Mkrtich Khrimyan

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Khrimian Hayrig / Dear Father Khrimian (Խրիմյան Հայրիկ, 1820-1907)

Khrimian Hayrig was a leader at a time of oppression

On the centenary of his death, he is celebrated as a firebrand who paved the way for national liberation

by Lory Tatoulian

Khrimian Hayrig is one of the most celebrated and venerable figures in Armenian history. He showed so much compassion toward the common people, and was so revered by all, that he was given the name Hayrig, which means father in Armenian.

A father figure for all Armenians, Khrimian Hayrig felt the collective pain of his people and fought to strengthen its collective will. As Catholicos, he was not only the spiritual leader of the Armenian Church, but also a political torchbearer who bolstered the Armenian resolve to fight against the oppressive policies and persecutions of Ottoman Turkey, Czarist Russia, and Kurdish tribes.

Since Khrimian Hayrig's death in 1907, many scholars have studied his dynamic life and works. Archpriest Dr. Zaven Arzoumanian recalls that 50 years ago, when he was parish priest of the Armenian Church in Ethiopia, he received an encyclical from the late Catholicos of all Armenians, His Holiness Vasken I, commemorating the 50th year of the passing of Khrimian Hayrig.

Father Arzoumanian read the pontifical message to his congregation. "Each Armenian has two fathers: their birth father and Khrimian Hayrig," the Catholicos had written. Today Father Arzoumanian, along with many other historians, still regards Khrimian Hayrig as one of the most pivotal people in the pantheon of Armenian historical figures. This year, the Armenian Church and nation are commemorating the 100th anniversary of Khrimian Hayrig's death.

Khrimian Hayrig (Mgrdich Khrimian) was born in 1820 in Vaspurakan (historic Van). After being ordained a priest at age 34, he established a seminary at the monastery of Varak, in Van. Many of the seminary's graduates went on to become noted public figures and artists. The long list of alumni included Bishop Karekin Srvantstyants and the great novelist Raffi (Hagop Melik Hagopian). Later in his life, Khrimian Hayrig also became a mentor to Gomidas Vartabed and played an instrumental role in encouraging him to pursue his musical aspirations. A lesser-known fact about Khrimian Hayrig is that he encouraged girls to receive an education -- an endeavor that was far From being common at that time.

Khrimian Hayrig was a protean man who made major literary, religious, social, and political contributions to the Armenian nation. As a poet and prolific writer, he published two newspapers, Ardzvig Darono and Ardzvig Vaspurakani, both of which fostered the intellectual life of Van.

"Ardzvig in Armenian means eaglet," Fr. Arzoumanian explained. "Khrimian Hayrig gave the newspapers this name because he wanted education to spread all over the region of Van, just like the way an eaglet spreads its wings."

Khrimian Hayrig was ordained a bishop in 1868, in Echmiadzin, and became the Prelate of Daron. The following year he was elected Patriarch of Constantinople and served in this position for a number of years. In 1878, he led an Armenian delegation to the Congress of Berlin, which was to review the status of ethnic minorities living in the Ottoman Empire. Khrimian Hayrig, along with Bishop Khoren Narbeh, Stepan Papazian, and Minas Sheraz, presented papers on the oppressive treatment of Armenians under Ottoman rule. The congress initially assigned Article 16 to discussions of the Armenian question, meaning it would have been taken up as the 16th item on the agenda. However, Article 16 was reversed to article 61, making it nearly impossible for the congress to get to that article. This was a underhanded diplomatic way to divert attention from and reject the appearance of the Armenian delegation at the congress.

Father Arzoumanian thinks there is an uncanny connection between Article 61 of the Congress of Berlin and today's Resolution 106, the Armenian-Genocide resolution which is currently awaiting a vote on the House floor of the U.S. Congress.

"Presently, in the U.S. Congress, we are playing with the same numbers: 1 and 6," Father Arzoumanian pointed out. "But this time we are dealing with a different congress, more than a hundred years later, trying once again to bring important Armenian issues to the table."

When the congressional meetings were over in Berlin, Khrimian Hayrig and the three other delegates returned to Constantinople with no answers and no European resolution to the Armenian question. The Armenian community was anxiously waiting to hear what decisions the Congress of Berlin had made about Article 61 and its mandate regarding the Armenian provinces.

Upon his return, Khrimian Hayrig delivered his famous "Paper Ladle" sermon in Echmiadzin, in no uncertain terms urging the Armenian nation to rely on itself and no one else, defend its lands, and fight oppression. That address is still regarded as one of the most powerful and important speeches ever delivered by an Armenian leader.

"We had great hopes that the Congress would bring peace to the world and liberation to the small and oppressed nations, among which we count ourselves," Khrimian Hayrig said in his sermon. "Dear Armenian people, could I have dipped my paper ladle in the harissa? It would have become wet and stayed there. There, where guns talk and swords make noise, what significance do appeals and petitions have? But alas, all I had was a paper petition, which got wet in the harissa and we returned empty-handed," Khrimian Hayrig continued. "And so, dear and blessed Armenians, when you return to the Fatherland, to your relatives and friends, take weapons, take weapons and again weapons. People, above all, place the hope of your liberation on yourself. Use your brain and your fist! Man must work for himself in order to be saved."

In 1892, at the age of 72, Khrimian Hayrig was elected Catholicos. While he was respected by the entire Armenian nation, he faced persecution by both the Ottoman Turkish and Tsarist Russian governments. "One particular event was very troubling for him," Fr. Arzoumanian said. "The Russian government had decreed that all Armenian schools in the Caucasus should be closed and the treasury of the Armenian Church should be confiscated by the Tsarist government."

These decrees were to be carried out by the Viceroy of Tbilisi, who demanded total acquiescence by the Catholicos. But Khrimian Hayrig stood firm. "The Tsar can take back all the medals that were given to me and the Armenian people, but I will not hand over any of the keys to the treasury, because the treasury does not belong to the government, or to Echmiadzin, it belongs to the Armenian people," he declared.

The viceroy kept pleading with Khrimian Hayrig and finally appealed to his conscience. He explained that he had four children and if he returned to the tsar empty-handed, he and his family would be in great jeopardy. Khrimian Hayrig replied, "I am the father of 4 million children. What am I going to tell my children?"

Khrimian Hayrig served not only Armenian communities across the lands of historic Armenia and the Caucasus, but those abroad. In 1898, he established the first Armenian Diocese of North America.

Khrimian Hayrig served as Catholicos for 15 years, until his death in 1907. His words and ideas live on today, as an enduring source of inspiration and spiritual fortitude for millions of Armenians.


14:15 01/12/2007


On 100th anniversary of Mkrtich A Vanetsi Catholicos of All Armenians the statue of Father Khrimyan has been erected at Gevorgyan religious school of St. Echmiadzin. Garegin B, Catholicos of All Armenians, ceremonially opened the statue followed by an event dedicated to Father Khrimyan.

Several top religious heads made speeches during the ceremony. The students of the school read poems and passages from the writings of Father Khrimyan. This opening ceremony took place on November 29.

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