Treasures of NAASR's Mardigian Library ~ Remembering T‘lgadints‘i, the Chronicler of Kharpert Life
The figure at the center of this installment of Treasures of NAASR’s Mardigian Library is the noted—while also being under-known—Western Armenian author and educator Hovhannēs Harut‘iwnean (Յովհաննէս Յարութիւնեան, ca. 1860-1915), better known by his chosen pen-name of T‘lgadints‘i (Թլկատինցի).[i] We feature here some publications of his work as well as those focusing on his work, including a special issue of Nor Kir [Nor Gir], the literary journal published by Peniamin Noorigian, which, thanks to Aram Andonian, included some previously unpublished works by T‘lgadints‘i, as well as two photographs from our collections. (Photograph of T'lgadints'i, from the Manoog S. Young Collection in NAASR's Mardigian Library. Photographer not indicated.)
T‘lgadints‘i took his pen-name from his home village of T‘lgadin (also known as Khuylu), a village of Kharpert, and the name was reflective of the major focus of his work: depiction of provincial Armenian life in the Kharpert region. (T‘lgadints‘i=one from T‘lgadin.) T‘lgadints‘i, along with many other of the leading figures of Kharpert, was killed in June 1915, in the early phase of the Armenian Genocide.
According to Krikor Beledian, “The issue of an Armenian ethnic or provincial literature emerged in Constantinople at the beginning of the 1890s. … but it was Tlgadintsi … who first depicted Armenian daily life in Kharpert and its villages, in travel notes, sketches, chronicles, and plays.”[ii] Beledian writes that T‘lgadints‘i desired “too present the visible, tangible, and audible from the surrounding provincial life”[iii] and quotes an 1899 article by the author:
Let others write about the city; together with you, let us present the village, if possible, in the way it crosses a writer’s mind, independent, uninhibited, and let us understand about what we write; then, it will become evident, which egg would weigh more, the one laid by the ostrich or the wren.[iv]
In the early 1890s, the Constantinople-based newspaper Hayrenik' (unrelated to the later Boston-based newspaper) urged writers to avoid blindly following the models of European literature and to write about their own villages, people, folk traditions, etc. See, for example, "Mer Kroghnerě" (“Our Writers,” Hayrenik‘, 19 Hunuar 1893, t‘iw 363) and "Kiwghagan Kraganut‘iwn" (“Rural Literature,” Hayrenik‘, 25 April 1893, t‘iw 457). T‘lgadints‘i’s short story “Ēmilē: Amerigats‘i Misionaruhii Dibar Mě” (Ամերիկացի Միսիոնարուհիի Տիպար մը: Էմիլէ = Emily: A Model American Missionary), a satirical sketch about an American missionary and her activities in an Armenian village, was among his contributions to the newspaper published under his pen-name (he also contributed using his given name). It appeared in the Jan. 13, 1893 issue of Hayrenik'. (Photo: T'lgadints'i, Ěndir Erger, Halēb, 1958)
T‘lgadints‘i was not only the founder or key figure in establishing a literary “school” of provincial realism: he was also an educator and an actual founder of a school, the Azkayin Getronagan Varzharan or National Central School (Ազգային Կեդրոնական Վարժարան), which was also known as the Red College (so-called after the color of the original building’s walls), which he established in the Surp Hagop quarter of Kharpert’s veri tagh or upper city in 1887.(Photo: The Surp Hagop district of Kharpert, with Surp Hagop church in the center. T'lgadints‘i's school was next to the church. Photo from NAASR library copy of T‘lgadints‘in ew ir Kordzě [T‘lgadints‘i and His Work], Boston, 1927).
Although not a political activist and certainly not an advocate for any specific Armenian political group, “in 1903, upon the capture of the two revolutionaries Hagop and Hapet from the Hnchag Party, many Armenian intellectuals in the town were arrested. Tlgadintsi was one of them; he was forced to resign from his position by the Ottoman authorities and imprisoned for nine months. After his release he returned to his position.”[v] Otherwise, he was head of the school from its founding until his murder in 1915.
Of T‘lgadints‘i's work, Kevork Bardakjian says that “he wrote with spontaneous pride of the noble aspects of the lifestyle he was born to, but pounded with unforgiving alacrity its vices, failings, and pompous detractors. … [He captured] an authentic moment in Armenian life in the town of Harberd [Kharpert] and the neighboring villages. Topical issues, for instance, were the often-tragic consequences for young women shipped to the United States as wives for men they had only seen photographs of, the rapidly increasing rate of emigration to America, and certain aspects of the activities, religious and educational, of American missionaries.”[vi]
Similarly, David Low writes that “It was the family unit in particular that Tlgadintsi took to be the great cornerstone of rural Armenian existence, and it gave him the opportunity to depict the character of the provinces and consider the strains under which it was placed. The culture of American migration and the ruptures this created within families formed the theme of, amongst other works, his story “I Did My Duty” (Ես Կատարեցի Իմ Պարտքս, 1902) and his play “Going Abroad” (Դէպի Արտասահման, 1912).”[vi] (Photo: T'lkatints'i, Gyughin Kyankě, Erevan: "Hayastan" hratarakchutyun, 1966)
Arshag Chobanian states that T‘lgadints‘i wanted the Getronagan to develop and improve, to be able to compete with and excel other available educational options such as the schools run by Protestant missionaries. Chobanian explains that T‘lgadints‘i was “also a great fighter” who saw the Protestant missionaries as potentially “a threat to the Armenian national image, to the disintegration and alienation of the native national culture” even though he also showed “his appreciation and friendship in his work to the Protestants who kept Armenian feeling” alive.[viii]
A number of significant Western Armenian writers of a younger generation were T‘lgadints‘i’s students in both senses—they were products of his school and were influenced by his literary style and principles. Among them were Rupen Zartarian, Peniamin Noorigian, Vahe Haig (who would also compile the massive 1959 volume Kharpert ew Anor Osgeghen Tashdě [Խարբերդ եւ Անոր Ոսկեղէն Դաշտը = Kharpert and Its Golden Plain] to document the vanished world of Armenian Kharpert), Vahan Totovents, Hamasdegh, Bedros Keljik, and others who would carry his influence forward into diasporan and Soviet Armenian literature.
The latter writer, Keljik, perhaps today the least known of that group, wrote a recollection of his days as a student at the Getronagan and of his teacher T‘lgadints‘i, “Kharperti Getronaganě (Verhishumner)” (Խարբերդի Կենդրոնականը [Վերյիշումներ]) which appeared in the 1944 Baikar (Payk‘ar) annual. The same year, Keljik published the collection Amerigahay Badgerner (Ամերիկահայ Պատկերներ = Armenian-American Sketches), which as he states in the book’s introduction, was inspired by the example of his teacher. We quote from the newly published English edition of the book (which conveniently arrived during the preparation of this piece). By retaining his command of the Armenian language (Keljik emigrated in 1890) and writing the book, Keljik says:
I fulfilled moral obligation, one which my teacher, the late Tlgadintsi, placed upon me and my friends—“observe our surroundings before looking afar.” It was Tlgadintsi, in front of whom we knelt and savored the sweetness of beautiful Armenian literature, as we as the supreme value and depth of our classical language. Tlgadintsi expected us to maintain the Armenian literary tradition and to give a realistic depiction of Armenian life, even in a foreign environment, no matter where we were.[ix] (Photo: Bedros Keljik's Amerigahay Badgerner, Niw Eork', 1944)
Noorigian recalled that on the first day of class, T‘lgadints‘i said:
Officially, “Treasury” [Gandzaran] compiled by Andonian, is your textbook. You read part by part, and together we talk about the pieces and authors given there. But I don't believe in textbooks that much. …. We are the textbook. You and I, and the life that revolves around us, every day, every second. But don't think that you can easily get rid of it, our teacher continues. One essay a week will be my request to you. I will give you the theme, but also you can choose, on one condition—to forget the stars and the moon, the rose and the canary; put your feet firmly on the real ground, on the ground of life.[x]
Of course, not all of his students became writers. One of them, Soghomon Malyemezian (later, Soghomon Young, 1888-1966) of Kharpert, was the father of NAASR Founding Chairman Manoog S. Young.[xi] It is for this reason that a precious photographic portrait of T‘lgadints‘i, autographed on the back by the writer using both his given name and pen-name (and with “T‘lgadints‘i” also written out in a different hand, perhaps that of Soghomon), has found a place in the NAASR library among the materials left by Manoog Young. Another large photo from the Young collection shows a group of students and several adults. The second figure on the left, seated, whose face is largely smudged, appears to be the nevertheless distinctive visage of T‘lgadints‘i; the boy standing from the right in the back row, marked with an X in blue ink, is recognizable as Soghomon Malyemezian.
Most of T‘lgadints‘i’s writings appeared in periodicals such as Masis (Constantinople) and Arewelean Mamul (Smyrna). One of his plays, Or Mēgun Edewēn (Օր Մէկուն Ետեւէն = Or Mekun Etewēn, Whom To Follow?) was published in Boston by Azk in 1912, presumably through the efforts of one Sarkis Malyemezian, who acted as the author’s representative (nergayats‘uts‘ich).[xii] This was the only work of T‘lgadints‘i’s to be published in book form in his lifetime.
Peter Cowe writes that T‘lgadints‘i’s plays, of which six (out what apparently was a much larger total[xiii]) survive, “are really a lively succession of satirical dialogues for the exposition of social problems rather than a dynamic development of dramatic action.” Regarding the “semi-autobiographical” Or Mēgun Edewēn, Cowe provides this overview: "There, a competition for the post of headmaster is under way between Mihran, depicted as a light-headed drunkard from Constantinople, and Hrant, a local who is also a writer detailing the people’s suffering. Not surprisingly in view of the fractious nature of the school board and their false sense of deference to the capital, Mihran is awarded the position, despite his rival’s undoubted qualifications."[xiv]
Like many of the leading Western Armenian intellectuals of the time, T‘lgadints‘i was arrested in the spring of 1915 and was among the early victims of the Armenian Genocide in the Kharpert region. According to Agop Hacikyan, “He was killed outside of Kharberd along with a number of other intellectuals, after learning of the deportation of his wife, his only son, and his six daughters, who were never seen again.”[xv]
In the 1920s, a group of his former students published a volume of his writings entitled T'lgadints'in ew ir Kordzě (Թլկատինցին եւ իր Գործը=T‘lgadints‘i and his Work, Boston, 1927). The book, which found a place on the shelves of many Kharpertsi families, was published in both hardcover and softcover formats, features a substantial introduction by Arshag Chobanian and a brief foreword by the chairman and secretary of the Union of Alumni of Tlgadintsi, the aforementioned Sarkls Malyemezian and Peniamin Noorigian. The volume also, notably, includes many photographs of Kharpert and environs taken before the Genocide that destroyed this important center of Western Armenian life and replaced it with a void, making the publication a kind of hushmadean [memorial book] both to T‘lgadints‘i and to Kharpert itself. (Below: Pages from T'lgadints'in ew ir Kordzě with photo of view of Mezere.)
Hamasdegh, writing in the Hayrenik‘ Amsagir (i.e., Monthly, published in Boston) more than a decade after T‘lgadints‘i’s death, recalled that “the patterns on his canvas are traditional Armenian patterns. The color he uses is a local product made of strong paint, so durable that neither the sun nor washing can remove it.” He continues:
In “The Voice of the Wasps” (Պիծակներու Ձայնը) he started with this statement: “The village has always been in my mind. I have talked about the village every day. The city has been my residence for a long time, but it often happens that my eyes unintentionally open on the other side of the land.”
We see that the subjects he touched are those he lived with at the time. ... He passed along the legacy to us that only truth is eternal. And that is art, beautiful literature.
We have not encountered two lines signed by Tlgadintsi that do not have a special literary stamp.[xvi]
To date, hardly any of T‘lgadints‘i’s writings have been translated into English, and it is difficult not to conclude that his work, and, indeed, much of the provincial school he inspired, remains waiting for rediscovery by new generations.
i Or T‘lkatints‘i, as it would transliterated according to the Library of Congress system which we normally adhere to; in this case, in deference to his status as a major figure in Western Armenian literature, we will give priority to Western Armenian forms except in bibliographical citations. T‘lgadints‘i also published pieces under his own name and under the pen-name Parnag. His year of birth is sometimes given as 1850, sometimes as 1860; it is not clear which is correct.
ii Krikor Beledian, “From Image to Loss: The Writers of Kharpert and Provincial Literature,” in Richard G. Hovannisian, ed., Armenian Tsopk/Kharpert (Costa Mesa: Mazda, 2002), p. 239
iii Ibid., p. 243
iv Ibid., p. 261
v Ali Sipahi, At Arms Length: Historical Ethnography of Proximity in Harput, unpublished 2015 doctoral dissertation in Anthropology and History, Univ. of Michigan, pp. 286-87
vi Kevork B. Bardakjian, A Reference Guide to Modern Armenian Literature, 1500-1920 (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2000), pp. 164-65
vii David Low, “Photography and the Empty Landscape: Excavating the Ottoman Armenian Image World,” Études arméniennes contemporaines 6 (2015),
viii Arshak Chopanean [Arshag Chobanian], “Harajaban,” Tlgadintsin ev ir Gortse (Boston, 1927), p. 47
ix Bedros Keljik, “A Few Words from the Author,” in Armenian-American Sketches, edited by Christopher Atamian, Lou Ann Matossian, Barlow Der Mugrdechian; translated by Aris Sevag, Vartan Matiossian, Lou Ann Matossian (Fresno, CA: The Press, California State University, 2019), p. xix
x Beniamin Nurikian [Peniamin Noorigian], “T‘lgadints‘in ir ashakerneri het,” Nor Gir, Vol. 12, Nos. 3-4 (1950), p. 172
xi Soghomon Malyemezian was also the second cousin, twice removed, to NAASR Director of Academic Affairs Marc A. Mamigonian (i.e., Soghomon’s grandfather Krikor Malyemezian was the brother of Marc’s great-great-grandfather Sarkis Malyemezian)
xii About Sarkis Malyemezian we know very little. Undoubtedly he was part of the Kharpert Malyemezian family that included the aforementioned Soghomon Malyemezian and the identically named Sarkis Malyemezian who was Marc Mamigonian’s great-great grandfather. (They are not the same person.) Mamigonian speculates that this Sarkis Malyemezian was Sarkis Hagop Malyemezian who worked as a photoengraver in Boston, was born around 1874, and died in 1942. The son of Hagop and Toorvanda Malyemezian, he immigrated to the U.S. in the early 1890s. (Information gathered on ancestry.com.)
xiii Rupen Zartarian recalled that “As early as 1984, every year, he wrote small plays for school celebrations … all today lost, alas.” He opines that if T‘lgadints‘i had wanted to “deepen, expand, and transform them into a whole, they would undoubtedly be permanent and living works.” (Ruben Zardarian, “T‘lkatints‘in,” Nor Gir, 12.3-4 (1950), p. 197
xiv S. Peter Cowe, “T’lgadints’i as Ideologue of the Regional Movement in Armenian Literature,” Journal of the Society for Armenian Studies 12 (2003), pp. 37, 40
xv Agop Hacikyan, ed., The Heritage of Armenian Literature: From the Eighteenth Century to Modern Times (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2000), p. 497
xvi Hamasdegh, “Gawarě ew T‘lkatints‘in,” Hayrenik Amsagir 6 (1927-28), no. 7, p. 70
Sources Cited and Selected Bibliography
Kevork B. Bardakjian, A Reference Guide to Modern Armenian Literature, 1500-1920 (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2000), pp. 164-65; 538-39
Krikor Beledian, “From Image to Loss: The Writers of Kharpert and Provincial Literature,” in Richard G. Hovannisian, ed., Armenian Tsopk/Kharpert (Costa Mesa: Mazda, 2002), pp. 239-272.
S. Peter Cowe, “T’lgadints’i as Ideologue of the Regional Movement in Armenian Literature,” Journal of the Society for Armenian Studies 12 (2003), pp. 31-42
James Etmekjian, The French Influence on the Western Armenian Renaissance, 1843-1915 (New York: Twayne Publishers, 1964)
Agop Hacikyan, ed., The Heritage of Armenian Literature: From the Eighteenth Century to Modern Times (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2000), pp. 495-99
Hamastegh, “Gawarě ew T‘lkatints‘in,” Hayrenik Amsagir 6 (1927-28), no. 6, pp. 49-57; no. 7, pp. 63-72
Lusik Karapetyan, T‘lkatints‘i (Erevan: Haykakan SSR Gitutyunneri Akademiayi Hratarakchutyun, 1966)
Bedros Keljik, Armenian-American Sketches, edited by Christopher Atamian, Lou Ann Matossian, Barlow Der Mugrdechian; translated by Aris Sevag, Vartan Matiossian, Lou Ann Matossian (Fresno, CA: The Press, California State University, 2019)
Petros A. Keōlchik, Amerikahay Patkerner (Niw Eork: "Ep‘rat" Tparan, 1944)
David Low, “Photography and the Empty Landscape: Excavating the Ottoman Armenian Image World,” Études arméniennes contemporaines 6 (2015), accessed online at https://journals.openedition.org/eac/859
Nor Gir: Eramseay Handēs Grakanut‘ean ew Aruesti [New Letters: An Armenian Quarterly Book of Literature & Arts], 12.3-4 (Aut.-Wint. 1950) (Special issue devoted to T‘lkatints‘i and including articles by Aram Andonian, Vahe Haig, Peniamin Noorigian, Melkon Mamourian, Hovhannes Avakian, Roupen Zartarian, Hagop Oshagan, Arshag Chobanian, Kisag, and writings by T‘lkatints‘i.
Hakob Ōshakan, Hamapatker Arewmtahay Grakanutean: Eōt‘nerord Hator (Ant‘ilias, Libanan, 1979), pp. 79-185
Ali Sipahi, At Arm’s Length: Historical Ethnography of Proximity in Harput, unpublished 2015 doctoral dissertation in Anthropology and History, Univ. of Michigan
T'lkatints‘i, Gyughin Kyankě; kazmetsin ev khmbagretsin Vagharshak Norents‘ ev Soghomon Taronts‘i (Erevan: "Hayastan" Hratarakchʻutʻyun, 1966)
T‘lkatints‘i, Ěntir Erker (Halēp: Hratarkut‘iwn T‘lkatints‘ii Barekamneru, 1958)
T‘lkatints‘i ew ir Gortsě [T‘lkatints‘i and his Work] (Poston: Hratarakuats Nakhadzernut‘eamb T‘lkatints‘ii Saneru Miut‘ean [Union of Alumni of Tlgadintsi]), 1927
Hayk Zhamkochean, Tl‘katints‘in ew ir Kroniknerě (Gahirē: "Jahakir", 1949)