Thursday, September 22, 2016

Referendum on the Independence of Armenia (September 21-23, 1991)

On August 23, 1990, the “Declaration on the Independence of Armenia” approved by the Supreme Council (former Supreme Soviet) of the Republic of Armenia initiated the process of independence according to the legal framework established by the Soviet Constitution, which was assumed to last up to five years.

Mikhail Gorbachev, the last First Secretary of the Soviet Union, organized a referendum to preserve the Soviet Union, held on March 17, 1991, to ask whether the constituents considered “necessary the preservation of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics as a renewed federation of equal sovereign republics.” Six republics, including Armenia, boycotted the referendum, which nevertheless had almost 70% of approval in the remaining nine republics. On March 1, the Supreme Council had issued a resolution to organize a referendum to allow Armenia to legally secede from the USSR.

The preparations in the spring and summer were not only on a legal and organization level, but also took the form of an ideological struggle. The new democratic authorities led by the Armenian National Movement (ANM), which had come to power in August 1990, struggled both against those forces that considered independence a dangerous and meaningless movement, or pushed for a declaration of independence without referendum. The legalist position of the Armenian authorities and the steps taken towards the establishment of democracy were heavily praised by the international press, since they did not leave room for any opposition from Moscow and ensured an orderly transition.

The month prior to the referendum was heavy in changes that impacted on the public reception: the successful resistance of democratic forces against the failed putsch of August 1991 in Russian that tried to re-establish the old Soviet order; the recognition of the independence of the three Baltic states; the proclamation of independence by the Supreme Councils of various republics, et cetera.

The campaign for the “Yes” multiplied its efforts in the first twenty days of September, and the declarations by public figures and organizations from Catholicos Vazken I to the Writers Union had a cascade effect that countered the anti-propaganda of Moscow agents and anti-independence forces. Levon Ter Petrosian, president of the Supreme Council, issued a declaration on the evening of September 19: “… We are taking a decisive step, which must be followed with the proclamation of the independence of Armenia by the Supreme Council. But we are all aware that independence is not a goal in itself for us. Independence is just a means to reach Freedom, because the supreme goal is freedom. Only the independent statehood of the nation may ensure freedom for each individual and people. We do not go towards independence with sentimentalism; we go with awareness, rationality, and true political calculation . . .” 

The organization of the referendum fell upon the Central Electoral Committee headed by the vice-president of the Supreme Council, Babken Ararktsian. The referendum was orderly held and in a festive environment. On the third Saturday in September 1991, people across Armenia left their homes to do something they had never done before: vote in a referendum. Old and young alike crowded voting stations, determined to make their voices heard. Even newly married couples, still attired in wedding garb, set aside time to cast their vote. The 117 observers invited from more than two dozen countries and international organizations did not report any irregularity and noted that Armenia was the only country holding a legally binding referendum.

The participation in the referendum of September 21 was 95.4 per cent of legally registered voters (2,163,967 people), and 94.39 per cent of them (2,042,627 people or 99.51% of the actual voters) voted “Yes” to the question posed to them: “Do you agree that the Republic of Armenia becomes an independent, democratic state out of the U.S.S.R.?”

Armenia had become independent by the will of its citizens. On Monday, September 23, the results of the referendum were introduced to the session of the Supreme Council, which passed the historical decision:

“Faithful to the declaration on the independence of Armenia, based on the norms of human rights and free determination of nations, with the goal of creating a democratic, juridical society, on the grounds of the results of the referendum held about coming out of the U.S.S.R. on September 21, 1991, the Supreme Council of the Republic of Armenia proclaims the Republic of Armenia an independent state.”

September 21 became, rightfully, a holiday. The Supreme Council addressed the population in the following terms, which were an anticipation of what Armenia would see in the next twenty-five years:

“The return to identity will not be easy. We are just starting to walk on the road of freedom. The path crossed by civilized humankind shows that this is not a matter of one day and, especially, it is not an easy road. Therefore, prudently incorporating the experience of progressive states, we must be able to maintain and enrich ours. Yes, we are going towards the family of the entire humanity, but under our own flag, with our independent statehood and our own profile. New trials wait for us on the road of freedom. This will be a daily test for us. Let’s keep our enthusiasm, but let’s also be filled with realism; let’s be dreamers, but with alert judgment.”

The Soviet Union collapsed barely three months later, on December 25, 1991, and the Republic of Armenia was accepted as a full member of the international community as a sovereign state, joining the United Nations on March 2, 1992. Meanwhile, as a result of the referendum held on December 10, 1991, the Republic of Mountainous Gharabagh had also proclaimed its independence as a second Armenian state, yet unrecognized to this day.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Death of Harry K. Daghlian (September 15, 1945)

A memorial was dedicated to Haroutune Krikor “Harry” Daghlian Jr. in New London, Connecticut, on May 20, 2000, in the presence of his siblings, Edward and Helen Daghlian. Its inscription reads:

A brilliant scientist on the Manhattan

Project. His work involved the determination

of critical mass. During an experiment gone

awry, he became the first American casualty

of the atomic age. Though not in uniform,

he died in service to his country.
Harry Daghlian, Jr. was born in Waterbury, Connecticut, on May 4, 1921. Soon after his birth, the family moved to New London, where he completed his primary and secondary education. His father was an X-ray technician and then supervisor of the X-ray laboratory at the Lawrence Memorial Hospital. His interest in mathematics and physics was fostered by his parents and his uncle, Dr. Garabed K. Daghlian, who was a professor of Physics and Astronomy at Connecticut College, located in the outskirts of New London.

In 1938 the younger Daghlian graduated first in his class of mathematics from Bulkeley High School and at age 17 he was able to begin undergraduate studies at MIT. He would eventually transfer to Purdue University in Indiana because he was fascinated with physics, especially particle physics. He graduated from Purdue in 1942 and began graduate studies in West Lafayette, while becoming a physics instructor.

Robert Oppenheimer, the head of the top secret Manhattan Project, was recruiting scientific personnel for Los Alamos, in a race against time to create an atomic bomb before Germany did. In 1942 physicist Marshall Holloway arrived at Purdue on a secret assignment from the Manhattan Project and worked with a group there, which included three senior level investigators, and a graduate student, Daghlian, who worked with Purdue’s cyclotron to produce deuterons. The Purdue group moved to the Los Alamos laboratory in September 1943, and Daghlian followed them a year later. He first worked as part of the “Water Boiler” group at the Omega Site, and later joined the Critical Assembly Group, also located at Omega. His last major assignment was as an assistant in preparing the plutonium core at the MacDonald Ranch House for the Trinity test in Alamogordo, New Mexico.

The world’s first nuclear weapon was successfully tested in Alamogordo on July 16, 1945. World War II would come to an end almost a month later, on August 15, after two nuclear bombs had been dropped over the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, with an outcome of hundreds of thousands of victims.

Less than a week after the end of the war, while Daghlian was continuing his research at Los Alamos site, he was involved in a deadly accident while doing experiments concerning the critical masses of a sphere of plutonium and the building of a radiation shield with tungsten carbide bricks.

On August 21, after doing two criticality tests in the morning and the afternoon, Daghlian decided to do the third tests in the evening, after hours, for reasons unknown. While close to finishing the construction of the assembly, the addition of the fifth brick showed the possibility that this would be beyond the levels of criticality. He accidentally dropped the brick into the center, triggering a critical reaction. He pushed the brick from the assembly with his right hand, but this was not enough and he was forced to disassemble the pile by hand to stop the reaction.

The young scientist received a dose of 510 rems of neutron radiation while he was solving the potentially very dangerous issue. He was rushed to the hospital, where he immediately showed symptoms of acute radiation poisoning. His right hand began to swell and he developed overwhelming nausea. The high dose received made it impossible to effectively treat him. His symptoms worsened, and after horrifying physical deterioration, he passed away on September 15, 1945, at the age of 24. As his memorial inscription acknowledged fifty-five years later, Harry Daghlian was the first American casualty of the atomic age. 

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Birth of Grikor Suni (September 10, 1876)

Coming from a family of musicians, Grikor Suni was a relevant name in Armenian music in the beginning of the twentieth century, and had an important activity in the United States during the last two decades of his life.

Grikor Mirzaian Suni was born on September 10, 1876, in the village of Getabek, in the region of Gandzak (nowadays Ganja, in Azerbaijan). At the age of two, he and his family moved to Shushi, the capital of Gharabagh. He enrolled in 1883 in a parish school and lost his father in the same year.
He studied from 1891-1895 at the Gevorgian Seminary of Etchmiadzin, where he was a classmate of Gomidas Vartabed, whom he befriended. After graduation, he organized a polyphonic choir and gave a concert of popular songs collected and arranged by him.
After pursuing private lesson in St. Petersburg from 1895-1898, he received a scholarship to attend the state conservatory, majoring in music theory and composition. He had two famed Russian composers, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and Alexander Glazunov, among his teachers. Meanwhile, he was hired as choir director of the local Armenian church, and prepared arrangements of religious music. He graduated in 1904 and published a collection of popular songs in the same year.
In the late 1890s, Suni entered the ranks of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, where he remained until 1910. He composed the lyrics and music of the party’s anthem, Mshag panvor.
In 1905 Suni returned to the Caucasus, and taught music at the Nersisian School of Tiflis until 1908. In 1906 he wrote the operetta Aregnazan, based on lyrics of writer Ghazaros Aghayan, which was staged by the Armenian Theatrical Company of Tiflis.
In October 1908, fearing political persecution in Russia, Suni escaped to the Ottoman Empire with his family. He first settled in Trebizond (Trabzon), and organized concerts of Armenian choral and orchestral music in the region. In 1910 he moved to Erzerum, where he taught at the Sanasarian School during the next four years. He also continued collecting folk songs and dances, and organizing choirs.
At the breakout of World War I, the composer moved back to Tiflis, where he continued teaching and directing. He was also one of the founding members of the Society of Armenian Musicologists. After a sojourn in Tehran (1919-1920), he returned to Tiflis, but his poor health led him to move to Constantinople (1921), where he taught music and choral singing at several schools, and conducted a choir. Months after the Ottoman capital had been occupied by the Kemalist forces, in September 1923 Suni and his family arrived in the United States and settled in Philadelphia.
During the next decade and a half, the composer, who had adopted a pro-Soviet outlook as a result of his ideological affinities, participated actively in the artistic life of the Armenian American community, particularly on the East Coast. He also continued composing. A collection of choir music was published in Yerevan, in 1935.
Grikor Suni passed away in Philadelphia on December 18, 1939. Several fascicles containing songs by him were posthumously published in the 1940s in Philadelphia. One of his grandsons is historian Ronald Grigor Suny, professor of History at the University of Michigan.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Opening of the Getronagan High School (September 1, 1886)

The Getronagan (Central) High School was a project of the Armenian community of Constantinople, which aimed at providing education with a productivity level that would be above the standards of foreign schools.

The project was initiated by Nerses Varjabedian (1837-1884), Armenian Patriarch of Constantinople, in 1882. He invited major donors to the Patriarchate on December 16, 1882, to gather funds for the renovation of the Patriarchate and the establishment of the Getronagan School. Due to his illness, the Patriarch realized that he would not be able to continue these projects, and before his death in 1884, he assigned priority to the establishment of the school with the donation, and postponed the repair work at the Patriarchate. The Patriarch Nerses Varjabedian Foundation was established to realize the project. 

The initial plan was to establish a secondary school in the neighborhood of Ortaköy. The first board of trustees was formed in the beginning of 1885.

The school opened on September 1, 1886, with 64 students as first year students. The opening ceremony was led by Catholicos of All Armenians Makar I (1885-1891) and Armenian Patriarch of Constantinople Harutiun Vehabedian (1885-1888). The five-year program of the school was divided into two phases. In the first three years, they taught Religion, Armenian, Turkish, French, History, Geography, Mathematics, Science, Law, Commerce, Health, Stenography, and Painting. In the last two years, the last four were replaced by Political Economy, Accounting, and Pedagogy. The first faculty included some noted names in the Armenian intelligentsia, such as educator Reteos Berberian, writers Minas Cheraz, Hovsep Shishmanian (Dzerents), Tovmas Terzian, Srabion Hekimian, historian Madatia Karakashian, Gabriel Noradungian (future Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Ottoman Empire), etcetera.
The school population had grown to 148 students when the class of 1891 (18 students) graduated.  The first principal was Minas Cheraz, who held the position until 1889. He was succeeded in 1890 by Harutiun Mosdichian, who introduced changes to the educational system, such as the opening of the departments of Science and Literature. His tenure ended in 1896, when the school was closed. It was reopened in 1897, with an additional elementary school that served as free preparatory school for those students coming from the provinces.

After a period of decadence from 1897-1909, coincidental with the tyrannical period of Sultan Abdul Hamid II, the Getronagan School recovered its past brilliance under principals Mardiros Nalbandian (1909-1913), Kegham Kavafian (1917-1927), and Bedros Adruni (1927-1933).  Intellectuals like Gomidas Vartabed, Levon Shant, Vahan Tekeyan, Gostan Zarian, and others taught in the school. In 1929 the primary school was closed and replaced by a one-year preparatory section. From 1935-1951 the lyceum section of another venerable school, the Essayan School, was joined with the Getronagan.
The school had famed teachers, but also remarkable graduates, including linguist Hrachia Ajarian, writers Arshag Tchobanian, Misak Medzarents, Vahan Tekeyan, Yerukhan, Hagop Siruni, Nigoghos Sarafian, Aram Haigaz, actor Armen Armenian, Armenologist Haig Berberian, photographer Ara Guler, pianist Sahan Arzruni.

The Getronagan Alumni Union was founded in 1947 and organizes cultural activities, which also contribute both materially and morally to the welfare of the school. It has branches in France, the United States, and Canada. As of 2001, the Getronagan High School had 182 students.