Monday, October 31, 2016

Death of Hetum I (October 28, 1270)

Hetum I was the founder of the Hetumian dynasty (1226-1342), the second in the history of the Armenian kingdom of Cilicia. He excelled as a seasoned diplomat who achieved crucial results both in internal and foreign policy.
Signature of Hetum I, ca. 1243
Hetum was born in 1215, the son of Prince Constantine of Baberon, who had a leading position among the Armenian princes of Cilicia and became regent in 1219, shortly after the death of King Levon I, due to the minority of his daughter Zabel (1216-1252), who was three-years-old. In order to end the rivalry between Cilicia and the principality of Antioch (Syria), Constantine arranged for the marriage of Zabel to Philip, a son of Bohemond IV of Antioch, in 1222. However, Philip’s disdain for Armenian ritual and his favoritism for Latin noblemen alienated the Armenian nobility. After a revolt headed by Constantine in late 1224, Philip was imprisoned and deprived of the throne with the agreement of the council of Armenian princes. He died in prison.

Coin representing Hetum I and Zabel
Constantine moved forward and, despite the opposition of ten-year-old Zabel, he married her to his son Hetum, who was proclaimed king on June 14, 1226. In this way, the two most powerful families of Cilicia, the Rubinians (the royal dynasty) and the princes of Lambron, established an alliance.
Hetum I ascended to the throne in a difficult international conjuncture. He confronted Antioch on one hand, where he established a protectorate of sorts after the death of Bohemond IV. On the other hand, he had to face the power of the Sultanate of Rum, ruled by a Seljuq Turkish dynasty, but was able to come to terms with it. Over the years, Hetum I was able to overcome the internal dissensions and offer a united front to external pressure. At the same time, he centralized the monarchy and strengthened the army, while economic life and culture flourished.
In the 1240s a new and dangerous player appeared in the international scene, the Mongols. After occupying Persia and Armenia, the Mongols entered the Middle East and reached the borders of Cilicia by 1243. Instead of confrontation, Hetum chose to sign a treaty of peace and mutual cooperation with the Mongols. He first sent his brother, the Constable Smpad, in a diplomatic mission to Karakorum, the capital of the Mongol Empire, in 1248. Afterwards, the king himself made the hard and long journey to Central Asia and visited Karakorum in 1254, signing a new treaty of alliance with emperor Mangu Khan. This treaty established, among other conditions, friendship between Christians and Mongols, who were still pagan at the time; tax exemption for the Armenian Church; the liberation of Jerusalem; the destruction of the caliphate of Baghdad; assistance to Cilicia by all Mongol commanders; devolution to Cilicia of Armenian territories occupied by the Muslims.
This diplomatic success, at a time when the Mongols were confronted by all forces from China to Eastern Europe, strengthened the position of Cilicia. Thanks to the Armeno-Mongol alliance, between 1256-1259 Hetum I was able to stop the attacks of the emirate of Aleppo and the invasions of the Sultanates of Rum and Egypt. He also liberated several cities, like Marash and Aintab, and annexed the southern portion of Cappadocia, as well as part of northern Syria to his kingdom.
The Sultanate of Egypt took advantage of the divisions among the Mongols and invaded Cilicia in 1266, taking Hetum’s son and heir apparent Levon as prisoner. The invasion devastated some parts of the country. In June 1268 Hetum signed peace with Egypt by the cession of several border fortresses and was able to free his son. A year later, he resigned and Levon II was crowned king. Hetum retired to the monastery of Akner, where he became a monk with the name of Magar, and passed away on October 28, 1270.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Death of Patriarch Nerses Varjabedian (October 26, 1884)

The Armenian Patriarchate of Constantinople went through turbulent times in the mid-nineteenth century, when there were heated disputes over the democratization of the Armenian society and the Church. The name of Patriarch Nerses Varjabedian emerged in the 1870s-1880s as a guiding light.

The future ecclesiastic was born Boghos Varjabedian in the district of Haskeuy (Constantinople) on January 28, 1837. He studied at the Nersessian School, in his neighborhood. At the age of fifteen he lost his father and became, as the eldest son, the main support of the family.  

He was sixteen in 1853, when he returned to his alma mater as a teacher. He moved to Adrianople (now Edirne) two years later. The local prelate, Bishop Aristakes Raphaelian, took the young teacher under his wings and in 1858 ordained him as a celibate priest (vartabed) with the name Nerses.

A year later, he returned to Haskeuy as pastor, becoming the standard bearer of a spiritual and intellectual renaissance in his birthplace. In 1861, on recommendation from the Patriarchate, he was sent as a preacher first to Romania and then to Transylvania (presently in Hungary). He was ordained a bishop in 1862. He participated actively in the struggle that led to the adoption of the National Constitution (Ազգային Սահմանադրութիւն/Azkayin Sahmanatrootyoon) in 1860 and the approval of its modified version by Sultan Abdul Aziz in 1863.  In 1866 he participated in the election of Catholicos of All Armenians Gevorg IV in Holy Etchmiadzin. In 1862 he was elected prelate of Nicomedia (Ismid). Two years later, he published his first book, The Holy Church of Christ and Her Opponents.

Patriarch Megerdich Khrimian (Khrimian Hayrig) resigned his position after a five-year tenure (1869-1874). Despite his youth (he was thirty-seven at the time), Bishop Nerses Varjabedian, enjoyed general respect and authority, and was elected Patriarch on April 26, 1874.

In 1875 he published his second book, Teaching of the Concordance of the Gospel of Our Lord. The latter was a combination of the four Gospels, with explanations and reflections in both Classical and Modern Armenian. It was used for a long time as a school textbook.

During his ten-year tenure, the Religious Council normalized its activities and established a minimum age to confer religious degrees. Patriarch Nerses participated actively in the activities of the Armenian United Society, an educational organization that worked towards the education of Armenians in the interior of Turkey. In the 1880s he would be the driving force behind the foundation of the Getronagan School in Constantinople (founded after his death, in 1886).

After the victory of Russia in the Russo-Turkish war of 1877-1878 and the favorable conditions created for the Armenian Question, the Patriarch presented a petition to Czar Alexander II, asking him to protect the Western Armenians.

He worked together with the National Council of Constantinople to enter article 16 in the Treaty of San Stefano, which established the need of reforms for the Armenians in the Ottoman Empire under the guarantee of Russian occupation, as well as the cession of Western Armenian territories to Russia. He also organized and sent an Armenian delegation led by Khrimian to the Congress of Berlin. In 1879 he unsuccessfully addressed the European representatives to carry out reforms in Armenia and the British ambassador to have the Ottoman Empire comply with article 61 of the Treaty of Berlin. His memoranda to the Sublime Porte (the name of the Ottoman court) also remained unanswered.

In 1884 Varjabedian was elected Catholicos of All Armenians, but he resigned due to his poor health. He died on October 26, 1884, in Constantinople, at the age of 47, victim of diabetes.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

The Treaty of Kars (October 13, 1921)

As a result of the Russo-Turkish war of 1877-1878, the regions of Kars, Ardahan, Artvin, and Batum, at the time in the Ottoman Empire, went to Russia. 

The next conflict between Russia and the Ottoman Empire was during World War I. The Caucasian expedition of Enver Pasha in late 1914-1915 was soundly defeated in the battle of Sarikamish. Enver covered his defeat by accusing the Armenians of treason. As a result, the Armenian soldiers in the Ottoman Empire were disarmed and killed en masse, and the subsequent massacres and deportation of Armenians would soon turn into genocide. The Russian forces occupied an important section of Western Armenia (Van, Erzerum, Bitlis and Mush, Trebizond, and Erzinga) in 1915-1916.

After the October Revolution, the Russian forces abandoned the front. The Armenian battalions formed in a hurry were insufficient to stop the Ottoman advance and the territories of Western Armenia were lost between February and April 1918. The Treaty of Brest Litovsk (March 3, 1918) between Soviet Russia and the Ottoman Empire recognized the transfer of Kars, Ardahan, and Batum to the latter. After the armistice of Mudros (October 30, 1918), the Republic of Armenia established its sovereignty over most of the region of Kars, and the Treaty of Sevres recognized the region of Kars and most of Western Armenia as part of Armenia (August 1920).

However, as a result of the Armeno-Turkish war of September-November 1920, the region of Kars and Alexandropol (nowadays Gumri) was occupied by the Turkish forces, which threatened once again the existence of Armenia. The invasion of the XI Red Army on November 29 forced the government of the Republic of Armenia to transfer the authority to the Communists on December 2, which turned the country into a Soviet republic. 

Meanwhile, the representatives of the Republic signed the Treaty of Alexandropol with the Turks on the night of December 2 to 3. This treaty recognized the occupation of the region of Kars by Turkey. However, its legal validity was dubious, because it had been signed on behalf of a government that was already out of office. The next step was the signature of the Treaty of Moscow between Kemalist Turkey and Soviet Russia on March 16, 1921. Turkey received the region of Kars, and the southern portion of the region of Batum. Probably as a compensation for the north of the region of Batum, the Bolsheviks transferred the Armenian province of Surmalu to the Turks. 

At the time, the February rebellion had expelled the Communist government from Armenia, while Georgia was still an independent republic. After Armenia and Georgia were finally occupied by the Red Army, the signature of the Treaty of Kars was meant to confirm the terms of the Treaty of Moscow by the representatives of Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan.

The treaty was signed on October 13, 1921, and ratified in Yerevan on September 11, 1922. Signatories included four Turkish representatives, Russian ambassador Yakov Ganetsky, and two representatives from Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia. Minister of Foreign Affairs Askanaz Mravian and Minister of Interior Poghos Makintsian signed it on behalf of Armenia.

The treaty confirmed the division of the region of Batum, with the north ceded by Turkey to Georgia and the south, with the city of Artvin, annexed by Turkey, which was also guaranteed free transit through the port of Batum.

It also created a new boundary between Turkey and Armenia, defined by the Akhurian and Arax rivers. Turkey annexed most of the region of Kars, including Surmalu, with Mount Ararat and the cities of Igdir and Koghb, the cities of Kars, Ardahan, and Olti, and the ruins of Ani.

The region of Nakhichevan became an autonomous territory under the protection of Azerbaijan, which was turned into the Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic of Nakhichevan in 1924, as an exclave subordinate to Soviet Azerbaijan and sharing a fifteen kilometer boundary with Turkey. 

The Soviet Union attempted to annul the Treaty of Kars and regain the lost territories of Kars, Ardahan, and Artvin after World War II on behalf of Armenia and Georgia. However, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill objected to those territorial claims, and in 1947 the Soviet Union gave up its claims from Turkey.

The validity of the Treaty of Kars has been questioned on the basis that the sides that signed it did not have authority. The Turkish Grand National Assembly, which was represented by the Turkish signatories, had no authority to sign international treaties, which still rested with the legal ruler of the Ottoman Empire, the Sultan, as established by its Constitution. The Republic of Turkey was proclaimed in 1923. On the other hand, the Soviet republics were under strict control of Moscow and the Soviet Union was established in December 1922.

After the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Treaty of Kars was accepted by Turkey, Georgia, and Azerbaijan. However, the government of Armenia has made no such ratification.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Birth of Fridtjof Nansen (October 10, 1861)

Fridtjof Nansen was a Norwegian scientist and explorer, who later took up the cause of humanitarianism and had a crucial impact on Armenians in the 1920s.
He was born on October 10, 1861 near Norway’s capital Christiania (nowadays Oslo). His mother died in 1877, and his father moved to the capital with his two sons.

In 1881 Nansen entered the Royal Frederick University of the capital to study zoology. After a five-month sea voyage to study Arctic zoology in 1882, he did not resume formal studies, but accepted a post as curator in the zoological department of the Bergen Museum. In 1888 he defended his dissertation on the central nervous system of certain lower vertebrates.  In 1889 he accepted the position of curator of the university’s zoology collection and got married to Eva Sars, the daughter of a late zoology professor. They had five children. His wife died in 1907 and Nansen remarried in 1919. 
His scientific interests led him to famous expeditions, such as one across the Greenland icecap in 1888 and another to reach the Northern Pole in 1894-1896 (he got closer than anyone else at the time) with the ship Fram. During the twenty years following his return, Nansen devoted most of his energies to scientific work. He accepted a professorship in zoology at the university (1897) and in 1900 became director of the Christiania-based International Laboratory for North Sea Research.
He was involved in the process that led to the separation of Norway from Sweden in 1905 and appointed Norway’s first minister in London (1906-1908). He retired from the diplomatic service in 1908, and at the same time his university professorship was changed from zoology to oceanography. Between 1910 and 1914 Nansen participated in several oceanographic voyages. 
After the creation of the League of Nations following the end of World War I, he became president of the Norwegian League of Nations Society. His advocacy helped ensure Norway’s full membership of the League in 1920 and he became one of its three delegates to the League's General Assembly.
At the League’s request, Nansen organized the repatriation of around half a million prisoners of war, stranded in various parts of the world between 1920 and 1922. In September 1921 he accepted the post of High Commissioner for Refugees. His main task was the resettlement of around two million refugees displaced by the upheavals of the Russian Revolution, and the urgent problem of famine in Russia. The lack of documentary proof of identity or nationality for many refugees prompted him to devise the Nansen Passport, a form of identity for stateless persons that allowed refugees to cross borders legally. He devised the scheme of population exchange between Greece and Turkey in 1922-1923. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for 1922. 
Nansen eats soup with orphans in Leninakan (nowadays Gyumri) during his visit to Armenia in 1925
From 1925 onwards, Nansen spent much time trying to help Armenian refugees who were survivors of the genocide. His goal was the establishment of a national home for them within the borders of Soviet Armenia. His main assistant in this task was Vidkun Quisling, the future Nazi collaborator and head of a Norwegian puppet government during World War II. After visiting the region, Nansen presented the Assembly with a modest plan for the irrigation of 36,000 hectares (139 square miles), where 15,000 refugees could be settled. The plan ultimately failed, because the money to finance the scheme was not forthcoming. After his visit to Armenia, Nansen wrote the book Gjennem Armenia (“Across Armenia”), published in 1927, and translated into English in 1928 as Armenia and the Near East (1923).
In 1926 Nansen was elected Rector of the University of St. Andrews, in Scotland, the first foreigner to hold this largely honorary position. He died of a heart attack on May 13, 1930, and was buried at his home in Christiania.
Nansen Passport of French Armenian writer Arshag Tchobanian
Immediately after his death the League of Nations set up the Nansen International Office for Refugees to continue his work. The Nansen Office secured the agreement of 14 countries to the Refugee Convention of 1933. It also helped to repatriate 10,000 Armenians to Armenia and to find homes for a further 40,000 in Syria and Lebanon. The Office was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1938. In 1954 the League's successor body, the United Nations, established the Nansen Medal, now called the Nansen Refugee Award, which the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees annually bestows upon an individual, group, or organization “for outstanding work on behalf of the forcibly displaced.” In 1968 Soviet Armenian filmmaker Sergei Mikaelyan directed a film on Nansen’s life, Bare et liv – Historien om Fridtjof Nansen. A street in Yerevan bears the name of the great Norwegian explorer and humanist.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

The Occupation of Yerevan (October 1, 1827)

The Russian vision of reaching the “hot waters” of the Mediterranean Sea, formulated during the reign of Peter the Great (1689-1725), achieved its initial objective in the period from 1804-1828, when the region known as Transcaucasia (now called South Caucasus) was conquered from Persia and incorporated with the Russian Empire. This included, indeed, Eastern Armenia.
The treaty of Gulistan (1813) incorporated the region of Gharabagh to Russia. The rest of Eastern Armenia was conquered during the Russo-Persian war of 1826-1828. With British financial support, Persian crown prince Abbas Mirza launched the hostilities without previous declaration of war in July 1826. After Persian initial success, Czar Nicholas I (1825-1855) sent General Ivan Paskevich (1782-1856), who had distinguished himself in 1807-1814 during campaigns against Turkey and France, as second in command. He took the chief command in early 1827 and the Russian troops started advancing in territory of the Khanate of Yerevan.  
In April 1827 the monastery of Holy Etchmiadzin was occupied without resistance, and Yerevan was first besieged from April to June. Paskevich joined Russian general A. I. Krasovky in June and occupied Nakhichevan. However, Krasovky was forced to raise the siege due to the condition of his troops. He left one regiment at Etchmiadzin and retired further north. 
Abbas Mirza attempted a counterattack, planning to take Etchmiadzin and Gyumri, plunder Tiflis and return to Tabriz via Gharabagh. Krasovsky was forced to return south in August to relieve the garrison of Etchmiadzin. Despite the inferiority of troops (2300 Russians against 30000 Persians), the Russians were able to cut their way through at the battle of Oshagan, losing half of their number. They relieved Etchmiadzin, while the Persians withdrew south with a loss of just 400 men. 
Paskevich returned to Etchmiadzin in early September. He moved east and, after capturing Sardarabad, he appeared before the walls of Yerevan on September 23. The fortress was located on a rocky shore of the Hrazdan River, and had double walls and a moat. After shelling the fortress, the Russian command suggested Persians to capitulate. The garrison and residents asked Hasan Khan to surrender, but the khan turned down the suggestion of capitulation, hoping to resist until the arrival of the Persian army.

Capture of Erivan Fortress by Russia, 1827 (by Franz Roubaud)
After a week of siege, disorder broke out in Yerevan on the morning of October 1. The Armenian population of the city forcefully demanded that Hasan surrender the city. Armenian and Persian citizens took up arms and occupied the already destroyed part of the eastern wall. The Persian garrison refused to fight and Russian troops entered Yerevan. Hasan Khan and his army laid down their arms in front of the Russian before the main mosque. Four thousand prisoners were taken. 
After this victory, advancing Russian troops crossed the Arax River and entered Persian Azerbaijan, seizing its capital Tabriz. Paskevich arrived later with the main Russian forces. Persia sued for peace, but the negotiations dragged on due to the beginning of the Russo-Turkish war of 1828-1829. However, the Russian occupation of Ardabil and Urmia forced Fath-Ali Shah to accept all peace conditions, according to the Treaty of Turkmenchay (February 10, 1828). For the victory in the Russo-Persian war, Paskevich was awarded the St. George Order of the 2nd class and the title of Count of Yerevan. He also received a million rubles and a diamond-mounted sword. 
The khanates of Yerevan and Nakhichevan went to the Russian Empire, and Yerevan became the capital of the newly-created Armenian Province until 1840. After short-lived administrative changes, the Yerevan Governorate would be created in 1849, again with Yerevan as capital of a territory that included both Persian khanates.