Posts Tagged ‘Krikor Zohrab’

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

[ANEC]

 

Birth of Krikor Zohrab
(June 26, 1861)

 

KrikorZohrab

Krikor Zohrab

Known as the “prince of the Armenian short novel,” he was also a skillful and highly regarded lawyer, as well as an experienced member of the Ottoman Parliament. His parliamentarian immunity, however, was violated to turn him into one of the victims of the first wave of arrests and killings of intellectuals that began on April 24, 1915.

 

Krikor Zohrab was born into a wealthy family in the district of Beshiktash (Constantinople) on June 26, 1861. He started his elementary studies at the local Makruhian School. In 1870 his father passed away and his mother remarried, this time to a noted lawyer. Zohrab’s family moved to Ortakeuy, where he and his brother Mihran continued their education at the local Tarkmanchats School. In 1876 he entered the Galatasaray Institute, sponsored by the French government, which was the only institution of higher education in the Ottoman Empire at the time. He graduated in 1880 with a degree in civil engineering, but rather than working in that field, he went to work in his stepfather’s law office, and entered the law section of the Galatasaray Institute, which was soon closed due to lack of Muslim students (it had 45 Armenian, 2 Muslim, 2 Jewish, and 3 Greek students). In 1882 he enrolled in a newly opened law school, the Imperial University of Jurisprudence, but left two years later without graduating. In 1884 he passed an exam in the city of Edirne and obtained the title of lawyer.

 

Zohrab had already entered the literary field in 1878, becoming a contributor to the daily Lrakir at the age of 17. In the 1880s he would become one of the prolific names in the literary movement of the time. In 1885 he was the publisher of the journal Yergrakount of the Asiatic Society, edited by the famous satirical writer Hagop Baronian. He published there his first novel, A Disappeared Generation, which he released in book format in 1887. He edited the literary journal Masis in 1892-1893, to which he also frequently contributed with novellas. He also wrote for the dailies Arevelk and Hairenik. He joined the trend of realism, propelled by French writers such as Guy de Maupassant and Émile Zola, and became the master of this current genre, which became the only one to be called “school” in Armenian literature. 

 

Zohrab married Clara Yazejian in 1888. They had four children: Levon, Dolores, Aram, and Hermine. Dolores Zohrab-Liebmann would later become a philanthropist in New York City. In 1891 he was elected delegate to the National Assembly, but his election was annulled in a session of the Assembly because he was not yet thirty years old.

 

He took a long break from literature in 1893-1898, which included the impact of the Hamidian massacres of 1894-1896, devoting himself to his profession. He was well known to foreign citizens living in Constantinople, because he often represented them in the first commercial court, due to his knowledge of French. He was also a translator and legal advisor to the Russian embassy in Constantinople, and managed cases for Russian citizens. He also had the right to freely travel in Europe.

 

Masis, now a daily, made a comeback in 1898, again edited by Zohrab, who returned to his literary endeavors, coupling them with his professional activities, where he had already acquired a prestigious name. However, in 1906, after he defended a Bulgarian revolutionary in a criminal case, accusing a Turkish official of torture, he was disbarred. He went to Paris, where he published a law monograph in French. He was planning to settle in Egypt with his family when the Young Turk coup d’état of 1908 and the restoration of the Ottoman Constitution changed his plans. He returned to Constantinople, where he was elected member of the Ottoman Parliament. He was known for his eloquent speeches.  He vehemently defended Armenian interests and rights. After the double Adana massacre of April 1909, he strongly criticized the Turkish authorities for their actions and demanded that those responsible be brought to justice.

 

To serve the Armenian cause, he wrote an influential paper in French called “La question arménienne à la lumière des documents” (The Armenian Question under the Light of Documents), published in 1913 under the pseudonym Marcel Leart in Paris. It dealt with many aspects of the hardships endured by the Armenian population and denounced the government’s inaction.

 

Also in 1909-1911 he gathered his novellas and short stories in three volumes, Life as It Is, Silent Pains, and Voices of Conscience. He also published Known Figures, portraits of contemporaries, and From the Traveler’s Journal, a series of travelogues.

 

Simultaneously with the Ottoman Parliament, Zohrab also became a member of the Armenian National Assembly. He raised the issue of reforms for the Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, which led to the signature of the Russo-Turkish agreement in January 1914, thwarted after the beginning of World War I.

 

After the wave of arrests of intellectuals on April 24 and the following days, Zohrab pleaded for the liberation of his compatriots and the cessation of the ongoing atrocities. He was personally acquainted and friends with many officials, including Ministry of Interior Talaat Pasha. However, his efforts were useless. Despite their parliamentary immunity, Zohrab and his colleague Vartkes Serengulian were both arrested on May 21, 1915, and dispatched to Diyarbakır for a purported trial by court martial. They were sent to Aleppo, where they remained for a few weeks, waiting for the result of attempts to have them sent back to Constantinople, to no avail. They were dispatched to Urfa, and killed in the outskirts of the town between July 15 and 20, 1915.

 

Krikor Zohrab’s memory as an outstanding writer and lawyer has remained alive for a century. His books have been widely published in popular and critical editions and his short stories have been included in many school textbooks. Most recently, on May 3, 2017, a plaque honoring him, in memory of the Armenian Genocide, was inaugurated at the School of Lawyers of the Appellate Court of Paris.

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