THIS WEEK IN ARMENIAN HISTORY
(Prepared by the Armenian National Education Committee[ANEC])
Death of Teotig
(May 24, 1928)
Almanacs were very fashionable in the Western world at the beginning of the twentieth century, when a real fever of publication started in the Armenian realm. Almanacs (daretsuyts) of very different size, quality, and duration—sometimes confused with yearbooks (darekirk)—would be published until the 1970s. In the history of Armenian almanacs, Teotig and his almanac would become synonyms and models.
Teotoros Lapjinjian was born in 1873 in Scutari (Üsküdar), a suburb of Constantinople on the Asiatic side of the Bosphorus, in a modest family that migrated from Erzinga. He would later adopt his childhood nickname Teotig as a literary pseudonym.
After primary studies at the local school, he first attended the Berberian College, but could not graduate due to financial problems. For a while, he attended the American-financed Robert College (now Bogazici University), which he could not finish either. In 1889, at the age of 16 he went to work as a bookkeeper in a store.
However, his avid interest in books and reading led him to self-teaching. He was just past his teens when he started to contribute literary pieces and essays to various newspapers. Meanwhile, he became a “bibliomaniac,” as he called himself: “I have not eaten, drunk, or bought clothes, and have allocated all my earnings to books,” he confessed once.
In 1902 he married Arshaguhi Jizvejian (1875-1922), a young woman educated in Paris and London. Three years later, he won the prestigious Izmirlian Literary Prize for a voluminous work on the Armenian dialect of Constantinople, which remained unpublished until the present.
1907 would become a crucial date in Teotig’s life. With the crucial assistance of his wife, he started the publication of his lifelong project, Amenun daretsutyse (Ամէնուն տարեցոյցը “Everyone’s Almanac”). For the next twenty-two years, the nineteen volumes, with a total of 8,500 pages, would offer the reader the most complete information about every aspect of Armenian life. The most important writers of the time would contribute literary pieces and articles on the most various topics. The almanac became a sort of illustrated encyclopedia of Armenian life during the first quarter of the twentieth century, with much information and photographs of unique nature in its pages.
In 1912 Teotig produced a book called Dib oo Dar (Typeface and Letter), on the 1500th anniversary of the creation of the Armenian alphabet (which at the time was commemorated in 1913) and the 400th anniversary of Armenian printing. In the same year, he published a collection of short stories, The New Year.
Teotig became one of the targets of the Turkish secret police at the beginning of World War I. In March 1915, right after the publication of the 1915 issue of the almanac, he was arrested and on the grounds of trumped-up charges, a war tribunal sentenced him to one year in the central prison of Constantinople. In March 1916, just out of prison, he was arrested in the street and sent to Anatolia with a caravan of deportees. He reached Bozanti, in Cilicia, where a group of Armenian young people was able to rescue him and hide him in a workplace of the Constantinople-Baghdad railway. He remained there, with a false identity, until the armistice of Mudros in November 1918, when he returned to Constantinople.
He resumed the publication of his beloved almanac. In the meantime, in 1919 he published Memorial to April 11 (April 24 in the old Ottoman calendar), on the first commemoration of the arrests of April 24, with 761 biographies of intellectuals. He also published a booklet, The Catastrophe and Our Orphans, in 1920, and wrote a lengthy study on the Armenian clergy victims of the genocide, commissioned by the Armenian Patriarchate, which was posthumously published in 1985.
His wife Arshaguhi, a writer and educator, died of tuberculosis in a sanatorium in Switzerland in 1922, and Teotig was left with their only son, Vahakn. In the same year, the triumph of Kemalism in Turkey prompted him to leave his birthplace and become an exile. He would live in precarious conditions in Corfu, Cyprus, and finally Paris, continuing the publication of his almanac in Vienna, Venice, and Paris. He passed away in Paris on May 24, 1928, when the publication of the 1929 issue was halfway. His son had come to the United States, where he would die in the 1960s.
In 2006, the Cilicia Publishing House of Aleppo, with the sponsorship of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, started to reprint Teotig’s almanac in a photographic edition introduced and indexed by Aleppine intellectual Levon Sharoyan. Unfortunately, only 13 volumes had been published until 2011, when the catastrophic Syrian civil war disrupted the project, as well as the entire life of the Syrian Armenian community.