THIS WEEK IN ARMENIAN HISTORY
(Prepared by the Armenian National Education Committee)
Death of Yervant Ter-Minasian
(July 12, 1974)
Yervant Ter-Minasian had a short and eventful ecclesiastic career (he left the Church at the age of 31), when he was already an important name in Armenian scholarship. He would still be active for the next six decades and leave a prolific legacy.
He was born in the village of Harich, now in the province of Shirak (Republic of Armenia), on November 19, 1879, into a family of priests. He graduated from the school of the local monastery in 1892 and entered the Kevorkian Seminary of Holy Etchmiadzin. After his graduation in 1900, Catholicos Mgrdich Khrimian sent him to Germany, where he studied theology and ancient languages at the universities of Berlin and Leipzig with famous theologian Adolf Harnack among other professors. He defended his dissertation in 1904 with a study of the relations between the Armenian and Syriac Churches, published in German in the same year, which became the cornerstone of this field.
Back in Etchmiadzin, Ter-Minasian was consecrated celibate priest (vartabed) in 1905 and taught at the Kevorkian Seminary, becoming also the director of the printing house of the Holy See. He published a revised version of his doctoral dissertation in Armenian (1908), as well as half a dozen books, including several textbooks, between 1906 and 1909. An ongoing polemics between conservative and liberal members of the congregation about reform in the Armenian Church ended with an article by the young vartabed, published in the monthly Ararat of the Catholicosate, being publicly burned by order of the locum tenens, Archbishop Kevork Surenian (later Catholicos Kevork V), in 1909. This polemics led him to leave the Church in February 1910. He would later marry and have five children. Nevertheless, his relations with the Holy See soon returned to normalcy. In 1944 he even declined an offer from Catholicos Kevork VI to return to the Church and become a bishop.
Ter-Minasian devoted himself to his pedagogical vocation. He taught in schools at Alexandropol (Gumri, 1910-1917) and Tiflis (1918-1919). In late 1919 he was entrusted by the government of the Republic of Armenia to become one of the organizers of the University of Yerevan, and was a professor there in 1920. After the fall of the independent republic, he became scientific secretary of the Scientific Institute of Etchmiadzin (1921-1922) and then principal of the school of second degree of Vagharshapat (1922-1928) and teacher until 1930.
Ter-Minasian’s past both as a former ecclesiastic and as researcher in ecclesiastic history was not politically correct in the Soviet regime. He took as many precautions as he could to avoid unpleasant surprises: after 1930, when he moved to Yerevan, he earned his living as one of the most authoritative experts of the German language in the country. Furthermore, he would be one of the foremost translators and editors of Marxist classics (Marx, Engels, Lenin) from German and Russian. He initially taught at the Pedagogical Technical School (1930-31) and the Agricultural Institute (1940-1947) as German teacher and chair of the foreign language department. He also taught at Yerevan State University with the same positions from 1943-1948.
In 1945 Ter-Minasian was invited by the Academy of Sciences to deliver a lecture on “The Armenian Literature of the Golden Age,” which was published as a booklet in 1946. The word vosgetar (ոսկեդար, “Golden Age”), commonly used to describe Armenian literature of the fifth century A.D., became a pretext for political attacks, and the almost seventy-year-old scholar was fired from his position at the university in 1948.
Two years later, he was able to take a part-time job as a teacher at the Institute of Foreign Languages, and in 1951 he got a position as senior researcher in the Institute of Linguistics of the Academy of Sciences. He became head of the section of dictionary writing in the same institute from 1955-1970.
Ter-Minasian left an important work in the field of bilingual dictionaries, but most importantly as a scholar of Armenian-Syriac relations, the origin of Christian sects, the doctrinal position of the Armenian Church in the 5th-7th centuries, and other related issues. He also prepared the critical edition of Yeghishe’s On Vartan and the War of the Armenians (the history of the war of Vartanantz), as well as its translation into Modern Armenian.
In his last years, Ter-Minasian wrote his memoirs, which remained unpublished until 2005. He passed away on July 12, 1974, at the age of 95.