The Great Loss of the Armenian Clergy During the Armenian Genocide – Very Rev. Fr. Bsag Der Khorenian, prelate of the Armenian Church in Keghi
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.”
Rev. Fr. Bsag Der Khorenian was born on May 4th 1882 in Kourd Bilen Geyve in Nigomidia. Baptismal name: Anoushavan (Hampartsoumian). He received his elementary education in St. Nersesian School in his hometown. After completing the academic curriculum of Nersesian School in 1898, he took a break and started working in trading.
On September 15th 1899 he entered Armash Seminary as a student, during the tenure of Bishop Yeghishé Tourian. On September 8th 1902 he was ordained deacon by Bishop Tourian.
During his final years as a deacon, he attempted preaching from the altar, along with his three classmates. They also did research and wrote articles (See the biography of V. Rev. Fr. Shavarsh.)
He finished the academic term of the seminary, and was ordained celibate priest on June 19th 1905 on the feast of ‘Gatoghigé Yegeghetsvo Serpo Etchmiadzni’ (Universal Church of Holy Etchmiadzin) by Bishop Yeghishé Tourian. He was renamed Bsag.
From 1905 to 1906 he taught in Armash Seminary.
On March 19th 1906 Patriarch Maghakia Ormanian bestowed upon him the authority to carry the Pastoral Staff and the sanction to wear the Floral Cope, in Holy Yerrortoutiun (Trinity) Church of Constantinople (Pera).
For a while, he served as preacher in the churches of Beoyuk Deré, Vospor and Narle-Kapou (1907 April-September).
On September 1st 1907 Kghi became a separate diocese by the decision of the Joint Assembly, and V. Rev. Fr. Bsag was elected diocesan locum tenens of that diocese. On July 19th 1909 he was elected prelate to the diocese of Kghi and held that office until 1911.
On May 8th 1911 he was bestowed the doctoral degree (Dzayrakouyn) in Garin, by Bishop Sempad Saadetian. We have the following information about the event under the heading, ‘Azkayin Giank’ (National Life), in the weekly Dadjar:
They have written to us from Kghi that the prelate, V. Rev. Fr. Bsag, who was in Garin for the past six weeks to take care of public relations, has returned to his workplace with a good impression. He has earned the appreciation of the national and official governmental circles, so the prelate of Garin, Bishop Sempad Saadetian bestowed upon him the doctoral degree (Dzayrakouyn). On his return to Kghi, V. Rev. Fr. Bsag embarked on a pastoral visit to the fifty villages in his the diocese.
In the diocese of Kghi, V. Rev. Fr. Bsag had five years of active and energetic tenure worthy of recognition, and he enjoyed the love and respect of his people.
In 1911 he resigned from his position as prelate of Kghi, because he was elected prelate to the diocese of Kharpert by the National Representative Assembly of Kharpert.
We read the following in the Dadjar weekly:
With a telegram sent from Kghi to the patriarchate, V. Rev. Fr. Bsag has resigned again from his diocesan position. At the same time, the Representative Assembly of Kharpert has announced that V. Rev. Fr. Bsag was elected prelate of their diocese and is asking for a prompt endorsement of the election. The Executive Council had previously refused to endorse the election arguing that ‘the prelate of a diocese cannot be elected by another diocese.’ This argument however, has no basis in the National Constitution and precedents clearly refute it. A few years ago, Bishop Sempad moved to Garin from Shabin Karahisar. It is true that the people of Kghi do not want to lose their prelate, having been very happy during his five-year tenure, and have wired the patriarchate to keep V. Rev. Fr. Bsag in Kghi. However, since His Grace prefers Kharpert, we think it is not reasonable to force him to remain in Kghi. After five years of excellent work, V. Rev. Fr. Bsag has every right to become the prelate of a more prominent diocese. It is natural that clergymen, too, should seek promotion, in a legitimate and honorable way, as in this case. Thus, we are confident that the Joint Assembly will comply with the wishes of the Armenians of Kharpert who are urgently asking for their prelate. This is in accordance with the decision of a previous assembly which stated that ‘prelates can relocate, if the new election means advancement for him,’
The Representative Assembly of Kghi honored its prelate and accepted his resignation based on the fact that “it would not be fair to prevent his advancement.”
This is what we read in the Dadjar weekly, in the section of Azkayin Giank (National Life):
They have written to us from Kghi that the local Representative Assembly has honored Prelate Bsag Dz. Vartabed for his five years of valuable endeavor, and have requested from the prelate to continue his tenure. However, when V. Rev. Fr. Bsag remarked that “it would not be fair to prevent his promotion” the representatives accepted his resignation, but requested from him to continue his responsibilities in Kghi until the arrival of Kharpert’s diocesan edict. The request was conveyed to the patriarchate so that the necessary formalities could be done.
During its meeting, the Joint Assembly confirmed the election of V. Rev. Fr. Bsag as prelate to the diocese of Kharpert. He went to his workplace (June 8th 1912) to serve to the best of his abilities and, more importantly, to justify the expectations of the people.
Again, we read in the Azkayin Lourer section of Dadjar weekly:
The letters we receive from Kghi express regret regarding the relocation of their prelate, V. Rev. Fr. Bsag to Kharpert, because he was well loved by the people with his activities and diligence. The distress of the people of Kghi justified the determination of V. Rev. Fr. Bsag to prove himself in a much larger diocese such as Kharpert. We are certain that the patriarchate will send another worthy clergyman to Kghi. The Joint Assembly, during its Wednesday meeting, confirmed the tenure of V. Rev. Fr. Bsag as prelate of Kharpert.
During his diocesan tenure, he dedicated himself to an enthusiastic educational and ecclesiastical career. He organized all the churches and monasteries and revived them. He developed new academic programs for the parochial elementary schools. He paid special attention to the central schools. He raised the level of the central school in Mezré to secondary school, always with the cooperation of astute men and talented intellectuals.
In that same year, upon the request of the prelate of Garin, Bishop Sempad Saadetian, he received the privilege to wear the pectoral cross from the Catholicos of All Armenians. We read about this in the Dadjar weekly, in the section of Azkayin Lourer: “We have learned with satisfaction that the Religious Assembly, acting upon a recommendation from Bishop Sempad, has decided to request from the Catholicos of All Armenians, to bestow upon the newly-elected prelate of Kharpert a Pectoral Cross, in appreciation of his hard work.”
On October 25th 1913, during his diocesan tenure, the 1500th Anniversary of the discovery of the Armenian alphabet, as well as the 400th Anniversary of Armenian printing was jointly celebrated in Kharpert and its environs. V. Rev. Fr. Bsag presided upon these celebrations in Mezré. The students of all the schools were present. V. Rev. Fr. Bsag gave a historic speech during the program depicting the renaissance of the intellectual life during the Golden Age.
The Representative Assembly of Kharpet awarded him with the certificate for episcopal ordination in appreciation of his abilities and his prolific ecclesiastical, national and academic achievements. But unfortunately, due to the onset of the First World War and the ensuing tragic events, the hapless priest was martyred and could not attain that high honor.
On August 1st 1914 Turkey decided to fight alongside Germany in the First World War, against Russia. Like in other cities and provinces inhabited by Armenians, general conscription was declared in Kharpert also. The Armenians, as loyal citizens, went to the military center in groups and after a brief training, were sent to the war-front. The government, however, never accepted the Armenians as loyal subjects. On August 10th 1914, the Interior Minister of Turkey, Talaat Pasha, abolished the rights of the foreign subjects, the centuries-old rights of the Armenian Patriarchate, the Armenian National Constitution and dissolved the Armenian Representative Assembly.
In 1914, when the deportation of the Armenians began in the region of Garin, two Kurdish representatives came from Dersim (Kharpert), to the prelacy of Kharpert for consultation and to offer some proposals. A secret meeting was held, presided by V. Rev. Fr. Bsag and the two Kurds made the following proposal on behalf of the people of Dersim:
We have come to establish unity and friendship with you. We know that soon the Armenians of Kharpert will be subjected to the same sad fate as the deported Armenians of Erzurum, and all your wealth will be snatched by the Turks. Friends, believe what we are telling you, trust us and unite with us with the following conditions:
- Give orders to your Armenian soldiers to defect from the Turkish army and to find refuge in Dersim. We will be happy to take them in, but they have to bring their guns with them.
- Soon, when Dersim attacks Kharpert, you, Armenians, must unite with the Dersimtsis. We will fight together, and then transport all the wealth as well as the Armenian people to Dersim. The riches will go to the people of Dersim, and you, Armenians will be given safe haven until this storm has passed.
Despite the wise stance of V. Rev. Fr. Bsag, and the pleas and agitation of Rev. Fr. Vartan Aslanian, the national leadership of Kharpert regarded the offer of the people of Dersim as ‘impractical and dangerous’ and refused the offer.
The situation deteriorated a few days after the departure of the Kurds. Turkish soldiers confiscated the merchandise and riches of the Armenian merchants. They entered the Armenian villages and appropriated the livestock and the winter supplies in order to smother the Armenians economically and to cause famine. Despite the fact that thousands of Armenians were serving in the army, the government snatched the arms from a large number of Armenians and made them work as porters.
- Rev. Fr. Bsag was unable to endure the suffering of his people, so he went to see the governor along with a number of notable members of the community and complained about the injustice. Promises were given but no action was taken…
In January of 1915 arrests began in Kharpert and Mezré. Party leaders, teachers, writers, clergymen, prominent traders and many others were put in jail.
In the beginning of May V. Rev. Fr. Bsag Der Khorenian was jailed along with educator Yervant Sermakeshkhanlian (Yeroukhan), who had come as principal of the central school of Mezré one-and-a-half years ago. When the people of Kharpert heard of the imprisonment of their prelate, they were very traumatized and terrified. We read about this in the book ‘Kharpert yev ir Vosgeghen Tashde’ (Kharpert and its Golden Field):
The imprisonment of prominent personages was a great shock for the troubled Armenians. Rumors of unspeakable abuse and secret massacres spread everywhere and sent the defenseless Armenians into an infernal state in the cities and the villages. Talaat had dispatched special orders to massacre all the clergymen and every male who could expedite the re-creation of Armenia.
Patriarch Zaven Yeghiayan gave the following information to Bishop Ghevont Tourian in his letter dated 21-25 August 1915:
Today it was confirmed that there are no more Armenians left in the provinces of Garin, Drabizon, Sepasdia, Kharpert, Paghesh and Dikranagerd. The local authorities have systematically carried out deportations since the beginning of April. In every village and city, the people have been disarmed with the most terrifying torture and murder committed by gendarmes and chetés consisting of criminals released from jail for this purpose. Large groups of people were thrown into jail for allegedly owning guns and books, having partisan affiliations and other pretexts. In the absence of such excuses, the wealthy and the affluent were rounded up anyway and thrown into jail. The women’s caravan, which had arrived in the plain of Kharpert from the vilayet of Garin had been left there for a few days, where gradually everyone had died from hunger (50-60 dying everyday). Miss Flora Wedel Yarlsberg and a German friend of hers, dismayed at these acts of violence, resigned and went to Constantinople. They personally visited a number of embassies and told of these savage events. A Moslem traveler walked for nine hours through areas closely packed with corpses on his way from Malatia to Sepasdia…
History-books have never seen or told of such massacre, so that we have begun to think of the Sultan Hamid era as our happy times. We heard during the past month that one of our prelates in the provinces, V. Rev. Fr. Anania Hazarabedian, prelate of Papert, was executed on the gallows. In the beginning of May, V. Rev. Fr. Bsag Der Khorenian, prelate of Kharpert, was dispatched on the road to exile and was brutally murdered after 2-3 hours …
According to a testimony by Dikran Der Yeghiayan, we have some information about the martyrdom of V. Rev. Fr. Bsag, as reported in Teotig’s ‘Koghkota Turkahay Hokevoraganoutian’:
Regardless of the fact that he had written an anti-Russian article in the local official Turkish paper on the eve of the World War, he was arrested like a common criminal and thrown in the Mezré prison along with hundreds of others from the ranks of clergymen, teachers, lawyers and merchants. History books of ancient and modern people have not yet recorded atrocities such as those inflicted on the prisoners for weeks on end, which would shame even the most feral people. After Prof. K. Soghigian went mad and died because he was unable to stand the beating, Bsag Vartabed, accompanied by head-teachers Tenekejian and Boujikanian, was dispatched on foot, allegedly to be taken to Dikranagerd. Four hours down the road, they were stopped at the bottom of Devé-Beoyni and were killed with axes and scythes.
The young, energetic and active priest was tortured and martyred with his people and for his people, at barely 35 years of age.
- Rev. Fr. Bsag was an administrator as well as a writer. His literary works are known to us to a certain degree. His articles, studies and sermons signed ‘Makisdros’ and ‘Anoushavan’ can be found in the contemporary press of Constantinople and the provinces.
His most important literary works are:
- ‘Khortsian Kavari Deghegakroutiune yev Badmoutiune’ (The Documentation and History of the Khorts Province), 5 volumes. The chapter ‘Khortsian Kavari Tebrevanknere’ (The Seminaries of the Khorts Province) was used in the booklet published on the 25th Anniversary of Armash.
- Three volumes about the history ‘Bishop Sepeos Badmitch’.
- ‘Kezelbashoutian Dzakoume’ (The Origin of the Khezelbash).
- ‘Kangé Pajage’ (The Skull Cup). A tragedy taken from the life of the Mamigonian princes. It was staged several times in Kghi, after the constitution.
He also has other studies, articles and sermons.
- ‘Pakradounik’ (The Pakradounis), a study.
- ‘Kahanayagan Badrasdoutiune’ (Clerical Preparation), an article.
- ‘Nor Darvo Artiv’ (On the Occasion of the New Year), an article.
- ‘Sourp Kirken Tsolker’ (Reflections from the Holy Book), an exegesis.
- ‘Hoghayin Hartsin Verchin Poule’ (The Last Stage of the Territorial Cause), an article.
- ‘Gronagan Tasdiaragoutiun’ (Religious Education), a series of articles.
- ‘Apegha’(Celibate Priest), an exegesis.
- ‘Akab’(Agape, Love), a study.
- ‘Ator’, (Chair), a study.
- ‘Hin Etcher Hovhannes Tamasgatsi ev Hay Yegeghetsi” (Old Pages from John of Damascus and the Armenian Church), an article.
- ‘Yegeghetsagan Parer ou Asatsvatskner’ (Ecclesiastical Words and Sayings), a long series of articles.