Archive for the ‘History’ Category

(Prepared by the Armenian National Education Committee)



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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(Prepared by the Armenian National Education Committee)



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.

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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(Prepared by the Armenian National Education Committee)



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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(Prepared by the Armenian National Education Committee [ANEC])


The “Self-Liquidation” of the

Armenian Revolutionary Federation in Yerevan

(November 20-23, 1923)


The first years of the Soviet experience were marked by the struggle to establish the foundations of the new regime that included the need to end all remaining opposed forces throughout the Soviet Union. Ceremonies of “self-liquidation” of various parties that had been on the anti-Soviet front were staged.

The turn of the Southern Caucasus came in 1923. First the Social Democrat Hunchakian Party (June) and then Georgian Menshevik (Social Democrats) and Azerbaijani Musavat parties (both in August) announced their dissolution in congresses “organized” by their ex-members. The Armenian Revolutionary Federation followed suit in November.

After the Sovietization of Armenia in December 1920 and the retreat of the leadership of the party from the country following the revolt of February 1921, the A.R.F. was going through an organizational crisis, which was part of the critical moment being lived by the Armenian people worldwide. It was an hour of reckoning and self-criticism, as the Vienna Conference held in April-May 1923 showed. This conference decided to convene abroad what would be the 10th World Congress of the A.R.F.

The purpose of the “Congress of Former Dashnaks in Armenia” was to impede the reconstitution of the A.R.F. outside Armenia. The Armenian Communists’ concern was to combat the idea of independence and to renounce publicly any territorial claims against the neighbor republics and Turkey, aiming “to open the eyes of the Armenian workers of the colonies."

Upon the invitation of an “organizing bureau” of seventeen members, 247 delegates representing 4,032 members of the party (a striking number in comparison to the number of members of the Communist Party of Armenia, namely, 4,230) gathered at the State Theater of Armenia on November 20, 1923. The opening was by young agronomist and writer Aksel Bakunts (1899-1937), who would soon become one of the leading story writers of Soviet Armenia before his death in the Stalinist purges. As he said in his opening remarks, the congress was organized to allow the “four thousand Dashnak party members who had never been able to express their aspirations” to break with their old party and “to put their revolutionary energies at the service . . . of the Soviet state.” During three days, the delegates evaluated the current situation of the A.R.F., analyzed critically its ideology and its political activities during the preceding thirty years, and measured the extent of its current activities in an environment that enjoyed relative freedom of expression but did not lack theatrical elements. Old Bolshevik Askanaz Mravian had a major address during the second day of sessions, where he analyzed the international and domestic situation in Armenia and Soviet Russia. The closing address on November 23 was by Lukashin (Sargis Srapionian), chairman of the Council of Popular Commissars of Armenia (equivalent to prime minister) and representative of the Central Committee of the Communist Party.

The congress stressed that the peasants and workers of Armenia, whose fate had been sacrificed during the previous years at the altar of “national independence,” would henceforth enjoy “peace and security.” It called upon Armenian workers abroad to liquidate the A.R.F. committees and to struggle against capitalism, waiting for the final victory of the international working class, which would allow the resolution of the “bloody question of the liberation of the small nations.”

The main utility of the congress was internal. The “former Dashnaks” contributed to the legitimization of Soviet rule in Armenia playing the role of mediators between the Communist Party, yet poorly rooted in the country, and a population longing for peace and security. The congress failed in its key mission however, as the A.R.F. gathered its 10th World Congress from November 1924-January 1925 in Paris and retained its goals for a free, independent, and united Armenia in its program, although stressing that it had no plan to overthrow the Soviet regime. A.R.F. clandestine structures would remain active in Armenia until 1933.



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(Prepared by the Armenian National Education Committee [ANEC])


Birth of Mikael Nalbandian

(November 14, 1829)


Francis Scott Key is just remembered as the author of the lyrics of the U.S. national anthem. It is not the same in the case of Mikael Nalbandian, who was an influential intellectual of the nineteenth century and is an important name in the history of Armenian culture, besides being the author of the lyrics of the Armenian anthem.Nalbandian

Nalbandian was born on November 14, 1829, in Nor Nakhichevan, the town close to Rostov-on-Don founded in the late eighteenth century by Armenian emigrants from Crimea, in the family of a craftsman. He studied in his hometown at the school of Gabriel Patkanian, and for a while he was classmate of his son, the future poet Rafael Patkanian (Kamar Katipa). He worked as a secretary in the Armenian diocese of Nor Nakhichevan and Besarabia from 1848-1853. Then he left his post and went to Moscow, where he taught Armenian language at the Lazarian College for a short while, and took classes at the Medicine School of Moscow University as an auditor (1854-1858).

Similar to Khachatur Abovian, Nalbandian championed the introduction of Modern Armenian (ashkharhapar) instead of Classical Armenian (krapar), and confronted the opposition of ecclesiastics and conservatives. He translated poems of Alexander Pushkin, Mikhail Lermontov, Heinrich Heine, and others. Among his own poetry, three poems became favorites of the public: “The Song of the Italian Girl” (Idalatsi aghchga yerke), “Freedom” (Azadutiun), and “Days of Childhood” (Mangootian orer). The first, better known as Mer Hairenik (“Our Fatherland”), would become the anthem of the first Republic of Armenia in 1918, and was adopted again after the new independence of 1991.


A statue of Nalbandian located on the street named after the author in central Yerevan.

Nalbandian published the journal Hiusisapayl (Aurora Borealis) with another influential intellectual, Stepanos Nazarian (1812-1879), in Moscow. During its five years of existence (1859-1864), the journal became a leading name in the cultural awakening of Eastern Armenians. Nalbandian had already made a name for himself since the 1850s due to his progressive and liberal views, as well as his outspoken and ironic style. Reform and renewal were his main ideas, as he espoused them in his writings on different issues. He published various political tracts, of which the most important was Agriculture as the Right Way (1862), where he criticized the peasant reform of 1861 in Russia.

The writer made two trips to Europe (1859 and 1860-1862), and he also visited India. In London he became friends with various famous Russian revolutionaries, such as Alexander Herzen and Mikhail Bakunin. After his return in 1862, he was arrested by the Russian secret police and spent three years in prison in St. Petersburg. He was accused of inciting anti-government sentiments and exiled to the fortress of Kamyshin, in the province of Saratov. He passed away at the age of 37, victim of tuberculosis, on April 12, 1866. He was buried in the Armenian monastery of Holy Cross, in Nakhichevan-on-Don. An important street in central Yerevan and a statue remember him.



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(Prepared by the Armenian National Education Committee [ANEC])

Inauguration of the National Library of Armenia
(November 7, 1922)


The biggest repository of Armenian literature in the world is the National Library of Armenia, founded in 1921, but officially inaugurated on November 7, 1922.

The beginning of its history is linked to the foundation of the library of the Boys Gymnasium of Yerevan, in 1832. (“Gymnasium” was the name of Russian schools that emphasized strong academic learning, similar to U.S. preparatory high schools.) During the first independence of Armenia, this library, with a collection of 18,000 volumes, became the main state library after a decree was passed by the Council of Ministers of the Republic. The first director of the library was Stepan Kanayan, between 1919 and 1921. His efforts were instrumental to collect and buy the libraries of various Armenian organizations and schools in Tiflis, Baku, Akhaltskha, and Kars, and transfer them to Yerevan.Library

Various private and public collections were assembled and became the basis for what was known, during the Soviet period, as the Yerevan Public Library. Alexander Miasnikian, chairman of the Soviet of Popular Commissars (Council of Ministers) from 1921-1925, was instrumental in its foundation and initial growth. After his death in an airplane accident in 1925, the library was named after him and maintained that name until 1990 when it became the National Library of Armenia. Since 1999, July 4 is celebrated as day of the National Library of Armenia.

The library has four buildings. The oldest is the main building designed by architect Alexander Tamanian (1868-1936), who designed the master plan of Yerevan, and finished in 1939.

The number of daily visitors to the library is about 900. An annual average of 1.5 million pieces is delivered to library users. The library collection encompassed more than 6.3 million units as of January 1, 2014, including books, journals, newspapers, maps, posters, dissertations, musical notes, postcards, stamps, calendars, ex libris, banknotes, audiovisual and electronic supports (CDs, DVDs), etcetera. The library has the first printed book in Armenian, Urpatakirk (Venice, 1512); the first newspaper in Armenian, Azdarar (Madras, 1794); and the first map printed in Armenian, Համատարած աշխարհացոյց (Worldwide Map; Amsterdam, 1695). Its current director is Tigran Zargaryan.

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(Prepared by the Armenian National Education Committee [ANEC])


Armistice of Mudros
(October 30, 1918)


The defeat of the Central Powers in World War I triggered the capitulation of the Ottoman Empire, which was forced to conclude the Armistice of Mudros on October 30, 1918, to end the hostilities with the Allies in the Middle Eastern theater. The armistice was signed by Ottoman Navy Minister Rauf Bey and British Admiral Somerset Arthur Gough-Calthorpe on board the British ship Agamemnon in Mudros, a harbor on the Greek island of Lemnos.

As part of several conditions, the Ottomans surrendered their remaining garrisons outside Anatolia and granted the Allies the right to occupy forts controlling the Straits of the Dardanelles and the Bosporus. Any Ottoman territory could be also occupied by the Allies in case of a threat to security. The Ottoman army was demobilized.

Armenia had proclaimed its independence on May 28, 1918, but according to the Treaty of Batum (June 4), its borders had been reduced to an area surrounding Yerevan, Alexandropol, and lake Sevan of approximately 12,000 square kilometers. Armenians anxiously waited for the end of the war, hoping that the Allies would fulfill their promises.


Several clauses of the armistice referred to Armenians:


IV. All Allied prisoners of war and Armenian interned persons and prisoners to be collected in Constantinople and handed over unconditionally to the Allies.


XI. Immediate withdrawal of the Turkish troops from Northwest Persia to the rear of the pre-war frontier has already been ordered and will be carried out. Part of Trans-Caucasia has already been ordered to be evacuated by Turkish troops; the remainder is to be evacuated if required by the Allies after they have studied the situation there.


XV. Allied Control Officers to be placed on all railways, including such portions of the Trans-Caucasian Railways as are now under Turkish control, which must be placed at the free and complete disposal of the Allied authorities, due consideration being given to the needs of the population. This clause to include Allied occupation of Batoum. Turkey will raise no objection to the occupation of Baku by the Allies.


XVI. Surrender of all garrisons in Hedjaz, Assir, Yemen, Syria, and Mesopotamia to the nearest Allied Commander; and the withdrawal of troops from Cilicia, except those necessary to maintain order, as will be determined under Clause V.


XXIV. In case of disorder in the six Armenian vilayets, the Allies reserve to themselves the right to occupy any part of them.


Calthorpe had dictated the conditions of the armistice on behalf of the Allies without consultation with the other members of the Entente. Those conditions were discussed during the Peace Conference of Versailles, opened on January 18, 1919.  At the end of January, the Allied Supreme Council approved a resolution to separate Armenia, Syria, Palestine, Arabia, and Mesopotamia from the Ottoman Empire.


However, in the future the Allies did not take any serious measure to execute the clauses of the armistice, which would have favored the solution of the Armenian Question. The signature of the Treaty of Sevres in August 1920 was the legal follow-up to the armistice, but it was never ratified due to the Turkish victory in the so-called “war of independence.”



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