Thursday, May 31, 2018

Birth of Vartan Makhokhian (May 31, 1869)

Ivan (Hovhannes) Aivazovsky is the premier seascape painter in Armenian art, but his younger contemporary, Vartan Makhokhian (also spelled Mahokian), comes to a close second.

Makhokhian was born on May 31, 1869, in Trebizond (Trabzon). His father was a merchant who made sure that his six children had a good education. Makhokhian took an interest in drawing at the local Armenian school, and learned to paint when he continued his studies at the Sanasarian College in Erzerum (1882-1887), before returning to his hometown after five years of study. His artistic interests were not limited to painting, since he also learned to play violin and studied music theory.

His uncle persuaded Makhokhian to pursue an artistic career. At the age of twenty-two, he began studies at the Berlin Academy of Arts under the guidance of Eugen Bracht and Hans Gude. After graduating in 1894, he traveled to Crimea, where he met Aivazovsky and painted various sea scenes. He went back to Trebizond in 1895 and became a witness of the Hamidian massacres.

He fled to the port of Batum, in Georgia, and then to Europe. He held one of his first exhibitions in 1900 in Berlin. For the next two decades, he would be the subject of many articles in the European press. In 1904 he was accepted into the Berlin Artists' Association. He traveled to Egypt, where he had exhibitions in Alexandria and Cairo, then to Denmark, and finally settled in the island of Capri, in Italy, a place chosen as residence by well-known artists and intellectuals. Makhokhian returned to Germany in 1907 and participated in various exhibitions in Berlin, Düsseldorf, and Munich.

"Seaside scene. Norway" (Vartan Makhokhian)
The painter returned once again to his hometown in 1908, after the Ottoman Constitution was restored. He continued working there for the next six years, and after the beginning of World War I, Makhokhian moved again to Europe and this time he settled in Nice, France, where he would remain until the end of his life. He composed the symphony “The Sobbing of Armenia” from 1915-1917, reacting to the loss of his family in Trebizonda during the genocide, which was first performed in Monte Carlo (1918). He participated in the Paris Salon in 1921, 1922, 1923, and 1927, and had solo exhibitions in Nice (1918, 1931, 1936), Marseilles (1923), Paris (1925), and Monte Carlo (1932). The painter was awarded the Legion of Honor in 1925 and became a French citizen two years later.

From 1927-1930 Makhokhian also participated in the collective exhibitions of the “Ani” Artistic Society in Paris, and thus became better known in Armenian circles.

After a long illness, the painter passed away in Nice on February 10, 1937, at the age of 67. His works are found in the National Gallery of Armenia, the Art Museum of Nice, the museum of the Mekhitarist Congregation in Venice, and other places, as well as in many private collections.

Monday, May 28, 2018

First Commemoration of Independence in Soviet Armenia (May 28, 1988)

During the Soviet regime, the history of the first independence of Armenia was thoroughly distorted and the commemoration of May 28 was logically forbidden. The explosion of the Karabagh Movement in 1988 would change the general outlook. The claims to reunite the autonomous region of Mountainous Gharabagh to Armenia were accompanied by claims to address social, economic, and cultural burning issues of the present and hidden or distorted issues of the past.

Movses Gorgisian, May 28, 1988
From February 1988, huge crowds gathered at Theater Square (now Freedom Square), in front of the Yerevan Opera, in peaceful rallies to claim for the return of Gharabagh to Armenia. One such rally was held in the afternoon of May 28, 1988, to commemorate the seventieth anniversary of the first independence. The well-attended gathering was organized by the Union for National Self-Determination, a political party founded by dissident Paruyr Hayrikian in 1987. Hairikian had been imprisoned in early 1988 for claiming that the Sumgait pogrom had been instigated by the Soviet leadership, and he would be stripped of Soviet citizenship and deported to Ethiopia. Other members of the party had taken charge, especially Movses Gorgisian (1961-1990), assisted by Mekhak Gabrielian. The “Mashtots” Union, an organization for the defense of Armenian language and culture, was also involved in the preparation.

After Gabrielian’s opening remarks, the first to take the stage was Movses Gorgisian, who started his message by saying: “People! I will show you something, don’t be afraid” He raised the tricolor flag of the first independence, until then a taboo subject, and he was echoed by several participants in the rally, who raised a total of seven flags in different places. “Do not be afraid of raising the tricolor flag of the republic,” added Gorgisian. He went on:

“The Armenian nation today celebrates the day of our statehood within the body of the Soviet Union, it is impossible to take that from us. We have prepared a message; we are addressing the government[s] of Armenia and the USSR to ask something: on this day, on May 28, in 1918 it became the day of the Armenian Republic, and the government has the obligation to approve it as the day of creation of our republic, in the same way that April was approved as mourning day.”

Banners placed on the stage read: “To proclaim May 28 day of united, all-national struggle for the just solution of the Armenian Cause” (Մայիս 28-ը հռչակել Հայ Դատի արդար լուծման համազգային պայքարի միասնութեան օր), “The only road to salvation of the Armenian people was found on May 28, 1918” (1918 թ. Մայիսի 28-ին գտնուեց հայ ժողովրդի փրկութեան միակ ուղին), “Today’s Armenia would not be a republic without May 28” (Առանց Մայիսի 28-ի այսօրուայ Հայաստանը հանրապետութիւն չէր լինի).

The main speakers were two noted linguists and intellectuals, Varag Arakelian and Rafayel Ishkhanian. Arakelian made a brief historical introduction and condemned the policy of Soviet Armenian authorities to lead the most glorious page of the last 500 years into oblivion. Ishkhanian rejected the label of “A.R.F. republic” that some people used to denigrate the first independence, while noting the A.R.F. majority in the government. He highlighted the role of Aram Manoukian as organizer of the victories of May and founder of the Armenian republic:

“The enemy reached Yerevan. The supreme command of the Armenian forces, led by Nazarbekov, had decided to hand Yerevan to the enemy and to organize the defense near Lake Sevan. The National Council of Tiflis had agreed with this decision. There was one man in Yerevan who said ‘No, if we hand Yerevan, then we will hand Armenia. If we hand Yerevan that means the end of the Armenian people.’ That man was Aram Manoukian. Unfortunately, I don’t see his picture here.” People held pictures of General Antranik, Karekin Nejdeh, various fedayis and also Hayrikian, who was then in a Moscow prison.

After the speeches, the doors of the Opera opened and the secretary of ideological issues of the Central Committee of the Armenian Communist Party, the first secretary of the City Committee of the party, and other officials came out. They tried to take out the tricolor flags from the square, but in vain. They were met with cries of “Shame, go away!” Later on, poet Sylva Gabudikian had a televised speech, where she argued that the tricolor flag fragmented the nation, as it divided Armenia from the Diaspora.

Ironically, the next day the newspapers, all government-controlled, published the following news piece released by Armenpress: “On May 28, in the Theatrical Square of Yerevan, some people, veiled behind slogans related to Mountainous Gharabagh, tried to raise the issue of P. Hayrikian, known for his anti-Soviet declarations. They attempted to encourage people into illegal activities. Those attempts were condemned by those gathered there.”

From then on, the flag of the first Republic of Armenia would start appearing in the demonstrations for Gharabagh, and the idea of independence would begin taking roots. Two years later, on August 23, 1990, the Republic of Armenia would be reborn instead of the Armenian Socialist Soviet Republic, and the referendum for the independence would be held on September 21, 1991, while the once powerful Soviet Union was collapsing.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Death of Parsegh Ganachian (May 21, 1967)

The best known of Gomidas Vartabed’s “five disciples” and an accomplished composer and choirmaster himself, Parsegh Ganachian is also known as the author of the arrangement for the Armenian national anthem “Mer Hayrenik.”
He was born in Rodosto (Oriental Thrace, today in Turkey) on April 17, 1885. He was the son of a shoemaker, and at the age of three, his family moved to Constantinople, where he received his primary education at the elementary school of Gedikpasha. During the massacres of 1896, the Ganachians moved to Varna, in Bulgaria, where the young Parsegh continued his studies at the local Armenian school and studied music theory, violin, and conducting with violinist Nathan Bey Amirkhanian. The family moved again in 1905, this time to Bucharest (Romania), where Ganachian continued his studies of violin and he also took upon piano studies with composer Georges Bouyouk.
After the restoration of the Ottoman Constitution in 1908, Ganachian returned to Constantinople, where he founded the first Armenian orchestra, “Knar.” His encounter with Gomidas in December 1910 and the concert of the 300-strong “Kusan” choir in early 1911 were crucial for his career. He entered Gomidas choir. The great musician selected eighteen members of the choir as his students, and the number gradually diminished to five, of which one of them was Ganachian.
The future composer was drafted by the Ottoman army in World War I and played in the military orchestra until he was exiled to Diarbekir, where he fell gravely ill. He was sent to Aleppo, and he was there when the armistice was signed in November 1918. Along with other surviving intellectuals, Ganachian gathered young people and organized concerts to the benefit of the exiles, creating a wave of enthusiasm in the audiences. At that time, he composed the “Volunteer March” (Կամաւորական քայլերգ / Gamavoragan kaylerk), better known as “Harach, Nahadag” by the first words of its lyrics, written by poet Kevork Garvarentz. He later went to Cilicia, where he also gave concerts, and then returned to Constantinople.
In the Ottoman capital, the Gomidas students organized a group and presented concerts, created a Gomidas Fund and published Gomidas’ works in three songbooks. They also organized choirs and dealt with the education of the new generation. Ganachian composed his well known “Lullaby” (Օրօր /Oror) for soloist and choir.
The Gomidas’ students were sent to Paris to continue their musical education. Going to the French capital in 1921, Ganachian followed the courses of famous composer René Lenormand (1846-1932). Between 1922 and 1932 he toured Aleppo, Egypt, and Cyprus, forming choirs and giving choral concerts. From 1926-1930 he also taught music at the Melkonian Educational Institute. In 1932 he settled in Beirut, teaching at the College Armenien or Jemaran (later the Neshan Palandjian College). In 1933 he organized and directed the choir “Kusan,” which achieved great success in both Armenian and Lebanese circles from 1933-1946. The choir also had presentations in other Lebanese and Syrian cities, as well as in Egypt. It continued its activities until 1961.
Ganachian maintained and promoted the musical principles enunciated by Gomidas, deeply entrenched in national roots. He composed 25 choral songs and orchestral fragments, as well as around 20 songs for children. He also arranged Armenian and Arabic folk songs. Among his most important compositions are the opera “The Monk,” with Levon Shant’s play The Ancient Gods as its libretto, and the cantata “Nanor,” which depicts the pilgrimage to the monastery of St. Garabed in Moush. He also produced arrangements for the Armenian anthem, as well as the Lebanese and Syrian national anthems (1936).
Ganachian lost his sight in 1945, but his choir continued its performances. His works were partly published in Beirut and Yerevan. Among other awards, he was awarded the National Order of the Cedar (1957) by the Lebanese government for his achievements in the cultural life of Lebanon. 
The composer passed away on May 21, 1967, in Beirut. The Armenian cultural association Hamazkayin established an arts institute carrying his name in Lebanon. An art school also bears Ganachian’s name in Yerevan.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Death of Keri (May 15, 1916)

Keri, a veteran leader of the Armenian liberation movement at the turn of the twentieth century, became also a prominent military figure in the last years of his life.

He was born Arshak Kavafian in 1858 in Erzerum, where he graduated from the local Armenian school. He was twenty-four when he entered the short lived self-defense organization “Defender of the Homeland,” founded in 1882. He adopted the pseudonym Keri, meaning “uncle.” He went to Kaghezvan, in the province of Kars (under Russian rule), in 1889 and unsuccessfully tried twice, in 1889-1890, to cross the Russian-Turkish border into Western Armenia with groups of fedayees. He became a member of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation soon after its foundation in 1890, and was active in the region of Kars from 1891-1892. In 1893 he finally was able to go to Erzerum with a group of freedom fighters, and in 1895 he led an armed group that protected the locals and the prelate during the Hamidian massacres.

In the early 1900s Keri was back in Kars under the command of the local A.R.F. committee. In 1903 he moved to the region of Sasun and participated in the Sasun uprising of 1904. After its defeat, he went to the region of Van and back to Eastern Armenian in 1905.

During the Armeno-Tatar conflict of 1905-1906, Keri was one of the leaders of the self-defense I in the region of Zangezur (Siunik), where he mostly fought in the front of Angeghagot. Afterwards, with fifteen years of fighting experience in both Ottoman and Russian empires, he went to Persia, where he fought alongside Yeprem Khan, one of the leaders of the Persian Constitutional Revolution, from 1908-1912. Yeprem was killed in battle in May 1912 and Kavafian had his killers liquidated, taking the leadership of the Caucasian troops until the end of the conflict late that year. 

After the declaration of World War I, Keri joined the Armenian volunteer movement attached to the Russian army as the commander of the fourth battalion in 1914. He led his battalion in the battle of Sarikamish, between the Ottoman and Russian armies, in late 1914-early 1915. The courage of the Armenian soldiers and Keri’s military genius was crucial in the Russian victory.
Keri's career came to an end on May 15, 1916, when he was on his way to Mosul. Surrounded by Turkish troops and separated from a Russian detachment, Keri led the charge of his soldiers in the middle of the night and was able to break the Turkish encirclement, but he was killed in the battle. His body was transferred to Tiflis and buried in the Armenian cemetery of Khojivank, along two other freedom fighters, Nikol Duman (1867-1914) and Mourad of Sepastia (1874-1918). A procession of 30,000 people participated in the burial. However, the cemetery was mostly leveled during Soviet times, and Keri’s tomb also disappeared.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Death of Catholicos Gosdantin I of Partzerpert (May 9, 1267)

Catholicos of All Armenians Gosdantin (Constantine) I’s long tenure, one of the longest in the history of the Catholicoi of the Armenian Church, was marked by complex historical issues.

The son of a certain Vahram, probably born in the 1180s, Gosdantin of Partzerpert or Mavrian was educated in the monastery of Mlij, near Tarsus (Cilicia), which was a renowned center of manuscript copying, and then in the fortress of Hromkla, the seat of the Catholicosate of All Armenians from 1203-1292.

The Kingdom of Cilicia was in turmoil after the death of King Levon I in 1219. His daughter Zabel, who was four at the time of his death, was the heir of the throne, under the regency of the powerful prince Gosdantin the Bailiff (son of Levon’s maternal uncle). To add more complications, in 1221 Hovhannes VI of Sis passed away. Although Gosdantin of Partzerpert was an ecclesiastic deserving such honor, according to the historians, it appears that the regent suggested or handpicked his namesake as successor to the late Catholicos. He is said to have been the bishop of Mlij, which was a monastery and not a diocese, and thus it is likely, according to Maghakia Ormanian, that he was the bishop of Partzerpert.

The marriage of Zabel to prince Philippe of Antioch in 1222 ended in a failure, since the Latinophile policy of the Catholic prince alienated him from the nobility, and the next year Philippe was imprisoned. He died in prison in 1225 or 1226, and Gosdantin the Bailiff decided to marry Zabel to his own son Hetum. Catholicos Gosdantin I married them, both aged eleven, in 1226. In 1252 he would preside over her funeral procession.

In the 1220s, during the first years of his pontificate, the construction of St. Sophia, the royal church of Sis, the capital of Cilicia, was finished. Gosdantin I led a policy tending to maintain the independence of the Armenian Church. Catholicos Gosdantin I was also a man of culture. He opened new schools, founded congregations, and encouraged the production of manuscripts, including works by famous miniaturist Toros Roslin. After 1236, Greater Armenia fell under Mongol domination. In 1242 the Catholicos participated in the first negotiations of the Cilician kingdom with the Mongols. In 1247 the Catholicos sent archimandrite Teotos to the local Mongol general and obtained his agreement to rebuild the monastery of St. Thaddeus in the region of Artaz and found a congregation.

Meanwhile, the situation of the church in Cilicia led Gosdantin to gather an assembly of Cilician bishops in 1243. The ecclesiastic assembly was held in Sis, but the representatives from Greater Armenia were not invited. The assembly approved rules for consecrations, priesthood, moral issues, and so on and so forth.The Catholicos could not accomplish his project of going to Armenia himself and obtaining the agreement of local ecclesiastics. In 1246 he sent historian Vartan Areveltsi to Greater Armenia with such a mission.
In 1254 archimandrite Hagop Klayetsi represented the Catholicos in negotiations with Byzantine emperor John Vadakes and Greek Orthodox Patriarch Manuel aimed at establishing a temporary reconciliation between Cilicia and Byzantium. In the 1260s Gosdantin I engaged in heated controversies with the papal legate in Cilicia and Pope Clement IV himself over doctrinal issues.

After a forty-six year reign, Catholicos Gosdantin I passed away in Hromkla on May 9, 1267, where he was buried. He was succeeded by Catholicos Hagop I Klayetsi.