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 May 26th, 2022, at 7:00pm a photography exhibit entitled “Artsakh: Angel of Peace” will debut at Guild Hall of the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Church, organized by the Krikor and Clara Zohrab Information Center, with a wine and cheese reception. Featuring photographs taken before and after the war and highlighting Armenian cultural heritage now under Azerbaijani control, Dr. Mchitarian’s photographs nevertheless offer an inspiring message of hope.
Dr. Marina Mchitarian is an independent researcher and the founding president of “Action for Peace,” an Armenian NGO. After completing her Ph.D. at the crossroad of mathematics and mathematical modeling, she pursued postdoctoral studies in archaeology at Aristotle University of Thessaloniki (Greece) and conducted research in archaeometallurgy at Ghent University (Belgium).
Fluent in four languages (Armenian, Greek, Russian, and English), she worked for fifteen years for the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin. By curating a personal documentary of photographs from three Genocides (Armenian, Greek, and Assyrian), she was drawn into the work of safeguarding cultural heritage. She worked for three years for the Dutch NGO ‘’Walk of Truth’’ (The Hague, The Netherlands), whose mission is to protect cultural legacy in zones of conflict.
Her documentary photography project “Peace and Photography” featured Artsakh and Turkish-occupied Cyprus, which had exhibit-presentations in New York, London, Thessaloniki, Yerevan, and Shushi (Artsakh).
Since February 2020, she has worked as an independent researcher investigating religious freedom, religious diplomacy, ecumenism, peace and reconciliation, and the endangered Christians of the Middle East. In August 2020, she registered the NGO ‘’Action for Peace’’ (Human Rights, Humanitarian Aid and Peace-building) in Armenia. Through her NGO, she has conducted documentary photography and oral history projects in Artsakh: “Women of Artsakh: War, Identity and Peace” in September 2020 and “Nostos: The Aftermath of the War” in January 2021. She also collaborates with NYC-based Save Armenian Monuments, which operates under the auspices of the Eastern Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church of America.
Some of Dr. Mchitarian’s previous work may be viewed here:
Mark your calendars for the following upcoming Zohrab Center events:
Mon, April 18, 7:00pmin-person — Lecture: “Naming the Armenian Genocide: Language, Politics, and Medz Yeghern” by Dr. Vartan Matiossian at the Guild Hall of the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Church of America: 630 2nd Ave, New York, NY 10016. Reception and book signing to follow.
Mon, April 25, 7:00pmZOOM — Krapar & Kini (Classical Armenian & Wine) with Prof. Abraham Terian on Prayer 53 from the prayer book of St. Gregory of Narek, which Prof. Terian has recently translated. Register for the session here.
Thurs, May 26, 7:00pmin-person — Photographic Exhibition: “Artsakh: Angel of Peace” by Dr. Marina Mchitarian, featuring material shot before and after the 2020 war and offering a life-affirming message of hope. Includes a brief documentary screening and conversation with Dr. Mchitarian. Wine and cheese reception will accompany the viewing of the photographs. At the Guild Hall of the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Church of America: 630 2nd Ave, New York, NY 10016.
“The Warrior Saint Within: A Symbolic Interpretation of Vartanants” by Dr. Jesse S. Arlen
This talk was given in the Haik and Alice Kavookjian Auditorium at the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Church of America in New York City on the Feast of Sts. Vartanants and name day celebration of St. Vartan Cathedral on February 24, 2022. I’m grateful to Diocesan Primate Bp. Daniel Findikyan and Cathedral Vicar Fr. Davit Karamyan for the invitation to speak on this occasion.
For many of you the number of times is past counting that you have come to St. Vartan Cathedral on this feast day. For others, you can remember a handful of times. For me, it is only the first time, but no less meaningful for that. Here we are on the Feast of Sts. Vartanants, underneath the mother cathedral dedicated to that warrior saint whose protection and guidance our fathers and mothers, grandfathers and grandmothers sought, when their fortune saw them flung to the eastern shore of this country after they had endured a calamity even greater than that faced by St. Vartan and his companions. What was it they saw in a defeated and slain warrior from a millennium and a half ago that so inspired them?
For an event like the one we’re dealing with here to be worthy of remembrance, for it to turn into what skeptics might call ‘legend’ or ‘myth,’ but what we might better name ‘sacred history,’ it must be symbolically meaningful; that is, it must embody timeless, spiritual meaning. It is at that symbolic level that I’d like to focus my brief remarks this evening.
To do so, let me call your attention to a less celebrated passage in Ghazar Parbetsi’s History— but one that I think is key to uncovering the deeper meaning found in this event. Before the Battle of Avarayr, Vartan and the other Armenian, Georgian, and Caucasian Albanian Christian noble lords are called to the Sasanian Shah Yazkert’s court who presents them with the following choice: either abandon your Christian faith and accept Zoroastrianism or see yourselves, your wives, children, and nation annihilated. What do we expect these heroes and Christian saints will do? Surely, they will spit in the shah’s face and say they’ll never yield to such threats. But that is not what happened.
Ghazar tells us that Vartan deliberated in agony for a while, while remembering that saying of Christ, “Whoever loves his wife and children more than me, is not worthy of me.” But his companions quoted other Scriptures, not unlike how Satan once tempted Jesus in the wilderness. They reminded Vartan of what St. Paul had said, “I would make myself cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of saving my brothers and relatives” and urged him to do just that along with them, in order to save their wives and children and kinsmen: i.e., they asked him to renounce Christ (if only under pretense) in order to save the lives of those they loved. What do you think Vartan did? Surely, he refused them and that is why we remember him today as a Christian martyr, right? Wrong. On that occasion, he silenced the voice of truth within him, and along with his companions chose the way of deception, feigning abandonment of Christ and accepting Zoroastrianism, and thus lying his way out of the difficult situation.
It was a hard dilemma. If you’re brave enough to try such an experiment, look inside yourself at a quiet, solitary moment and ask yourself what you would do if given the same choice?
Well, Ghazar tells us that the nobles then returned to their land and when their wives and children along with priests chanting Psalms came out to greet them, they instantly began to weep and wail because they found that their husbands looked dark and half-dead, and the light that usually shone from their faces no longer did so. This refers, of course, to the beaming charisma that seems to glow from the faces and eyes of those who live truthfully and uprightly at all times, who always seek the highest good. It is the golden halo that iconographers paint behind the faces of saints. It shone no more from the faces of those men who were living no longer in the light of truth.
Vartan soon discovers that as a result of his deception, all goodness, beauty, and joy has been stripped away from his life. Neither his wives nor children, not even his servants can bear to be in his presence or sit with him at table. He himself cannot even endure being in his own realm any longer, and looking for a way to run from himself and his problems, he decides to flee to the Roman empire, where he can be safe and secure.
His fellow Christian nobles come to him again, this time urging him to stay and fight with them in the wars with Iran that are sure to come, once their deception has been found out. Once again, Vartan is faced with a hard dilemma. Should he run to another realm where he can practice Christianity safely, protect his family, and so escape death? Or, should he accept his own mortality, and honestly and courageously face the difficult lot he has been dealt? It is this inner battle that was the most difficult one that Vartan fought, the war he waged within himself. And after the initial defeat at the Persian court, it is from this inner battle that he emerged victorious, when he decided that no matter the cost or outcome he would follow the way that he knew deep down within him to be right, which meant accepting his own mortality, facing death in battle.
For the last couple weeks, I’ve meditated on the sculptural relief of Vartan that stands on the south-facing wall above the entrance of our cathedral. One might have expected Vartan to be depicted standing tall and proud in full armor, sword in hand, ready to wage war. But that is not at all what the inspired artist, Bogdan Grom, depicted. Call the image to mind if you can.
Notice his posture. He is there on bended knee, helmet off beside him, face resolute, holding the cross in his left hand at his chest, and pointing upwards with his right hand. What does all this mean? To take off your protective armor and grip the cross at the center of yourself is to honestly accept your own mortality, the inescapable death sentence that is placed on every one of us that comes into this world. To fall on one knee and point upwards is to submit yourself to Reality as it is, to the lot that you have been dealt, and despite that to work for the highest good you can conceive given the limitations of your self and the circumstances of your life, leaving the outcome of your efforts entirely in God’s hands. You cannot choose the circumstances you will face in life, and there are many forces working against you that will always remain outside of your control. All you can control is your own self and how you will respond to them. Vartan overcame the deceptive, inner desires that urged him toward self-preservation and self-protection, that urged him to seek his own advantage at the expense of the highest good. And because of that decision, that inner victory that Vartan won, the halo glows again behind his head. It is there on the sculpture on the cathedral wall.
Meanwhile, Vasak, prince of Siwnik, took advantage of the unfortunate circumstances in Armenia to advance his own interests, caring little that it required treachery and betrayal to do so. He colluded with the Iranian shah and worked behind the scenes to betray Vartan and the other Christian nobles. Vasak sought upward mobility and personal reward at the cost of honesty and loyalty. He compromised his highest ideal and betrayed his companions. This is corruption at its very worst— taking advantage of a bad situation for personal benefit to the detriment of those dependent on you. Vasak tried to trick reality through deceit, lies, and treachery. However, soon after the Battle of Avarayr, the tables were turned on him, and falling out of favor with the shah, he was imprisoned and died in ignominy.
And so, this story presents us with two paths that we may pursue in life. We can choose to shun lies and deception and follow the voice within us that speaks the truth, or we can try to twist reality to our own ends through lies, deception, and deceit. In this life, one thing is certain: we will face difficulty, calamity, crisis, unfavorable external circumstances that lie entirely outside of our control, which we did not ask for and do not want. When that happens, a voice within us will bring up every excuse and reason why we should give up or lie or cheat our way out of the difficult circumstance, perhaps even using Scripture as justification. But there is another voice always inside you: it is much quieter but it always tells you what is right and speaks the hard truth you need to hear. We can call it our conscience or the “spirit of truth.” If you follow that first voice, you take the path of Vasak, trying to twist reality to your own end. But reality has a way of snapping back into shape and crushing the one who tried to bend it. If you have the courage to listen to that second, quieter voice and follow it no matter the cost, leaving the outcome entirely to God, you choose the way of Vartan, and God only knows what unforeseen good may come of it, still having its impact a millennium and a half from now.
We fight this inner battle every day, with each hurdle and challenge we face, no matter how large or small. Every time we listen to the first voice and take the easy path, like Vasak, we corrupt ourselves and the world, making bad things worse. But when we listen to the second voice, we strengthen ourselves and if we act thus consistently, we soon find that we become capable of facing any difficulty, any peril, even death with courage. And by so doing, we hold open the possibility that by our honest actions and self-sacrifice, we can help to repair a broken world. This is what it means to pick up your cross and follow after Christ.
Our forebears who survived the Genocide to come to this country had every reason in the world to abandon their faith and curse the God who, judging by all external appearances, had forsaken them. Many, in fact, did just that. But some fell on their knees, held the cross to their chest, and looked upwards, building this cathedral as a testament to their faith, in the name of the warrior saint who stays true despite all external calamities. They won the inner battle, clinging to their faith against despair and against all odds built a beautiful life in a strange, new world that soon became home to their children and grandchildren. Their chapter is now written and finished, but ours is still open. We stand here now the beneficiaries of their sacrifice, under the protection of that warrior saint, who wins the inner battle against the self. So, on this Feast of Sts. Vartanants, let us ponder what our lives could be like if each one of us always chose the way that Vartan chose, obeying that small voice within us that speaks the truth. What might we become if we did so? What might our nation become? What might the world become?
May the blessings of this Feast Day be on us all and may each one of us become the warrior saint who wins the inner battle.
 The episode I reflect on here and in the following paragraphs is found in the second part of Ghazar’s History. In the standard English edition, The History of Łazar Pʿarpecʿi, trans. by Robert W. Thomson (Atlanta, GA: Scholars Press, 1991), see pp. 75–157, especially pp. 86–106.
On Saturday, January 29, 2022, the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C. will host an Armenian Culture Celebration with special exhibits (including a digital exhibition on the churches of Nagorno-Karabakh/Artsakh) and other activities, musical performances, Armenian cuisine, and lecture presentations devoted to the role of the Bible and Christianity in Armenian culture.
Dr. Jesse Arlen will be one of the speakers, presenting on the development of the Armenian Bible and its sacred importance that enabled the spread of Christianity, the development of Armenian theology, and the survival of a distinct, unified cultural identity.
Click here for details of the full-day event and see below for a schedule including a coupon code for free admission to the museum.
Zohrab Center postdoctoral fellow and director, Dr. Jesse S. Arlen, to begin Spring 2022 lecture series at St. Nersess Seminary on Thursday evenings at 7:00pm by Zoom, Jan 20 – Feb 24.
An Overview of the Armenian Historical Tradition: Part II: Eleventh to Eighteenth Centuries
This two-part lecture series introduces the audience to the Armenian historical tradition, a rich and fascinating corpus of literature with texts produced continuously from the first century after the invention of the alphabet up until the modern period.
During Part I of this lecture series (offered in Fall 2021), we covered the Armenian histories written from the fifth to tenth centuries.
In Part II, we will look at histories beginning in the eleventh century, which respond to the Seljuk invasions and the many changes brought to Armenian life, and proceed up until the early modern period, when travel accounts covered the various diasporic and merchant colonies that were now spread across the globe.
On Wednesday, January 26th, at 7:00pm ET, Konrad Siekierski, a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at King’s College London will deliver a lecture entitled “The Materiality of Armenian Christianity: Gospel Books as Sacred Objects.”
This Zoom Webinar is jointly sponsored by the The Orthodox Christian Studies Center at Fordham University, The National Association for Armenian Studies and Research, & The Krikor and Clara Zohrab Information Center.
The Materiality of Armenian Christianity: Gospel Books as Sacred Objects
Armenian Gospel Books do not only contain the Word of God to be read by priests and the faithful, but some also act as sacred objects endowed with supernatural power and agency. As such, they are venerated during the feasts of the Armenian Apostolic Church and as ‘home saints’ – family relics held in unofficial shrines. Based on several years of ethnographic research in Armenia and recent anthropological literature on religion as a sensual and material phenomenon, I will discuss how Gospel Books (and some other religious texts) make visible the invisible, touchable the untouchable, and – ultimately – reachable the unreachable for Armenian Christians today. Furthermore, I will explore the Armenian veneration of home saints in the context of Soviet and post-Soviet Armenia’s changing socio-political landscape, the decay of traditional village life in the country, and the theft of many privately owned Gospel Books.
Konrad Siekierski is a PhD candidate in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies, King’s College London. Based upon ten years of ethnographic research, his doctoral thesis, A Vow to Go: Religion, Reunion, and Roots in Armenian Pilgrimage, examines the different forms that pilgrimage takes today in the Armenian culture. In 2021, he conducted a research project Gospel Books as Home Saints: Between Vernacular Christianity and Armenian National Heritage, funded by the National Association for Armenian Studies and Research. Currently he is a recipient of The Orthodox Christian Studies NEH Dissertation Completion Fellowship at Fordham University. Konrad edited two collective volumes and authored several articles in academic journals.
Zohrab/Fordham Postdoc and Director Dr. Jesse S. Arlen’s Fall Public Lecture series at Saint Nersess Armenian Seminary is now available to stream on YouTube. The six sessions cover the major medieval Armenian historians and histories composed between the fifth and tenth centuries. Part II of the series will take place in the beginning of the Spring 2022 semester.
Series Description: The Armenian historical tradition is rich and well developed, with texts written in this genre produced continuously from the first century after the invention of the alphabet up until the modern period. Of all the Armenian literary genres, it is the histories that have received the most attention from modern scholars, thanks to their importance for our knowledge of the Near East and Mediterranean. Nevertheless, the Armenians who wrote their histories did not conceive of history in the same way we do today, nor did they approach their topics with the same preoccupations and concerns of modern historians. In this six-week course, we will seek to approach the Armenian histories on their own terms, attempting to understand the context in which they were produced, the religious and imaginative world of the authors who composed them, and the goals and purposes that motivated both the patrons who sponsored them and the authors who wrote them. Proceeding chronologically, this semester our goal is to cover twelve major Armenian histories from the fifth to tenth centuries (about two per session). At the same time, we will introduce participants to books and online resources where they may acquire the primary texts and gain access to important secondary materials to facilitate deeper study on their own.
Zohrab/Fordham Postdoctoral Fellow Dr. Jesse S. Arlen edited and translated the texts for the Armenian section of a new volume that presents English translations of important texts from the Eastern Christian (Oriental Orthodox) traditions, many of which are appearing in English for the first time. This important volume, which also includes introductions to the each of the languages represented, aims to make the Eastern Christian literary traditions more accessible to a wide and scholarly audience. The volume contains Syriac, Armenian, Georgian, Arabic, Coptic, and Ethiopic Christian texts from late antiquity to the early modern period.
English translations of Syriac, Armenian, Georgian, Arabic, Coptic, and Ethiopic Christian texts from late antiquity to the early modern period
In order to make the writings of Eastern Christianity more widely accessible this volume offers a collection of significant texts from various Eastern Christian traditions, many of which are appearing in English for the first time. The internationally renowned scholars behind these translations begin each section with an informative historical introduction, so that anyone interested in learning more about these understudied groups can more easily traverse their diverse linguistic, cultural, and literary traditions. A boon to scholars, students, and general readers, this ample resource expands the scope of Christian history so that communities beyond Western Christendom can no longer be ignored.
Jesse S. Arlen, Aaron M. Butts, Jeff W. Childers, Mary K. Farag, Philip Michael Forness, John C. Lamoreaux, Jeanne-Nicole Mellon Saint-Laurent, Erin Galgay Walsh, J. Edward Walters, and Jeffrey Wickes.
Table of Contents
Introduction Part One: Syriac 1. The Doctrina Addai 2. Ephrem the Syrian, Hymns against Heresies 3 and 53 3. Martyrdom of Mīles, Abursam, and Sinay 4. Jacob of Serugh, The Fourth Homily on Cain and Abel 5. Narsai, On the Canaanite Woman 6. Simeon of Beth Arsham, Letter on the Ḥimyarite Martyrs 7. The Syriac Life of Mary of Egypt 8. Timothy I, Letter 47 9. Theodore bar Koni, Scholion, Mēmrā 10 Part Two: Armenian 1. Koriwn, The Life of Mashtotsʿ 2. Eznik of Koghb, Refutation of the Sects (or, On God) 3. The Teaching of Saint Grigor 4. Anania of Narek, On This Transitory World 5. Grigor of Narek, Book of Lamentation, Discourse 1, Discourse 88 6. Nersēs Shnorhali, Hymn for the Sunrise Hour, Instructional Preface to a Prayer of Nersēs, Prayer of Nersēs Part Three: Georgian 1. Martyrdom of St. Shushanik 2. John Sabanisże, Martyrdom of Habo, the Perfumer from Baghdad 3. George the Athonite, The Lives of John the Iberian, Euthymios the Athonite, and George the Minor, The Life of George the Athonite 4. Mark the Deacon, The Life of Porphyry of Gaza Part Four: Arabic 1. Homilies on the Gospel Readings for Holy Week 2. Theodore Abū Qurrah, That God Is Not Weak 3. The Disputation of Abraham of Tiberias 4. Ḥunayn Ibn Isḥāq, How to Discern the True Religion 5. Miracles of Saint George 6. Commentary on the Pentateuch Part Five: Coptic 1. Life of Pachomius 2. Shenoute of Atripe, I Have Been Reading the Holy Gospels 3. Pseudo-Dioscorus of Alexandria, Encomium on Macarius of Tkōou 4. The Anaphora of Saint Thomas the Apostle 5. Christophoria, Letter to the Comes Mena 6. John of Paralos, Homily on the Archangel Michael and the Blasphemous Books of the Heretics 7. Pseudo-Cyril of Alexandria, Encomium Interpreting Part of the Apocalypse of John the Apostle of Christ Jesus Part Six: Ethiopic 1. Select Inscriptions of ˁEzana 2. Homily on Frumentius 3. Synaxarion on Yared 4. Glory of the Kings (Kǝbrä Nägäśt) 5. Miracles of Mary 6. Zär’a Yaʿəqob, Book of the Trinity 7. Prayer Amulet: MS Duke Ethiopic 15
REVIEWS “Here is a really excellent and most welcome volume: it aims to provide ‘a series of windows’ into the literatures of the various languages of the Christian Middle East. For each language, well-chosen excerpts, ranging from four to nine in number, are introduced and translated, accompanied by helpful bibliographical guidance in each case for readers who wish to explore further. The book provides both the general reader and scholars in related areas with a wonderful gateway into little-known areas of early Christian literature.” — Sebastian Brock, University of Oxford
“Scholars and students have rarely had easy access to primary sources across the array of continents, languages, and cultures where ancient Christians forged their places. This volume responds to that need. Concise and efficient, it offers a rich assortment of texts from an often-unfamiliar variety of language traditions. Demonstrating fundamental commonalities as well as distinctive traits for each, this volume is a marvelously rich entry into global Christianity over its first millennium and more, far to the east of Europe’s shores.” — Susan Ashbrook Harvey, Brown University
“Providing short introductions to the various Eastern churches alongside fresh translations of some of their most important texts, this ‘dream team’ of contributors has created the first truly accessible entryway into the diverse traditions associated with Eastern Christianity. Thanks to their efforts, there is no longer any excuse for the history of Christianity to be taught as the history simply of Western Christianity. For anyone interested in understanding Christianity as a global religion—whether professor, graduate student, seminarian, undergraduate, or practitioner—Eastern Christianity is nothing short of required reading.” — Michael Philip Penn, Stanford University