History of Armenians and Georgians
A book on the history of Armenians and Georgians by Mesrob Eretz, printed in Madras, India in 1775 (1780). Once owned by the Patriarch of Jerusalem.
According to scholar Sebouh Aslanian at UCLA, “Patmut‘iwn mnats‘ordats‘ Hayots‘ ew vrats‘ arareal yumemnē i Mesrob k‘ahanayē hayots‘ geghchē vayots‘ dsore i yashkharēn siwneats‘ [Remnant Histories of the Armenians and Georgians compiled by a certain Mesrob Kahana from the village of hoghots‘ in the land of Siwnik] (Madras: 1ē775 ).
This work has a fascinating print and reception history. The title page states that it was published in Madras at the printing press operated by the family of the merchant mogul Shahamir Shahamirean one of Madras wealthiest merchants and definitely the wealthiest Armenian merchant of the second half of the eighteenth century. The press was the first Armenian press in India (1771) and one of the first printing operating presses in all of South Asia. It was named after Shahamir’s favorite son, the studious Hakob/Jacob Shahamirean but was run by his father, especially after Hakob’s untimely death on his father’s tobacco plantation near Malacca near Singapore in 1774.
Herewith is his moving epithet ‘Hail thou that readst the tablet of my tomb wherein I now do sleep; Give me the news, the freedom of my countrymen, for them I did much weep; If there arose amongst them one good guardian to govern and to keep, Vainly I expected in the world to see a good shepherd come to look after the scattered sheep; I Jacob, the grandson of Shameer, an Armenian of a respectable family whose name I keep, Was born in a foreign place in Persia, in New Julfa, where my parents now forever sleep; Fortune brought me to this distant Malacca, which my remains in bondage doth keep. Separated from the world on the 7th July in the year of [the] Lord 1774 at the age of 29. And my mortal remains were deposited in this spot, in the ground which I had purchased.’
As to the date 1775 on the cover of this interesting book, it is not an indication of when the book was published but when the title page was typeset. Historians now think the book came out in 1780 because by 1775, there was an order by the Catholicos Simēon Yerevants‘i “excommunicating” Movses Baghramean [Baghramian] (a native of Karabagh) listed as one of the compilers of this work and Jacob Shahamirean’s private tutor in Classical Armenian and ordering the closing down of the press on account of a constitutional work the group published in 1773 wherein the Church hierarchy was demoted from being the self-appointed representatives of the Armenians by a national parliament elected by propertied class of the nation. The Shahamirean family could only resume publishing books after the firebrand Catholicos met his demise in 1780.
As to the content of the book, it is interesting to note that it was the third book in Classical Armenian during the eighteenth century that contained a popular and influential medieval “liberation legend” (the term is Ashot Hovannisyan’s in his celebrated two volume book Episodes from the Armenian Liberation Thought, 1967-59) attributed to Saint Nerses Shnorhali. This liberation legend was, of course, an Armenian variation of an early modern global wave of millenarian and apocalyptic thinking that was in fashion across far-flung cultures, empires, and societies from the Tagus River in Portugal to the Ganges in India (see the important work of Cornell Fleischer and Sanjay Subrahmanyam on the larger movement of millenarian apocalyptic thinking as well as my forthcoming essay linking this wave to Joseph Emin’s work where I discuss how Armenians in India knew about apocalyptic thinking and attributed it to the “legend” and prophecy of Nerses the Great (fourth century patriarch and Catholicos as well as direct descendant of Gregory the Illuminator), according to which Armenians would lose their kingdom and plunge into an era of servitude to foreigners until their liberation by an outside power and the resurrection of their earthly kingdom. This prophecy was really widespread and can be traced to the period of the Crusades when Catholic missionaries appear to have first “invented” this tradition and predicated the emancipation of the Armenians from Turks and Muslims and other “infidels” to their “return” to the Catholic Church.
It is worth noting that when this prophecy of Nerses the Great was first recorded in the mid seventeenth century, it was nearly always placed in the context of more widespread prophecies such as that of Joachim di Fiore. This is how Michel Febure (aka P. Justinien de Neuvy) attributes it in his “L’État présent de la Turquie” (1675). In its Catholic variant the legend spread like wildfire when adapted for print in such works as the famous “Dashants‘ T‘ught‘” (Letter of Concordance) published by Catholic Armenians at least half a dozen times from 1683 (Venice), 1690 (Padua), 1695 (Venice), 1700 (Venice), 1709-1710 (Istanbul).
The 1780 Madras edition is the non-Catholic variant of this popular legend. It contains the ‘History of the Blessed Life and Death of the Man of God Nerses the Great and of Some of his utterances in a Prophetic Spirit Before their Fulfillment.’ The work was included as part of a larger history compiled by the tenth-century monk Mesrop Yerets‘ Vayots‘-Dsorets‘i where the histories of Armenians and Georgians were braided together.
The hand writing on the back of the front cover was written by an owner of the book in the 1880s and summarizes how the book contains the legend of the Nerses the Great prophecy. It also provides the publication dates of the other editions of the legend.”