A Reflection on Vahan Tekeyan

By Arthur Ipek

As a sixth-grader at Holy Martyrs Armenian Day School, I learned the poem Yegeghetsin Haygagan by Vahan Tekeyan. When I first read one of Tekeyan’s poems, I was amazed at all the metaphors, similes, and personification he used to describe his subjects. Vahan Tekeyan, known to some as the “Prince of Armenian Poetry,” has captured the Armenian lifestyle through his vivid and picturesque poems, some of which are The Armenian Church (Yegeghetsin Haygagan), The Armenian Language (Dagh Hayeren Lezvin), and The Lamp of the Illuminator (Loosavorchi Ganteghu). When you dip into his animate phrases full of deep contrast, it feels like you are in your personal realm. The words fly off the page as if each one is a dove soaring through the halcyon skies.  But while his writing may be flawless, his life is anything but.

His birth on January 21, 1878, was never welcomed.  Rather it was humiliating to his family, and neither his mother nor his father showed him affection or care. His grandmother was the only one who showed delight and joy in all things he did. Tekeyan never finished his secondary education and was self-taught.

During the 1915 Armenian Genocide, he was one of the few writers who escaped the deportation and execution. He settled in Cairo, Egypt, where he continued his writing and later in his life started an Armenian publication called Arev.

Not long after that, he took the responsibility of caring for Armenian refugee and orphans. He said in one of his letters, “We have to ensure the higher education of our orphans. They [orphanage caretakers] are hesitating here a bit because the money for educating ten to twenty boys could be used to feed one hundred people, saving their lives.” This commitment to education is reflected in his poems, such as To the Armenian Nation. After all his efforts in places like Constantinople, Cairo, Syria, and Beirut, he died in Cairo on April 4, 1945.

His work is not just a description, but an inscription of fruitful writing that has so much life in its words. I will continue his legacy and share his poems with my friends, family and the generation yet to come.

Here is one of my favorite poems.


By Vahan Tekeyan

The Armenian Church is the birthplace of my soul.
Like a vast grotto it is simple and profound, dark and light –
With its hospitable court, ample tribune, and hushed altar
Standing in the distance as though it were a ship afloat.

The Armenian Church I see with my eyes closed.
I breathe and hear it through the clouds of incense
Which rise towards the feet of the Infant Jesus,
And through the fervent prayers vibrating its walls.

The Armenian Church is the mighty fortress of my forefather’s faith.
Raised by them from the earth stone by stone,
And descended from heaven, a dewdrop and a cloud at a time.
In it they unfolded themselves peacefully and humbly.

The Armenian Church is a great embroidered tapestry
Behind which the Lord descends into the chalice, and
Before which all my people stand with bowed heads
To commune with the past through life-giving bread and wine.

The Armenian Church is a peaceful haven across turbulent seas.
It is fire and light in the cold of night;
It is shady forest in the scorching midday sun
Where lilies bloom by the River of Hymns.

The Armenian Church, beneath every stone in its floor.
Holds a secret passage leading up to Heaven.

The Armenian Church is the shining armor of Armenia’s soul and body.
Her crosses rise to protect her;

Her bells ring forth and her song is always Victory.

Arthur Ipek is a graduate of Holy Martyrs Armenian Day School and is currently a student at the Diocese’s Khrimian Lyceum. He is volunteering this month in the Zohrab Center. Arthur will start high school in the fall.

A portrait of Vahan Tekeyan, by Mary Zakarian, hangs in the Zohrab Center among those of other prolific Armenian writers

Summer Interns Begin New Projects in Zohrab Center

The Krikor and Clara Zohrab Information Center of the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America (Eastern) has been a hub of activity in the summer weeks, as the library’s doors have opened to its summer interns.

The dedicated and diligent interns, including Armen Bandikian, Jennifer Manoukian, and Nicole Saglamer, have been working hands-on to help further the vision of the Zohrab Center and to make its resources more accessible to individuals interested in Armenian studies around the world.

The interns have been tackling a wide-range of responsibilities this summer, including cataloging books and digitizing the center’s holdings to make them available for the general public.

Last summer, with the help of the interns, the center’s online catalog was launched. Over 15,000 books in the library’s collection can now be accessed around the world by visiting http://www.zohrabcentercatalog.com.

While the interns’ contributions have indeed been valued in the center, they too come away with a newfound appreciation for Armenian literary traditions and culture.

“For me, working at the Zohrab Center has been more than a job, but rather an experience that allows me to leave work each day having learned something new,” said Nicole Saglamer, a sophomore studying chemistry at NYU, who is interning in the center for the second consecutive summer.

In fact, it was the center’s materials on Zabel Yesayan that created Manoukian’s ties to the Zohrab Center. While working on her thesis paper on the author, she found useful one-of-a-kind resources for her research.

“I relied heavily on the Zohrab Center’s periodical collection for my project,” said Manoukian who studied Middle Eastern studies and French at Rutgers University. “While doing my research, I realized how valuable and unique it is to have such a vast collection of Armenian-language resources open to everyone.”

Echoing Manoukian’s sentiments, Bandikian, a senior studying information systems at Stony Brook University, said he felt “compelled” to intern in the center for another summer.

“After working here for two years I am still amazed to see the types of books I come across while doing my work,” he said.

The Krikor and Clara Zohrab Information Center was founded in 1987 by Dolores Zohrab Liebmann, in honor of her parents, Krikor and Clara. Her father, Krikor Zohrab, was a prominent lawyer, author and Parliamentarian in the Ottoman Empire, who was arrested and killed during the Armenian Genocide.

The Zohrab Center serves as a research library and has a rich and diverse collection ripe with books relating to Armenian history, literature, and religion. It also serves as a cultural center, hosting conferences, lectures, film screenings, and book presentations among many other events tailored to the local Armenian community.

Notes Saglamer, “Interning at the center has given me the opportunity to meet other Armenian youth, and most importantly, it has allowed me to stay connected with my Armenian identity.”

-Taleen Babayan

Armen Bandikian organizing the Zohrab Center’s 18th and 19th century Armenian book collection
Jennifer Manoukian and Nicole Saglamer assisting at a Zohrab Center-sponsored event

Zohrab Center Summer Interns Hard at Work!

The Zohrab Center has welcomed four interns this summer who have already started working on a variety of projects.

See below for pictures of our dedicated interns contributing their time and efforts to the Zohrab Center!

Armen Bandikian perusing a 19th century Armenian text
Jennifer Manoukian and Nicole Saglamer cataloguing Armenian language books
Armen and Haig Monokian organizing the book stacks
Armen and Nicole taking inventory of the "duplicates" room in the center

Guest Blogger – Zohrab Center Intern Nicholas Burdman, participant in the AGBU Summer Internship Program in New York

When I originally applied to be a diocesan intern through the Armenian General Benevolent Union’s New York Summer Internship Program, I was not exactly sure what to expect. I thought I knew about the church already. I had been ordained a tibir (acolyte), taught Sunday School, attended Camp Vartan, and served on the executive board of my parish’s ACYOA Juniors. What I had not anticipated, however, was the scope of the diocese. With departments ranging from accounting to youth ministry, to the communications department, the Diocese bustles with activity. Where, I worried, would I fit in?

The answer, I would later find out, was in the Krikor and Clara Zohrab Information Center. Here, to my delight, my responsibilities change day to day. Some days I help catalogue the many books in the Zohrab Center. Often, I can’t help but peruse the titles and sample the stories. Other days I help to organize the immense collection of books the library owns. Perhaps most intriguing, however, was when I spent time going through the photos and documents of prominent Armenians who have seen fit to leave such things to the Zohrab Center. I poured over the passports and photographs of Dolores Zohrab Liebmann and her family and inspected pictures of the artist Vava. By working at the Zohrab Center every day, I have also forged relationships with people I met through my time here.

In addition to my responsibilities in the center, I have also been exposed to a great number of topics which I was not previously familiar with. This was accomplished through hour-long discussions with the staff of the Zohrab Center. The title of these sessions was “Armenia: Then and Now.” Again, even though I thought I had a solid foundation in the history of Armenia, the breadth of the topics we covered astounded me.  I never anticipated that by studying Armenian history, one was really studying the history of the world. We discussed Armenians in the Ottoman Empire and their immense contributions to society, Armenians in Venice, in particular the Mekhitarist monks and the island of San Lazzaro. The island, we discovered, was a center of Armenian printing and literature. Although pledging their allegiance to the Roman Catholic pope, the Mekhitarist monks focused their efforts on a renaissance of Armenian literature. And, to this day, the island still belongs to this Armenian monastic order.

We also watched a video “Everyone Prays at Holy Etchmiadzin” which traces the history and importance of the Armenian Church. Another session involved a trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, specifically the Byzantine collection and the newly acquired Armenian khatchkar. We spoke about how even though Byzantine art was strongly influenced by both Armenian and European art, khatchkars were an art form which was solely Armenian. We also viewed coins that depicted great leaders of the Byzantine Empire, some of whom were Armenian. We learned that coins were a major way citizens could identify who their leader was. In an age before newspapers and television, the average citizen could tell who was in charge by whose face was on their coins.

With roughly half of my internship completed, it seems necessary to reflect on what I have accomplished. What I have found, it seems, is that Armenians share a marvelous history of success. Thriving in nearly every aspect of world history, it seems to be a tradition continued even today. The AGBU New York Summer Internship Program attests to this fact. Drawn from all over the world, greatly varied in interests and occupations, the thirty four of us are representative of the successful nature of Armenians. Among us are future doctors, lawyers, writers, hedge fund managers, engineers, and architects, and we hope to preserve our Armenian heritage and culture and build on the strong foundation the preceding generations of Armenians created here in the United States.

Internship Opportunities at the Armenian Diocese in New York

The Diocese of the Armenian Church of America (Eastern) will once again be working in partnership with the AGBU Summer Intern Program to offer an eight-week internship at the Diocese during the summer of 2010 (June 13 – August 7) for young adults between the ages of 20 and 26.  According to individual career goals, interns may choose to work in areas such as accounting, development, public relations, education, music or in the Zohrab Information Center.  This is the perfect program for young adults interested in career experience and leadership development.

The Diocesan interns will be part of the AGBU Summer Intern Program, which means they will participate in the AGBU orientation program, be housed with other AGBU interns in New York University dormitories, and engage in various AGBU-sponsored educational, cultural, and social activities that highlight current and Armenian topics.  We, however, will supervise and guide their work here at the Diocese and offer other appropriate career and leadership growth opportunities.

We are seeking three interns to participate and ask that you reach out to any young adults in your community whom you feel would be interested and qualify for this unique experience.  All application and participation fees (as well as housing) will be covered by the Diocese; the application deadline is May 1, 2010.

For more information or to receive an application, please contact Nancy Basmajian at acyoa@armeniandiocese.org or at (212) 293-1248.  The interns will be chosen by committee and informed of their acceptance into the program by the end of May.

Intern Program Thriving at Zohrab Center

The Zohrab Center opens its doors to college students who serve as interns in the center throughout the year. The interns undertake many different responsibilities, most importantly, cataloguing books in the Zohrab Center’s impressive collection. While all of the English books in the Zohrab Center have been catalogued (approximately 6,000 books) there are still close to 8,000 Armenian books left to catalogue. This catalogue will be accessible on-line through the Zohrab Center website. Other intern tasks include digitizing videos and assisting with research and projects at the Zohrab Center.

Levon Vrtanesyan

Senior at NYU studying business

“Being surrounded by people who share similar interests to mine while living in Manhattan as an undergrad at NYU has been a consistent source of support and encouragement.”

Henry Dumanian

Junior at Hunter College studying political science and history

“I like the academic atmosphere and the center’s commitment to preserving the community’s Armenian intellectual vibrancy,” said Dumanian, adding, “I’ll always have a connection to the ZC one way or another for the rest of my life.”

Other interns include Olivia Whitney Drabicki, Artlet Korogluyan, Greg Kirkorian, Gloria Munoz, Deanna Cachoian-Schanz, Levon Vrtanesyan and Raffi Wartanian.