Զարթիք նոր ժողովուրդք նոր երգս առեալ նորոգողին ալէլուիա։
Zartik nor joghovurtk nor yerks aryal norokoghin, Alleluia!
Arise, new people! And sing a new song to Him who makes all things new. Alleluia!
St. Nersess Shnorhali (Սուրբ Ներսէս Շնորհալի), one of the most revered saints of the Armenian Apostolic Church, who was Catholicos from 1166 to 1173, wrote these words, sung at the beginning of the Night Office. Offered daily in monastic settings, probably sung in the early morning while it was still dark, each verse begins with the imperative, command, “Arise,” Zartik! We could also translate this as “Awake!” We could imagine a blurry-eyed monk in the wee hours of the morning literally being told to “wake up!” Yet, Shnorhali bends each verse into a brilliant meditation. For instance, in this verse, Shnorhali recalls the Christian conviction in the renewal of all things through Jesus Christ, repeating the word “new.” Monks awaken not only literally, but to new meditations, new ideas, a closer relationship to God, new knowledge.
In other verses of the same hymn, Shnorhali connects this literal and metaphorical awakening to images of light. Waking up early in the morning, the monks would have witnessed sunrise, the slow dawn of light over the world. Theologically, for Christians, Jesus Christ is the light of the world and he repeatedly used light imagery in his parables—many know the Sunday School staple “This little light of mine,” which includes a reference Christ’s insistence that no one puts a lamp under a bushel. It for this reason that we call St. Thaddeus and St. Bartholomew, the Apostles who preached the Gospel in Armenia, “the Enlighteners.” Likewise, the first Catholicos of the Armenians, St. Gregory, is known as “The Enlightener” or “The Illuminator,” in Armenian Լուսաւորիչ/Lusavorich. This Saturday, the Armenian Apostolic Church celebrates one of the feasts of St. Gregory, the Commemoration of his Entry into the Pit, recounting an important part of the narrative of the enlightenment of Armenia as recounted by Agathangelos, one of the earliest Armenian historians. Last year on this occasion, we explored light imagery in Christianity and the Armenian Church, eventually mentioning the further metaphorical extension of enlightenment to the period of European history known as the Age of Enlightenment. This year, we will focus on the pairing of ideas we find in Shnorhali’s hymn: Enlightenment and Awakening.
Later in Armenian history, the metaphorical expansiveness of awakening and its connection to enlightenment was taken up again, using the same root word, to given the name Զարթօնք/Zartonk, “The Awakening” to a process in Armenian history in the eighteenth and nineteenth century. This period in Armenian history was one of the most productive and dynamic. In a wonderful introduction to the Zartonk in Armenian history, Boghos Levon Zekiyan, now Archbishop and head of the Armenian Catholic Church in Istanbul (the Armenian Catholic Arceparch of Istanbul), traces early rumblings of this awakening. He focuses on the introduction of print culture and the printed book in Armenian, emphasizing the role of the so-called Madras Group, those merchant Armenians in India who were connected through merchant networks to New Julfa. They supported some of the earliest printing, including the first Armenian newspaper in the world. Additionally, texts such as The New Booklet Which is Called Exhortation (Nor Tetrak vor Gochi Hodorak/Նոր Տետրակ որ Կոչի Հորդորակ) , published by the Madras Group, were the first in the Armenian world to argue for ideas like constitutionalism. In this book, “awakening” is invoked explicitly, stating that the book aims to “awaken the Armenian youth from their lazy drowsiness.”
|Enlightenment and Diaspora: the Armenian and Jewish Cases||Edited by Richard G. Hovannisian and David N. Myers, this collection of essays explores the spread of enlightenment ideas through diasporic populations and charts the influence of those ideas. The essays on the Armenian case provide a clear summary of the introduction of Enlightenment ideals into Armenian thinking. Archbishop Zekiyan’s essay, “The Armenian Way to Enlightenment” is included in this book.|
|Dispersion history and the polycentric nation: The Role of Simeon Yerevantsi’s Girk or koči partavčar in the 18th century nation revival||Sebouh Aslanian explores the context and content of Simeon Yerevantsi’s book Գիրք որ Կո՚չի Պարտավճար, arguing for the importance of the ideas and actions of the famed 18th century Catholicos in the National Awakening.|
|Zartʿōnkʿ||The Awakening, by Malkhas, is a fictionalized account of the Armenian revolutionary movement, the Genocide, and the First Republic of Armenia. A momentous, four-volume novel that was extremely influential, it was first translated into English in 2015. With the title of Zartonk, it places the events of the early twentieth century in the longer history of the Armenian Awakening. In Armenian.|
Zekiyan then turns from the Madras Group to Mkhitar of Sepastia (Մխիթար Սեբաստացի), founder of the Catholic Mkhitarist Order. As we recently discussed, the Mkhitarist order is one of the great stewards of the Armenian Christian tradition, with one of the largest Armenian manuscript collections in the world. After collecting these manuscripts, the Mkhitarist Order produced and printed critical editions of these works, printing many important Armenian texts for the first time. Using this incredible knowledge base, the Mkhitarist Order produced some of the great thinkers of the “Armenian Awakening” including Mikael Chamchian (whose History of Armenia is considered the first “modern” Armenian history) and Ghevont Alishan, a capacious thinker and poet). Zekiyan describes Abbot Mkhitar, the Order’s founder, as a true Christian humanist who left his imprint on the Order. This humanist bent helped cultivate the kinds of knowledge produced by the Mkhitarists and shaped further developments in the Armenian Awakening.
The Armenian Apostolic Church, too, found itself involved in the project of “National Revival” during this time period. According to Sebouh Aslanian, perhaps the most important figure of the Armenian Apostolic Church in the era of the Zartonk was Catholicos Simeon Yerevantsi, Սիմեոն Ա Երևանցի, who was Catholicos from 1763-1780. We have seen that printing books and the establishment of newspapers and printing presses was a crucial element in the Awakening. Catholicos Yerevantsi established a printing press at Etchmiadzin in 1771, the first one on the territory historically inhabited by Armenians. Through the printing press, he was able to establish an unprecedented level of liturgical uniformity, printing a Liturgical Directory, among other works. Additionally, he wrote and published his material, including the text which Aslanian looks at in detail, the Գիրք որ Կո՚չի Պարտավճար/ Girk or koči partavčar, A Book Called Fulfillment of a Pledge, or Book Which is Called the Paying of Debts. Aslanian describes Yerevantsi’s efforts to forge the Apostolic Church as crucial to a nation with “dispersion as a hallmark” but that could nonetheless “harness its polycentric tendencies” (6).
We can see, then, that the Zartonk, the idea of an Armenian Awakening in the eighteenth and nineteenth century, actually encompasses a number of distinct but related projects. Zekiyan suggests that education, especially an “efficient modern network of schools for the people” was one of the major contributions and results of the Awakening (69). The development of the press and of publications, as we have mentioned, was a major factor in the Awakening—and this, Zekiyan notes, in turn helped stich the far-flung Armenian provinces together, connecting Armenians across imperial borders and fostering a sense of a singular Armenian national identity. This in turn, set the stage for developments in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, such as the Armenian revolutionary parties. The idea of Awakening remained salient, as Malkhas named his famous four-volume novel of the events of the early twentieth century Zartonk!
Follow the Zohrab Information Center on Instagram @zohrabcenter for more pictures related to Awakening and Enlightenment! Don’t forget to like us on Facebook!