This Week in Armenian History

Death of Archbishop Nerses Melik-Tangian (September 29, 1948)

The name of Khrimian Hayrig is well-known to all Armenians as one of the symbolic names of the Church in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. One of his much younger contemporaries, Nerses Melik-Tangian, also took a stature somewhat comparable to that of Hayrig when he had to confront similar circumstances in the first two decades of the twentieth century.

Nikoghayos Melik-Tangian was born on March 19, 1866, in the village of Brnagot, near Sisian, in Siunik (southern Armenia). He received his elementary school in the village in 1876-1877, when he was admitted to the Gevorgian Seminary of Holy Echmiadzin. He graduated in 1886 and then taught in his home village for two years. He moved to Shushi (Artsakh) in 1888 and taught at the Diocesan School and then the Philanthropic Society School, until the closure of all Armenian schools in the Caucasus by the Russian government in 1896.

Afterwards, he went to St. Petersburg to pursue higher education and studied at the Law School of St. Petersburg University. He particularly studied Armenian canon law, about which he would publish a seminal two-volume work, “Armenian Canon Law,” in 1903 and 1905.

He graduated in 1900. Answering a spiritual call, he returned to Echmiadzin, where he was ordained deacon in the same year. In 1901 he was ordained vartabed and renamed Nerses.

Khrimian Hayrig, who was then Catholicos of All Armenians as Megerdich I, noticed the energy and enthusiasm of the young priest and appointed him abbot of the monastery of Tatev.

In that position, Very Rev. Fr. Nerses Melik Tangian had to confront the government decree of confiscation of the properties of the Armenian Church in 1903, which generated strong resistance and demonstrations throughout the Caucasus headed by the Church and the political parties. Afterwards, he showed his talents of leader during the Armeno-Tatar conflict of 1905-1907, fostering the popular resistance. It became impossible for him to stay in Tatev. The Catholicos named him chancellor of the Holy See. However, the Russian government did not want to see him in that position, and, under the pretense of anti-government activity, he was exiled to Crimea.

He returned in the fall of 1909, thanks to the intervention of the new Catholicos, Mateos II, and became head of the monastery administration (1910-1912). He was elected Prelate of the Prelacy of Iranian Azerbaijan in 1912 and consecrated bishop in 1914. His dedication to assist the refugees from the Ottoman Empire and the Caucasus during the war earned him the rank of Archbishop in 1917. His wise moves during the period 1917-1918 avoided a massacre during the Ottoman invasion of the region. In 1919 he tried to resign from his position, but the expressions of sympathy from the people prevented it.

Archbishop Melik-Tangian was a tireless servant of the Armenian Church and also the head of the Board of Trustees of the Armenian schools of Tabriz for thirty-six years. He passed away in his headquarters of Tabriz (Iran) on September 29, 1948, and was buried with military honors, in the presence of the representative of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlevi.