Sonia Tashjian (née Ekizian) was born in Jounieh, Lebanon in 1929 to parents Hampartzoum and Haigouhi (née Karagosian) Ekizian who hailed from Chomachlou and Yozgat, Turkey, respectively. Her father had emigrated to New York prior to World War I to earn money for his family. Her mother survived the Armenian Genocide by walking in constant peril through the Syrian desert before reaching a refugee camp in Aleppo, Syria, where Hampartzoum had rescued his two surviving children, Garabed and Turvandah. He married Haigouhi and together they had four children, Margaret, Youghaper, Sonia, and Hagop.
Sonia emigrated to New York in 1937 at the age of eight with her parents and siblings. She graduated from Theodore Roosevelt High School in the Bronx, NY. She married Martin Sonny Tashjian, in 1951, shortly before Sonny was deployed to Korea. They had four sons: Douglas, Glenn, Craig, and Roger. Sonny died in 1981 from Leukemia. With her well known strong will and determination, Sonia re-entered the workforce and still managed to send her two youngest sons to Lehigh University.
Sonny and Sonia were among the founding families of St. Thomas Armenian Church in Tenafly, NJ. She later became an active member of St. Leon Armenian Church in Fair Lawn, NJ, where she was a member of the women’s guild for 30 years. Sonia’s faith in God and never-give-up spirit got her through several illnesses, including her final battle with COVID-19 and its aftermath. She died peacefully on the morning of July 29th, 2020.
Sonia was an exceptional bibliophile, as evidenced by her collection of over a hundred Armenian-related books that were donated by her son Douglas to the Zohrab Information Center in 2021. Several titles were original contributions to the Center’s library, e.g., The Adventures of Wesley Jackson by William Saroyan, and Source Records of the Great War, Volume III (an anthology of official documents for the year 1915, with a chapter dedicated to the Armenian Genocide).
Many other titles were in better condition than the Center’s copies, such as George M. Mardikian’s autobiography, Song of America, which also included the original 1956 dust jacket.
Others were earlier editions than books in the Center’s collection, such as the two-volume travelogue Armenia: Travels and Studies by H. F. B. Lynch. Sonia had the first edition from 1901, while the Center had previously only held later editions.
One of the most intriguing dimensions of Sonia’s collection was the compilation of book-related ephemera: book catalogues of bygone decades, correspondence, and order receipts with Armenian book dealers spanning from 1961-1982, notably seller Mark Armen Kalustian in Arlington, Massachusetts, with whom Sonia exchanged extensive correspondence and was a loyal customer of many years.
Sonia’s collection, both the books and the ephemera, are a magnificent testament not only to the strength of life pulsating through the 20th century Armenian-American community, but also to the love and care of one extraordinary woman toward that community and its literary heritage. Her personal library of Armenian books, collected over a lifetime, has now found a permanent home in the Zohrab Information Center’s research library.
On April 27th, the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Church of America hosted the book release of Zarmine Boghosian’s From Azaz to America (Yerevan: “VMV-PRINT”, 2021). To read about the program, click here. For photos, click here.
The over four-hundred page book gathers into one place the educator-principal-author’s articles, essays, memoirs, recollections, and poetry written from the 1960s until recent years.
Last month, I was approached with a request to translate a letter written in Kars in 1917, from one Sarkis P. Jigarjian to his daughter Araksi (Arax), after a fire had erupted on the family property, causing the loss of several buildings (though not the family home or anyone’s life). The letter is written in the Kars dialect and contains several words of foreign origin (particularly Russian and Turkish). That the letter was written in haste after a sleepless night is evidenced not just by the numerous spelling errors and grammatical irregularities, but by Sarkis’ own words in the final lines where he describes his state as like that of a drunken man and apologizes for his bad handwriting. Despite this statement, the handwriting is rather beautiful and mostly legible.
Descendants of the Jigarjian family who produced the letter also provided the following background information: “This is believed to be the last letter Sarkis wrote to his youngest and favorite child, Arax. We suspect that the fire he reported was a result of arson. At some point within the following year or two, Sarkis was murdered. His murderers were identified as Turks by his wife who then fled Kars and lived her remaining days with her daughter, Arax, and her family.”
World War I and its immediate aftermath was a time of upheaval and instability in Kars, when the city was a heavily contested site between the Ottoman and Russian Empires and then the young Republics of Armenia and Turkey. In February 1917, when this letter was written, Kars was part of the Russian Empire, then considered to be an important strategic outpost and fortress for the empire in the Caucasus. In the wake of the instability caused by the Bolshevik Revolution in late 1917, the Turks looked to expand their position eastwards and shortly after the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk (March 3, 1918) occupied Kars on April 25, 1918. This may have been when the letter’s author, Sarkis Jigarjian, met his bitter end. A year later, with British assistance, Kars became part of the First Republic of Armenia on April 28, 1919. But on October 30, 1920 it fell with little resistance to the Turkish Republic, within whose borders the city remains to this day.
Below is a digitized scan of the two-page letter, written on Sarkis Jigarjian’s business letterhead, followed by a transcription and translation, which should be of interest both to scholars as well as the general public. Any corrections to the translation or transcription may be made in the comments below or by private email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
— Dr. Jesse S. Arlen
 In fact, there is no punctuation in the letter, which reads as one very long sentence.
 I would like to thank Vartan Matiossian, Nareg Seferian, and Sonya Martirosyan for their many helpful suggestions and especially for their assistance with the Russian words in the letter.
 For a historical survey of Kars in this period, see Richard G. Hovannisian, “The Contest for Kars, 1914–1921,” in Armenian Kars and Ani, edited by Richard G. Hovannisian (Costa Mesa, CA: Mazda Publishers, 2011), 273–317.
11ըն փետրվարի 1917.
ՍԱՐԳԻՍ Փ. ՋԻԳԱՐՋԵԱՆՑ
— ԿԱՐՍՈՒՄ —
Սիրելի որդեակ իմ Արագսի,
Ամսուն 10ին երեկօեան ժամը 7ին ժամանակը խօրէնը շատ զարպանձ զըվանօքը տըվեց բէրդա գընաց դուռը բացէց իսկուն ներս եկաւ եւ ասաւ որ մեր հաեադին մէջ պաժառ կա իսկուն հէվէտդուրս վազեցինք որ մեր փետանօձի վրաի պալկօնը բօլօրօվ կըպերէ եւ սուր կերպօվ վառւումէ խօրէնը սկսեց այդ կրակի մէջ պալկօնը քանդել յետօ տեսանք որ չաբազանձ շատացաւ վառելը խօրէնը արմէնը ըսկըսեցին մէր փօքր հայեադի դուռը եւ քօվի նուժնիկը բօլօրօվին քար ու քանտ էրին եւ հէտօ մեր կուխնիի դըռան քօվի յօտին տախտակէ պուտկէն բօլօրօվին քանտեցին տեսանք որ շատ յուժէղացաւ պաժա[ռը] արմէնակը կամանտիրին քօվէր գընացէր եւ կամանդիրը իսկուն յիրան պառքի սալտատնէրուն հրամաեր էր եկան բօլօր վէշջիքը տարան կամանտիրի տունը ի հարկէ թան ո փօխինդ էղաւ բօլօր վէշջիքը վէրչապէս այսօր առա[ւօտ] նօրից պառքի Սալտատնէրը վէշջիքը բերին տուն դեռ եւս մէզ յայտնի չէ թէ ինչ բան չիկա միեայ[ն] թէ այս քան յիմացիր որ մէնք լավ պրծանք եւ վեշջիքը արթէն մեր կուխնիին եւ փատանօձին վրաի եղած շինութիւները բօլօրը վառվեցան քարուքանտ էրին հիմա մէր տունը բօլօրօվին սելեմեդէ ոչ ինչ կըրակ չի դիպաւ [page 2] միեայն թէ շատ չարչարվեցանք ժամը 12ին գընացինք հաճօնձը այն տեղ 2 կամ 3 ժամ իբրեւ թէ քընէցանք սիրելի Արաքսի ճան այս պաժառը շատ կը բարձրանար միեայն թէ ինչպէս բարի բաղդութիւն ունեցեր էինք որ քաղաքիս կամէնտանտը եկեր էր եւ տեսաւ որ պաժառը շատ պիտի բարձրանա իսկուն տէլէֆօնօվ ձօրի պաժառնի կամանտիրին բերել տըվեց որ պաժառը մարեցին իսկ եթէ քաղաքին պաժառի կամանտին մընայինք այս մէր սրան բօլօրն ալ կը վառէին ես քեզի տեղօվը գրեցի որ չի լինի թէ յուրիշից յիմանաս թէ ինչէ եղեր կամ ինչ չէ եղեր ավելի լավէ որ բօլօր բանը մանրամասը այս նամակօվս յայտնեցի ես այսպէս յարմար գըտա որ ինչպէս կատարվէլ եւ բօլօրը մի առ մի ձեզի տեղեկացնեմ սիրելի Արաքսի ճան դու հանգիստ եղիր այսօր էկան բօլօր վեշզիքը յիրանձ տեղերը կը տեղաւորցընենք վերչապէս Աստված բաները աջօղէ պառքի կամանտիրին եւ պարքի սալտատնէրուն եւ մէկ այլ քաղաքիս մեծապատիւ կամենտանտին վերչապէս Աստված հեռու պահէ այս տեսակ գալստական փօրձանքներէ եւ յուրիշ այլ եւ այլ գալստական փորձանքներէ Աստված պահէ. սիրելի Արաքսի ճան այս նամակս գրեցի քեզի ի միամըտութեան համ[ար] միեայն թէ գիտես թէ հարբածի պէս եմ գըլօխս դըմդըմպումէ սրա համար գիրս գէս դուրս կեաւ օտարական չէս խօմ մնամ քեզ միշտ օրհնօղ քո ծընօղ հայր։
Սարգիս. փ. Ջիգարջեանց
February 11, 1917
Sarkis P. Jigarjian and sons, Kars.
My dear child Araksi,
On the tenth of the month at 7:00 in the evening Khoren rang the bell very frantically, Berta went and opened the door and he rushed inside and said that there is a fire in our courtyard. We immediately ran outside and saw that the entire balcony of our woodshed had caught fire and was fiercely burning. Khoren began to demolish the balcony in the middle of the fire but when we saw that the burning had increased too much, Khoren and Armen then began to utterly reduce to rubble the small gate of our courtyard and the outhouse beside it and then they also completely tore down the flock’s wooden pen next to our kitchen. But when we saw that the fire had grown even stronger, Armenak went for the komandir, and the komandir immediately gave an order to his park soldiers, who came and took all our belongings to the komandir’s house, and of course all our belongings got mixed up. Finally this morning the park soldiers brought our belongings back home. It’s still not clear to us what all was lost but know this much: we escaped safely along with our belongings. All the structures that were in our kitchen and woodshed were burnt and destroyed, but for now our house is entirely unharmed and the fire didn’t touch any of it. It’s just that we were very distressed. At midnight we went to the hajontsand there we tried to sleep for two or three hours. My dear Araksi, this fire was rising so high, that was our only good fortune that the city kamendand had come and seen that the fire was going to grow even more and so immediately called on the phone and had the valley fire chief brought over and they put out the fire. And if we had been left to the city’s fire crew, everything would have burned. I wrote to you on the spot so that you wouldn’t learn from someone else what had happened. It’s better that I reveal to you in this letter the whole affair in detail, I thought it was more appropriate for me to inform you of how everything happened in order. My dear Araksi, don’t be worried. All our belongings came today, we’ll finally put everything back in its place. May God grant success to these things and may God keep the park commander and the park soldiers and our city’s highly honorable kamendand safe from such apocalyptic tribulations and may God protect [us] from all other kinds of apocalyptic tribulations. My dear Araksi, I wrote you this letter to reassure you. But know that I feel like a drunk man, my head is throbbing and for that reason my handwriting came out so bad, you are so dear to me and I shall ever remain your devoted father,
Sarkis P. Jigarjian
 i.e., February 10th (the day before he wrote this letter).
The memoir is exclusively written as a first person narrative, detailing Vartanian’s origins in Northeastern, Turkey. Vartanian was born in the village of Adish, located in the Turkish Armenian vilayet (province) of Diarbekir. Residing amid the serene town, his family enjoyed a relatively stable life. He and his wife, Yeghisapet, had six children. Four were boys; Garabed, his oldest child, Levon, Vartan, and Vahak, his youngest child. They also had two daughters, Hripsime and Azniv.
Armenia’s greatest river, the Euphrates, passed three miles from the village, and Vartanian alludes to the tens of thousands of Armenian corpses lying at the mouth of the river. The 1911 – 1918 wars in the region left the Armenians in the hands of the ruthless Turkish enemy.
Adish’s gardens and vineyards were not sufficient to provide livelihood for the village’s fifteen hundred inhabitants. Often, many were obliged to work in Istanbul or abroad, and then return to their homes to spend time with their families.
Vartanian says that circumstances took a turn with the onset of World War I, prompting the Armenian Genocide. With the support of the German allyship, the Turkish government implemented a set of policies that eventually guided the systematic destruction of Armenian identity in the Ottoman Empire, and the massacre of 1.5 million Armenians who were living in the region. The Armenian Genocide is officially the world’s first documented Genocide, and the first Genocide of the 20st century. The Genocide involved death marches through the Syrian Desert and the forced islamization of Armenian women and children— a few among many heinous strategies perpetrated by the Ottoman Turks.
At the start of the Genocide, Vartanian was confronted with a difficult decision. For the benefit of their families, many Armenian men would immigrate to surrounding countries and cities to earn a living. In many cases, men moved to Istanbul, Europe, the Middle East, and in other cases, some, like Hagop Vartanian, would make the long voyage to the United States. Vartanian documents the path that led him to Chicago, and the frustration he met while supporting his family in war-torn Armenia.
On August 7, 1909 Vartanian’s ship finally dropped anchor in the harbor of New York City. Leaving the city of Mezre, Turkey, a month previously, Vartanian eventually settled in the American city of Chicago. He lived there until he went back to the ‘fatherland’, about nine years later, in the summer of 1919. During his time in Chicago, Vartanian was able to secure a stable job at Griess Pfleeger Tanning Co. with a weekly pay range averaging about $25.
Through his chronicles, Vartanian conveys his anguish to the reader, as he learns of the atrocities being carried out in his homeland. In 1914, while the European World Wars began, he said “sadness seized me, for I saw that while the great powers were occupied with the wars, Turkey would have a favorable opportunity to masacre and annihilate the Armenians.” He later shares that he regrets not immigrating his eldest son, Garabed, to the United States. He wanted his son to focus on his studies instead of labor, yet now his fate seemed to be in the hands of the Turks. Vartanian became increasingly concerned with the advancement of the World Wars in 1915.
A month later, reports of massacres and hangings reached the United States. Those reports included details of Turkish mandates deporting all Armenians to Mesopotamia. In September of 1915, even more devastating news had reached Chicago – an increase in massacres, famine, deportations and rape across the Armenian territories.
On August 15, 1919, the bitter notice of death appeared in the mail, his wife’s passing. Consequently, his children were then put in an orphanage in Aleppo, and he delayed his travel plans to see them.
A year later, thanks to the conclusion of the world wars, Vartanain was able to travel aboard the ship that would reach Le Havre, France. On May 28, 1920, Vartanian was at last reunited with his children in Aleppo. Eventually, Vartanian and his four children moved to the United States, where they took up residence in Chicago.
Grappling with the historical context of the time, the memoir explores the economic and socio-political realities Vartanian, along with thousands of other Armenian men abroad supporting their families back home, had experienced during the Genocide.
Vartanian presents a unique experience within the constructs of the Genocide – he witnesses familial loss and his homeland’s destruction, while travel restrictions render him incapable of seeing them. Today, the majority of Adish’s population is to be found in the United States, as a result of the destructive anti-Armenian policies and extermination agenda of the nascent Turkish state. During the Genocide, his wife and eldest daughter became ill and died, and his eldest son was killed.
The beautiful account takes the reader along Vartanian’s journey moving to the United States, exploring a father’s responsibility to support his family. The cycle of the anguish he dealt with while not being able to help his family members survive was later resolved in part when he reunified with those that did.
Dr. Roberta Ervine translated Hagop Vartanians story from the original diary manuscript. She holds her PhD from Columbia University. Her dissertation research led her to Jerusalem, where she lived in the Armenian Monastery of St. James as a disciple of His Grace Abp. Norayr Bogharian, curator of manuscripts. In 2001, she returned to the United States to teach at St. Nersess Armenian Seminary, where she lectures on topics related to the history of Armenian Christianity and Armenian Christian thought.
This account is among many gencoide survivor stories available to read at the Zohrab Information Center, which readers and the interested public are encouraged to visit. The center is open Monday through Friday by appointment. The book can be found here: Zohrab catalog: https://dac.kohalibrary.com/app/work/10067
Emily Ekshian is a master’s student at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. Her concentrations include international and investigative reporting. Emily is also an intern at the Zohrab Information Center, where she seeks to explore the unique experiences of Armenian Genocide survivors.
The following splendid reflection on the Passion of the Lord has been excerpted and translated from the epic poem by Khrimian Hayrig (Catholicos Mkrtich Khrimian, 1820-1907) entitled Հրաւիրակ Երկրին Աւետեաց, roughly translated, Invitation to the Land of the Gospel.
The monumental meditation was composed in 1850 while Khrimian was a young deacon on his first pilgrimage to Jerusalem. The epic consists of seven “songs” that were indeed intended to be sung, as Khrimian relates in the introduction to the book. Sitting in his tiny cell facing the Mount of Olives to the East, he writes—
One day while I was busy writing and singing a melody—for without singing it, a song has no spirit—suddenly the assiduous, late Patriarch Hovhannes came and stood at the door of my room. “I heard your voice, Deacon Mkrtich. What are you singing and writing?”
I said ,”Srpazan, I’m writing an Invitation to the Land of the Gospel.”
“Whom are you inviting?,” he asked.
“Young people and all Armenians, my spiritual father,” I answered.
“Write! Write! God bless you! Invite them! Call them!,” the Patriarch called out. “Let the fervent Armenian people make an oath to come to Jerusalem…”
The passage below is taken from the Sixth Song, a profound meditation on Jesus’ “Farewell Discourse,” known in Armenian as the “Discourse of the Cross” in John 13-17. Faithful to the ancient manner of Biblical exegesis and preaching, the Catholicos sees the passion, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus as a single, indivisible reality, which is reflected like a prism in other stories and episodes throughout the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. The sorrow of Christ’s passion and death is never isolated from the triumphant joy of his resurrection.
The Zohrab Center holds two precious copies of Khrimian Hayrig’s epic in its second edition, published in Jerusalem in 1892. The text is also available online. The subtitles are not part of the original text.
THE VIGILANT ANGEL that gave the great news to the shepherds at your birth,
The same one spoke at dawn, shouting to the watchful women—
It was not the young men who first heard it, but the daughters of Eve:
“He has risen! Why do you seek among the dead the One who lives?
Why do you weep bitterly for him, who wiped away mankind’s tears?”
Let the disconsolate anguish of your hearts turn to joyfulness!
The dew-like streams that fell from your eyes at the Cross will be wiped away.
Mary the bereaved mother, her heart stabbed as if with a sword—
Her piercing wounds were healed by the resurrection of her Son.
He did not allow Mary Magdalene to kiss him. Would he spare his mother’s kiss?
When the scattered flock of sheep was beaten along with the Good Shepherd,
With the Good News to Mary, coming together again as one,
All were filled with joy, their spirits bloated with hope.
She recalled there the Teacher’s earlier discourse—
“Although I have been willingly betrayed into the hands of those odious people,
I will die innocent and they will place me in a tomb.
Yet after three days I will rise, I will stand up alive,
With miraculously renewed youth, I will be newly restored like an eagle.
As the early dawn’s light spreads out, for a moment I will be covered in the lap of the earth.
After three days buried, toward Himself he will gather this shoot.”
And again the radiant Sun rose from the tomb.
A new, exuberant dawn broke over of the universe.
Darkness, a world-engulfing shadow was dispelled and chased away,
Like Jonah, that prophet who fled,
The Lord lived in the heart of the Earth and entered the belly of a sea-dragon,
Its cavernous mouth gaping wide to devour the world, teeth shining like spiked swords,
“Ha!” it said. “I caught him! The Son of Man tumbled into my mouth!”
But it could not hold on to him. Its sharp teeth were crushed.
The One he held in his belly was the swallowed spirit of Adam.
Quickly he spat him out of the deep womb of hell
Because he did not find in the New Adam the sins of old Adam,
In whom he had poured the poison of death, and whose entire progeny he had killed.
Like a fisherman, using his ingenious little virgin bait, the Father
Cast his hook into the sea of death and caught there the great monster.
He slashed its deep chin and pulled out its spirit, alive and well.
By the word of the one who saw it, he swore to himself
One day, alive, to touch this lower realm of our earth.
Behold his most powerful right arm extended, the Word from above
Touched and seized the great dragon, the Slanderer.
He crushed his head and threw him over half-dead.
The spirits of the saints rejoiced. They kissed the Savior’s right hand.
They cried out, “Blessed is the Father. Blessed is the Son. Blessed is your saving arm.
You slew our great adversary, who never ceased to blame us.
He antagonized the righteous and wouldn’t let us be with you.”
Now that we are freed from the darkness, take us to the Father’s luminous home.
For you said, “Where I am, there my servants will also be.”
The lion cub triumphed over Judas’ lineage.
An awesome voice roared. The depths of Hell shuttered.
The Lord has woken as if from sleep. He who slept in the heart of the earth is awake.
Having drunk wine at the Cross, he spilled it from himself like a giant.
In his death he shut his eyes for an instant, as if in sleep.
Will he not henceforth do even more when he rises up? Continue reading “At the Glorious Tomb of the Lord: A Poem for Holy Week by Khrimian Hayrig”→
Friends of the Zohrab Information Center and art lovers who live in the New York area or who may be visiting during the Christmas season will not want to miss an extraordinary exhibit at the Morgan Library and Museum in Manhattan.
Magnificent Gems: Medieval Treasure Bindingspresents one of the world’s finest collections of lustrous, gem-encrusted medieval bindings for ancient handwritten and early printed books. Also included in the exhibition are all three of the Morgan Library’s 17th-century Armenian silver bindings from Kayseri.
Dr. Sylvie L. Merian, Scholar and Reader Services Librarian at the Morgan, and a frequent lecturer and visitor at the ZIC, is one of the world’s leading experts on medieval book bindings, especially those produced in Armenian workshops.
Visitors will also see one of the Zohrab Center’s two precious copies of the first printed Armenian Bible, produced in Amsterdam in 1666.
The Zohrab Center is pleased to launch its new online library catalog. The catalog allows anyone to remotely search the precious resources of the ZIC library.
The catalog is accessed at dac.kohalibrary.com or by using the link at the top right of the ZIC website.
The new catalog replaces ZIC’s original library catalog with a state-of-the-art system incoporating powerful research tools. The catalog is powered by Koha, a full-featured open-source integrated library system that is used by hundreds of libraries and research centers around the world, including the Armenian National Library and the Union Catalog of Armenian Libraries (ՀԱՅԱՍՏԱՆԻ ԳՐԱԴԱՐԱՆՆԵՐԻ ՀԱՄԱՀԱՎԱՔ ԳՐԱՑՈՒՑԱԿ)
“Our new Koha system gives anyone with an internet connection access to the treasures housed in the Zohrab Center’s library,” said the Director, Fr. Daniel Findikyan. “The system provides a range of tools to facilitate research in every facet of Armenian Studies,” he added.
World-Class Collection of Rare and Old Books
The Zohrab Center’s library numbers well over 50,000 items with particular emphasis in modern Armenian literature, Armenian history, Armenian art and architecture, Armenian theology and Church culture, and Genocide studies. ZIC also houses a world-class collection of Armenian journals, newspapers and periodicals from throughout the world. Many titles are not found in any other library in the western world and a number of rare and old volumes exist nowhere else.
As a non-circulating research library, the ZIC’s largely irreplaceable holdings generally do not leave the reading room. Every effort is made to provide users with electronic scans or photocopies of materials. Of course readers and researchers are always welcome to visit the Center during normal business hours or preferably by appointment.
Even though much of the ZIC collection remains to be catalogued, it already offers a wealth of resources and information to users. Researchers can search for materials by author, title, subject, place or date of publication, language and other variables. As they browse the library’s holdings users can collect items into a personal “shopping cart” and create various lists to facilitate research.
“People will be surprised at the variety of treasures we have,” Fr. Findikyan noted. “Researchers will find standard works in every branch of Armenian Studies. Well-known authors from ancient times to the present are represented as well as obscure writers, who are otherwise unknown. Surprises abound. Works by Armenian authors share shelf space with classic works by Shakespeare, Tolstoy, Victor Hugo, Milton, Aesop, Dante, and others, which were translated into Armenian long ago by our bibliophile ancestors.”
Give the catalog a spin. Type your last name or that of a friend or relative into the search bar and see what comes up! Your great uncle may have been an author! Enter the Armenian village where your grandparents were born and follow the trail of books and materials…
A Growing Repository of Armenian Culture and Thought
Looking ahead, ZIC will catalog its many 19th and early 20th-century manuscripts, many of them eyewitness accounts of the Genocide that await study. The Center’s many old photographs too will eventually be registered into the database allowing users to search for images of ancestors. In addition, electronic versions of many rare materials will be linked to their catalog entry, allowing users to access them directly.
Researchers may search for Armenian materials by using the Library of Congress transliteration system, which is the international standard. Koha supports unicode, so in the future, users will also be able to search for materials in Armenian and other non-Latin alphabets.
As funding becomes available, the Zohrab Center will acquire a professional, high resolution touch-fee scanner, which will allow us to digitize rare and fragile books and documents to make them available to scholars and students. For further information and to contribute toward this and other projects please contact the ZIC at email@example.com or (212) 686-0710.
A critically-acclaimed survey of Armenian literature in twentieth-century France will be presented at the Zohrab Center on Tuesday, May 23, 2017 at 7PM by Christopher Atamian, translator of the newly-published English edition.
Fifty Year of Armenian Literature in France, by Krikor Beledian, examines Armenian literature as it emerged in France between 1922 and the beginning of the 1970’s. Its goals are several; first of all, to retrace the literary history of the period starting with Armenian immigration until the passing away of the movement’s main representatives. Then by examining the most significant works, to study the issues raised by a literature of exile, one born after an event that was experienced and interpreted as a “national catastrophe”: the identity crisis (the Same), brought about by a violent confrontation with a new environment (the Other), the emergence of a new identity and the long process to integrate exile and the foreign space.
French-Armenian writer and critic Krikor Beledian was born in Beirut, Lebanon where he attended the renowned Armenian “Jemaran” Preparatory School before moving to Paris in 1967. He holds PhDs in Philosophy and in Comparative Literature from the University of Paris V.
Entitled Cinquante ans de littérature arménienne en France: Du même à l’autre in its original French edition, the work was published in Paris in 2001 and met with wide critical acclaim.
Christopher Atamian is a frequent visitor to the Zohrab Center, where he has spoken many times, most recently as coordinator of the popular ZIC Film Series. A native New Yorker, 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 several book projects, 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 his first anthology of poetry, which follows on his being included in An Anthology of Armenian Poets. Atamian 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 Information Center on film are part of his work, “Deconstructing Ararat,” a 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.
The book presentation will take place in the Guild Hall of the Armenian Diocese, 630 2nd Avenue, New York at 7PM. Books will be available for sale. All are welcome and a reception will follow.
For further information contact the Zohrab Center at firstname.lastname@example.org or (212) 686-0710.
Rustling through the countless tattered books that await identification and cataloging in the Zohrab Center’s library, I recently came across an old journal entitled Եկեղեցի Հայաստանեայց. Ամսաթերթ Կրօնական եւ Աստուածաբանական / Yegeghetsee Hayasdanyayts: Amsatert Gronagan yev Asdvadzapanagan [The Church of the Armenians: A Religious and Theological Journal].
The journal was published in Manchester, England by Toros Der Isahagian, a married priest whose byname Jughayetsi marks him as a native of New Julfa, the Armenian quarter of Isfahan in northwestern Iran, an important Armenian commercial and religious center.
The inaugural volume, designated Number 1 April 1900, opens with a congratulatory letter from His Holiness the Catholicos Mgrdich, better known as Khrimian Hayrig. That and subsequent issues contain short essays on the history and doctrines of the Armenian Church, including short articles on saints, holy days, sacraments and other church services, as well as meaty and well-written sermons and commentaries on Bible passages.
The final issue for the year 1900 contains one of the most remarkable writings I have encountered by an Armenian clergyman in modern times. Spanning 34 single-spaced pages, it carries the title: Pastoral Letter to the True Children of the Apostolic Church of the Armenians who are under the Care of this Holy Trinity Armenian Church in Manchester [Թուղթ Հովուական առ հարազատ որդիս Հայաստանեայց Առաքելական Եկեղեցւոյ որք ընդ հովանեաւ Ս. Հոգի (sic) Եկեղեցւոյս հայոց ի Մանչեսթր].
This extraordinary letter is actually a book-length cross between a genuine Armenian Church catechesis, and a call to spiritual arms for diasporan Armenian Christians in England at the turn of the 20th century. With refreshing originality, Fr. Der Isahagian takes up fundamental components of the Armenian Church’s history, theology, and liturgy and applies this age-old Christian tradition to pressing, practical issues facing the people under his care. Here is an Armenian pastor who is fully rooted in the apostolic, Orthodox eastern tradition of his church, while fully aware of the very modern, very western concerns of his flock.
Not surprisingly for those who know anything about the Armenian Church’s theology, the priest from New Julfa’s exposition is thoroughly and unreservedly Biblical, amounting to a marvelous celebration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, told from the faith experience of the Armenian people. This is a treatise that deserves to be translated into English and other western languages and distributed widely.
The very next day, quite by chance, I discovered another bound collection of journals with the same name, but published in 1888 in Constantinople. I only had to leaf through a few pages to discover the very same editor at work, in this instance, publishing a more concise, weekly paper with content similar to what he would later create in Manchester. The weekly version provided detailed commentaries on the Bible readings appointed in the Armenian Lectionary for each Sunday, along with essays on saints and feast days falling during that week along with thoughtful sermons on the most practical aspects of Christian life.
It turns out that Toros Der Isahagian was a well-known scholar and theologian long before he was ordained a priest in Holy Etchmiadzin around 1896, when he was called to serve the Armenian community in Manchester as their priest. His tenure there was rocky. As the oldest and most affluent Armenian Church community in Europe at the time, Manchester became a magnet for countless Armenian refugees fleeing the growing persecutions in eastern Turkey. At the same time, the Armenian merchants of Manchester, most of them involved in the cotton industry, were constantly called upon to provide financial assistance to the hordes of widows and orphans finding their way to Constantinople on the eve of the Genocide. Fr. Der Isahagian seems to have been the victim of political in-fighting within the community, whose flames were fanned by darkening clouds in the homeland. He resigned his pastorate in 1902.
The few histories of the Armenian community in Manchester that have been published have little more to say about the prolific Der Hayr from New Julfa.
Deacon Allan Jendian of Fresno, California has provided additional information about our prolific priest, culling references from a variety of commemorative booklets and other materials. After his departure from Manchester, Der Toros spent several decades in the United States. After a brief stint as Pastor of the Armenians in Boston, he went to California, where he served as Pastor of Holy Trinity Armenian Church in Fresno (1907), and the first priest of St. Gregory the Illuminator Armenian Church of Fowler (1910-1912, 1916-1917). He subsequently served for shorter periods in Los Angeles (1913-1915), San Francisco, Oakland and Sacramento. He returned to Isfahan in the 1930’s and died there in 1938. He is buried in the All-Savior’s Armenian Monastery there.
Der Toros is referred to in some publications as Der Teodoros. As editor of the first English translation of the Armenian Badarak (Fresno, 1931) his name appears as Theodoros Isaac.
Der Isahagian was born in Nor Jugha in 1861. He was ordained in October 1895 in Holy Etchmiadzin. He earned his Doctor of Divinity degree from the University of Bonn, Germany.
Apart from these scattered references, the literary work he has left behind suggests that he was a true intellectual, a devout servant of God, and a dedicated pastor of the Armenian Church. Several essays and sermons of his are published in the 1896 issues of Ararat, the forerunner of Etchmiadzin, the official organ of the Holy See. He is also the author of a commentary on the Soorp Badarak, the Divine Liturgy of the Armenian Church, which was published in Jerusalem in 1891 with a second edition in 1959.
Here is an excerpt from Der Isahagian’s Foreword to his Armenian Church Journal published in Constantinople:
If, while cultivating our secular mind, we ignore our spiritual development, gradually the spirit will become numb eventually to become completely desensitized and die. Such a person then becomes becomes incapable of grasping spiritual truths because there is no longer any balance between the mind and the spirit.
[YegeghetseeHayasdanyayts , March 6, 1888, No. 1, page 2. Translated by Fr. Daniel Findikyan]
Judging by the extent and superior quality of his writings, much of this priest’s time and energy must have been devoted to writing. One can only admire the tenacity and fervor of Der Toros, who was able to produce all he did while raising a family and caring for a large, diasporan church community at the turn of a troubled century for the Armenian people. When we consider the financial resources required to print and distribute periodical journals, especially at a time when the Armenian community of Manchester, England had other pressing obligations to desperate refugees and victims of violence in the homeland. Fr. Der Isahagian’s literary output and spiritual/educational contribution to the Armenian Church becomes even more exceptional.
The first is contained within its pages, be it a novel, an atlas, a cookbook or a chemistry textbook. The second is the book’s own story—how that particular volume came to be—from the printing press to the bookstore or dealer—traversing perhaps multiple owners and readers, until it falls into your hands.
Recently the Zohrab Center was the beneficiary of the library of the late and beloved priest Fr. Garen Gdanian, who passed away in 2013. While sorting through cartons of books, I noticed the elegantly embossed leather binding that is the hallmark of a precious old book.
My suspicions were confirmed as I plucked it out of the box and carefully turned the book in my hands. Lustrous gilt edging glittered in my eyes while my fingers coursed over the grooves and ridges of the intricately embossed cover. Whoever bound this book spared no expense.
Stamped in gold leaf on the cover was this title: Առ բարձրաշնորհ Տ.Տ. Մաղաքիա Արքեպիսկոպոս Օրմանեան Պատրիարք Հայոց [T0 the Most Gracious Reverend Archbishop Maghakia Ormanian Patriarch of the Armenians].
He, of course, is the great Armenian churchman from the turn of the twentieth century, easily one of the greatest Armenian intellects of modern times, who served as Patriarch of Constantinople from 1896-1908.
Yet while Ormanian was a gifted and prolific author, the cover indicates that this book was not written by him, but addressed to him.
My first thought was that the book contained a letter directed to the Patriarch, who was a controversial figure. He resigned his position as Patriarch under pressure from political extremists, who had attacked him for his stubborn refusal to support any form of violence in the Armenians’ opposition to Abdul Hamid’s regime. Could this book be some anti-Ormanian diatribe?
But no. A gilt inscription on the book’s thin spine reads Կրօնի Ուսում [Course in Religion].
Indeed, turning to the title page, we read the full title of the work:
Illustrated Course in Religion from the Known to the Unknown, from the Impenetrable to the Believable. A Face-to-Face Course and Graded Study. Intermediate Level.
The author is a certain Tavit Khachgonts (1866-1918). It was published by the Balentz Press and Bookstore in Constantinople (Istanbul) in 1905.
Traversing the pages of our book we discover a comprehensive survey of the Armenian Church in 188 pages. It includes brief but incisive summaries of the Old and New Testaments, the history of the Armenian Church against the background of the universal church; key persons and saints, feasts and fasts, sacraments and liturgical services, vestments and vessels, church architecture and hierarchical structures, Armenian church pious customs and traditions, and more. A number of tables, charts and glossaries round out the extremely valuable manual, which may well be the finest one-volume survey of the Armenian Church that I have encountered.
The author adds this codicil to the title page:
Objective To transmit Armenian Christianity to Armenian young people and to present their mother church as something for them to love.
A noble goal indeed.
So much for the first story.
The gilt inscription on the leather cover addressing the book to Patriarch Ormanian turns out to be a glorified gift tag. This copy was a personal gift. It was specially bound for the Armenian Patriarch, whose monogram, M.O., is stamped on the title page. This book once belonged to the great Maghakia Ormanian.
How did the book travel from the sacred galleries of the Armenian Patriarchate in Constantinople over 100 years ago to Fr. Garen’s personal library in Troy, New York?