Saturday, July 28, 2018

Death of A. Amatuni (July 28, 1938)

He was simply known as “Amatuni” when he briefly showed up at the top echelons of Soviet Armenia in the 1930s, but his name became infamous for those who are acquainted with the horrors of Stalinism.

As an irony of history, his actual name was Amatuni Vardapetian, so he descended from a doctor of the Church. There were several Bolshevik militants whose last names show a religious connection, and they would become its greatest persecutors.

Amatuni was born on October 24, 1900, in Elizavetpol (Gandzak, nowadays Ganja), in the region of Lower Gharabagh. His biography is relatively sketchy. He became a member of the Communist Party in 1919, and probably at this time he adopted his first name as his last name.

After working in some positions of leadership within the Communist Youth, Amatuni studied at the Institute of Red Professorship in Moscow (1926-1928) and then returned to Armenia, where he was head of the department of propaganda of the Central Committee of the local Communist Party, then secretary of the provincial committee of Yerevan and of the Central Committee itself. He later moved on and from 1931-1935 he worked in Tbilisi and Baku in similar positions.

Meanwhile, the death of veteran Bolshevik Sergei Kirov, assassinated in Leningrad (St. Petersburg) in December 1934, was a signal for the repression of the following years, as it was ascribed to a mythical “right-Trotskyite” center. The latter supposedly responded to Lev Trotsky, who had been expelled from the Soviet Union following his defeat in the power struggle with Stalin. A special committee created during the 20 th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 1956 noted in its report that from 1935-1940 a total of 1,635,000 people had been arrested for anti-Soviet activities, of which 688,503 were shot to death. Almost ninety percent of those arrests happened in the period 1937-1938.
Amatuni, a henchman of Stalin’s right hand in the Caucasus, Laurenti Beria, was sent back to Armenia as second secretary of the Central Committee from 1935-1936. The repression started in Armenia with the arrest of Nersik Stepanian, director of the Institute of Marxism-Leninism, in May 1936. Stepanian was charged as the leader of the “right-Trotskyite” center, which supposedly aimed at ending the Soviet rule in Armenia, separating the country from the Soviet Union, and declaring independence, and shot in July 1937. On July 9, Aghasi Khanjian, first secretary of the Central Committee, was summoned to Tiflis for a meeting with Beria and committed “suicide” (many decades later, it was found out that he had been murdered by Beria himself). On the day of his burial, July 12, there was a meeting of the “party active,” where 23 participants declared that Khanjian was a traitor, chauvinist, sponsor of anti-revolutionary elements, and so on and so forth. He was replaced with Amatuni, who unleashed a series of arrests of party members, intellectuals, clergymen, members of the military, et cetera, with false charges orchestrated by Khachik Mughdusi (Astvatzatrian), Commissar (minister) of Internal Affairs.
This first wave of repression, which lasted until September 1937, included many former party leaders in Soviet Armenia and even many veterans of the sovietization period in 1920-1921. Many famous writers, like Yeghishe Charents, Axel Bakunts, Gurgen Mahari, Vahan Totoventz, Zabel Essayan, and others were also among those who were summarily condemned to death and shot, died in prison, or were sent to exile in Siberia.
The repressors soon became the repressed. The second wave would start with the plenary session of the Central Committee on 20-22 September 1937, with the leading participation of Beria from Tiflis, and Georgi Malenkov and Anastas Mikoyan from Moscow. Amatuni, who had been hailed on September 5 in the party newspaper Khorhrdayin Hayastan as the one who had helped disclose the “wreckers,” was accused of having become the new leader of the “right Trotskyite center” and arrested during the plenary, together with Stepan Akopov, second secretary of the Central Committee, and Mughdusi. He was replaced with Beria’s protégé Grigori Arutiunov, who would last until the death of Stalin and the fall of Beria in 1953.

Nikolai Yezhov, head of the NKVD (the predecessor to the KGB) from 1936-1938, addressed a letter marked “secret” to Stalin on September 22, 1937. He wrote: “Comrade Mikoyan asks to allow shooting a supplement of 700 people with the goal of cleaning Armenia from anti-Soviet elements . . . I suggest to shoot 1,500 people, for a total of 2,000 people including the previously approved number.”  

From 1937-1938, a total of 8,104 people became victim of the repression, including former members of the three Armenian parties (Armenian Revolutionary Federation, Hunchakian Party, and Ramgavar Azadagan Party), and of Socialist parties. The list shows that 3,729 were indicted for anti-Soviet activities, 1,333 for A.R.F. activities, 508 for anti-revolutionary activities, 109 for being Trotskyites, and 9 for chauvinist activities. Almost sixty per cent of the victims of repression (4,530 people) were shot.

Seventy-one of the 106 participants in the “party active” meeting of July 12, 1936, were subsequently liquidated, as well as many executors and witnesses of the crimes committed from 1936-1937. Among them was Amatuni, who was shot in Moscow on July 28, 1938.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Death of Zabel Asadour (July 19, 1934)

Zabel Asadour, also known by the pen name Sibil, was one of the few Armenian public women who reached recognition in her lifetime as a writer, but more importantly, as an educator and spokesperson for women.

She was born Zabel Khanjian on October 8, 1863 in Scutari, an Armenian-populated district of Constantinople. She received her education at the Armenian schools of the area and graduated from the Scutari Lyceum in 1879. Together with her eight classmates and with the guidance of her mother and aunt, she was among the founders of the Nation-Devoted Armenian Women Society (Azkanuver Hayoohyats Unkerootyoon), an organization that supported the construction, maintenance, and operation of a network for schools for Armenian girls in the Ottoman provinces. In the second session of the Society, young Zabel showed her maturity, when she declared: “Let’s work to avoid being in debt with the nation and humankind, to make our sisters in the provinces get the light of education, to have the female gender have a place in humankind… Many people say and will say that you cannot succeed, however, which big work has succeeded in its first attempt; if we do not succeed, at least we will have set the foundations and someone else will perfect it…”

In 1882 she married lawyer Garabed Donelian, with whom she had a daughter. From 1882-1889, they lived in Bilejik, Brusa, and Ankara. Khanjian worked as a teacher and opened schools, while contributing poetry and articles to the Armenian press in Constantinople under the synonyms of Anahid and Sibil, which she would finally adopt. After 1889 she returned to the Ottoman capital. In 1891 she serialized in the newspaper Arevelk her novel The Heart of a Girl, where she espoused her progressive views about the advancement of Armenian women.

Sibil co-edited the Masis journal with writers Krikor Zohrab and Hrant Asadour (1862-1928) from 1892 onward. She also wrote for other periodicals contributing literary works (poems, short stories, plays) and essays on women issues, education, and literature. In 1894 the Women Society was shut down by the Ottoman government, and it would only reopen in 1908, after the Young Turk revolution and the restoration of the Ottoman Constitution. Meanwhile, in the 1890s Zabel Donelian and Hrant Asadour had started a romantic liaison that would find its culmination after the death of Garabed Donelian in 1901 and their marriage in the same year. Sibil would have a daughter from her second marriage. In 1902 she collected her romantic poems in a volume entitled Reflections. She was also an accomplished translator of French poetry.

For the next decades, she continued her educational work as a teacher in the Esayan and Getronagan schools, as well as the Hamazkyats School and local British and French schools. Among her students were famed art historian Sirarpie Der Nersessian, journalist and feminist writer Haiganush Mark, actor Vahram Papazian, and many other important names of Armenian culture.

Together with her husband, an expert of the Armenian language, she wrote grammar and language readers that went through many reprints and remained in use in Armenian schools for many decades. In her twilight years, she collected her short stories in a volume, Souls of Women, published in 1926. Her seventieth birthday was marked with great pomp in Istanbul, Cairo, Alexandria, Paris and Plovdiv (Bulgaria) in 1933.

Zabel Asadour passed away on July 19, 1934, in Istanbul, and was buried at the Armenian cemetery of Shishli. 

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Death of St. Nerses Lambronatsi (July 14, 1198)

St. Nerses Lambronatsi is remembered as one of the most significant figures in Armenian ecclesiastical and literary history for his relatively short, but prolific life during the time of the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia.

He was born in 1153 in the fortress of Lambron. His baptismal name was Smpad. He was son of Oshin II, the lord of Lambron, from the Hetumian family, and nephew of Catholicos Nerses IV Shnorhali (1166–1173). His mother Shahandukht, from the Pahlavuni family, was a descendant of St. Gregory the Illuminator. He received his early education at the monastery of Skevra, which was continued at the superior school of Hromkla, the seat of the Catholicosate of All Armenians, under the supervision of his uncle Nerses and his successor Grigor III Tgha (1173-1193). Ordained in 1169 at the age of 16 by his uncle, who gave him his own name, he was elevated to episcopacy and consecrated Archbishop of Tarsus in 1175, at the age of twenty-two.

Nerses Lambronatsi was well versed in sacred and profane sciences and had an excellent knowledge of Greek, Latin, Syriac, and probably Coptic. He preferred to lead a life of meditation and solitude, and since he did not feel ready to take upon his administrative duties, he visited the monasteries in the region of Antioch to get acquainted with monastic life among non-Armenians and to satisfy his scholarly appetite. During this period, he translated The Rule of St. Benedict, The Dialogues of Pope Gregory the Great, and the Book of Revelation (1179).

Nerses contributed to the promotion of literacy, helped schools and libraries, monasteries and churches, and made a substantial donation towards the purchase and copy of manuscripts. He ordered or personally copied many ancient Armenian manuscripts, including the oldest and best extant copy of Gregory of Narek’s Book of Tragedy, which he ordered in 1173.

Returning to his pastoral duties, Nerses became a champion of the cause of Church unity. By unity he did not mean absorption of one Church by the other, and he remained a staunch defender of the Christological position of the Armenian Church. He has been regarded as a forerunner of the current ecumenical movement. In 1179 he attended the Council of Hromkla, where he may have delivered his address on unity, the Synodal Discourse, considered a masterpiece of eloquence and style. He was a first-rate orator, and his other speeches, homilies, panegyrics, and orations have literary merit. In 1195 he wrote Letter to King Levon, a spirited piece of polemical literature, where he rejected the accusations of having taken a pro-Byzantine position.

Nerses Lambronatsi is one of the most prolific writers in Armenian literature, and famous as a writer and translator. His Commentary on the Mystery of the Mass is still one of the best commentaries on the Eucharist in the Armenian Church. He also wrote other interpretive works, including commentaries on Cyril of Jerusalem’s various writings and others on the Psalms, the books of Solomon, the Book of Daniel, the Gospel of Matthew, et cetera, and a biography in verse of his uncle St. Nerses Shnorhali.

Lambronatsi was also interested in ecclesiastic and secular law. The lack of a written code of civil law led him to translate various legal works from Greek and Syriac that were used until the adoption of the Code of Law of Mekhitar Gosh. A multifaceted author, he also wrote the letter and music of twenty-three liturgical hymns ( sharagan ).

The union of the Armenian and Greek Churches was decided upon but never consummated due to the death of Emperor Manuel I Comnenus in 1180. Manuel's successors abandoned the negotiations and persecuted the Armenians. However, Levon II, Prince of Cilicia, made a last effort in 1197. He sent an embassy to Constantinople led by Nerses, which engaged in discussions on religious questions with Emperor Alexius III Angelus and Patriarch George II, without success.

Prince Levon wanted to secure the title of king for himself and sought the support of Pope Celestine III and of Emperor Henry VI of the Holy Roman Empire. The Pope sent Conrad, Archbishop of Mainz, to Tarsus, where Levon was crowned king on January 6, 1198.

Six months later, on July 14, 1198, Nerses Lambronatsi, who had spent his last years at the court as secretary, palace counsel, and translator, suddenly passed away in the monastery of Skevra while he was giving a sermon and was buried there. He was later canonized by the Armenian Church.

His students dedicated songs to him and wrote biographical sketches of his life. One of those students, Grigor Skevratsi, characterized his teacher in the following terms: “He emanated like a source, advanced like a river, and expanded like a sea.” 

Friday, July 6, 2018

Death of Gevork Jahukian (July 6, 2005)

Gevork Jahukian, together with others of his generation, continued the tradition of Armenian linguistics started by Hrachia Ajarian and made important contributions to many aspects of the study of the Armenian language.
He was born on April 1, 1920 in the village of Shahnazar, district of Kalinino (nowadays it is the village of Metzavan in the district of Tashir). After finishing high school in Yerevan in 1937, he entered Yerevan State University and graduated in 1941. Then, like many young people in Armenia, he was drafted into the Soviet army and served in World War II from 1942-1943.

After returning from the war, he entered his alma mater and taught at the Faculty of Romano-Germanic Philology for sixty years. He was a senior lecturer from 1945-1949, head of the chair of Foreign Languages (1948-1957) and of Romano-Germanic philology (1957-1970), and professor of the chair of General Linguistics (1970 onwards). From 1948-1957 he also taught at the Institute of Russian and Foreign Languages (today renamed Yerevan State Linguistic University) “Valery Briusov.” He taught Classical and Modern Armenian, Latin, history of linguistics, comparative grammar, general linguistics, and other subjects.

He defended his first doctorate in 1947 and his second doctorate in 1955. In 1958 he received the title of professor. Shortly after earning his first doctorate, he entered the Institute of Linguistics “Hrachia Ajarian” of the Academy of Sciences. He was a senior researcher from 1949-1950 and 1959-1962, and in 1962 he became director of the institute until his death. He was elected a corresponding member of the Academy of Sciences in 1968 and full member in 1974. He received the title of emeritus worker in 1965.

Jahukian was the author of more than twenty books and close to a hundred scholarly articles. He became the most well-known authority in Armenian linguistics, particularly in the field of comparative grammar and history of the Armenian language, from the late 1950s onwards. He authored many articles and a series of remarkable monographs, such as The System of Declension in Old Armenian and Its Origin (in Armenian, 1959), Essays on the History of the Pre-Literal Period of the Armenian Language (in Russian, 1967), Comparative Grammar of the Armenian Language (in Russian, 1982), and his most important work, History of the Armenian Language: Pre-Literal Period (in Armenian, 1987), for which he earned the State Prize of Armenia in 1988. He researched the relations of the Armenian language with many old and early Indo-European and non-Indo-European language, and made important contributions to the etymology of many Armenian words. His Armenian Etymological Dictionary, posthumously published in 2010, became a continuation and an update of the classical multi-volume work of Ajarian.

He also dealt with issues of Armenian dialects and Modern Armenian, and of general linguistics. Some of his most important works are History of Linguistics (1960-1962), History of Linguistics (1960-1962), Introduction to Armenian Dialectology (1972), Principles of the Theory of Contemporary Armenian (1974), among others. His works in general linguistics led him to formulate the idea of an universal theory of language, first published in Russian (1999) and then in English (Universal Theory of Language, 2003). 

Jahukian passed away on July 6, 2005, in Yerevan.