Historical Repatriates who changed the landscape of Armenia



Historical Repatriates who changed the landscape of Armenia

It is difficult to overestimate the role that repatriates have played and continue to play in different spheres of life in Armenia. The repatriation, which started from the very beginning of Armenia’s independence (the first Republic of Armenia) and continued in distinct stages from the 1920’s and 1930’s into the 1940’s and then during the 1960’s, is in some sense still ongoing, providing a source of hope to change the quality of life here in Armenia. This is by no means a comprehensive list of individuals born and raised in the diaspora who chose to settle with their families in Armenia (in and after the 1940’s), enriching Armenia’s culture and academic life. The list is of course a contentious one and therefore, admittedly, some personalities who played a very important role in their respective areas are not in the list due to the constraints of space.

Text : Tigran Zakaryan


Vazgen I

Catholicos of all Armenians, whose secular name was Levon Garabed Baljyan, was born in 1908 in Bucharest. He studied Literature, Philosophy and Pedagogy at Bucharest University in the 1930’s and pursued a teaching career up until his ordination in Athens in 1943. In 1947-1955 he was the head of the Armenian Apostolic Church Diocese of Romania, and in 1955 he was elected Catholicos of All Armenians moving to Echmiadzin, Armenia. Vazgen I’s long tenure (1955-1994) was very important for the history of the Armenian Church, along with major social and political changes and upheavals in the political and social life of Armenia.
In the absence of independent Armenian statehood he was the person who represented Armenian communities in several Middle Eastern countries, and their heads received him at official receptions, making about 30 pontifical visits to different Armenian communities worldwide. In 1962, under his leadership the Armenian Apostolic Church became a member of the World Council of Churches. At the time of the Karabakh movement, during the final years of the Soviet Union, Vazgen I made several appeals to the Soviet leaders to contain the violence and resolve the conflict.
As the head of the Armenian Apostolic Church he contributed to the restoration of old monasteries and churches throughout Armenia, restoring several dioceses and reviving the previously lost prestige of the institution thanks to his own charisma. It was not uncommon to see his portrait in people’s homes and elsewhere.
Vazgen I was awarded many different international and national medals and awards, including medals from the USSR and Romania. He was the first to be given the highest Armenian order of National Hero as well as receiving the new Armenian passport, which then President Levon Ter-Petrosyan personally handed the ailing Catholicos in 1994. Vazgen I died the same year, leaving behind a solid legacy of Armenian religious restoration and a deep popular respect and affection.

Hakob Hakobyan

Diasporan painter, born in Alexandria, Egypt in 1923. Graduating from The Melkonian Educational Institute in Cyprus, he continued his artistic education at the Cairo Academy of visual arts in 1944-1948, continuing his studies in Paris, studying at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière in 1952-1954. He represented modern Egyptian art at international art exhibitions and festivals, but in 1962, along with his family, he moved to Soviet Armenia where he lived up until his death in 2013.
Hakob Hakobyan’s paintings are distinctive with limited color range and melancholic appearance, in which personal and deep internal experiences are of paramount importance. He dedicated some of his paintings to traumatic periods of Armenian history, including the genocide of 1915-1923 and the subsequent cases of mass violence against Armenians, such as the Sumgait pogrom in 1988. His artworks are currently preserved in museums and personal collections around the Middle East and former Soviet capitals.
Hakobyan was awarded the Mesrop Mashtots medal in 1996 and the St Sahak-St Mesrop medal of the Armenian Apostolic church in 2003.

Gohar Gasparyan

The most famous Diasporan Armenian opera singer was born in 1924 in Cairo. She had already been actively engaged in her career (since 1940) before moving to Armenia in 1948 and resumed her career in 1949 at the Armenian National Academic Theatre of Opera and Ballet. Her unique voice was symbolic for generations in Soviet Armenia and beyond, earning her the highest Soviet title of “People’s Artist of the USSR”. Dubbed as “The Armenian nightingale”, Gohar Gasparyan performed dozens of operas. She travelled extensively abroad, performing in the USA, Canada, France, Great Britain, Central European countries, Japan, Brazil, Mexico, and Turkey and across the whole of the USSR. In 1984 Gasparyan was awarded the title of honorable citizen of Yerevan and after independence she was also awarded the medal of Mesrop Mashtots in 1994. Gasparyan died in 2007 and is buried in the Pantheon of Yerevan.

Simon Krkiasharyan
Krkiasharyan, born 1924 in Athens, Greece, was a major translator of old and classical Greek texts, including Homer’s Odyssey, Xenophon’s Anabasis and Herodotus’ History and Plutarch’s Lives.
An active member of the Greek resistance movement during Nazi Germany’s occupation of Greece, Krkiasharyan moved to Soviet Armenia in 1947, leaving his studies unfinished at the local National and Kapodistrian University of Athens. He resumed his studies years later and graduated from the Yerevan Pedagogical Institute in 1954. In 1959-1962 he pursued his postgraduate studies in Leningrad, under renowned historians, archeologists and orientalists of the USSR. Fluent in modern and classical Greek languages, he was a renowned translator of literature and was also a historian, who conducted interesting research on ancient sources of Armenia as well as other countries. The ancient Greek dramas Sophocles’ Antigone or Euripides’ Iphigenia in Aulis and the comedy Lilistrata of Aristophanes were set in Yerevan in his translations.
For his contribution to Armenian, but also worldwide studies of antiquity, he was elected member of Rome’s Accademia Tiberiana and a member of the USSR Union of Writers.

Perch Zeytuntsyan

Zeytuntsyan was born in 1938 in Alexandria, Egypt and is one of the most renowned contemporary novelists, playwrights, scriptwriters and translators who was also independent Armenia’s first minister of culture from 1991 to 1992. He moved to Soviet Armenia in 1948 along with his family and received his education in Pyatigorsk, Russia and in Moscow, where he pursued postgraduate studies in script writing, graduating in 1964. Zeytuntsyan was the editor-in-chief of Hayfilm (1965-1968) and Yerevan (1975-1986) film studios, and in the meantime he was also busy developing his career as an author. Twelve of his plays were staged in theatres of Yerevan and elsewhere in Armenia, and beginning from 1956, his short stories, novels and translations were published. Zeytuntsyan’s works have been translated into 11 foreign languages, including English, French, Arabic and Russian. Zeytuntsyan also translated from English, including several works by Ernest Hemingway, like The Snows of Kilimanjaro and A Farewell to Arms. Zeytuntsyan was elected a member of the Accademia Tiberiana and was awarded a number of state awards and medals and the title of Honorary Citizen of Yerevan.

Tigran Mansuryan

A renowned modern composer, Mansuryan was born in Beirut, Lebanon in 1939 and moved to Armenia in 1947. He studied composition at the Romanos Melikyan College of Music in Yerevan in 1956-1960 and continued his studies at the Komitas State Conservatory of Yerevan in 1960-1965, completing his postgraduate studies in 1967.
His creative efforts were well received from the very beginning of his career, testament to the fact that he won two First prizes at the All-Union Competition in Moscow in 1966, and in 1968. He taught modern music theory at the Yerevan Komitas State Conservatory from 1967-1986, and held the position of rector at the Conservatory from 1992 to 1995.
Mansuryan is recognized as one of the most important figures of contemporary music in the former USSR, being the first to introduce modern composition techniques in Armenia. His compositions have been performed to great critical acclaim on some of the biggest stages in the world.
Mansuryan’s compositions are an interesting mixture of Armenian art music and folk traditions, with bright, expressive melodies and exquisite, impressionistic tone color.

Ohan Duryan

Born in Jerusalem, Duryan started his musical education in his home city and in 1939-1945 he studied composition, conducting and the organ at the Jerusalem Conservatory. He completed his education in France and Switzerland, returning to Palestine where he continued to teach at the Bierzeit University in the West Bank.
At the invitation of Catholicos Vazgen I, Duryan settled in Armenia in 1957 and between 1959-65 and 1972-1974 he was conductor of the Armenian State Philharmonic Society. Due to Soviet restrictions on artistic expression, he left Armenia for Europe, and from 1963-1968 Duryan served as Musical Director of the Leipzig Opera and was guest conductor of the Gewandhaus Orchestra. He also worked with other orchestras, including the Avignon and Cape Town orchestras. From 1971 to 1972 he was the conductor of Yerevan State Opera and Ballet Theater and finally left Soviet Armenia in 1975.
After Armenia gained independence in 1991, Duryan returned to serve as the Artistic Director and Principal Conductor of the Ohan Durian Radio and TV Symphonic Orchestra, which he founded, and was also the Principal Conductor and Artistic Director of the Yerevan Opera Theatre from 1998 to 2001. After his retirement in Armenia, in 2002-2006 he was director of the Moscow Symphonic Orchestra at the Stas Namin Center. Duryan invented a musical system which he called Universalism and composed a number of songs and pieces for the orchestra.

Mkrtich Ter-Karapetyan
The important, yet hitherto largely obscure biochemist Mkrtich Ter-Karapetyan was born in the city of Izmir (Smyrna) in 1910. He pursued his studies at the French College in Beirut, Lebanon, after which he graduated from the Sorbonne University in Paris in 1933. As a researcher he started his career in France, where he was awarded his Doctorate in 1944 and his first professorship in 1945.
After moving to Armenia in 1946 he started working at the research Institute of Stockbreeding and Veterinary. In 1947 he became a member of the Armenian SSR Academy of Science and received his second doctorate in Moscow in 1959. During the 1960’s and 1970’s he was head of biochemistry at Yerevan State University. He was given professorship and was the head of the Biochemistry Department between 1972-1981 at the University of the Pierre and Marie Curie in Paris.

Arman Manaryan

The renowned Armenian film director, Arman Manaryan was born in Iran in 1929 and moved to Armenia along with his family in 1946. First, he started studying music at the Romanos Melikyan College from 1947, continuing his studies at the Komitas State Conservatory of Yerevan in 1954. In 1962 he graduated from the Gerasimov Institute of Cinematography (the so-called VGIK) in Moscow.
His 1961 short movie Tzhvzhik marked his directorial debut, and was so impressive at the time that it still remains a masterpiece of Armenian cinematography to this day. The renowned Soviet film director Mikhail Kalatozov was reportedly one who praised Manaryan’s work, while US Armenian celebrities William Saroyan and film director Ruben Mamulian, having watched the film, were very excited. However, Manaryan’s later films were not received well by Soviet censorship, who banned his film the Artist, which was based on a story by novelist Alexander Shirvanzade.
However, soon Manaryan returned to the spotlight with the musical film “Karine” (1967), in which he invested his previous love and utilized his professional musical skills to become an emblematic figure for a generation of Soviet Armenians. Another monumental work by Manaryan was the first Armenian full-length animated film David of Sasun based on the medieval Armenian epic, which was released in 2010 after overcoming heavy financial difficulties.
Manaryan was awarded the title of people’s artist and died in 2016.