This Week in Armenian History

Birth of Father Ghevont Hovnanian (October 28, 1817)

Cover of Fr. Ghevont Hovnanian’s “Studies on the Ramgoren of Our Ancestors” (1897)


Father Ghevont Hovnanian was a prolific author and member of the Vienna branch of the Mekhitarist Congregations, who made important, yet unfinished work as a student of Classical and pre-modern Armenian language. 

He was born on October 28, 1817, in Constantinople, and studied at the St. Benoit French lyceum in the neighborhood of Galata, before continuing his studies at the Mekhitarist College of Vienna. He became a member of the Mekhitarist Congregation in 1838 and was consecrated priest in 1840. 

He was head of the printing house of the congregation in Vienna (1846-1854 and 1876-1887). He also was assistant principal and teacher at the Mekhitarist School of Constantinople that belonged to the Viennese branch (1857-1867). He later became an assistant teacher of Turkish language at the Oriental College of Vienna (1868-1870). 

In the 1840s, along with his colleagues Fr. Hovsep Katerjian and Fr. Anton Karakashian, Fr. Ghevont Hovnanian led a movement toward the rediscovery of Golden Age Classical Armenian, the variety written in the 5th century. His translation of Cornelius NepusLives of the Excellent Commanders (1842) showed his deep knowledge of 5th century Classical Armenian. He had a variety of interests and published a three-volume grammar of the French language, which went through three editions between 1844 and 1875, “Words About Patriotism” (1849), History of the Life of Martin Luther (1850), History of the Politics of European States (four volumes, 1856-1860), Study of the Philosophy of Religion (1885), etcetera. 

His main interest remained the Armenian language, particularly Classical Armenian, to which he devoted a four-volume grammar of the Golden Age language, which he unfortunately left unfinished. On the other hand, he devoted the last ten years of his life to preparing a grammar of ramgoren (medieval popular and colloquial Armenian language), about which he published “Studies on the Ramgoren of the Ancients” (1897, in two parts), where he collected and studied all passages in ancient and medieval literature (Nerses Shnorhali, Mekhitar Heratsi, Condestable Sembat, Vardan Areveltsi, Mekhitar Gosh, and others). In his introduction, Fr. Ghevont Hovnanian confirmed the existence of Armenian dialects in the 5th century and before with well-grounded evidence, concluding that Classical Armenian had arisen from the daily colloquial language.  

This study also remained unfinished, and Hovnanian left a string of unpublished works, including a grammar of the Arabic language and a treatise of law. He passed away on January 26, 1897, in Vienna.