Monday, June 26, 2017

Birth of Krikor Zohrab (June 26, 1861)

Known as the “prince of the Armenian short novel,” he was also a skillful and highly regarded lawyer, as well as an experienced member of the Ottoman Parliament. His parliamentarian immunity, however, was violated to turn him into one of the victims of the first wave of arrests and killings of intellectuals that began on April 24, 1915.

Krikor Zohrab was born into a wealthy family in the district of Beshiktash (Constantinople) on June 26, 1861. He started his elementary studies at the local Makruhian School. In 1870 his father passed away and his mother remarried, this time to a noted lawyer. Zohrab’s family moved to Ortakeuy, where he and his brother Mihran continued their education at the local Tarkmanchats School. In 1876 he entered the Galatasaray Institute, sponsored by the French government, which was the only institution of higher education in the Ottoman Empire at the time. He graduated in 1880 with a degree in civil engineering, but rather than working in that field, he went to work in his stepfather’s law office, and entered the law section of the Galatasaray Institute, which was soon closed due to lack of Muslim students (it had 45 Armenian, 2 Muslim, 2 Jewish, and 3 Greek students). In 1882 he enrolled in a newly opened law school, the Imperial University of Jurisprudence, but left two years later without graduating. In 1884 he passed an exam in the city of Edirne and obtained the title of lawyer.

Zohrab had already entered the literary field in 1878, becoming a contributor to the daily Lrakir at the age of 17. In the 1880s he would become one of the prolific names in the literary movement of the time. In 1885 he was the publisher of the journal Yergrakount of the Asiatic Society, edited by the famous satirical writer Hagop Baronian. He published there his first novel, A Disappeared Generation, which he released in book format in 1887. He edited the literary journal Masis in 1892-1893, to which he also frequently contributed with novellas. He also wrote for the dailies Arevelk and Hairenik. He joined the trend of realism, propelled by French writers such as Guy de Maupassant and Émile Zola, and became the master of this current genre, which became the only one to be called “school” in Armenian literature. 

Zohrab married Clara Yazejian in 1888. They had four children: Levon, Dolores, Aram, and Hermine. Dolores Zohrab-Liebmann would later become a philanthropist in New York City. In 1891 he was elected delegate to the National Assembly, but his election was annulled in a session of the Assembly because he was not yet thirty years old.

He took a long break from literature in 1893-1898, which included the impact of the Hamidian massacres of 1894-1896, devoting himself to his profession. He was well known to foreign citizens living in Constantinople, because he often represented them in the first commercial court, due to his knowledge of French. He was also a translator and legal advisor to the Russian embassy in Constantinople, and managed cases for Russian citizens. He also had the right to freely travel in Europe.

Masis, now a daily, made a comeback in 1898, again edited by Zohrab, who returned to his literary endeavors, coupling them with his professional activities, where he had already acquired a prestigious name. However, in 1906, after he defended a Bulgarian revolutionary in a criminal case, accusing a Turkish official of torture, he was disbarred. He went to Paris, where he published a law monograph in French. He was planning to settle in Egypt with his family when the Young Turk coup d’état of 1908 and the restoration of the Ottoman Constitution changed his plans. He returned to Constantinople, where he was elected member of the Ottoman Parliament. He was known for his eloquent speeches.  He vehemently defended Armenian interests and rights. After the double Adana massacre of April 1909, he strongly criticized the Turkish authorities for their actions and demanded that those responsible be brought to justice.

To serve the Armenian cause, he wrote an influential paper in French called “La question arménienne à la lumière des documents” (The Armenian Question under the Light of Documents), published in 1913 under the pseudonym Marcel Leart in Paris. It dealt with many aspects of the hardships endured by the Armenian population and denounced the government’s inaction.

Also in 1909-1911 he gathered his novellas and short stories in three volumes, Life as It Is, Silent Pains, and Voices of Conscience. He also published Known Figures, portraits of contemporaries, and From the Traveler’s Journal, a series of travelogues.

Simultaneously with the Ottoman Parliament, Zohrab also became a member of the Armenian National Assembly. He raised the issue of reforms for the Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, which led to the signature of the Russo-Turkish agreement in January 1914, thwarted after the beginning of World War I. 

After the wave of arrests of intellectuals on April 24 and the following days, Zohrab pleaded for the liberation of his compatriots and the cessation of the ongoing atrocities. He was personally acquainted and friends with many officials, including Ministry of Interior Talaat Pasha. However, his efforts were useless. Despite their parliamentary immunity, Zohrab and his colleague Vartkes Serengulian were both arrested on May 21, 1915, and dispatched to Diyarbakır for a purported trial by court martial. They were sent to Aleppo, where they remained for a few weeks, waiting for the result of attempts to have them sent back to Constantinople, to no avail. They were dispatched to Urfa, and killed in the outskirts of the town between July 15 and 20, 1915.

Krikor Zohrab’s memory as an outstanding writer and lawyer has remained alive for a century. His books have been widely published in popular and critical editions and his short stories have been included in many school textbooks. Most recently, on May 3, 2017, a plaque honoring him, in memory of the Armenian Genocide, was inaugurated at the School of Lawyers of the Appellate Court of Paris.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Birth of Kristapor Araratian (June 18, 1876)

A generation of Armenian professional soldiers who had distinguished themselves in the Russian army led the military of the first Republic of Armenia. General Kristapor Araratian was one of them.

Araratian was born on June 18, 1876, in the city of Mitzkhetha (province of Tiflis). His father Gerasim (Karapet) Araratov was a lieutenant general in the Russian army. He entered the military school of Tiflis (1886-1893) and graduated as a sub-officer. Afterwards, he entered the artillery school of St. Petersburg, which he finished in 1896 among the top three of his class. He was permitted to serve at the place of his choice, and thus Araratian chose the Caucasian brigade of grenade artillery, seated near Tiflis. He was transferred to Siberia in 1904, and later, on his request, to the battlefront in the Russian-Japanese war of 1904-1905. In 1906 he went to serve in European Russia, where he continued rising through the army ranks, and he received several medals for his services. He was married to Nina Eyubova, and they had two children, Konstantin and Elena.

He participated in World War I, first in the Russian front (1914-1915), and then in the Romanian front (1916-1917). After the October Revolution and the retreat of the Russian troops from the Caucasus, Colonel Araratian was aware that the Ottoman army would take advantage of the situation and attack Armenia. He moved to the Caucasus and entered the newly formed Armenian army. Its commander, General Tovmas Nazarbekian, designated Araratian commander of the second division of the artillery brigade in January 1918. The brigade was included in the army corps of Yerevan, commanded by Movses Silikian, and Araratian became commander of artillery. In this post, he participated in the battle of Sardarabad, and his division took prisoner a whole battalion of enemy troops, composed of Turkish and German soldiers.

After the proclamation of the republic, Araratian became commander of the Armenian artillery brigade. He participated in the short-lived Armenian-Georgian war in December 1918. In March 1919, after Prime Minister Hovhannes Kajaznuni resigned from his post, Alexander Khatisian replaced him. War Minister Hovhannes Hakhverdian had also resigned, and on March 27, 1919, Kristapor Araratian, ascended to the rank of major general, was named War Minister. He asked Hakhverdian to become an advisor, and designated Lieutenant General Silikian as his assistant. Araratian remained in his post until April 3, 1920, when he resigned and became director of the rifle company of the ministry.

He later became artillery commander until he was sent to Kars as military commander. Kars, the most important fortress of the region, fell to the enemy in the Armenian-Turkish war (October 30, 1920). Araratian fell prisoner, together with many Armenian soldiers. He would only return to Armenia at the end of 1921, and held the post of artillery commander until 1925. In 1925-1926 he went to Moscow, where he studied at the Frunze Military Academy for high-ranking officers. After his return, he was offered the direction of the military chairs at Yerevan State University and the Armenian Agricultural Institute.

Like many officers who had served the first Republic, Araratian was also a victim of the Stalinist purges. He was arrested on September 2, 1937. After three months in prison, the death sentence of November 16 was executed on December 10. Kristapor Araratian, along with Generals Movses Silikian and Dmitri Mirimanov, and four colonels, was transported to the gorge of Nork, outside Yerevan (currently the zoo of Yerevan), and shot by the secret police.

His wife took packages for years to the KGB to be delivered to her husband, without knowing that he was dead. A death certificate was given to his family in 1955, which stated that he had reportedly died on February 16, 1943, from a heart attack. However, on July 18, 1956, the Supreme Court of the Armenian Soviet Republic declared null and void the sentence of November 1937 against Araratian, which allowed learning the actual date of his death.

His daughter Elena Araratova was a talented ballet dancer, whose career was greatly affected by the fact that her father had been executed as an enemy of the people. She would never receive the coveted title of People’s Artist.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Death of Karen Asrian (June 9, 2008)

Chess has remained a beloved activity in Armenia since Soviet times, and especially after Tigran Petrosian became world champion from 1963-1969. Karen Asrian was among those chess players who followed that tradition to become one of the most promising and short-lived names in independent Armenia.
He was born in Yerevan on the day of the sixty-fifth anniversary of the Armenian Genocide: April 24, 1980. He started playing chess at the age of five and in 1990 he participated in the Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) classification tournament for the Youth World Chess Championship, where he completed his norm to be awarded the title of International Master at the age of nine. Interestingly, then champion Garry Kasparov (1985-1993) had completed the same norm at the age of thirteen and his predecessor Anatoli Karpov (1975-1985) was eleven when he did it. Asrian’s ELO rating (the measure to rank chess players) was 2310 in September 1996 and became 2600 at the end of 1998, when he became International Grandmaster.
Between 1996 and 2008 he completed an impressive number of feats. In 1996 and 1997 he won the Tigran Petrosian Memorial international tournament (he would win it again in 2004) in Yerevan. Two years later, he won the Armenian Chess Championship and was champion of Europe with the Armenian team. Competing on the third board of the Armenian team, he won the bronze medal in the World Tournaments of 2001 and 2005, and the Chess Olympics of 2002 and 2004. He was also on the third board of the Armenian team that won the gold medal at the 37th Chess Olympiad in Turin (Italy) in 2006. During the same year, he had reached his highest ELO rating (2646), with put him on the 62nd position among chess players in the world.
Meanwhile, Asrian had graduated from the Armenian State Institute of Physical Culture in 2001, when he also won the Sheikh Cup in Dubai.
He won the Armenian Chess Championship again in 2007 and 2008, when he became the coach of the Iranian national chess team. His final rating, in April 2008, was 2630 (92nd in the world).
In the early morning of June 9, 2008, Asrian felt ill while driving and pulled his car into a courtyard of Yerevan before losing consciousness. An ambulance crew pronounced him dead at the scene, and the Armenian Chess Federation reported that the player had died of a heart attack while driving. The Chess Giants Yerevan tournament, which was going to start that same day, was interrupted for a few days and then renamed Karen Asrian Memorial. The unfortunate player had an open casket funeral at the Yerevan Chess House on June 11, with the participation of the President of Armenia (and President of the Armenian Chess Federation) Serzh Sargsyan and top government and legislative officials.
The Chess Giants Yerevan tournament was scheduled to start on June 9, with Asrian’s participation. It was postponed for a few days by decision of the Armenian Chess Federation and renamed the Karen Asrian Memorial. The tournament was held from June 12-15 and won by Levon Aronian, who had been on the first board of the gold medalist Armenian chess team in 2006.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Treaty of Batum (June 4, 1918)

In the early months of 1918, two parallel processes developed in the Southern Caucasus: on the one hand, Ottoman military actions, and on the other, diplomatic efforts. The signature of the Treaty of Batum marked a temporary end to both processes. 
After the second Russian Revolution (November 7, 1917, according to the Gregorian calendar) and the seizure of power by the Bolsheviks headed by Lenin, Soviet Russia took measures to sign a separate peace with the Central Powers. Russians and Ottomans signed the armistice of Erzinga on December 5, 1917, ending the armed conflicts between both sides. The armistice was followed by the Treaty of Brest Litovsk (March 3, 1918), which marked Russia’s departure from World War I. The Ottoman Empire and the delegation of the Seim (Parliament) of Transcaucasia, formed by Georgians, Armenians, and Tatars (not yet named Azerbaijanis), held the peace conference of Trebizonda between March 14 and April 5. The Ottomans offered to surrender any ambition in the Caucasus in return for the recognition of the conditions of the Treaty of Brest Litovsk, which delivered Western Armenia, Kars, and Ardahan to the Ottoman Empire. Akaki Chkhenkeli, head of the Transcaucasian delegation, accepted the treaty as a basis for further negotiation. However, Armenians refused to accept the situation and hostilities resumed. The Ottoman army advanced further to the east, despite Armenian resistance. 
A new peace conference between the Ottoman Empire and the newly-independent Republic of Trancaucasia (proclaimed on April 22) opened at Batum on May 11. The Ottomans left aside the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk and increased their demands to include Alexandropol (nowadays Gumri), Surmalu (including Mount Ararat), Akhalkalak, and Akhaltskha. They also requested the construction of a railroad that connected Kars and Julfa (in Nakhichevan) with Baku. The transport corridor would run through Armenia, which was to give free right of passage. The Armenian and Georgian members of the Republic’s delegation began to stall the negotiations. The Ottoman army moved ahead and occupied Alexandropol on May 14. Between May 21 and 28, the fate of Armenia and Armenians was decided in the historic battles of Sardarabad, Gharakilise, and Bash Abaran. After the dissolution of the Republic of Transcaucasia on May 26-27 with the declaration of independence of Georgia and Azerbaijan, on May 30 the Armenian National Council of Tiflis (nowadays Tbilisi) assumed the authority of the Armenian provinces, retroactive to May 28. 
Despite its defeat at the three battles, the Third Ottoman Army held positions 4 miles from Yerevan and 6 miles from Etchmiadzin. Armenians had exhausted their possibilities of resistance and had no choice but to make peace with Turkey and sign a treaty that, despite its humiliating conditions, would give them a minimum respite, hoping that the world war would end soon and the Allied victory would bring justice to their cause. 

The territory of the Republic of Armenia after the signature of the Treaty of Batum
Three separate treaties were signed in Batum between the Ottoman Empire and the three Transcaucasian republics on June 4-5. The treaty of “peace and friendship” signed with the Republic of Armenia, represented by Alexander Khatisian, Hovhannes Kajaznuni, and Mikayel Babajanian, tacitly recognized its independence, ironically, three years after the genocide had started. The treaty left to Armenia Yerevan, Etchmiadzin, and the district of Nor Bayazid (now Gavar), around Lake Sevan. Parts of the districts of Sharur, Yerevan, Etchmiadzin, and Alexandropol were seized by the Ottoman Empire, as well as Akhalkalak and Akhaltskha, with a total of almost 18,000 square miles and a population of around 1,25 million people. Armenia was left with a landlocked territory of around 4,250 square miles (half of the extension of New Jersey), fifty kilometers of railway in the north and six kilometers extending west from Yerevan. 
As historian Richard Hovannisian wrote in 1967: “Thus, the Republic was created under conditions so tragic as to defy adequate description. Yet, there was an Armenia. In mid-1918, even that was a remarkable accomplishment.” The situation would change by the end of 1918.