Γράφει ο Αλέξανδρος-Μιχαήλ Χατζηλύρας
Yesterday I went to visit the Vank together with Diana Bridger, who is the Senior Police Advisor for UNFICYP and a friend of Simon Aynedjian. Although we had to walk up and down, often steep terrain of over a mile, the end result was very rewarding. Not only did we visit the Vank but also the Mekhitara gotogh, which is located on the Mekhitara plur, to the north-east of the Monastery.
This monument has a very interesting history. An introduction on Mekhitar first: Mekhitar of Sebaste was a prominent scholar and theologian. In his efforts to seek the truth and knowledge, he became associated with the Catholic doctrine and set from Alexandretta in 1695 to visit Rome. His first (and only) stop was Cyprus, Famagusta to be exact. There he was very much welcomed by the Armenian community, but news of his apostasy soon followed him, and the locals there ousted him from the city. He had heard of the great Sourp Magar monastery in Pentadhaktylos, and he sought refuge there, as in the mean time his brief stay in Alexandretta had given him the gift of malaria. Although the monks there, very strict in their manners, did not welcome him - as they knew he no longer retained the Orthodox faith -, they did give him however a place to stay. After he convalesced he returned back to Minor Asia and entered the Sourp Nshan monastery in 1696. In 1701 he founded in Constantinople his Miapanoutiun (Brotherhood) and from there he went to Peloponnese in Greece, which at the time was a Venetian possession. In 1715 the Order moved to the island of San Lazzaro in Venice, which until then was used for lepers. Even today one can see the small windows of the buildings that used to house these poor souls. From their base in Venice, the Mekhitarists as they were known - one of the first Armenian Catholic brotherhoods - expanded to Trieste and then to Vienna. What is perhaps their most significant contribution to the Armenian nation is their scriptoria and printing presses, which both saved/translated old texts and produced numerous books in Armenian, as well as the schools they founded.
Coming to Cyprus: In 1897, following the Hamidian massacres and the numerous orphans that these horrific massacres caused, Vahan Kurkdjian (Pagouran), a teacher and an intellectual, decided to come to Cyprus to teach here. With financial aid from Manchester, France and elsewhere, he set up a small school, called "National Educational Orphanage" in Nicosia, where he taught his about 30 or so students, most of whom were orphans. Summer sessions were held in one of the six rooms of the Monastery. His impact on his students' political beliefs was extremely powerful, and so was his impact on the deghatsi community: he made remarkable efforts to help them understand that other than being Armenian-Cypriots or Cypriots of Armenian descent, they were also part of a greater whole, the Armenian Diaspora (which at the time was significantly smaller and less scattered than it is today). He admired Mekhitar, and so on 8/09/1901 he and his students erected a small monument in memory of the 200th anniversary of the formation of Mekhitar's Order. In 1931, this was re-built with the help of architect Garo Balian, the very same who designed the twin buildings of the Melkonian. To my knowledge, this is the oldest Armenian monument in Cyprus still surviving (but not the oldest inscription in Armenian). I am attaching a photo of its inauguration, where Movses Soultanian and Rapael Philibbossian are shown together with Sahag Catholicos and Bedros Saradjian, the famous Armenian Archbishop in Cyprus at the time. Also attached is a very rare photo (first time ever digitised) of the inauguration; unfortunately it is not of good quality
.Additionally, Pagouran strived to encourage hayakhosoutiun amongst the predominantly Trkakhoss Armenian-Cypriot locals, and had great plans about turning Cyprus into a "meshagoutayin getron" for Armenianism. Unfortunately, his plans came to a halt when his 21-year old only son Mihran died in 1904, leaving him with no choice than to leave Cyprus, as he was too hurt by his memories he had with his son here. Mihran was buried in the old Ledra Palace cemetery, though not in 1898 as erroneously the commemorative plaque mentions. So Pagouran, who had written a very interesting about Cyprus and the community here (called "Hay Gibros, published in 1903) and published other books in his press in Nicosia, took his wife and left for Egypt, where he started printing a newspaper, Lousaper. Through this newspaper he tried to call all Armenians for unity and solidarity, which very soon (1906) led to the formation of the AGBU, with Boghos Noubar Pasha as its first President. Pagouran became even more important in Armenian matters when he moved to the United States and wrote the History of Armenia in English and although he is now long gone, his memory lives on in those who were his students and their ancestors.
Pagouran is indeed a very interesting personality and, along with Mekhitar, amongst the most important Armenians who passed by our small but beautiful island. It remains a point of guessing what would Pagouran have accomplished if he had stayed in Cyprus... (and if AGBU were to be formed if he had stayed in Cyprus).
The inscription on the west side of the monument reads as follows:
"8 September 1901
In memory of the two hundredth anniversary
of Abbot Mekhitar.
The students of the National Educational Orphanage
Restored by the former students
Movses Soultanian, Simon Vanian 1931
A Bedevian, Rapael Pilibbossian"
The inscription on the west side of the monument (probably taken out from the original monument) is a poem by Vahan Kurkdjian and reads as follows:
"Hail to you hill, temple of nature,
may this stone monument be a memento
of your holy name from century to century
long live the full of light great Mekhitar