Renaissance of van vasburagan

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1850 - 1950


Foreword by

Samuel H. Toumaian

Printed by

Toumaian Brothers




[Map of Vaspuragan]


Bereaved, L. K.




(November 1876 - January 1950)
All buildings beautiful, all faces happy and lovely,

There was sweet unity there, and true peace.

Real peace, when the house is full of love.
A simple hut, but full of happiness, free of evil harm,

See a garden of fragrant flowers, like a cool paradise.

Life is tranquil and secure when the heart is full of love.
I knew that I would not be ale to accomplish this literary undertaking. I knew that it would be difficult, and beyond my capability, especially since I did not have a mentor to help me in this difficult task. And I also knew that it would be difficult to a find a sponsor to assure the publication of this work. At the same time, however, I had a desire, and an inner drive to bring this about, as much as possible, to present the literary and artistic people of the past and the present, and thus preserve their memory forever. In a word, to recognize their indelible works and keep them alive in our hearts.
I waited for many years to see such a book, but none appeared. About twenty years ago Mr. Haig Ajemian had announced that he had the necessary information, and that if he found a sponsor he would undertake the task. But we’ve heard nothing since.
So with this inner urge, I started out, and completed it, to the degree allowed by my abilities. Before starting on the work I was at first being helped by Ajemian’s “Hayots Hairig” [Father of Armenians], and then by Yeramian’s “Hushartzanen” [From the Monument], and also a little by the monthly paper “Ardzvi Vasburagan” [Eagle of Vasburagan] published by the Vasburagan Union. But for the most part I depended on personal contacts with intellectuals I knew in all quarters of the world, getting their biographies, which I condensed.
I am deeply thankful for their willing help. The number of persons and topics is more than 150.
I knew that there would still be hundreds that would be left out, especially of old and new teachers. But it was impossible to gather them all for this small volume. May those I have been unable to reach forgive me, especially because enlarging the volume would not be possible for financial reasons. I was even obliged to shorten the biographies of many, with pain of course, since I had already done much work on them, having wanted to publish them in full.
Coming to financial, moral, and physical matters. For finances I called upon the Vasburagan Union, which led to the formation of informal committees to support the project as much as possible. I was helped somewhat, but I must say that I started work with the modest sum sent me by a former pupil that I had punished [in class], Mr. Mgrdich Der Hovhannesian. He was the first to encourage me with his response. I am not going to mention the other supporters, in order to avoid wounding their modesty.
I was morally helped by the lamentable member of my family, who served as mentor. But more than that, she served ceaselessly to encourage me, but who, alas, did not survive to see the result of my labors with her own eyes. Then there was Mr. Muroian, who constantly encouraged me.
I owe receiving physical help to Mr. Aram Arsenian, who for many years was my guardian angel, running about here and there, using his valuable time to look after the publication of the work.
I feel a debt of gratitude to Mr. Haig Toumaian, who with great sacrifice, undertook the publication of the book, especially during the unfortunate day when I was obliged to be away from my home and city. He was willing to carry on my efforts by going over the manuscripts and preparing them for the printer. Here I would ask readers to be forgiving if they come upon printing errors they may find, reason being that during my incapacity I was unable to take care of things adequately. Where is that person who is without fault?
I was able to accomplish my heart’s desire before finally closing my eyes, to give my dear “Vaspuragantsis,” and why not, all Armenians, a small sample of our “company of stars.”
When I was halfway through my work I received encouragement from His Eminence Bishop Sion Manoogian, Mr. Arshag Safrastian, and the late Ardag Tarpinian, providing me with impetus to reach my goal.
And now, my deepest thanks for all the material and moral support.
Levon Kazanjian

Boston, April 18, 1950

I have known the venerable author of Renaisssance of Van-Vasburagan for many years as a modest worker in Armenian letters. His enthusiastic energy for writing is truly astounding. He has been as industrious as a bee in writing for newspapers, on various topics that have always been thought-provoking. Months ago, when I was exceedingly busy with my work, I received a note from Mr. Levon Kazanjian saying that he would like me to write a Foreword for Renaissance of Van-Vasburagan. I am fulfilling that duty today with pleasure, as I have the responsibility of publishing the complete work. I emphasize the words “with pleasure” because Armenian letters owes much to a modest but industrious writer like Mr. Levon Kazanjian to tell about our modest intellectuals who hesitate to seek complimentary adjectives to be placed before their names.
It may be said that Mr. Levon Kazanjian is not a literary master, nor one of a mind for research, as is needed by researchers. This lack, however, in his effort to be beneficial to Armenian letters, takes nothing away from a volume like Renaissance of Van-Vasburagan, because it brings an invaluable benefit to Armenian history, if we were take into account the conditions in which Armenian letters are nurtured and that Armenian writers must scrape together a livelihood in the environment of foreign lands.
Undoubtedly, Mr. Kazanjian has performed a praiseworthy task in writing Renaissance of Van-Vasburagan. To complete his work he has not only done a lot of digging that tests man’s patience, but also, especially, he continued to maintain contact with countless compatriots who would be able to assist in the completion of his work.
It was a task that could be accomplished and appreciated only by those who are fired with the desire to be beneficial to Armenian letters and history.
Renaissance of Van-Vasburagan will interest mainly compatriots of Vasburagan, who have every right to be proud of their fatherland, and who want to renew their memories. Vasburagan, however, does not belong only to our courageous compatriots of Van. The Armenian people have always been proud of Van-Vasburagan. Vasburagan has always been a name that speaks to the heart of all Armenians. For that reason many Armenian readers will read Mr. Levon Kazanjian’s interesting work with pleasure.
The history of Vasburagan needed to be written. That history, however, should not be specifically a record of its statistics and its geography. People of Vasburagan, “Vasburagantsis,” today live far away from their patriarchal homes and lands. The “foreign cemeteries” are constantly “stealing” the “survivors” whose lives themselves represent an extensive history of their own, as much of the present tragedy as of the past, and as well tell of the miraculous effort to survive.
Our compatriots of Vasburagan will surely and proudly peruse Mr. Levon Kazanjian’s Renaissance of Van-Vasburagan. They will find spread out over the pages of the volume their recalled persons and events, as well as names that bring vitality to the present and awaken memories.
This octogenarian author of Renaissance of Van-Vasburagan has not permitted an editing of his text; the language is native to the “Vanetsi.” This reality is for me one of the values of the work. For after all, is it not true that our language -- classical, modern, and dialect --will be buried along with us?
The reader, on reading Renaissance of Van Vasburagan, will quickly become acquainted with the author’s Van dialect, and moreover will begin to enjoy it.
Renaissance of Van-Vasburagan is a work to be hailed. Mr. Levon Kazanjian is worthy of appreciation for this comprehensive work. Armenian history should be grateful to him.
Samuel H. Toumaian

Boston, April 20, 1950

(1850-1950) [ p 9]
The Armenian nation, in the Fifth Century, had its intellectual Golden Age, thanks to the beloved Catholicos St. Sahag, to the creator of the Armenian alphabet St. Mesrop vartabed, and to the encouraging action of the erudite king Vramshabuh, as well as the scholarly vartabeds of the times, Eznig Goghpatsi, Yeghishe, Khorenatsi, and others. After many centuries we shall pause to bring to light the birth in the 19th century of another Golden Age, which began in 1850 and continued until the tragedy of 1911 . . . It was then that those of our literary people who survived, spread out into foreign lands where they continued their magnificent work, and, on bequeathing their work to their successors, passed on. Yes, it is the work of these that motivates us to record what we have been able to gather, to blend them together with their predecessors to complete our one-century story to 1950.

It is fair to impress on the Armenian mind that no state or province of Armenia had as many brilliant and competent scholars as Vasburagan during one century.

Beginning with the unique Khrimian Hairig and Srvantzian, we continue to the present, both aged and young, writers, physicians, artists, clergymen, preachers, etc. May we be excused gratefully to recall, with few exceptions, a few persons of Vaspuragan from times earlier than this past century who form an honored group of immortals, Krikor Naregatsi [Gregory of Nareg], Tovma Vartabed Ardzruni, Nahabed Kuchag, and others, as well as a few other very important writers.

But before coming to the main topic it is worth recalling how geographically extensive Vasburagan was, as Armenia’s largest province, having a number of cantons and cities, monasteries, churches, and other places where scholars produce their output. Also, we would tell of who were Vasburagan’s early patriarchs and their handiworks, their architectural works some of which stand today as evidence of their glorious existence. We tell also of the princely Ardzruni and Rushduni dynasties who for one or two centuries wisely, bravely and diplomatically kept Vasburagan’s glory secure. They were able to negotiate with the enemy and create an opportunity for the builders, artists, and intellectuals to carry on their creative works and bring adornment to the culture of Vasburagan from one end to the other.
It is quite certain that a description of the region or of the activity of its people cannot be given without knowing about the people who have lived there in earlier centuries when their works are still extant. Accordingly, we would like give a condensed account of that past, both written and as deciphered from ancient hieroglyphics, and as revealed by a few European researchers . We find a condensed source of that information from the English historian Lynch’s two-volume book, 130 pages of which are given to the past of the Vasburagan world.

Lynch reminds us of our local saying, “Van in this world, and Paradise in the next.” All missionaries and foreigners who have lived and served in Van have praised it. Lynch says, “In order to form an idea about Van it is necessary to stand on the top of the Citadel and view the surrounding mountains -- to the north, Nemrud, Kerkur, and the Ardos chain, and the nearby Varak with its nearby mountain and hills, cradling the Aygestan with its orchards and forests. Finally, one must view the lake itself, salty like the oceans.”

Reminders are plentiful everywhere concerning Van’s past of 3,000 years. Here one finds underground reinforced water reservoirs, and there grand architectural complete or partly ruined monuments -- conquests over nature. Fields sliced through by straight roads, rivers bridged over, waters for irrigation brought in from afar. Especially interesting are cuneiform inscriptions, hand-carved deeply on massive mountain faces. But even more interesting is to learn that that Citadel, in the distant past, had been the center of an empire that had carried the scepter of its authority into far-off lands and there ruled for centuries. The inscriptions on the precipitous walls of the high-rising fortress have the appearance of a library. Carved into the faces of the fortress are rectangular shapes that have the likeness of doors to hewn rooms. Ever-new knowledge is being disseminated on the grand architectural monuments, for those who know their value.

As a culmination to my investigations, and also those of my teacher of happy memories, let me recall his notes.1 This is a feeble record of those magnificent accomplishments, but it will suffice to point out the inscriptions on the Van Fortress, which are miraculous works of man, if not for beauty, at least for their durability and the tremendous time it took to accomplish them. For example, (1) On the western side of the fortress is a wall built without mortar and consisting of massive stone blocks one meter thick and two meters long. Some of them have cuneiform inscriptions telling how those blocks were raised to their heights, and how without mortar they have endured so long, especially from those times when the power of steam and its use were unknown. (2) On the north side of the fortress is a large cave, 25 cubits [”gankun,” about 20 inches] long, 12 cubits wide, and 4 cubits high, hewn out of solid rock, and so cleanly done that one is astounded not only on the patience that would have been required, but also on the skill required. Even today, using modern stone cutting power tools, hewing out such chambers would be a difficult task. (3) The three doorways on the northeast side are filled with cuneiform inscriptions. While viewing them one thinks that the doors can be opened, although they have been hewn only as a framework for the inscriptions, and at such a height. A miraculous and challenging undertaking. (4) There are two arched openings hewn on the northern face of the fortress. They contain sacrificial altars, and the presence of a channel going from the bottom of the altar to the base of the fortress tells us that it was for the blood that would flow from the sacrificed animal. These too were hewn out of the solid rock and it is evidence of the patience and the skill of Khaldian artisans. (5) High on the southern face of the fortress are six panels of cuneiform inscriptions. In it the Khaldian king Argishtis I (784-755 B.C.) tells about his victories. (6) Also on the same face is a narrow passageway that leads to a chamber, “Shamiram Baths,” filled with cuneiform inscriptions. In the chamber are four openings, each five cubits and 3 cubits high. And nearby is another large chamber with an opening that looks onto the city. This chamber too has openings, also beautifully hewn. We must not forget to mention the pool of Menuas Keshish, the ancient waterway of Queen Tariaras, who is confused with the fabled Shamiram.

The 19th century scientist Jean Morthe (who is thought to be Armenian) is fascinated on reading a description by Khorenatsi, and in 1827 arranged an expedition to Van under the leadership of Professor Schulz, who was killed by Kurds. A year later the scientist published his findings. A number of other Englishmen did the same thing. But being helped by a number of errors by his predecessors, the English archeologist Sayce, who spent a great deal of time seeking the key to deciphering cuneiform, was able to learn who the patriarchs of the region were. After Sayce a number of German scientists, Lehmann-Haupt and Belck, discovered additional memorable entries in those inscriptions. Thus, today it is like an open book to learn who made Van and the water cisterns in the vicinity, who were the inscribers on the fortress and on other places.

It is evident that the inhabitants waged war continually for 200 years with the autocrats of Assyria. The people were called Khaldis, the same name as their supreme god whose seat was Tushpa, Van-Tushp. The land was ruled by the ruler through the power and authority of the god Khaldis.

Van, Biainili, was the capital city of Vasburagan. Roman sources name it Buaha or Vuhans. The city later took on the name of Van-Dosp, or Dospa, the name of the canton. Assyrian autocrats earlier call it Urartu, and later Ararat. The Khaldians at least 900 years before Christ named it in Sanskrit. The Assyrian invasions set up a federation called Nairi, extending from Van to Alashgerd. The cuneiform inscriptions at Manasgerd mention a Baghdad-Balsar victory over Nairi (1100 B.C.).

Two hundred fifty years after that date the ruler Aram shows up in Arzagu (probably Arjak) as a powerful prince, ruling over the lands reaching the headwaters of the Euphrates, and is confronted by Salmanasar 844-5 B.C. It appears from inscriptions at Van that in 833 B.C. Sarduris I ruled over Van and built the fortifications of the Van fortress (not Shamiram as legend has it) to protect Van from attack, in which it succeeded.

The site of Van gave it a great military advantage, making it invincible with its surrounding trenches that could be filled with water. It was for being invincible that during the times of Argishtis and his successors that the dominion began rapidly to grow strong and was able to extend it boundaries.

Argishtis, his son Isbuinis, and grandson Menuas added new buildings to the citadel and enlarged the nation and called it the Kingdom of Biania of Viaian. It was the king Menuas who built that wonderful aqueduct (wrongly attributed to Shamiram), bringing water from the Khoshab River (fresh water) to irrigate countless vineyards and orchards all the way to the city.

After Menuas small racial clans of the Araxes River basin became assimilated into the Kingdom of Van. Also, the city of Armavir was built on the shores of the Araxes in honor of the Van god Khald. Nearly all of Armenia was subject to the Kingdom of Van, extending north to the Caucasus, west to Malatya, east to Lake Urmia, and south to Mesopotamia (see the story of Aram, by Khorenatsi).

A complete reading of all of the inscriptions will bring to light the culture, the arts, the crafts, and the industry of the people of those times. The only excavations concerning “Mheri Tur” [Mher’s Door] have taken place only in the cave called “zemp zemp”2 on the northern mountain of Van-Aygestan. During 1870-1880 the English ambassador, Captain Clayton, digging in a tunnel found the ruins of an old city, a temple, many copper shields, inscriptions, clay vessels, all of which were sent to the London Museum. Later, the Germans Belck and Lehmann-Houpt, continuing with excavations deep within the temple, found a channel probably for the purpose of bringing water from distant springs to the city. They found a storeroom with enormous casks for wine with Vannic inscriptions. Nearby was a sacrificial altar in honor of the god Khald. Also found were numerous articles and vessels of silver, copper, and iron. Inscriptions thereon indicated that the location was the city of Rusas, built by the kings Rusas II and Rusas III, according to inscriptions on the shields that were found. Also, there appeared renovations of the temple. Details are still lacking concerning those who ruled there and their activities, which must have been remarkable, judging from the evidence.

According to an analysis by the Greek historian-general Xenophon the Khhaldis were assimilated into the dominant Armenians who became the inheritors of their culture.

For long years the invincible Van fortress remained unvanquished. The Persians controlled it for a time, and then the Sultan Suleyman I in 1534. But despite political upheavals and military conquests the Armenians for 2,500 years remained attached to the shores of Lake Van, becoming accustomed to the arrival and the departure of tyrant rulers. It was only the Turkish Ittihad government that put the final seal to the eventual state of affairs, thanks to the benefit of the so-called “Christian” and “friendly” governments. The one-time missionary to Van, Mr. Allen, in recognizing Lynch’s “Armenia,” supports it in saying, “Only such an author is able to show us how to recognize the wealth of a country, and is able to see with his own eyes a nation’s prosperous past in its own historically accurate colors.”

It is true that the leaders of Van, in their time and with great spirit and skill, built and rebuilt [their nation] and bravely and courageously defended Van against the continually attacking forces. We must be very proud to have had such resolute ancestors.

NOTE: To read about Van’s early history, see Leo’s (Kh. Babakhanian) The Kingdom of Van, taken from his General History. Also see Mr. Arshag Safrastian’s Masis papers, brochures, and booklets, Rev. E. Rushdouni’s and this writer’s articles in the 1940-1-2 issues of Ardzvi Vasburagan of Boston.
A. Hampartzum Yeremian. “In my opinion it was the country’s natural beauty and its historical events that for thousands of years fueled the fire of indomitable and sacred patriotism in the hearts of the Armenian inhabitants, and led them to return to their ruined homeland where often certain death awaited them...”

B. The American missionary, Dr. Reynolds, who served in Van for 40 years, spoke before a group in London late in 1913. He presented Van as so beautiful that “It would be a misfortune to die before having seen it.”

C. The Englishman Lynch, who wrote about the ancient history of Van and its present state, condensed his words with the following. “More important than to see Naples is to visit Van at least once, before dying.” He had confessed to Yeremian that in the Provinces of Armenia, especially in Van [Vasburagan], primary education and history are very advanced, while in Russian Armenia, rather than the primary, it is higher education that is stressed.

D. The last French ambassador to Van, H.Sanfaux, in 1914-5, wrote to his father-in-law in Constantinople, that Van with its climate, its scenery, and its flora were preferable to that of Switzerland, recommending that his wife, very pregnant, be transported to Van.

E. The Russian Armenian writer Ado’s descriptions of Vasburagan are interesting. (See the book, The Provinces of Van, Bitlis, and Erzerum, 1909.

F. Significant are the words written by the Russian poet, Sergei Galavitski, who lived in Van for three months in 1916, after the destruction of Van. “With ‘Van, a destroyed paradise’ is it possible to believe in the local saying, ‘In heaven, paradise, on earth, Van?’ Here nature worked joyfully, having the local man as helper. Lake Van is one of the world’s most beautiful lakes. It is so large that they call it a sea. One cannot see the opposite shore. Looming above it is the Siban mountain with its perpetually snow-covered cap; Russian soldiers call it Steban. Farther off is the volcanic mountain Nemrud. The water of the lake is soft, like velvet, containing 25% soda. It is perfect for swimming, and healthful. The general view is ideal. The lake is in a valley surrounded by a ring of mountains. Nature seems to have made them as guardians. The heights of two of them, the fortresses of Van and Toprak, are priceless archeological treasures. One must see Van, with its destruction, in order to be convinced that it can be restored.” (See “Hayrenik” monthly.)

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