Joan George’s Merchants in Exile: The Armenians in Manchester, England, 1835-1935 is about much more than the title implies. In addition to synthesizing the story of Armenians in Manchester–including but not limited to international merchants of textiles and other goods–George offers a detailed chronicle of the attention that was paid in England to the atrocities taking place in the Ottoman Empire by Armenians, by the British public, the press, and political figures in London. The British press, she demonstrates, made the public aware of the Hamidean massacres of 1895-96 and the larger genocide of 1915, and numerous Parliament deputies and even prime ministers delivered speeches showing sympathy and consternation, but sympathy without assertive action of course did little. Some in power contradicted themselves, like William Gladstone, who on some occasions showed a desire for strong action, while other times wondered why the Armenians in Turkey could not defend themselves.
The author provides all this, in great detail, side by side with the story of the evolution of the local Armenian community and the many facets of its social and spiritual life. Some parts of the book might seem to hold limited interest for outsiders to the Manchester community, such as the full membership rosters for church committees and full lists of members of certain families. Other parts might read like personal memoir, for instance where the author recounts how her parents met. But even these elements have great value if one wants to do follow-up research on any of the local social topics she talks about. Overall, this book is a valuable contribution to the understanding of Armenian history, not only at the local but also at the global level.
Joan George, Merchants in Exile: The Armenians in Manchester, England, 1835-1935 (Princeton and London: Gomidas Institute, 2002). ISBN: 1-903656-08-7.
Professor Benjamin F. Alexander is an historian of Armenian-American immigrant experiences. His research brings him frequently to the Zohrab Center, where is also assists as a consultant.
One of the newer books we have added to our collection here at the Zohrab Information Center is about an area in historic Armenia that most native Armenians have never heard of or know very little about. Khodorchur: Lost Paradise is an extensive study that details virtually every aspect of life in this forgotten region. Khodorchur (now named Sirakonaklar, “row of mansions” in Turkish) was a cluster of historic Armenian villages referred to as Little Rome in the late 18th century. These Armenian Catholics were isolated geographically in the mountainous range north of Erzurum, surrounded in a sea of ethnic Armenian convert Muslim communities known as the Hemshin—Armenians largely devoid of a Christian presence as a consequence of forced Islamicization but who retained their language and other customs.
The work was originally written by Mekhitarist-order priests both native to Khodorchur, Fr. Harutiun Hulunian and Fr. Madtéos Hajian. Dr. Vatche Ghazarian oversaw the translation of the volume into English, while Gina Ann Hablanian coordinated the project as Managing Editor. The original title of the Armenian book, published in Vienna in 1964 by the Mekhitarist Press, reads in English translation, “Memorial Album of Khodorchur.” Co-editor Aram Arkun, former director of the Zohrab Information Center, provided rich historical annotations.
Hovann H. Simonian, who has studied the Hemshin, opens the volume with a brief, yet rich foreword introducing Khodorchur and providing the cultural background and an historical overview of its people. The original preface from Vienna in 1964 by Fr. Hamazasb Vosgian credits and recounts how the pair of priests came together and authored the book. Fr. Hulunian focused on the topography, customs and history of the region when he began writing in 1908. Fr. Hulunian had been granted an opportunity to revisit his birthplace in 1913. In consequence, he was able to correct, expand, and enrich the first draft of his work, which he had brought with him. He took his work with him, continually refining it. Before Fr. Hulunian began writing his work on Khodorchur, Fr. Madtèos Hajian, who had been dispatched to his birthplace in 1899, and where he remained for a number of years, had published a number of works on the district before being deported and martyred. This compilation of material would later be utilized by Fr. Hulunian in his research.
The study begins with a discussion of the various topographies and customs of the area encompassing Khodorchur. The first 15 chapters present detailed facts about the various villages in the Khodorchur region. The second half of Part I describes the inhabitants’ wedding festivities, funeral traditions, pilgrimages, seasonal traditions, superstitions, popular medications, and proverbs and riddles. Part II tells the history of the people, marked by its conflicts with Turkish and Armenian convert Muslim bandits and raiders in hostile, neighboring provinces. Part III is devoted to recounting the deportations of the Armenians of Khodorchur in detail. Included are testimonies of victims of the Armenian Genocide who retell their survival stories and the fate of their unfortunate compatriots. In Part IV, Bert Vaux presents an exhaustive linguistic analysis of the unique Armenian dialect of Khodorchur. Included is a dictionary of terms compiled by Shushan Avagyan that shows just how sharply the language of Khodorchur differed from both the Eastern and Western Armenian dialects familiar to us today.\
An addendum contains an official report of the survivors in the region of Khodorchur by the Dayk Union’s Committee for the Search and Relief of Refugees following the Armenian Genocide in 1919. Documented here are statistics and records concerning the confiscation of arms, searches, imprisonments, tortures, etc., confiscation and sale of belongings, the number of Armenians in the region immediately before the war, the number of deportees, and where they were sent, the current number of Armenians, and the conditions of churches, schools, and
houses, just to name a few. In the Appendix, a narrative entitled, “Three Times in Khodorchur,” Vartan Gianighian, who has ancestral ties to Khodorchur, describes his experience while on a tour of eastern Turkey that eventually led him to his father’s homeland. There he had the opportunity to see the beauty and subsequent
devastation that his father had told him about years earlier. Aside from a lengthy and detailed index, another precious feature of this book is its rich variety of plates of priceless photographs and artwork from Khodorchur.
A real gem among lost and hidden Armenian treasures from pre-20th century times, Khodorchur: Lost Paradise has revived the legacy of Khodorchur and her people, creating a rich ethnography that snapshots a lesser known, yet enigmatic piece of Armenian society which, through the hard work and dedicated effort put in by Fathers Harutiun and Madtèos, is sure to capture the imagination of any Armenian having roots in another Armenian world. It has surely done so for this reviewer.
Khodorchur: Lost Paradise. Memories of a Land and Its People. Fr. Harution Hulunjian and Fr. Madtéos Hajian. Vache Ghazarian, trans. Edited by Aram Arkun and Victoria Rowe with a Foreword by Hovann H. Simonian. New material by Vartan Gianighian, Hagop Hachikian and Bert Vaux. Monterey, CA: Mayreni Publishing, 2012. ISBN 9781931834384. 652 pp.
Copies of Khodorchur are available for sale from the Bookstore of the Eastern Diocese. Phone (212) 686-0710.
Alexander Calikyan is a third-year student at the Catholic University of America majoring in philosophy and theology. He is completing a summer internship at the Zohrab Information Center, where he has assisted in cataloguing rare books.
Throughout the twentieth century, nearly every episode of Armenian history had a Dashnak and an anti-Dashnak version. The life of Dramistat Kanayan, more commonly known as General Dro, was no exception, especially where his actions in Germany during World War II were concerned. As was revealed publicly right after the war ended, Dro and several other Dashnak notables, with no known formal party sanction, made overtures to the Nazi high command and formed an Armenian Legion to assist the German regime. Other Armenians were also involved with the Nazis. What did they do, and why did they do it? Ambiguities have lingered.
Levon Thomassian’s Summer of ’42: A Study of German-Armenian Relations During the Second World War (Schiffer Military History, 2012), recently acquired by the Zohrab Center, does not wipe away all of the ambiguities, but that’s not the author’s fault: the realities are ambiguous. In this exhaustively researched scholarly study of Armenian wartime actions in Germany, Thomassian sheds considerable light on the actions of General Dro and others. In the process, he finds that elements of both a desire to protect Armenians from being among those targeted for mass murder (a very real possibility, given the regime’s racial theories) and the hope of being on the winning side of the war to pry Armenia loose from Soviet rule may well have influenced Dro’s actions.
But Dro is just one component of this book’s focus. Thomassian also shows the dilemmas that many Armenian prisoners of war faced after their capture by Nazi troops, with the prospects of saving their own lives by serving in Nazi forces. With the occasional exception here and there, Armenians decidedly did not like Hitler—nor, Thomassian also convincingly shows, did Hitler particularly like them. Thomassian also makes clear that the Armenian contribution to the Nazi war effort was minuscule compared with the Armenian contribution to the victory of the Allies.
General Dro is, by any academic standards, an important historical figure in the twentieth-century Armenian experience. A work detailing his actions which is neither hagiographical nor prosecutorial should be greatly valued, one among many reasons to read Levon Thomassian’s Summer of ’42. Of equal importance is his fair and probing treatment of Armenians in general, who were caught, as they had been before, in fateful circumstances and had to make impossible choices in response to them.
Professor Alexander is a New York-based historian of Armenian-American immigrant experiences. His research brings him frequently to the Zohrab Center, where is also assists as a consultant.
A newly-published book by St. Vartan Press entitled, Frequently-Asked Questions on the Badarak: The Divine Liturgy of the Armenian Church, will be officially released at a reception on Thursday, May 28 at 7:00PM in the Tahlij of the Armenian Diocese Center, 630 Second Avenue, New York.
The event is being hosted by His Eminence Abp. Khajag Barsamian, Primate of the Diocese.
Written by V. Rev. Fr. Daniel Findikyan, Director of the Zohrab Center, the slim but meaty volume came about several years ago, when young people throughout the Diocese were asked to submit their questions about the Badarak. Fr. Findikyan, who also serves as Professor of Liturgical Studies at St. Nersess Armenian Seminary, answered these questions and more, resulting in a book that will be of great interest not only to Sunday School and Armenian School students, but to their teachers and other adults as well.
Among the questions raised are straightforward queries such as: “Who wrote the Badarak?” and “Why do we stand most of the time during the Badarak?” to more weighty matters like: “Can the Badarak be shortened?” “Do women have to cover their heads during Badarak?” and “Do the bread and wine really turn into the Body and Blood of Christ?”
The reception is free and open to the public. Those planning to attend are asked to RSVP by phone at: (212) 686-0710 or by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Books will be available for sale and the author will be on hand to personalize copies.
Voice of Conscience is a collection of seventeen short stories penned by Krikor Zohrab, the Zohrab Center’s namesake and the renowned Armenian politician and writer. Originally published in 1909 in Constantinople, this critical piece of Armenian literary history can now reach millions of new, potential readers thanks to Jack Antreassian’s skillful English rendering.
A true realist in style and form, Krikor Zohrab gives valuable, sometimes startling, insight into the daily lives of Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire at the end of the nineteenth century through the stories in his collection. This intriguing period of social and cultural renaissance, often overshadowed historically by the devastation that brought it to a sudden and irreparable end, produced exceptionally fertile ground for his literary imagination and an almost endless supply of conflict and paradoxes to explore.
The themes of this collection encompass a very wide range. Light-hearted tales of young love like Rehan are placed immediately after The Black Bag, a grim story of desperation that reveals the psychological toll of financial hardship and mere pages from Armenissa, a window into the seemingly intransigent religious divisions that afflicted the Armenian community at that time. Other stories in the collection address issues of class and religiosity as well as the pain of personal loss and the evolving role of women.
This striking variation in subject matter is a testament to the vitality of the Armenian community during this era and helps contemporary readers more accurately visualize the various facets of Armenian life during this vibrant, yet precarious, period in Armenian history.
The Zohrab Center currently has two copies of Voice of Conscience that it would be more than happy to give to enthusiastic readers. If interested, please stop by or contact the center at email@example.com.
As the title indicates, Diana Der-Hovanessian’s The Other Voice: Armenian Women’s Poetry through the Ages introduces readers to the work of over 50 female poets writing between the eighth century to modern day. Many of the poems featured in this collection, especially those written by contemporary poets writing both in the Diaspora and in the Republic of Armenia, appear for the first time in translation, widening the readership and the possibility for greater exploration into Armenian women’s poetry in the future.
Although readers may be more familiar with the poetry of Bedros Tourian or Vahan Tekeyan than with the poetry of their often lesser-known female counterparts, these female poets, frequently writing during the same periods and nourished by similar literary currents, provide an alternative perspective on society at any given time and expand our understanding of the reality gleaned from the work of male literary figures. It should be noted, however, that the female poets in this collection, especially those writing before 1915, represent an elite tier of Armenian society who had the good fortune of receiving an education in their mother tongue and having the leisure time to pursue their literary interests at a time when the vast majority of Armenians, both men and women, were unable to read or write. The earlier poets in this collection are therefore privileged women whose experiences, desires and ideas are not necessarily representative of their contemporaries.
Indicative of very different experiences across centuries and borders, the poets write in a variety of different forms and address a variety of different themes in their work. Beginning with anonymous folk chants and lullabies and an eighth century acrostic poem, there are also a great many ballades, odes and free verse poems in the collection. These poems vary greatly in subject matter, but generally focus on themes relating to two of the poets’ identities: their identities as women and as Armenians.
The poetry in this collection reveals an unwavering pride in their nation and in the unique experience of their sex that unites this otherwise very diverse group of women living in very different circumstances. The collection encourages the reader to reflect on the evolution of what it has meant to be an Armenian women and especially, given modern geographic, cultural and social differences, to reflect on what it means today.
The personal accounts of Armenian Genocide survivors, as we have come to know them in the Diaspora through family stories and memoirs, tend to follow the same basic pattern: a calm life is suddenly and unexpectedly disrupted by news of deportations which sends a dazed family, usually without its male members, on death marches where, one by one, the family is torn apart by death and disease until one member, a child defying all odds, reaches a major city, like Aleppo or Constantinople, where he or she settles in the company of other Armenian refugees or finds the means to go abroad to Europe or the United States to start life anew. These children are our grandparents and great-grandparents and we know their story well, but in Fethiye Çetin’s memoir My Grandmother, the author recounts the experience of an Armenian Genocide survivor whose life, although beginning like those familiar stories, took a radically different course.
Fethiye Çetin is a Turkish lawyer best known outside of Turkey for representing Hrant Dink and his family in their suit again the Turkish Republic. Her involvement in this case and her defense of other Armenians in Turkey is directly linked to the secret that she reveals in her memoir: despite having been raised as a Turk, Çetin, by way of her maternal grandmother, discovers that she is, in fact, of Armenian descent. Her grandmother, born Heranoush to an Armenian family, was taken by a Turkish gendarme during the death marches where she was renamed Seher and raised as a Turk, repressing any memory of her Armenian past until the very end of her life where she divulges her entire story to her already grand-daughter who must reconcile her grandmother’s story and her newfound heritage with the negative perception of Armenians that she absorbed from the society around her over the course of her lifetime.
The story of Fethiye Çetin’s grandmother is certainly not unique, but Çetin is one of the first brave enough to voluntarily reclaim an Armenian identity in a country where the word Armenian has a pejorative connotation; her pride in her newfound ancestry and the personal reconfiguration that she underwent as a result of her discovery is certainly a testament to her strength and provides a strong example to others looking to tell a similar story. It is impossible to estimate the number of Armenian children abducted during the death marches and raised in Turkish households, unaware of their pasts, but in the past decade, stories are slowly emerging as more Turks begin investigating their ancestry and taking an interest in the surprising discoveries that they find. One would hope that as more Turks come to see how intertwined their own family stories are with the Armenian Genocide, how fundamentally their personal histories were shaped by an event of which their government denies the existence, that there will be more domestic pressure for recognition of the suffering that has survived in both Armenian and Turkish families.
Over the past decade, Dr. Richard Hovannisian, emeritus professor of Armenian and Near Eastern History at UCLA, has edited a series of illuminating volumes that explore various facets of Armenian history and society in Armenian cities and provinces under the Ottoman Empire. Armenian Cilicia, published in 2008, is the seventh volume in his series and focuses on Cilicia, a coastal region in southwestern Turkey that was the site of an Armenian kingdom during the Middle Ages and that maintained a significant Armenian population until 1915.
Together with Simon Payaslian, Dr. Hovannisian brings together articles from scholars in various disciplines (history, literature, geography, political science, art history, women’s studies, etc.) on topics that span over a millennia in time. Beginning with a historical geography of Cilicia, the themes of the chapters range from the role that Cilicia has played in a religious context to the impact of the region on the writings of Armenian-American authors.
Armenian Cilicia and the other books in Dr. Hovannisian’s Armenian History and Culture Series are particularly noteworthy because they document an active Armenian presence in places where Armenians no longer live. Books like these combat the efforts of those who stubbornly attempt to erase any trace or memory of an Armenian population in modern-day Turkey.
By taking the reader through the considerable contributions of Armenians to Cilicia and to other regions in modern-day Turkey, Dr. Hovannisian illustrates why Armenians are still so inextricably intertwined with the memory of their homeland, even after having lived outside it for almost a century.
Victoria Rowe’s 2009 book, “A History of Armenian Women’s Writing: 1880-1922,” investigates an area of Armenian literature that has been largely neglected or minimized by historians and scholars: the contribution of Armenian women to literature. Although names like Gregory of Narek, Raffi or Taniel Varoujan may come to mind when thinking about Armenian literature, curiously absent from the canon is the work of the many clever and influential women writers who explored new, revolutionary themes, such as social equality and female empowerment, in their writing. Centering her study on a period of cultural renaissance that thoroughly transformed Armenian society, Rowe examines the work of six women writers and situates each one in her proper socio-historical context to highlight the strength and perseverance that were required of these women to succeed during an era where educational opportunities for women were scarce and where wife and mother were expected to be their only social roles.
Devoting a chapter to each writer, Rowe begins with Srpouhi Dussap, the first Armenian feminist, and the role model for future generations of women writers, known for her three controversial novels published in the 1880s. Rowe then discusses the writing and charitable work of Sybil (Zabel Assadour) in Constantinople and Marie Khatisian in Tiflis who both promoted education for girls under the Ottoman and Russian empires, respectively, and details Marie Beylerian’s struggle to establish Ardemis, a periodical devoted exclusively to Armenian women’s rights founded in Egypt in 1902. Rowe shifts to the Russian Empire to examine the poetry of Shughanik Kurghinian and finally ends with a study of Armenian literature’s most well-respected woman writer, Zabel Yessayan, tracing her life from her childhood in Constantinople, to her young adulthood in France and finally to her later years in Soviet Armenia
Rowe closes her book with an invaluable appendix for those interested in women writers, which lists all of the known works, criticism and translations for each of the six writers in addition to biographical information about other women writers of the period. Overall, Victoria Rowe’s groundbreaking book helps Armenian literature enthusiasts gain a new perspective on this revolutionary period and appreciate the obstacles that these women writers overcame in order to succeed.
Jennifer Manoukian is a summer intern for the Zohrab Center. She is a recent graduate of Rutgers University and holds a B.A. in French and Middle Eastern Studies. She was delighted to come across this book while doing research for her seni0r thesis on Zabel Yessayan.
“The Fables of Mkhitar Gosh,” translated by Robert Bedrosian and edited by Elise Antreassian, highlight a collection of stories by this great intellectual figure. An Armenian cleric and scholar born in Azerbaijan in the 12th century, Mkhitar Gosh was asked by a prince of eastern Armenia to compile a set of legal guidelines, which became known as the historic Armenian Law Book and was used by the Armenians of Cilicia, the Caucasus and elsewhere.
“The Fables of Mkhitar Gosh” reflected Gosh’s world around him. He touched upon the subjects of animals, birds and plants, and his stories concluded with guidance and lessons to his readers. These included the condemnation of mixed marriages and conversion to Islam, as well as admonishment of the poor and weak and praise for the rich and strong. To read a digitized version of “The Fables of Mkhitar Gosh,” please click here.