Saturday, September 22, 2018

Death of Andreas Arzruni (September 22, 1898)

Andreas Arzruni was a geologist who had a remarkable international career at a time when it was not common to find Armenian names in this scientific field.
Andreas Arzruni was born on November 27, 1847. He was the younger brother of Grigor Artzruni, the future founder of Mshak, the groundbreaking Armenian daily published in Tiflis for almost four decades (1872-1921). He studied in the universities of St. Petersburg, Dorpat (nowadays Tartu), and Heidelberg. He graduated from Heidelberg in 1871 with a doctorate degree in chemistry. After living intermittently in Tiflis from 1871-1875, he continued his academic career in Europe.

Arzruni first taught at the Humboldt University of Berlin from 1877-1883, where he also was adjunct director of the Museum of Mineralogy of the University. After a one-year tenure as extraordinary professor at the University of Breslau (Wroclaw), from 1884-1898 he was professor, head of the chair of Mineralogy, and dean of the Polytechnic School of Aachen. After the death of his brother Grigor, he became the nominal publisher of Mshak from 1895-1898.

In the 1880s and 1890s, Arzruni organized a series of scientific expeditions to the Ural Mountains in Russia, the Caucasus, different European countries, as well as Chile, Guyana, Egypt, etcetera. He dedicated two important expeditions to the study of the geological structure and useful minerals of Armenia (1873-1875 and 1892). In 1894 he climbed to the top of Little Ararat and descended for the first time to the crater of the extinguished volcano. He rejected the theory of Humboldt and Abich that the Armenian volcanoes have a vertical orientation. He used geological factors to explain the oscillations in the level of the Lake Van, which was proven half a decade later. He also foresaw the future of Dilijan as a sanatorium.

Arzruni was the author of more than fifty papers published in scientific journals from 1871 onwards. His studies were related to geological chemistry, crystal chemistry, mineralogy, petrography, as well as economics, philosophy, ethnology, and literature. His book Physical Chemistry of Crystals (1893), in German, was later reprinted twice. He also participated in the sessions of the International Congress of Geology (1897) and co-authored the stratigraphic scheme of the Urals and the first geological maps of the Southern Urals.

He became corresponding member of the Royal Academy of Turin and the Academy of Sciences of Bavaria and St. Petersburg. He first described two minerals, groddeckite and utahite, and before his death he was investigating a new mineral from Chile, which was named arzrunite after him.

In the winter of 1895-1896, while on a visit of inspection to the gold fields of British Guyana, Andreas Arzruni had an attack of fever, and this, together with consumption, forced him to spend the last year or so of his life in sanatoria in Switzerland and on the Rhine. He passed away at the age of fifty-one in Hohenhonnef (Germany) on September 22, 1898. His bust was erected at the entrance of the Polytechnic School of Aachen.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Death of Armenag Shahmuradian (September 14, 1939)

Opera singer Armenag Shahmouradian, labeled “the Armenian Caruso,” was one of the most famous representatives of the musical current embodied by Gomidas Vartabed.

He was born in Mush on April 7, 1878 in the family of a blacksmith. He entered the church choir at the age of eight, while he continued studying at the local school. However, the death of his father interrupted his studies due to lack of resources. The intervention of Bishop Nerses Kharakhanian, prelate of Mush, was providential. He sent the young boy to study at the seminary of the famous convent of Surp Garabed. The new student could not adapt himself to the atmosphere of the convent and returned to Mush pretty soon. This time, the bishop sent him to Echmiadzin with a letter of recommendation. The future singer was admitted to the Kevorkian Seminary, where he had writers Avetik Isahakian and Derenik Demirjian, and musician Grigor Suny among his classmates.

Shahmouradian became soloist in the choir of noted composer Kristapor Kara-Murza, who was a music teacher at the seminary. His extraordinary voice and highly qualified interpretation attracted the attention of Kara-Murza’s replacement, the young Gomidas Vartabed, who took the youngster under his wings. Shahmuradian developed as a singer and musician under Gomidas’ supervision for the next year and a half.

However, he was soon expelled from the seminary for having participated in a student protest against the conservative and retrograde methods applied there. Thanks to the intervention of Catholicos Mgrdich I (Khrimian Hayrig), Western Armenian students like Shahmouradian were admitted to the Nersesian Lyceum in Tiflis to continue their studies. There, he attracted the attention of Makar Ekmalian, the music teacher. He graduated in 1896 and participated in a wave of protests in Tiflis against the savagery of the regime of Abdul Hamid in the Ottoman Empire. He was arrested by the Russian police, sent to the prison of Metekh, and then, as an Ottoman subject, delivered to the Turkish government. He remained in the prison of Kars for eight months. His voice went through the walls of the prison and reached Turkish consul Fuad bey, who sent him to Mush as a free exile.

After two years teaching at the seminary of Surp Garabed, Shahmouradian moved to Erzerum, where he taught music, Armenian language, and Armenian history for four years at the local school, where he also created and directed a choir. Through the intervention of the school authorities, he obtained a Lebanese passport with the pretext of going there for medical reasons. However, he embarked on a French ship and went to Paris instead of Beirut in 1904. In the French capital, he studied for two years with world-famous singer Paulina Viardot, and afterwards he entered the Conservatory of Paris.

In January 1911 Shahmouradian debuted at the Grand Opera of Paris with the role of Faust in Charles Gounod’s homonymous opera. The performance was so successful that, at the request of the press and music aficionados, it continued for a month. In 1912-1913 he toured in Cairo, Tiflis, Constantinople, Baku, and other cities with a repertory of Armenian traditional and popular songs. He moved to the United States in 1914, where he gave concerts in New York, San Francisco, Boston, Detroit, and Fresno, and later performed in Europe (London, Manchester, Brussels, Antwerp, Geneva, Zurich) and Asia (Tehran, Baghdad, Calcutta). He recorded many of his songs in 78 rpm records that became a fixture in Armenian homes around the world.

In 1930 Shahmouradian, in precarious health and equally precarious finances, returned to Europe and settled in Paris. Here, he went to see his great master, Gomidas, who was already at the psychiatric clinic of Villejuif. He sang Armenia, Paradise Land (Հայաստան, երկիր դրախտավայր), one of his classical interpretations, and for a few moments Gomidas reacted and recognized his beloved disciple. And that was all.

Like his teacher, Shahmouradian, who had earned the label of “nightingale of Daron,” also passed away in the clinic of Villejuif on September 14, 1939. William Saroyan, who devoted a poem to him, four decades later wrote in Obituaries : “Shah-Mouradian was one of the truly great tenor-baritones of all time, somewhat like John McCormack, a star in Paris and New York, and around the world in opera.”

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Birth of Diran Cherakian (September 11, 1875)

Diran Cherakian was an important name of the Western Armenian literary generation of the first years of the twentieth century, who would become an indirect victim of the genocide.

He was born on September 11, 1875, in Scutari (Uskudar), a suburb of Constantinople. After his primary studies at the local Surp Khach School (1881-1885), he continued at the famous Berberian Lyceum from 1886-1891. Here he was deeply influenced by its founder and director, the noted writer and educator Reteos Berberian, to whom he dedicated his first book.

After graduation at the age of sixteen, the young Diran, who had already shown his precocious interest in literature, music, and arts, as well as natural history, became a teacher at his alma mater for the next seven years. From 1898-1900 he taught in Trebizonda, on the Black Sea shore, and he was particularly inspired by that sojourn. He wrote his first book, Inner World, which he would publish six years later. He had already become a frequent contributor to the Armenian press with essays, studies, travelogues, prose pieces, and poems.

In 1900 Cherakian returned to Constantinople to continue his teaching career at the Berberian, Getronagan, and Bezazian schools, where he mostly taught Armenian literature. Meanwhile, in 1904-1905 he visited Paris, where he followed courses of painting and literature, and Egypt. In 1906 he finally published Inner World, a collection of philosophical reflections and impressions, followed by a book of sonnets, Cypress Wood, in 1908. He published both books with the pseudonym of Indra (the anagram of his first name, but also the name of the god of the heavens and storms in Indian mythology). Cherakian acquired a certain status among the Western Armenian intelligentsia, even though his literature was sometimes criticized. His philosophy was that light was the ground for the material and spiritual world. The infinite was the way to measure the incommensurable, the universe, and develop universal harmony.

After 1910, the writer went through a deep psychological crisis that would lead him to renege his past and his literary production. He first adhered to spiritism and then, in 1913, he entered the Adventist Church, becoming a wandering preacher. During World War I, he served in the Ottoman army as a translator and secretary, but refused to take arms, and his students raised money to free him from military service. He continued preaching the Bible at his return to Constantinople, which caused his wife and only child to leave the house, as his attitude became intolerable. Cherakian, deeply shocked by the annihilation of 1915, gradually lost his mind and was caught into fixation and paranoia. He burned his manuscripts at that time.

The drama of his life would come to an end in the postwar. He recreated an Adventist auditorium in 1919-1920 and preached the love of Christ and the beauty of eternal life. The wish of death became his fundamental thought. During the Kemalist movement, in 1921, Cherakian went to Konia, where he preached going from house to house. He was arrested as a suspect, charged with sedition and deported in unknown direction. After a journey of many days in extremely painful conditions, under the strikes of the whip, Cherakian, hungry, thirsty, and ill, reached the plain of Diarbekir with his unfortunate companions. He finally passed away on the banks of the Tigris River on June 6, 1921, encouraging his comrades to pursue love, unity, and faith.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Death of Valerian Madatov (September 4, 1782)

The Russian army had a string of Armenian generals, both during the imperial period and its successor, the Soviet Union. One of the most remarkable was Prince Valerian Madatov, who was also involved in the campaigns leading to the incorporation of Eastern Armenia into the Russian Empire.

Madatov was born Rostom Madatian in 1782 in the village of Chanakhchi (nowadays Avetaranots), which was part of the historical district of Varanda in the khanate of Karabagh, then under Persian rule. He belonged to a family of minor nobles or meliks. He left his birthplace at the age of fourteen with his uncle, in 1797, along with a delegation of Armenian meliks seeking Russian support in their efforts to liberate the region from Muslim rule.

Non-Russian names and last names were usually turned into Russian ones as part of a trend to blend into the majority. Madatian’s first and last name became Valerian Madatov. He joined the Russian army at the rank of junior officer , and spent the next ten years training and serving in lower officer ranks. Madatov entered military action for the first time in 1808 during the Napoleonic wars. He joined a regiment of hussars in 1810 as a captain and then rose to the rank of major. He distinguished himself in Moldavia and Valachia during the Russo-Turkish War of 1806-1812, which earned him the Order of St. George of fourth degree in 1811. He was granted the rank of colonel for his feats during Napoleon’s invasion of Russia. In 1813 he was seriously injured in Leipzig, but, even not fully recovered from his wound, he commanded his men in a march over Paris. He was granted the rank of major-general at the age of thirty-one. He remained in France as one of the commanders of the forces of occupation after the defeat of Napoleon in 1814.

He was called back in 1815 to serve in the Caucasus, given his familiarity with the region and his knowledge of most of the major languages spoken there. He brokered peace with local regional rulers and helped consolidate Russian power in the area. In 1816 he was appointed commander-in-chief of the Russian forces in the khanate of Karabagh.

Persia tried to retake the territories lost in the first quarter of the century to Russia and attacked Karabagh in 1826, thus starting a new Russo-Persian war that would last until 1828 and end with a conclusive victory of Russia. Madatov hurried to Tiflis, where he took command of Russian forces. Leading a force of 2,000 men, they routed the 10,000-strong Persian army on the banks of the Shamkhor River and retook Elizavetpol/Gandzak (nowadays Ganja) on September 5. After defeating a Persian attempt to occupy the city again together with General Ivan Paskevich, Madatov was made lieutenant general in late September.

However, due to Paskevich’s intrigues to have his predecessors removed from the area, Madatov was ordered to move to Tiflis and later to Petersburg.

He went back to the battlefront during the Russo-Turkish war of 1828-1829, where he fought the enemy in the European front and won several significant victories. On September 4, 1829, two days after the war ended with the signature of a peace treaty, Prince Valerian Madatov died near the village of Shumla, from a pulmonary disease, sharply aggravated by the burdens of marching during the war. He was buried in the yard of the Alexander Nevsky monastery in St. Petersburg.