Saturday, March 25, 2017

Birth of Catholicos Sahag II Khabayan (March 25, 1849)

During his more than three decades of tenure, Catholicos Sahag II endured and witnessed the Armenian Genocide and the final catastrophe that deprived the Catholicosate of the Great House of Cilicia of its seat of Sis.
He was born Kapriel Khabayan in the village of Yeghek, in the plain of Kharpert, on March 25, 1849. In 1867, at the age of eighteen, he entered the seminary of the Armenian monastery of St. James and was ordained deacon in 1869. He was sent to Constantinople to further his studies, and returned in 1871, becoming a teacher at the seminary. Patriarch Yesayi ordained him celibate priest on July 3, 1877 with the name Sahag. He later became editor in chief of Sion, the monthly publication of the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem, and head of the printing house. For a time, he was a member of the Board of Directors and chairman of the General Assembly of the congregation.
Very Rev. Sahag Khabayan was sent as legate to the Caucasus in 1881. He worked there as a preacher and collected money. On January 10, 1885, he was elected sacristan of Holy Etchmiadzin and on November 24, Makar I, Catholicos of All Armenians, consecrated him bishop.
The See of Cilicia remained vacant after the death of Catholicos Mgrdich I Kefsezian (1871-1894) in November 1894. The interregnum lasted eight years. Catholicos of All Armenians Mgrdich I (1892-1907), best known as Khrimian Hayrig, favored the candidacy of Bishop Sahag Khabayan. On October 12, 1902, 62 delegates from the fifteen dioceses under the jurisdiction of the Catholicosate elected Catholicos Sahag II by unanimity. The ceremony of consecration was held on April 23, 1903, in the monastery of Sis. He would be the last Catholicos consecrated in Cilician lands.
The relations between Etchmiadzin and Sis grew closer during Sahag II’s years, who established the preferential mention of the name of the Catholicos of All Armenians in the Holy Mass with an encyclical. He worked actively to renovate and improve the monastery, which had fallen into disrepair and inactivity. He reopened the seminary of Sis in 1906.
Years of turmoil and destruction loomed ahead. He first witnessed the massacre of Adana in 1909, and, in the first months of the Armenian Genocide, he was exiled to Aleppo, where he witnessed and reported extensively on the misery of the deportees, and then to Jerusalem. Another exile followed in 1917, this time to Damascus. After the end of World War I, he returned to Cilicia, now put under French mandate, with the survivors in 1919.
A second set of catastrophes unleashed in 1920 with the attacks of the Kemalist forces and the passive stance of the French. After the massacre of Marash in February, Sis was evacuated in June, and Hadjin fell to another massacre after an eight-month heroic resistance in October. Catholicos Sahag went to Paris to defend the cause of Cilicia, but in vain. In 1921 the last Armenian remnants left Cilicia and the Catholicos was the leader of his flock. For the next eight years, the historical See of Cilicia would have a wandering life, from Aleppo to Damascus to Beirut to Cyprus. The pastoral letter written by Sahag II in Damascus on February 28, 1922, was highly eloquent in its opening statement: “Greetings to the Armenians of Cilicia, now emigrated and spread throughout the world, greetings to the suffering from the suffering Shepherd, from Catholicos Sahag II of the once Great and now Ruined House of Cilicia.” The document emphasized:
“Make your voice heard, dear children, where are you? I want to follow the trail of your crucifixion, if not to materially and morally help you, at least to share your grief and lighten your yoke and burden. I wish the yoke and burden belonged to Christ. The yoke put by the world and implacable men is asphyxiating, and their burden is heaviest and bitterest.
“(. . .) This lionhearted people, although famished, naked, and homeless in foreign lands, do not beg. They wait for any moral or material help from their families, who remained free of any calamity, terror, and suffering in free countries, although they cried over the unknown tombs of their dearest ones. You cried and gave abundantly to relieve, make live, and defend the overlooked rights of those left alive.”
In 1929 Sahag II appealed for help to the Near East Relief that managed an orphanage in Antelias, then a suburban area of Beirut. The charitable organization leased the property to the Catholicosate for the symbolic price of a dollar per year. Cilicia was reborn in Antelias. In 1930, due to the advanced age of the Catholicos, Archbishop Papken Guleserian, aged 62, was designated Coadjutor Catholicos as Papken I. He was supposed to succeed Sahag II, then aged 81, but this did not happen. Both Church leaders worked together to strengthen the Catholicosate until the premature death of Coadjutor Catholicos Papken I in 1936.
The Armenian community of Lebanon celebrated the thirtieth anniversary of the enthronement of Sahag II on June 18, 1933. President Charles Debbas decorated the Catholicos with the order of the Republic of Lebanon in the first degree.
Sahag II closed a life of continuous service to the Church and his people on October 8, 1939, in Antelias, at the age of 90.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Birth of Aram Haigaz (March 22, 1900)

Aram Haigaz was a familiar name in the Armenian literary scene of New York and a popular writer in the Diaspora for more than six decades. 
Born Aram Chekenian in Shabin Karahisar on March 22, 1900, he studied at the elementary school of his hometown. He would eventually become a survivor of the Armenian Genocide. In the summer of 1915, the Armenian population of Shabin Karahisar, some 5,000 people, rejected the order of deportation, set fire to their homes and fields, and climbed up the mountain that shadowed the town, where the remains of an old Roman fort served as their protection. They had taken food and animals with them. However, after a desperate resistance of almost a month, they were forced to surrender by famine. Only a handful survived, including Aram Haigaz, whose brothers, father and other relatives perished. He survived by converting to Islam and living as a Muslim, as many other young boys in those days, until he escaped to freedom. His memoir Four Years in the Mountains of Kurdistan (1972; translated into English by his daughter Iris Chekenian in 2015) described his life and servant, and how he grew from boyhood to youth among Kurdish tribesmen and chieftains.
After the end of World War I, the young survivor escaped to Constantinople in 1919. He was reunited with an aunt and spent some time in an orphanage run by American missionaries. He later attended the Getronagan High School for a year and a half. His literary essays attracted the attention of his teacher, the famed writer and critic Hagop Oshagan. He sailed for the United States in 1921 and settled in New York. He worked as an apprentice photo-engraver at The Daily Mirror newspaper and studied English at night, voraciously reading world literature. He started contributing to Armenian publications in 1922 and took the pen name Aram Haigaz, after the name of one of his elder brothers who had died in 1915. He married and had two children.
He would publish ten books in his lifetime, as well as scores of essays and reviews for Armenian newspapers and magazines throughout the Diaspora. His first book, however, would be H. Baghdoyan’s English translation of his memoir on the resistance of Shabin Karahisar, The Fall of the Aerie (1935, reprinted in 2010). He would continue working on the history of the self-defense and collecting testimonies, which he condensed in a book, Shabin Karahisar and Its Heroic Struggle (1957).
Other than stories from the old country and his years of tribulations, from the very beginning he started writing humorous short stories and vignettes of contemporary life during his time in Constantinople and then in the United States. His natural, conversational style made him a sought-after author. He collected his stories in several volumes: The Call of the Race (vol. I, 1949; vol. II, 1954), Four Worlds (1962), Hotel (1967), Yearning (1971), Live, Children! (1973), and Happiness (1978).
Aram Haigaz received various literary awards, and his literary jubilee was marked in 1972 in the United States, Canada, and Lebanon. He lived in Rego Park (New York), and passed away in Manhattan on March 10, 1986, a few days before his eighty-sixth birthday, from complications of pneumonia. The Soviet regime did not allow the publication of his work in Armenia during his lifetime for political reasons. In the past decade, several books of stories and articles scattered in the press have been posthumously published in Yerevan, as well as an anthology of his short stories and a collection of letters.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Beginning of the first printing of the Armenian Bible (March 11, 1666)

After the pioneering publications by Hakob Meghapart in Venice (1512-1513), Armenian printing started a more consistent pace in the second half of the sixteenth century. A few decades of slow development would suffice to bring to the forefront a main concern and goal: the printing of the Bible in Armenian.

The task would ultimately be undertaken by Archbishop Oskan Yerevantsi (1614-1674), a native of Nor Jugha, the Armenian center founded in Iran after the forced emigration carried out by Shah Abbas III in 1604. Invited to Holy Etchmiadzin in 1634, Oskan met there a Dominican monk, Paolo Piromalli, who had come to Armenia with instructions to adapt the Armenian text of the Bible to the Vulgate, its Latin translation used by the Catholic Church. Piromalli, who taught Latin and other subjects to Oskan, returned to Rome four years later, but Vatican censorship did not allow him to publish his intended translation of the Bible into Armenian. Coming back to Etchmiadzin in 1642, Piromalli collaborated with Oskan to publish the Armenian Bible, but always trying to reconcile the Armenian text to the Latin. This did not come to fruition.

Twenty years later, Oskan Yerevantsi left for Europe with a letter of recommendation by Catholicos Hakob IV Jughayetsi with the goal of printing the Bible in Europe. There was no printing house in Eastern Armenia, under Persian domination, or in Western Armenia, under Ottoman domination. The ecclesiastic first went to Livorno and then to Rome, where he unsuccessfully tried to obtain license from the Vatican to publish the Bible anywhere in Italy. Afterwards, he left for Amsterdam; the Netherlands was a Protestant country and there was complete printing freedom. There, he took over the direction of the printing house named after Holy Etchmiadzin and St. Sarkis (founded by Mateos Tzaretsi in 1660) in the fall of 1664. While publishing other books, he started preliminary work for the printing of the Bible. He ordered new typefaces and ornamented letterheads, while preparing the text for publication.

Oskan worked on the printing with the help of his disciples Garabed Andrianatsi and Ohan Yerevantsi. The 1,462-paged, two column book was printed with a run of 5,000 copies. It was finished in two years and seven months (March 11, 1666 – October 13, 1668). Four lithographs were used in the title pages, with human figures representing Faith and Hope in the ornamental pictures left and right. The word Աստուածաշունչ (Asdvadzashoonch, “Bible”) is printed in bird-like script, and the book cover is red leather-covered, thick wood. The book used seven different typefaces and 159 pictures, mostly by Dutch engraver Christoffel van Sichem the Younger (1581-1658). 
The first edition was partly marred by the text, which constituted a distortion of the fifth century translation. It was probably based on the manuscript commanded by King Hethum II of Cilicia (1294-1301) in 1295. However, it was edited—whether by Piromalli or by Oskan himself—with an eye on the Vulgate, and Oskan translated and added several books of the Old Testament, which were missing from the Armenian Bible and its canon. Its middle position between the classical text and the Vulgate was aimed at making it palatable to Armenians of all denominations, as well as the Catholic Church hierarchy. The next two editions of the Bible (Constantinople, 1705, and Venice, 1733, the latter by Mekhitar of Sebastia, the founder of the Mekhitarist Congregation) were based on the 1666 edition. In 1805 a Mekhitarist monk, Hovhannes Zohrabian, published the fourth edition of the Bible, where he restored the original translation of the Golden Age.

Oskan’s edition was criticized, but it had a great impact on Armenians everywhere. A specially ordered copy from the famous Dutch artist/bookbinder Albert Magnus, with deluxe binding, was presented to the French king Louis XIV. That exemplar is now kept at the National Library of France.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Birth of Alexander Mantashian (March 3, 1842)

Alexander Mantashian was a prominent oil magnate at the turn of the twentieth century, when Armenians were one of the main driving forces behind oil extraction and trade in Baku. He was also a very important philanthropist.
Born in Tiflis (Tbilisi) on March 3, 1842, Mantashian spent most of his childhood in Tabriz (Northern Iran), where his father was involved in the cotton and textile trade. As his only son, he was involved in his father’s business affairs from early on. In 1869 he moved to Manchester, a major European center of cotton and textile processing industries, to help ship goods to his father in Tabriz. He honed his skills in the secrets and crafts of the textile industry, and also delved into the intricacies of European business and English culture, learning English, French, and German in the meantime. He returned to Tiflis in 1872 with his father, and became fully engaged in the wholesale textile trade. After his father's death in 1887, Mantashian purchased most of the shares of the Tiflis Central Commercial Bank, becoming its principal shareholder and then chairman of the board. The bank was the only financial institution in the Caucasus whose shares traded on the St. Petersburg Stock Exchange.
Well-established in commerce and in public life, Mantashian became interested in a new business venture. The oil boom had started in Baku (currently Azerbaijan) in the 1870s. The promise of colossal profits lured adventurous investors. The businessman’s entrepreneurial savvy recognized human vulnerability: he was known to sign off on his business documents «Աստծով» (Asttsov “with God”) in Armenian. His childhood friend Mikael Aramiants had moved from Tiflis to Baku in 1884 and established the oil company A. Tsaturov and Co. with three compatriots from Gharabagh. One of them, A. Tsaturian, borrowed 50,000 rubles from the Tiflis Central Bank. In return, Mantashian was allowed to purchase shares at a bargain, and eventually he took over the company.
Mantashian’s penchant for high risk investments led him to buy marginally successful oil wells in Baku, and the gamble paid back. He built a refinery in Baku, as well as a lubricant plant and a marine refinery for pumping oil and fuel to vessels. His company also produced storage canisters in Batumi, a mechanical workshop in Zabrat, and a pumping station in Odessa. He was a major player in the construction of an east-west pipeline extending 500 miles from the coast of the Caspian Sea (Baku) to the Black Sea port of Batumi, which was the world’s longest pipeline after its opening in 1907. The pipeline ultimately made a positive impact on the oil business in Europe. For transportation, he acquired 100 freight cars that ran on the railways of southwestern Russia. His tankers supplied oil to India, China, Japan and the Mediterranean countries. He was well known to hire fellow Armenians to manage his plants and to give business loans to his countrymen.
In 1899 Mantashian created the trading house A.I. Mantashev and Co. with Aramiants, opening representative offices and warehouses in the major cities of Europe and Asia: Smyrna, Salonica, Constantinople, Alexandria, Cairo, Port Said, Damascus, Paris, London, Bombay, and Shanghai. Mantashev became a shareholder in a number of oil companies, among them Branobel (belonging to Ludwig and Robert Nobel). The firm managed 51.3% of the total stock of oil and 66.8% of the oil content in the Caspian Sea. In 1904, it was the third largest oil company in Baku, next to the Nobel brothers and the Caspian Sea Society of the Rothschild brothers.
Mantashian’s oil company was the largest in Russian industry by its capital from 1899-1909. By 1909 its fixed assets amounted to 22 million rubles (over 35 million dollars of today).
Despite his enormous wealth, Mantashian led a modest lifestyle. He did not like gold and never wore jewelry. He usually traveled by public transportation in Tiflis, carrying a very small amount of money. A patron of arts and culture, he loved theater and, besides frequent donations to the Armenian Dramatic Society, he built the Pitoewski Theatre in the Georgian capital (now the National Rustaveli Theatre). He had a personal lounge in the Academie National de Musique of Paris. Besides helping actors, his sponsorship was fundamental to have talented young Armenian students pursue their careers at the best universities, including such luminaries of Armenian culture and studies like Gomidas Vartabed, Hrachia Adjarian, Nicolas Adontz, and Hakob Manandian, among many others.
In his time, Mantashian’s largesse had an impact on Armenian life comparable to Alex Manoogian, Kirk Kirkorian, and the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation (incidentally, he met and helped young Calouste Gulbenkian in 1896). His earliest charitable gesture was his contribution to the construction of the Holy Trinity Armenian Church of Manchester in 1870. He was one of the twelve founders of the Armenian Benevolent Society of the Caucasus (1881), which developed a very important activity over the next three decades. He made important donations for the construction of the new building of the Nersesian Lyceum in Tiflis and the residence of the Catholicos of All Armenians in Holy Etchmadzin. His most famous and lasting donation remains the St. John the Baptist Armenian Church in Paris (1904), near Champs Elysees. His tongue-in-cheek explanation for the choice of Paris was that the City of Lights had been the place where he had sinned most. Émile Loubet, President of France, conferred Mantashian the order of the Legion of Honor for his donation.
The Armenian benefactor passed away in Saint Petersburg, where he had gone to follow medical treatment for kidney disease, on April 19, 1911. His body was moved to Tiflis and buried next to his wife at the cemetery of Khojivank, which was being restored at the time with his donations. His company was confiscated after the October Revolution of 1917 and, in 1933, the Khojivank cemetery, including Mantashian’s tomb, was mostly destroyed by order of Lavrenti Beria, the main Stalin henchman in the Caucasus. Today, most of his buildings are still standing in Tbilisi, and a downtown street and a statue remember him in Yerevan.