This Week in Armenian History


Alexander Yeritsian is one of those names of Armenian scholarship that have remained almost unknown or reduced to a few bibliographic references, even though he was a pioneering researcher in various fields.
Yeritsian was born on October 24, 1841, in Tiflis, in the family of a minor employee of the Czarist bureaucracy. He started his studies in the Nersisian School in 1851 but left it soon. In 1854 he entered the Russian gymnasium, which he had to leave in sixth grade due to bronchitis. The lack of higher education did not prevent him, through self-education, to become one of the well-versed and knowledgeable men of his time.
He entered government service, while he also devoted himself to literature on the side. At first, during five years he served in the palace of the Caucasus viceroy, and then in the provincial archival office and the head committee, among other positions. During the Russo-Turkish war of 1877-1878, Yeritsian was designated official of special assignations for generals Loris-Melikoff and Shelknovikov. After the war, in the 1880s, he went to work in the Ministry of State Properties. He participated in an extensive project to catalog and describe the state village of Transcaucasia, and explored the district of Ghazakh (now Ijevan, in northeastern Armenia).
Outside of his official work, Yeritsian devoted himself to history and covered almost all periods of Armenian history. He was particularly interested in archaeology, and in 1871-1872 he carried out excavations in the ancient funerary field of the village of Vornak, in the gorge of the Debed River. He opened many tombs and found utensils, bronze daggers and spears, bracelets, et cetera. He published his findings in the Russian periodical Kavkazkaya starina, which he edited from 1872-1874. He assumed for the first time the existence of two different bronze periods in Transcaucasia.
Yeritsian also wrote about ancient and medieval history, but he was mostly interested in the modern period. He compiled statistics about the population of Western Armenia (1881), and wrote extensively about Armeno-Russian relations in the eighteenth and nineteenth century. He prepared a four-volume collection of documents, which he could not publish for lack of resources. These and other valuable documents were destroyed after his death, in the 1917-1920 period. He also published a monograph on the Mekhitarists of Venice (1883), a work about Grigor Artzruni, the founder of the influential newspaper Mshak (1890) and a history of the Nersisian School (1898), among other books.
Frequent traveling related to his work undermined his already fragile health, and in 1888 Yeritsian was forced to abandon public service. He spent the last fourteen years of his life at home, completely devoted to literary work. He passed away on February 21, 1902, at the age of sixty-one. He was buried in the famous cemetery of Khojivank, near the tomb of novelist Raffi.
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