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Alice Stone Blackwell

ARMENIAN POEMS


Contents | Table of contents [as in the book] | Preface | Introduction

Bedros Tourian | Michael Nalbandian | Abp. Khorène Nar Bey De Lusignan
Mugurditch Beshiktashlian | Raphael Patkanian | Leo Alishan | St. Gregory of Narek
Nerses the Graceful | Saïat Nova | Djivan | Raffi | Koutcharian | Terzyan | Totochian
Damadian | Atom Yarjanian (Siamanto) | Daniel Varoujan | Archag Tchobanian
Hovhannes Toumanian | Hovhannes Hovhannessian | Zabel Assatour (Madame Sybil)
Mugurditch Chrimian Hairig | M. Portoukalian | Mihran Damadian
Arshag D. Mahdesian | Nahabed Koutchak | Shoushanig Khourghinian
Avedik Issahakian | Avedis Aharonian | Karekin Servantzdiantz | Bedros Adamian
Tigrane Yergate | Khorène M. Antreassian | Djivan | Miscellaneous songs and poems

APPENDIX: The Armenian Women | The Armenian Church
Bibliography | Comments on the first edition of "Armenian Poems"


INTRODUCTION

ARMENIAN poetry is so full of allusions to Vartan, Avarair, Haig, and Thorkom or Togarmah, as well as to the Garden of Eden, that a few preliminary notes are necessary by way of explanation.

Armenia is a mountainous region of Western Asia, lying around Mount Ararat, and containing the sources of the Tigris, Euphrates, and Araxes rivers. It is south of the Caucasus Mountains, between the Black, Caspian, and Mediterranean seas. According to tradition, it was the site of the Garden of Eden.

Armenia was the seat of one of the most ancient, civilizations of the globe. Its people were contemporary with the Assyrians and Babylonians. They are of Aryan race, and of pure Caucasian blood.

Their origin is lost in the mists of antiquity. According to their own tradition, they are the descendants of Thorkom, or Togarmah, a grandson of Japhet, who settled in Armenia after the Ark, rested on Ararat. They call themselves Haik, and their country Haiasdan, after Haig, the son of Togarmah, one of their greatest kings. In the earliest days of recorded history, we find them occupying their present home. They are referred to by Herodotus. Xenophon describes their manners and customs much as they still exist. In the Bible it is mentioned that the sons of Sennacherib escaped “into the land of Armenia.” Ezekiel also refers to Armenia, under the name of Togarmah, as furnishing Tyre with horses and mules, animals for which it is still famous; and “ the Kingdom of Ararat ” is one of the nations summoned by Jeremiah to aid in the destruction of Babylon.

Tradition relates that Christianity was preached in Armenia early in the first century, by the Apostles Thaddeus and Bartholomew. It is historic fact that in A. D. 276 the king and the whole nation became Christian, under the preaching of Saint Gregory, called “ the Illuminator.” The Armenian Church is thus the oldest national Christian church in the world.

As a Christian nation whose lot has been cast beyond the frontiers of Christendom, the Armenians have had to suffer constant persecution, — in early times from the Persian fire-worshippers, in later centuries from the Mohammedans. Since the withdrawal of the Crusaders, to whom they alone of Asiatic nations gave aid and co-operation, the Armenians have been at the mercy of the surrounding heathen peoples. Their country has been invaded successively by the Caliphs of Bagdad, the Sultans of Egypt, the Khans of Tartary, the Shahs of Persia, and the Ottoman Turks. All these invasions were accompanied by fierce persecutions and great barbarities; but the Armenians have held tenaciously to their faith for more than fifteen hundred years.

In the middle of the fifth century Armenia had already lost its national independence. It was ruled by feudal chiefs and princes who were subject to the King of Persia. The Persians at this time were aiming at the conquest and conversion of the world. In A.D. 459 the Persian King sent a letter to the Armenian princes, setting forth the excellence of fire-worship and the foolishness of Christianity, and formally summoning Armenia to embrace fire-worship. A great council was called, in which bishops and laymen sat together, and a reply of unanimous refusal was drawn up. Eghiché, an Armenian historian of the fifth century, one of the bishops who signed the refusal, has preserved in his history the text of this remarkable document. First they answered at considerable length the arguments of the Persian King against Christianity. In conclusion they said : —

“ From this faith no one can move us, — neither angels nor men; neither sword, nor fire, nor water, nor any deadly punishment. If you leave us our faith, we will accept no other lord in place of you; but we will accept no God in place of Jesus Christ: there is no other God beside him. If, after this great confession, you ask anything more of us, lo, we are before you, and our lives are in your power. From you, torments; from us, submission ; your sword, our necks. We are not better than those who have gone before us, who gave up their goods and their lives for this testimony. ”

The King of Persia was as much amazed as enraged by the boldness of this reply; for Armenia was a small country, and stood alone, without allies, against the vast power of Persia. A Persian army of 200,000 men was sent into Armenia. The battle was fought on the plain of Avarair, under Mount Ararat. The much smaller force of the Armenians was defeated, and their leader, Vartan, was killed. But the obstinate resistance offered by rich and poor—men, women, and children—convinced the King of Persia that he could never make fire-worshippers of the Armenians. As the old historian quaintly expresses it, “ The swords of the slayers grew dull, but their necks were not weary.” Even the high-priest of fire saw that the Persians had undertaken an impossibility, and said to the Persian King : —

“ These people have put on Christianity, not like a garment, but like their flesh and blood. Men who do not dread fetters, nor fear torments, nor care for their property, and, what is worst of all, who choose death rather than life, — who can stand against them ? ”

This battle was the Armenian Marathon, and the national songs are full of allusions to it. To-day, after fifteen hundred years, the mountaineers of the Caucasus, at their festivals, still drink the health of Vartan next after that of the Catholicos, or head of their church. From time immemorial it has been the custom in Armenian schools to celebrate the anniversary of the battle with songs and recitations, and to wreathe the picture of Vartan with red flowers. Of late years this celebration has been forbidden by the Russian and Turkish governments.

In the minds of the common people, all sorts of picturesque superstitions still cluster around that battlefield. A particular kind of red flowers grow there, that are found nowhere else, and it is believed that they sprang from the blood of the Christian army. A species of antelope, with a pouch on its breast secreting a fragrant musk, is supposed to have acquired this peculiarity by browsing on grass wet with the same blood. It is also believed that at Avarair the nightingales all sing, “Vartan, Vartan!”

The Armenians, according to their own histories and traditions, enjoyed four periods of national independence, under four different dynasties, extending over about 3,000 years. The ruins of Ani and other great cities still testify to their former power and splendor. It is now many centuries, however, since they lost their political independence; and their country has been little more than a battle-ground for rival invaders. Armenia, an Asiatic Poland, was long ago divided between Russia, Persia and Turkey.

By Article 61 of the Treaty of Berlin, in 1878, the Armenians in Turkey were placed under the protection of the European powers; but the jealousy of the powers among themselves has prevented any effective protection from being given. There were frightful massacres of the Armenians in 1894-96 by order of the Sultan Abdul Hamid. In 1908, the Armenians, in common with the other subject nationalities in Turkey, enjoyed a brief time of sunshine when constitutional government was proclaimed; but the old oppressions soon began again, and they culminated in the unparalleled cruelties of 1915-16. It is not necessary here to go into the harrowing details; they have been spread broadcast in the press.

The excuse put forward by the Turks—the claim that there was a dangerous Armenian revolution impending—was a mere pretext. Turkish oppression was such that it would have justified a revolution a thousand times over, if there had been any chance of success; but there was none. The Turks knew it; most of the Armenians knew it; and therefore the Patriarch of Constantinople and the representative Armenians in Turkey disapproved of the revolutionary propaganda that was carried on by some of the younger men, mainly in America and Europe. Only a handful of the Armenians in Turkey had anything to do with it. And this was made the pretext for giving the men of a whole nation over to slaughter, and the women to outrage and starvation!

It was no outburst of popular fanaticism, but a coldly premeditated crime, carried out by orders from Constantinople, ruthlessly and systematically, as a political measure. In the midst of the massacre, when a Red Cross nurse begged a high Turkish official to spare the children, his answer was, “Women have no business to meddle in politics!”

And what kind of people were thus given over to destruction? Dr. James L. Barton, secretary of the American Board of Foreign Missions, and former president of Euphrates College in Turkey, says:
“I know the Armenians to be, by inheritance, religious, industrious and faithful. They are the Anglo-Saxons of Eastern Turkey. They are not inferior in mental ability to any race on earth. I say this after eight years’ connection with Euphrates College, which has continually from 550 to 625 Armenians upon, its list of students, and after superintending schools which, have 4,000 more of them.”

The Hon. Andrew D. White says: “It is one of the finest races in the world, physically, morally and intellectually. If I were asked to name the most desirable races to be added by immigration to the American population, I would name among the very first the Armenian.”

Lord Bryce says: “They are a strong race, not only with vigorous nerves and sinews, physically active and energetic, but also of conspicuous brain power. Among all those who dwell in Western Asia they stand first, with a capacity for intellectual and moral progress, as well as with a natural tenacity of will and purpose, beyond that of all their neighbors—not merely of Turks, Tartars, Kurds and Persians, but also of Russians.”

“Thus they have held a very important place among the inhabitants of Western Asia ever since the sixth century. If you look into the annals of the East Roman or Byzantine Empire, you will find that most of the men who rose to eminence in its service as generals or statesmen during the early middle ages were of Armenian stock. So was it also after the establishment of the Turkish dominion in Europe. Many of the ablest men in the Turkish service have been Armenians by birth or extraction. The same is true of the Russian service.”

Lamartine calls the Armenians “ the Swiss of the East.” Dulaurier compares them to the Dutch.

Mrs. Isabella Bird Bishop, the famous traveler, says: “They are the most capable, energetic, enterprising and pushing race in Western Asia, physically superior and intellectually acute, and, above all, they are a race which can be raised in all respects to our own level. … Their shrewdness and aptitude for business are remarkable, and whatever exists of commercial enterprise in Asia Minor is almost altogether in their hands.”

After teaching among them for thirty-five years, Dr. Cyrus Hamlin wrote: “ The Armenians are a noble race.” Dr. Grace N. Kimball, who lived for years in the heart of Armenia, calls them “ a race full of enterprise and the spirit of advancement, much like ourselves in characteristics, and full of possibilities of every kind.” So says the Rev. Frederick D. Greene, who was born and brought up among them.

Miss Florence E. Fensham, Dean for years of the American College for Girls at Constantinople, told me that she had found the Armenian girls among her students not only able, but very faithful and trustworthy.

H. F. B. Lynch says: “ The Armenian people may be included in the small number of races who have shown themselves capable of the highest culture.”

Speaking of the importance of spreading Western progressive ideas in the East, he says:

“ In the Armenians we have a people who are peculiarly adapted to be the intermediaries of the new dispensation. They profess our religion, are familiar with some of our best ideals, and assimilate each new product of European culture with an avidity and thoroughness which no other race between India and the Mediterranean has given any evidence of being able to rival. These capacities they have made manifest under the greatest disadvantages. …

“ If I were asked what characteristics distinguish the Armenians from other Orientals, I should be disposed to lay most stress on a quality known in popular speech as grit. It is this quality to which they owe their preservation as a people, and they are not surpassed in this respect by any European nation. Their intellectual capacities are supported by a solid foundation of character, and, unlike the Greeks, but like the Germans, their nature is averse to superficial methods; they become absorbed in their tasks and plumb them deep. … These tendencies are naturally accompanied by forethought and balance; and they have given the Armenian his pre-eminence in commercial affairs. He is not less clever than the Greek; but he sees farther.”

Rev. Edwin M. Bliss says, with truth: “Those who know the race most widely and most intimately esteem it the most highly.”

Mrs. Julia Ward Howe, who was president of the Friends of Armenia, wrote:

“ Some Americans have been prejudiced against Armenians by contact with the demoralized Armenians of Constantinople. But in Constantinople corruption extends to all nationalities. Ubicini draws a very just distinction between the Armenians of Constantinople and the Levantine ports and the Armenians of Tauris or Erzerum, the cradle of the race, where the independent and chivalrous character of the people has remained comparatively little changed by the lapse of ages. The contrast is as great as between the enervated Greeks of Phanar and the hardy Greek mountaineers of Epirus and Macedonia. The bulk of the Armenians are primitive and hard-working agriculturists, living in the interior, and what Lord Byron said of them years ago holds good to-day: ‘It would perhaps be difficult to find in the annals of a nation less crime than in those of this people, whose virtues are those of peace, and whose vices are the result of the oppression it has undergone.’ ”

When the recent terrible events began, the Armenians who could fled over the frontier. Refugees by hundreds of thousands are crowded together in Russia, in Egypt, in Greece, destitute of everything, and perishing like flies. The need is desperate, and on a colossal scale. Contributions for the relief fund should be sent to Charles R. Crane, 70 Fifth Avenue, New York City.

 

Contents | Table of contents [as in the book] | Preface | Introduction

Bedros Tourian | Michael Nalbandian | Abp. Khorène Nar Bey De Lusignan
Mugurditch Beshiktashlian | Raphael Patkanian | Leo Alishan | St. Gregory of Narek
Nerses the Graceful | Saïat Nova | Djivan | Raffi | Koutcharian | Terzyan | Totochian
Damadian | Atom Yarjanian (Siamanto) | Daniel Varoujan | Archag Tchobanian
Hovhannes Toumanian | Hovhannes Hovhannessian | Zabel Assatour (Madame Sybil)
Mugurditch Chrimian Hairig | M. Portoukalian | Mihran Damadian
Arshag D. Mahdesian | Nahabed Koutchak | Shoushanig Khourghinian
Avedik Issahakian | Avedis Aharonian | Karekin Servantzdiantz | Bedros Adamian
Tigrane Yergate | Khorène M. Antreassian | Djivan | Miscellaneous songs and poems

APPENDIX: The Armenian Women | The Armenian Church
Bibliography | Comments on the first edition of "Armenian Poems"

 

See also:

Biography of Alice Stone Blackwell
Russian poetry translated by Alice Stone Blackwell

Acknowledgements:

Source: Blackwell, Alice Stone. Armenian Poems, Rendered into English Verse. Boston, MA: Atlantic Printing Company, 1917
Provided by: Aram Arkun, Krikor and Clara Zohrab Information Center
Scanned by: Karen Vrtanesyan
OCR: Karen Vrtanesyan

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