Armenian workers in Urfa (Source: Paul Rohrbach, Armenia , Stuttgart, 1919; photo courtesy of Houshamadyan)

Armenian Architecture and Genocide

by Muriel Mirak-Weissbach
OSNABRÜCK, Germany, January 2, 2020 — The aim of the Young Turk leaders in organizing the genocide was to rid the country of the Armenians, as a population and a culture. They determined to “Turkify” the land, cleanse it ethnically of the Christian minorities, and erase, to the extent possible, all traces of their existence. Among the myths created at the time of the founding of the Turkish Republic in 1923, was the tale that the Armenians had not inhabited those lands; they had “always been Turkish.”

In 2011, I had the opportunity to travel with my brother and my husband to Turkey, as part of a group of Armenians from America. Our guide was the indefatigable Armen Aroyan of California, who has accompanied groups of “pilgrims” to the lands of historic Western Armenia for over a quarter century. We were hoping to rediscover the villages where our parents had lived, in the Arapkir province, and were fortunate enough to find them. But signs of Armenian life were nowhere to be found. In other cities and towns we visited, like Kars, we found the remains of Armenian churches turned into mosques; in other localities they had become museums, still others, stables where animals lived.

Yet, the evidence of Armenian life and culture could not be totally eradicated; the very stones, albeit in ruins, could bear testimony to the story of the people who once lived there, with their homes, their shops and factories, their schools and churches—above all, churches, chapels and monasteries. Ani, the ancient capital of an Armenian kingdom, with its legendary 1001 churches, is the most eloquent example. What was most painful, as I wrote in a report on our visit, was to witness the attempt to eradicate memory itself. (See

A Story of Cultural Genocide

Now Germans have the opportunity to make a similar journey through parts of historic Armenia, albeit not in person, but through images and words. On December 5, an exhibition opened in Osnabrück, which documents precisely this history. “1915-2015. Armenische Architektur und Genozid” is the title of the exhibition organized by the Erich Maria Remarque-Friedenszentrum (Peace Center) in cooperation with the German-Armenian Society (DAG). The venue of the show is particularly significant. The Erich Maria Remarque Peace Center, founded in 1996 by the city and university of Osnabrück, is dedicated to the life and works of the author best known for his “All Quiet on the Western Front.” The center has an archive open to researchers, and organizes regular activities including exhibitions, lectures, film showings and symposia. Among them have been two events on Armin T. Wegner. For Dr. Raffi Kantian, president of the DAG, it is especially appropriate to hold the exhibition at this center; he stressed that whereas Remarque in his world famous book, “described the horrors of World War I on the Western front,” the exhibition presents the “consequences of the extermination of the Armenians on the Eastern front.”

After greetings by Dr. Thomas F. Schneider, from the Osnabrück University and an opening address by Mayor Birgit Strangmann, Dr. Kantian introduced the large audience to the events of 1915 and the theme of the exhibition, which will run until January 19, 2020.

The question that the display poses and seeks to illustrate, is: “What impact has the genocide had on the cultural legacy of the Armenians in Turkey?” Twenty-two huge panels (six-feet high) present in text and photographs the main stations in the drama: first, Armenian life before 1915 is depicted, in its multifaceted forms, through family photos, as well as scenes of towns and cities where Armenians lived and worked, studied and prayed. Accompanying the pictures are texts providing background information for visitors who may be unfamiliar with the subject.

The deportations and massacres are illustrated, with explanatory texts based on accounts by American Ambassador Henry Morgenthau and survivor Pailadzo Captanian. The next section depicts the “Destruction of Armenian Lebensraum,” literally, the elimination of the physical basis for continued existence. Here, as we saw on our travels through eastern Turkey in 2011, entire communities were wiped out, and with them, all the physical structures, whether homes or workplaces, buildings for manufacture or commerce, and, of course, the schools and places of worship. “Before” and “After” photos of the same location, for example in Sivas, show the complete replacement of Armenian architecture by modern shopping centers.
Johannes Lepsius (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

The fate of the cloisters and churches deserves special treatment. Here the panels show historic photographs of the majestic churches before and after the destruction, Surp Garabed in Mush, for example. The image that symbolizes the tragedy and stands as emblematic for the entire exhibition, is a 1900 photograph of the magnificent Khtzkonk monastery, a complex of five edifices in Tekor, which was blown up in 1964, leaving one lonely church standing in ruins against a devastated landscape. Other monasteries, a handout for the exhibition explains, “were razed (Karmravor Monastery Surp Asdvadsadsin), destroyed and used as building material for houses and mosques (Surp Garabed in Mush).” Worse still, some churches were degraded to function as barns, stalls, storage rooms or even prisons.

The exhibition highlights the Mush-Sasun-Van region for the important role it plays in Armenian history. As early as the fifth century, monasteries were vibrant centers of cultural activity, which produced valuable manuscripts and miniatures; literary and spiritual life flourished in the region which boasted up to 250 churches, cloisters (as on the island of Lim) and fortresses among other architectural monuments. One exception to the rule of destruction is the Surp Khach on the island of Achtamar, a jewel of Armenian church architecture which has escaped ruin and even been renovated. Though reclassified as a museum and allowed only one church service a year, this majestic structure, with its unique bas relief sculptures, is a treasure to behold.

Although many cities through the genocide were deprived of their Armenian character, some, like Sivas, managed to maintain traces of community life. Here, the exhibition presents the example of the Shahinyan family as testimony to the city’s history. The respected family hails from a member of the first Ottoman parliament in 1877, Agop Shahinyan; many photographs record images of his family and their home (built in 1877), officially recognized as an outstanding example of Ottoman architecture – without mention of its Armenian origins.

What’s In a Name?
It was a deliberate policy, pursued by the Turkish authorities since the genocide, to eradicate the Armenian identity of the land, its history and its culture, as embodied in its architecture. Thus, the very name “Armenian” was erased from written records, whether they be texts for school children or place names in geographical locations or maps. In Kars or Ani, if reference is made to the Bagratids, there is no hint that the name might refer to Armenians.

Urfa is yet another example of a city deprived of its people and identity. Once it was home to 38,000 Armenians before the genocide; skilled craftsmen who worked as goldsmiths and carpet weavers, they lived in a community with functioning schools and an active Protestant parish. During the Hamidian massacres, 3,000 Armenians who had sought refuge in their church, were burned to death in the Surp Asdvadsadsin. This was the city where the German humanitarian and pastor Johannes Lepsius set up his rug factory, to provide refuge and employment to Armenian orphans. Today, one learns at the exhibition, the location hosts a hotel.

This important and timely exhibition was made possible through the efforts of many persons and institutions, among them, the Armenische Unternehmerverband e.V., Hasmik Hagopian, the two sponsoring associations, and a long list of individuals and organizations, which made the photographic material available.

(Material for this article has been taken from an article by Giorgio Bavaj and Alfrant Bedrosian, “1915-2015. Armenische Architektur und Genozid. Eine Ausstellung.” The article, which is a handout for the exhibition, has been published on the website

Armenian Research Center
Established in the Polish Academy of Sciences

By Armenuhi Drost-Abgarjan

KRAKOW, Poland — As a gift to the Mesrob Center on its jubilee, Prof. Armenuhi Drost-Abgarjan received an invitation from the president of the Polish Academy of Arts and Sciences, Prof. Jan Ostrowski, to participate in the academic board of the Research Center for Armenian Culture, which was formally inaugurated at the Collegium Majus (Jagellon University Kraków) on September 21.

The establishment of the center is the result of years of work by university professors Andrzej Pisowisz and Krzysztof Stopka, who have dealt with the Armenian language and cultural legacy in Poland, in the context of their studies in History and Indo-Germanic Philology.

The center was set up on the initiative of Minister of Science Dr. Jaroslaw Gowin, with the aim of conducting research into the history of Polish Armenians in their cultural specificity as well as in relation to the Armenian Diaspora in central and eastern Europe.

The inauguration of the new center began following a visit to the historic Czartoryski Library, where Armenian manuscripts and early prints are also preserved. The international guests from Hungary, Rumania, Russia, Switzerland, Italy and Germany then gathered in the library of the Collegium Majus, where Stopka, the designated director of the research center, gave his welcoming speech.

Prof. Andrzej Zieba introduced the program and the three staff members of the new research center. The keynotes were delivered by Dr. Harutyun Marutyan, director of the Genocide Museum in Yerevan, and Vahan Vardapet Ohanian, representative of the Mekhitarist Congregation in Venice.

(Translated from German by Muriel Mirak-Weissbach)

Komitas Celebrated in Berlin and Halle

By Armenuhi Drost-Abarjan
BERLIN — The Mesrob Armenian Studies Center at the Martin Luther University in Halle-Wittenberg celebrated its 20th anniversary in the academic year 2018-2019 with three international conferences, an exhibition on Levon I (see and two concerts. The festivities concluded in October with an academic conference on “Komitas and his Legacy” on the occasion of the 150th birthday of the Armenian musicologist and composer, a symbolic figure for German-Armenian relations.

The international conference-festival titled “Komitas and his Legacy” on October 8-10 drew 50 guests and speakers from the US, Canada, Armenia, Russia, Ukraine, Croatia, France and Italy. It was a cooperative effort of the Komitas Museum-Institute in Yerevan (Dr. Nikolay Kostandyan/ Prof. Mher Navoyan), the Humboldt University in Berlin (Prof. Sebastian Klotz) and the State Library in Berlin (Meliné Pehlivanian) and took place in Berlin and in Halle (Prof. Klaus Neumann/ Prof. Armenuhi Drost-Abgarjan) from October 8 to 10. In the banquet halls of the Humboldt University and the Halle University, high level representatives from the political, cultural and scientific communities in Germany and Armenia participated.

Armenia’s Ambassador to Germany Ashot Smbatyan and the priest of the Armenian Community in Germany Rev. Yeghishe Avetisyan opened the festive event by laying a wreath at the memorial plaque for Komitas at his alma mater in Berlin.

The aim of the conference was to take a new look at Komitas’s life work, by shedding light on those areas in which his work was innovative, including field research, musical ethnology, folk music, medieval church music, the art of composition and liturgy. In the course of the event, aspects of Armenian music were also considered in the context of other musical traditions. The proceedings of the conference will appear in an anthology in Yerevan.
Dr. Nikolay Kostandyan

The program included the official opening of a traveling exhibition on Komitas, at the State Library in Berlin. A concert featuring works by Komitas was sponsored by the German Federal Minister of Foreign Affairs Heiko Maas and the Foreign Minister of the Republic of Armenia Zohrab Mnatsakanyan. Prominent artists who performed were Hasmik Papyan (Vienna), Sergei Khachatryan (Eschborn), Hayk Sukiasyan (Madrid) and the Berlin vocal ensemble under the direction of Prof. Kristian Commichau (Potsdam).

Historian Claude Mutafian (Paris) and psychologist Dr. Rita Soulahian-Kuyumjian (Montreal) chaired a round table discussion on the theme of “Art in Times of Repression.” They considered various hypotheses regarding Komitas’s “silencing” (loss of speech) as well as the therapeutic treatments available to him; a survivor of the Genocide, the artist and scientist suffered a mental breakdown and, for twenty years of his life, was no longer able or willing to exert his creative capacities.

The conference proceedings in Halle (where Komitas’s teacher Prof. Oskar Fleischer had earned his doctorate) took place on October 9, in an emergency situation due to a terrorist attack against the Jewish synagogue in the city that day. Although complex organizational measures were required to guarantee the security of the international guests, among them the Armenian Minister for Education, Science, Culture and Sports Arayik Harutyunyan, the conference and the final concert in the Händel House, with works by Komitass and his contemporaries, went smoothly and were very successful. Particularly impressive was the performance of the famous Komitas interpreter Prof. Ruben Dalibaltayan (Zagreb), whose musical fireworks were a worthy tribute to the celebrated Armenian composer.

In her welcoming address, Prof. Valentina Calzolari (Geneva), President of the International Association for Armenian Studies (AIEA), said:

“From abroad, I would like to express my heartiest greetings to all participants of this conference, some of whom have travelled from afar, as well as the organizers. I am convinced that this conference, with its modest title, “Komitas and his Legacy,” will lend a new interdisciplinary perspective to many aspects of Komitas’s life and activity, by locating his rich, multifaceted work in its historical and cultural context, and by highlighting his links to Europe and especially Germany, as well as the Ottoman Empire…

“Since 1998 the Mesrop Center has developed into a privileged place for study of Armenian literature and history, especially literature and religious history in relation to other communities in eastern Christendom. I would like to express my hearty congratulations to Prof. Drost-Abgarjan for this important development that she has secured for the center for the years to come. As the only center for Armenian studies in Germany, the Mesrop Armenian Studies Center plays key role in the field of Armenology. I wish the Center a long life, many further activities and international cooperative efforts, in addition to those it has already abundantly nurtured.

“The International Association for Armenian Studies, which I have the honor to chair, expresses special thanks to Prof. Drost-Abgarjan and her team for the organization of the next AIEA general conference, which will take place next year, September 2020 in Halle.”

(This text was kindly made available by the author, who is the director of the Mesrob Armenian Studies Center at the Martin Luther University in Halle-Wittenberg. A series of reports on the activities of the Center, including the item on the new center in Poland, will appear in the upcoming issue of the ADK (Armenische-Deutsche-Korrespondenz), the journal of the German-Armenian Society. The free translation from the original German is by Muriel Mirak-Weissbach.)

Lusine Khachatryan as Clara Wieck

Armenian Pianist Celebrates the Schumanns

by Muriel Mirak-Weissbach
FRANKFURT, November 21, 2019 — “My name is Clara, Clara Wieck.” She stands in center stage, her hands clasped, dressed in an elegant blouse and long skirt, her dark hair pulled back to accentuate the fine features of her oval face. She greets the audience with a bright, wide smile and rushes to the grand piano, takes her place, raises her hands gracefully and plays a piece by Robert Schumann, her beloved Robert, whom she will marry. She is the 18-year-old Clara Wieck playing Schumann. She is Lusine Khachatryan playing Clara Wieck playing Robert Schumann.

This year Germany celebrates the 200th birthday of Clara Schumann, wife of the great musician, and herself not only a brilliant pianist but an accomplished composer. Lusine Khachatryan is an Armenian pianist, who has created a unique art form, the “piano-theatre,” which consist of a dramatic development on stage, combined with piano music. Her first work (2012) was inspired by Friedrich Schiller’s drama “Maria Stuart,” and was followed a year later by “Chopin: The piano is my second self.” That same year she composed the Schumann piece, and in 2015, “Nostalgia,” which deals with the Armenian soul and culture.

Lusine Khachatryan
Lusine Khachatryan

In her recent appearances on the German stage in Frankfurt and Potsdam, she thrilled audiences with her presentation of Clara Wieck, (who had taught at the Frankfurt conservatory). She depicts the young girl who is determined to follow her own dreams, despite her father’s opposition; she dramatizes the conflict with her father (who was both teacher and mentor), and her love for the young composer Robert, in a series of monologues, delivered with dramatic power and playful humor; she prances about, using creative stage business with a plethora of props — a suitcase with clothing; a packet of letters which she clutches to her chest, and swaying, murmurs, “a letter from my husband, my beloved Robert;” scores of music, among them a volume of études by Czerny — and returns again and again (amid acrobatics) to the piano, on which she performs selections from works that Schumann composed prior to their marriage.

She opened with Variations on the name Abegg Op. 1 (1829-1830) and followed with selections out of Carneval Op. 9. Always interspersed with short passages telling her story, she played 5 of the 8 Phantasiestücke (Fantasy pieces) Op. 12 (1836-1837). Following a brief intermission, she performed the entire Carneval (1833 and Winter 1834-1835), a virtuoso composition which she presented with technical mastery and mature expression. It was a wonderful tribute to Clara Wieck, who indeed performed Schumann’s works in piano tours throughout Europe and was known as one of the most accomplished pianists of her time. Musicians like Paganini, Chopin and Brahms expressed their admiration for her remarkable achievements. The Schumanns encouraged the younger Brahms, some of whose compositions were inspired by Clara. Now on the occasion of her birthday, her own extraordinary compositions have gained even wider attention.

Khachatryan comes from a musical family, and, like Clara, began playing the piano at home, under the guidance of her mother Irina Hovhannisyan and father Vladimir Khachatryan, who are both concert pianists and teachers. Her brother, Sergey Khachatryan is a world class violinist, with whom she regularly performs; they have released several CD’s, among them, the complete sonatas for piano and violin by Johannes Brahms (2013) and “My Armenia,” featuring works by Armenian composers (2015). If Lusine was the author, director, actress and pianist in her musical-theatrical creation, her brother Sergey provided the lighting, while her parents were on hand to enjoy the performance. The family lives and works in Germany.

She studied at the Karlsruhe Music Academy from 2001 to 2008, and graduated with a double degree in piano and chamber music. As a soloist, she has won many prizes and has performed in leading concert halls throughout the world, including at several famous music festivals in Europe and the US. She also appears with renowned chamber and symphony orchestras.

The New York Times pronounced her as “a superb pianist, with a big sound and a fiery technique…”

Ambassador Smbatyan

Germans in Dialogue with Armenia

by Muriel Mirak-Weissbach
BENSHEIM, Germany, November 29, 2019 — When the German-Armenian Forum came into being in 2015, the founding members stressed that its purpose was to help Germans and Armenians become acquainted, and to learn about their respective history, culture and country. CDU parliamentarian Albert Weiler launched the initiative with the idea that people from the two countries should meet at all levels — from political leaders, to legislators, university students, pupils, musicians, artists, people from all walks of life.

During the founding meeting four years ago in a room of the Bundestag (Parliament), the initiators formulated the new association’s statute and voted up a presidium. According to the press release, the members of this body were “individuals familiar with issues related to the southern Caucasus, and pursue the aim of promoting German-Armenian relations at various levels. The Forum should support Armenia in its democratic development, strengthen economic relations, support cultural and scientific exchange and build new bridges between the two societies.” They pledged to organize conferences, seminars, workshops and working groups, and cooperate with existing organizations which pursue similar aims.

Weiler had visited Armenia in 2014, and the experience left a lasting impression on him. “Armenia is a country with a very ancient Christian tradition, which since its independence in 1991 has charted a democratic path, which deserves support,” he said at the founding meeting. “True, Armenia lies in a difficult geographical position, but it has an enormous spiritual and economic development potential. We would like to exhaust and further develop these synergetic possibilities.”

Since its inception, the Forum has lived up to its pledge, actively promoting dialogue and exchange with Armenia at various levels. This year, it has been organizing events on the local level under the rubric, “Dialogue with Armenia,“ engaging students in their schools. On November 19 one such meeting took place at the Goethe Lyceum in Bensheim, which is the congressional district of the Forum’s vice-president Till Mansmann. There and in collateral meetings in the Hesse region, Mansmann was joined by the honorary consul for the Republic of Armenia, Dr. Brian Fera, and the Armenian ambassador from Berlin, Ashot Smbatyan.

Smbatyan delivered a lecture to the students about Armenia, its culture and history, and then took questions. In the course of the dialogue, proposals took shape for longer-term projects to engage students as well as teachers in an exchange program.

Following the school visit, the group visited City Hall with a local representative Philipp-Otto Vock and the City Councillor Adil Oyan. The discussion centered on the positive effects of city partnerships and how they contribute to mutual understanding and cultural exchange. To conclude their tour, the group met with the chairman of a firm promoting regional economic development (Wirtschaftsförderung Bergstrasse), Dr. Matthias Zürker and discussed economic perspectives locally and in Armenia.

Dr. Hayk Martirosyan (Photo courtesy of Ulrich Rosenau, Lepsiushaus, Potsdam)

Memoirs of an Orphan

by Muriel Mirak-Weissbach
POTSDAM, Germany, November 7, 2019 — In the extensive literature of the Armenian Genocide, memoirs of single survivors play a special role. Each story is different, and yet all share certain characteristics; the trauma of the events, separation from loved ones, uncertainty and fear regarding the future. Among the survivors are many whose names have gone down in history. At the same time, there were hundreds of thousands of orphans, many of whom ended up in Turkish families, and their identities were lost in time. The more fortunate managed to retain their identities as Armenians, and to find new homes abroad.

Heinrich Melidonian was one such orphan, who was born in the Ottoman Empire and ended up in Germany and France. Dr. Hayk Martirosyan has reconstructed his fascinating story on the basis of the young man’s writings and of research into archives in Germany. Martirosyan, who is a scientific collaborator at the Lepsiushaus in Potsdam, presented the results of his efforts in a lecture there on October 31.

Heinrich Melidonian, born in 1901, was given that name on the request of Sister Paula Schäfer and baptized by the Protestant Father Richard Brunnemann. The infant had been taken in by the orphanage of the German Hülfsbund für Christliches Liebeswerk im Orient (DHCLO), a relief organization in Marash. Thanks to donations given by “foster” parents in Germany Deacon Otto Clarenbach and Pastor Kuhlo, Heinrich could live and receive medical care in the orphanage until 1915.

The Germans had sent up hospitals, orphanages and schools in various Armenian villages during the Hamidian massacres (1894-1896), a few of which survived the genocide that began in 1915. The Marash orphanage was one of them. Despite the support it received from the German Consul in Aleppo, Walter Rössler, it came under pressure from the Ottoman authorities and had to give the children to relatives, if they had any, or to Armenian families who received financial support from the orphanage. Heinrich was one of these so-called “Kostenkinder” and lived with a certain widow Turwand for a while. Later, when he was allowed back into the orphanage, deportation orders came down; he was sent off with other youngsters to work on the Baghdad railway, but, sick with malaria, had to be sent back. In this way, he survived the massacres and in late 1918 began an odyssey which took him to Cilicia, and then Adana and beyond. Thanks to his years in Marash, where he learned German, Turkish and English, he was better equipped than others to seek work, which he found as a translator. In 1920, he accompanied children under the care of Near East Relief who were evacuated from Adana to Cyprus. There he was able to attend the American College, before going with the children on to Tarsus, where he studied at the American St. Paul’s college.

Again, due to political events, he had to flee, this time to Smyrna (Izmir). When their ship was stopped and the Turks hauled passengers out to kill them, he and other children managed to survive by hiding. “I promised Him,” Melidonian later wrote, “that I would devote my entire life to Him, if he saved me from this mortal danger.” In Smyrna he was able to study at the American college and in 1922 was confirmed in the Protestant church. During the massacres in Smyrna in September 1922, he and other students were arrested and released only in May 1923, in the context of negotiations of the Lausanne Treaty. From there he travelled to Greece, then to France, from there to England, then Canada, and when not allowed to settle there, returned to France. In 1927, thanks to the mediation of his “foster” parents, he was admitted to the Johanneum Protestant School in Wuppertal-Barmen, then entered a course at the Karlshöhe Diaconate Institute. He became a deacon but was not allowed to work as a pastor in Germany. He collaborated with the YMCA in various cities.

In the late 1930s Melidonian began to write about his experiences. Past, … but Not Forgotten! Memoirs and Experiences of an Armenian Orphan and the Missionary Station at Marash in Asian Turkey was one book; By Dangerous Cliffs was another; and Light after Darkness yet another. In these works, Martirosyan said, “he described his wanderings through the Ottoman Empire and the difficult life of the orphan and prisoner that he led. These books,” he added, “are still very important today as memoirs of an eyewitness during the genocide with very detailed descriptions and images.”

Melidonian also published a book reporting on a visit to the Holy Land, and spoke about his experiences in various cities in Germany. In 1939 he published an intriguing work, titled, Discussions with an Armenian Christian, in which he hoped to make Armenians in Germany known. Martirosyan said that the author posed questions, like, “Who are the Armenians?”, “Where is Armenia?”, “Are the Armenians Christians?”, “Why were the Armenians persecuted?” Although he did not succeed in becoming a German citizen, he contributed to making his people and the story of their plight known to the German public.

Martirosyan concluded by saying that Melidonian is one of the few orphans whose life story is documented in at least five European archives. “Hundreds of thousands of Armenian orphans died,” he said, “were killed, or disappeared without a trace. Melidonian’s example shows how much effort, and often also luck, one needs, how many disappointments one has to overcome and how hard one has to fight, to be able to stay alive.”

Dr. Rolf Hosfeld, Academic Director Lepsiushaus (Photo courtesy of Ulrich Rosenau)