This Week in Armenian History

Birth of Mesrovb J. Seth (March 15, 1871)

Mesrovb Jacob Seth (Setiants) was a pioneering scholar of the history of Armenians in India who also fell in love with Classical Armenian and continued its use as a medium of expression until the end of his life.

Mesrovb Seth was born on March 15, 1871, in New Julfa near Isfahan, Iran. His father was the brother-in-law of noted writer Mesrop Taghiadiants. Seth received his primary education at the local Protestant missionaries’ school. He showed exceptional qualities, which led his father to the decision of moving to Calcutta (nowadays Kolkata), India, in 1889, and enrolling him in the Armenian College and Philanthropic Academy. The future scholar finished his studies in two years and then passed the entrance examinations of the University of Calcutta.

He was one of the few Armenian authors in his time who continued to write in Classical Armenian until the end of his life. In 1895, at the age of 24, he was appointed examiner of Modern and Classical Armenian of the University of Calcutta, a position he held for the next forty-four years. In the same year, he published his first book, History of the Armenians in India.

Seth worked as a jeweler but devoted his free time to literary activities and historical research. He was very interested in historical and antiquarian research and engaged himself in the study of Armenian old manuscripts, letters, epitaphs, and memorial tablets in churches and cemeteries throughout India. He was a member of various learned societies in India, Great Britain, and the United States. He also wrote several scholarly articles in Classical Armenian in the journals Bazmavep and Handes Amsorya of the Mekhitarist Congregation and contributed to the Armenian current press in Europe and the United States. His four decades of meticulous research led him to publish a deeply revised and enlarged (more than 600-pages) monograph, Armenians in India from the Earliest Times to the Present Day, which remains the standard source for the history of the community.

Seth was active in the community of Calcutta and held several prominent positions in Armenian institutions. From 1910 to 1915, he was a member of the board of trustees of the Armenian College. He served as a member of the administration of Holy Nazareth Armenian Church and was vice-president of the local branch of the Armenian General Benevolent Union. The Armenians of Calcutta celebrated the fortieth anniversary of his literary activities in 1928.

Mesrovb J. Seth died on October 31, 1939, at the age of 68. He never married and had no children. He was buried in the St. Gregory the Illuminator Armenian Church in Calcutta. Unfortunately, his personal papers, including several unpublished works, were reportedly sold and lost after his death.