Special to the Mirror-Spectator
Jerair Gharibian, who died in 1991, made an important contribution to Armenian culture in the Boston area, when, in 1980, he founded the Boston Armenian Independent Radio Hour, which to this day broadcasts news and commentary of interest to the Armenian community.
His widow, Yevgine Gharibian, who hosts the broadcasts, has now paid further tribute to her husband’s legacy with the publication of Armenian Journalism 1794-1977, written to fulfill his master’s degree requirement at Boston University.
Gharibian had a rich and varied life as a writer and a journalist. Born to Armenian parents in Baghdad, Iraq, in 1937, he began his education there, but traveled later to London to study at a branch of London University, where he studied industrial management. While in London, he became a co-founder of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) Navasardian Committee.
In 1964, following his graduation, he moved to Tehran, where he lived for 10 years, immersing himself in the social and political life of the Armenian community there. He was particularly
interested in the education of young people and established a youth biweekly magazine, Alik Badanegan, which was published under the aus- pices of Alik daily, where he served as assistant editor.
In 1975, Gharibian was invited to the United States to assume the position of executive secre- tary of the Armenian Youth Federation of the ARF. It was at this time while he was attending Boston University’s School of Journalism that he wrote his master’s thesis on Armenian journalism.
This relatively short text is of archival importance to the Armenian community, if for no other reason than for the tables which list the publication of vir- tually every Armenian newspaper and periodical, dating back to 1794, when the very first newspaper, Aztarar, was published by a priest, Rev. Haratune Shmavonian in Madras, India. The tables list not only the title of the publication, but the date and place of origin, the publisher, the editor and the nature of its content. This is an invaluable resource for anyone who is engaged in research on many subjects touching on Armenian history, culture and politics.
As Dr. Khachig Tololyan of Wesleyan University notes in his introduction, “Both in the homeland and in the diaspora, Armenians have made their history in contexts that gave the press an uncom- mon centrality in political and cultural life; furthermore, the lack of universities and of institutional documentation in stable archives made the Armenian press the best record of social history available to us. Jerair Gharibian’s book is a refer- ence guide and a history of the Armenian press from 1794-1977, but it is also a study of the tight- knit relationship between the Armenian press and its heterogeneous contexts, from Madras to Yerevan, and Tbilisi to Fresno.”
Tololyan also notes that even this first publication served as a kind of political rallying point, a characteristic that is reflected in contemporary publications, which are now, in large part, owned by various political parties.
Ara Ghazarian, curator of the Armenian Cultural Foundation, has contributed a foreword in which he, too, comments on the importance of the publication as “the first historical, analytical work on the history of Armenian journalism written in English.”
In his own introduction, Gharibian points to the unique role that Armenian journalism has played in the history of the Armenian people. “Only rarely does one come across a nation which has been compelled to publish newspapers and periodicals with the survival of the people as its primary concern.”
Of course, there could be no publication of any sort without the invention of the alphabet and Gharibian reviews the creation of the Armenian script by the Armenian monk, Mesrob Mashtots in 404 AD. The first text to be translated into Armenian, not surprisingly, was the Bible, but it was followed by original works in the fields of history, philosophy and religion and hence “The Golden Age of Armenian Literature” was born. In spite of the fact that Armenia was subject to many invasions, creative writers continued to produce works, which included songs, most notably by the troubadour, Sayat Nova.
In the 16th century, as Armenians began to emigrate to other lands in order to escape oppression by invaders, new writers in the diaspora began writing in the language of the common people (krapar) rather than the literary language of the clergy (ashkharapar).
Subsequent to the founding of that first paper in Madras, the growth of Armenian publications increased gradually through the 19th century. Thanks to European demands that the Ottomans ease up on restrictions placed on the Armenian community, education received a push and parochial schools and colleges were established by Armenian missionaries in Constantinople, Kharpert, Marsovan, Aintab, Marash, Konia and Tarsus. In the mid 19th century, three important Armenian newspapers were published, Masis in Constantinople, Huisisapayl in Moscow and Ardziv, founded in Constantinople, but later moved to Van. Ardziv, established by Bishop Megerdich Khrimian, played an especially impor- tant role in exhorting Armenians to press for their freedom.
Especially in the years 1905-1914 leading up to the Genocide, Gharibian notes that censorship of Armenian journalism by the Ottomans was particularly harsh. Such words as “freedom, “rights,” “revolution,” and “justice,” were routinely stricken from any publications. Particularly taboo were the words “Hayastan” (Armenian) and “Hairenik” (Fatherland).
With the extermination in 1915 of over 600 scholars, writers, journalists and other intellectuals, journalism nearly ceased to exist In Ottoman Turkey and it was at this time the Diaspora became the haven for Armenian journalism Throughout the Middle East and in the United States, wherever a significant population of Armenians immigrated to escape persecution, new vehicles for journalism were formed. including some in the Soviet Union, although these latter were very much under the book of the Communist regime.
It needs to be pointed out that Gharibian was writing long before the breakup of the Soviet Union and the formation of the independent Republic of Armenia and his criticisms of and references to the Soviet influence on the Armenian press no longer have the same validity as they did at the time of his writing in the late 1970s.
Gharibian gives a thumbnail sketch of the importance of the Armenian press in Middle Eastern countries such as Syria, Iraq, Iran and Egypt and pays particular tribute to Lebanon which was the birthplace of many outstanding Armenian journalists. The influence of Beirutis may still be traced, for example, in the editorship of Azg, published in Yerevan and headed by Hagop Avedikian, who was born in Beirut.
Papers were also started in France, Turkey and the United States where the first publication was Arekag, founded in 1888 and published by Haig Eginian in Jersey City, NJ.
Writing in 1977, Gharibian counted 52 Armenian periodical publications in the US, including Hairenik, the organ of the ARF, and the Armenian Mirror-Spectator, the publication of the Armenian Democratic Liberal (ADL) Party. Both today, are located in Watertown, Mass. Gradually, with succeeding generations of Armenians less able to read in the Armenian language, there was an ever-increasing need to create an Armenian press in English.
Gharibian notes that few editors of Armenian periodicals were trained journalists, although that trend is changing both in Armenia and abroad.
In his concluding chapter, Gharibian writes, “The future of the Armenian-language press in the Diaspora is governed, however by language and social factors. As assimilation by foreign cultures takes its toll on those who can read the Armenian language, the need for newspapers and periodicals printed in the Armenian idiom will continue to decline. On the other hand, these same forces of assimilation may give rise to a need for more publications in the languages of those nations in which the Armenians have settled. But this in itself is ruled by the ability of Armenian culture to survive under the attack of foreign influence.”
Clearly, the rest of the story of Armenian journalism is yet to be written. But there are signs of interest in the history of both Armenian journalism and publication in general; witness the recent exhibit at Harvard University’s Lamont Library of the history of the Armenian book, organized by Prof. James Russell, which included books, magazines and newspapers.
Copies of Armenian Journalism 1794-1977 may be obtained by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org or by visiting the library at the National Association of Armenian Studies and Research (NAASR) in Belmont.