The Art of The Book
Printing and Engraving
By Ninel Voskanian
the creation of a special alphabet (the Armenian alphabet), the growth
of printing was, for humanity as it was for Armenians, the next major step
toward the universal diffusion of knowledge and the propagation of civilization.
Because of a precarious geographical
location, Armenia's primary concern was the preservation of her language
and religion when national independence disappeared after the fourteenth
century. Only by enormous sacrifice, both material and physical, was it
possible to create Armenian schools and churches, open printing houses,
and publish books in the native language. Just sixty years after the discovery
of printing by Gutenberg, when a good number of advanced nations enjoyed
independent power and financial security for the preservation of their
language and culture, certain Armenians, fleeing their devastated country
for different corners of the globe, through an immense personal effort
also established printing houses. The latter, by the publication and diffusion
of works in Armenian, created a resource of knowledge not just for Armenians
in the diaspora, but also for their compatriots who suffered the vexatious
yolk of foreign occupation.
first Armenian printer was Yakob (Hakob), a person of great accomplishment
and humility, considering the contribution he made to his nation. Modestly
he took the nick name Meghapart (Sinful). Hakob Meghapart founded, very
far from Armenia, in Venice, by who knows what difficulties, a printing
house and published the first book in Armenian characters -- Urbat'agirk'
(Prayer book and Almanac) in 1511 or 1512. His efforts resulted in five
different titles suited to the interest and needs of his nation, thus Urbat'agirk'
is a mixture of rhymed prayers, tales inspired by legends and incantational
prayers taken from amulets. It also contains the Holy Mass and the liturgical
prayers used in the Armenian Church. Another book, the anthology Aght'ark,
contains astrological and medicinal works. Parzatomar is a calendar-almanac,
while Tagharan is an anthology of poetic works in which Armenian
authors from the Middle Ages, such as Nersés Shnorhali, Frik, Hovhannés
T'lkurants'i, and Mkrtich' Naghash, were published for the first time.
The second Armenian printer was Abgar
Dpir of Tokat, who undertook his typographic activities some fifty years
after those of Hakob Meghapart in the same city of Venice. In 1565 on an
over-sized sheet Abgar Dpir published the first Armenian calendar under
the title Kharnayp'nt'or tomari (Universal Calendar) and then edited a
book of Psalms. Eager to bring his work nearer to his own country, he moved
his printing house to Constantinople and there continued with the publication
of several precious works.
The third printer was Hovhannés
Terznets'i, who, together with Abgar Dpir's son, Sultanshah, translated
and edited The Gregorian Calendar in 1584 in Rome. The names of these
four, Hakob, Abgar, Sultanshah and Hovhannés, are known to us through
their printed books. During the first century of the Armenian press, there
were also non-Armenians who were printing with Armenian characters, called
Mesropian after the founder of the alphabet. For example in the Armenological
works of Guillaume Postel, Ambrosius Theseus, Leonhart Thurneisser, and
the orientalism of Palma Cayet samples of printing in Armenian characters
can be found.
During the centuries following the
discovery of printing, numerous Armenian presses were created in various
Italian towns. On the basis of the quality of books published, the number
of works issued, and the longevity of the endeavor, the Mekhitarist Publishing
House [290, 1794] on the island of San Lazzaro in Venice lagoon is of particular
importance. It was established in the eighteenth century, and in its time
played a major role in the renaissance and evolution of Armenian culture.
first the Catholic Armenian Mekhitarist Fathers had their works printed
by the Italian Antonio Bortoli, but later they set up their own presses.
These have been in continuous service since 1788 and have gained a universal
reputation for the high quality and technique of production. In 1776 a
splinter group of the Mekhitarist Fathers established themselves in Trieste
where they founded a second printing center from which some sixty precious
titles were published. In 1811 these fathers moved from Trieste to Vienna,
where until today they continue to sponsor works in the Armenian language
or related to Armenology.
In the second hundred years of Armenian
publishing activity, there was a notable increase in the number of printers.
Hovhannés K'armatanents' edited books in Armenian in Lvov, Poland,
Hovhannés of Ankara and Nahapet Giwlnazar in Venice, Hovhannés
Jughayets'i in Leghorn (Livorno), Italy, etc. Special attention should
be paid to the printing firm founded by the Primate of the Armenians in
Iran, Khach'atur of Caesarea, in the seventeenth century in New Julfa.
He struggled to propagate culture among the faithful of his jurisdiction.
He opened schools and libraries, had churches built, collected manuscripts
and undertook the difficult task of publishing books locally.
If in the early sixteenth century
when Hakob Meghapart was starting his typographic activities there were
already more than 200 printing houses at work in Venice, Khach'atur founded
his press in Persia where none had previously existed and he himself had
never personally seen one. In 1641, works such as Life of the Fathers
(Harants' vark') were issued from the new installation of New Julfa.
Its quality was not very high, but it was a pioneer undertaking, since
it was not only the first book in any language to be published in Iran,
but it was also the first one printed in the whole of the Near East. It
is noteworthy that both paper and ink were made individually. Amsterdam
was also an important center for the history of Armenian printing thanks
to Voskan Erevants'i and the Vanandets'i family. Voskan rendered
great service to the evolution of Armenian culture by publishing the first
Armenian Bible in 1666. It has never been equaled in its typographic and
artistic conception. The famous Dutch artist-bookbinder Albert Magnus executed
the binding of certain copies; these remain among the prized volumes of
libraries in Paris, Leiden, and Amsterdam. In the Holy Etchmiadzin
printing house founded in the eighteenth century Voskan Erevants'i and
his followers edited works such as: Girk' ashkharats'oyts' (Book of Geography)
in 1668 and Aghuesagirk' (Book of Fables) of Vardan Aygekts'i originally
thought to be the work of Movsés of Khoren, the History of Arak'el
of Tabriz (Tavrizhets'i), the first Armenian book printed during the lifetime
of its author, Girk' aghot'its' (Book of Prayers) in 1772 and K'erakanut'ean
girk' (Grammar), etc.
To escape his creditors Voskan moved
his printing business to Marseilles and published sixteen other works,
among them Girk' aghot'its', the first edition of Gregory of Narek's works,
and the volume entitled Arhest hamaroghut'ean, the first Armenian arithmetic
book to be printed and among the first works to be written in vernacular
Armenian or ashkharapar. Voskan Erevants'i was not content with just publishing
high quality books of rich content, but he also increased production by
raising the number of copies of a title to 3,000. He set up permanent Armenian
language printing establishments and trained a whole generation of printers,
who in turn founded their own firms in Amsterdam, Leghorn, Constantinople,
Smyrna, and other cities.
the seventeenth century Tovmas, Ghukas and Matt'éos Vanandets'i
through their presses established in Amsterdam dramatically improved the
art of Armenian printing. Between 1610 and 1717 they published more than
twenty precious titles, including The History of the Armenians by Movsés
Khorenats'i, Thesaurus linguae Armenicae by Joannes Schröder
and the first printed map in Armenian, World Map which even today commands
admiration not only for the fine quality of its execution, but also for
In the eighteenth century the main
center of Armenian printing moved from Europe to Constantinople. After
works published in Constantinople by Abgar Dpir T'okhat'ets'i, there was
an hiatus of a hundred years. During the eighteenth century more than twenty
printers were active in the Ottoman capital. Some of the most famous were
the engraver-printer Grigor Marzvanets'i, Astuatsatur of Constantinople,
Step'anos Petrosian and the Arabian family. The printers of Constantinople
played a very appreciable role in the diffusion of Armenian culture. For
the first time a series of the important works of ancient Armenian historians
and philosophers was published such as History of the Armenians by Agat'angeghos
in 1709, Treatise on Logic by Siméon of Julfa, the History
attributed to P'awstos Buzand, Book of Questions by Eghishé, and
works by the famous Armenian rhetor and poet Paghtasar Dpir.
At the end of the eighteenth century
in Madras, India, Shahamir Shahamirian founded an Armenian printing house
from which a number of volumes originated. He was the author of two of
the most important of them, Orogayt' p'arats' (The Trap of Glory) of 1773
and Nor tetrak or (New Notebook Called the Guide), works dedicated to history
and politics that had a powerful influence on the national liberation movement
within the Armenian community in India. In Madras Harut'iwn Shmavonian
also opened a printing press; his greatest service to the art was the publication
of the first periodical in Armenian, Azdarar of which eighteen numbers
were issued from 1794 to 1796.
first Armenian printing house in Russia was set up in Saint Petersburg
in 1781. Grigor Khaldariants' had type sent from London, and under the
sponsorship of the Primate of Armenians in Russia, Bishop Hovsep' Arghut'ian,
he edited the first Armenian book to be published in the Tsarist realm,
Tetrak aybbenakan (ABC Reader) in 1781. He then printed works such as Banali
gitut'ean (The Key to Science), Shavigh lezvagitut'ean (Linguistic Guide),
and Enhanrakan (Encyclical Letter) by Nersés Shnorhali.
After the death of Khaldariants',
Arghut'ian transferred the press to the Armenian colony in Nor Nakhichevan
in Southern Russia, where he published several precious books including
the metric work of Hakob Nalian, Grk'oyks koch'ets'eal hogeshah (Book Called
Enrichment of the Soul). Later the operation was again moved to Astrakhan
where several more titles were published.
Although Armenian printing was started
as early as 1512, due to the precarious conditions and political turmoil
in Armenian proper, the first press to be established on native soil only
came 250 years later. In the second half of the eighteenth century thanks
to the Catholicos of Etchmiadzin Siméon Erevants'i's efforts, the
situation of Armenians in the homeland was improved. He organized the instruction
of children, supervised the reorganization of the monastery library, and
founded at Etchmiadzin the first Armenian printing press under the sponsorship
of Grigor Mik'ayelian-Ch'ak'ikian.
The solemn opening of the press was
in 1771, and in the following year the first book to be printed on Armenia
soil appeared: Siméon Erevants'i, Zbosaran hogevor (Spiritual Recreation).
After that a Tagharan (Song Book), a Girk' aghot'its' (Book of Prayers)
and other important works were published. Very soon the Holy See of Etchmiadzin
created next to the printing house a small paper factory and a foundry
for the manufacture of Armenian font.
In the nineteenth century numerous
new printing firms were opened everywhere Armenians lived: Erevan, Shushi
(Karabagh), Van, Mush, Alexandropol (Leninakan), New Bayazid (Kamo), Akhaltskha
(Armenian Georgia), Ganja (Azerbaijan), and also in Moscow, Tbilissi, Baku,
Shamakhi, Rostov, Theodosia (Crimea), Jerusalem (St. James Patriarchate),
Calcutta, Bombay, Singapore, Teheran, the Island of Malta, New York, Boston,
Geneva, Varna and Rusjuk (Bulgaria), Athens, Cairo, Alexandria, and in
quite a few other places. The first Armenian printers as the Armenian scribes
of the Middle Ages did not spare any efforts; thanks to their sacrifice,
works which remain the glories of Armenian literature came into being or
were saved from disappearing.