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Oh providence (..) why did you ignite me in not ending fire of love to my people, why did you punish me so ruthlessly, by igniting that flame on me, which instead of warming the hearts of my fellow tribesmen, incinerate inside of me? (M. Nalbandyan)

In the history of every nation, in fateful periods, appear individuals who try to prevent the death of the people. Our Fedayeen played an important role in preventing physical death, and in the prevention ov spiritual death and assimilation, in the history of Armenia remain people such as the national revolutionary-educator of the 19th century Mikael Nalbandyan.

His death was a relief for long and unsuccessfully fighting enemies at war with him. His coffin in his native Nakhichevan-on-Don was welcomed with great triumph. Mikael Nalbandyan is one of the most prominent figures in the Armenian history of the 19th century. writer, philosopher. National revolutionary – his activities stirred  up anti-national order of the Armenians of Royal Russia. 

Michael was a descendant of the Armenian settlers from the Crimea, who founded in Russia, on the Don, their colony and the city of Nor –Nakhichevan (or Nakhichevan-On-Don, after the name of the city of historical Armenia, which today is a proletarian region within Rostov –on- Don)… The resettlement of Armenains from Crimea was organized by Empress Catherine II after the Russo – Turkish war (1768-1774), as a result of which Russia was able to expand its possession, as well as liberate Crimean Khanate from under the Turkish protectorate, where a large Armenian colony had settled since ancient times. The perpose of the resettlement of Armenian was to populate the new southern borders of Russia with reliable and hardworking ones.

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Michael spent his entire childhood in this Armenian community how "with the blessing" of the Armenian clergy and authorities the bureaucracy, permissiveness was flourishing. The wealthy people of the community cared only to get as much power and profit as possible and to indulge the royal power, while the urgent problems of the community were relegated to the last plan.

View of the Surb-Khach church of the late 19th century. Photo from the album “image of the old Rostov“ from the collection of photographs of the regional museum of local history. Edition Omega Publisher, 2006

Any attempt to change the current status was equal to betrayal.

Being a revolutionary in spirit, Nalbandian tried to bring enlightenment into Armenian reality based on knowing oneself – language, history, culture – along with other sciences and disciplines. Rafayel Patkanyan, a prominent theologian, teacher, historian and the first chronicler of the city of Nor Nakhichevan, was his teacher and companion in this matter.

Rafael Patkanyan - archpriest, master of theology, preacher, teacher, historian, educator, poet, editor-publisher of the "Ararat" magazine, the first chronicler of the city of Nor-Nakhichevan. 

"Get out of the borders of Nakhichevan, go through the village of Chaltyr - and that's it, no one knows Armenian!" - shouted the holder of church funds Mkyr-aga Popov (former Terteryan) to Gabriel Patkanyan, who wanted to open an Armenian school in Nakhichevan. The Armenian rich people of Nakhichevan - clergy, officials, merchants - were against the national, against the enlightenment of the people. These are all unnecessary risks to their position and fortune.

Living for centuries next with the Tatars, the Armenians adopted someone else's life, customs, clothes and almost completely abandoned their native language. Even having founded Nakhichevan-on-Don, having equipped the Armenian District, they were not going to regain their national identity. If there was a time they spoke in a mixture of Turkish and Tatar languages, then now they used Russian verbs with Turkish endings or Tatar words with Armenian endings.

"Poor fellow! What is he talking about ? What is he preaching? Doesn't he know that our ears hear only the ringing of silver and gold?...  Does he know that we don't care whether there is a school or not? (...)" - Mikael will write later in his "Notes, " sneering at Armenian nobility, who took up arms against him, who did not accept any criticism, or proposals, or reforms.

Mikael turned the entire Nakhichevan nobility against himself, and he had to run away from persecution to Moscow.

Despite attempts to interfere with him in Moscow, Mikael began teaching at the Lazarev Institute of Oriental Languages ​​(the original name was the "Armenian Lazarev School").

"Leave the Grabar (ancient Armenian language - ed.)... we will study Ashkharabar (spoken language - ed.)!" - Mikael told his students that he  wanted the Armenian language to be alive: it was transformed according to modern requirements, so that Armenians would write not in a dead language, but in the one they speak.

“There is nothing in the world that does not obey the laws of nature. What’s wrong that’s false... And since language exists and it’s not false, then it follows the laws of nature." (M. Nalbandyan).

The majority of students of the Lazarev Institute consisted of Armenians, and Russian and Armenian remained the compulsory languages ​​for study. However, the methods of learning the Armenian language seemed absurd to Mikael: moreover, the students were taught grabar as an Armenian language, but also explanations and translations to this language difficult for young people were made... in Russian.Nalbandian talked about this with another teacher of the Lazarev Institute - Stepanos Nazaryan. Being like-minded people, they became close from the very first meetings and together cherished the old dream of publishing a newspaper in Ashkharabar.

Stepan Nazaryan (1812-1879) - publisher, publicist, educator, literary historian and orientalist. In the 1850s, being influenced by the ideas of the Russian social movement, he was the head of Armenian educational movement.  

“What if the children of Armenians could receive knowledge in their language in the same way as the children of Germans, French and Russians? However, Armenian children were born to suffer, for their parents and the Armenian people in general (...) did nothing to facilitate their studies. (...) The children of our Armenians who come from Tiflis, Astrakhan, Kizlyar and Nakhichevan are obliged... to study in Russian (...), and no matter how many Armenian children learn their ancient written language, it is useless: a language that is not a conductor of learning, a language in which a child neither speak nor think cannot serve to enlightenment." (S. Nazaryan, 1850).

The Vices of the Moscow Armenian Community

Communicating with the Moscow  Armenians, Mikael noticed that a circle of intelligentsia had formed here, consisting mainly of the students of the institute. They read a little in classical Armenian, knew a little Armenian literature, and in case of emergency they could somehow talk and with greater difficulty, put their thoughts on paper. They loved to beat themselves in the chest on every occasion and grovel in love for the Armenian people and their culture, although at the same time they considered it shameful to speak Armenian at home. During the first months of life in Moscow, there were not only sad discoveries. A completely new world of the progressive Russian intelligentsia, seized by freedom-loving ideas, opened up before Nalbandian ...
But Mikael's enemies did not sleep. Having escaped arrest with the help of friends, Mikael was forced to leave the position of a teacher. Having lost his job, he decides to continue his education.

During his studies, Mikael deepened his testimony in languages, history and geography. Now he studied natural sciences, which expanded the boundaries of his knowledge, brought up certain thinking skills in him.

“The abuse that comes out of Armenian hearts and is visible in the Armenian press, we compare with the stinking pus that has accumulated in the sick Armenian body for many centuries. A humane surgeon should not be angry when blood or pus strikes his face while removing a fatal ulcer or tumor. The specialty of a surgeon is to cut out this evil from the patient's body."  (M. Nalbandyan).

In addition to his studies, Mikael wrote works. His "Words about the Armenian Writing" was destined to see the light only thirty years after his death. In this work, Mikael outlined the history of Armenian literature from the 4th up to 19th centuries, he wrote it in classical Armenian, but the main thing was that Mikael affirmed in it the principles of new literature and defended Ashkharabar. Stepanos Nazaryan did the same: he wrote on a grabar, by making it clear to his opponents that he was defending Ashkharabar not because he did not own a grabar.

On March 19, 1856, Stepanos Nazaryan sent a petition to the Minister of Public Education with the aim of allowing him to publish an Armenian magazine. For ten years now, he dreamed of opening a magazine or newspaper that could help the enlightenment of Armenians. Although Nazaryan was not fully aware of the situation in Western Armenia, however, through even superficial comparisons, he could understand how favorable the conditions were for the Russian Armenians, despite the autocracy and the government, which wanted to Russify and assimilate both the people conquered and voluntarily joined Russia, But there was a freedom-loving Russian spirit, an example of the progressive Russian intelligentsia, with whom the Armenians had an exceptional opportunity to go hand in hand. But this required a seal.

"The nation has turned into an abstraction, and this is the reason that the cart of national progress remains on the road, because everyone considers himself special, has no desire to come up and harness himself into this cart." (M. Nalbandyan)

The enemies, who already knew both Nazaryan and Nalbandian well, guessed that their cooperation did not promise them anything good. They sought to destroy yet unborn magazine, the name of which was to become Yusisapail (Northern Lights). The Censorship Committee of St. Petersburg, under the onslaught of influential Armenian persons, is arranging a real interrogation over Mikael, which, undoubtedly, should have led to reprisals.

Escaping, under the pretext of medical treatment, Mikael Nalbandian goes abroad. Together with Stepanos Nazaryan, they determine the route: Paris, London, Constantinople... In Paris and London, Mikael was going to meet prominent figures of the Armenian communities, where Herzen and Ogarev lived and worked (prominent revolutionary democrats who opposed the policy of Tsarist Russia).

Mikael Nalbandyan, one of the rare photos 

Armenians of Poland and their Disappearance

Barbaric invasions eight hundred years ago forced the Armenians to leave their last capital, Ani. Moving to the north, some of the settlers settled in the Crimea, and their descendants - on the banks of the Don, founding Nakhichevan-on-Don, and the other part of the Armenians, about one hundred thousand people, reached Poland itself. The Armenians in Poland failed to preserve their identity, and it took a \short period they dissolved among the Poles, and only rare scattered traces of their former presence reminded of them. Mikael saw firsthand in Poland that unenviable future that threatened the Armenians, from which he warned his compatriots.

“Many times we have met magnificent, but now empty Armenian churches, and Armenians - not a single person. What happened to them, where did they go?.." (M. Nalbandyan)

The Situation of the Armenian Community in France

In those years, there were only two Armenian schools in Paris, one of which was built with funds given by the wealthy Indian Armenian Samvel Murad, and the other was a national Armenian school, the expenses of which were borne by the Armenians of Constantinople. Muradyan's school was under Catholic influence. Only children of Armenian Catholics could study in this prestigious school, that is, there were all conditions for the Armenians to change their faith, dissolve and disappear, like in Poland. The situation with the second Armenian school, Haykazyan, was extremely disappointing: it was located in a rented building, far from the city, had no advantages and conveniences and constantly needed help. There Nalbandian saw only eighteen students ... And, nevertheless, Nalbandian was convinced that the Armenian colony in Paris could become a powerful center of national life, for although there are few Armenians in Paris, the national is still stronger in them than in other Armenian communities ...

London: Meeting Russian Revolutionaries

Mikael left only a couple of lines about his London life, however, knowing the further course of events, one can confidently talk about friendship and cooperation with leaders of the national liberation struggle and London propagandists, such as Alexander Herzen, Nikolai Ogarev, Giuseppe Mazzini, Mikhail Bakunin, Nikolai Serno-Solovievich and others. New prospects opened up for Mikael. He determined for himself that he must become a knight devoted to the revolution, take upon himself the leadership of the revolutionary and liberation struggle of the Armenians.

Return to Russia and a Trip to the Land of Ancestors

Upon his return, Mikael receives an offer from the Nakhchivans to go to India as part of a delegation on wills of Indian Armenians. Mikael was in a hurry to visit all the centers of the liberation movement and foreign Armenian colonies. To obtain permission to travel, he goes to Echmiadzin, to the Catholicos. Then came the moment when Mikael Nalbandian had to set foot on the land of Armenia for the first time.

None of the communities and colonies was and could not be Armenia, although the situation there seemed desperate. Mikael spent all his free time in Echmiadzin, listening to the national language:

"How sweet the laid-back Armenian speech sounds in my ears when it comes straight from the heart of the people!.."

He studied local dialects and pondered the prospects for creating a single national language. Local dialects and dialects, according to Nalbandyan, were of great importance in this matter.

Before going to India, Nalbandian managed to visit Constantinople, and there he acquired loyal companions-in-arms - young Armenians who were educated in Paris, as well as some public figures.

Together with Harutyun Svachyan and Serovbe Tagvoryan, Mikael Nalbandyan creates a Charity Society, which was made to disguise the true goals of creating a secret liberation organization and establishing contacts with other enslaved peoples of the Ottoman Empire, as well as with other revolutionary centers in Europe and Russia.

Arriving in India, Mikael became convinced that the once powerful and influential Armenian community was in a state of moral decline. That is, in the same position as the communities of Nakhichevan, Constantinople, Paris, as everywhere in Armenia itself... Therefore, taking with him the part of the will authorized to him, he again goes to Constantinople... Events in Russia and Europe were already brewing. Mikael was in a hurry to merge and channel the eastern and western parts of the Armenian people into a common channel. Lacking a unified program of national salvation, these two branches of the Armenian people somehow supported their existence by petty passions and the common tragedy of the divided nation.

The main lever that was supposed to raise the people to the general liberation struggle was the recently created secret societies in Constantinople. However, in these hot times of liberation movements, the Armenians, instead of deploying all their forces to please the movement, again got mired in petty intrigues. Despite the fact that the Armenians already had a secret organization, smart and dedicated leaders, a clear-cut program developed, the ultimate goal of which was the creation of armed detachments and the joint liberation of Western Armenia with the Zeitun mountaineers, they had, finally, huge amounts of money due to Nalbandian from the money bequeathed by the Indian Armenians.

“You grumble at our slowness and quite rightly, but, having left our city, you completely forgot the character of our people, ” a friend writes to him, “our people work little or work for such things that you despise, or act for show. When it comes to love for the nation, about patriotism, everyone speaks loudly: for some it is hypocrisy, for others it is warm love, but there is almost no soul for action."

The revolutionary struggle of Michael, together with Russian propagandists, ended naturally. The tsarist government of Russia made great efforts to capture the revolutionaries...

On July 10, 1862, unsuspecting Mikael left for Nakhichevan-on-Don to report to the city assembly on the case of the wills of Indian Armenians. He did not even know that he was persecuted from St. Petersburg itself. Ten years have passed since then, when he, just as persecuted, fled from his hometown to Moscow... And now everything seemed to be returning to normal.

Michael was arrested on July 27, 1862. In solitary confinement, Nalbandian wrote a cycle of poems "Akhtsmik", a criticism of the novel "Sos and Varditer" and translated "The Message" by Ghazar Parbetsi.

Over the years in prison, Mikael has changed beyond recognition. He lost so much weight that "only skin and bones" remained. Considering his painful condition, Mikael Nalbandian was sent to one of the southern cities of the Saratov province, Kamyshin... There Mikael hoped to live at least until spring. Overcoming pains in his back and chest, he scribbled a couple of lines to his relatives.

Before his death, one of his former students visited him, who went over to the side of his enemies. He came to get an answer to his question. An answer that only Mikael Nalbandian could give.

- I came to ask what it means to think in Armenian, about which you constantly reminded us in the lessons

Mikael Nalbandian died on March 31, 1866, after four years in prison.


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