Friday, February 24, 2017

Death of Minas Avetisian (February 24, 1975)

"Toros Roslin's birth," fresco by Minas Avetisian

Minas Avetisian was one of the most important figures of Armenian painting in the second half of the twentieth century.
Minas (he is frequently named by his first name alone) was born on July 20, 1928, in the village of Jajur, near Leninakan (nowadays Gumri), in the family of a blacksmith. During the World War II years, he met by chance a local painter, Hakob Ananikian (1919-1977). This encounter became fateful for the future artist. In 1947 he entered the Panos Terlemezian Art School in Yerevan. Upon graduation, in 1952 he went to the Institute of Art and Theater, but a year later he moved to Leningrad (nowadays St. Petersburg), where he studied for the next seven years at the Ilya Rebin Institute of Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture (the former Art Academy of St. Petersburg). In 1960 he returned to Yerevan.
He entered the art world in his early thirties, relatively late, but his brief and intense career would turn him into a symbol of Armenian modernist art. He would come to produce some five hundred small and big paintings during the next fifteen years, characterized by their strong chromatic contrasts, with lyrical and sometimes tragic expression. His childhood impressions from life in the village became one of the most powerful creative sources for him. His production included landscapes, portraits, still lifes, and frescoes. He was also the illustrator for several ballets and theatrical works, such as Aram Khachatourian’s “Gayaneh” ballet and Alexander Spendiarian’s “Almast” opera, and the movie “This green, red world,” directed by Yuri Yerzinkian and Ernest Martirosian (1975). His art was especially influenced by Armenian miniature painting and the art of the Italian Renaissance.
His first individual exhibition, in 1960, was met with skepticism. The painter had already shown an unusual artistic thinking. His true value emerged in the “Exhibition of Five” in 1962, along painters Lavinia Bazhbeuk-Melikian, Alexander Grigoryan, Arpenik Ghapantsian, and Henrik Siravian. He was admitted to the Union of Painters of the USSR in the same year.
In 1964 Minas married fellow painter Gayane Mamajanian. They had two children, Arman (1966) and Narek (1969), also a painter. Four years later, he was honored with the title of Emeritus Painter of the Armenian SSR. Also in 1968 he appeared in Mikayel Vardanov’s film The Color of the Armenian Land.
Between 1970 and 1974, Minas produced 20 frescoes in Yerevan, Gumri, and the surrounding villages of Azatan and Vahramaberd. Some of them were seriously damaged after the earthquake of December 7, 1988. The buildings that harbored them were destroyed or left in precarious situation. However, the collaboration of experts from Bulgaria and Italy over the past three decades helped restore some of the frescoes and save them. Some of them were moved to Gumri and Yerevan. The acclaimed fresco “Toros Roslin’s Birth” was moved from Gumri to Minas’ museum in his hometown Jajur. Two other frescoes were restored and moved from Gumri to the Government House in Yerevan.
A catastrophic fire in the painter’s atelier, on the night of January 1-2, 1972, caused the loss of all the works collected there, including those to be showcased at an individual exhibition in Paris (some 300 works, including 120 paintings), and his personal archive (letters, etcetera).
On February 16, 1975, Minas Avetisian was struck by a taxi driver in Yerevan, and passed away on February 24. The circumstances of his death have remained unclear to the present. Both the fire of 1972 and the death of the artist are said to have been the handiwork of the KGB, the Soviet secret police, but this remains a conjecture. He was a popular name, and also an art dissident, since his style was far removed from the official orthodoxy of Socialist Realism.
Minas was posthumously awarded the State Prize of Armenia (1975) and the Martiros Sarian Prize (1980). Two films were also dedicated to him: Minas Avetisian (Marat Varjapetian, 1975) and Minas: Requiem (Mikayel Vardanov, 1989). Two museums dedicated to his work were posthumously opened in Yerevan (1977) and Jajur (1982). The latter was destroyed in the earthquake of 1988 and reopened in 2005.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Birth of Hovhannes Tumanian (February 19, 1869)

The popular long poems and folkloric short stories by Hovhannes Tumanian turned him into a beloved author of Armenian literature for the past hundred years.
He was born on February 19, 1869, in the village of Dsegh (province of Lori). His father, Der Tadeos, was the village priest and an offspring of a branch from the princely house of the Mamikonian. The future poet first attended the parochial school of the village (1877-1879) and then a school in Jalaloghli (nowadays Stepanavan) from 1879-1883. It was there he wrote his first poem at the age of 12. In 1883 Tumanian moved to Tiflis, where he attended the Nersesian School for the next four years. He dropped out in 1887 and married the next year to Olga Machkalian, with whom he would have ten children. He completed his studies by self-education, and his more than three hundred articles showed him to be a well-versed literary critic and historian, who gave interesting ideas on literature, art, language, and culture, both Armenian and universal.
Tumanian’s two-volume collection Poems (1890 and 1892), earned him broad recognition. He depicted the village life, filled with contradictions, and based his work on popular traditions. Those volumes already included poems like “Maro,” “Sako of Lori,” and the famous tragedy “Anush,” which would later become the subject for Armen Tigranian’s homonymous opera (1912). His simple and natural style turned dozens of phrases and expressions from Tumanian’s work into part of Armenian everyday language. He later published other poems, like “A Drop of Honey,” “Akhtamar,” “The Capture of Tmkaberd,” and especially a version of the Armenian epic “David of Sassoun,” which made him universally known till this day.
In 1899 Tumanian organized meetings of Armenian intellectuals at his house in Tiflis. The meetings soon turned into an influential literary group, which took the name of Vernatun (Վերնատուն “garret”), because its meeting place was the garret of Tumanian’s house. The other founding members of the collective were Ghazaros Aghayan (1840-1911), Levon Shant (1869-1951), Avetik Isahakian (1875-1957), and Derenik Demirjian (1877-1957), with other significant intellectuals like Nikol Aghbalian, Alexander Shirvanzade, Nar-Dos, and others among its members. The Vernatun group existed, with some intervals, until 1908.
During the Armeno-Tatar clashes triggered by the Russian government in 1905-1907, Tumanian moved back to Dsegh and participated in the organization of Armenian self-defense, but also made efforts to intervene as a peacemaker. He was a member of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, and his political activities made him the target of the secret police. He was arrested twice (1908-1909 and 1911-1912), but could show his innocence. Afterwards, he left political life.
Tumanian was founding editor (1910-1911) of the daily Horizon and president of the Caucasian Society of Armenian Writers (1912–1921). In October 1914 he joined the “Committee for Support of War Victims,” which later helped Armenian Genocide refugees settled in Etchmiadzin. The title ofPoet of All Armenians,” commonly attached to Tumanian’s name, comes from this period. It was related to an incident where the poet confronted Catholicos of All Armenians Gevorg V. The head of the Armenian Church had ordered that the refugees could not settle in certain areas of the monastery of Holy Etchmiadzin. Tumanian decried that decision and claimed that the refugees could seek shelter in the areas under the authority of the Catholicos of All Armenians by the order of “The Poet of All Armenians.”
Tumanian remained in Tiflis during the first independence. He traveled to Yerevan in March 1921 to intercede and put an end to the civil war that had started after the uprising of February against the Soviet government. He later founded the House of Armenian Art in Tiflis, and became the president of the Committee of Assistance for Armenia (1921-1922).
In the fall of 1921, Tumanian went to Constantinople to gather support for Armenian refugees. After months spent there, he returned ill. He underwent surgery in 1922 and his health improved. However, his disease started to progress again in September. He was transferred to a hospital in Moscow, where he passed away on March 23, 1923, at the age of 54.
Tumanian’s works inspired two celebrated operas, “Anush” (1912) by Armen Tigranian and “Almast” (1930) by Alexander Spendiarian, as well as no less than fifteen animated films and cartoons.
After his death, many places took his name. His native village, Dsegh, was renamed Tumanian from 1938-1969, and another village in Lori, Dzagidzor, took the name Tumanian in 1951. The Armenian State Puppet Theater in Yerevan and the Pedagogical University of Vanadzor have been named after him, as well as a street in central Yerevan and a park in the Yerevan district of Ajapniak. There also are squares and streets bearing his name in Moscow, Kiev, and other cities in Russia and Ukraine. Two museums are dedicated to the writer in Dsegh and Yerevan.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Birth of Catholicos Nerses V (February 13, 1770)

Catholicos Nerses V Ashtaraketsi was one of the most relevant names of the Armenian Church in the nineteenth century. The future Catholicos was born Toros Shahazizian on February 13, 1770. He graduated from the Seminary of Echmiadzin and was consecrated celibate priest. He soon reached an influential position among the clergy.
At the beginning of the nineteenth century, the Southern Caucasus was under the domination of Persia. Russia was pressing towards the south with the aim of occupying the region. Bishop Nerses had an active participation in the Russo-Persian war of 1804-1813 and the Russo-Turkish war of 1806-1812. This contributed to the strengthening of the political relations of the Holy See and the Russian government.
In 1814, Nerses, elevated to the rank of archbishop, was designated primate of the diocese of Georgia and moved to Tiflis, which was already under Russian rule. He took measures towards the renewal of the diocese and the conversion of Tiflis into an Armenian intellectual center. In 1824 he opened the first Armenian lyceum of the Southern Caucasus, which was called Nersisian after him and became an education center for the next hundred years. He also founded a print shop in the school and set the grounds for editorial work.
Archbishop Nerses Ashtaraketsi established close relations in Tiflis, the capital of the viceroyalty of the Caucasus, with Russian authorities and leaders. In 1816 he was decorated with the order of St. Anna in first grade. The Armenian community of Georgia, thanks to his tireless efforts, became an influential driving force in Armenian political and cultural life.
The prelate organized groups of Armenian volunteers that participated in the Russo-Persian war of 1826-1828 along the Russian army. He personally participated in the liberation of Yerevan, Etchmiadzin, and Sardarabad. After the occupation of Yerevan in 1827, he was designated member of the provisional administration of the region. He also had an important role in the organization of Armenian immigration from Persia into Eastern Armenia. In January 1828 Nerses Ashtaraketsi was decorated again, this time with the order of Alexander Nevski.
Statue of Nerses V in Ashtarak
His push for Armenian autonomy under Russian protection, however, was not well received by the imperial government. General Ivan Paskevich, commander of the Russian army in the Caucasus, persecuted autonomist leaders. The prelate was charged with a series of fake accusations, such as persecuting the Muslim population, enriching Holy Etchmiadzin on account of the royal treasury, and organizing an Armenian army. He was dismissed from his position in the administration and sent away from the Southern Caucasus in May 1828 with a designation as primate of the diocese of Nor Nakhichevan and Besarabia. Nerses Ashtaraketsi’s exile of sorts ended in 1843, when he succeeded Hovhannes VIII as Nerses V, Catholicos of All Armenians. He returned to Etchmiadzin and, despite his advanced age, he managed to be an active player in the public field, as well as in education and economy of the Holy See. The illusions of Armenian autonomy had left place to his support for a conservative current that fought to maintain the national spirit and traditional order of the Armenian Church. He pursued a prudent policy in his relations with the Russian state, but also with the Ottoman Empire and Persia. His encyclicals and writings continuously exhorted the Armenians to avoid steps that could displease the authorities. His efforts contributed to normalize the relations with the Armenian Patriarchate of Constantinople.
Nevertheless, he fought to restore the rights of the Catholicos that had been diminished by the Polozhenye, the statute of the Armenian Church issued by the Russian government in 1836. Catholicos Nerses often took a defiant attitude and left aside the statute. He did not fill the vacant positions of the Synod created by the Polozhenye, limited the attributions of the primates, and zealously controlled the incomes belonging to the Holy See. He also prepared a new statute of the Church, which centralized the administration in the hands of the Catholicos.
Nerses V passed away in Tiflis at the age of 87 in 1857 on the day of his birth, February 13. A school and a street in his birthplace, Ashtarak, have been named after him, and his statue was placed in the central square of the town in 2009.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Death of Hakob Manandian (February 4, 1952)

Historian and philologist Hakob Manandian was one of the most respected names in the field of Armenian Studies during the first half of the twentieth century.
He was born in Akhaltskha (Javakhk, nowadays Georgia) on November 22, 1873. He had his elementary education in the Karapetian School of his birthplace (1880-1883). In 1883, after the death of his father, he moved to Tiflis, where he continued his education in the first gymnasium of the city.
In 1893 twenty-years-old Manandian went to Germany to pursue higher education. He entered the School of Philosophy of the University of Jena, while following the courses of Oriental studies and linguistics at the universities of Leipzig and Strasbourg. He studied with the best scholars of the time, including well-known names in Armenian Studies like Heinrich Hübschmann and Heinrich Gelzer. In 1897 he defended his doctoral dissertation in philosophy  about the identity of the author of History of Aghvank, the earliest source on the history of the region between Artsakh and the right bank of the river Kura. This dissertation was published in Leipzig in the same year (Beiträge zur albanischen Geschichte, 1897).
Manandian moved to St. Petersburg in the fall of 1897 and finished his studies in one year at the School of Oriental Studies of the local university with a diploma of doctoral candidate in Armenian and Persian philology. After a year spent researching Armenian manuscripts in the libraries and museums of London, Paris, Vienna, and Venice, in 1899 he accepted an offer from the Gevorgian Seminary of Holy Etchmiadzin and started a thirty year career as an educator. He became a teacher of classical Greek and German, Greek literature, and history of philosophy until 1905. Meanwhile, he was one of the editors of the short-lived Armenological journal Zeitschrift für armenische Philologie (1901-1903).
In 1905 Manandian settled in Tiflis, where he taught German, Armenian, Armenian literature, English literature, and other subjects in the Russian gymnasia (1905-1907) and the Nersesian School (1906-1907). In 1909 he graduated from the Law School of the University of Dorpat (Tartu, nowadays Estonia). In the 1910s he moved to Baku and taught at the Popular University (1911-1913) and the Commerce School (1915-1919).
When Armenia declared its independence in 1918, Manandian was not only a seasoned teacher with two decades of experience, but also a well-reputed scholar. He was invited by the University of Yerevan in December 1919 (officially opened in Alexandropol) and became acting dean of the School of History, Linguistics, and Literature. After the establishment of the Soviet regime, he remained at the university. In the next ten years, he became rector (1921-1922), dean of the schools of Oriental Studies and History and Literature (1921-1924), head of the chair of Armenian history (1921-1925), and professor of the same chair (1925-1931). He left the university in 1931 to devote himself to scholarship.
Among his more than 150 works in Armenian, Russian, and German, Manandian produced a string of Armenian books in the last twenty-five years of his life, which cemented his lasting contribution to Armenian Studies. The first one was his monograph The Philhellenic School and Its Periods of Development (Armenian, 1928), followed by The Trade and Cities of Armenia in Relation to Ancient World Trade (Russian, 1930, translated by Nina Garsoian into English, 1965), Weights and Measures in the Oldest Armenian Sources (Armenian, 1930), Feudalism in Ancient Armenia (Armenian, 1934), The Main Roads of Ancient Armenia (Armenia, 1936), and others. However, his main works in this regard were the seminal monograph Tigranes II and Rome (Armenian, 1940, translated by George Bounoutian into English, 2007), and his masterwork, the three-volume Critical Survey of the History of the Armenian People (Armenian, 1945, 1952, 1957). The latter was meant to be a comprehensive history of Armenia from the sixth century B.C. to the sixteenth century A.D., which nevertheless remained unfinished.
Manandian’s scholarly and educational work was recognized in his lifetime. He became an emeritus scientific figure of Armenia in 1935, and received a second doctorate in history, without defense of a dissertation, in 1938. A year later, he was elected member of the Academy of Sciences of the Soviet Union and, in 1943, member of the newly founded Academy of Sciences of Armenia. His contribution was also recognized by the Soviet Armenian government with the order of the Red Banner of Labor. He passed away on February 4, 1952. A street in Yerevan was named after him in the 1990s.