Marash. The building with the tower on the right is the Franciscan fathers’ Mission (Source: Michel Paboudjian collection)

Marash - Educational associations

Author: Varty Keshishian, 5 Oct. 2011 (Last modified 5 Oct. 2011) - Translator: Ara Melkonian

Armenian educational and public life in Marash has made noticeable progress from the middle of the 19th century, with the expansion of reforms in the Ottoman Empire and due to the new public and economic circumstances. One of the important points of the general Tanzimat reforms is that they have provided the opportunity to pursue national-community matters and, in the first instance, to deal with educational and enlightenment questions.

At the same time, important events and changes have taken place in the Armenian reality, the echoes of which have spread from Istanbul and other centres and filtered through to the Armenian provinces and colonies, directing Armenian community life and education.

Panorama of Marash (Source: Kalusdian, op. cit.)
Panorama of Marash (Source: Kalusdian, op. cit.)
1) Marash (Source: Mark Sykes, Dar-ul-Islam, London, 1904)
1. A scene from Marash
2) Marash. The southern quarters and the castle (Source: Hugo Grothe, Geographische Charakterbilder, Leipzig, 1909)
2. A scene from Marash

1) Marash (Source: Mark Sykes, Dar-ul-Islam, London, 1904)
2) Marash. The southern quarters and the castle (Source: Hugo Grothe, Geographische Charakterbilder, Leipzig, 1909)

From the middle of the 19th century, following Istanbul’s example, pro-education associations and pro-school bodies have begun to be formed in the provincial centres of the Ottoman Empire with the object of giving impetus especially to education. Their first priority is to open schools that accord with the demands of the time, securing an income for them, to prepare teachers and thus assist the spread of education and of enlightenment.

Just like everywhere else, the harbingers of educational awakening in Marash have stirred from the middle of the 19th century. There has been wide discussion in the Armenian community in Marash especially during the 1870s - 1880s on basic questions relating to the education and enlightenment of the new generation.

In truth, economic life in Marash has noticeably changed since the middle of the 19th century, with certain permissions granted and changes taking place in social life too. The Armenian community of Marash, although slowly at first, has begun to show more and more interest in learning and education, to more or less continue its existence and especially to preserve its national-religious character. The progress made in the social and economic spheres in Marash has also had its benevolent influence in the field of education.

Marash. The northern quarters. The central buildings are the American Mission. (Source: Kalusdian, op. cit.)
Marash. The northern quarters. The central buildings are the American Mission (Kalusdian, op. cit.)

At the beginning the educational situation was very far from being satisfactory. The medieval centres of learning and flourishing monasteries are closed and ruined, the places where at one time the art of writing and study were taught have been consigned to history; no longer are there the learned clergy, archimandrites or abbots of the past. Until the beginning of the 19th century the new generation of Armenians in Marash could, in the most favourable circumstances, obtain some knowledge of writing, grammar and some church matters alongside learning a trade – in the weaving workshops. Talking about the educational situation in Marash at the beginning of the 19th century, Harutiun Nashalian writes: 'Before 1820, before schools attached to the churches existed, the members of the orders of monks in the various ancient monasteries who had received some education used to teach reading and writing to both the male and female apprentices in their weaving workshops'. [1]

In the 1830s, through the personal initiative and care of one of the influential people (ishkhans) in Marash – Kevork Agha Topalian – the first regular school in Marash, attached to the church of St George in Shekerdere quarter, has been opened. From the beginning of the 1850s, a kindergarten (dzaghgots) has been opened attached to each of the six Armenian Apostolic churches in Marash. [2]

Marash. The Sheikh Mahallesi, Divanli and Shekerli quarters (Kalusdian, op. cit.)
Marash. The Sheikh Mahallesi, Divanli and Shekerli quarters (Kalusdian, op. cit.)

Thanks to the efforts of the Marash diocesan locum tenens, the senior married priest Rev Hovhannes Varjabedian, in 1863 a high school, called ‘The Gymnasium’ was opened attached to the church of St Sarkis that, despite being a productive institution, has only lasted for a few years, having to close through lack of teachers.

The educational situation for girls has also been in an even poorer state. It is sufficient to note that until the 1880s and even later, there have been no schools specifically for girls in Marash.

Thus the foundation of regular and well-run schools has become a priority, forcing the Marash Armenian public and church circles to take steps in that direction.

There was another factor driving educational awakening which must not be ignored. Just as in many towns and cities in Cilicia, as well as in Marash, American and European missionary organisations’ activity has begun to blossom from the middle of the 19th century. These foreign missions have measured their success in the education of the young generation, in teaching, and from the first opportunity have established schools in Armenian population centres, among which is Marash. It is a well-know truth however, that alongside their educational and enlightenment programmes, these organisations follow plans for conversion: the Vatican – to spread Catholicism and enhance its influence; the Protestant missionaries – to spread Protestantism among the Armenians. The Catholic and Protestant schools with their standards and new methods of teaching have attracted not only the children of members of their own communities, but also those of Armenian Apostolic families. These foreign mission schools, however, do not give the attention to the Armenian language and teaching they deserve. This is where the educational interests of the Armenian community and those of the foreign missions are split.

Marash. Djenanian College (Source: Kalusdian, op. cit.)
Marash. Djenanian College (Source: Kalusdian, op. cit.)

It is under these circumstances that an intellectual group of Marash Armenians, mostly educated young people from the wealthy class, with representatives of the clergy, have come together with the aim of promoting an educational movement. It is obvious that the Marash Armenian influential and progressive grouping is no longer indifferent to questions concerning the education and teaching of the young generation and is ready to use its assets and means achieve its aim.

One after another, in the 1880s, educational organisations and associations have appeared and among whose aims are to assist the spread of education and enlightenment among the people.

The organising initiators of this educational movement are the two basic inner forces that have great weight in Marash’s Armenian life - the clergy and the merchants. Their progressive representatives, having connections with educated centres, seeing the advantages brought by learning and education, try to find the way to improve the state of education in Marash, to lead the young generation towards Armenian education.

Marash. The north-eastern quarters - Chichekli and Divanli (Source: Kalusdian, op. cit.)
Marash. The north-eastern quarters - Chichekli and Divanli (Source: Kalusdian, op. cit.)

It is possible to say, therefore, that in the last decades of the 19th century a new educational movement has established itself in Marash, into which the Armenian clergy put its intellectual energy and the Armenian merchant - his purse.

Thanks to the collaboration between these progressive Marash Armenian groups, associations are formed, schools are opened, teachers are invited and impetus is given to the work of providing learning and education.

The most immediate problem is the enlightenment of the people. Libraries are founded to especially encourage the new generation to read; lectures are organised to enlighten the people through speeches and sermons; theatre takes its first steps; music and singing are included in educational programmes and choirs are formed. Although mainly in Turkish, the folk-minstrel song begins to flower. Although with great difficulty, Armenian speech begins to establish its rights which, over a period of time, had retreated, giving place to Turkish, even betraying the Marash dialect to oblivion. ‘In reality,’ writes Hovsep Der-Vartanian, ‘thanks to the energy and importance put behind schools, the new generation has begun to speak Armenian. [3]

Marash. The Central School (Source: Kalusdian, op. cit.)
Marash. The Central School (Source: Kalusdian, op. cit.)

Let us give place to Krikor Kalusdian, the person who has done most for the history of the Marash Armenians and who, concerning the educational and cultural reawakening of the 1880s, writes the following: 'These years have been a kind of educational awakening period for Marash. The 1880-1890 decade has also been a cultural awakening period alongside that of education. There has been a will among the people and their leaders to found charitable organisations, establish lecture halls, to give theatrical performances and hold educational events'. [4]

Progressive steps are taken in the direction of organising girls’ education. The initiators are a group of educated, progressive Marash ladies forming themselves into ladies organisations that also assist the movement. Thanks to their efforts two girls’ schools have been opened in Marash at the end of the 19th century: one attached to the Central School, the other to the church of St Stepannos.

It should be noted that women’s representatives have had a great part in this educational awakening period in Marash, especially those who have received an education in Istanbul and other centres: Hranush Azadian, Dudu Amiralian, Dudu Kesadjekian, Ovsanna Keobedjian, Elmas Saghbazarian and others. [5]

It is a notable fact that until the proclamation of the Ottoman constitution, the pro-educational organisations in Marash have generally been the result of initiatives of young people. This is not surprising, if we take into account the fact that they represent the educated class, the children of Marash families that have gained prominent positions in the commercial-production marketplace. Many of them have received their education in the most select educational establishments, sometimes in Europe, so it is natural that this educated and learned class, giving importance to the spread of enlightenment and children’s education, has become the torchbearer of Armenian intellectual and educational progress in Marash.

It must be supposed that the government doesn’t really view groupings of young people with a benevolent eye, leaving aside their objectives. From the middle of the 1890s – the years in which pressure on the Armenian community has increased, persecution and arrests have been frequent. It is for this reason that most of the educational enterprises in Marash have taken place in the 1890-1895 period.

Marash. Engraving (E.J. Davis, Life in Asiatic Turkey, London, 1879)
Marash. Engraving (E.J. Davis, Life in Asiatic Turkey, London, 1879)

It is significant point that each church or diocese – as it is usual to describe the six churches in Marash – with the aim of serving its immediate surrounding area, has created its own distinct association, thus emphasising the local community’s way of living linked to its parish or church even further. [6] The instigators are naturally the parish’s notable people who act as leaders. Some of these associations have only been able to exist for a number of years, being dissolved due to financial difficulties or under government pressure. Despite this, they have an important role in Marash Armenian ‘newly awakened’ educational and social life, encouraging education, enlightenment and especially building new schools. All this is logically resolved into one thing – the strengthening of national identity. Simply giving the names of the bodies called into existence in Marash shows the dramatic turn to history, to national values – ‘Cilicia’, [7] ‘Patriotic’, ‘Rupenian’, [8] ‘Mamigonian’, [9] ‘Haygazniants’ etc.

A notable affirmation of this is made by the well-known historian Vahan Kiurkdjian who, during a visit to Marash in the summer of 1882, writes: 'At this date Marash is in a brilliant intellectual state – perhaps even exceeding that of Ayntab. Marash’s Central School is flowering. There is a mass of Armenians there that is awakening. Although there are only a few patriots, they are of great quality, comprising churchmen, teachers and merchants.’ [10]

It is under these circumstances that the schools in the various parishes branch out and give rise to dozens of educational and charitable associations.

The ‘Cilician Patriotic Association’

One of the first fruits of the Marash educational awakening may be considered to be the foundation of the ‘Cilician Patriotic Association’ in 1880. This association that has adopted the building of schools and educational work in its plans, has been formed on the initiative of Mardiros Chorbadjian, Harutiun Muradian, Garabed Bilezigdjian, Oves Serekian, Mgrdich Hovnanian, a group of educationally-minded young people and with the encouragement and immediate assistance of one of Marash’s learned senior married priests, Rev Nahabed Garabedian.

It’s not clear if the formation of this association is due to local initiatives or as a result of an order from the Patriarchate in Istanbul, bearing in mind that local associations are being formed in the other provinces ‘inspired by the Istanbul example’. [11] Especially after 1878, all of Cilicia has been organised by the Istanbul ‘Cilician Association’ (later the United Association), [12] that has enthusiastically spread its work in the Cilician provinces, opening schools and realising pro-educational plans. In any event, whatever the basic circumstances of its foundation, it is clear that a group of young ‘learned and progressive’ Marash Armenians, seriously concerned about the poor state of education in the town, have taken concrete steps.

The main aim of the association is to open a high school in Marash and, by creating ways of providing income, to secure its regular operation. [13] In essence this association, that pursues educational aims, has been born to realise the opening of the high school.

Through Boghos Agha Muradian’s efforts, a piece of land has been purchased in the Marash central – Shekerli – densely Armenian-populated parish. Before construction is to start, a Collection Committee has also been formed under the chairmanship of Mardiros Chorbadjian. The committee has successfully solicited sufficient funds from the notables of each of the six churches and has built the Central School building. [14]

Thus this association, ‘thanks to its efforts and work’, has opened the doors of the famous Central School of Marash in 1880. The best students from the first schools attached to the six churches have been chosen to attend it and the school has begun its mission.

The association’s means stem from membership dues, events and contributions from within the wealthy class. In the beginning the Istanbul United Association has assisted the school, sending money or teachers, but it has ceased its aid. [15]

The Central School has, for over 30 years (it has been shut after the 1895 massacres and during the First World War for a few years), been providing an Armenian education to the new generation. Both classical and modern Armenian, Armenian history and other subjects are taught with great care. Kalusdian writes: 'From its first days the Central School has provided hundreds of graduates and those who have left before graduating, who are the soul of all the useful Marash educational, church and social movements. Although the efforts of the missionary and Armenian Evangelical communities are especially to be noted in Marash, the Armenian educational line laid down by the Central School is very noticeable and praiseworthy.' [16]

The teachers who have secured the fame and excellent reputation of the Central School are Sarkis Samuelian, Smpad Piurad, Tavit Der-Ghazarian, Toros Mahigian, Rev Ghevont Nahabedian and others. [17]

The greatest fruit produced by the Cilician Patriotic Association is undoubtedly the Central School, not only by founding it, but also by its further efforts on the school’s behalf.

All the authors of Marash’s history greatly praise this association, noting that thanks to the education-loving young people who promoted the concept of national identity surrounding it, Marash has lived an educational and cultural awakening. It would not, therefore, be an exaggeration if it was said that this association is the pivot of Marash Armenians’ cultural life, with all the new educational and enlightenment movements linked to its name.

This is why this association’s work is so notable, not only for organising scholastic efforts, but also with its unique role in creating an intellectual movement in Marash’s Armenian social and cultural life. All the evidence points to the fact that it is an organisation that has not only been led by its plans for schools, but has also a structure that is pursuing wide aims for the enlightenment of the Armenian people.

Until the Congress of Berlin (1878) almost all the cultural unions that have been set up in the Armenian-inhabited areas have been dedicated to this aim. The dreams concerning the 61st article of the Treaty of Berlin have engendered great hopes within Armenian circles, assisting the progress of various unions, especially those bodies that pursue educational-cultural and public matters. The Cilician Association has clearly approached these theses since its appearance in 1880, having the aim of raising the spirit of patriotism among the Armenian people of Marash ‘through lectures and sermons’ and via learning and reading. [18]

The Association’s aims, though not directly targeted at nationalistic ideals within the Armenian community, pleads for it, embracing the progressive element of Marash’s young people. The best possible proof of this may be said to be the immediate involvement and alliance of the young Armenians of Marash with those of Zeytun in the fighting there at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries.

The association has set itself the task of preparing and educating young people with good religious-moral characters and to awaken their love and interest in reading. To this end one of the first actions it has taken is to found the library called ‘The Museum’ in the Central School.

The members of the association and the clerical and lay activists around them, not being satisfied with only the sermons given in the churches, have taken the initiative in organising lectures. Once a week, on Sundays, sermons and lectures are given in the great hall of the Central School to a vast crowd of people, with subjects ranging from the Holy Bible to Armenian and international history, morality, educational and other useful things.

As contemporary authors testify, the lectures have received a special response within the Armenian life of Marash: events have taken place, plays have been put on; and national-patriotic songs have been sung.

Marash’s locum tenens Rev Ghevont Der-Nahabedian provides valuable information about this: 'Every Sunday afternoon we each gave a sermon in turn in the great hall of the Sunday School to an enormous audience. Sarkis Samuelian and Tavit Der-Ghazarian, teachers in the school, gave lectures either in the form of talks or scripted speeches on religious, moral, educational, scientific and other useful subjects.' [19]

And: 'The married priests and notables from the six churches would come to the lectures, and the Central School students would sing patriotic songs afterwards. A mixed crowd attended the lectures. These lectures and sermons lasted for years. The young people occasionally presented plays. This nationally beneficial school and the lectures have given great service to the Armenians of Marash.' [20]

The Sunday lectures have created great enthusiasm among the people, the priests of all the six churches, the notables (ishkhans) [21] – Deovlet Effendi Chorbadjian, Kevork Effendi Muradian, Kevork Agha Topalian and others, as well as crowds attending them, are the best evidence of the universally enthusiastic atmosphere.

In his book ‘The Marash Massacre’, Hovsep Der-Vartanian makes the following interesting statement: 'The Marash Armenians, in the general sense, have always been a religious community, as witnessed by the number of churches. [...] They loved sermons as much as they loved religion; after listening to the spiritual homily or sermon in church, the people would go to the community lecture hall, where they would listen to special lectures on religious and moral subjects.' [22]

The speeches and sermons that have been preached during this period of spiritual growth of the community have been the most vigorous veins that carry in them the way to enlightenment and patriotism. The lecture, in this sense – moral-advisory, national-religious, historical – rekindling the realities of the people’s past and present, in the end re-educates the people’s patriotic and religious spirit.

It is necessary at this juncture to refer to an important matter. The Marash Armenian is really a religious and church-loving person; according to authors’ testimony he starts his day in church – with Matins – and completes it with evening worship. It is a well known truth that for the Armenian, who is denied government protection and is subject to every kind of persecution, the church is a spiritual refuge and support. It is natural that the Marash Armenian will find his spiritual tranquillity and peace in religion and the church. It is from this that his love of sermons and his urge to cling to things spiritual spring.

It is significant that the catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia, Mgrdich Kefsezian also, every time he visits Marash from Sis, on his way to his summer residence in Kerkhan, visits the lecture hall every Sunday and gives erudite sermons. [23] Generally, during this period, all the clerics who visit Marash, and the educational activists who have arrived from Istanbul, give sermons and lectures in the lecture hall. When Krikor Sandaldjian, the general overseer of the United Association’s schools in Cilicia and the people who replaced him - Parsegh Vartugian and Vahan Kiurkdjian, are in Marash, they give wonderful and influential talks in the lecture hall on Sundays. Rev Ghevont is recalled as being a permanent preacher there, as is his son, the newly ordained married priest Rev Nahabed, who is known as an erudite and bold-speaking priest. The teachers from the Central School Sarkis Samuelian, Smpad Piurad, Tavit Der-Ghazarian as well as others regularly lecture there too.

This lecture hall has played an extraordinary role in the life of the Marash Armenian community for over ten years, then being closed by special order of the Turkish government, during the years of increasing oppression in the reign of Sultan Abdülhamid II.

The ‘Rupenian association’

The Rupenian Association has been founded by the young people of the St Stepannos diocese. The main aim of the association is to open a boarding school for orphan and vulnerable children and to give them free education. From the beginning the association has determined to open a lecture hall in the church and to promote ‘church and patriotic education’. The main driving force of this association, the person who has given it life and spirit is a young merchant and entrepreneur Garabed Chorbadjian – ‘whose every thought and action is centred on educational work.’ [24] He has set to work with a group of like-minded people to realise the association’s national-community aims. Individuals from that group are remembered – Hovhannes and Nshan Edalian, Hagop and Mihran Chorbadjian, Hadji Asdur Aslanian and others.

The association’s means accrue from membership subscriptions and donations. At the beginning it had, as a means of income, a barber’s shop, entrusted to an Armenian barber, with all the members of the association being required to use it so that the profits go to the association’s coffers. It is obvious that Chorbadjian Effendi has spared no effort to put the association on firm foundations and to secure the school’s finances. To that end the association has had the New Bathhouse (Yeni Hamam) built and, in a short time, has obtained other profit-making establishments, among which are a mill, a coffee house and also several shops.

In the period after the anti-Armenian massacres that have taken place during the reign of Sultan Abdülhamid II in 1895, the number of defenceless orphans in Marash has grown greatly, forcing the members of the association, with the collaboration of the St Stepannos parish council, to open an orphanage.

The association’s annual income is 120 gold Ottoman liras, which is insufficient to keep even 20 orphans and provide them with an education. It has been decided, therefore, to approach the Protestant senior pastor (verabadveli) Rev Harutiun Djenanian, who is from Marash, and who is now in the United States of America. The reply is more than encouraging, with the pastor promising to give the orphanage 120 liras a year. The contents of his letter are notable; the pastor disclosing his sincere feelings, writing: ‘I was christened in the font of St Stepannos church, so I accept your suggestion with love.’

Thus the orphanage is opened in 1896, attached to St Stepannos church and, in honour of its benefactor, is called the ‘Djenanian Orphanage’. Rev Djenanian’s very productive collaboration with this association is also remarkable in the sense that an Armenian Apostolic church is collaborating with an Armenian Evangelical activist. This collaboration brings great prestige as much to the church as to Rev Djenanian.

The subsequent continuation of the orphanage is greatly assisted by the congregation of St Stepannos church, through the Rupenian Association. [25]

The Rupenian Association has continued its very useful work until the beginning of the First World War. Alongside its various great works in the service of the Armenians of Marash, it has protected about 40 orphans and secured their education.

The ‘Mamigonian Association’

The Mamigonian Association has been founded in 1879 by the young people of the Holy Mother of God church, having as its aim ‘to work for the maintenance of the church and especially for the school’.

The Holy Mother of God church located in the centre of the Armenian quarter is Marash’s oldest church, existing for over a thousand years. The population of the Armenian quarter, and therefore the church’s congregation, generally consists of middle class and poor families; there are no wealthy merchants here who would cater for the needs of the diocese. In the last decades of the 19th century, however, a group of enlightened young people have coalesced, and have begun to ‘promote the work of the church and education through good husbandry.’ [26] The association’s foundation is linked to the name of a young activist named Mardiros Komurian, through whose efforts the association bearing the Mamigonian noble house’s name has been formed.

Mardiros Komurian (born in Marash in1854) having taken lessons in the St Kevork kindergarten and, through his own efforts, improved his knowledge of classical Armenian and studied the history of the Armenian Church, the Bible and the canticles (sharagans). He has greatly benefitted from Harutiun Giuleserian, a teacher from Ayntab (who has later become a married priest) who in the 1860s has been a teacher in the Holy Mother of God school. It is recalled that the teacher Harutiun, rebelling against the newly-established Catholic and Protestant confessions, has lauded the Armenian Apostolic Church and gathered a group of church- and education-loving young people around him. It is these young people – Mardiros Komurian and his friends who, coming together, have founded the Mamigonian Association. [27]

The association has planned to obtain financial means for the school to be built attached to the church. With membership subscriptions and donations from Armenian notables of Marash, an airy, four roomed two storey school has been built that has become a blessing for the children of the diocese. From 1880 to 1890, Komurian has served as a teacher in this school without pay, and then has taken up a position as a teacher in the school in the nearby village of Kishifli, near Marash. From 1902 he as managed the lecture halls of the Holy Mother of God church then of the Central School. He has, in the first wave of deportations in 1915, been deported to Hama, where has died, aged 62. [28]

The teacher Nshan Saatdjian tells a notable story about the young people gathered about this association. In 1910 they have made certain improvements to the church’s economy, especially stopping the taking up of a collection during the Mass. They have established a method of taking a collection on a weekly basis, as well as paying the married priest a stipend. Saatdjian states that, encouraged by this initiative, gradually all the other six churches followed suit. [29]

The ‘Lusinian Association’

The Lusinian Association (in the name of the last king of Cilicia Leo VI Lusignan/Lusinian) is formed by the congregation of the St Kevork church. The founding members are: Hovsep Dishchekenian, Hovhannes Kalaydjian and others. Although details are lacking, it is not difficult to work out that this association, formed under the protection of St Kevork church, has been called into life with plans for the increase in educational and charitable work within the immediate surroundings of the church. [30]

The ‘Readers Association’

Reading has been given impetus alongside the increase in the number of schools. There have been many individual and collective efforts in this direction since 1880, one such result being the Readers Association. The main forces behind this association are the Central School teachers Sarkis Samuelian and Tavit Der-Ghazarian. These two activists who have had an extraordinary role in Marash’s educational awakening are remembered as being most educated and book-loving individuals who, in the words of one of their contemporaries, ‘they spread, with their personal example, their love and interest in reading to all around them.’

Sarkis Samuelian (born in Marash in 1856) has attended the St Sarkis first school. He has spent some time in the weaving industry and has received special lessons from Rev Yeprem Der-Ghazarian. He moved, in 1878 to Ayntab and, while being a student, has also taught in the local college, graduating in 1890. Returning to Marash, he has dedicated himself to teaching, having a position in the Central School, while at the same time giving lectures in the Sunday lecture series. During his time there, the Central School has achieved a brilliant standard. He has been the person to initiate the founding of a series of educational and charitable associations. With the Hnchagian political party spreading into Cilicia, a branch of the party has been founded through his efforts, with a large number of young people joining it. He has been an agent for all the Istanbul and Izmir newspapers and occasionally published articles in their pages. He has been severely persecuted during Sultan Abdülhamid II’s time, being arrested in 1892 with a number of people and taken to Aleppo, where by using bribes, has been freed. He assisted in the Zeytun fighting in 1895. A little later on he has been killed in his house by an attacking mob in the Marash massacres. [31]

Tavit Der-Ghazarian was born in Marash in 1854. After receiving his first school education in his birthplace, he has attended Ayntab College, and then has spent two years in Marash’s theological college. With the aim of helping his family, he has been forced to stop his studies, but has always clung to writing and literature and, through self-study, has become one of Marash’s most educated people. He has appeared in the journals ‘Manzume’, ‘Masis’ and ‘Arevelian Mamul’ with poetical articles. He was a victim of the 1895 massacres at the age of 41.

This ‘Readers Association’, opened under aegis of these activists, as its name also states, has the aim of awakening and encouraging the love of reading and self-study among the new generation, but especially among those who been forced to leave their education uncompleted to go to work. The members of the association have established the ‘Museum’ library for this purpose, with about 200 very good quality books and journals. It has also been enriched by Rev Ghevont Nahabedian, who has donated his modest collection to the newly opened library. [32] The ‘Readers Association’ has continued its activities until 1895.

The ‘Armenian Women’s Association’

The education and teaching of women and girls has shown signs of progress during the propitious circumstances of the educational awakening in Marash. Ladies associations have sprung up in the 1880s, one of whose aims is to open a girls’ school and encourage girls’ education.

The first ladies’ ‘Armenian Women’s Association’ has been formed by some educated and learned women of the Forty Innocents church, to aid the girls’ school that has been opened in the courtyard of the church itself. Thus, through the immediate help and care of the ladies of this association, the Girls’ School has been built in the wide expanses of the Central School grounds, attended by girls from almost all of Marash’s Armenian parishes.

The most active members of this association are recalled as Mrs Tamam Muradian, Varsenig Partamian, Hammal Burunsuzian and others. [33]

The ‘Armenian Women’s Association’

A second ‘Armenian Women’s Association with the same aims has been formed by the ladies of St Stepannos diocese. The founders and active members of this association are Hadji Mayrig and Hadji Elmasd Chorbadjian, Hadji Mariam Chinchinian, Hadji Shushan Chorbadjian and others. [34]

This ladies’ association, that in reality is a branch of the ‘Rupenian Association’ founded by people of the same church, has opened a girls’ first school in the courtyard of St Stepannos church. Members of the association, going from door to door, collect children to go to the school and solicit donations. The first teacher is Anna Kazandjian, who has been able to introduce changes to the girls’ outward appearance, especially by having the fezzes they have been wearing removed. [35]

It should be added that, with the aim of assisting the kindergartens and the girls’ school, women’s trusteeships are active, their modest means accruing from monthly subscriptions and donations. [36]

The ‘Armenian Progressive Association’

After the proclamation of freedom and the Ottoman Constitution in 1908, a group of young people thirsty for education have founded the ‘Haygaznian Reader’s Association’, aiming to awaken the spirit and love of reading and self-improvement among young people generally. This association’s founders are Dadjad Hovnanian, Asdur Vaneskehyaian, Habib Kalpakian, Endzayig Stepanian, Yervant Heznian, Armenag Aprigian and Hovsep Der-Vartanian.

The focus of attention by the association is the boys who have started work in various trades early. To organise the education of these boys, it has opened a reading room and evening class in the Central School building. It is possible to say that the Haygaznian Association is a kind of continuation of the former ‘Readers Association’ and that it carries on, under these new circumstances, considerably fruitful and increasing activity. The association has its own particular lecture hall that is greatly beneficial in the intellectual development of the boys’ minds.

Another union called ‘Church-lovers’ has been formed in this period that had, as its aim, the procurement of funds to aid the church and help in the education of future priests. The founders are: Hrant Tovmasian, Minas Allahverdian, Stepan Der-Bedrosian, Hovhannes Chirishian, Mihran Urfalian and Levon Apovian. [37] Although it hasn’t lasted long, it has carried out useful work among the Armenians of Marash.

These two associations – Haygaznian and Church-loving – have joined forces and work together in amity with its united strength under the name of ‘Armenian Progressive Association’. They have a modest sum as capital and a library. The association’s rule book and aims are endorsed by Catholicos Sahag II Khabayian of the of the Great House of Cilicia.

The ‘Educational Club’

The Educational Club has had a very successful time in Marash in the 1900s, being founded by the industrious missionary Dr. L O Lee. Established in 1902, this club has given great service to the new generation, especially to the teachers of both sexes, without distinction, up until the First World War. Started with only about 40 members, the club has quickly expanded to 72 members, both men and women and, according to the figures for 1910, has grown to 125, among whom there are 69 actual and 45 honorary members. The club organises lectures concerning educational, social and scientific subjects.

Subjects especially concerning education have become a sort of pedagogical course of lessons. It is significant that in 1910 about 30 teachers from the Armenian Apostolic community and about the same number from the Armenian Protestant community have followed these lectures. About 20 lectures are given each year.

Becoming familiar with new ways and new ideals, the teachers of both sexes have introduced new methods of governing and teaching into the schools in Marash. Apart from this, the club has acted as a link between erudite and educated young people of Marash of both sexes. There is no doubt that this educational movement would have continued to provide useful service to the young people of Marash for a long time, but the onset of the war and the subsequent terrible years have also destroyed the secure foundations of this edifice too. [38]

The ‘Cilician Union’

With the advance of the Allied forces at the end of the First World War, the doors to Cilicia have been opened wide to the Armenians who have survived the catastrophic war years and taken refuge in Syria. Among the thousands of exiled Armenians who have begun the journey to return to their homes are the remnants of those from Marash. The returning people of Marash have immediately begun to rebuild their demolished churches, schools other buildings, as well as reorganising their completely destroyed community and educational life. A group of Armenians from Marash have founded, in 1919, the Cilician Union for this purpose.

The union is free from all political and confessional affiliations and has, as its aim, to work to raise the intellectual and moral standards of all the people through lectures, evening classes, organising theatre productions and so on. The founder members of the union are Dr Endzayig Der-Stepanian, Dr Arshag Boyadjian, Hrant Tovmasian, Hovhannes Chirishian, Avedis Seferian, Stepan Der-Bedrosian and Setrag Zaven. [39]

The union has begun to produce its useful fruits: it has formed its own theatre company, is disseminating its taste in song and music and has begun to form its own trumpet and drum band. The new disaster has, unfortunately, ended all the plans of this final organisation to be founded in Marash.

The Armenian Catholic and Protestant communities of Marash have opened their own schools. Certainly bodies serving education have been formed within these communities, details of which are missing. It must be supposed that they operated within the community church organisation’s ambit. It is also important to note that neither the Catholic nor the Protestant schools have had the concerns or difficulties experienced by those of the Armenian Apostolic community, such as financial, teachers etc, something that in essence has been the reason for the founding of similar organisations. The schools belonging to the Catholic community and those under the supervision of the Protestant missionaries are provided for by outside help, the latter mainly by the American Board’s funds. Among the Protestant community’s educational aid initiatives that should be remembered are the children’s Sunday schools and the Young People’s Christian Efforts associations.

It is important to recall, among the various charitable initiatives, those of the American, British and German establishments on behalf of the orphans, and especially the noteworthy efforts made by them for their education. 

Finally it is important to single out the great financial assistance given by the educational and charitable establishments of the Marash branch of the Armenian General Benevolent Union’s (AGBU) and its work in the town.

  • [1] Krikor Kalusdian, Marash or Kermanig and heroic Zeitun, 2nd edition, New York, 1988, page 429. (In Armenian)
  • [2] Ibid., page 431.
  • [3] Hovsep Der-Vartanian, The Marash Massacre of 1920 and a Brief Survey of the Past, 1st edition, published by ‘Arax’ Aleppo, P Topalian, 1927, 2nd edition published by ‘Arevelk’, Aleppo, 2010, page 60. (In Armenian)
  • [4] Kalusdian, op. cit., page 439.
  • [5] Ibid., page 534.
  • [6] The Marash of the Ottoman Empire era is spread over seven high hills and, accordingly, the natural areas of each parish is a hill and valley. The town is divided into 41 areas, mostly of mixed population – Turk and Armenian. There are also areas where only Armenians or only Turks lived. The majority of the Armenian population of Marash is centred around the Armenian churches. There are six churches belonging to the Armenian Apostolic community – Holy Mother of God, St Sarkis, St Kevork, St Stepannos, St Garabed and Karasun Mangunk. Each church has its own parish council, priests and parishes - families. The members of the parish council are elected from the notables of the parish, who conduct the community, church and educational affairs. According to a custom established for many years, each parish is known as a ‘diocese’. Each of these churches has a parish school attached to it – a kindergarten and primary school which are attended in the main by the children of the parish.
  • [7] The last Armenian kingdom within Cilicia’s borders, that was destroyed in 1375.
  • [8] The first Armenian royal house to rule in Cilicia was known by this name.
  • [9] An ancient Armenian noble house. Mamigonian generals were often the commanders-in-chief of the Armenian royal armies.
  • [10] Vahan Kiurkdjian, ‘National Memoirs’, in Hayasdani Gochnag, March 16th 1929, No. 11, (quoted in Kalusdian, op. cit., page 440, 442).
  • [11] Kalusdian, op. cit., page 428.
  • [12] The ‘Armenian United Association’ the cultural-educational organisation. It was founded in 1881 in Istanbul by the union of the ‘Araratian Armenian Association’, the ‘Pro-school-Eastern Association’ and the ‘Cilician Association’. Its aim was to found schools and spread enlightenment in the eastern Armenian provinces, Cilicia and Armenian-populated places.
  • [13] Kalusdian, op. cit., page 492.
  • [14] At the beginning the building was only single-storey. Then, in 1910, through the efforts of the prelate of the day Bishop Mgerdich Vehabedian and donations, as well as the collection taken up by the people and the free labour provided, a second storey has been added.
  • [15] Der-Vartanian, op. cit., page 51.
  • [16] Kalusdian, op. cit., page 446.
  • [17] Ibid., page 445.
  • [18] Ibid., page 492.
  • [19] Ibid., page 593.
  • [20] Ibid., page 593.
  • [21] This is what the influential and rich great aghas who manage national and community affairs are called.
  • [22] Der-Vartanian, op. cit., page 66.
  • [23] Kalusdian, op. cit., page 440:
  • [24] ‘Arax’, op. cit., Marash, page 42,
  • [25] Kalusdian, op. cit., page 483.
  • [26] Ibid., page 580.
  • [27] Ibid., page 905.
  • [28] Ibid., page 905.
  • [29] Ibid., page 579.
  • [30] Ibid., page 493.
  • [31] Ibid., page 907.
  • [32] Ibid., page 493.
  • [33] Ibid., page 446.
  • [34] Ibid., page 447.
  • [35] Ibid., page 447.
  • [36] Ibid., page 447.
  • [37] Ibid., page 495.
  • [38] Ibid., page 495.
  • [39] Ibid., page 495.