Latest Book Edited by Hovannisian Focuses on Iranian Armenians' History
He and his wife, he noted, went to many archives “loaded with information that was never touched. In addition to the First Republic, he has studied many of the provinces of Western Armenia, as well as the Armenian Genocide. “When I began in this field, there were perhaps no more than five or six books that dealt with the Armenian Genocide in a Western language and today if you go to the NAASR library, you will find scores of very serious studies on the Armenian Genocide,” he said. Hovannisian has covered all the lost provinces of Western Armenia in conferences, including in Van, Vaspurakan, Bitlis, Kessab, and published the proceedings. The US-born Hovannisian, who is a descendent of Armenian Genocide survivors, visited Iran when he finished studying in Lebanon. “I kept on going eastward through Iraq, Iran and India, all the way to Hong Kong, Manila, Japan and ended up in Hawaii and finally San Francisco. “I was fortunate as a young man to spend my first visit in Tehran and Isfahan and was really impressed by a lot of things. The ties between the Armenian and Iranian peoples go very deep, he noted. “Even then when there were Armenian rebellions against the Persians, the generals in the Persian army were of Armenian origin, which meant the Armenians were already there,” he said. The central rulers let the Armenian princes rule their regions under the aegis of the Persian rulers. “Armenians were allowed a great deal of autonomy” during the Sassanian empire, he said. Hovannisian then delved into the history of the province of Azerbaijan (Aterpetakan) in Northern Iran, with the capital city of Tabriz. “It [that region of Iran] plays a critically important role in Armenian history because if you look just to the west, beyond the border, lie Van and Vaspurakan. “It was in [Iranian] Azerbaijan that Armenian organized their fedayi groups that they sent weapons across the border into Van and Sassoon,” he said. “Azerbaijan in the north of Iran has a very different history than southern Iran, where Armenians created a whole trading network,” he explained. He named Salmast, Khoy, Gilan and Mazandaran and Gharadagh in the north with rich Armenian tapestries woven into Iranian life. ‘The city of Maku, across the Arax River from Nakhichevan, had a principality known as Ardaz, from the 13th to the 15th centuries,” he said. He paid tribute to historian Armen Hakhnazarian, who at a conference on Iranian-Armenians, presented a study of the churches and monasteries of Northern Iran. Hovannisian paid special attention at the lecture to Sourp Tadeh (Saint Thaddeus) Vank, where during the summer there are pilgrimages during Vartavar. Hovannisian said that women were active in the social scene in Tabriz.
The most famous of the Armenian revolutionary figures in Iran was Yeprem Khan (1868-1912), who took part in not only Armenian revolutionary movements, but also against the Persian oppressors fighting the Qajar dynasty, which ruled Iran from 1789 to 1925, to try to bring about a constitution in Iran. “In 1910-11 they [the population at large] engaged in revolutionary warfare, which forced the Shahs to make compromises and give into them a certain degree. Hovannisian also spoke about the Armenian religious leaders in Iran’s north, including Nerses Melik-Tangian, who he said, “is probably the most loved and remember of the Primates in Tabriz. The continued Turkish killings of Armenians on their lands spilled over into northern Iran and Armenian villages there. Aside from the Armenians, the Assyrian population in the region was also massacred. Next, he focused on the Armenians further south, near Isfahan, who made their mark not just in the region, but around the world. “The Persians had a new dynasty, the Safavid, and they were in a 200-year-war with their neighbors in the west, the Ottoman Turks,” he said, much of it on the Armenian Highlands. “During the time, Shah Abbas took the initiative and won back a significant part of that territory. Thus, he said, “hundreds of thousands of Armenians were moved south of the Arax River. “There was a particular village or town on the Arax River, known as Julfa. Hovannisian said the success of those forced transplanted Iranians continues to inspire him. During his travels to Calcutta, Rangoon or Manila, Hovannisian said, he met many Armenians. The breadth of the travels of the Jugha traders, especially considering the technology and means of transportation then, is simply incredible; they went all the way east to Mongolia, and all the way west to Sweden. Through various systems, including what might be construed as bribes by today’s standards, they were able to get monopolies in various countries for certain goods. In Cadiz, Spain, for example, he said 12 Armenian merchants had built a Catholic church, the Church of Santa Maria, which is still standing. New Julfa, in Isfahan, is still populated by Armenians, with their unusual churches and buildings. “Over the generations and years, it has become a sleepy town, still very, very charming,” There are many churches in Julfa, but all look like plain mosques from the outside, but the interiors might shock visitors. At the program, art historian Ani Babayan of NAASR, who herself hails from New Julfa, spoke about the art and architecture of the region, including the Monastery of Sourp Amenaprkich (New Julfa Vank). Babayan thanked Hovannisian for including her essay on the art of Julfa, as well as her colleagues at NAASR and the members of the Armenian Society of Boston, who allowed the publication of the photographs in the book in color.
Many who had gone to the diaspora, often sent money for the construction and the decoration of the churches, she said. “During the restoration of the Sourp Amenaprkich Church dome in 2008, an inscription was found at the center of the dome. The churches, she said, are part of the historical buildings protected by the Isfahan province’s government. Hovannisian also spoke about the art of Julfa, including paintings and theater, singling out painter Sumbat Der Kiureghian and actress Siranoush, who had been born in Constantinople, performing widely in the Caucasus before coming to Iran and becoming “the darling” of Persian society. “The basis of the Armenian society has always been the farmer,” Hovannisian said, before delving into the villages, including Peria and Boloran. From 1946 to 1947, the highly patriotic Armenians of the country repatriated to Armenia, leaving many of the villages empty, he noted. “When I was taking a train from Yerevan to Tabriz in the 1960s, still in the 1960s, there were large number of Armenians migrating out of Iran, coming to Soviet Armenia, many of them of course later disillusioned, but they had come there with great optimism, thinking they were going to develop the county,” Hovannisian said. He dedicated the last part of the talk to the capital, Tehran. David Yaghoubian’s chapter in the book, titled “Armenians and the Development of Nationalism in Iran,” he said shows how “flexible the Armenians are in Iran. “They are diminished by perhaps 2/3 but they are still there, still active and I hope they will have a very long, long life,” he noted. The Armenians from Iran constitute a very large segment of the population in Glendale, he said. “They continue to thrive while at the same time acculturating and adjusting and changing but being proud of their heritage and maintaining it even though they had been in Iran for more than 400 years, and in some cases for more than 1,000 years, still able to maintain their language as their primary means of communication,” he said. Hovannisian has written the first chapter of the book, an overview of and introduction to the community. In 1986, Hovannisian was appointed as the first holder of the Armenian Educational Foundation Endowed Chair in Modern Armenian History at UCLA. In 2014, he became adjust professor at USC “with the intention of advising on the Shoah Foundation’s integration of the Armenian Film Foundation’s collection of genocide survivor interviews. In his introduction at the start of the program, NAASR’s Marc Mamigonian brought attention to the changes since the last time the building had hosted an in-person lecture, in February 2020. The program was also sponsored by the Armenian Society of Boston and the Society for Armenian Studies. Armenian Communities of Persia/Iran is available from NAASR, Abril Bookstore and Mazda.
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