This Week in Armenian History

Death of Artashes Abeghian (March 13, 1955)

Armenian Studies scholars have frequently engaged in science, but also in public affairs. Artashes Abeghian was one of those cases during almost six decades of an illustrious career.
Abeghian was born in the village of Astapat (region of Nakhichevan, now in the territory of Azerbaijan), on January 1, 1878. He was the nephew of famous Armenologist Manuk Abeghian (1865-1944). He attended the parochial school of his village in 1884-1887 and, from 1887 to 1890, the diocesan school of Shushi (Karabagh). He continued his education in Tiflis at the Nersisian School (1890-1895), and then at the Gevorgian Seminary of Holy Echmiadzin (1895-1899).
After graduation, Abeghian taught at the diocesan school of Shushi for a year. By then, he had started collecting and publishing popular songs, as well as two variants of the Armenian epic poem David of Sassoun. From 1900 to 1904, he studied in Germany at the universities of Marburg, Berlin, and Leipzig. In 1904, he graduated from the School of Philosophy of the University of Marburg with a doctoral dissertation on the Armenian translation of the Bible, whose first part was published in German (1906).
In 1905, he returned to Tiflis, where he would spend the next thirteen years teaching at the Nersisian School, the Hovnanian School for girls, and the state gymnasia. In 1905, he became a member of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation and would be active in many educational and political endeavors. He married Natalia Israelian and had two children, Vahe and Ruzan.
Artashes Abeghian published several important pedagogical works. His Spelling Dictionary (1910) would go through four editions until 1999. He also published three fascicles of calligraphy (1908), a textbook of geography in three volumes (1907-1913), a textbook of geography of Armenia (1914), which had five editions, and a map of Armenia (1914-1915).
After the independence of Armenia, Abeghian moved to Yerevan. He was elected member of the Parliament in 1919 on the ARF list and had an important activity until the end of the independent period. Afterwards, he left for Tiflis, then for Constantinople (1921-1922), and finally settled in Berlin (1922).
In 1926, Abeghian became founding professor of the chair of Armenian Studies at the Seminar of Oriental Languages in Berlin University. For the next two decades, he would be the point man for Armenia and Armenian culture in Germany. In 1928, thanks to his intervention, a new street of Berlin called Armenische Strasse (Armenian Street), where the Armenian community was concentrated. He translated numerous works of Armenian literature into German and vice versa, and contributed to the German press. He published a grammar of Modern Armenian (1936) and a study on the epic of David of Sassoun (1940), both in German, among other works.
After the rise of Adolf Hitler to power (1933), an anti-Armenian campaign developed in Germany—reportedly with Turkish support—aimed at showing Armenians as having Semitic origin and identifying them with the Jews. This was particularly dangerous at the time, given the anti-Jewish orientation of the Nazi regime. Abeghian worked tenaciously, along with the members of the German-Armenian Society, of which he was the vice-president, to ensure that the anti-Armenian campaign went away by demonstrating the Aryan (according to the conceptions of race that existed in Europe and the U.S. at the time) origin of Armenians. Thanks to their efforts, in July 1933 a decree by the Ministry of Internal Affairs established Armenians as a people of Aryan origin. In early 1934, the German-Armenian Society published, edited by Abeghian, a collective volume by German scholars entitled Armenianness-Aryanness to make that point.
The anti-Armenian campaign resumed in 1941-1942, and Abeghian worked again tirelessly to turn the tide, which this time could have swept the Armenian population in Germany and Nazi-occupied territories and have them share the Jewish fate. A group of A.R.F. members came together to defend Armenian interests in Nazi Germany and shortly formed the Armenian National Council (1942-1943), with Abeghian as its president.
He had continued contributing to the Armenian press and writing numerous scholarly studies. In his last years, he particularly focused on the Armenian students who in the nineteenth century had studied at the University of Dorpat (Tartu), in nowadays Estonia, after Khachatur Abovian. He published three volumes on this topic: The Armenian Students of Dorpat (1942), Kerovpe Patkanian in Dorpat (1949), and Stepanos Nazarian and Dorpat (1954).
After the fall of Berlin, Abeghian abandoned his university position and went to southern Germany. In 1945-1946, he was principal of the Armenian school at the DP (displaced persons) camp of Stuttgart, while he continued assisting the exiles to find a home for them. In 1951, he settled in Munich, where he was professor of Armenian Studies at the university until his death on March 13, 1955.
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