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Armenians and the History of Photography. A Pictorial Presentation on December 9

ArmPhotography1Who knew that in the Middle East of the 19th century, the pioneers of the newly-emerging art of photography were Armenians?

That is indeed the case according to Dr. Joseph E. Malikian, founder of a massive, new archive of vintage photographs. Dr. Malikian will tell the story in a pictorial presentation at the Zohrab Center entitled, From Constantinople to Egypt: The Armenians in the Development of Photography in the Near East. 

The presentation will take place on Wednesday, December 9 at 7PM in the Guild Hall of the Armenian Diocese, 630 2nd Avenue, New York, NY.

2015-11 ArmenianPhotographyMalikian.001CLICK HERE to download a flyer.

It is well established that as early as the 1850s prominent photographers emerged from the Armenian communities in many of the cultural and commercial capitals and principal towns in the Ottoman Empire. Armenian photographers such as the Abdullah Freres, Pascal Sebah and Gabriel Lekegian enjoyed tremendous success first in Constantinople and eventually in Egypt.

During this early period, Jerusalem also emerged as a center where Armenians played a dominant role in the field of photography. The leading photographer of the Armenian Convent there was Garabed Krikorian.

ArmenianPhotography1Dr. Malikian will discuss these photographers and their contributions. He will explore the reasons why the Armenians played a dominant role and were considered to be pioneers in the newly invented photographic industry in the Ottoman Empire. The presentation will draw generously upon vintage images acquired for a newly formed archive, The Middle East and Armenian Photography Archive (MEAPP). 

ArmenianPhotography2Dr. Malikian is a frequent visitor to the Zohrab Center, where he has been studying the ZIC’s small but important collection of historic photographs, some of which he will display during his lecture.

Malikian is the author of The Armenians in the Ottoman Empire: An Anthology and a Photo History, published in 2011 by the Armenian Catholicate of Cilicia.

For the past ten years, Joseph E. Malikian has been engaged in the study of archival photographs as it relates to Ottoman and Middle Eastern history. During the course of his research, he initiated an internationally based project (The Middle East and Armenian Photograph Project – MEAPP) which is devoted to the collection of vintage images of the Middle East around the turn of the twentieth century, in addition to images by the Armenian photo studios from the 1850s to the 1960s.

The lecture is free and open to the public. For further information contact the Zohrab Center at or (212) 686-0710.


Sex, the Scriptures and St. Gregory of Narek. Presentation by Prof. Roberta Ervine Tuesday, November 3

2015-10 SongSongsImage

Dr. Roberta Ervine, Professor of Armenian Studies at St. Nersess Armenian Seminary, returns to the Zohrab Center on Tuesday, November 3 at 7PM to explore yet another facet of Armenian Christian culture and thought. The title of her presentation is Sex in the Scriptures: The Commentary on the Song of Songs by St. Gregory of Narek.

It may come as a surprise to many that the Holy Bible contains a book of erotic love poems. The Old Testament work known as The Song of Songs is overlooked and even avoided by some today due to its graphic sexual imagery and dubious meaning. Yet the cycle of poems was the object of intrigue and intense study by the early church fathers East and West, including the great 10th-century Armenian mystic, St. Gregory of Narek.

2015-10 BlessingBlessingsCoverProfessor Ervine will present her recent English translation of St. Gregory’s commentary on the Song of Songs and show how the monk from the southern shore of Lake Van dares us to rethink how we imagine God, love, sex and the divine intimacy into which he invites his creatures.

The presentation will take place in the Guild Hall of the Armenian Diocese, 630 2nd Avenue, New York, and is free and open to the public. A wine and cheese reception will follow. For further information contact the Zohrab Center at or (212) 686-0710.

2015-11 ErvineSongofSongs.001CLICK HERE to download a flyer.

ZICErvineRoberta Ervine is an internationally recognized expert on Armenian theological writings and culture, with a particular interest in Cilician-era authors and the history of Armenian Jerusalem. She has published widely and lectured throughout the world, including regular engagements at the Zohrab Center. Dr. Ervine earned her Ph.D. in Armenian Studies from Columbia University, a student of Nina Garsoïan. From there for nearly 25 years she lived, studied and taught within the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem as a disciple of the late Archbishop Norayr Bogharian, who was renowned as one of the twentieth century’s leading authorities on classical Armenian literature. Her most recent book, The Blessing of Blessings: Gregory of Narek’s Commentary on the Song of Songs, was published by Cistercian Press.

Critically-Acclaimed Film PARADJANOV to be Screened and Discussed at ZIC

parajanov_420The Zohrab Center goes to the movies next Thursday, October 22 with the screening of Serge Avedikian’s 2013 film PARADJANOV.

Internationally known writer, translator, journalist, critic and filmmaker Christopher Atamian will introduce the film and lead a discussion.

Serge Avedikian also stars in the film, which was a joint Armenian, Ukrainian, French and Georgian collaboration. The film was was co-directed by Olena Fetsova.

Sergey Paradjanov, the brilliant Armenian filmmaker, struggled to pursue his art in the repressive atmosphere of the Soviet Union. Although he was acclaimed internationally by directors such as Fellini, Antonioni, Godard, and Tarkovsky, his non-comformist ways and insistence on the integrity of his art brought him into conflict with the Soviet regime and led to his imprisonment.

While relating Paradjanov’s persecution and his years in forced labor and prison, Avedikian’s film does not narrate Paradjanov’s life as much as portray the artistic soul and energy that animated his thought and work.

The film will be shown in Ukrainian with English subtitles.

Christopher Atamian will speak about Serge Avedikian's 2013 film Paradjanov at the Zohrab Center on October 22.

Christopher Atamian will speak about Serge Avedikian’s 2013 film Paradjanov at the Zohrab Center on October 22.

Native New Yorker Christopher Atamian returns to the Zohrab Center to introduce the film and to lead a discussion after it has been shown.

The program will take place on Thursday, October 22 in Vartan Hall of the Armenian Diocese, 630 Second Avenue, New York, NY. A light supper will be served at 6:30pm. The 95-minute film will be shown at 7:15pm and a discussion will follow. Admission is $5. Students with ID will be admitted free.

2015-10 Paradjanov.001Download a flyer by CLICKING HERE.

For further information contact the Zohrab Center at or by phone at (212) 686-0710.

Native New Yorker Christopher Atamian is an internationally known writer, translator, journalist, critic and filmmaker. He writes for publications such as the New York Times Book Review, The Huffington Post, The Beirut Daily Star, the New Criterion, Dance Magazine and is the former dance critic for The New York Press. He produced the OBIE Award-winning play Trouble in Paradise and was included in the 2009 Venice Biennale for his video “Sarafian’s Desire.”He has translated five books and written one novel and is currently at work on seven book projects, three of which are being published in 2016 (one translation, a book of Bedros Keljik stories as editor, and a second novel), as well as producing and directing television, film and theater and a first anthology of poetry, which follows on his being included in the “An Anthology of Armenian Poets.” He is the recipient of numerous grants, awards and fellowships including the Tololyan Literary Prize, a Fulbright Fellowship, a John Harvard Fellowship, the Bronfman Fellowship in Democratic Enterprise at Columbia University, Gulbenkian and AGBU grants, an AFFMA film making grant, and a 2015 Ellis Island Award. His lectures at the Zohrab Institute on film are part of his work “Deconstructing Ararat,” volume on Armenian Cinema which is forthcoming. He is fluent in ten languages and is an alumnus of Harvard University, Columbia Business School and USC Film School. 

THIS FRIDAY: Nationally-Acclaimed Musician to Present New CD on Armenians in Aleppo, Syria

A new, nationally-acclaimed CD features Fr. Yeznig Zegchanian of Forty Martyrs Armenian Apostolic Church in Aleppo, Syria.

A new, nationally-acclaimed CD features Fr. Yeznig Zegchanian of Forty Martyrs Armenian Apostolic Church in Aleppo, Syria.

A new CD of Armenian Church music recorded in Aleppo’s Armenian Church of the Forty Martyrs is attracting national attention. During the past week the producer, Jason Hamacher was featured on NPR’s (National Public Radio) nationally-syndicated program, Weekend Edition.

Mr. Hamacher will present his CD, entitled Forty Martyrs: Armenian Chanting from Aleppo, this Friday, September 18 in the Kavookijian Hall of the Armenian Diocese in New York. The event is free and open to the public.

CD’s and LP’s will be available for purchase.

The evening will be moderated by NPR’s Anastasia Tsioulcas.

CLICK HERE for full details.

Armenian Aleppo: An Evening of Music, Photographs and Stories

2015-08 40MartyrsImageTo inaugurate its Autumn program of learning opportunities, the Zohrab Information Center will host the release of a new audio CD entitled, Forty Martyrs: Armenian Chanting from Aleppo on Friday, September 18 at 7PM in the Kavookjian Auditorium of the Armenian Diocese in New York.

Forty Martyrs is the latest release of the Sacred Voices of Syria series produced by Jason Hamacher. Over six years the musician has documented the ancient prayers, hallowed rituals and sacred spaces of the Sufi, Armenian, Syriac and Assyrian musical traditions of Aleppo. Hamacher recorded Armenian Church hymns sung by V. Rev. Fr. Yeznig Zegchanian inside the 600 year-old Armenian Church of the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste in the old city of Aleppo.

The 14th century Armenian Cathedral of the Forty Martyrs in Aleppo, Syria.

The 14th century Armenian Cathedral of the Forty Martyrs in Aleppo, Syria.

Armenians have chanted in Aleppo’s Forty Martyrs Armenian Church (Քառասուն մանկանց – Karasoon Mangants) since it was constructed in 1429. An ancient rest stop along the Christian pilgrimage route from Western Armenia to Jerusalem, Aleppo hosted hostels, churches, and a small but well-anchored Armenian community.

During the Armenian Genocide, hundreds of thousands of Armenians were deported to Aleppo before many were pushed to the killing fields of Der Zor. By the 1920’s 100,000 Armenian refugees had settled in Syria, most of them in Aleppo. The ancient city would become a safe haven for the Armenians, who prospered there. (CLICK HERE for one Armenian’s tribute to the city and its hospitable inhabitants). The 15th century Armenian Cathedral of the Forty Martyrs was the Christian home for tens of thousands of Armenians who would later immigrate to the United States.

The bloodshed in Syria today has reduced the Armenian population of Aleppo by half and and placed this historic, prolific and prosperous community in peril.

Mr. Hamacher will share personal experiences of the people, places and events that changed his life in Syria before the eruption of war. He will tell stories, play vinyl records, and show photographs from his forthcoming book and explain how he, a punk drummer from Washington DC, ended up with an archive of Syrian and Armenian history.


This event marks the premiere of the Forty Martyrs CD in the New York area. Copies of the CD and the elegant and informative booklet that accompanies it will be available for sale. The presentation is free and open to the public. A reception will follow. For further information contact the Zohrab Center at or (212) 686-0710. #40Martyrs.

The Forty Martyrs Church is named after 40 Roman soldiers who converted to Christianity only to be martyred by pagan, Roman authorities in 320 AD. Read more…

A Message to Armenian-American Young People by Archbishop Tiran Nersoyan

The following remarks of Archbishop Tiran Nersoyan (1904-1989) were published in a commemorative booklet published in 1954 on the 25th Anniversary of his priestly Ordination. The booklet was recently donated to the Zohrab Center. It contains other essays and sermons of the Archbishop along with a biography written by his student, “Very Rev. Torkom Manoogian,” the late Primate and Patriarch of Jerusalem. In these excerpts, Tiran Srpazan challenges young Armenian Americans, particularly those in the newly-established ACYOA [Armenian Church Youth Organization] to elevate themselves to the highest ideals of their ancestral church. In so doing he articulates a vision of what it means to be Armenian and American.


It is true that there are great numbers of Americans who profess to be religious. Some of these, however, mistake religion for magic. They think that by going through certain ceremonies and thus doing the customary thing, they have done their duty to God. By merely going to church, or by merely having certain ceremonies performed on them, they think their souls will be saved. Others, going to the other extreme, think that by quoting the Bible and drawing all kinds of strange conclusions from those quotations, they will find the way of salvation.

We must beware of both these pitfalls. Of course, we can be saved from spiritual death only through the holy sacraments and through the Word of God, but we must subject ourselves to the holy sacraments and to the Word of God in deep discernment, in humility, and in an honest efforts to be changed by God’s grace.

It is the gradual change and renewal of our souls that will give us the fuller life, in which we can find happiness, real deep happiness, both in this world and in the life to come.

It is that kind of religious that we need. We must all strive towards that kind of religious life, both as individuals, and as groups or corporate bodies…

TiranCollageWe have had great religious leaders and teachers. By following them, by being faithful to our religious and cultural past, and being faithful to our Church and its precepts, we can live in this country the fuller Christian life.

By holding the standard of our faith high and by following dutifully on the path of our forefathers, we can avoid the dangers and the pitfalls to which I made reference a moment ago. Because the Armenian Orthodox way of Christian living will give us a sound, and realistic spirituality, which is neither merely formal nor merely emotional, but which in a healthy way will make us adjust our lives to the circumstances of modern civilization and, at the same time, will lead us to eternal life and to the Kingdom of God.

Read more…

Treasures of the ZIC: A Readable and Relevant Handbook of the Armenian Church


Professor Michael B. Papazian’s Light from Light: An Introduction to the History and Theology of the Armenian Church is a succinct yet meticulous introduction to the Armenian Church. This is not a conventional history book. It is not “a continuous chronology that recounts in general the [Church’s] origin…and…history of its development and organization.” Instead, Dr. Papazian “often pauses in the course of the narrative to investigate the topics and to detail the circumstances of their origin and their consequences” (Foreword, 9). For example, he devotes one third of Chapter Two discussing the details of Judaism’s essential tenets of faith in order to transition into the theological and social issues involved in evangelizing the pagan Armenians. Thus we have here a true primer on the Armenian Church, historically organized but replete with insights into her theology, rituals and practice, saints, and world view. The author’s intent is that “all readers [Armenians and non-Armenians, Christian and non-Christian] will find this book to be a helpful source of knowledge about the Armenian Church” (Introduction, 11).

Papazian relies and quotes a variety of sources in his presentation: the Bible; Armenian texts, liturgical hymns (sharagans), prayers, encyclicals; early histories such as Movses Khorenatsi’s History of the Armenians; non-Christian sources such as the Jewish theologian Maimonides; and present-day scholars such as Stanley Harakas, Nina Garsoïan, and His Holiness Catholicos Karekin I. Very few scholarly stones are left unturned; all the information Papazian needs to construct for the reader a thoroughly detailed, explicative chronicle is utilized.

Nine chapters of the book chronicle and detail the timeline of the Church’s history, which Papazian organizes into eight essential epochs. The tenth chapter is devoted to discussing the sacramental life of the Armenian Church, highlighting their unique features compared with other traditions. The book concludes with three appendices, the first of which could easily be considered as an eleventh chapter. It meticulously enumerates the various communions of the entire Christian Church (Oriental Orthodox, Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, etc.). Appendix B lists all of the sources consulted, helpful for those who would like to study a topic for deeply. Appendix C is the Lexicon, a list of significant terms mentioned in the book with concise definitions.

An example of the author’s approach may be illustrated in Chapter Six, which chronicles the history of the Armenian Church from the 5th to the 11th centuries. Here Dr. Papazian discusses the Iconoclast movement in the Byzantine Church of the 7th and 8th centuries. Pausing to compare and contrast the Armenian, Greek, and Roman Catholic Churches’ respective positions on icon veneration, the author discovers “a difference of culture rather than theology” (106). Though not questioned by Roman Catholics, icons are not as important to piety as in Eastern Orthodox churches, which often contain an icon-covered screen (iconostasis) before the sanctuary. Although the Armenian Church fathers have never challenged the legitimacy of icon veneration,“art historian Sirarpie Der Nersessian has remarked that the illuminated Gospel book…takes the place that the icon holds in the other Eastern Churches” (Papazian 106). This is why in many Armenian churches one can observe, before and after the Divine Liturgy (Soorp Badarak), a pristine copy of the Gospels placed at the center of the altar as though enthroned.

Regarding the history of the church, particularly the topic of early Christian evangelization, one learns that in order to make Christianity palatable to the pre-Christian high classes, St. Gregory the Enlightener conformed a particular pagan Armenian practice to the faith. “As we have seen, the pagan priesthood in Armenia was hereditary. Gregory adopted the pagan custom perhaps as a temporary measure to gain greater acceptance and respect for the new Christian priesthood among the people” (49-50). Several of the first catholicoi were, in fact, direct descendants of St. Gregory himself: his two sons Aristakes and Vrtanes; St. Nerses the Great, Gregory’s great-great-grandson, whom Papazian refers to as Armenia’s “‘second Illuminator’” (60), the “‘Illuminator of the heart’” (65). Like many Christian traditions, here is an example of a pre-Christian form that was adopted to facilitate the evangelization of the people.

Of particular interest was another facet of the Armenian Church’s worldview which Papazian emphasizes: ecumenism. Papazian cites several historical episodes where the Armenian Church leadership engaged with other churches for the purpose of healing the wounds wrought against the Universal Church over the course of history. For example, Byzantine Emperor Manuel I Comnenus approached Catholicos St. Nerses the Graceful (Shnorhali) in the twelfth century about reunification of the Greek and Armenian churches. The defense that St. Nerses wrote on the Armenian Church’s Christological position gained the admiration of the Emperor and the Byzantine patriarch. It was presented at the Armenian Synod of Hromkla, which Nerses’ successor, Gregory IV “The Young (Tgha)” convened in 1179. When Manuel died in 1180, the synod did not bear fruit because his successors had little interest in ecumenical dialogue. Despite its failure, this episode is indicative of the Armenian Church’s ecumenical worldview at a volatile period in Christian history, an rare attitude magnanimity and unity. Such an outlook was adopted by St. Nerses Shnorhali’s great-nephew St. Nerses of Lambron, who said, “I am united by tradition to whoever bears the name of Christ as a crown of glory….For us, there is no Paul or Apollos, Haik or Romulus” (136).

In essence, this book is a miniature library that engages the reader personally and carries the audience on a sojourn through time to discover and unfold the history and ways of the Armenian Church. To the novice and scholar alike, Light from Light is essential reading. Suitable for all readers, it opens a floodgate of enlightenment on the Armenian Church, its history and its contributions to the ministry of Christ on earth.


Andrew Kayaian

Michael B. Papazian, Light from Light: An Introduction to the History and Theology of the Armenian Church. New York: New York SIS Publications / Armenian Apostolic Church of America, 2006. 

Andrew Kayaian is a senior at Fordham University in New York majoring in History and Theology. He has worked as an intern for the Zohrab Center for two years and has contributed previously to the ZIC website.


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