Yeghiazar Muradian: The Intellectual Knight

By Dr. Artur Andranikian

Yeghiazar Muradian is one of the names regrettably forgotten in both Armenia and the diaspora of that generation — the generation of Khachadur Misakian, Minas Cheraz, Nigoghos Zorayan, Nahabed Rusinian, Sdepan Vosgan, Krikor Chilingirian and Krikor Odian. This is a name especially sacred to me.# It was not only a generation which formed the Armenian national school and press, aiding in the awakening of the Armenian literary, cultural and public intellect. This was the reason for it to be called the Zartonk generation. It also, during the cruel period of the Ottoman sultans, took the first blessed steps toward the rediscovery of Armenian identity. Its members were called eastern aristocrats. They spread enlightenment through their far-ranging activities in various spheres of Armenian life, imparting wisdom to their people living in the most indescribable conditions.

Yeghiazar Muradian (1841-1891) has left a multifaceted legacy through his literary, cultural and pedagogical work as a poet, literary theorist, pedagogue, linguist, lexicographer, translator, historian and dramaturge and most importantly as a result of his dedicated attitude of an Armenian intellectual. I am sure that this not only can cause wonder but also has an instructive significance. This legacy would fill three or four volumes. It seems as if it has become customary for us not to recognize, or, what comes to the same thing, not to appreciate our national values. We must seek the recognition of Armenian identity precisely in these up until now for us “undiscoverable” values.

He was born in the Aykesdan quarter of Van on, according to my research, Norashen Street. Still an adolescent, Yeghiazar, thirsty for knowledge, departed for Constantinople. During the 1850s, he studied at the Holy Savior National School in Constantinople’s Yedi Kule suburb and even then evinced exceptional ability in the fields of pedagogy, history, Armenian language and literature, bibliography and French. In 1862, leaving school without graduating, he obtained positions in a number of notable Armenian schools such as those of Kuzguncuk, Üsküdar and Beshigtash, as a teacher utilizing new approaches. Such famous Armenian figures of the time as Nerses Varzhabedian, Madteos Mamurian and Krikor Odian had confidence in him. One of Murdian’s students in the Ortaköy school was a future great poet of Western Armenian, Vahan Tekeyan.

Pedagogy was Yeghiazar Muradian’s element in the most meaningful sense of the word; teaching, arduous creative work, was a means to newly interpret his knowledge. It is not coincidence that the textbook that he authored titled Artzern krakidutiwn [Portable Literacy] (1872)] was considered to be one of the first for Western and Eastern Armenian. This is also attested to by the fact that the 27-year-old young pedagogue, who already had won the fame of being a principal, founded a private school in the Üsküdar neighborhood of Constantinople. He probably was not able to endure various caprices in teaching and related issues of the 19th century. His exceptional textbooks, Dzaghig arti hay madenakrutean [Flower of Contemporary Armenian Literature] (volumes 1-2, 1884-85, Constantinople), with grammatical and literary explanations and historical and geographical notations, were the fruit of similar dissatisfaction. Through their approximately 400 pages of Armenian and international literary creations, Muradian awakened love towards the homeland and Armenian language. In his foreword to the first volume, he wrote, “I know that other conditions are also necessary for the complete development of a language. Like plants and animals, languages too have their homeland. When they are distant from it, many things are changed from their archetype…but the writers from whose works I included select sections in my book have offered jewels to the nation which will always shine on its literary crown” (p. iii).

The existence of literature from the perspective of the progress of the national intellect not only has its distinct place in Yeghiazar Muradian’s literary and pedagogical viewpoints, but it also, according to him, represents a civilizing significance. What is completely amazing is that he as a public cultural figure considered this important in the 19th century (though it is possible to say it is characteristic of all periods and especially ours). Perhaps it is not all that amazing since Muradian not only possessed the distinguished character of the Armenians and was an oracle of national precepts and commandments but was also a dedicated person with a spiritual and cultural legacy and exceptional cognitive ability.

In the foreword to the second volume, Muradian said, “Literature is the accurate portrayal of a people’s civilization, so that if it were possible to destroy a nation’s political history, its entire lost life can be brought forth [again] from its literature. For literature step by step follows a nation’s intellectual, moral and material progress…political history can lie…only the product of the intellect is beyond all envy, all pusillanimous passions…Our literature is still in an embryonic state…Consequently, great care must be taken in the selection of leaders of adolescent taste among us…” (pp. iii-v).

Being devoted to Armenian education and upbringing, Muradian as a very erudite and broadminded pedagogue considered teaching an art and demonstrated creative approaches to it. The evidence is not only the abovementioned textbooks but also the following books which he authored and which were used as textbooks in the schools of Constantinople: Hayeren krapar keraganutiwn [Grammar of Classical Armenian], Badmutiwn enthanur azkayin [General National History] and Hamarod dramapanutiwn ew jardasanutiwn [Concise Logic and Rhetoric]. In addition to these textbooks which helped not only students but also the pedagogues teaching in schools and academies, Muradian often gave what was for those years extremely indispensable pedagogical lectures. In the pedagogical lecture and meditation Usutsanelu arvesde [The Art of Teaching], (Arewelean mamul, May 1881, vol. 11, pp. 172-177, 374, 393, Smyrna), while reflecting upon the essential circumstance that upbringing and education are different, Muradian remarked, “The goal of good teaching for boys is intellectual activity and that is also the touchstone for its success. The degree of intellectual exertion depends partly on the topic to be taught and partly on the method of teaching. Sometimes the topic of the class becomes very difficult and it demands skill and oratory from the teacher so that it can become understandable through explanation and the provision of examples so that it is imprinted in the minds of the students. It is not sufficient for the teacher to adopt this behavior. He must also evade a danger — that is, he must not turn the class into a literal instruction in memory, but rather bequeath its true knowledge to the students.”

Muradian’s art of teaching achieves universal depth and significance. This becomes more evident when we read the preface of his work Keraganutiwn kaghieren lezvi [Grammar of the French Language]: “We do not understand the study of a language to be dry and desiccated lexicology and irregular and a baseless discussion without the mastery of the spirit and rules of the language. Grammar, which is the key to a language and one branch of its philosophy, must be taught methodically and flawlessly, with a style which will neither scare away nor bore students.”

As the possessor of an exceptional intellect and the master of various languages (Turkish, Kurdish, French, English and, I am sure, Greek), Yeghiazar Muradian through his extensive activity could not but have engendered admiration and enthusiasm in Krikor Odian, the “master of the public” and one of the founders of the National Constitution. Nor jashag tbrutean gam hamarod jardasanutiwn [New Taste in Literature or Concise Rhetoric] is a work he dedicated to “the soaring to heaven and majestic Kr[ikor]. Odian.” It is a work also founded on profound intellectual knowledge. For example, in the section called “Discovery or Idea,” after talking about the universality of speaking and writing or their interdependency, he concluded, “Before speaking and writing it is necessary that we know what we are going to say. We call this Discovery or Idea. Or, in what order are we going to explain our idea and this is called Proposition; or, how must we explain our idea so that it is elegant and this is called Style. Therefore there are three things to observe in speech: Creation, Proposition and Style.”

The philosophical nature of the work is quite clear (various stories from the Bible, or from French authors such as Racine). Muradian’s goal is again the same: “to serve the nation, the cherished generation,” and awaken the slumbering consciousness of progress in it. National conservatism gave primary significance to the new generation, to whose education and progressive development he dedicated his life and tried in every way to aid it, keeping the burning flame kindled in the nation’s youth. However he was dissatisfied with the language, confessing that instead of it progressing daily, “it is in retreat…what is the reason for this? Are the youth devoid of taste, of education?…they must not be blamed…our youth need leadership; we lack teachers and textbooks. How can we correct these deficiencies which damage our nation? The answer is clear: the youth must be solidly educated; they must be introduced to political, education and literary realms; and only by obtaining knowledge will they serve the advancement of the Armenian nation and will fulfill their responsibility.”

The journalistic meditation Barsgagan namagani ar zhoghovrtn [Persian Letters to the People] (Constantinople, 1880) most persuasively underscores the daring infallibility of Muradian’s method of work. While he appreciated the clearly amelioratory role of the National Constitution, he was not one of its silent admirers. He wrote, “The constitutional Education Council has not succeeded in over twenty years in giving direction to at least one national school in a practical manner…yes, if one day this nation will become something, it will owe its persecuted, oppressed and needy class — its teachers and not the Education Council of 1854. It will owe to them the lifting of the bowed down forehead of its oppressed nation…” (p. 17). Muradian saw national life and the national school in a broad manner on the same plane, interdependent and nourishing one another. And he was in favor of Nerses Varzhabedian, Armenian Patriarch of Constantinople, being given broad assignments, the freedom to expand activities in nearly all spheres of Armenian public life. Of course, he did not underestimate the human and national values of the founders of the Constitution. He saw the matter in the light of the real and concrete changes necessary to make the Constitution fully serve the nation.

Muradian’s public proposal was in its nature and extent not only strange for many, but extremely unacceptable. A small number of national figures were in favor of his proposal, including his friend, the great Armenian satirist Hagop Baronian. This issue was discussed in the National Assembly and the fierce arguments and differences of opinion led many to once more reflect on Armenian national and educational issues.

Was it not the result of speaking openly that the extremely occupied Muradian, endlessly zealous to reform the educational system, at the end of the 1860s started the most purposeful communications with the Armenian public and wrote the plays Vartan and Aghasi? They were staged at the time in Constantinople and enjoyed great popularity (The texts of these plays have not been preserved. We think that they were composed in verse.) His turning to dramaturgy was not at all coincidental. On the one hand, there is the insatiable desire to directly be in communication with the public and on the other hand the turning point created by Mikayel Nalpandian’s visit to Constantinople in the fall of 1861. When the latter was returning from India, he stayed approximately one month in Constantinople and most likely became acquainted with Muradian. Nalpandian also saw progress in Armenian literary and cultural life and wrote in the periodical Meghu, “Long live the youth, who are launching theatric performances in Constantinople; the stage of a theater has a great symbolic meaning.”

No matter how nightmarish this life was being presented as (chiefly by historians and historical novelists), the intellectuals of Constantinople were living a national life and the Armenian creative mind did not stop creating. It is not a coincidence that many, including Muradian, turned to ancient times to attempt to restore ties between the past and the period they lived in, not only by citing episodes from the heroic past, but also exposing the flaws of our ancestors from those times, i.e. their way of acting that was not favorable to Armenians, to put it mildly. In the foreword of his work Knnagan badmutiwn Arshag Yergroti ev anor Bab vortvoyn [Critical History of Arshag the Second and His Son Bab] (Alexandria, 1900), Muradian wrote, “Historical personages are the property of mankind at large; historical truths are the right of peoples. Consequently, it is not the monopoly of this or that historian, or of this or that people, to make historical conclusions as he pleases, to judge, condemn, crown or whistle at great historical personages without review and as an unconditional verdict. Criticism comes early or late and with Nemesis’ scales in hand gives to each one in accordance to his merit.”

Subjecting Arshag the Second’s “wise policy, his efforts directed toward domestic beneficence for the country” to a general examination, Muradian concluded, “desiring to carry out a small service to scholarship and in particular with the conviction of carrying out a sweet patriotic obligation, I wrote the true story of Arshag II and his son Bab…about which the nation definitely can be proud.” Generally, this historical period has been very unjustly criticized by our historians and historical novelists, primarily by taking Buzand’s History as a reliable basis. Muradian expresses a completely different opinion, very courageous for his time, by naming things by their names with unconcealed emphases.

Muradian died in 1891, in Constantinople’s Pera quarter, leaving unfinished numerous projects which only he would have been able to bring to life. In his words of farewell, Muradian’s friend, the famous principal Reteos Berberian, with infinite pain remarked, “Brothers, he around whose coffin we have the misfortune to gather today was not an insignificant person. He was one of the most able members of this national teachers’ body. He was a mystery, he was a writer…the worthy one rests, blessed be his memory, but let us think about those beings which he leaves behind him, who still need him and who are worthy of our compassion and protection.”

Yeghiazar Muradian’s soul, I assure you, today has been reincorporated in the essence of generations of Armenians.

P.S.  Now, as I write, it is as if these lines are born from the explosion of my condemning the silence of years without end, perhaps in order to satisfy my patrimonial self-esteem? And I involuntarily draw near and touch Yeghiazar Muradian’s work Critical History of Arshag the Second and His Son Bab, noticing what is written in pencil on the last page: “After finding this book with difficulty I copied it in 1992. I am grateful to the great descendant of the Armenians Y. Muradian, whose blood flows in my veins.”

My grandmother Armenuhi (on my maternal side, born on Norashen Street of Van’s Aykesdan), is the granddaughter of Yeghiazar Muradian’s sister Yeranuhi. When her mother died during childbirth, Yeranuhi took care of her. She only learned about this in 1916 in the American orphanage in Alexandrapol (Gyumri) from elderly Armenians of Van.

Later, my mother passed on to me what my grandmother had related about her family’s famous teacher Yeghiazar. His picture has been preserved along with a leather-bound small New Testament bearing Yeghiazar Muradian’s signature (Constantinople, 1891). I remember as if it were today that my grandmother would always say, “This holy book saved me.” Grandmother Yeranuhi hid the book during the time of migration under 14-year-old Armenuhi’s clothing.

Now extremely confused but with the feelings of my internal “guiding spirit” I have listened to the call of my blood in publishing this article, which I could have written years ago but was not able to do so. I don’t know whether this was due to the complete absence of internal motivation or because, as they say, “everything has its time.” Perhaps it is the latter. It remains to “know in detail the biography of each of our generations” (Hagop Oshagan).

In this particular case, it is the biography of Yeghiazar Muradian.

(The author is the son of Yeghiazar Muradian’s sister’s great-grandson. The article was translated from Armenian by Aram Arkun.)