The Great Loss of the Armenian Clergy During the Armenian Genocide – Bishop Khosrov Behrigian
By Archbishop Papken Tcharian
The series of articles, which will be presented to our readers, are written by Archbishop Papken Tcharian, and translated by Tamar Topjian Der-Ohannessian.
The book, “The Great Loss of the Armenian Clergy during the Armenian Genocide” was published in 2009, by the generous donation of Mr. and Mrs. Levon and Tamar Der-Ohannessian.
The articles which will be featured in the coming days, are from the Vartabedagan thesis of Archbishop Tcharian, and it is dedicated to the 90th anniversary of the martyrs of the Armenian Genocide.
In his thesis, Tcharian writes, “The enemy, in his cruelty, ruthless and unjust, did not discriminate. He slaughtered the students of Maghakia Ormanian, Yeghishe Tourian and Mekhitar Sepasdatsi, the promising seminarians of Armash and St. Ghazar, who were the true intellectual clergymen, and who shared the fate of their people and their parishes.”
“The catastrophe of April 1915 was a fatal gash in the heart of the Armenian Apostolic Church. Despite of it all, however, the Armenian people and the Armenian Church experienced a new renaissance. … We do not hesitate to call all those clergymen who were massacred during the Genocide of April 1915 martyrs and saints.”
Bishop Khosrov Behrigian was born in 1869 in Zara – Sepasdia. His baptismal name was Khatchadour. He entered the Armash Seminary as a student in 1889. He was one of the first seven students of the seminary, and was greatly inspired by Maghakia Ormanian and Yeghishé Tourian. He was one of the best among the first graduates of the seminary.
On September 1892, he was ordained a deacon by Arch. Ormanian. We read about this in the book prepared on the 25th Anniversary of Armash Seminary, 1889-1914.
This year, which was so productive for the establishment in the fields of construction and development, was also very fruitful internally. As a matter of fact, in September of this year, seven students from the first class embraced the priesthood and formed the seminary’s first class of deacons.
The ordination, performed by Bishop Maghakia Ormanian, took place on September 27th on the inaugural day of the newly-built school. That was a day of financial and moral progress for the monastery.
In 1894, along with his classmates, the deacons of the first class of the seminary, he started his first attempts at giving sermons. Also, as a preliminary literary and philological attempt, he wrote a brief dissertation on the letter of ‘Parbetsvo Ar Hovhan Mamigonian’ (To Hovhan Mamigonian from [Ghazar] Parbetsi).
After completing the academic program of the seminary, he was ordained celibate priest on June 18th 1895 by Bishop Maghakia Ormanian, and was renamed Khosrov. We have more information on this event in the 25th Anniversary commemorative book of Armash Seminary.
…On June 18, on the Feast of ‘Gatoghigé Yegeghetsvo Serpo Etchmiadzni’ (Universal Church of Holy Etchmiadzin), seven deacons were ordained and anointed.
That day was the most memorable in the thriving life of the seminary.
Bishop Maghakia Ormanian and V. Rev. Fr. Yeshishé Tourian, who were both their teachers, Bishop Khoren Ashekian, who had always followed the development of the seminary from his seclusion, benefactors and board members, who had always supported them, were all very happy for the first successful outcome of the institution.
Among those ordained with him were: V. Rev. Fr. Papken Guleserian (later Coadjutor Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia), V. Rev. Fr. Zaven Yeghiayan (later Patriarch of Constantinople) and V. Rev. Fr. Sempad Saadetian (martyred). He was a teacher in Armash Seminary from 1895 to1896. On May 4th of the same year he was bestowed the clerical staff by Bishop Ormanian, presenting an invaluable paper about the works of Krikor Datevatsi as his thesis.
Under the auspices of Maghakia Ormanian and Yeghishé Tourian, and collaborating with his classmates, he edited and published the religious, literary and ecclesiological periodical, ‘Masis’, which was discontinued before long, due to the unfavorable political atmosphere.
For some time he served as a preacher in the churches of Constantinople and the provinces.
In 1897 he was elected diocesan locum tenens for the diocese of Drabizon, and he served there for four years, until 1901.
In 1901 he was elected diocesan locum tenens for the diocese of Mush and served in the same diocese for three years.
He had a productive period during his tenure as locum tenens of Mush. He revived the academic life by opening new schools. There is a reference in the book, ‘Badmoutiun Daroni Ashkharhi’ (History of Daron).
…V. Rev. Fr. Papken resigned and V. Rev. Fr. Khosrov Behrigian succeeded him. He was determined to open new schools in the plains of Mush and succeeded. He started a school in St. Aghperig Monastery with 12 students, and recommended the opening of another one in St. Taniel Monastery in Gop.”
The liberation of St. Arakelots (Apostles) Monastery, found under the jurisdiction of the government of Mush, took place during his tenure, in November of 1901. It was a revolutionary operation similar to the overtaking of the Ottoman Bank or the Khanasor offensive. A large number of fedayeen (freedom fighters) led by General Antranig and Kevork Chavoush went to Arakelots Monastery from Sassoun and the plain of Mush and found refuge there, carrying with them a quantity of ammunition. The Armenian fedayeen could not tolerate any longer all the harassment at the hands of the government, the Kurds and the brigands who had taken refuge in the Armenian villages. They were obliged to resort to armed resistance. Despite directives sent to the prelacy of Mush by the patriarchate of Constantinople, made under pressure and false promises for reform from the Central Government, advising the fedayeen to surrender, the freedom fighters continued their struggle for 21 days and emerged triumphant.
The skirmish of Arakelots (Apostles) Monastery turned into an uprising. Taking advantage of the situation, the various bodies of the national leadership of Mush, and especially the diocesan locum tenens, V. Rev. Fr. Khosrov Behrigian started on a campaign. The V. Rev. Father prepared a number of reports and sent them to the consuls. He sent complaints to the government. He wanted to make them understand that the Armenian people were at the end of their tether, and desperate actions were the result of anarchic oppressions.
He was elected prelate to the diocese of Kharpert in 1903, by the local National Representative Assembly. We read about this in the volume ‘Kharpert yev Anor Vosgeghen Tashde’ (Kharpert and its Golden Field):
…After V. Rev. Fr. Yeznig Kalparjian was elected prelate of Palou, the Executive Council of Kharpert assigned V. Rev. Fr. Khosrov Behrigian diocesan locum tenens.
Later, he was elected prelate and served in the same diocese for four years, until 1907. During his tenure in Kharpert he had a productive administrative, national and ecclesiastical activity. He was particularly opposed to all those who wanted to leave their paternal home to emigrate to America. The people of Kharpert were dissatisfied with him, because the prelacy demanded large sums of money for the documents required for emigration, thus making their departure difficult.
After the declaration of the Ottoman Constitution, V. Rev. Fr. Behrigian had to leave Kharpert and return to Constantinople.
For four years, 1908-1912, he served in the churches of Constantinople as a preacher. In 1912 he was elected prelate to the diocese of Gessaria. On Palm Sunday, March 18th, the newly-elected prelate, V. Rev. Fr. Khosrov Behrigian arrived at his office and was received cordially by the local people. One of the priests of the diocese, Rev. Fr. Ashod Yergatian, read a welcoming address on this occasion, where the psychology of the people and their sincere feelings towards their prelates were beautifully expressed.
I want to quote here sections from the speech of Ashod Kahana:
Gessaria has done me the great honor of expressing their good wishes to your Eminence.
You enter Gessaria on a bright sunny day and a day of hosannas, to assume your diocesan responsibilities. Today is Palm Sunday, but Gessaria is probably the only city in Anadolou, which does not have flowers to spread under your feet. However it will do its best with a splendid welcome and pageants. The excitement and enthusiasm are widespread as you can see.
…But forgive me for being blunt. The days of ‘Passion’ are not far from ‘Palm Sunday’, and the cries of hosanna could easily combine with the echoes of ‘Crucify Him’, just as there are always the ‘Tarpeian Rocks’ next to the ‘Capitoline Hill’.
Actually, all these greetings of hosanna are not intended to exhilarate you, for you have experienced life and have walked along with the pain of the nation. You do not expect flowers and green pastures, babbling creeks and wonderful fields. Fortunately Gessaria is not all thorns and thistle, and its land is not barren. On the contrary, it presents you with a large and fertile field, which is only partially cultivated…
You already know, dear respected Father, that Gessaria is a city whose main harvest is MAN, and as such, Gessaria has all kinds of men: leaders, politicians, experts, architects, writers, the wealthy, etc. etc. Thus, Gessaria does not need ‘men’, but it needs a wise man and a Leader.
“Build your house with wisdom and fight your wars with leadership”.
This is what we need, condensed in the words of the wise man. Yes. We need houses, and we need war against ignorance.
“Fight your battles with leadership”. Even if hundreds of thousands, millions or legions come together to form armies of soldiers, they will, alas, be disbanded upon the first notes of the trumpets of war, and the first explosions of the cannons, because these armies are not led by a wise leader. Oh! How important is the job of a wise Leader!
And now, as the representative of the Armenians of Gessaria, I assure you, dear Father, that we are ready to follow your wise advice, to build our big national house, to strengthen our Armenian identity and the Holy Armenian Church, the only cherished legacy from our ancestors.
I assure you, Father, that we will follow you, when we see you climbing the Golgotha, carrying the cross of the nation on your back. We will follow you, provided you always lead us, provided you always have the cross in your right hand and the staff in your left hand, going up, always leading us.
… Oh! Then, dear Father, you will be appreciated more, and you will be respected and honored.
I really hope that the hosannas of Palm Sunday do not change to the ‘Crucify Him’ of the black Friday.
He managed his parish as a wise prelate, and did everything possible to improve the Armenian Apostolic Church, and to strengthen and safeguard the ‘great national house’. First of all, he tried to maintain the school in St. Garabed (Forerunner) Monastery organized by his predecessor, Bishop Dertad Balian, with the same staff and curriculum.
He commanded great popularity and respect in the people. The national representatives greatly appreciated the administrative work of the prelate, and rewarded him with the certificate for episcopal ordination.
He went to Etchmiadzin, in 1914, and was ordained bishop by Kevork V, Catholicos of All Armenians.
On August 1st 1914, the First World War broke among the European countries. During this general crisis, Turkey, having just finished from the Balkan War, proclaimed military conscription in order to participate in the war. Thus, an unexpectedly grave situation ensued, and a tension was created between the Armenian and Turkish peoples. It is during this period that the newly anointed Bishop Khosrov returned to Constantinople from Etchmiadzin, and informed Patriarch Zaven Yeghiayan that there was great enthusiasm in Tiflis, and volunteers were joining the army in order to fight against Turkey and to liberate Turkish Armenia. After staying just a few days in Constantinople he returned to his responsibilities in Gessaria. He told the Patriarch: “The days seem to be ominous. I must be with my people.” In his first sermon as a bishop in Gessaria, he conveyed the blessing of the Catholicos of All Armenians to the people.
After a month, on October 19th, all the weapons were confiscated from the Armenian soldiers serving in the Turkish army, and gradually the hatred of the government towards the Armenian people became evident.
A year later, in 1915, the Turkish government started implementing its macabre plan for annihilating the Armenians. As in all the provinces inhabited by Armenians, in Gessaria too, the detention of the prominent Armenians began. Bishop Khosrov could not tolerate what was happening, especially when there was no valid excuse. He went to the governor of Gessaria, Shehabeddin Zeki, and demanded their release. But a few days later, he too was arrested and jailed. He was accused of allegedly passing through Russia on his way back from Etchmiadzin, where he had gone for his ordination, and upon his return having recounted about thousands of armed volunteers preparing to liberate the Armenians. He was sentenced to death according to the verdict of the military court.
When Patriarch Zaven Yeghiayan heard about the situation of his spiritual brother, he immediately took the required measures. He has written in his memoirs:
…The court sentenced him to death and sent the verdict to Constantinople for endorsement and submission to the ‘irade’ [will]. I did not know about this incident, but one day the office agent told me that he had heard from the Grand Vizier’s office that the verdicts of death of Bishop Khosrov and a group of others had been sent to Constantinople and the ‘irade’ had already been dispatched on the previous day.
I immediately decided to do my best to save him, and because it was not possible to see Talaat, I went to see the Grand Vizier (Sa’id Halim Pasha) next morning, in his palace (Yenikeoy). After many difficulties on our way from Koum Kapou to Yenikeoy, we finally arrived at the home of the Grand Vizier just as he was getting ready to leave for the Sublime Porte on the steamboat.
I explained the reasons for my request and pleaded with the authorities to do me a favor in sparing the bishop’s life, even if the verdict was based on evidence, because he was my school-mate (my spiritual brother) and because we had been ordained together.
The Grand Vizier asked if I was sure such papers had been received here. I said “Yes, I am sure.” Then he said, “I will go now and if all this is true, I will do my best.” I thanked him and left.
Next day the office agent informed us that as soon as the Grand Vizier arrived at The Sublime Porte, he had looked for the papers. When he learned that the papers were sent to Gessaria the day before, he presented the problem at the Ministers’ Council, where it was decided to change the life sentence of Bishop Khosrov to life imprisonment as a favor to me.
In his book, ‘Koghkota Turkahay Hokevoraganoutian’, (Golgotha of the Turkish-Armenian Clergy), Teotig wrote about the change in the verdict:
…The document which had been sent was returned from Gessaria, and Enver Pasha informed the spiritual leader of the Armenians of Turkey, that the verdict of death-by-hanging of Bishop Khosrov had been changed to one hundred and one years in prison…
Thus, Bishop Khosrov was set free, but after a few months he met the same fate anyway.
In May of 1915 Gessaria was going through a harsh period, like the other Armenian regions. Arrests were gradually on the rise. Every home was searched allegedly “looking for arms.” The Military Tribunal issued verdicts day and night, to prove an ‘alleged’ rumor by Armenians. In reality, the Turkish government was pursuing its plan of ‘Armenia without Armenians’. In Keomur Bazaar Square, in Gessaria, 12 reputable Armenians were hanged on the gallows. One of the local pastors, Rev. Fr. Bedros, could barely manage to give them Holy Communion during the night.
The caskets of the martyrs were brought to St. Sarkis Church. Three clergymen, who had not been arrested yet, conducted the funeral service. Bishop Khosrov Behrigian, prelate, was banned from presiding over the funeral. They dug a hole in the Armenian cemetery and threw the caskets there, forbidding the clergymen to accompany them there.
The list of those sentenced to death by the Military Tribunal got longer. The prisoners suffered in jails. They were tortured, and redeemed the sins they had never committed.
The prelacy, churches and schools were subjected to investigation. Churches and monasteries were looted, destroyed and desecrated.
During July 30th to August 12th of 1915 the last prelate of Gessaria, Bishop Khosrov Behrigian, was arrested. Talaat exhibited his depravity again, and under the pretext of transporting Bishop Khosrov to Diarbekir, had him murdered on the way.
I want to present here the eye-witness report of Puzant Kazanjian, a refugee student from Gessaria, taken from Teotig’s book, ‘Koghkota Turkahay Hokevoraganoutian.’ (The Golgotha of the Turkish-Armenian Clergy).
Before getting to Bozanti we joined the prelate’s group. But everone in the carriage was very desperate. It was late night and we decided to stop at the khan along the way, which had a mill in the back. God only knows how we slept. Before dawn I heard strange voices: ‘La ilaha illallah…’ (There is no God except Allah). The newcomers were bandits riding on camels. There was panic. Fortunately, the state of affairs changed quickly and the bandits went away. Morning came and we saw that a large caravan of deportees had arrived during the night and were resting outside in the morning dew. We finally got on our way. Our carts were advancing alongside each other. The poor bishop was exhausted. He looked like a terrified boy. Those with him were making futile attempts to encourage him. Tokatlian kept suggesting to the bishop to take advantage of a moment of weakness in the policeman escorting them, to snatch his gun and escape into the mountains. This thought however exacerbated his terror. Every time the cart stopped in a valley, Bishop Khosrov looked around stunned, thinking it was the end. They were all in tatters. The bishop was in secular garb and his beard was disheveled. All day the secret conversations continued, trying to find a means of escape. It is a shame that time has made me forget the words exchanged between them. We arrived in Bozanti at night. They gave us a place in the khan where there were around thirty Turks. Early next morning we were ready to leave. We were not going to travel together any more. I will not forget the tears our dear bishop shed when we parted. Days later, when I got to Aleppo, I heard that Bishop Khosrov had arrived there before us. He had been incarcerated for a few days and then deported to Dikranagerd with his friends. Before long we heard the bad news. On the way, our meticulous government had exterminated them all…
They were martyred near Edessa by the policemen accompanying them. Despite the pleas of the bishop to be killed by a bullet to his forehead, they tied his hands, laid him under the yataghan and slayed him like a sheep.
According to Teotig, Patriarch Zaven Yeghiayan was remorseful, thinking that if he had not made requests for his release, Bishop Khosrov would have gotten his punishment in Gessaria and would have at least had a grave.
Bishop Khosrov Behrigian, gifted with administrative abilities and humanitarian talents, walked in front of his people as a wise leader, with the cross of Christ on his shoulders, and the staff held firmly in his right hand. He walked towards Golgotha… towards immortality.
* * *
Bishop Khosrov Behrigian was a personality with intellectual abilities and a cultured mind. Some of his articles and sermons have survived:
- ‘Gorzevadz Hasgern’ (The Plucked Heads of Grain). Scriptural exegesis.
- ‘Neshan Khentrel Hisousen’ (Asking Jesus for Signs). Scriptural exegesis.
- ‘Movses yev Yeghia’ (Moses and Elijah). Scriptural exegesis.
- ‘Orinats Bahbanoutiune’ (Keeping the Law). Scriptural exegesis.
- ‘Miyapanoutiun’ (Unity), an article.
- ‘Yergnavor Hatse’ (Heavenly Bread), scriptural exegesis.
- ‘Datevou Vanke, (The Monastery of Datev), and article.
- ‘Bardadjanatch Kahananer Badrasdenk’ (Let Us Prepare Conscientious Priests), an article written on the 25th Anniversary of the Seminary of Armash.
In this article he stresses the necessity of preparing conscientious priests. I would like to include a few excerpts, to give an insight about his thinking.
Having worked for many years in the inner provinces, I would like, on this auspicious occasion, to bring to the attention of all Armenians in general, the importance of fulfilling another important issue concerning the church. My suggestion is well known. A lot has been said and written about it in the literary circles, and despite its current nature as an issue of domestic reform, it is a pity that no practical steps have been taken yet for its implementation, thus widening the already existing schism by keeping the status quo. The priest will not be able to fulfill his responsibilities towards the believers, who are satisfied only with an official who appeals to their hearts, minds and souls, and can refine them and teach them.
… From now on, the seminary must prepare conscientious priests for the Armenian people. This is what the ultimate good of the church and nation demand from it.
Only those who have graduated from seminaries must be ordained married priests, and only on the condition that they later complete their studies in the Armash Seminary at the most opportune time.