(Prepared by the Armenian National Education Committee)


Lili Chookasian
Death of Lili Chookasian

(April 10, 2012)

Lili Chookasian was one of the world’s leading contraltos during the 1960s and 1970s with a long and celebrated career at the Metropolitan Opera.

She was born in Chicago on August 1, 1921, the youngest of three children to immigrants from Sepastia. Her family was a survivor of the Armenian Genocide. Her first language was Armenian, and she would acquire her English proficiency after attending school.

After high school, Chookasian began studying singing seriously, and earning money singing in the choirs of Armenian churches and on the radio. She began performing professionally as an oratorio and concert singer in the 1940s, mostly in Chicago but also occasionally out of town. The main highlight of her early concert career was her performance as soloist for Mahler’s second symphony with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, directed by Bruno Walter.

In 1956 Chookasian was diagnosed with breast cancer, and her physicians gave her six months to live. She underwent a radical mastectomy, which was further complicated by a widespread infection that required additional surgeries. However, she fought her way back to health. She would have another breast cancer scare in 1961, which forced her to another mastectomy.

At the age of thirty-eight, in 1959, Chookasian made her first opera appearance and a resounding success as Adalgisa in Vincenzo Bellini’s Norma with the Arkansas State Opera. In 1961 she was hired for a concert performance of Sergei Prokofiev’s Alexander Nevsky with the New York Philharmonic. Shortly thereafter, she was offered a contract with the Metropolitan Opera but turned it down because of family considerations. After successful performances in Italy and Baltimore, she finally accepted a second offer to join the roster at the Metropolitan, where she debuted in March 1962 in Amilcare Ponchielli’s La Gioconda.  

During her 24-year-long career at the Met, Lili Chookasian sang many principal contralto roles and a number of secondary parts in operas by Giuseppe Verdi, Richard Wagner, Claude Debussy, Gounod, Mussorgsky, and many others. While working at the Met, Chookasian quickly became one of the leading contraltos performing on the international stage during the 1960s and 1970s, singing under the best conductors of that time, like Leopold Stokowski, Leonard Bernstein, Herbert von Karajan, and many others. She was particularly admired worldwide for her performances in Beethoven’s ninth symphony, Gustav Mahler’s symphony Das Lied von der Erde (The Song of the Earth), and above all Giuseppe Verdi’s Requiem.

In September 1967 she traveled to Armenia, where she performed in two productions mounted in her honor at the Alexander Spentiarian Opera Theatre: Amneris in Verdi’s Aida and Parandzem in Dikran Tchouhadjian’s Arshak II. She received the prize Bedros Atamian of the Ministry of Culture of Soviet Armenia in 1981.

During a performance of Kurt Weill’s Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny in 1984, she suffered a minor heart attack on stage and was unable to continue. Her career slowed down and she performed for the last time at the Met on February 17, 1986 in Charles Gounod Romeo and Juliet, which became her farewell to the opera stage.

After retiring, Chookasian joined the voice faculty at Yale University’s School of Music. She taught there and resided in Branford, Connecticut. In 1987 she lost George Gavejian, her husband of forty-six years, with whom she had three children. In 2002 she was awarded Yale’s Sanford Medal. She was name Professor Emeritus of the School of Music in 2010.

Lili Chookasian passed away at her home in Branford on April 10, 2012





(Prepared by the Armenian National Education Committee)


Birth of Soghomon Tehlirian
(April 2, 1896)


In her remarkable work on the trial of Nazi criminal Adolf Eichmann, political theorist Hannah Arendt wrote, referring to the assassination of Talaat Pasha and Ukrainian statesman Simon Petliura—responsible of Jewish pogroms in Ukraine–by Soghomon Tehlirian (1921) and Sholom Schwartzbard (1925), that “the point in favor of Schwartzbard and Tehlirian was that each was a member of an ethnic group that did not possess its own state and legal system, that there was no tribunal in the world to which either group could have brought its victims.”

Soghomon Tehlirian, the avenger of the Armenian Genocide, was born on April 2, 1896, in the village of Nerkin Pakarij, in the vilayet of Erzerum. He was the youngest of five brothers. His father left for Serbia, planning to bring his family after him, which moved to Erzinga in the meantime. Tehlirian, who had started his schooling at the village, continued his education at the Evangelical elementary school of Erzinga (1905-1906) and the Getronagan (Central) Lyceum of the city (1907-1912). He went to Serbia in 1913 and settled in the town of Valjevo, where his father was in the coffee business.

He got ready to move to Germany, where he would study engineering, but his plans totally changed after the beginning of World War I. In the fall of 1914 he went to Bulgaria and enrolled in the Armenian volunteer battalions that would fight in the Caucasus. He traveled to Tiflis in October 1914 and entered General Antranig’s battalion. He participated in the battle of Dilman and in May 1915 entered Van. The retreat of the Russian army forced him to go back to the Caucasus, where he worked in Echmiadzin and Yerevan collecting orphans and placing them in orphanages.

In June 1915, the Ottoman government ordered the deportation of all Armenians from Erzinga. From the 85 members of the Tehlirian extended family (Tehlirian’s immediate family had 17 members), besides his father, two brothers, and an uncle, only his niece was saved after a ransom was paid to Kurds.

After the Russian troops occupied Erzerum in March and Erzinga in July, Tehlirian, like many members of the already dissolved volunteer battalions, joined the Russian army. He reached Erzinga, only to find that his family had vanished. His obsession to punish the mastermind of the plan of annihilation, Talaat, was born here. He joined Mourad of Sepastia’s group, which was rescuing Armenians, especially children kidnapped by Kurdish tribes, and continued fighting in the front until April 1918, when he was wounded.

In December 1918 he went to Constantinople to look for Talaat, who had abandoned the city a month before. By orders of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation’s Central Committee, he killed spy Harutiun Mgrdichian, an Armenian traitor who had designed the lists of intellectuals arrested on April 24, 1915. Tehlirian went to Paris and in 1920 he was summoned to the United States, where Operation Nemesis—the plan to liquidate the Turkish leaders responsible for the genocide, decided by the A.R.F. in its ninth congress in Yerevan (November 1919)—had its headquarters. He received instructions and returned to Europe, first to Geneva, and then, in December 1920, to Berlin.

On March 15, 1921, after three months of surveillance with the logistical support of a small A.R.F. cell, Tehlirian killed Talaat in Hardenbergstrasse, a street in the district of Charlottenburg. The assassination took place in broad daylight and Tehlirian, who had been told by his handlers not to run from the crime scene, was immediately arrested by German police.

Tehlirian was tried for murder on June 2-3, 1921, but eventually acquitted. The trial examined his actions, but also his conviction that Talaat was the orchestrator of the genocide, despite the efforts of the tribunal to not politicize the issue, since the defense attorneys focused on the influence of the deportations and massacres on Tehlirian’s mental state. The proceedings of the trial were published in German in 1921, and later translated into several languages.

After the acquittal, Tehlirian traveled to the United States and then returned to the former Yugoslavia, where he married his sweetheart Anahid Tatikian (formerly from Erzinga), and settled in Valjevo, where he continued the coffee business. To avoid Turkish retaliation, he changed his name to Saro Melikian, and the surviving members of the family also changed their identity. (At his death, the New York Times would run his obituary as “Saro Melikian”). They later moved to Belgrad, where Tehlirian dictated his memoirs to Vahan Minakhorian, a genocide survivor.

After the Communist regime was established in Yugoslavia, Tehlirian and his wife moved to Casablanca (Morocco) from 1950-1955, and after a short sojourn in Paris, in 1957 they migrated to the United States. They settled in San Francisco, where Tehlirian worked at George Mardikian’s famed “Omar Khayyam” restaurant as an accountant.

The Armenian hero passed away on May 23, 1960, and was buried in the Ararat Cemetery, in Fresno, California. A monument was erected on his grave.

Several statues and busts of Tehlirian were erected in Armenia in the waning days of the Soviet regime (Mastara, 1990, and later Yerevan, 2003; Maralik, 2015). A bust of him was inaugurated in 2017 in an A.R.F. club of Beirut. In the same year, a square in Marseilles was named after him. Hrayr Toukhanian’s film, Assignment Berlin (1982), chronicled Talaat Pasha’s assassination, the same as the graphic novel Special Mission: Nemesis (2014). There are several novels and plays in Armenian dealing with Tehlirian’s exploits.



(Prepared by the Armenian National Education Committee)



Birth of Nelson Stepanian
(March 28, 1913)


Armenians had an important participation in the Soviet army during World War II. One of the most remarkable names in the Soviet air force was Nelson Stepanian.

Stepanian was born in Shushi (Artsakh) on March 28, 1913. He moved to Yerevan with his parents shortly thereafter and attended Maxim Gorki School. He was a fifth grader when he got interested in aviation and aeromodelism. He won competitions of aeromodelism in Moscow, Kiev, Tbilisi, and Baku.

In 1932 he graduated from the Sergo Orjonikidze preparatory military school of Baku, and three years later finished the school of Military Aviation in Bataysk, where he worked as a flight instructor until 1938. He continued his service in the city of Mineralniye Vodi, in the Northern Caucasus, until 1941.

On June 23, 1941, the day after Germany invaded the Soviet Union, Stepanian was called to service in the offensive aviation of the Black Sea fleet. He entered the 46th attack squadron and got familiarized with the Il-2 fighter, participating in the defensive combats in Poltava, Zaporozhye, and Odessa. He was wounded by shrapnel flak in his twentieth sortie.

In August 1941 Stepanian was transferred to Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) as a member of the second air squadron of the 57th division and participated in the defense of the city. He was designated ring commander. By decision of the Presidium of the USSR Supreme Soviet, on October 23, 1942, he was decorated as Hero of the Soviet Union, and in November of the same year, Capt. Stepanian became commander of the squadron of the 57th Assault Regiment. As of November 1942, he was reported to have destroyed 78 German trucks, 67 tanks, 63 anti-aircraft guns, nineteen mortars, 36 railroad cars, twenty merchantmen and warships (including a destroyer), thirteen fuel tankers, twelve armored cars, seven long-range guns, five ammunition dumps, and five bridges.

After he was promoted to the rank of major in 1943, he became the commander of the 47th Fighter Division. He executed about 60 battle flights in the positions of Leningrad and destroyed, together with his men, eight tanks, some 90 vehicles, and more than 60 cannons and machine guns.

During the Crimean offensive in April 1944, Stepanian became commander of the 47th air battalion, which was fighting in Crimea and Kuban. Under his command, the battalion participated in the fights near Feodosia, Sebastopol, and Sudak. On April 16, 1944 Stepanian, who headed a group of 12 Il-2 fighters, had personally destroyed three landing barges. He participated in the elimination of a German convoy on May 22, although his plane suffered important damage. Prior to the offensive, the 47th Division had destroyed 8 transports, 12 barges, 9 patrol boats, and more than 3,000 soldiers and officers.

In May 1944, after the liberation of Crimea, Stepanian returned to the Baltic Sea with his 47th Fighter Division, where they were involved in the battles of the Gulf Finland. He was awarded the Order of the Red Banner on July 22.

On his final sortie against Liepaja in Latvia, on December 14, 1944, the assault group was attacked by German fighters. Stepanian’s plane was hit by anti-aircraft fire and, though wounded, he rammed his own plane into a German warship. The 31-year-old Armenian pilot died along with navigator Captain Alexander Rumyantsev. The devastating loss hit the rest of the squadron harshly. His fellow pilots sent the following letter to his parents after his death:

“[A] simple and modest man, close and beloved by all; he was a father and teacher to all of us, a friend and a commander….We all wept when Nelson Gevorgovich failed to return on that fateful day. They say that tears bring comfort. But the few tears of a soldier, like the red-hot drops of metal, burn the heart and call for vengeance.”

Stepanian was posthumously awarded the Hero of the Soviet Union title for a second time for his sacrifice. According to Soviet sources, Stepanian undertook no less than 239 combat sorties, sunk 53 ships (thirteen alone), destroyed 80 tanks, 600 armored vehicles, 105 cannons, 130 machine guns, 27 aircraft, and 5,000 soldiers.

Four statues of Stepanian were inaugurated in Liepaja, Yerevan, Stepanakert, and Shushi. The latter was destroyed by Azerbaijanis during the Gharabagh war. The statue of Liepaja was moved to Kaliningrad in the 1990s.

Stepanian’s name is also remembered by school No. 71 of Yerevan, named after him on the tenth anniversary of his death in 1954.




(Prepared by the Armenian National Education Committee)


Treaty of Moscow
(March 16, 1921)

The Treaty of Moscow was signed between Soviet Russia and Kemalist Turkey on March 16, 1921. The Russian side yielded to most Turkish demands, and signed a document that was utterly damaging to Armenia for the sake of Russian-Turkish “friendship and brotherhood.”

The treaty was the outcome of the second Russian-Turkish conference, held in Moscow from February 26-March 16, 1921, with the participation of two Russian (Georgi Chicherin, the Commissar of Foreign Affairs, and Jelal Korkmasov) and three Turkish representatives (Yusuf Kemal bey, Riza Nur bey, and Ali Fuad pasha). Stalin, the Commissar of Nationalities, lobbied against any claim from Turkey that could put the Russian-Turkish alliance in risk. In a letter to Lenin on February 12, 1921, he had written: “I just learned yesterday that Chicherin really sent a stupid (and provocative) demand to the Turks to clean Van, Mush, and Bitlis (Turkish provinces with enormous Turkish supremacy) to the benefit of Armenians. This Armenian imperialist demand cannot be our demand. Chicherin must be forbidden to send notes to the Turks suggested by nationalist-oriented Armenians.” The Bolsheviks sought to halt further Turkish advance into the region. Weary from the ongoing Russian Civil War, which was winding down, they had no intent of starting a new war.

Not surprisingly, Chicherin refrained from his pro-Armenian position, and declared during the conference that Russia would not insist about passing the border to the west of the Akhurian (Arpachay) and the south of the Arax rivers. This meant that the entire province of Kars and the district of Surmalu (Igdir), which had never belonged to the Ottoman Empire, would go to Turkey. The Turkish delegation additionally claimed for the province of Nakhichevan, which historically had belonged to the Armenian Province and then to the governorate of Yerevan under the rule of the Russian Empire, to be put under Azerbaijani administration.

Thus, the treaty of “friendship and brotherhood” between Soviet Russia and Turkey recognized Turkish control over Artvin, Ardahan, Kars, and Surmalu. The region of Adjara, with the port of Batum, was returned to Soviet Georgia on the condition that it would be granted political autonomy due to its largely Muslim Georgian population. (Adjara became an autonomous republic within Georgia.) Turkey withdrew from Alexandropol (nowadays Gumri) and a new border was established between Turkey and Soviet Armenia, defined by the Arax and Akhurian rivers. According to these new boundaries, Mount Ararat and the ruins of Ani remained within Turkey.

The treaty also stipulated that Nakhichevan would become an autonomous entity under Azerbaijani protectorate. Azerbaijan obliged not to transfer the jurisdiction to a third party, namely, Armenia. Additionally, Turkey later acquired a small strip of territory known as the Arax corridor, which had also been part of the governorate of Yerevan. This corridor was located east of Surmalu, limited by the Arax River to the north and the Lower Karasu River to the south. It was a strategic strip of land that allowed Turkey to share a common border with Nakhichevan and, consequently, Soviet Azerbaijan.

Both signatory parties were internationally unrecognized, and thus were not subject of international law, which made the treaty illegal and invalid. The RSFSR, now under the guise of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, was legally recognized for the first time in 1924 by Great Britain. The Great National Assembly of Turkey was a non-governmental organization led by Mustafa Kemal, which did not have any legal grounds to represent the Turkish state in international relations. According to the Ottoman Constitution, only the sultan had the right to engage other states, be it personally or through a representative. The Kemalist movement was actually a rebellion against the legal authorities of the country, and Kemal was a criminal fugitive who had been sentenced to death by a fatwa signed by the Sheikh-ul-Islam, the highest religious authority of the Ottoman Empire, on April 11, 1920, and a court-martial on May 11, 1920.

The section of the Treaty of Moscow related to Armenia was a violation of international law, since treaties can only refer to the signatory parties and do not create any obligation to third parties that are not bound by treaty without the latter’s agreement. At the time of the Treaty, the Soviet regime had been thrown out from Armenia by the popular rebellion of February 1921.

The treaty was reaffirmed in October 1921 with the Treaty of Kars and the borders it established have been maintained ever since. However, this did not mean that Soviet policymakers necessarily accepted the terms of the treaty as permanent. After World War II, when the Soviet Union was at the zenith of its power, its leader Stalin reopened the issue on behalf of Armenia and his native Georgia. Supported by Moscow, both republics began to assert territorial claims against Ankara. According to Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, Stalin made this move at the insistence of Lavrenti Beria, the deputy premier and a fellow Georgian. Indeed, Ankara sought the support of Washington, which had become suspicious of Soviet intentions with the onset of the Cold War. The issue was eventually dropped by Moscow and by 1952 Turkey joined NATO, precluding any further discussion on border revisions.

The frontiers established by the 1921 treaty remained unaltered and were maintained by the newly-independent states of Russia, Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan after the dissolution of the U.S.S.R.

Following the shoot down of a Russian plane over the Syria–Turkey border in November 2015 and the rise of Russo-Turkish tensions, members of the Communist Party of Russia proposed the nullification of the Treaty of Moscow. Initially, the Russian Foreign Ministry considered this action in order to send a political message to Turkey.  However, Moscow ultimately decided against it in its effort to de-escalate tensions with Ankara.


(Prepared by the Armenian National Education Committee)


Death of Alexander Khatisian
(March 10, 1945)



Alexander Khatisian, one of the prime ministers of the first Republic of Armenia, was a remarkable public figure before and after the crucial years of 1918-1920.


He was born in Tiflis (nowadays Tbilisi), the capital of Georgia, on February 17, 1874. He belonged to a well-to-do family. His brother Kostandin Khatisian (1864-1913) was among the founding members of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation.


After graduating from the local gymnasium (Russian high school) in 1891, Khatisian went to Russia to pursue higher education. He studied medicine at the universities of Moscow and Kharkov, and graduated in 1897. He mastered half a dozen languages, including English, French, and German.


From 1898 to 1900 he traveled abroad for specialization courses in the best clinics. He visited Italy, France, and Germany, where he also studied public hygiene, laws, and municipal work in slaughterhouses, hospitals, and water works. Later on, he would publish articles and pamphlets on cultural and health-related topics.


Upon his return to Tiflis, in 1900, Khatisian worked as a doctor, and also entered the political arena. In 1902 he was elected to the City Council, and in 1905 he became a member of the City Board. He participated in the revolutionary movements of 1905. He wanted to join the A.R.F. at that date, but he was dissuaded by Rostom, one of the party founders, and Hamo Ohanjanian, among others, who argued that he could better serve the Armenian people and the party as a non-partisan. In 1907 he became an assistant to the mayor of Tiflis, and from 1910-1917 served as mayor of Tiflis. He was president of the Caucasus branch of the Union of Cities (including a total of forty-four cities) from 1914-1917.


During World War I, Khatisian was among the organizers of assistance for Armenian refugees and genocide survivors. He collaborated with the formation of the Armenian volunteer battalions and was elected vice-president of the Armenian National Bureau of Tiflis from 1915-1917.


After the February Revolution of 1917, Khatisian entered the ranks of the A.R.F. During that decisive year, he led the National Bureau until October, presided over the Council of Armenian Political Parties (March-April), and participated in the convention of peasants of Transcaucasia (June 1917). He moved to Armenia at the end of the year and was elected mayor of Alexandropol (nowadays Gumri). In February 1918 he participated in the peace negotiations held with the Ottoman Empire in Trebizonda (Trabzon). However, in April 1918 he went back to Tiflis, when he was designated Minister of Finances and Provisions of the short-lived Republic of Transcaucasia. In May he returned to the table of negotiations with the Turks, and was one of the three Armenian representatives who signed the Treaty of Batum on June 4, 1918, where the Ottoman Empire recognized the independence of Armenia over a stretch of territory.


He moved to Yerevan, and Prime Minister Hovhannes Kajaznuni designated him as Minister of Foreign Affairs. After Kajaznuni left Armenia in February 1919 on official mission, in April Khatisian was designated acting Prime Minister and was confirmed as Prime Minister in May, while also retaining his position in Foreign Affairs. He reshuffled his cabinet first in August 1919 and then in the spring of 1920.

After the failed May 1920 uprising engineered by Armenian Communists, Khatisian resigned from his post. He was replaced by Hamo Ohanjanian, the representative of the A.R.F. Bureau, while the Bureau members took the cabinet posts. Khatisian traveled abroad in the summer to organize a loan for the country within the Armenian communities and create a “Golden Fund.”


After his return, on the eve of the Sovietization, he signed the Treaty of Alexandropol along the representatives of Mustafa Kemal on behalf of the Republic of Armenia in the early morning of December 2-3, 1920.


After the fall of the Republic, Khatisian settled in Paris. He continued his political activities, and participated in the Lausanne Conference in 1922-1923 defending the rights of the Armenian people. He was a member of various Armenian and Russian public organizations. He published his memoirs of his time as mayor of Tiflis and the volume The Origin and Development of the Republic of Armenia (1930).


During World War II and the occupation of Paris, Khatisian moved to Portugal. However, after the liberation of the French capital, he was arrested under trumped-up charges of collaboration with the Nazis, but was soon liberated due to lack of proofs. He passed away on March 10, 1945, in Paris




(Prepared by the Armenian National Education Committee)


Death of Henri Troyat
(March 2, 2007)


Prolific and popular French novelist and biographer Henri Troyat, a member of the French Academy for almost half a century, was also of Armenian origin, even though he had little connection to Armenian life.


He was born Lev Aslanovich Tarasov on November 1, 1911, in Moscow. His last name was the Russianized form of Torosian, and his maternal grandfather was of Armenian-Georgian mixed descent. His father was a wealthy Armenian draper who had made a fortune through investment in railways and banking. His privileged environment included a Swiss governess who taught him French. When the Soviet Revolution broke in 1917, the family retreated to their estate in the Caucasus, but the failure of the counter-revolutionary movement forced them to catch the last émigré boat from Crimea to Constantinople in 1920. From Constantinople, they traveled with passports of the Republic of Armenia to France and joined the exiled Russian community in Paris. They settled in the prosperous suburb of Neuilly, where young Lev attended the Lycée Pasteur. The family found exile life difficult and was forced to move to the city, where Lev Tarasov studied law at the Sorbonne. He would once say: “Success means nothing. I know what I’m talking about: at the very beginning of my life, I saw my parents lose everything in a reversal of fortune, and I kept that lesson in mind.”


He would never return to Russia, even after the fall of the Soviet Union, claiming that he wanted to keep alive the imaginary country he had created out of childhood memories and dreams. He acquired French citizenship in 1933, and departed to Metz to complete his mandatory military service. He was still under arms when he published his first novel, False Light, in 1935, which obtained the Prix du Roman Populiste, under the pseudonym Henri Troyat.


After returning from military service, the writer was appointed as a civil servant in the prefecture of the Seine. He continued his literary career, publishing a series of short psychological novels. In 1938 his fifth novel, The Web, earned him both the Prix Max Barthou of the French Academy and the very prestigious Prix Goncourt. He was mobilized with the outbreak of World War II and returned to Paris in 1940.

At this point Troyat’s career took a major shift. He continued with his short psychological fiction–his novel Snow in Mourning (1952) was filmed with Spencer Tracy in 1956 as The Mountain—but his subsequent work was dominated by two major innovations: the long novel cycle and biography. In 1942 he left his civil service job to devote himself entirely to literature. He married twice; he had a son from his marriage, which ended in divorce, and later married a widow, the love of his life, with a young daughter whom he raised as his own.


He initiated a whole series of biographies of Russian writers (Fyodor Dostoevsky, Alexander Pushkin, Leon Tolstoy, Nikolai Gogol, and Anton Chekhov) and tsars (Catherine the Great, Peter the Great, Alexander I, and Ivan the Terrible). These works brought an introduction to Russian literary and political culture to the French public. The historical research became the grounds for a series of historical novels, mostly based in Russia. Troyat devoted the trilogy While the Earth Endures (1947-1950) to pre-revolutionary Russia, the revolution, the civil war, and the exile, and then explored France from the same perspective in the tetralogy The Seed and the Fruit (1953-1958), which became a popular French television series in 2001. These cycles of novels were followed by other multivolume novels from the late 1950s to the mid-1970s. He would have more than a hundred literary works in his count, including novels, short stories, biographies, and plays.


Troyat became one the first French best-sellers, combining critical recognition with commercial success. In 1952 he won the Grand Prix Littéraire du Prince Pierre de Monaco. Seven years later, on May 21, 1959, at the age of forty-seven, he was inducted into the French Academy. Intriguingly, he sat on seat number 28, which had previously belonged to Claude Farrere, a novelist well-known for his pro-Turkish stances. He became the most long-standing member of the group of forty “immortals” who safeguard the French language. He would later earn a series of state decorations, including the Grand Cross of the Legion of Honor, the highest ranking in France.


Henri Troyat published his last novel, The Hunt, in 2006, at the age of ninety-five. He passed away on March 2, 2007.



(Prepared by the Armenian National Education Committee)

Birth of Vardges Sureniants
(February 27, 1860)


Vartges Surenyan 2

A multifaceted artist and intellectual, Vardges Sureniants is considered the founder of Armenian historical painting. He was born in Akhaltskha (Akhaltsikhe), in modern-day Georgia, on February 27, 1860. His father Hakop was a priest who taught religious history. After their family moved to Simferopol, in Crimea, in 1868, his father was appointed to the Armenian diocese in Moscow. This gave young Sureniants an opportunity to study at the prestigious Lazarian School from 1870-1875.


From early on, the future artist showed his interest and aptitude for the arts. He furthered his education at the department of Architecture of the Moscow Art School (1875-1878). He went to Munich (Germany), and after a year at the department of Architecture of the Academy of Fine Arts (1879), he made a crucial shift and studied at the department of Painting for the next five years until 1885.


Sureniants became interested in caricatures and sketches during his years at the Lazarian School. In Munich, some of his caricatures were published in the Fliegende Blätter magazine.


The painter traveled to Italy in 1881 and visited Venice, including the island of San Lazzaro. In the library of the Mekhitarist Congregation he studied Armenian fine arts and manuscripts. In 1883 he published his first article, about Armenian architecture, in the daily Meghu Hayastani of Tiflis.


After his return to Russia, in 1885–87 he traveled to Persia as a member of the scientific expedition led by Valentin Zhukovski, a professor of Oriental Studies at the University of Saint Petersburg. They visited the cities of Tabriz, Tehran, and Shiraz, and Sureniants spent several months in Ispahan. Afterwards, he translated William Shakespeare’s play Richard III and sent it to the celebrated Shakespearean actor Bedros Atamian (1849-1891), in Constantinople, to have it produced there. He would later translate Midsummer’s Night Dream and some of Shakespeare’s sonnets. He taught painting and general art history at the Gevorgian Seminary of Holy Echmiadzin in 1890-1891.


After 1892 Sureniants participated actively in the artistic, theatrical, and social life of Moscow, Saint-Petersburg, Tiflis, and Baku. He visited Ani and Lake Sevan, and became familiar with historical monuments and everyday customs of Armenian rural life. He also studied the Armenian illustrated manuscripts in the repository of the monastery of Holy Echmiadzin. He traveled to France and Spain in 1897-1898.


He has been categorized as a realist painter in his representations of landscapes and historical events, and played an important role in the revival of the Armenian past through art. His paintings would reflect the aesthetic knowledge acquired during his studies and his travels. In 1901 he held a solo exhibition of his works in Baku, which would be his only exhibition in his lifetime. Afterwards, he moved to St. Petersburg, where he worked as a stage decorator until 1915.


Sureniants was also known for his illustrations of famous literary works, such as Ferdowsi’s Shahname, Alexander Pushkin’s The Fountain of Bakhchisaray, Oscar Wilde’s fairy tales, and works by Belgian poet Georges Rodenbach and Armenian poets Smbat Shahaziz and Alexander Tzaturian.


His famous painting “Salome” was included in the exhibition dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the Academy of Fine Arts of Munich (1912). In 1915 he returned to the Caucasus, and in 1916 he founded the Armenian Artists’ Society, together with Yeghishe Tateosian, Martiros Sarian, and Panos Terlemezian. He also made many paintings of survivors of the Armenian Genocide.

In 1917 Sureniants moved to Yalta, in Crimea, where he was commissioned to draw the decorations for the newly built Armenian cathedral. He decorated the altar, walls, and dome of the church. However, he suffered a grave illness during his task. He passed away on April 6, 1921, and was buried in the courtyard of the cathedral he had contributed to decorate

 Vartges Surenyan 3Vartges Surenyan


(Prepared by the Armenian National Education Committee)


Birth of Ervand Kogbetliantz
(February 21, 1888)


His is not a household name, but Ervand Kogbetliantz was an accomplished mathematician and inventor who lived and taught in the United States from the 1940s-1960s.


Ervand George Kogbetliantz was born on February 21, 1888, in the old Armenian community of Nor Nakhichevan (Novo Nakhichevan), in the Northern Caucasus, now part of Rostov-on-the-Don (Russia). We do not know anything about his early years, but it appears that love for mathematics came to him naturally. He studied mathematics at the University of Paris (1907) and graduated from the School of Mathematics at Moscow University (1912), where he taught from 1912-1918. In 1918 he invented one of the oldest forms of three-dimensional chess. He returned to the Northern Caucasus, and taught at the Polytechnic Institute of Ekaterinodar (nowadays Krasnodar) from 1918-1920.


It appears that the newly-opened University of Yerevan, in the fledgling Republic of Armenia, attracted him, and he taught there for a few months. A couple of weeks after Armenia became a Soviet republic, on December 17, 1920, Commissar of Education Ashot Hovhannisian issued a decree about the restructuring of the university, and established an advisory committee presided by Kogbetliantz, which was entrusted with the task.


In 1921 Kogbetliantz left Armenia for France. He obtained a doctorate in mathematics from the University of Paris in 1923. He taught at the Russian High School of Paris in the 1920s and was president of the Union of Geophysicists from 1927-1933.


Kogbetliantz received an invitation from Reza Shah to organize the chairs of mathematics and celestial mechanics at the University of Tehran in 1933, which he also directed until 1938. His efforts were rewarded with the Elmi Order, the highest of Iran.


In 1939 he returned to Paris as a researcher for the National Center of Scientific Research and kept that position until 1942. As many other scholars, he left occupied France and crossed the Atlantic. He taught mathematics at Lehigh University (1942-1944) and then at the New School of Social Research (1944-1954) and Columbia University (1946-1953). Meanwhile, he was a consultant for Standard Oil (1945-1946) and then for IBM (1953-1964). He became a member of the Rockefeller Institute in 1956.


His mathematical work was mainly on integral equations, the theory of orthogonal polynomials, numerical analysis, gravity and magnetic theories, etcetera. He formulated an algorithm for singular value decomposition which bears his name. He authored close to one hundred scholarly articles and books, some of them in translation (Fundamentals of Mathematics from an Advanced Viewpoint, 4 volumes, 1968; Handbook of First Complex Prime Numbers, 1971, with Alice Krikorian). He also invented precision devices to measure Earth magnetism, and various analogical and gyroscopic devices. Kogbetliantz was one of the co-creators of the IBM 7030, also known as Stretch, the first transistorized supercomputer created by IBM, which was on sale from 1961-1964.


In 1952 Kogbetliantz’s three-dimensional chess received much media attention, and was described in several articles in Time, Newsweek, New Yorker, and Life, including pictures of his chess set. At his death, he was working with world champion Bobby Fischer on a game of chess for three people.

He retired in 1964 and moved back to Paris, where he passed away on November 5, 1974.




(Prepared by the Armenian National Education Committee)


Death of Rafael Ishkhanyan
(February 6, 1995)


Rafael Ishkhanyan was a prominent expert of Armenian language and book history, and also an engaged intellectual in Soviet times and the first years of the second independence.


He was born on March 9, 1922, in Yerevan. His parents, Avetis Kirakosian and Haykanush Ishkhanyan, who had become Bolshevik revolutionaries in 1919, then divorced. Rafael lost his mother at the age of eight, and grew up with his maternal uncle and grandmother, adopting their last name. In 1937 he lost his father, who was shot during the Stalin purges. (He would later marry Burakn Cheraz-Andreasyan, whose parents, Vahan Cheraz, a founder of the Armenian scout movement, and Vartanush were also shot by the Soviet regime in 1928 and 1937.)


In 1939 Rafael Ishkhanyan entered the Faculty of Philology in Yerevan State University. However, he interrupted his studies in 1940 when he was drafted by the Soviet army. He was wounded in World War II, fell prisoner to the German army, and after being released, he returned to the battle front. After the end of the war, he was discharged and returned to his studies. After finishing university in 1949, he left for Moscow, where he also graduated from the Institute of Library Studies in 1954.


From 1955-1963, Ishkhanyan worked in the field of library studies. He entered the Public (now National) Library where he worked as a senior librarian, head of subdivision, and head of division, and also worked at the Matenadaran as director of the scientific library. He also taught at the distance course of the Pedagogical Institute of Armenia. In 1962 he defended his first Ph.D. dissertation about Axel Bakunts (1899-1937), one of the prominent writers killed during the purges. The following year, he entered his alma mater, where he would spend the next thirty years (1963-1992) teaching at the chairs of Armenian language and history of the Armenian language. His main subjects were Armenian contemporary language, dialectology, and history of the language of Armenian literature. He would defend his second Ph.D., “History of the language of modern Armenian literature,” in 1973, and earn the title of professor in 1978. In the late 1970s, Ishkhanyan published some of his major works, Bakunts’ Life and Art (1974), History of the Armenian book (vol. 1) (1977), History of the language of Eastern Armenian poetry (1978), and The New Literary Armenian in the Seventeenth-Eighteenth Centuries (1979).


From the 1960s, two controversial subjects attracted Ishkhanyan’s attention, who published his views whenever possible: the origin of the Armenian people, which he considered autochthonous to the Armenian Plateau, and the restoration of traditional orthography (in replacement of the “reformed” orthography imposed in 1922 and 1940). He would ardently defend his views until the end of his life. Not by chance, his first books published on the subject appeared in the Diaspora, because the views expressed did not make it possible to publish in Soviet Armenia: Our Fundamental Orthographic Question (1983) and The Origin and Earliest History of the Armenians (1984).


When the Karabagh movement started in 1988, Ishkhanyan was also at the forefront of the national issues that were attached to the claims for Karabagh, and particularly the status of the Armenian language in Armenia. He also wrote extensively about political issues, including Armenian-Turkish relations (The Law of Excluding the Third Force, 1991). He became the editor of “Lousavorich,” a newspaper entirely published in traditional orthography. Two books on his views on Armenian origins were finally published in 1988 (Questions on the Origin and Earliest History of the Armenian People) and 1989 (Armenian Native Words and Earliest Loanwords). In the 1980s he had serialized a history of the Armenian people for children and teenagers, Armenian Illustrated History, of which the first volume appeared in 1990 (two more volumes would be posthumously published in 1997 and 2004). He published a total of forty books in his life and countless articles.


In 1991 Ishkhanian was elected a deputy to the Supreme Council (the forerunner to the National Assembly) of Armenia and designated director of the National Library of Armenia. He passed away on February 6, 1995, in Yerevan. The school No. 153 of the Armenian capital now bears his name.



(Prepared by the Armenian National Education Committee)


Death of Zabelle Boyajian
(January 26, 1957)



Alice Stone Blackwell in the United States and Zabelle Boyajian in England played a central role in the promotion in Armenian literature at the turn of the twentieth century.

Boyajian was born in 1873 in Diarbekir. Her father Thomas was a former Evangelical pastor who had become the British vice-consul in the city. After the death of his first wife, he had remarried to Catherine Rogers, an Englishwoman who was a descendant of poet Samuel Rogers (1763-1855). Her parents homeschooled her and taught her history, geography, and several languages (Armenian, English, French, Turkish, German, and Russian). They also instilled in her the love for Armenian and English literature.


During the Hamidian massacres of 1895, Thomas Boyajian was killed by the Turkish mob in Kharpert, where he was spending the summer with his family. His wife, together with their children Zabelle and Henry, relocated to London. Zabelle would spend the rest of her life in the British capital. She enrolled at the Slade School of Fine Art in University Central London (UCL). In 1901 she published her first work of fiction, the novel Yestere: The Romance of a Life, under the pen name Varteni, to avoid endangering the life of her relatives still living in Constantinople. It was based on the events following the massacres of Sasoun in 1894. The novel was very successful and it was immediately published in German. An Armenian translation remained unpublished, however.


Zabelle would actively devote herself to writing and painting. She wrote important essays on figures of world literature like William Shakespeare, Lord Byron, and Euripides, but also published essays and many translations of Armenian literature.


She was close to Anna Raffi, widow of the famous Armenian novelist, and her sons Aram (1876-1919) and Arshak. In 1916 she compiled and translated the anthology Armenian Legends and Poems, which had an introduction by Viscount James Bryce and an essay on Armenian literature by Aram Raffi. The anthology was illustrated by her works inspired by Armenian legends.


In the same year, she participated in one of the many commemorative festivals taking place on April 23, 1916, on the occasion of the 300 th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. She recited her personal ode to the Bard, entitled “Armenia’s Love to Shakespeare.” Her poetic tribute was selected, along with 165 others, to be published in A Book of Homage to Shakespeare.


As a painter, Boyajian had individual exhibitions in London in 1910 and 1912, in Germany in 1920, in Egypt in 1928, in France, in Italy, and in Belgium between 1940 and 1950. In 1921 a revised edition of the Armenian translation of Hamlet, by Hovhannes Masehian, was printed in Vienna, illustrated by her.


She published her most important work, Gilgamesh: A Dream of the Eternal Quest, a dramatic rendering in poetic form of the tale of the mythical Sumerian hero Gilgamesh, in 1924. She traveled widely and in 1938 published her travel notes and illustrations of Greece, In Greece with Pen and Palette . This was followed by a play, Etchmiadzin, in 1943, which was performed in New York in 1946. Two years later, she published her translation of Avetik Isahakian’s epic poem Abu Lala Mahari.


Zabel Boyajian passed away on January 26, 1957. Her Armenian Legends and Poems, which had been out of print since its first publication, was reprinted in 1958 in London and New York.


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