Students of the Sanasarian School photographed with a portrait of Mgrdich Sanasarian (source: Zakarya Mildanoğlu Collection).

Garin (Erzurum) – Schools II

The Sanasarian School (1881-1912)

Author: Robert A. Tatoyan, 24/05/24 (Last modified 24/05/24) - Translator: Simon Beugekian

The Sanasarian School was founded on October 1, 1881, and began operating regularly on March 8, 1882.

The school’s founder, Mgrdich Sanasarian, entirely funded the school’s operations until his death in 1889. Moreover, upon his death, he bequeathed a large portion of his estate to the school. The philanthropist’s testament stated: “Being an Ottoman Armenian by birth, and wishing to help my compatriots in Ottoman Armenia who share my faith and who lack access to education, I bestow all my remaining assets of which I die possessed, both in Russia and abroad … For the construction and maintenance of the Armenian school that I founded and that bears my name, located in the city of Garin in the Ottoman Empire, where my compatriots are in greater need for education institutions.” [1]

The executor of Sanasarian’s testament was Russian-Armenian intellectual and philanthropist Garabed Yezian (1835-1905), who became the soul of the school with “his sage advice,” and “loved the school like a father who dotes on his child.” [2]

According to the charter of the Sanasarian School (ratified in 1892), the aim of the institution was to “educate Armenian children according to the laws and customs of the Holy Armenian Apostolic Church; to provide them with general instruction and edification; and to teach them the crafts and the knowledge thereof [meaning the knowledge of manufacturing processes – R.T.] (article 3). [3]

Correspondingly, the school was to provide instruction in two streams: general education (religion, language, history, natural sciences, mathematics, etc.) and vocational (technical) education (article 4).

The school was to be funded by the revenues generated by the assets bequeathed by Mgrdich Sanasarian (properties, stocks), the pupils’ tuition fees, the sale of the products of the school’s workshop, donations, etc. (article 8).

The Sanasarian was a boys’ school. It served both day students and boarders; both paying and scholarship students. The charter stipulated that the number of scholarship students had to be at least 30, and they had to be of the Armenian Apostolic faith (article 12).

Aside from foreign languages, all classes at the Sanasarian School were taught in the Armenian language (article 13).

The school’s administration consisted of:

a) The Constantinople board of stewards, with the patriarch serving as the president.

b) The local board of trustees, with the diocese prelate serving as the president.

c) The school’s superintendent.

d) The school’s faculty committee, under the chairmanship of the superintendent. (Article 19) [4]

Aside from the patriarch, the Constantinople board of stewards consisted of six prominent representatives of the Constantinople Armenian community who “enjoyed the respect and trust of the public” (article 20). This board’s specific duties included overseeing the school’s expenditures, finding new sources of revenue, supervising the work of the local board of trustees, auditing and ratifying the school’s yearly financial statements, protecting the school's interests in dealings with the authorities and the courts, etc. (article 22). [5]

In addition to the prelate of the diocese, the local board of trustees included the superintendent of the school, two members of the faculty committee elected by the committee, three individuals elected by the Armenian Apostolic community of Garin, and one alumnus of the school elected by other alumni (article 28). [6]

The local board of trustees was responsible for the general upkeep of the school, finding ways to increase revenues, preparing the institution’s yearly budget, setting the pupils’ tuition fees and the faculty’s wages, selecting scholarship students, etc. (article 29). [7]

The superintendent’s duties included ensuring the flawless application of the school’s rules and regulations, supervising the instructional process and the faculty’s performance, ensuring the progress of students in their academic and technical education, etc. (article 45). [8]

In practice, from the day of the school’s founding, the manifold duties of the superintendent were performed by three different supervisors. Kevork Apoulian was in charge of administrative and financial affairs; Sarkis Soghigian oversaw and organized instruction and teaching; and Hovsep Madatian represented the school in dealings with Ottoman officials and agencies, while also serving as the caretaker of the school’s property. [9] In 1906, Krikor Zakarian was appointed as the superintendent of the school, and after his death (in March 1907), he was succeeded by Kevork Apoulian. [10]

The main building of the Sanasarian School, seen from the back (southeast side) (source: Hnkamya Deghegakir Sanasarian Varjarani 1901-1906, Constantinople, 1908).
The main building of the Sanasarian School (source: Hnkamya Deghegakir Sanasarian Varjarani 1901-1906, Constantinople, 1908).
The second (new) building of the Sanasarian School. The first floor of this building housed the classrooms and a kitchen; while the second floor housed the supervisors’ quarters, the boarding students’ dormitories, and a clinic (source: Hnkamya Deghegakir Sanasarian Varjarani 1901-1906, Constantinople, 1908).
The second (new) building of the Sanasarian School (source: Hnkamya Deghegakir Sanasarian Varjarani 1901-1906, Constantinople, 1908).

The faculty committee consisted of the teachers of the three highest classes in the school, with the superintendent serving as its chairman (article 51). This committee had the remit of determining the schedule of classes, preparing curricula for the subjects being taught, choosing textbooks, setting the rules governing the admission of new students and of their progress from one class to another, etc. (article 55). [11]

Initially, the school’s classes were held in the building of the Armenian Prelacy of Garin. In May 1883, the school moved into the building that had been built for the Hripsimyan School. [12] In 1884-1885, thanks to a donation by the school’s benefactor, this building was enlarged, and a new two-story building was built beside it. The first floor of the new building housed classrooms and a kitchen, and the second floor the quarters of supervisors, the dormitories for boarding students, a clinic, etc. [13]

In 1886-1887, new structures were built on the school premises to house a workshop, a dyeing workshop, and a bakery. [14]

Beginning in the 1891-1892 school year, the school only accepted boys who were literate and had received elementary education. This cut the number of preparatory classes to one and the total years of instruction from nine to seven, without reducing the quality of education. [15]

In the 1899-1900 school year, the school received official certification from the educational department (Maarif) of Garin. The certification categorized the school as an upper elementary (rüşdiye) and intermediate (idadi) institution. [16] According to figures from 1892, only 34 educational institutions across the Ottoman Empire were classified as idadi, [17], and the Sanasarian School was one of only four Armenian institutions with this status (the others were the Berberian School in the Üsküdar neighborhood of Constantinople, the Central School in the Galata neighborhood of Constantinople, and the Armash Seminary). [18]

The school’s educational program was modeled after the German intermediate/secondary school (realschule) program. The Sanasarian provided seven years of instruction, from the preparatory class to the sixth grade. At the turn of the 20th century, 24 subjects were taught at the school: religion, church history, modern Armenian, classical Armenian, Ottoman Turkish (including Ottoman laws and calligraphy), French, translating French into Turkish and vice-versa (offered as a separate subject), German, history (national, Ottoman, and general), geography (natural, political, and commercial), mathematics (arithmetic, algebra, geometry, and trigonometry), bookkeeping (accounting), physics (natural sciences), chemistry, political economics, agriculture, calligraphy (Armenian and French), drawing, singing, church music (voluntary subject), athletics, and crafts. [19]

According to the enrollment form of the Sanasarian School, the institution accepted “healthy and bright” boys between the ages of 10 and 12 who could proficiently read Armenian, could write legibly, were familiar with the basic rules of grammar, could take dictation without egregious orthographical mistakes, and could perform the four basic mathematical operations on the numbers 1 through 1,000. [20]

In its inaugural school year of 1881-1882, the school accepted 19 pupils. Just four years later, in the 1885-1886 school year, the number of students reached 122. Maximum enrollment, 187, was registered in the 1899-1900 school year. The average number of new students accepted into the school each year was 20 to 25, although in some years, no new students were accepted. From 1881 to 1910, the school had 772 students, 460 of whom paid tuition fees and 312 of whom received scholarships. [21]

Only about a quarter of the school’s students were natives of Garin. The rest came from other regions and cities across Western Armenia and Asia Minor. To wit, between 1881 and 1901, the school had 46 students from Arapgir, 37 from Trabzon, 26 from Evdokia/Tokat, 20 from Agn, 19 from Van, 15 from Constantinople, 14 from Moush, 13 from Paghesh/Bitlis, etc. The school even had students who came from the Russian Empire (Artvin, Alexandropol, Tbilisi) and from Persia (Maku). [22]

Graduates of the Sanasarian School photographed with a portrait of Mgrdich Sanasarian (source: H. F. B. Lynch, Armenia. Travels and Studies, vol. II, London, 1901).
The board of trustees of the Sanasarian School in 1910-1911 (source: Karamya Deghegakir Sanasarian Varjarani 1906-1910, Garin, Galata, 1911).
The faculty of the Sanasarian School in 1910-1911 (source: Karamya Deghegakir Sanasarian Varjarani 1906-1910, Garin, Galata, 1911).

Throughout its existence from 1881 to 1912, 237 students graduated from the Sanasarian School, of whom 70 became teachers upon graduation and began teaching in educational institutions in Garin or elsewhere in Western Armenia. Another 65 graduates became entrepreneurs or merchants; 40 continued their studies in European universities; 29 decided to become public servants and occupied important positions in local government agencies; and others chose careers in the crafts, medicine, dentistry, agriculture, etc. [23]

The number of teachers employed by the school also grew gradually. In the school’s inaugural school year of 1881-1882, the faculty consisted of four teachers (three supervisors and one senior teacher) [24]. Just three-four years later, the total number of teachers had already reached ten. In the 1900-1901 school year, 13 teachers taught at the school (three supervisors, six senior teachers, and four assistant teachers). [25] In the 1909-1910 school year, the school employed 18 teachers (one superintendent, two deputy superintendents, 13 senior teachers, and two assistant teachers). [26]

Diploma of graduation from the Sanasarian School, 1893. This diploma was issued to Dikran Choukhadjian, who was born in 1875 in Erzurum/Garin (source: Mihran Minasian Collection).
Diploma of graduation from the Sanasarian School, 1904. This diploma was issued to Nvart Madatian, who was born in 1888 in Erzurum/Garin (source: Nurhan Becidyan collection, New Jersey).

The Sanasarian’s boarding school had its own internal regulations. The boarders rose at five in the morning in the summer and six in the morning in the winter. After washing up, dressing, and grooming themselves, they gathered for communal prayer, after which an hour was set aside to revise the lessons of the previous day. After breakfast and a recess (20-30 minutes), classes began at 7:00 in the morning in the summer and 8:00 in the morning in the winter, lasting four hours (four classes, each lasting 45 minutes, with 15-minute intervals in-between). After an hour set aside for lunch and another recess, classes resumed, and spanned another two hours. After afternoon classes, an hour was set aside for oratorical exercises and French practice. In the winter, supper was served at 4:00 in the afternoon, and in the summer, at 5:00 in the afternoon. After supper, students could study or enjoy their free time. They retired to bed at 8:30 in the winter and 9:30 in the summer.

Breakfast, lunch, and supper were preceded by communal prayer. Every Sunday morning, as well as on all holidays, the boarders attended church services.

The school year began in the first week of September and ended in late June (including the final exams). The start of the school year was marked by a grand ceremony. A year-end ceremony was also held after the final exams, during which diplomas were distributed to the graduates, and featuring sketches and other performances by the students. During the summer holidays, the boarding students would spend the season outside the city, at a scenic location somewhere in the Garin Valley (Garmir Vank, Ughdatsor, Srdatsor, etc.) [27]

In 1910, the school’s library had a collection of 6,500 books. It also had a museum, with a “rich and diverse” collection of specimens pertaining to natural, archaeological, geographical, historical, and other sciences; as well as 93 Armenian and one Georgian manuscript. Of the manuscripts, the most valuable was a Bible from the tenth century (986 CE), which is now kept at the Mesrob Mashdots Institute of Ancient Manuscripts (Matenadaran) in Yerevan and is dubbed the “Sanasarian Bible.” [28] In addition, the school’s Yezian Library had a collection of 697 volumes, and the students’ union library a collection of 400 volumes. The school’s music program had a collection of more than a dozen musical instruments (even cymbals and a drum). The school had a garden and a vegetable nursery. [29]

In 1903, a marching band of wind instruments was formed, consisting of the school’s students. The band “added to the prominence and reputation of the school by performing on holidays, on school outings, and at the summer camps.” [30]

A furniture-making workshop operated alongside the Sanasarian School (opened in 1883, moved into its own building in 1886). The workshop accepted students who did not attend the Sanasarian School and had its own curriculum. Between 1886 and 1910, 69 children were enrolled in the workshop [31], and from its opening until 1912, 29 students graduated from it. [32]

The summer camp of the Sanasarian School. Boating on the Euphrates River (source: Hnkamya Deghegakir Sanasarian Varjarani 1901-1906, Constantinople, 1908).
The summer camp of the Sanasarian School – the students’ swimming pool (source: Hnkamya Deghegakir Sanasarian Varjarani 1901-1906, Constantinople, 1908).
The skating rink of the Sanasarian School (source: Hnkamya Deghegakir Sanasarian Varjarani 1901-1906, Constantinople, 1908).
The students of the New Sanasarian School, photographed while playing (source: Hairenik special issue, 1914).
The yearly ceremony of the Sanasarian School (source: Hairenik special issue, 1914).
The marching band of the Sanasarian School (source: Hairenik special issue, 1914).
The athletic field of the Sanasarian School (source: Hairenik special issue, 1914).
The faculty of the Sanasarian School (source: Hairenik special issue, 1914).

In November 1909, the leadership of the Sanasarian School, in view of the fact that “there is a great need for capable teachers equipped with pedagogical skills, and Ottoman Armenia does not yet have any normal schools,” organized the “Sanasarian Normal School,” a series of pedagogical courses for teachers. Attendees were offered lectures in pedagogy, psychology, pedagogical history, pedagogical methods, moral philosophy, physiology, school hygiene, and political economy. This normal school accepted graduates of the Sanasarian and other intermediate/secondary schools who were employed as teachers in Garin and elsewhere in Western Armenia. Students took exams and received certificates of completion. Individuals were also allowed to participate in these classes as auditors. Classes were provided free of charge. [33]

In the 1909-1910 school year, a total of 71 participants attended the Sanasarian Normal School, of whom 26 were registered students and 45 were auditors. [34] In the 1912-1913 school year, this normal school had 81 participants. [35]

Thus, in total, from 1881 to 1912, more than a thousand students attended the workshop and normal school of the Sanasarian School, of whom 266 graduated.

The school’s revenues were generated by the profits of the stocks that had been purchased with the funds bequeathed by Mgrdich Sanasarian, the school’s properties (particularly lucrative was Sanasarian Khan, located in Constantinople), the pupils’ tuition fees, donations, etc. [36]

After the 1908 Young Turk Revolution, the school’s Constantinople-based board of stewards and the local board of trustees became embroiled in a dispute. The board of stewards adopted a conservative position and opposed the active presence of youth who were members of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation on the school’s campus. In their turn, the Garin Armenian authorities and the school’s board of trustees, both led by members of the party, took exception to the teachers who sided with the board of stewards and wished to impose complete control over the school’s administration and internal life.

Eventually, the Constantinople board of stewards decided to move the school from Erzurum to the Saint Nshan Monastery in Sebastia (Sivas). But in the summer of 1912, the Armenian population of Garin expressed its opposition to the transfer of the school’s property. As a result of negotiations between the Armenian authorities of Garin and the Constantinople board of stewards, it was decided to reorganize the Sanasarian School of Garin purely as an intermediate/secondary day school, and to allow it to keep part of its furnishings and property. The reopened school was called the New Sanasarian School.

Under the leadership of Stepan Zorian (Rosdom), general supervisor of Armenian schools in Garin, and thanks to funds raised by the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, the New Sanasarian School continued to operate until the Armenian Genocide. [37]

  • [1] Mgrdich Sanasariani Gdagu [The Testament of Mgrdich Sanasarian], Tbilisi, M. Sharatse Printing House, 1891, pp. 6-7 (Sanasarian also left his personal library, albums, collections, and printing paraphernalia to the school).
  • [2] Hnkamya Deghegakir Sanasarian Varjarani 1901-1906 [Five-Year Report of the Sanasarian School 1901-1906], Constantinople, Der-Nersesian Printing House, 1908, p. 16.
  • [3] Ganonatroutyun Sanasarian Varjarani [Charter of the Sanasarian School], Constantinople, Nerses Dj. Aramian Printing House, 1892, p. 1.
  • [4] Ibid., p. 3.
  • [5] Ibid., p. 4.
  • [6] Ibid., p. 6.
  • [7] Ibid., p. 7.
  • [8] Ibid., p. 10.
  • [9] Ksanamya Deghegakir Sanasarian Varjarani 1881-1901 [Twenty-Year Report of the Sanasarian School 1881-1901], Constantinople, Der-Nersesian Printing House, 1903, p. 13.
  • [10] Karamya Deghegakir Sanasarian Varjarani 1906-1910, Garin [Four-Year Report of the Sanasarian School 1906-1910, Garin], Galata, Shant Printing House, 1911, p. 11.
  • [11] Ibid., pp. 11-12.
  • [12] Senior Priest Hagop Kosian, Partsr Hayk [Upper Hayk], volume 1, “The City of Garin,” Vienna, Mekhitarist Printing House, 1925, p. 227.
  • [13] Ibid.
  • [14] Ibid.
  • [15] Ksanamya Deghegakir Sanasarian Varjarani 1881-1901, p. 6.
  • [16] Ibid.
  • [17] Selçuk Aksin Somel, The Modernization of Public Education in the Ottoman Empire 1839-1908: Islamization, Autocracy, and Discipline, Leiden-Boston-Koln, Brill, 2021, p. 121.
  • [18] Chitouni, Houshigk Hayasdani [Memories of Armenia], Constantinople, 1919, p. 68.
  • [19] Karamya Deghegakir Sanasarian Varjarani 1906-1910, p. 18-19.
  • [20] Haydakir Sanasarian Varjarani i Garin 1908-1909 [Application to the Sanasarian School of Garin], no publisher listed, 1908, p. 4.
  • [21] Karamya Deghegakir Sanasarian Varjarani 1906-1910, pp. 30-31.
  • [22] According to Ksanamya Deghegakir Sanasarian Varjarani 1881-1901, p. 42.
  • [23] Charuk Ghazar, Houshamadyan Partsr Hayki: Garinabadoum [Memory Book of Upper Hayk: History of Garin], Beirut, 1957, p. 219.
  • [24] According to Ksanamya Deghegakir Sanasarian Varjarani 1881-1901, pp. 38-39, insert.
  • [25] Hnkamya Deghegakir Sanasarian Varjarani 1901-1906, p. 29.
  • [26] Karamya Deghegakir Sanasarian Varjarani 1906-1910, p. 27.
  • [27] For details, see Ksanamya Deghegakir Sanasarian Varjarani 1881-1901, pp. 57-61; Hnkamya Deghegakir Sanasarian Varjarani 1901-1906, pp. 44-48; Karamya Deghegakir Sanasarian Varjarani 1906-1910, pp. 42-48.
  • [28] For a list of the manuscripts kept at the Sanasarian School as of August 1901, see Ksanamya Deghegakir Sanasarian Varjarani 1881-1901, pp. 72-75; for details on the additions in August 1906, see Hnkamya Deghegakir Sanasarian Varjarani 1901-1906, pp. 60-61; and for the additions in August 1910, see Karamya Deghegakir Sanasarian Varjarani 1906-1910, pp. 40-41.
  • [29] Hnkamya Deghegakir Sanasarian Varjarani 1901-1906, pp. 55-56; Karamya Deghegakir Sanasarian Varjarani 1906-1910, pp. 34-39.
  • [30] Karamya Deghegakir Sanasarian Varjarani 1906-1910, p. 45.
  • [31] Charuk Ghazar, Houshamadyan Partsr Hayki: Garinabadoum, p. 204; Karamya Deghegakir Sanasarian Varjarani 1906-1910, pp. 58-59.
  • [32] Charuk Ghazar, Houshamadyan Partsr Hayki: Garinabadoum, p. 219.
  • [33] Karamya Deghegakir Sanasarian Varjarani 1906-1910, pp. 50-52.
  • [34] Ibid., p. 54.
  • [35] Charuk Ghazar, Houshamadyan Partsr Hayki: Garinabadoum, p. 219.
  • [36] Karamya Deghegakir Sanasarian Varjarani 1906-1910, p. 64.
  • [37] Charuk Ghazar, Houshamadyan Partsr Hayki: Garinabadoum, pp. 222-224; Kosian, Partsr Hayk, volume 1, pp. 228-229.