Thursday, November 19, 2015

Death of Maghakia Ormanian (November 19, 1918)

Archbishop Maghakia Ormanian was a remarkable figure of the Armenian Church in turbulent times at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century.

Boghos Ormanian was born on February 23, 1841 in Constantinople. After learning the first letters, in 1851 he was sent to Rome, where he pursued studies at the convent of St. Gregory, belonging to the Antonine Congregation, and then at the Vatican. He returned to Constantinople in 1866 and became secretary of the Antonine Congregation, while a year later he was designated principal of the Antonine School in Rome. In 1868 he obtained a master degree in philosophy, theology, and Church law, and became a member of the Theological Academy of Rome, as well as teacher of Armenian at the College of the Propaganda Fide.

Meanwhile, an acute conflict had started within the Armenian Catholic community as a result of the bulla Reversurus, promulgated by Pope Pius IX in 1867, which made dramatic changes in the traditions with which Armenians were familiar. The conflict was around the figure of Andon Hassoun, Armenian Catholic archbishop-primate of Constantinople, who was consecrated Armenian Catholic Patriarch of Cilicia by the Pope in 1867, with residence in Constantinople.

Ormanian took position with the anti-Hassoun camp, and returned to Constantinople in 1870, where he published numerous commentaries in French and Armenians newspapers against the Vatican policy, as well as several books in Italian and French, which in 1874 were included in the Index (the catalog of forbidden books) of the Vatican.

In 1876 Ormanian decided to sever his links with the Catholic Church and renounce Catholicism, and the following year he applied to Archbishop Nerses Varjabedian, Armenian Patriarch of Constantinople, asking to return to the Armenian Apostolic Church. In 1879 he received the grade of archimandrite superior (dzayrakooyn vartabed)of the Armenian Apostolic Church from the Patriarch in a ceremony at the cathedral of Kum-Kapu, in Constantinople.

After a short stint as preacher at the church of St. Gregory the Illuminator in the neighborhood of Galatia, in 1880 he was designated prelate of the diocese of Garin (Erzerum) and had an important role in the opening of the Sanasarian School of Erzerum in 1881. He also established links with the leaders of the secret organization “Defenders of the Fatherland,” founded in the same year. After his consecration as bishop by Catholicos of All Armenians Magar I in 1886, a year later he left the diocese of Garin and was invited to Holy Echmiadzin as lecturer of Theology at the Kevorkian Seminary. Among his students were future luminaries of the Armenian Church and culture, such as Gomidas Vartabed, Karekin I Hovsepiants, Karapet Ter-Mkrtichian, Yervant Ter-Minasian, and others. His teaching made an impact in the seminary.

His liberal views attracted the attention of the Russian authorities and, under the pretext of not being a Russian citizen, he was expelled from the Russian Empire in 1889. He returned to Constantinople and was named abbot of the monastery of Armash and director of the newly founded seminary.

On November 19, 1896 Ormanian, already an archbishop, was elected Armenian Patriarch of Constantinople. He succeeded Abp. Mateos Izmirlian (1894-1896), labeled the “Iron Patriarch” for his energetic protests against the Armenian massacres of 1894-1896. For this reason, he has been forced to resign by the Turkish authorities, which had exiled him to Egypt.

Ormanian adopted a conciliatory attitude towards the “Red Sultan” Abdul Hamid II, in order to avoid further massacres and create a more or less tolerable situation in the years of tyranny. His conservative policies alienated part of the Armenian constituency, and shortly after the Ottoman Revolution of 1908, a huge Armenian demonstration invaded the offices of the Armenian Patriarchate on July 16, 1908 and declared Ormanian’s dismissal from his position. The former Patriarch, in a book published in 1910, rebutted charges that he had been unreceptive to national problems and a knee-jerk to the Sultan, as well as a dictator in the management of community issues. The National Representative Assembly vindicated the former Patriarch in its session of January 3, 1913. 

Ormanian was elected delegate of the Church convention and member of the Religious Council in 1913, as well as prelate of the diocese of Egypt, but he rejected this position. He took various positions in the monastery of St. James, in Jerusalem, from 1914-1917, and also taught at the seminary. He returned to Constantinople in 1918 and passed away on November 19, on the twenty-second anniversary of his election as Patriarch.

Archbishop Maghakia Ormanian was, along with his long administrative and teaching career in the Church, an accomplished scholar. He was the author of the monumental Azkabadoom(National History, 1910-1911 and 1927), a three-volume history of the Armenian nation based on the history of the Armenian Church, and The Armenian Church (1910, in French; 1911, in English, also translated into Armenian), a fundamental text on the doctrine, history, and administrative situation of the Armenian Apostolic Church on the eve of the Armenian Genocide, among many other works.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Birth of Michael Arlen (November 16, 1895)

Michael Arlen was one of the stars of English literature in the 1920s, but he was also a controversial name within the Armenian diaspora. His position regarding Armenian reality was frequently contrasted with that of another writer across the pond, who would shine in the 1930s: William Saroyan.

He was born Dikran Kouyoumdjian on November 16, 1895 in Rustchuk (Bulgaria), now Ruse. He was the youngest child of five to an Armenian merchant family that had initially settled in Plovdiv in 1892, where his father had established a successful import business. The family moved again, this time to England, in 1901, and settled in the seaside town of Southport.

Young Dikran attended Malvern College, and in 1913 enrolled at the University of Edinburgh, in Scotland, as a medical student. However, both he and his family intended that he would go to Oxford. In his first book, The London Venture, Arlen wrote: “I, up at Edinburgh, was on the high road to general fecklessness. I only stayed there a few months; jumbled months of elementary medicine, political economy, metaphysics, theosophy--I once handed round programs at an Annie Besant lecture at the Usher Hall--and beer, lots of beer. And then, one night, I emptied my last mug, and with another side-glance at Oxford, came down to London; 'to take up a literary career' my biographer will no doubt write of me.”

His literary career actually started in 1916. He contributed regularly under his birth name to the Armenian monthly Ararat, published in London between 1913 and 1919, where he wrote essays and book reviews about Armenian issues. He also published essays and literary pieces in the British weekly The New Age. He assembled some personal essays from the latter and published it as The London Venture in 1920 with the pen name Michael Arlen, which he adopted as his legal name when he naturalized as a British citizen in 1922.

After this book, he worked on collections of short stories, including The Romantic Lady (1921), Piracy: A Romantic Chronicle of These Days (1922), and These Charming People (1923). They culminated into the book that would launch Arlen's fame and fortune in the 1920s: The Green Hat (1924). This novel narrates the short life and violent death of femme fatale and dashing widow Iris Storm, owner of the hat of the title and a yellow Hispano Suiza car. Arlen became almost instantly famous, rich, and incessantly in the spotlight. He frequently traveled to the United States and worked on plays and films. The Green Hat was adapted into Broadway and London’s West End plays, and a silent Hollywood film starring Greta Garbo and John Gilbert in 1928. The novel was considered provocative in the United States; the movie was therefore dubbed A Woman of Affairs. It was adapted again in 1934 for a sound movie, Outcast Lady, with Constance Bennett and Herbert Marshall in the main roles.

Arlen published Young Men in Love (1927), but it received mixed reviews, the same as the next books: Lily Christine (1928), Babes in the Wood (1929), and Men Dislike Women (1931). He moved to Cannes (France), where he married Greek Countess Atalanta Mercati. They had two children, Michael John (1930), the author of the celebrated memoir Passage to Ararat, and Venetia Arlen (1933).

His immaculate manners invariably impressed everyone. He was always impeccably dressed and groomed, and drove around London in a fashionable yellow Rolls Royce, engaging in all kinds of luxurious activities. His success was viewed by some with envy, mixed with latent suspicion for foreigners. Another popular author of the time, Sydney Horler, is said to have called Arlen “the only Armenian who never tried to sell me a carpet.”

Arlen made occasional references to Armenians (he gave a speech in 1925 to the Armenian Cultural Foundation in New York) in the 1920s, but run in trouble after an essay published in Babes in the Wood, “Confessions of a Naturalized Englishman.” Many pieces published in the Armenian press criticized his seemingly anti-Armenian stance.

He would never be able to make a comeback into the literary fame that The Green Hat had brought to him. He ventured into science fiction with Man’s Mortality (1933) and into gothic horror with Hell! Said the Duchess: A Bed-Time Story (1934), and briefly returned to his earlier romantic style in his final collection of short stories, The Crooked Coronet (1939), but did not have much success.

His final novel, The Flying Dutchman (1939), was released coincidentally with the outbreak of World War II. He returned to England to contribute to the war effort. He was appointed as an information officer for Civil Defense in 1940, but when his loyalty to England was questioned in 1941, he resigned and returned to America. He moved to New York in 1945, but he suffered from writer’s block for the rest of his life. He died of lung cancer on June 23, 1956 in New York.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Birth of Maria Jacobsen (November 6, 1882)

Maria Jacobsen was a key witness of the Armenian Genocide. She belonged to a group of missionaries of different nationalities who had been active since the years before in various areas of Armenian population and continued their work for years, helping victims and survivors with their humanitarian efforts.

Maria Jacobsen in 1910
Jacobsen was born in Denmark, in the town of Siim, near Ry, on November 6, 1882. She lived in Horsens with her parents. She learned about the Hamidian massacres of 1894-1896 through the Danish media. Feminist activist Jessie Penn-Lewis arrived in Denmark from England in 1898 and helped form the Women’s Missionary Workers (Kvindelige Missions Arbejdere, K.M.A.) two years later. Young Maria soon partook in the efforts to support and provide relief to orphans in the eastern provinces of the Ottoman Empire. In 1907, at the age of twenty-five, she departed to Constantinople with American missionaries, and then left for Kharpert, where she worked at the Armenian hospital. She also developed charitable activities in Malatia, Aintab, and other cities.

After a two-years sojourn in Denmark from 1912-1914 with a charity mission, she returned to Kharpert on the eve of 1915 and became a witness of the Turkish atrocities and the deportation of the Armenians.

Maria Jacobsen kept a diary in Danish from 1907-1919, which became a valuable source to document the day-to-day unfolding of the Turkish anti-Armenian policy. In a diary entry on June 26, 1915 regarding the deportations, she stated: “It is quite obvious that the purpose of their departure is the extermination of the Armenian people.” She added: “Conditions now are completely different from what they were during the massacres of 20 years ago. What could be done then is impossible now. The Turks know very well about the war raging in Europe, and that the Christian nations are too busy to take care of Armenians, so they take advantage of the times to destroy their ‘enemies.’”

Jacobsen adopted three children during this period. The first, Hansa, had fled the Bedouin family to which she had been sold, and was hiding in a tree until she became unconscious from sickness and fell. A Turk police officer and Jacobsen found her, and the Danish missionary chose to adopt her on the spot. The second child was Beatrice, and the third was Lilly, who she had found on the side of the road.

In 1919 Maria Jacobson left the Ottoman Empire after contracting typhus from the orphans. She first went to Denmark and then to the United States, where she gave a series of lectures and speeches on the plight of the Armenian people, and the massacres that they had undergone, and raised money for the orphans.

The Kemalist government prohibited the activities of all foreign missionaries, and in 1922, Jacobsen went to Beirut, where she continued to gather and care for the orphans. In July 1922, after moving to Saida, she helped establish an orphanage which sheltered 208 Armenian orphans. The Women’s Missionary Workers (K.M.A.) acquired in 1928 an orphanage previously owned by the Near East Relief, located in Jbeil, where Jacobsen moved with her orphans and would be known as Bird’s Nest (Terchnots Pooyn, in Armenian). She would be known to the orphans as “Mama."

Jacobsen was also fluent in Armenian, and often read the Bible to the orphans in their mother language. She married an Armenian dentist. She became the first woman to receive the Gold Medal Award of the Kingdom of Denmark in 1950 for her humanitarian work. Four years later, on December 14, 1954, she was awarded the Gold Medal of Honor by the government of Lebanon on her 50th jubilee celebration for her service and dedication to the Armenian community.

Maria Jacobsen passed away on 6 April 1960 and, according to her will, was buried in the courtyard of Birds' Nest. Part of her archives were deposited in the Armenian Genocide Museum-Institute in 2010. Her diary was first published in a bilingual Danish-Armenian edition in 1979 by Archbishop Nerses Pakhdigian and Mihran Simonian, and years later, an English translation was published by the Gomidas Institute.