Saturday, September 26, 2015

Death of Catholicos of All Armenians Kevork VI (September 26, 1954)

Anti-religious policies during the first two decades of the Soviet Union would progressively bring the Armenian Church to the brink of destruction. Archbishop Kevork Chorekjian, first as locum tenens of the Catholicosate of All Armenians, and then as Catholicos, would lead the effort to revitalize the Church.

The future Catholicos was born in Nor Nakhichevan (today part of Rostov-on-the-Don) on December 2, 1868. After elementary studies at the parish school, in 1879 he entered the Kevorkian Seminary in Holy Etchmiadzin. He graduated in 1889 and was ordained a deacon in the same year. He pursued higher education at the University of Leipzig (Germany) in the fields of theology and philosophy, and also at the music conservatory (1889-1894).

Upon graduation, he returned to the homeland. He first taught music at the Kevorkian Seminary for one year (1894-1895) and then went back to his birthplace, Nor Nakhichevan, where for almost two decades he would work actively as a teacher and musician.

The breakthrough in his life occurred in 1913. At the age of 45, he was ordained archimandrite (vartabed) by Catholicos Kevork V and designated vicar of the diocese of Nor Nakhichevan. Two years later, as a member of the Committee of Fraternal Aid, he organized help for the refugees who had escaped from the Armenian Genocide, and became its chairman, as well as member of the Synod in 1916. He was ordained bishop in 1917 and designated sacristan of the Holy See.
Bishop Chorekjian was named primate of the diocese of Georgia in 1922 and held the post until 1927, when he returned to Holy Etchmiadzin and became a member of the Supreme Spiritual Council. Meanwhile, in 1925 he was elevated to the rank of archbishop.

The Soviet regime had practiced a comprehensive policy designated to reduce to a minimum the influence of the Church in general over society, and the policies carried in Soviet Armenia followed this general trend. As a result, by the 1930s most of the married and celibate priests in Armenia had renounced to the habits or had been subjected to various penalties, among other repressive measures. These policies came to a peak in 1938, when Catholicos of All Armenians Khoren I (1932-1938) died in unclear circumstances, which have been generally regarded as an assassination carried by orders of the Soviet secret police within the framework of the Stalinist purges. The first secretary of the Communist Party in Armenia, Grigor Arutinov, even wrote a letter to Joseph Stalin in 1940 asking permission to close the monastery of Holy Etchmiadzin and to turn it into a museum. Fortunately, the letter had no consequences.
Archbishop Kevork Chorekjian was one of the few high-ranking ecclesiastics who remained in Armenia. An encyclical issued by Khoren I before his death designated him as vicar of the Catholicosate. He managed the position until April 1941, when a National Representative Assembly was called to elect a Catholicos. However, the conditions were not favorable for the election (many dioceses could not send representatives due to World War II), and the gathering formally elected Archbishop Chorekjian as locum tenens of the Catholicosate.

For the next four years, the Soviet Union was involved in a life or death struggle against Nazi Germany, which also bore its impact over Armenia. The levels of repression and political pressure somehow diminished, and Archbishop Chorekjian took advantage to start working towards the reconstruction of the Armenian Church.
He organized a fundraiser in the Diaspora to finance the creation of the tank convoys “David of Sassoun” and “General Bagramian,” which would be added to the Soviet army. This public relations campaign would have its effect later, when he raised the issue of the Armenian territories usurped by Turkey in a meeting with Stalin held in April 1945.

The National Representative Assembly gathered in Etchmiadzin in June 1945 and elected 76-year-old Archbishop Kevork Chorekjian as Catholicos of All Armenians. Four months later, he addressed the government of the U.S.S.R, the U.S.A. and Great Britain, asking for the devolution of Armenian territories. From 1945-1947, claims for the return of Kars and Ardahan to Soviet Armenian would be one of the focuses of Soviet foreign policy.

Stalin also allowed some leniency to the Church, and Kevork VI used this to reopen the printing house, which in 1944 started the publication of the official monthly Etchmiadzin, which replaced the old monthly Ararat (closed in 1919). Some of the buildings of the monastery, which had been confiscated, were returned to the Holy See, as were the monasteries of Surp Hripsime, Surp Keghart, and Khor Virap. The seminary, closed since 1918, was reopened in November 1945 and its library was restored.

Despite the establishment of the Iron Curtain and the beginning of the Cold War, Kevork VI tried to enhance the links between Soviet Armenia and the Diaspora, which had been severed in the late 1930s. He had a significant role in the organization of the repatriation of 1946-1948.

The Catholicos also worked to replenish the ecclesiastical ranks, which had been decimated in the 1920s and 1930s. Fifteen new bishops were ordained during the nine years of his reign, and assigned to various dioceses which had remained without a religious head for years.
Catholicos Kevork VI passed away on September 26, 1954. He would be succeeded in 1955 by Catholicos Vazken I (1955-1994).

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Death of Sayat-Nova (September 22, 1795)

For almost three centuries, the songs composed by troubadour Sayat-Nova have been among the favorites of the Armenian people. Despite being written in the dialect of Tiflis, with a mix of Turkish, Persian, and Arabic, their lyrics have always spoken to the heart of the listener.

Sayat-Nova’s life is involved in a cloud of mystery. It has been reconstructed to a certain level by the work of several generations of scholars, but there are many details that are still a matter of controversy.

It has been traditionally held that Sayat-Nova was born in Tiflis, the capital of the kingdom of Georgia, in 1712, and the 250th anniversary of his birth was celebrated throughout the Armenian world with great pomp in 1962. However, poet and scholar Paruyr Sevak was the first to demonstrate in his doctoral dissertation defended in 1966 and published in 1969 that there were more than enough grounds to date the poet’s birth in 1722.

Most likely, Sayat-Nova’s ancestors were born in Cilicia, and the birthplace of his father was either Adana or Aleppo. The future poet and troubadour spent his childhood and youth in Tiflis, his birthplace, where he learned to write and read Armenian and Georgian, and he also knew the Arabic alphabet.

At the age of 12 he became an apprentice of weaving and in a short time became a very capable weaver. However, his actual love was songs and music, perhaps influenced by his parents.

Sayat-Nova perfected himself in the art of the ashugh (troubadours) until the age of 30. He learned melodies and different metrics. At the same time, he created poems, which he interpreted during popular gatherings. It is likely that he traveled through the Near East and visited Persia, India, and the Ottoman Empire. He later was acknowledged as a poet-singer and baptized with the name of Sayat-Nova (from Persian, meaning “hunter of songs”).

The monument to Sayat Nova in central Yerevan.
Sayat Nova wrote in three languages: Armenian, Georgian, and (Azerbaijani) Turkish. More than 230 of his poems have reached us, which were collected in manuscript books that he wrote by his own hand or that his son Ohan compiled and copied, in various collections of folklore, or remained in the memory of the people and were gradually written down and published.

The earliest poem is dated 1742, even though there may be earlier compositions. The last poem was the famous “The World is a Window...” («Աշխարըս մե փանջարա է...»), written in April 1759. Sayat-Nova was the first who created and sang Georgian poems using the motifs of Persian poetry. This innovation was well received and he was appointed musician in the court of King Irakli II of Kakheti (one of the Georgian kingdoms). For some ten years the poet was in the court and produced some of his best works in this period. His poems spoke of justice and nobility, condemned deceit and villainy, and social and moral flaws. His love poetry expressed the most delicate and sacred feelings with images that were unusual.

His life was not peaceful. There were conspiracies against him and he was expelled from the palace at least twice, in 1753 and 1759. The last one was the final, and his life as poet, composer, and musician ended there, at the age of 37. He would still live for more than three decades.

In 1759 Irakli II forced him to become a priest, with the name of Der Stepanos, and he was sent to the port of Enzeli (Persia), on the southern shore of the Caspian Sea. He “repented” here and copied the poem Book of Lamentations, by Gregory of Narek, in 1760. In 1766 he was a priest in the small town of Kakhi, on the road from Zakatala to Shamakhi, where he copied another manuscript, a compilation of biblical fragments. Both manuscripts are kept today in the Matenadaran of Yerevan.

Sayat-Nova’s wife, Marmar, passed away in 1768 and left four small children (Hovhannes or Ohan, Melkiset, Sarah, and Mariam). In 1768 or 1769 Der Stepanos, the former Sayat-Nova, moved to Tiflis, where he served in the prelacy of the congregation of Haghbat, which had settled in the Georgian city. In 1778, when the monastery of Haghbat was rebuilt, he was designated sacristan of the church of Surp Nshan. He returned to Tiflis with the congregation later, probably in 1784.

On September 22, 1795, during the Afghan invasion of Georgia, led by Agha-Mahmad Kajar, Sayat-Nova was killed when he refused to renege his religion. He was buried in the courtyard of the church of Surp Kevork. There, by initiative of poet Hovhannes Tumanian, the memory of Sayat-Nova has been observed since 1914 every May with popular festivities.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Massacre of Baku (September 14-15, 1918)

At the beginning of the twentieth century, Baku was, after Tiflis, the second Armenian city of the Caucasus. By the end of the same century, the Armenian population of the city had been practically wiped out.

One of the chapters of that ethnic cleansing was the massacre of September 1918. While the Third Ottoman Army Corps was stopped in its advance in the battles of May 1918 that allowed Armenia to become an independent state, the Second Army Corps continued its advance through the line Gharakilise-Dilijan-Ghazakh (Ijevan)-Elizavetpol (Gandzak, Ganja) towards Baku.

Azerbaijan had proclaimed its independence on May 27, 1918 with Elizavetpol as its capital. Baku, the richest city in the country with its oil fields, had been governed since April 1918 by a Soviet (council) led by Bolshevik Stepan Shahumian. The Baku Soviet collaborated with the local branch of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation to establish control over the city and its environs. While the Bolsheviks had the revolution in mind, the Armenians were primarily concerned with physical survival. However, by the beginning of summer, the Soviet found itself under increased threat by the Ottoman army, which had been enthusiastically received by the newly created Azerbaijani government, presided by M. Fatali Khan-Khoyski. Both sides clashed in June and July, but the joint Ottoman-Azerbaijani offensive could not be stopped by the forces loyal to the Baku Soviet, which, with no promise of material support from Moscow, was forced to turn to a British expeditionary force stationed in Persia under the command of Major-General Lionel C. Dunsterville. Although Shahumian had been ordered by Moscow to deny entry to the British, he was overruled by his peers in the Soviet, which formally requested help in late July. On July 31 Shahumian and the other Bolshevik members resigned from their posts and the Centro-Caspian Dictatorship assumed control of the city.

The size of the British force, however, proved to be too small to make much of an impact. In August, the Ottoman military, led by the so-called Army of Islam headed by Nuri Pasha (Ottoman War Minister Enver Pasha’s half-brother), launched a new assault against the frontline positions, which were primarily manned by Armenians, who were forced to retreat despite some initial victories. In the first week of September, a joint Ottoman-Azerbaijani force composed of 15,000 men advanced without much resistance toward Baku and reached the suburbs by September 13. Meanwhile, the Muslim population of Baku prepared to welcome the entry of the Ottoman army. The Armenian troops were too ill-prepared to halt the advance and Dunsterville refused to retain his force, which evacuated from Baku on September 14 and sailed to Enzeli, in Persia, leaving the city virtually defenseless.

A terrible panic ensued once the invaders entered Baku. The Armenians crowded the harbor in a frantic effort to escape the fate that they knew very well. Regular Ottoman troops were not allowed to enter the city for two days, so that the local irregulars (bashibozuks) would conduct the usual looting and pillaging. Despite this order, regular Ottoman troops participated alongside the irregulars and the Azeris of Baku in the plundering, and then turned their fury against the Armenian population. Calls by German officers attached to the Ottoman command staff to treat the local population with leniency were ignored.

Armenians fleeing the massacre through the Azerbaijani countryside.
On September 16, the Ottoman divisions formally entered the city in a victory parade reviewed by the Ottoman High Command. Baku would subsequently be proclaimed as the capital of the newly established Azerbaijani Republic.

According to a special commission formed by the Armenian National Council of Baku, a total of 8,988 Armenians were massacred, among which were 5,248 Armenian inhabitants, 1,500 Armenian refugees from other areas of the Caucasus, and 2,240 Armenians whose corpses were found in the streets but remained unidentified. Other estimates range up to 30,000 people.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Birth of Paul Chater (September 8, 1846)

Sir Paul Chater is regarded as the man who placed the footprint of Hong Kong down and allowed the city to become one of the leading economies of the world today. In 1902 he represented Hong Kong at the coronation of King Edward VII of England, even though he was neither Chinese nor even born in Hong Kong.

Catchick Paul Chater was born Khachik Poghos Astvatzatoor (Khachik Pogose Astwachatoor) in Calcutta (now Kolkata), India, on September 8, 1846. He was one of the thirteen children of Chater Paul and Miriam Chater. His father was a member of the Indian civil service.

The young Khachik, orphaned at the age of seven, entered La Martiniere College. In the early 1910s he would become a benefactor of the desperately struggling school by making his single biggest donation to any institution or organization while still alive. It allowed his alma mater to avoid certain closure.

Chater moved in 1864 to Hong Kong and lived with the family of his sister Anna and sister's husband Jordan Paul Jordan. He was an assistant at the Bank of Hindustan, China, and Japan. Later, with the aid of the Sassoon family, he set up business as an exchange broker, resigned from the bank, and traded gold bullion and land on his own account. He took sea-bed soundings at night and was thus instrumental in the reclamation of Victoria Harbour. He is credited with a fundamental role in the colonial government's success in acquiring lands then held by the military.

In 1868 he and Sir Hormusjee Naorojee Mody formed Chater & Mody, a largely successful business partnership in Hong Kong. In 1886 Chater entered the Legislative Council, taking the place of another Armenian, F. D. Sassoon. In 1889 he partnered with James Johnstone Kewsick to establish Hong Kong Land. The following year, the company commenced the land reclamation project under the Praya Reclamation Scheme. They secretly acquired an old graveyard, where they built one of the earliest electricity power stations in the world. The Hong Kong Electric Company went into production with Chater’s help as an informal member of the Executive Council of Hong Kong. He was appointed to the Council in 1896 and served until 1926.

Chater was knighted in 1902. The year before, he had built a very fine home with imported European marble, which he named Marble Hall. He housed there his collection of fine porcelain. In 1904 Chater financed the construction of St. Andrew’s Church.

The Armenian businessman held many titles and positions, including those of senior justice in Hong Kong and consul for the kingdom of Siam (Thailand).

Chater died on May 27, 1926 and bequeathed Marble Hall and its entire contents, including his unique collection of porcelain and paintings, to Hong Kong. The remainder of his estate, besides generous bequests to nephews and members of his family, went to the Armenian Church of the Holy Nazareth in Calcutta, which runs a home for Armenian elderly, named The Sir Catchick Paul Chater Home. He was interred at the Hong Kong cemetery.

His wife lived in Marble Hall as a life tenant until her death in 1935. Ownership then passed to the government. It became the official residence of the naval commander-in-chief, and was commandeered by the Japanese during their occupation. It accidentally burned down in 1946, and government buildings occupied the site since its demolition in 1953. Government residences named “Chater Hall Flats” are today located on the site of Marble Hall.

Chater gifted to Hong Kong his large collection of historical pictures and engravings relating to China (430 pieces). The Chater Collection was dispersed and largely destroyed during the Japanese occupation, and only 94 pieces, now at the Hong Kong Museum of Art, are known to have survived.

His name is also preserved in other places of Hong Kong, such as Chater Road, Catchick Street, Chater House, and Chater Garden. In 2009 the company he cofounded, Hong Kong Land, commissioned a bust of him on the 120th anniversary of its foundation, which is permanently displayed in Chater House.