BY TOROS TORANIAN, MD
My visit to the Florida Armenian community gave me the good fortune to see the St. David Armenian Church in Boca Raton and meet with pastor Father Zaven Arzoumanian whose name will forever be connected with the continuation of Patriarch Malachia Ormanian’s “Azgapatum” volumes. To write the history of a nation is for sure a risky task, because the author has to demonstrate impartiality as much as preparedness and dedication, away from favoritism and subjective temptations. We have heard the saying each person has his own truthfulness.
We know that in order history to be acceptable it must serve the majority rather than a group of people. It is such a study that Fr. Arzoumanian has accomplished in the field of modern historiography. Allow me to say that the present publication in three volumes, covering the entire 20th century, is equal to a miracle, looking at it as the legacy of a true historian working in between his many demanding hours as a full-time pastor of a community. It is indeed a rare case where literary achievement can overpower without hurting the pastoral work.
Where did Father Arzoumanian collect those numerous books, texts, communications from, while living and working in this remote land of the United States? How did he manage to devote time to literary research among his unending responsibilities? It is easy to talk, but difficult to accomplish. We therefore feel ourselves more enriched as we get closer to the person who has handled his task so willingly. Now holding the book of the History of Our Nation in my hands, I realize the importance and the dedication, both of them complementing each other in a single person. In fact, the first award comes from Patriarch Ormanian whose continued three volumes I hold like a miracle given to me as a gift.
A well balanced and justified approach is quite obvious in the new publication as one reads the assessments of persons and events. As a graduate of the Melkonian Institute, I was thrilled to read for example about the school whose foundations were laid by the lessed Patriarch Zaven Der Yeghiayan, whose name Father Zaven inherited upon his ordination. Next, I read about the Hamazkayin Cultural Society, the Neshan Palanjian Academy, the resuming of the publication of the SION monthly in 1927, and the relocation of the Catholicosate of Cilicia with new dioceses in Syria and Lebanon, disposed by the Jerusalem Patriarchate. Also I see an article on the Mekhitarist Congregation in Vienna with its 2,500 Armenian manuscripts, and on General Antranik’s brave expeditions. Therefore, we can proudly say, ”Dr. Arzoumanian, you deserve all our appreciation for job done truthfully and deservedly.”
I was happy to read Patriarch Torkom Manoogian’s blessings. He says, “This work not only is a courageous undertaking, but also the continuation of Ormanian’s opus magnum whereby Father Zaven has shown intellectual interest as well as philological knowledge and capability.” Further comments I have read by Berj Momjian (Horizon Daily) saying, “We conclude our comment with thankful and grateful heart for the realization of Azgapatum IV, and congratulate the Rev. Dr. Z. Arzoumanian.”
After glancing through the three monumental volumes of our recent history, the accounts of our contemporary periods, one should reveal the heroic deeds our persecuted ancestors did in the twenties of the last century, following the Genocide of 1915. A careful reading of subsequent articles, one can acknowledge how the scattered Armenians revived by returning to their religious and cultural resources, including the Soviet Socialist period down to the collapse of the system and the declaration of the Independence of the Armenian Republic. Now I ask a moment for a very brief interview with the author.
-What prompted you, Father, to undertake and write this important book?
For decades, no one was interested to take the step and continue where the venerable Patriarch Ormanian had left his monumental work. It was expected that senior clergy from the Mother See or the Patriarchate of Jerusalem would do it. All I heard was hopeless wishes, that it was impossible to match, and that Ormanian should come back to continue his History. And yet here a remote disciple tried and was successful, considering the urgent need without any further delay in the face of both World Wars and the harsh domination of the Soviet regime .
-How much time did it take from your life, or I should say how much time did it add on your life?
For volume I alone, I devoted over five years, considering the demanding efforts to classify the sources from my own library, and those missing from fellow clergy and libraries. The following two volumes I completed in the following decade. It was a tedious task to select unbiased sources with caution, especially for the delicate and hidden events during the Soviets when the Armenian Church was under heavy persecutions.
-What was the initial reaction?
Reviews appeared in the Armenian media in America and Canada. Overseas papers did the same in Paris in Cairo and in Australia. Qualified writers added their views, such as Dr. H. Arzoumanian and Nourhan Ouzounian in Montreal, and Professors of Armenian Studies Robert Thomson of Oxford, Dr. Robert Hewsen of New Jersey, and Jean Pierre Mahe of Paris, who sent their special appreciations for the publication.
-Was the publication sponsored by the Armenian Church?
The Eastern Diocese of America, from the days of Primates Archbishops Torkom and Khajag, sponsored the costs of the three volumes from the funds specifically bequeathed “for publications” by the late Bishop Zgon Der Hagopian. The first volume covered the first two decades of the 20th century, and the next two, from 1930 to 1955, and further from 1955 to 2001 completed with the conclusion of the 1700th anniversary of the Conversion of Armenia into Christianity. The third book covered the entire four decades of His Holiness Catholicos Vasken I who was aware of the preparation but did not see them due to his passing in 1994. His successors, Karekin I and Karekin II gave their blessings as shown on the opening pages.
-Were they sent to Holy Etchmiadzin and Yereven?
Naturally. It was also during my last visit to the Holy See when I was invited to present the Azgapatum volumes to the students of the Vaskenian Seminary in Sevan. The students were interested how the work was handled and how the source material became available to me. Questions were also asked about the conditions under which the American Dioceses of the Armenian Church were actively and professionally being guided, especially considering the language barrier.
Our people should realize how difficult it is to write all the events in impartiality, well balanced, and complete. I feel honored and deeply satisfied to express my admiration on behalf of our church and nation. Thank you. I conclude stating that when your pen is dipped in the ink of truth, the pages of our contemporary history will reflect on us from those remarkable writings.
Translated by F.Z.A.