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An Evening with Dr Tigran Zargaryan

On May 7, the youth in the Armenian community was invited to gather at the Armenian Apostolic Church Hall, joining Dr Tigran Zargaryan (the Director of the Armenian National Library) in a conversation about Armenian spiritual history and historiography. This event was put together as a part of community efforts in marking the 350th Anniversary since the first Armenian Bible was published.

As ASA executive, the initiative we organised was through the help of the Hamazkaine Armenian Educational and Cultural Society of Australia and the Diocese of the Armenian Church of Australia represented immense value in promoting cultural enrichment for our members.

The Significance of this event for the youth

In 2017, the ASA has made a conscious effort to promote its aim of cultural enrichment. This aim is undeniably rooted in the idea that Armenian cultural history is shaped by its Christian spirit. Learning about the role of Voskan Yerevantsi in publishing the first ever book in Armenian, highlighting how religion encouraged the Armenian nation to thrive. The Armenian Church has continually been a haven for the Armenian people throughout history, as well as a symbol of enlightenment and spirituality.

The Relevance of the Armenian Alphabet

The Armenian Alphabet was developed in 405 by St Mesrob Mashtots, who used the 36 Armenian letters, translated the bible into Armenian. The same alphabet, with 2 more letters added to it in the middle ages, is still in use today. Thus, for many centuries going forward, the Armenian language, Armenian Church and Armenian Manuscripts served as invaluable tools for the Armenian people to protect their nation’s identity, spreading Wisdom and Instruction.

The first five books in the Armenian language were printed in Venice during 1512-1513, by Hacob Meghapart (Jacob the Sinful), almost 60 years after Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press.

By summarising the works of Voskan Yerevantsi the Armenian historian Leo writes: “to start a new endeavour one should offer a sacrifice, then we can consider Voskan Yerevantsi as the greatest sacrifice that Armenians offered to the printing. Eight years of Voskan’s life in Europe show the immense work that he managed to do for creating a systematic and permanent status for the printing houses. He was one of the publishers who had a comparatively large outlook to publish books not only for the clergymen, but also for merchants and lay people”.

What we learnt

Voskan Yerevantsi was the central individual responsible for placing into action the printing of the first Armenian Bible. He was born in January 1614 in New Julfa (Isfahan, Iran) and from childhood he dreamed of entering the monastery. The main sources that record details on Voskan’s life were in books that he was responsible for printing.

At the age of 15 Voskan was sent to St. Ethmiadzin to continue his education, where he learnt Latin from a Latin preacher Paolo Piromalli. Paolo taught Voskan logic, philosophy, metaphysics, theology, geometry, and astronomy. Voskan developed into one of the most advanced monks of Holy Echmiadzin. Voskan’s vision was to continue educational and spiritual activities of Armenian Vardapets (archimandrites) amongst the young generation initiated by Saint Mesrop Mashtots, to follow the lives of the 5th century translators.

In 1666 he could finally begin printing the Bible, which was completed in October 1668. His main source was the Sis Bible of 1295, commissioned by King Hetum II of Cilicia. The first publication of the Armenian Bible evokes admiration and amazement by its size, quality and art of printing as well as the tremendous textual work undertaken.

Thoughts of our friends from AYF, ACYA and AGBU

AYF Chairperson Meghety Zaitounian: "Dr Zargaryan's lecture was very fascinating. I'm sure all those who were present gained an appreciation for the rich and complex history of Armenian language, typography, and printing. It was also very insightful to learn about the Armenian National Library and its role in preserving the works of Armenian authors from around the world. This event has reminded me of the importance of keeping the Armenian language alive as it is the key to understanding our history and culture."

ACYA Chairperson Arshag Rajoyan: "This was an engaging and unique event where I gained some valuable insight about the importance of preserving our rich culture, heritage and language through our published writings. Thank you to our friends at ASA for organising such a warm environment."

AGBU member Anie Kurumlian: "It was a very interesting and an insightful lecture. We thank Dr. Zargaryan for giving us his time to answer our questions."

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