This Week in Armenian History


Distinguished Armenologist Karapet Melik-Ohanjanian, a survivor of the Stalinist persecutions, has made major contributions to Armenian Studies in the 20th century.

A descendant of the princely meliks, Melik-Ohanjanian was born on March 4, 1893 in the village of Kaler, province of Meghri. In his childhood he moved to Gandzak, where he initially studied under the supervision of private tutors followed by two years in the local gymnasium for boys. In 1903, he was admitted to the Lazarian Institute (Jemaran) of Moscow.

In 1911, he completed his schooling at Lazarian and went on to continue his studies in the department of oriental studies at the institute. In 1913, at the age of 20, Melik-Ohanjanian presented a report on the history of Armenian during the academic session organized at the institute on occasion of the 1500 anniversary of the creation of the Armenian alphabet and the 400 anniversary of the Armenian printing. In 1914, he wrote his scientific opera prima, a research work entitled “The princely house of the Mamikonians according to the Armenian History of Pavstos Buzant,” the manuscript of which was awarded the special prize of the Lecturers’ Council of the Institute: a four-month study trip overseas. That same year, as stipulated in the prize, Melik-Ohanjanian was sent to Germany to improve his German and learn Sanskrit. As the First World War began soon after, the future researcher was forced to remain for about six years in Berlin.

In 1915-17, Melik-Ohanjanian attended the University of Berlin as a guest student. In 1920, he went to Yerevan, where he worked at the Ministry of Public Education and the Arts during Nikol Aghbalian’s tenure, and then at the boys’ gymnasium. Following the sovietization of Armenia, he led the Echmiadzin scientific institute in 1921. In 1922-30, he taught at Yerevan State University and the Pedagogical Institute. In 1930-31, he was appointed scientific secretary of the Institute of Science and Arts of Armenia. In 1931-32, he was appointed managing director of the Institute of Material Culture History. After the reorganization of the institute in 1932, he was named scientific secretary of the Institute of Cultural History and head of the departments of ancient Armenian and folk literature.

In 1935, the  scientific council adjunct to the Commissariat of Education named Melik-Ohanjanian full member and professor of scientific and research institutes.

As the Stalinist purges began, however, Melik-Ohanjanian was expelled from the university during the 1936-1937 school year. On July 25, 1937, he was arrested. He was accused of several trumped-up charges, the major one being that he was a member of the central committee of the underground A.R.F. organization, which was allegedly carrying out active work to overthrow the Soviet government. After four years of being subjected to physical and psychological tortures, in 1941 he was sentenced to five years in prison and exile, with the four years in detention counting towards the sentence. He was exiled to Siberia but on the way he fell gravely ill and was interned in the hospital of the Chelyabinsk prison. In July 1942 he was released after completing his sentence, upon which he returned to Armenia with great difficulty. In 1942-44, as he was banned from settling in Yerevan, he first resided in Kirovakan (now Vanadzor) and then Kanaker (now Abovyan). He was able to return to Yerevan in 1944.

In 1946, Melik-Ohanjanian was employed as senior researcher by the literature institute of the Academy of Sciences and gave conferences at the Russian pedagogical institute of Yerevan. In 1948, however, he lost his jobs again as a consequence of a new wave of Stalinist repression. Only upon his rehabilitation he was able to return to active life in the mid-1950s while he also made great efforts for the posthumous rehabilitation of his colleagues who were victims of the repression of 1937. In 1962 he was awarded the title of Emeritus Worker of Science of Armenia, followed by a Certificate of Honor issued by the Supreme Soviet of the Republic of Armenia in 1963.

In 1965 he was elected a member of the Academy of Sciences in recognition of his contributions to Armenian Studies (scholarship, ancient literature, Armenian history), Oriental Studies, comparative textology, as well as the translation of literary, folk and scientific works. Melik-Ohanjanian has authored several valuable studies on Agatangelos, Pavstos Buzand and the Daredevils of Sasun. Along with Manuk Abeghian, he projected and published the critical edition of the “Daredevils of Sasun,” recording eight new versions of the Armenian epic, translating into Russian ten select versions, including vast research and rich annotations. He has also been influential in the publication of major literary and historical works (including the “Armenian History” of Kirakos Gandzaketsi in 1961) and studies (among them, “A Selection of Armenian Medieval Prose,” 1957).

Karapet Melik-Ohanjanian died in Yerevan on February 22, 1970, at the age of 77.