The 1920s coincide with significant political and cultural upheavals in the history of the Armenian people.
The Armenian Genocide, perpetrated from 1915-1923 by the Ottoman and Turkish authorities, as well as the collapse of the First Republic of Armenia and the Soviet persecutions that followed caused immense chaos. The survivors were dispersed all over the world and Middle Eastern countries became the primary safe heaven.
The lifestyle, norms and mores, as well as the Armenians’ thinking was altered under the new circumstances. The Armenian people had been displaced. Peasants now had turned into merchants, workers, or businessmen. Moral values had changed. In the city, the former peasant had to race to be successful. A new moral perception, that of to succeed and find a place among the wealthy was formed. The Armenian had become a bourgeoisie. Doing well with whatever possible means became an end in itself. The naive and simple character of the Armenian naturally changed under such circumstances.
It was necessary to organize and unite the dispersed Armenians. A bond needed to form among all its fractions. Measures that could enhance the unification and the continuity of the Armenians had to be taken. There also was the need to create Armenian intellectuals, who would develop social concepts, inspire the nation, and lead its spiritual world. The Turk had given a deadly blow to Armenian intellectuals by killing those who developed the nation’s spiritual values.
Moreover, public and cultural activists had to be educated, books accessible to the Armenian refugees had to be published. It was vital to keep the Armenian language alive through schooling and education outside the classroom and inside families. The Armenian classical literature had to be published to bond the Armenian with his past and make him the possessor of his own history and rich national and cultural legacy.
The school, language, literature, and an educated and visionary youth were the factors essential in the struggle to preserve the Armenian identity.
Preserving the Armenian identity and culture was a problem especially to Armenian leaders and intellectuals living in the Arab countries. It was a vital issue, because large Armenian communities resided in Egypt, Lebanon, and Syria. They were already organized as religious communities. Many Armenian elementary schools were functioning; however, the communities did not possess middle schools. A lyceum was necessary to play the same role as the Kevorkian Seminary in Echmiadzin or the Central School of Constantinople.
A group of Armenian intellectuals and activists living in Egypt — among whom were Levon Shant, Nigol Aghpalian, Vahan Navasartian, Dr. Hamo Ohanjanian, Kasbar Ipegian, Sdepan Yesaian, and Minas Khachadourian — headed this mission. L. Shant and N. Aghpalian were directing the Boghossian School in Alexandria. They both supported the idea of an Armenian high school and under their care led the school in that direction.
Levon Shant suggested founding the “Louys” (Light) cultural-educational association, which would sustain only one school either in Egypt or in Lebanon.
Together with V. Navasartian, L. Shant presented his plan to N. Aghpalian. “It is a good idea,” said N. Aghpalian. “But what about the money? Money lacks ideas, and ideas lack money. The one with ideas lacks money, and he, who possesses money, lacks ideas. Where are you going to get those 1,000 pounds? Who is going to give you that money?”
Having agreed on this key issue with L. Shant and N. Aghpalian, V. Navasartian tried to convince S. Yesaian and Dr. Hamo Ohanjanian, both prominent figures in the Armenian community in Cairo, to accept the idea.
Both S. Yesaian and Dr. Hamo Ohanjanian embraced the plan. K. Ipegian joined them. Following their agreement, L. Shant and N. Aghpalian came to Cairo. A series of discussions took place. Besides the aforementioned intellectuals, Minas Khachadourian, Hagop Balekjian, Setrag Balekjian, Kourken Mkhitarian, Garabed Malkhasian and Drtad Malkhasian took part in the founding meeting.
Two perspectives collided in that meeting. L. Shant and N. Aghpalian were proponents of a limited plan. They supported the plan of sustaining a single middle school for financial reasons; they did not expect to expand their activities. On the contrary, V. Navasartian, Dr. Hamo Ohanjanian, and S. Malkhasian supported a broader program. The association would expand its activities all over the Armenian Diaspora. Even if the first plan was a small one, like a single school, they envisioned it expanding to a pan-national association. Finally, the meeting adopted the second perspective, and the name of the new association was adopted: “Armenian Educational and Publishing Pan-national (Hamazkayin) Association.”
The formulated objectives of the newly founded association were ready on May 28, 1928. On that day, the founders revised the bylaws for the last time and accepted it. That was Hamazkayin’s founding meeting.
The nine founding members of the association are Dr. Hamo Ohanjanian, Sdepan Yesaian, Kasbar Ipegian, Levon Shant, Nigol Aghpalian, Minas Khachadourian, Setrag Balekjian, Hagop Balekjian, and Sarkis Malkhasian.
The first half of the association’s bylaws describe Hamazkayin’s objective: “The goal of the Armenian Educational and Publishing Pan-national (Hamazkayin) Association is to increase the education of the Armenian people through the Armenian language and the Armenian spirit.” To achieve this objective, Hamazkayin would function in three directions:
- Tutor the new generations with a solid Armenian education,
- Enhance adult education,
- Develop Armenian studies.
The first, educating the young generation, was the most important and the largest goal, consequently demanding the greatest effort and financial means. Middle schools had to be established, “corresponding to European colleges and lyceums.” Textbooks in Armenian had to be written on all topics, as well as books for children and teenagers. The association had to support authors of Armenological publications. Works of foreign and medieval authors related to Armenia and the Armenians had to be translated into Armenian. Ancient Armenian texts and manuscripts had to be republished.
Two things were necessary in order to carry out this immense work: a large number of educational, literary, and scientific experts, and financial means. Prior to gathering the scholars of the Diaspora around its activities, Hamazkayin put an effort to expand its organizational network and guarantee financial means.
To popularize the ideas of Hamazkayin, N. Aghpalian went to Syria and Lebanon in summer 1928. He had public discussions about Hamazkayin and several talks within a narrower circle.
L. Shant went to Paris for the same purpose. There he met Armenian intellectuals and discussed with them forming Hamazkayin chapters in Western Europe, especially in France.
May 1928 to the end of 1929 was a period of preparation, exhaustive exchange of ideas, and public exposure for Hamazkayin. The Central Committee of Hamazkayin also obtained the support of ARF.
In March 3, 1930, the dream to open a secondary school became a reality. The Armenian lyceum (Djemaran) was established in Beirut. Years later, in memory of its benefactor, the institution was called Neshan Palanjian Djemaran of Hamazkayin. Decades later, the lyceum was renamed Melankton and Haik Arslanian Djemaran of Hamazkayin, in the name of its new benefactors.
The main activities of Hamazkayin mainly centered in Beirut and on Djemaran, given the fact that L. Shant, N.Aghpalian, and K. Ipegian were residing in Beirut, where a large Armenian community presented an open field of cultural activities. Therefore, in 1947 the center of Hamazkayin was relocated to Beirut. The Lebanese government officially recognized it as Hamazkayin Armenian Educational and Cultural Association.
The presence of Kasbar Ipegian among the founders of Hamazkayin would definitely give rise to a stage movement in the same way, as Hamazkayin’s earliest educational and publishing accomplishments were the fruit of L. Shant and N. Aghpalian’s efforts.
In 1931, K. Ipegian successfully directed the premiere of “Oshin Bail” by L. Shant. In 1934, with equal success, he staged his own play, “Ara and Shamiram.”
As the president of the Beirut Committee of Hamazkayin, in 1941 K. Ipegian formed the Hamazkayin Theater Association, which aimed at bringing theater to the Armenian communities. The association also aimed to enhance the Armenian theater’s educational and its role in the preservation of national identity. The opening performance of the Hamazkayin Theater Association was “Princess of the fallen fortress” (in 1942), then “My baby” (in 1943) , assisted by Papken Papazian, in 1944 L. Shant’s “Ancient gods” and “The Caesar” in 1945.
Kasbar Ipegian died in 1952. In his memory, the Hamazkayin Theater Association renamed itself Hamazkayin Kasbar Ipegian Theater Company and still carries that name today.
K. Ipegian’s worthy successor was George Sarkissian, who with great passion served as stage director and an actor.
For 30 long years, Georges Sarkissian caused enthusiasm wherever he went through his devoted work. Due to his efforts, the Lebanese Armenian community acquired its own theater, the Hagop Der Melkonian Theater House, constructed. The theater was equipped as a result of its benefactor Hagop Der Melkonian’s donations.
Following the death of Georges Sarkissian the theater company was handed to Varoujan Khedeshian and others.
In 1931, the Hamazkayin print and publishing house was established in Beirut. Later, to honor its benefactor and main organizer, it was named the Vahe Setian Printing House of Hamazkayin. Hamazkayin enhanced its publishing and book-spreading activities because of the printing house. Hamazkayin owns its own bookstore in Beirut.
At the initiative of the ARF Bureau, “Pakin” literary-cultural periodical has published since January 1962. In the late 1990s, “Pakin” became Hamazkayin’s official publication.
In the 1970s, demand was high in Lebanon and other diaspora communities for teachers specializing in Armenian language, literature, and history. The Central Committee of Hamazkayin initiated the development of a higher institute of Armenological studies. For this purpose, a particular committee was formed including Karekin Bishop Sarkissian (who later became Catholicos of the House of Cilicia, then the Catholicos of All Armenians), Vahe Setian, Hrach Dasnabedian, Shavarsh Torigian, Vahe Oshagan, and Yervant Pamboukian.
Based on the curriculum developed by this committee, Hamazkayin Higher Armenological Institute began its classes in 1974, with 15 students.
The Lebanese civil war interrupted the high expectations for the project.
In 1979, the first year of the Institute gathered new students. In 1983, the Institute presented its first graduating class of 21 students who had completed the four-year program.
At the end of the 2002-03 school year the Armenological Institute of Hamazkayin presented its 21st graduating class, increasing the number of its graduates to 146.
Over the course of decades, the Institute has made a constant effort to serve its mission. It created a young and dynamic resource of educators, editors, and dedicated professionals, who are at the managing posts of various Armenian national institutions, in Lebanon and elsewhere.
Because of lack of financial means and the small number of candidates, the Institute stopped functioning in 2005.
In 1980, the Marseille Lyceum of Hamazkayin opened at the initiative of Hamazkayin Central Committee. In 1986, Arshag and Sophie Galstaun School of Hamazkayin opened its doors at the initiative of Hamazkayin’s regional committee in Sydney.
Since 1995, the Central Committee of Hamazkayin organizes the student summer forum first in Lebanon, and since 2002, in Armenia.
Throughout the years, various cultural activities developed at regional levels. Starting in the 1960s, because of the mobility of Armenian communities and the expansion of the Armenian diaspora, Hamazkayin chapters spread in Europe, North and South Americas, and Australia. Since the beginning, the educational-cultural movement expanded also in Iran, due to the efforts of a sister association, Ararat, and others. With time, chapters functioning in the same territory joined to form new regional committees.
In August 1990, the first pan-diasporan general assembly of Hamazkayin was convened. The current name of the association was adopted as Hamazkayin Armenian Educational and Cultural Association, and the first-ever elected Central Committee was voted into office.
In September 1994, the second general assembly was held in Dzaghgatsor, Armenia. In September 1998, March 2002, and April 2006 the third, fourth, and the fifth general assemblies took place in Adma and Ain Saade, Lebanon.
The Central Executive Board of Hamazkayin operates four offices: in Beirut (where the board sits), Yerevan, Artsakh, and Javakhk.