Did You Know? (22)

William Shakespeare & Hovsep Emin

By Jirair Tutunjian, Toronto, 10 September 2022

The first mention of Shakespeare in an Armenian text goes back to the end of the 17th century, says Vahe Oshagan in “The English Influence on West Armenia Literature in the Nineteenth Century”. In a book published anonymously and entitled “Dzaghig Kidoutiants” the unknown author mentioned Shakespeare as one of the outstanding men in world history. But it was in the 18th century that the Bard made his entry into Armenian literature. Cultural globetrotter Hovsep Emin in his autobiography mentioned having seen the London production of ‘Othello’ and ‘The Merchant of Venice’. He also mentioned that he personally knew the celebrated Shakespearean actor David Garrick. Complete Armenian translations of Shakespeare’s plays in book form first appeared in Smyrna in 1853. Armenian translators were ahead of Turkish translators: the first Turkish translation of Shakespeare’s plays appeared in 1883. It was ‘A Winter’s Tale’ from a French version. Arabs opened up to Shakespeare in the 20th century.

It’s highly likely that the oldest center of stock farming (sheep, goats, pigs, and cows) can be traced to the Armenian Plateau. Dr. Melinda A, Zeder, an expert on early domestication and agriculture, argues that the Neolithic revolution spread from the Armenian Plateau through colonization and cultural diffusion, into Europe and elsewhere. On the slopes of volcanic massifs of Armenia one can find whole galleries of rock drawings of agricultural motives. The earliest winery is found in Armenia. Vine grew 8,000 years ago in the Armenian Plateau, and by 3,000 B.C. spread to the Fertile Crescent, the Jordan Valley and Egypt.

In 1228 CE a number of British bishops gathered at the Abbey of St. Albans to authenticate additions to its collection of relics and to discuss the highly controversial topic of the widespread traffic in relics. Among the foreign visitors at the gathering was a bishop from Greater Armenia. Though he spoke through an interpreter, he captured the attention of all those present. He was a storehouse of information. He described the numerous relics he had seen during his travels. He said Noah’s Ark was preserved in one of the Armenian mountains. He also told the gathering that before he had begun his journey he had dinner with a man named Joseph who had told him that he was the Wandering Jew. He had also told the bishop that he had been wandering for twelve centuries. The Armenian bishop said that he had interrogated several times the “Wandering Jew” to determine whether there was truth to his story, and had found him to be telling the truth.

Newlyweds Tom and Lois DeDomenico were tenants of Pailadzo Captanian in San Francisco in the late ‘40s. Mrs. Captanian was a great cook. Lois watched the 70-year-old Armenian woman make yogurt and other Armenian dishes. She eventually taught Lois how to make baklava, soups and her specialty, Armenian pilaf. “We would bring her Golden Grain vermicelli from the factory. She wanted us to break it as small as rice if we could,” said Lois years later. During those long kitchen afternoons, Lois listened as Mrs. Captanian told her of the Armenian Genocide. When the DeDomenicos moved into a place of their own, Lois often cooked Mrs. Captanian’s Armenian pilaf. At a family dinner one evening, Tom’s brother Vince stared at his dish of pilaf and said, “This would be great in a box.” It took three or four years to adapt the recipe for one-pot cooking. The team decided to call it Rice-A-Roni since that was the pilaf’s content. Meline Pehlivanian, a specialist on Armenia and Turkey at the Berlin State Library, stumbled upon Captanian’s story.

The main provision suppliers of the Ottoman Army were Armenian merchants who for centuries met the needs of the army and filled its food reserves. Among these leading merchants were Hovhannes bey Khanazat, Abraham Chelebi Aproian, and Haji Ohan Yeghechian.

Agipol and Hagop Yakovlev, two famous Crimean Armenian merchants, were key in the release of Russian slaves held in Crimea. In 1669 the Tatars had grabbed a number of noble Russian landowners and merchants. By paying the Tatars large sums of money the Armenians gained the release of the Russians. Since the Tatar heir to the throne owed 300 rubles to Agipol, the debt was applied as part of the ransom. The Armenian merchants were eventually repaid in Moscow what they had advanced as ransom.

In “Sentimental Imperialists” authors James C. Tomson, Peter W. Stanley, ad John Curtis Perry wrote: «Japanese even had their own millenarian mythology to counteract America talk of westward course of empire. In the Japanese version, the original seat of civilization had been Armenia and Persia. From these two streams of culture had flowed out in opposite directions: one culminating in what Uchimura Kanzo called ‘democratic, aggressive, inductive America’ and the other in ‘imperial, conservative, deductive China.’»

Darntarach/Derndess is an ancient Armenian feast from Armenia’s pre-Christian era. Like Iranians who adopted their ancient traditions into their Islamic beliefs, Armenians blended Darntarach/Derndess into their Christian identity. The feast is celebrated 40 days after Christmas on January 6. The focus of the feast is the huge pyre. Young people and newlyweds jumped over the fire, getting the warmth of the fire which strengthened their love and devotion. After the fire was extinguished, the party began.

There are many myths about the discovery of Noah’s Ark. Here is one. In 1856, a young Armenian named Haji Yearam and his father were hired by three atheist British scientists to take them up to Mount Ararat to prove the Ark was not there. But the Armenians led the scientists directly to the intact remains of Noah’s ship. The atheists tried to destroy the Ark, but the wood was as hard as stone and could not be burned. They threatened to kill the Armenian guides if they ever told anyone what they had seen. Haji Yearam remained silent until 1920 when he was on his death-bed in America. The man to whom he told the story did not publicize it himself until 1952. A year or two before the Armenian’s death one of the British scientists told an identical story. However, the scientist has never been identified.

An Armenian-American, Georg Hagopian claimed in 1970 that when he was about ten years old (sometime between 1902 and 1910) his uncle took him up Mount Ararat to the Ark. There were no holes or doors in the side, so he climbed to the top by means of a pile of stones. The wood of the Ark was rock-hard, but it was covered with green moss. Hagopian noted no nails were visible; it seemed as if the entire vessel was made of one piece of petrified wood.

Armenian Proverbs

  • When a lucky man falls asleep, his luck stays wide awake.
  • A nearby stranger is better than a faraway brother.
  • For a fool, every day is holiday.
  • A thousand sighs and complaints cannot solve a single tiny problem.
  • Men fall in love with their eyes, women with their ears.
  • Priests have seven stomachs.

Illustration: William Shakespeare and Hovsep Emin

2 comments
  1. Thank you for your always fascinating factoids and lore, Jirair.

    As for Shakespeare, it was documented in Bedross Der Matossian’s book, The Horrors of Adana, that following the Young Turk Revolution, the Armenians of Adana, empowered by the promise of democratic reforms and European values, put on a play. The performance was Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The Turkish government officials in the audience — who knew nothing of Shakespeare, were convinced that the play was meant to mirror the aspirations of the Armenians and that the latter were plotting to overthrow the Ottoman leadership just as Hamlet sought to assassinate his corrupt uncle who assumed the throne under shady circumstances. The paranoia, inability to accept equality with Giavours and oppressive tendencies among the old and new guards of Turkish leadership led to the massacre of more than 20,000 Armenians in Adana in 1909.

  2. I see this paragraph above:
    “Agipol and Hagop Yakovlev, two famous Crimean Armenian merchants, were key in the release of Russian slaves held in Crimea …”
    Do Putin, Lavrov, and the average Russian today know and/or appreciate this and similar good acts by Armenians over the centuries?
    Not one bit.
    No, Putin and his ilk have sided with the loathsome Turkey and Azerbaijan, who in the end will destroy Russia without blinking an eye.
    Russia is just plain stupid.

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