Few figures loom larger in the ecclesial history of the nineteenth century Armenian Church than the man known affectionately as Khrimian Hayrig. Hayrig, a diminutive form of the Armenian word for father, captures the love and respect nearly universally felt for this servant of the Armenian Apostolic Church, whose ministry took him from Van to Constantinople and eventually to Etchmiadzin, where he served as Catholicos of all Armenians. Մկրտիչ Խրիմեան/Mkrtich (or Mgrdich) Khrimian was born in the city of Van, in the eastern “suburb” of the city known as Այգեստան/Aykesdan, “the vineyards,” on April 4, 1820. We celebrate the 200th anniversary of his birth this month! This gives us the opportunity to reflect on the life of this remarkable servant of the Armenian Church. In fact, in the coming weeks, we will present the lives of several notable individuals with significant birth anniversaries in 2020. Given that his birthday is this month and considering his stature in the recent history of the Armenia Church, who better to start with than the beloved Khrimian Hayrig.
Born in Van in 1820, he was educated at some of the most important monastic centers in the region: at the monastic schools on the islands of Lim and Ktuts (the two other islands in Lake Van other than the famed island of Akhtamar with its Cathedral of the Holy Cross) and at Varakavank outside the city of Van. He travelled around the region, including making a pilgrimage to Etchmiadzin, before living in Istanbul (Constantinople) for two years from 1844-1846. In 1846, he returned to Van and married Mariam Sevikian, though he continued to travel: to Persia, parts of the Russian Empire including modern-day Gyumri, and back to Istanbul, where he taught at a girls’ school in the neighborhood of Hasköy until 1850. During this time, he published his first academic article in the highly respected journal of the Mkhitartists of Venice, Bazmavep. He also published his first book, Hravirak Araratean, in 1850, with the support of a prominent Armenian notable of the city. From Istanbul, he was sent by the Supreme Council of the Armenian Apostolic millet to Jerusalem and then to Cilicia. He returned to Van in 1853, though all his family—his mother, wife, and daughter—had passed away. Therefore, in 1854 at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross on the Island of Akhtamar, he was ordained as a celibate priest. From that point on he worked tirelessly not only for the Armenian people, but specifically for the Armenian Apostolic Church as a servant of Jesus Christ.
The rest of Khrimian Hayrig’s career and ministry parallels and is intimately tied to a crucial period of development in Armenian history. Just last week, the Armenian Church commemorated the Holy Martyrs of the Armenian Genocide, and the Genocide is clearly a breaking point in Armenian history. The nineteenth century, the century preceding the Genocide, is a dramatic period of change in both Armenian and broader Ottoman history. Khrimian was born before the Tanzimat, the “Reorganization” of Ottoman political life that promised more equality between Muslims and non-Muslims. His period of service in the Church overlapped with the development of the Ottoman Armenian Constitution, the let-down of the Treaty of the Berlin, the emergence of the Armenian political parties, and the more general flowering of nationalism—both Armenian and Turkish. Though he died in 1907, even before the Adana Massacres, Khrimian Hayrig was both witness to and major player in many of the most important developments in Armenian history in the so-called “long nineteenth century.” His life and work attests to the centrality of the Armenian Apostolic Church to Armenian history and to Armenian life before the Genocide.
|Hayotsʿ Hayrik :nuagogh vshtitsʿ hayreneatsʿ Hayots||Published in 1929 in Tabriz, this book by Hayk Achemean is still one of the definitive biographies of Catholicos Mkrtich I. For instance, the scholar Richard Antaramian, Assistant Professor of History at USC, draws heavily from the book when describing the life of Khrimain Hayrig in his own work. In Armenian.|
|Hrawirak araratean||Khrimian Hayrig’s first book. Originally published in 1850, the copy in the Zohrab Information Center’s collection is from 1876. It is a collection of “devotional poetry.” In Armenian.|
|Modern Armenia: People, Nation, State||Gerard Libaridian is one of the foremost scholars of Armenian nationalism today. Though this highly accessible book is largely about more recent history, Libaridian offers a careful reading of ideas of “Nation and Fatherland in Nineteenth-Century,” where he describes Khrimian’s idea of patriotism.|
Shortly after his ordination, Khrimian Hayrig was back in Istanbul, at the Church of the Holy Cross is Scutari (now a neighborhood of Istanbul, Üsküdar). One of the oldest and most important Armenian churches in Istanbul, it also served as a seminary for many years. It was there that he first began publication of his famous journal Artsvi Vaspurakan, “The Eagle of Vaspurakan.” Vaspurakan, one of the ancient Armenian names for the regions of Van, was the region of his birth, and during this time he himself was known as the “eagle.” Richard Antaramian, in both his dissertation and a forthcoming book on the politics of the nineteenth century and the role of the Armenian Church in that period, writes that Khrimian began to develop his ideas about Armenian identity and the tropes that would play out in his writings and work in the pages of the journal: his writings “indicate an exploration of a new Armenian identity during a time that he himself worked for the creation of a center-periphery dichotomy. Each journal issue included a “hayrenasirakan” (fatherland-loving patriotism) section that usually dealt with an episode of history. Khrimian placed historical and cultural legitimacy in the land of Armenia, while locating political legitimacy in Istanbul. Historical agency, therefore, lied with the people in the provinces” (2014, 142-143). Khrimian himself would move between the historical provinces and centers of political and ecclesial power for the rest of his career.
Khrimian returned to Van in 1857 and was made the abbot of the Monastery of Varakavank. He established an important seminary there, and educated many students, most notably Karekin Srvantstiants. In 1859 he founded a publishing house at the seminary and continued publication of Artsvi Vaspurakan there, making it the first Armenian periodical in the historically Armenian provinces of the Eastern Ottoman Empire. In 1862, Khrimian was elected primate of the Diocese of Mush/Taron and moved to the Monastery of St. Garabed, where he was both abbot of the monastery and primate of the diocese. He served in this capacity from 1862-1869 and was elevated to rank of Bishop in Ethmiadzin on October 20, 1868. From the Monastery of St. Garabed, he published a new journal, Artsvi Tarono, “The Eagle of Taron.” During this period, he earned his epithet “Hayrig.” As Antaramian writes, “Moving beyond Van, he was now speaking to larger audience and imagining a larger constituency” (146).
On September 4, 1869, Bishop Khrimian was elected as the Patriarch of Constantinople. Under the recently promulgated “Armenian National Constitution,” the Patriarch was the head of all the Armenian (Apostolic) Christians in the Ottoman Empire, the Armenian millet (azg). This period was a tumultuous one in Khrimian Hayrig’s life. As both Richard Antaramian and Gerard Libaridian point out, Khrimian was deeply involved in reform projects. Throughout his career and ministry, he supported “the people,” often against moneyed, elite interests. The position of Patriarch of Istanbul had always been a precarious one. Often embroiled in political battles in the capital of the Ottoman Empire, the Armenian Patriarchs of Constantinople often resigned or were pushed out. Khrimian Hayrig, despite his popularity, was no exception: he resigned from the position on August 3, 1873.
After his tenure as Patriarch of Constantinople, Khrimian remained for a time in Istanbul. In 1878, his successor, Patriarch Nerses Varjabedian, appointed him as the head of the Armenian delegation to the Congress of Berlin. The Congress of Berlin settled the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878, a war that ended in a Russian victory. In Berlin, Khrimian, along with other prominent Armenians, argued for the rights of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire and hoped that the peace treaty would include concrete measures to protect Armenians. However, the Treaty of Berlin, signed on July 13, 1878, offered Ottoman Armenians almost nothing. Returning from Berlin, Khrimian delivered one of his most famous sermons, known as “the Iron Ladle.” Antaramian summarizes the sermon in which the former Patriarch “described how the Europeans set out a dish. The Bulgarians and Serbs each took their portion. Having only a ladle made of promises put on paper, the Armenians were unable to enjoy the meal; what they needed were the iron ladles the Balkan Christians possessed. The message was painfully obvious: Armenians would have to defend themselves with arms if they ever hoped to better their situation” (154). For many historians, the Treaty of Berlin and Khrimian’s speech mark a turning point in the way Ottoman Armenians would advocate for and organize themselves. Indeed, the first Armenian political parties emerged in the following decade.
Of course, the political suggestions in his sermon, and his long track record of uncompromising advocacy for non-elite Armenians, especially in the historically Armenian provinces, did not sit well with the Ottoman authorities. In 1885, he was sent to Jerusalem and confined to the Monastery of St. James. However, on May 5, 1892, he was unanimously elected as the Catholicos of All Armenians in Etchmiadzin, then in the Russian Empire. After initially having his travel denied by Sultan Abdulhamid II, he eventually arrived in Etchmiadzin and was enthroned as Catholicos Mkrtich I on September 26, 1893. As Catholicos, he organized aid to Armenians in the Ottoman Empire during the 1894-96 Hamidian massacres. He renovated churches and continuing to write. During his time as Catholicos, he vehemently opposed a 1903 edict by the Russian government that would have closed Armenian schools and confiscated Armenian Church property. The edict was cancelled in 1905. Catholicos Khrimian, beloved and known as Hayrig, died on October 29, 1907. He is buried in the courtyard of the Etchmiadzin Cathedral. Through his life-long dedication to Jesus Christ, the Armenian Church, and the Armenian people, Khrimian surely earned his epithet Hayrig. In his writing, ministry, and work, he pursued a reformist agenda that worked to educate all Armenians and specifically to improve the conditions of Armenians in the eastern provinces of the Ottoman Empire. Many scholars emphasize his influence on the development of Armenian nationalism in the nineteenth century. He was also a seminal figure in the pre-Genocide Armenian Church.
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