Archive for the ‘History’ Category

Dawn Anahid MacKeen on ‘The Hundred-Year Walk’ at Milwaukee-Armenian Cultural Event


By David Luhrssen

 

(Greenfield, Wis.) Dawn Anahid MacKeen grew up hearing her mother’s stories about her grandfather, Stepan Miskjian, a Genocide survivor who immigrated to America. “As a child, I was repulsed by some of those stories,” she said, speaking at St. John the Baptist Armenian Church at a Sept. 17 event ahead of Armenian Cultural Month in October.

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If sometimes repulsed, she was always curious. “’It’s all in here!’ my mother said, pointing to a pair of small booklets, in Armenian, published by my grandfather in the 1960s.” This led to the discovery of a cache of his notebooks, meticulously penned in grandfather’s careful handwriting, setting down his life from before and through the Genocide.

 

Grandfather’s writings became the basis for MacKeen’s book, The Hundred-Year Walk: An Armenian Odyssey. Called a “must read” by the New York Post, The Hundred-Year Walk reframes his memoirs and recounts her own journey to Turkey and Syria in 2007. She retraced his steps from his hometown in Adabazar (now Adapazari), east of Istanbul, to the Syrian city of Raqqua on the Euphrates River. Having escaped his death march through the Syrian desert, he was given sanctuary by a Bedouin leader, Sheik Hammud al-Aekleh, who sympathized with the plight of the Armenians.

 

Like her grandfather, MacKeen has a gift for reporting. An award-winning investigative journalist, her work appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and Smart Money. She put her career on hold to write The Hundred-Year Walk, expecting to devote two years to the undertaking. In the end, the project required 10 years to complete. She devoured published and unpublished accounts of the Genocide and traveled to Armenian libraries in Paris and Vienna. Her journey to the Near East occurred at a time, not so long ago, when Turkey sometimes seemed on the verge of opening up to the world and Syria was a stable nation. Many of the places she visited, including the Genocide Memorial at Deir Zor, have since been destroyed.

 

MacKeen’s greatest joy was in locating the descendants of the sheikh who protected her grandfather. “Raqqa later became the capital for ISIS, but then, it was a harmonious place of many religions and ethnicities,” she said. “I received great hospitality and couldn’t help but think of the ripple effect of one kind act—because of the sheikh, my family survived.” According to MacKeen, many of the sheikh’s descendants have fled the Syrian civil war and become refugees in Europe.

 

“My grandfather’s account is an important testimony to a crime against humanity,” she concluded. “His words are my family’s heirloom. I inherited his story along with the responsibility of telling it.”

 

MacKeen’s talk and the lively questions and answers that followed capped a busy day at St. John. The Exaltation of the Cross, a feast day on the Armenian liturgical calendar, was celebrated by the traditional Blessing of the Four Corners of the World service and the distribution of basil. St. John added a new member to its community with the baptism of Ava Torosian, daughter of Jeff and Jennifer Torosian. A luncheon hosted by family members followed the baptism and gave the visiting speaker a sense for the genuine fellowship found at St. John.

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THIS WEEK IN ARMENIAN HISTORY
(Prepared by the Armenian National Education Committee)

[ANEC]


THE ISTANBUL POGROM
(September 6-7, 1955)

 

Nazi Germany had its state-sponsored Kristallnacht (“Crystal Night”) against its Jewish citizens in 1938, and the Turkish government repeated the feat against its Greek, Armenian, and Jewish citizens less than two decades later, on September 6-7, 1955. The riots were orchestrated by an array of Turkish security organizations, both official and clandestine, with the active participation of extreme nationalist groups shepherded by the governing Democratic Party (1950-1960) and government-controlled trade unions.

The process of Turkification that started at the turn of the twentieth century had entered the economic field after genocide and ethnic cleansing had been executed in 1915-1922, during the last years of the Ottoman Empire. The forcible population exchange between Turkey and Greece (1924) exempted the Greek population of Istanbul. In the Republican period, discriminatory policies against non-Muslim citizens included laws excluding non-Muslims from certain professions, campaigns to impose the Turkish language, the anti-Jewish pogrom in Eastern Thrace (1934), the Wealth Tax of 1942, and the recruitment of army work battalions during World War II. In a report on minorities, the Republican People’s Party (which ruled from 1923-1950) stated in 1946 that its goal was to leave no Greek in Istanbul by the 500th anniversary of its conquest (1953).‎

Turkish-Greek relations soured after 1953, when Greek Cypriots began their armed struggle for Enosis, the annexation of Cyprus—under British mandate—by Greece. Greece appealed to the United Nations to demand self-determination for Cyprus in 1954, while Great Britain wanted to solve the dispute without taking it to the U.N. Security Council, and leaned on Turkey to counter Greek claims.

An anti-Greek propaganda campaign started in 1955, with the main Turkish newspapers agitating public opinion along nationalist organizations. The British convened a tripartite conference in London with Turkey and Greece (August 29-September 6, 1955), which fell apart when news broke of the bombing of the Turkish consulate in Salonica (Greece), adjacent to the house where Mustafa Kemal Atatürk was born.

The bombing was organized by the Turkish consulate with the ‎knowledge of the Turkish Foreign Affairs Ministry.‎ Oktay Engin, a university student in Salonica, carried out the explosion. He was arrested on September 18, but after his alibi the initial charge of executing the attack was dropped to incitement. After spending nine months in detention, he escaped to Turkey in September 1956, before the Greek courts sentenced him to three and a half years in prison. He would be later promoted by the Turkish Interior Ministry.‎

News reports of the bombing were first announced by radio in Istanbul in the early afternoon of September 6, and the daily İstanbul Ekspres, associated with the Democratic Party and the National Security Service, repeated them in print. The insinuations that the Greeks were behind the bombing became the trigger for a protest rally on the night of September 6 as cover to gather the rioters, most of who had been trucked into Istanbul in advance. The homes and workplaces of Greeks and other non-Muslim communities had been identified beforehand. Owners of Turkish shops had been told the day before to put Turkish flags on their windows; the shops without flags were destroyed or damaged. According to witnesses, the mob was furnished with a list of ‎addresses. ‎

The riots started in Taksim Square by 5 pm, and rippled out through Beyoğlu (Pera) during the evening, with smashing and looting of non-Muslim property. A correspondent for the French daily France-Soir wrote: “Everything happened as if the agitators had divided one by one the neighborhoods of the minorities, even the streets. I followed the arsonists for hours. When they arrived in front of a store, they asked for the owner. When the latter appeared, they asked: ‘Where’s your passport?’ If the owner of the passport was Greek, or even Armenian or Jewish, the looting started. Through the whole night, I heard from this frenzied mob a word that seemed to have been forgotten for a long time, giaour” (giaour “infidel”).

The police was ordered to hold a passive stance and leave the mob to roam the streets freely. The function of the Turkish militia and police was not to protect the lives and properties of the victims, but to preserve adjacent Turkish properties, except in a few cases where police officers prevented criminal activity. The fire brigade, whenever it reached a fire, claimed that it was unable to deal with it. According to a cable to the U.S. Department of State by the American consul general, “the destruction was ‎completely out of hand with no evidence of police or military attempts to control it. I ‎personally witnessed the looting of many shops while the police stood idly by or cheered on ‎the mob.”‎ The riot died down by midnight with the intervention of the army and the declaration of martial law.

On the morning of September 7, a mob overran the İzmir National Park, where an international exhibition was taking place, and burned the Greek pavilion. Next, it completely destroyed the church of Saint Fotini. The homes of the few Greek families and officers were then looted.

After the events, a total of 5,000 people were arrested, some nationalist leaders were taken to court, but nobody was convicted. There was an attempt to implicate Turkish Communists in the riots, which fired back. Attempt by Greece to bring the issue to the U.N. and NATO fizzled due to the lenient attitude of Great Britain and the United States towards Turkey within the context of the Cold War.

Estimations of victims are varied, with a number of 30 to 37 Greeks as most likely. Moreover, 32 Greeks were severely wounded. The mobs beat and injured many people, destroyed and vandalized cemeteries, dragging the dead in the streets. Some 200 Greek women were raped. It was also reported that Greek boys were raped and that a priest was burned alive. Many Greek men, including at least one priest, were ‎exposed to forced circumcision. ‎

The material damage was considerable, including 5,317 properties (4,214 homes, 1,004 businesses, 73 churches, 2 monasteries, 1 synagogue, and 26 schools). According to the Istanbul police, 3,836 Greek (2,572), Armenian (741), and Jewish (523) businesses were destroyed. The American consulate estimated that 88% of the businesses were non-Muslim (59% Greek, 17% Armenian, and 12% Jewish), as well as 92% of the homes (80% Greek, 9% Armenian, and 3% Jewish). ‎

Estimates of the economic cost of the damage varied from the Turkish government’s estimate of 69.5 million Turkish liras (equivalent to 24.8 million dollars) to the Greek government’s estimate of 500 million dollars. The Turkish government paid 60 million Turkish lira of restitution to those who registered their losses.

The pogrom greatly accelerated the emigration of Greeks and Armenians from Turkey. The Greek population of Istanbul decreased from 65,108 to 49,081 between 1955 and 1960. Overall, the Greek population of Turkey declined from 119,822 persons in 1927 to about 7,000 in 1978, and some 2,500 according to current estimates.

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“The Dream Must be Continued”

Richard Hovanissian on Genocide and Denial

at Marquette Law School

By David Luhrssen

 

(Milwaukee, Wis.) Prof. Richard Hovanissian opened his Oct. 18, 2015, talk at Marquette University Law School by reflecting on this year’s centennial observation of the Armenian Genocide. The UCLA professor emeritus commented on the amount of good press and academic conferences the Armenian cause received in 2015, Pope Francis’ proclamation, and the unity shown by the Armenian community. But the events of a century ago and their ongoing implications, rather than the commemoration, were the primary subject of his talk. The event, sponsored by the Wisconsin Armenian Genocide Centenary Committee, drew an overflow audience.

 

Speaking extemporaneously from a deep well of emotion as he articulated the horror of the Genocide, Hovanissian recounted memories of growing up in California as the child of survivors. When he began his academic career he had no thought of becoming one of America’s foremost authorities on the Genocide and focused instead on Armenia’s First Republic. “I backed into this field because my father was called a liar,” Hovanissian said, referring to his work of refuting Genocide deniers. He denounced the Turkish Coalition of America, funded by a Turkish-American industrialist, for “expending millions of dollars to silence the Armenian case. It may be discouraging but one doesn’t stop. The dream must be continued.”

 

Hovanissian asked the question: “What have we learned after 100 years?” He began his answer by citing “utter admiration” for the resilience shown by the survivors. “After seeing such cruelty, how could they ever sing and dance and joke again? But most did recover and recreated an existence—a new space.”

 

The initial strategy of the Kemalists, not to deny as much as prevent discussion, crumbled after 1965 when Armenians from around the world from Yerevan to New York, took to the streets in protest on the 50th anniversary of the Genocide. He added that the trial of Holocaust mastermind Adolf Eichmann “opened the door. The Holocaust is now not just part of Jewish history but part of human history. The Armenian Genocide should be remembered as the prototype for the mass killings of the 20th century. It set the model.”

Prof. Richard Hovanissian speaks at Marquette University Law School

Prof. Richard Hovanissian speaks at Marquette University Law School

 

Hovanissian suggested ideology and technology as the causes of such mass killings. In the case of the Genocide, the ideology was the extreme nationalism of Turkism and the technology was the telegraph, which allowed Talaat Pasha to wire instructions to subordinates across the Ottoman Empire and to expect detailed reports in return. The outbreak of World War I gave the Turkish regime its opportunity. Without the cover of war, Hovanissian suggested, the Genocide might never have occurred.

 

He added that in every story he has collected of Genocide survivors, “there was a good Turk, or a good Muslim, who sheltered Armenian victims.”

 

Although the war against the memory of the Genocide continues to be waged by the present Turkish government and its lobbyists, Hovanissian sees reason for optimism. “There is a crack in the wall,” he said. “Young Turkish intellectuals are challenging the official narrative and using the ‘G’ word, which even the President of the United States is afraid to use.”

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“I AM ARMENIAN”

David Luhrssen at UCLA 

 

On July 1, Milwaukee Armenian Community member David Luhrssen was the guest speaker at UCLA’s “I Am Armenian” program. A film series marking the centennial of the Genocide, “I Am Armenianfeatures Armenian films and discussion between guests and host Carla Garapedian. Luhrssen was invited on the strength of his recent book, Mamoulian: Life on Stage and Screen, the most complete account of director Rouben Mamoulian’s work in theater and film. The discussion between Luhrssen and Garapedian took place after a screening of Mamoulian’s final film, the Fred Astaire musical Silk Stockings, in the Billy Wilder Theatre at UCLA’s Hammer Museum. 

 

Luhrssen is the author of several books and is arts editor and film critic for Milwaukee’s weekly newspaper, the Shepherd Express. Garapedian was the anchor for BBC World News and is an award-winning filmmaker best known for her documentary on the band System of a Down, Screamers. 

For a video of their conversation, go to: http://hammer.ucla.edu/programs-events/2015/07/silk-stockings/

http://livestream.com/hammermuseum/silkstockings/videos/91947438

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THIS WEEK IN ARMENIAN HISTORY
(Prepared by the Armenian National Education Committee)

[ANEC]

 

Uruguay Recognizes the Armenian Genocide
(April 20, 1965)

As it is well known, the fiftieth anniversary of the Medz Yeghern, the Armenian genocide, became the event that gathered Armenians worldwide around public claim for recognition of what had happened in 1915 and for the Armenian Cause.

 

Believe it or not, the small community of Uruguay was at the forefront of the struggle. Around 1963 the young generation came together to commemorate the month of Armenian culture in October, and the next year it joined its voice to the campaign in neighboring Argentina against the issuance of a postal stamp by the Argentinean postal service that would commemorate the 100th anniversary of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. These activities became the driving force behind the decision of young people in a community politically divided as elsewhere in the Diaspora to come together and organize the commemoration on April 24 in a unified way. They created the Coordinating Committee of Armenian Youth Organizations of Uruguay (Mesa Coordinadora de Organizaciones Juveniles Armenias del Uruguay), which was integrated by five organizations belonging to different political orientations of the community.

 

The Coordinating Committee organized the commemoration of 1964, with an imposing “March of Silence” through the streets of Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay, which was widely commented in the press and had its impact over Armenians all over the world. It invited to a general assembly of 19 organizations (the entire spectrum of the community) that in January 1965 issued a communiqué, stating that, “The Armenian Cause belongs to all Armenians and is not the domain of any faction,” and that “Political organizations, religious institutions, and all organizations existing in the community must set to work around the Armenian Cause.”

 

The intensive activities carried by the Coordinating Committee, including lectures, press releases, PR work with the Uruguayan press, and a competition of posters for the 50th anniversary, were crowned by its lobby efforts.

 

These political efforts led to a commemoration by the Municipal Council of Montevideo on April 27, 1965, which was preceded, most importantly, by the passing of a law recognizing the genocide.

The draft bill was written by Representative Enrique Martínez Moreno, and introduced on January 29, 1965 to the Constitution and Codes Committee of the House Representatives, with the signature of six co-sponsoring representatives of different political parties. The bill stated:

 

Article 1. The following 24th of April is declared "Day of Remembrance for the Armenian Martyrs," in honor of the members of that nationality slain in 1915.

Article 2. The stations of the Official Radio Service must on that date conduct part of their broadcast in honor of the mentioned nation.

Article 3. Armenian descendants who are public servants are authorized to miss work on the mentioned date.

 

The word genocide was not mentioned in the draft bill, but it appeared mentioned several times to legally qualify the extermination of 1915 as “one of the most terrible genocides that history has known,” in the introductory text of the draft, adding that “the synthesis of one of the most brutal genocides is more than a million assassinated persons.”

 

The draft bill was discussed by the House of Representatives on April 6, 1965. A proposal to add an article naming a school of Montevideo with the name of Armenia mustered the necessary number of votes, while another proposal to devote a school class to refer to the genocide did not. The draft bill was approved with the addition of article 4 (“The 2nd Grade School, No. 156, in the department of Montevideo, is designated with the name of ‘Armenia’”) and went to the Senate. The project was not treated on April 7 and was delayed until April 20, when it was treated with urgent character and approved with unanimous vote. The law 13,326 was signed by Washington Beltran, President of the National Council of Government (Uruguay had a collegiate executive in those years), and issued on April 22, 1965. The enthusiasm that the approval of the law created in the Uruguayan Armenian community inspired a massive assistance to the commemorative acts from April 23-28.

 

Petty politics caused the demise of the Coordinating Committee shortly thereafter. The Armenian community would fall into decades of new political divisions that seem to be on their way to solution on the eve of the Centennial. It is noteworthy that on March 2004, the Uruguayan Parliament passed law 17,752 that extended the commemoration to every April 24, repeating the text of 1965 without the use of the word genocide. Nevertheless, on April 7, 2015, the Postal Service of Uruguay issued a stamp on the centennial of the Armenian genocide and Foreign Minister Rodolfo Nin Novoa underscored that, “Uruguay was the first country to recognize the Armenian Genocide by law 50 years ago, a transcendental step in a struggle that continues to the present day.”

 

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THIS WEEK IN ARMENIAN HISTORY
(Prepared by the Armenian National Education Committee)

[ANEC]

 

Assassination of Hrant Dink
(January 19, 2007)

 

Eight years ago, the assassination of journalist Hrant Dink became a crucial moment in the last decade of Turkish public life and a symbol of intolerance against freedom of speech.hDink1

Dink was born in Malatia on September 15, 1954. At the age of five, his family moved to Istanbul. Due to the separation of their parents, he and his two brothers were sent to the kindergarten of the Armenian Evangelical Church of Gedigpaşa as boarders. The three brothers continued their education at the elementary school of the same church in Incirdibi and went to its summer camp in Tuzla. Hrant went to the Bezjian School in junior high and to the Surp Khach Tbrevank in high school, and graduated as a senior from the public school of Şişli.

At summer camp, he met Rakel Yagbasan, five years his junior, who was born in Silopi and came from the Varto clan. In 1972 he entered university and engaged in the Turkish leftist movement, which he left four years later, when he got married. Hrant and Rakel Dink had three children. He completed his degree in zoology, but could not finish his second bachelor degree in philosophy.

In 1979 he opened a bookstore with his brothers, which they ran successfully. From 1979-1984, he and his wife also ran the Tuzla summer camp, until the Turkish government seized it after a five year legal battle.

In the 1990s Dink was a contributor to Marmara newspaper, reviewing Turkish books about Armenians with the pen name “Chutak” (Violin). On April 5, 1996, he launched the first bilingual (Turkish and Armenian) weekly in the history of Turkey, Agos, which he edited until his death. Agos spoke loudly against any unfair treatment of the Armenian community in Turkey, covered human rights violations and problems of democratization in Turkey, carried news of developments in the Republic of Armenia, with special emphasis on Turkey-Armenia relations, published articles and serials on the Armenian cultural heritage and its contributions to the Ottoman Empire and Turkey, and criticized malfunctions and lack of transparency in Armenian institutions.

Dink was also a commentator for Turkish periodicals. He wrote about the establishment of good neighborhood relations between Turkey and Armenia, the opening of the borders, support of Turkish democratic processes, and the Armenian genocide. He also lectured in many countries about Armenian identity and Turkish-Armenian relations.HDink2

His views and his outspokenness started to discomfort many people. He was prosecuted three times for denigrating Turkishness, pursuant to article 301 of the Turkish Penal Court.  He was taken to court for statements during a lecture in Urfa (2002), but acquitted in 2006. A second trumped-up charge, stemming from the purposeful misunderstanding of a statement, resulted in a six-month suspended sentence (2005) that Dink, after ending all avenues in the Turkish judicial system, had appealed to the European Court of Human Rights at the time of his death. The ECHR concluded in 2010 that Turkish authorities had violated his freedom of speech. A third trial came in 2006 after he declared to Reuters that what happened in 1915 was genocide. The latter was dropped after his death, but Agos general director Arat Dink (his son) and publisher Sarkis Seropyan were sentenced to one year of prison.

The actual witch hunt had started in February 2004, after the mainstream Hurriyet daily reprinted a news piece from Agos, published in September 2003, claiming that Sabiha Gökçen, one of the adoptive daughters of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, was actually an Armenian orphan of the genocide. The press release from the office of the Chief of General Staff stated on February 22, 2004: “Whatever the reason, opening up such a symbol to public debate is a crime against national unity and social peace.”. Dink was called to the governor’s office in Istanbul and given a warning by two people whose identities remained undisclosed. Afterwards, a virulent campaign started in the press that continued until his death. The well-known journalist Mehmet Ali Birand wrote, “We are the real murderers of Hrant. We have brought up our murderers in an atmosphere and mentality created by Article 301.”

On January 19, 2007, Hrant Dink was killed outside the offices of Agos by seventeen-year-old Ogün Samast. His burial ceremony became a demonstration of more than one hundred thousand people protesting the killing and claiming, “We are all Armenians. We are all Hrant Dink.” His assassin was condemned to 22 years and 10 months in prison in 2011, while another suspect, Yasin Hayal, convicted of ordering the murder, was sentenced to life imprisonment.

However, it has become clear that justice has not been served yet. The Turkish top court ruled in July 2014 that the investigation of the killing was flawed, and recent arrests of policemen for “negligence” in the inquiry of the murder have shown that there is still a long way before closing the books on the assassination of the brave Armenian journalist.

 

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THIS WEEK IN ARMENIAN HISTORY
(Prepared by the Armenian National Education Committee)

[ANEC]

 

Baku Pogrom
(January 13, 1990)

 

Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, which had a large Armenian community since the late nineteenth century, was the theater of anti-Armenian massacres in 1905 and 1918. In January 1990, the local community was persecuted, massacred, and forced to leave the city forever.

The beginning of the Karabagh conflict, followed by the pogrom of Sumgait in February 1988, was marked with a violent Azerbaijani response to the peaceful Armenian demonstrations and claims. Exchange of population started. However, while Armenians were expelled by force from Kirovabad (currently Ganja, the second city of Azerbaijan) in the fall of 1988, as well as from other locations, Azerbaijanis were able to sell their properties and leave Armenia without being disturbed.

Azerbaijani mass media, and particularly television, were flooded with anti-Armenian propaganda, which paved the way for violence. The Popular Front of Azerbaijan, a nationalist and anti-communist movement, called to expel Armenians from Baku and take up their homes. Killings and robbery became frequent throughout 1989.

On December 1 of that year, the Supreme Councils of the Armenian SS Republic and the Mountainous Karabagh Autonomous Region passed a joint resolution on the formal unification of Armenia and Karabagh. This resolution triggered the anti-Armenian massacre of Baku from January 13-19, 1990 as a direct response.

The violence was preceded by demonstrations of the Popular Front, which called for the defense of Azerbaijan’s sovereignty from Armenian demands. Groups of young Azerbaijanis roamed the streets, terrorizing Armenians and warning them to leave Baku. Azaddin Gyulmamedov, a young Azerbaijani who attended the rally in Baku on January 13 and witnessed the outbreak of anti-Armenian violence, gave the following testimony: “We went to see what was happening. We saw these guys in the streets. I don’t know who they were – drug addicts, maybe. They had sticks and clubs, and lists of Armenians and where they lived. They wanted to break down the doors of Armenian apartments and chase them out. The police didn’t do anything. They just stood and watched. Same with the soldiers, who had weapons. We asked them to help. There were about a dozen soldiers and ten of us, and there were about twenty in the gang, but the soldiers wouldn’t help. They said: ‘You can do it yourself, Blackie. We’re not getting involved.’”

An elderly Armenian woman is one of many evacuees that escaped Baku after the massacres of Armenians by Azeris began in mid-January of 1990.

An elderly Armenian woman is one of many evacuees that escaped Baku after the massacres of Armenians by Azeris began in mid-January of 1990.

At nightfall of January 12-13, attacks started; Armenian homes were set on fire and looted, while Armenians were killed or injured. The homes of Armenians had been previously identified and mapped, while law enforcement bodies stood idle, and ambulance people made fake medical certificates, according to which the deaths of Armenians were caused by circulatory injury and not by the violence.

According to Radio Liberty, on the night of January 14 alone, 25 people were killed in the Armenian district. The Russian daily Izvestia reported on January 18 and 19 that 64 cases of pogrom had been identified, with Armenians as victims, on January 16, and 45 pogroms and arsons of residential houses on January 17. The New York Times wrote on January 19: “Nationalists in Lithuania are struggling to wrest independence from Moscow by nonviolent, political means. Nationalists in Azerbaijan also talk of independence, but their protest includes bloody pogroms against their Armenian neighbors.”

One of the leaders of the National Front of Azerbaijan, Etibar Mamedov, testified about the cruelties and the lack of official intervention: “I myself witnessed the murder of two Armenians near the railway station. A crowd gathered, threw petrol on them and burned them, whereas the regional militia division was only 200 meters away with some 400-500 soldiers of the internal forces. The soldiers passed by the burning bodies at a distance of some 20 meters, and nobody attempted to circle the area and dissolve the crowd.”

Central authorities in Moscow did little to stop the violence until January 20, when Soviet troops entered Baku and declared the state of emergency. As Moscow News wrote on February 4, “the troops entered the town seized with pogroms not to stop them, but to prevent the final seizure of power by the People’s Front of Azerbaijan, which was planned for January 20.” Most Armenians fled Baku. Former world chess champion Garry Kasparov and his family was among the evacuees. Kasparov later testified:  “No one would halt the Armenian pogroms in Baku, although there were eleven thousand soldiers of internal troops in the city. No one would intervene until the ethnic cleansing was carried out. The pogroms were happening not in a random place but in the huge capital city with blocks of flats. In such a megapolis as Baku the crowd simply cannot carry out targeted operations like that. When the pogrom-makers go purposefully from one district to another, from one apartment to another this means that they had been given the addresses and that they had a coordinator.”

The number of victims of the Armenian massacres in Baku is not clear yet, with estimates going up to 400. The events were never assessed from a legal point of view and the damages were not repaid.

 

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THIS WEEK IN ARMENIAN HISTORY
(Prepared by the Armenian National Education Committee)

[ANEC]

 

Russian Victory in the Battle of Sarikamish
(January 4, 1915)

 

The alignment of the Ottoman Empire with the Central Powers (Germany and Austria-Hungary) and its declaration of war against Russia brought inevitably a winter campaign in the Caucasus. Russia had taken Kars during the Russo-Turkish War in 1877 and feared a campaign aimed at retaking Kars and the port of Batum in Georgia.

An initial Russian offensive in the first half of November was stopped 25 kilometers inside Turkish territory along the Erzerum-Sarikamish axis. War Minister Enver Pasha devised an operation plan and decided to take personal charge and execute his plan through a winter offense. The Turkish Third Army included 83,000 regular troops, reserves, and personnel of the Erzerum fortress added to 118,000. The Russian Caucasus Army was a well-equipped 100,000 troops. It included two battalions of Armenian volunteers, commanded by Hamazasp (Servantzdian) and Keri.

The Turkish plan was two-step: a sudden initial attack and a second step with two corps (Ninth and Tenth) of the army proceeding at full speed. After a very hard march under heavy snow in the mountainous territory, and various delays, the Turkish army started its attack on Sarikamish on December 29, instead of December 25 as planned. The troops were worn out, half-starved, and short of guns and ammunition. Enver thought that the Russians, who had initially evacuated Sarikamish, were retreating to Kars, when they were actually executing an encircling movement.

The IX and X Turkish Corps, totaling 12,000 men, began to attack Sarikamish. At the end of the day, they were driven off, losing 6,000 troops. Enver’s positive mood was replaced with disappointment when he received information that the Russians were preparing to encircle his forces with a force of five regiments. On January 1, the commander of the XI Corps pressed a frontal attack on Sarikamish lasting for the next 4 days; after that the heavy fighting began to lose momentum. Snow hindered advancing forces which were supposed to bring the relief.

On January 2, Russian artillery fire caused severe casualties. Enver Pasha received two reports; both were saying that they did not have any capacity to launch another attack. The Russians were advancing now and the circle was getting narrower. On January 4, Turkish Brigadier General Hafız Hakkı Pasha toured the front line and saw that the fight was over.

Afterwards, Turkish divisions started to surrender. Hafız Hakkı ordered a total retreat on January 7. The Ottoman Third Army started with 118,000 fighting power and was reduced to 42,000 effectives in January 1915. Russian losses were 16,000 killed in action and 12,000 who died of sickness, mostly due to frostbite.

Enver was the strategist of the operation and the failure was blamed on him. Beyond his faulty estimate on how the encircled Russians would react, his failure was on not keeping operational reserves that matched the needs of the conditions. He did not have enough field service to factor the hardships faced by the soldiers and analyzed the operational necessities theoretically rather than contextually. Carrying out a military plan in the winter was not the major failure of the operation, but the level of its execution.

The Armenian detachment units are credited no small measure of the success which attended by the Russian forces, as they were natives of the region, adjusted to the climatic conditions, familiar with every road and mountain path, and had real incentive to fierce and resolute combat.

On his return to Constantinople, Enver Pasha blamed his failure on the actions of the local Armenians, initiating the repressive measures against the empire’s Armenian population that were an early stage of the Armenian Genocide.

 

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THIS WEEK IN ARMENIAN HISTORY
(Prepared by the Armenian National Education Committee)

[ANEC]

 

Closure of the Kevorkian Lyceum
(December 21, 1917)

 

In the nineteenth century, the Armenian Church did not have an institution that provided superior religious education and prepared its future members. At the beginning of his tenure, Catholicos Kevork IV (1866-1882) met Russian czar Alexander II (1855-1881) and asked for permission to found such an institution. The construction of the lyceum (jemaran) started on May 25, 1869 and the grand opening was held five years later, on September 28, 1875. The bylaws approved by the Ministry of Education of the Russian Empire in the same year established that the lyceum would have two sections: a six-year school and a three-year auditory, and would provide higher religious education. After the death of the Catholicos, the lyceum was named in his honor.

Despite many efforts, Kevork IV did not see any graduate becoming a celibate priest during his tenure. A secularist spirit predominated in the lyceum. His successor Magar I (1885-1891) played an important role to redirect the institution into its actual purpose. He invited a qualified faculty, which included Bishop Maghakia Ormanian, future Armenian Patriarch of Constantinople. The latter became the teacher of theological subjects, and thanks to his efforts, four graduates were consecrated celibate priests in 1888.

The level education at the lyceum was quite high. At the school level, the following subjects were taught: Armenian history and geography, general history and geography, ancient Armenian literature, Armenian and foreign (Russian, French, German) languages, natural sciences, astronomy, mathematics, the Bible, religious music, logics, etc. The auditory section included Armenian language (Classical and Modern), Armenian history, religious literature, Armenian literature, European literature, philosophy, psychology, pedagogy, political economy, history of the Armenian Church, Armenian religious law, ritual studies, ancient Greek, etcetera.
kEVORKIANLYCEUM

The graduates presented final essays, which were defended before an examining committee and then they became clerics or continued their higher studies in Russian and European universities.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, the lyceum had 20 paying students and 230 others with scholarships. It was maintained through the incomes of the monastery of Holy Etchmiadzin, as well as fundraisers and donations. The Catholicos was the principal, who followed the activities of the lyceum through the Educational Council and the dean. The deans included Bishop Gabriel Ayvazovsky (brother of the famous painter), Rev. Garegin Hovsepiants (future Catholicos of Cilicia), Rev. Mesrop Ter-Movsisyan, and other names, generally but not exclusively ecclesiastics. Among the teachers of the Kevorkian lyceum were such luminaries of Armenian culture as Manuk Abeghian, Hrachia Ajarian, Leo, Stepan Lisitsian, Gomidas, Hakob Manandian, and many others. Those teachers were partly graduates of the same lyceum.

Within the frame of the lyceum there was an intensive intellectual activity: preparation of Armenian schools programs, writing of textbooks and handbooks, as well as many historiographic, philological, pedagogical, and theological works. The faculties of the Armenian schools of the Caucasus were filled by graduates of the Kevorkian lyceum for more than half a century.

Due to the political and military unfavorable conditions at the end of 1917, Catholicos Kevork V (1911-1930) decided to cease temporarily the activities of the lyceum on December 21, 1917. Attempts to reopen the Kevorkian Lyceum during the first independent Republic did not succeed. The unique and rich collection of its library (45,000 volumes) became one of the starting points of the collections of the National Library of Armenia and the Matenadaran.

The Etchmiadzin lyceum was finally reopened in 1945 and continues its activities until today.

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HIS WEEK IN ARMENIAN HISTORY
(Prepared by the Armenian National Education Committee)

[ANEC]

 

Foundation of the Oriental Theater
(December 14, 1861)

 

The 1850s became a period of cultural awakening for the Western Armenian centers of Constantinople and Smyrna. Many young people were getting their higher education and bringing back new ideas with them. Armenians and Greeks used to be the carriers of European innovation in the Ottoman Empire. Theater was among those innovations.

Patriotic plays in Classical Armenian and comedies in Turkish were developing the interest for theater among the public. The Altunduri (Altunian) brothers headed the formation of a theatrical committee at the beginning of 1861 in Constantinople. Arakel and Stepan Altunduri knew good French and made several translations, but above all, they had the financial means to organize theater performances. The theatrical committee would become the founder of the first Armenian professional drama theater in modern times. They rented a building that belonged to Holy Trinity Armenian Church in Pera (nowadays Beyoglu), which was called Cafe Oriental. The premises were revamped and decorated, and a state license was secured. The theater was renamed “Oriental Theater.”

The first performance, on December 14, 1861, was “Two Sergeants,” a melodrama by French playwright Rota. The theatrical group was formed by ten actors (including important names of the time such as Bedros Maghakian, Serovpe Benklian, and Mardiros Menakian) and two actresses (Arusiak Papazian and Aghavni Papazian); the presence of women on the stage was a novel element in Armenian theater. The theatrical committee had hired an Italian director, Asti. An interesting element was that Mikayel Nalbandian, the Eastern Armenian writer and journalist, who was visiting Constantinople at the time, read a speech at the inaugural performance. He reminded the public that, “The theater stage is not less than the study chair; the stage of the theater is that chair where philosophy sits and, embodying the living word, with practical ideas and examples, liberates the public from the effort of understanding those ideas only through imagination.” He also encouraged the bravery of the actresses: “The history of Armenian theater will not forget the names of the respectable damsels, Arusiak and Aghavni Papazian, who are the first to have set foot on the theatrical stage. They have fought against common prejudices and have come to the arena after overcoming them. Long live them!”

The first season of the Oriental Theater lasted five months, until May 1862. The group presented four original plays and four translations. However, theater was still a field of polemics among progressive and conservative writers and public figures, and the Oriental Theater ceased its activities in April 1863. It was reopened in 1865 under the direction of playwright Srabion Hekimian. It was finally closed again in mid-1867 after several performances of Romanos Sedefjian’s  play “Vartan Mamigonian, Savior of the Fatherland,” dedicated to the memory of Nalbandian, who had passed away the previous year in a Russian prison.

Despite its short life, the impact of the Oriental Theater would be lasting. Many of its members would continue their activities in different groups and become pillars of Western Armenian theater until the beginning of the twentieth century.

 

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