Thursday, June 30, 2016

Birth of Mher Mkrtchyan (July 4, 1930)

Mher Mkrtchyan was one of the greatest Armenian actors of the Soviet period.
Son of survivors of the Armenian Genocide, he was born in Leninakan (nowadays Gumri) on July 4, 1930. His actual given name was Frunze, for which he was also known as “Frunzik,” but he later took the name Mher. His father wanted him to become a painter, but he started playing in the theatrical group of the textile factory of the town, which was next door to their home. He studied in the Art College and Theatre Studio of the city from 1945-1946, and then he played in the permanent group of the Mravian Theatre. He performed in a dozen of plays, and showed his maturity despite his young age.
He then moved to Yerevan, where he was accepted straight into the second year of the Acting Department of the Institute of Fine Arts and Theatre. He graduated in 1953 and he immediately started performing in the Sundukyan Academic Drama Theatre of Yerevan. He also directed many successful productions.
His film career began in 1955, and he played in 49 films until 1987. Mkrtchyan earned a reputation as one of the leading comedy actors of the Soviet Union thanks to his celebrated roles in Aybolit-66 (Rolan Bykov, 1966), Kidnapping, Caucasian Style (Leonid Gaidai, 1966), and Mimino (Georgi Daneliya, 1977). However, his acting talent and emotional depth were best displayed in several classic films of Armenian cinema: Triangle (1967), We Are Our Mountains (1969), Father (1973), Nahapet (1977), The Song of the Old Days (1982), Tango of Our Childhood (1985). In his posthumously published memoirs, Mkrtchyan wrote that his godfather in cinema was filmmaker Henrik Malyan:
“He was the first to notice me and trusted me to perform in his films, from Arsen (The Boys of the Orchestra), Gaspar (Triangle), Ishkhan (We Are Our Mountains), to Daddy (Father), Apro (Nahapet) and Grigor agha (A Piece of Sky), which all had the characteristic fate of the Armenian man: they are ingenious, hardworking, wistful, and dreamers.”
Among other honors, the actor won the USSR State Prize in 1978 and was also honored with the title of People’s Artist of the Armenian SSR.
Mher Mkrtchyan passed away at the age of 63 on December 29, 1993 in Yerevan. Thousands of people attended the funeral of their beloved actor. He was buried at the Komitas Pantheon. A museum remembers him in his birthplace Gumri and the Tekeyan Cultural Association of New York-New Jersey named its theater group after him.

Friday, June 24, 2016

The Council of Shahapivan (June 24, 444 A.D.)

Following its participation in the first three Ecumenical Councils (Nicaea, Constantinople, and Ephesus) between 325 and 431, the Armenian Church would convene many national councils, where the clergy would gather to take decisions over the internal order and structure of the Church, and internal issues, and to give a response to various other questions. Throughout history, these councils have functioned as the mouthpiece of the Church, giving her official viewpoints on various matters.

After three councils in the city of Ashtishat (352, 354, 435), a council was convened by Catholicos Hovsep I in the township of Shahapivan (province of Ayrarat) in 444, soon after the deaths of Catholicos Sahak and Mesrop Mashtots (439-440). It was attended by forty bishops, monks, priests, deacons, high-ranking and low-ranking noblemen, and peasants, “who were zealous of laws and sainthood.” Among the latter were Governor Vasak Siuni and General Commander Vartan Mamikonian. The purpose of the council was to put an end to activities endangering the newly-established Church.

The preface to the canons of the council notes that it was called to complete and to confirm the apostolic and Nicaean canons, which many ecclesiastics had violated, to re-establish the internal order and moral norms of the Armenian Church, and to respond to sects and various offenders.

Despite its canonical nature, the resolutions of the council of Shahapivan were the only ones in the history of the Armenian Church that established punishment for offenses and went beyond the canons to become a legal codification. Only one of the twenty canons was of advisory nature. Six of them in their entirety, and four of them partially referred to ecclesiastics, establishing canonical and criminal punishments for canonical violations and offenses. The remaining thirteen (nine entirely and four partially) were also of similar nature, but addressed the breaches caused by princes and peasants. The latter were made distinctions in the type of punishment: princes were sentenced to advice, fine, and penitence, while peasants received corporal punishment (beating). However, there were differences in the amounts of fines for princes and peasants, with the latter paying half or less than half. The fines were destined to churches, asylums, and other places, and in certain cases they were partially distributed among the poor. The canons recognized the equality of men and women before the law.

Strict canons were established against the heretical sect of the Messalians, whose teachings established that prayer was the only way to attain perfection, excluding the Church and the sacraments. In the case of families that followed the sect, the adults were confined to leper colonies, and the children were delivered to the Church, which took care of their religious education.

The council of Shahapivan was an important milestone in the consolidation of the Armenian Church and the formation of juridical thought in Armenia. Its canons became part of the codification of religious law.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Recognition of the Armenian Genocide by the European Parliament (June 18, 1987)

Turkey has been in a dialogue with Europe since the 1940s. In 1948 Turkey was one of the founding members of the European Organization of Economic Cooperation, predecessor of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). It adhered to the Council of Europe in 1949 and to NATO in 1951. During the Cold War, the country positioned itself along Western Europe and the United States. The European Economic Community (EEC), predecessor to the current European Union, was founded in 1957, and Turkey became an associate member in 1963. By then, the preamble of the agreement of association signed between both sides recognized that “the aid contributed by the EEC to the efforts of the Turkish people to improve their level of life will ultimately facilitate the adhesion of Turkey to the Community.” The final goal, therefore, was well known to both sides.

Bilateral relation were quite cold in the 1970s and 1980s, particularly after the September 1980 coup d’état in Turkey. Following a formal return to democracy after the end of the military regime in 1983, Turkey presented its demand of official adhesion to the European Community on April 14, 1987.

Armenian political violence had winded down, and in August 1985, the report on genocide by Benjamin Whitaker had been approved by the U.N. Sub-Commission of Human Rights, with mention of the Armenian genocide as one of the first in the twentieth century. The European Parliament, the legislative body of the European Community, resisted enormous pressure from Turkey and its hired guns, and set the record straight. The courageous actions of a group of Parliament members, led by French Henri Saby (1933-2011), on the basis of a detailed report introduced by Belgian Jaak Vandemeulebroucke in April 1987, were instrumental to deliver the historic decision. The “Resolution on a political solution to the Armenian question” was voted in Strasbourg during the plenary session of June 18, 1987, and the European Parliament became the first major international body to recognize the Armenian Genocide.

The resolution established that “the tragic events in 1915-1917 involving the Armenians living in the territory of the Ottoman Empire constitute genocide within the meaning of the convention on the prevention and the punishment of the crime of genocide adopted by the UN General Assembly on 9 December 1948,” although it denied that the Republic of Turkey could be held responsible and stressed that no claims against Turkey could be derived from the recognition. It called for a fair treatment of the Armenian minority in Turkey and made “an emphatic plea for improvements in the care of monuments and for the maintenance and conservation of the Armenian religious architectural heritage in Turkey.” Most importantly, it stated that “the refusal by the present Turkish Government to acknowledge the genocide against the Armenian people committed by the Young Turk government, its reluctance to apply the principles of international law to its differences of opinion with Greece, the maintenance of Turkish occupation forces in Cyprus and the denial of existence of the Kurdish question, together with the lack of true parliamentary democracy and the failure to respect individual and collective freedoms, in particular freedom of religion, in that country are insurmountable obstacles to consideration of the possibility of Turkey's accession to the [European] Community.”

The resolution was repeated many times afterwards. A resolution of November 12, 2000, on “The progress made by Turkey on the path of adhesion” reminded, on point 10, that Turkey had been invited to recognize publicly the Armenian genocide. The February 28, 2002 resolution about “The relations of the European Union with the South Caucasus” reproduced textually the position of June 18, 1987, and asked Turkey to create the conditions for reconciliation. After a recommendation of 2004 about “The policy of the European Union towards the South Caucasus” repeated the positions of 1987, two resolutions of December 15, 2004, and September 28, 2005, reaffirmed the existence of the Armenian genocide. The last declaration in this regard was the resolution of April 15, 2015, passed on the centennial of the genocide.

The government of the Republic of Armenia bestowed upon Henri Saby the medal “Mkhitar Gosh” in March 2011 for his services to the Armenian Cause. The former member of the European Parliament passed away in August of the same year. According to his last will, his ashes were buried in France, Armenia (cemetery of Tokhmakh, in Yerevan), and Artsakh (cemetery of Stepanakert).

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Death of Jacques de Morgan (June 14, 1924)

Jean-Jacques de Morgan was born in Huisseau-sir-Cosson, in the French department of Loir-et-Cher, on June 3, 1857. The family environment was prone to learning and scientific rigor. His father was a mine engineer who was interested in prehistory, and who initiated his two sons in fieldwork. The younger, Jacques, wanted to follow his father’s profession. He started to publish the results of his research in 1879, and meanwhile, he graduated from the Ecole des Mines in 1882.

He was then appointed to head a survey expedition to Scandinavia and subsequently conducted surveys in Germany, Austria, Turkey, India, and Malaysia from 1883-1886. He went next to Eastern Armenia, where he managed a copper mine at Akhtala, in the region of Lori. He believed that the Caucasus was of special interest in the study of the origins of metals. In 1887-89 he unearthed 576 graves around Alaverdi and Akhtala, near the Tiflis-Alexandropol railway line, together with copper ornaments, weapons, and objects of daily life. In the dedication of his The History of the Armenian People, he wrote: “To you, Armenians, I dedicate this book, in memory of those happy days of my youth spent in your picturesque mountain villages, in your enchanting forests, among your flower-spangled meadows all glistening in the beautiful Eastern sunshine.”

The scientific reports that Jacques de Morgan wrote upon his return from the Caucasus were published in 1889-1890. Upon his return to France, the Ministry of Public Education entrusted him with his first official mission to Persia, where he did geological and archaeological investigations in the regions of Kurdistan and Luristan. He also made some minor discoveries in the high mound known as the “citadel” in Susa (Šūš), in the historical region of Susiana (the old Elam). This would lead him to reopen the excavations at the site, which would happen years later.

In late 1891 he was invited to take over as acting director of the Egyptian antiquities service; he remained in this interim appointment until 1897. He founded, with Giuseppe Botti, the museum of Greco-Roman antiquities at Alexandria; saved the temple of Kom Ombo from destruction; undertook publication of a general catalogue of the monuments and inscriptions of ancient Egypt; and, just before his departure, laid the cornerstone for the Cairo museum of ancient Egyptian antiquities. His explorations have allowed him to be considered the father of prehistoric archaeology in Egypt.

In 1897 de Morgan left Egypt with the intention of creating a French archeological service in Persia. He focused most of his own efforts at the site of Susa: “Susa, because of its very early date, provided the possibility of solving the greatest and most important problem, that of our origins. This city, in my view, belonged to that primordial world that had witnessed the discovery of writing, the use of metals, the beginnings of art.”

He devoted himself to excavations there for the next ten years, although his decision to simply removing an enormous amount of dirt condemned the architectural remains of Susa to total destruction. In the meantime, he published his Mission scientifique en Perse (1894-1905) in ten volumes, with geological, archeological, geographical, and linguistic studies. In 1912 he also published the final excavation report on Susa.

As someone who had been deeply interested in the Orient, its political situation was no little concern for de Morgan during World War I. He wrote extensively from 1915-1917 in L’Eclair of Montpellier and Revue de Paris, denouncing the Armenian Genocide and the war crimes committed by the Ottoman Empire. His articles were gathered in a volume eloquently titled Contre les barbares de l’Orient (Against the Barbarians of the Orient) and published in 1918. He wrote there: “When one reads attentively the documents related to the massacre of Armenians, the prevision and the ability with which the government of the Young Turks organized these horrors are striking. Everything has been anticipated: the disarming of the victims; the kidnapping of the young element, which could have resisted; the exodus and the suffering on the routes; the massacre of the men on the road; the selection of women and girls to be Islamized (...). There is nothing to debate about the horrors so coldly wanted and so quietly executed, but the day will come when the criminals, whether they are Berliners or Asiatic, will be accountable for the actions and will pay for their heinous crimes.”

De Morgan also worked throughout the war, thanks to the efforts of Armenian writer and journalist Arshag Tchobanian, on a history of the Armenian people from its origins to his days. Published at the end of the war (1919) as Histoire du peuple arménien, it was, for a long time, one of the best available sources for the general reader. An English translation appeared in 1965 by the efforts of Hairenik Press, in Boston (History of the Armenian People: From the Remotest Times to the Present Day, translated by Ernest F. Barry). 

Fighting against health and economic problems for the last fifteen years of his life, Jacques de Morgan passed away on June 14, 1924 in Marseilles. His major works remain L’humanité préhistorique (The Prehistoric Humanity, 1921), and especially the three-volume La préhistoire orientale (The Oriental Prehistory, 1925-27), which appeared posthumously.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Death of Bedros Atamian (June 4, 1891)

Bedros Atamian was the greatest tragic actor in the Armenian theater during the last quarter of the nineteenth century.

Born on December 21, 1849, in Constantinople, he belonged to a lower middle class Armenian Catholic family. His mother died when Bedros was one year old. In 1857-1858 he went to the elementary school of the St. Salvador Armenian Catholic Church in the neighborhood of Galata. He was a precocious and voracious reader. After graduating from the school, they placed him as an apprentice, but his heart was not in learning a trade. He found his vocation in theater.

After playing a silent role in 1864, he debuted in the play William the Conqueror two years later. Between 1867 and 1869 he played in various theatrical groups of the city. As most of his contemporaries, he was a self-taught actor, but he studied the theoretical approaches of European theater to improve himself over time. In 1869 he went with a theatrical group to Nor Nakhichevan (Nakhichevan-on-the-Don), in Northern Caucasus, but the venture ended in financial failure. During his absence, the great fire of Constantinople, in 1870, had ravaged the area of Pera (nowadays Beyoglu) and destroyed his father’s properties, who was ruined and died shortly thereafter.

Atamian continued his theatrical career, and also dabbled as a painter to make his daily living. The newly built theater of Ortakeuy housed a brilliant theatrical group from 1872-1875, under the direction of Bedros Maghakian, with Atamian and the famous actress Azniv Hrachia as its main stars.

1879 would be a breakthrough year for the talented actor. Actor Gevorg Chemeshkian went from Tiflis to Constantinople, commissioned by the Armenian Theatrical Board of the city, to hire several actors. He came to an agreement with Atamian and two promising sisters, Siranush, who would become one of the most famous actresses of the Armenian scene, and Asdghik. For the next three years, he would win over the Armenian audiences of Tiflis. The newspaper Meghu Hayastani wrote: “He rules over the play and, like a bright lighthouse, he illuminates the stage.” The Georgian and Russian newspapers would also devote columns to him. Following the suggestions of the press and his friends, he left aside the customary melodramas and historical plays, and incorporated new and fresh works. The centerpiece would be Shakespeare, who had been played only since 1866. Hamlet, Othello, and King Lear would be the three Shakespearean roles in Atamian’s 250-strong repertoire. He later performed in many other cities, like Shushi, Rostov-on-the-Don, Moscow, St. Petersburg, Astrakhan, Baku, Odessa, et cetera, not only with Armenian, but non-Armenian groups. For instance, in 1882 he performed Hamlet with a French group in Rostov; the performance was in French, with Atamian playing Hamlet in Armenian. His performances as Hamlet and Othello would be highly praised everywhere by the audiences and the press, both Armenian and Russian, and they immortalized his name.

Atamian was not only an actor, but also a theater scholar. In 1887 he published a study in Armenian, Shakespeare and the Sources and Criticism of his Tragedy Hamlet, which was the first of its kind. He also wrote poetry and a novel (posthumously published), although without great literary value.

In mid-1888 he returned to his hometown, Constantinople, and the twenty-fifth anniversary of his theatrical career was celebrated on December 30, 1888. His last performance was a year later. In the meanwhile, he had taken a devastating turn in his life: he developed a condition in his throat that was attributed either to tuberculosis or to cancer. He was unable to work anymore, and fell into utter poverty. Thanks to the efforts of Russian friends from St. Petersburg, he was moved to the St. Nicholas Russian hospital of Pera in February 1891. However, medical assistance was not enough to save his life and he passed away on June 4, 1891. The great Shakespearean actor was buried in the Armenian cemetery of Sisli.

Atamian’s name was later given to the Armenian theater of Tiflis, as well as to the theater group of the Armenian General Benevolent Union in Aleppo. Today, a street in Yerevan also bears his name.