictionaries, but most importantly as a scholar of Armenian-Syriac relations, the origin of Christian sects, the doctrinal position of the Armenian Church in the 5th-7th centuries, and other related issues. He also prepared the critical edition of Yeghishe’s On Vartan and the War of the Armenians (the history of the war of Vartanantz), as well as its translation into Modern Armenian.

In his last years, Ter-Minasian wrote his memoirs, which remained unpublished until 2005. He passed away on July 12, 1974, at the age of 95.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Death of Sirarpie Der Nersessian (July 6, 1989)

Sirarpie Der Nersessian, an art historian, and specialist in Armenian and Byzantine studies, became a pioneer in the field of Armenian art history.

She was born in Constantinople on September 5, 1896, in the family of a businessman. Her maternal uncle was the renowned ecclesiastic and scholar, Archbishop Maghakia Ormanian, who two months later would become Armenian Patriarch of Constantinople (1896-1908). Her mother passed away in 1905, and her father, in 1914). Sirarpie Der Nersessian received her elementary education at the Esayan School, followed by studies at the English High School for Girls (1908-1913). In July 1915, upon the advice of friends, she left for Europe with her maternal aunt and her sister. They initially settled in Geneva, where Der Nersessian studied at the college and the university from 1916-1919.

The Der Nersessian sisters, Araxie (Arax) and Sirarpie, moved to Paris in 1919. Sirarpie Der Nersessian was admitted to the École Pratique des Hautes Études, where she studied under noted Byzantinist Gabriel Millet, and also followed the courses of another Byzantinist, Charles Diehl, and art historian Henri Focillon at the Sorbonne. She graduated in 1926. Encouraged by Millet, in 1927 she extended her field of research to Armenian manuscripts, which were still little known.

Sirarpie Der Nersessian with His Holiness Vazken I during his visit to the United States in 1960.

In 1930 Sirarpie Der Nersessian accepted an offer from Wellesley College, in Massachusetts, to give courses on ancient and medieval art, as well as seminars on Byzantine art. She also became a lecturer of Fine Arts at New York University in 1931. In 1936 she gave a series of fifteen lectures at the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York, with the subject “Armenian Illuminated Manuscripts.” This was the first course on Armenian art ever given in the United States. At the end of the same year, she defended her two theses to obtain her Ph.D. from the Sorbonne. In 1937 she became chair of the Art Department at Wellesley, and in 1944, the first woman to be invited to Dumbarton Oaks as senior scholar. In 1946 she was named Professor of Byzantine Art and Archaeology for life at the same institution, as well as member of the School of Art and Sciences at Harvard University, and moved to Washington D.C. She would retire in 1963 and return to Paris, where she lived for the rest of her life. She was the first woman to be decorated with the St. Gregory the Illuminator medal by Catholicos of All Armenians Vazken I in 1960, the year of her first visit to Armenia. In 1965 she was elected corresponding member of the Armenian Academy of Sciences, and would also become member of the British Academy (1975) and the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres (1978).

Sirarpie Der Nersessian, a pioneer of Armenian Studies in the United States and an authority on Armenian art during her lifetime and afterwards, passed away on July 6, 1989 in Paris. Her studies of church architecture, illuminated manuscripts, miniatures, and sculpture, included a score of articles and books such as Armenia and the Byzantine Empire (1945), Aght'amar: Church of the Holy Cross (1964), L’art arménien (1965), The Armenians (1969), Armenian Manuscripts in the Walters Art Gallery (1973), Byzantine and Armenian Studies (1973), Armenian Miniatures from Isfahan (1986), Miniature Painting in the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia from the Twelfth to the Fourteenth Century (1993), etcetera.