THIS WEEK IN ARMENIAN HISTORY
the Armenian National Education Committee (ANEC)
Hamo (Hampartsum) Bek-Nazarian was one of the pioneers of Armenian cinema. Born in Yerevan in 1892, he moved with his family to Tashkent (currently the capital of Uzbekistan). He first became a cyclist, and then a wrestler. He participated in competitions outside the Russian Empire and even wrestled in the circus with the pseudonym of Maroni.
In 1914 he started his career in Russian cinema. His first role was a minor one in a film, significantly titled Enver-pasha – predatel’ Turtsii (“Enver Pasha, Traitor of Turkey”), released in 1915. He appeared with the artistic name of Hamo Bek in more than 70 Russian silent movies, where he met his future wife, the actress Sofya Volkhovskaya (1888-1956).
He graduated from the Commerce Institute of Moscow in 1918. In 1921 he headed the movies section of the film studios of Georgia and then became a film director of the State Film of Georgia. In 1923 he moved to Armenia following an invitation by the government and founded the Armenfilm (Haifilm)studios. This was a real challenge, as there were no grounds for cinema in Armenia and Bek-Nazarian had to start everything from scratch. Two years later, he directed the first Armenian feature film, Namus (The Honor), based on the homonymous play by Shirvanzade (1858-1935). He also directed other important films, such as Zare (the first movie on Kurdish life) and the first Armenian comedy, Shor and Shor Shor, in 1926. He wrote the scenario of Shor and Shor Shor in one night and filmed it in eleven days. He also filmed three Georgian movies in 1924-1925, and would later film two Azerbaijani movies (1927 and 1941).
By 1935 Bek-Nazarian had written (alone or in collaboration) and directed sixteen films, both features and documentaries. He achieved another feat in that year: he directed the first Armenian sound film (“talkie”), Pepo, also based on a classical play by Gabriel Sundukian (1825-1912). This was four years after the release of the first Soviet sound film, at a time when less than one out of a hundred film projectors in the Soviet Union were equipped for sound. Pepo became his masterpiece, as well as one of the masterworks of the Armenian movie industry. He earned the title of Popular Artist of Soviet Armenia in the same year.
He produced two other important films among his works: Zangezur (1938), which received the Stalin Prize of second degree in 1941, and David Bek (1943). The latter was based on the Armenian rebellion against Persian domination in the eighteenth century. However, he suffered a very big disappointment with his film Yerrort karavan (Third Caravan), dedicated to the subject of the repatriation to Armenia in 1946-1948, which was probably set to become his masterpiece. The filming of the movie, which was halfway, was forbidden and the production was shut down in 1951, probably as part of the change of heart of the Soviet regime with regards to repatriation and repatriates. Bek-Nazarian, deeply upset and disillusioned, abandoned both Armenfilm and Armenia, and went to work in the Central Asian republics, such as Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. He passed away on April 27, 1965, and was buried at the Armenian cemetery of Moscow beside his wife. His work was posthumously acknowledged and the movie studios of Armenfilm were named after him.