THIS WEEK IN ARMENIAN HISTORY
(Prepared by the Armenian National Education Committee[ANEC])
Birth of Stepan Malkhasiants
(November 7, 1857)
Modern Armenian did not have a fully comprehensive dictionary of the language until the mid-twentieth century, and such a dictionary was the result of the two-decade efforts of one man, Stepan Malkhasiants.
Stepan (Stepanos) Malkhasiants was born on November 7, 1857 in Akhaltskha, actual Djavakhk, in the Republic of Georgia. He graduated from the Armenian parish school and then continued studies at the Russian district school of his hometown and the Kevorkian Seminary of Vagharshapat (1874-1878). He entered the School of Oriental Studies of the Imperial University of St. Petersburg in 1878 and graduated with a Ph.D. in Armenian, Sanskrit, and Georgian in 1889. By then, he had already published his first scholarly work, the critical edition of tenth-century historian Asoghik’s Universal History (1885).
In 1890 Malkhasiants started his long educational career as teacher at the Nersisian School of Tbilisi, where he worked for twenty years. He was also the principal of the school from 1903-1906, and during these years he married Satenik Benklian. He produced the history of the Nersisian School, as well as several textbooks and many articles in the scientific and popular press. He also wrote two seminal monographs on the grammar of Classical Armenian.
A portrait of Stepan Malkhasiants painted by Martiros Saryan.
Between 1910 and 1919 he became principal of several schools: Hovnanian Girls’ School of Tbilisi (1910-1914), Kevorkian Seminary of Vagharshapat (1915-1917), Gayanian School of Tbilisi (1915-1919). After 1917 he became one of the leading figures of the newly-founded Armenian Popular Party (one of the ancestors of the current Armenian Democratic Liberal Party). Finally, in 1919 he settled in Armenia and worked for a year at the University of Armenia, which was opened in Alexandropol (now Gumri). His report to the Parliament in 1918 became the grounds for the adoption of the Armenian tricolor flag as the official symbol of the first independent Republic (1918-1920). He gave the first lecture at the recently opened Yerevan State University on February 1, 1920.
Malkhasiants published several important works in the last decades of his life, such as the critical edition of seventh century historian Sebeos (1939), and the Modern Armenian version of Movses Khorenatsi’s (1940) and Pavstos Buzand’s (1947) histories. He received a doctorate honoris causa in 1940 and became a founding member of the Armenian Academy of Sciences in 1943. But his lifetime achievement was the publication of the Explanatory Dictionary of the Armenian Language (Հայերէն բացատրական բառարան), in four volumes and 2,380 pages in three columns, in 1944-1945.
He had already acquired great experience in the preparation of dictionaries and the publication of the four-volume dictionary was the result of more than two decades of meticulous research. The dictionary, with 120,000 entries, comprised the vocabulary of Classical, Medieval, and Modern Armenian (both Eastern and Western), as well as dialects and even neologisms entering the language until 1940 with examples of usage. The dictionary, published exceptionally in Classical spelling (instead of the spelling currently in use in Armenia), still remains a fundamental source for any student of the Armenian language. It won the State Prize of the Soviet Union and was reprinted three times (Beirut, 1955-1956; Tehran, 1982; Yerevan, 2008).
Malkhasiants became a member of the Supreme Council of Holy Echmiadzin after 1944 and a member of the editorial board of the journal Echmiadzin. He passed away on July 21, 1947 in Yerevan, shortly before his ninetieth anniversary.