Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Battle of Manazkert (August 26, 1071)

The battle of Manazkert (Մանազկերտ, usually spelled Manzikert in Western literature) was a decisive moment in the history of the Byzantine Empire. The defeat of its army at the hands of the Seljuk Turks undermined Byzantine authority in Armenia and marked the beginning of imperial decadence that would lead to the disappearance of Byzantium in 1453.

The Byzantine policy in the first half of the eleventh century had taken advantage of the division of Armenia into various feudal kingdoms, and exerted political pressure to acquire territories without violence. In 1021 King Hovhannes Senekerim of Vaspurakan exchanged his kingdom for territories in Cappadocia, where he moved with dozens of thousands of his subjects. In 1045 Gagik II Bagratuni was retained in Constantinople and forced to give up the kingdom of Ani to the empire. This misguided policy delivered Armenia in the hands of Byzantium, but at the same time opened the door for the invasions of the Seljuk Turks, who plundered the country and occupied and ravaged Ani in 1064. A year later, King Gaguik I of Kars, unable to confront the Turkish invasions, gave his kingdom to Byzantium in exchange of territories. The military incompetence of emperors Constantine IX (1042-1055) and Constantine X (1059-1067) could not be offset by the brief reign of Isaac I (1057-1059) and the Byzantine army was left in disarray. The occupation of Ani by the Seljuks, led by Alp Arslan, was followed by the rest of Armenia in 1067, and the invaders followed with the conquest of Caesarea.


Emperor Romanos IV Diogenes took power in 1068, and despite his military setback, Alp Arslan sought and signed a peace treaty with Byzantium in 1069 to focus on the Fatimid kingdom in Egypt as its main enemy. In February 1071 the Seljuk leader agreed to renew the treaty. However, this had been a distraction, as Romanos led a large army into Armenia to recover lost territories.

The Byzantine army, totaling from 40,000 to 70,000 men, reached Theodosiopolis (Karin, Erzerum) in June 1071 and continued the march towards Lake Van. The emperor expected to retake Manazkert and the nearby fortress of Khlat. Unknown to him, Alp Arslan had returned from the siege of Aleppo and was following the movements of the Byzantine army with an army of 20,000 to 30,000 soldiers.

Romanos split his forces in half, ordering his general Joseph Tarchaniotes to occupy Khlat, while the emperor marched to Manazkert. Khlat was not taken, and it is unknown what happened to the army sent off. The emperor easily captured Manazkert on August 23, but the Seljuk army was in the surroundings of the city, and the Byzantine cavalry and left wing were defeated or forced to retreat in engagements on August 23-24.

The main battle was held on August 26, 1071. The emperor wanted to settle the eastern question with a decisive military victory. The Byzantine army gathered itself into a proper battle formation and marched on the Turkish positions. The Seljuk archers attacked the Byzantines as they drew closer, but the arrow attacks were held off and Alp Arslan’s camp was captured. However, the Seljuks avoided battle and the emperor was forced to order a withdrawal when night fell. The Seljuks seized the opportunity and attacked. The right and left wings of the army were routed, and the rear, commanded by co-emperor and Romanos IV’s rival Andronikos Doukas, marched back to the camp outside Manazkert instead of covering the emperor’s retreat and later fled. The remnants of the Byzantine center were encircled and taken prisoner by the Seljuks, including the emperor.

Romanos IV agreed upon concessions: the surrender of Antioch, Edessa, Hierapolis, and Manazkert, a ransom of 1.5 million gold pieces plus an annual sum of 360,000 gold pieces, and a marriage alliance between Arslan’s son and Romanos’ daughter. The emperor was released a week later and sent to Constantinople with an escort of two emirs and one hundred Mamluks. His rule was in serious trouble. In 1072 he was deposed, blinded, and exiled to the island of Proti, where he would soon die.

The balance of power between Byzantium and the Seljuks did not change in the short-term, although the ensuing civil war within the empire did, to the advantage of the Seljuks, who reached Asia Minor and established their capital in Nicea (1077). Byzantium never recovered Armenia, and from that time on, its borders moved continuously towards the west. British historian Steven Runciman noted: “The Battle of Manzikert was the most decisive disaster in Byzantine history. The Byzantines themselves had no illusions about it. Again and again their historians refer to that dreadful day.”

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Death of St. Nerses Shnorhali (August 13, 1173)

One of the saints of the Armenian and the universal Church, Nerses Shnorhali, is also one of the most revered names in the Armenian Christian tradition. He was known with the appellative of Shnorhali (“Graceful”) due to his multiple talents: he was theologian, poet, musicologist, composer, and historian, and excelled in all those endeavors.

Nerses Klayetsi was born in the castle of Tzovk, in the district of Tluk, in the Armenian Mesopotamia (the area around the city of Edesa or Urfa) in 1102. He belonged to the princely Pahlavuni family. His great-grandfather was Grigor Pahlavuni or Magistros (990-1058), a famous writer, scholar, and public official.

After the early death of his father, Prince Apirat Pahlavuni, Nerses and his older brother Grigor were placed under the guardianship of their maternal great uncle, Catholicos Grigor II Martyrophile (1066-1105), who placed them in the monastery at Fhoughri. Later, Grigor’s successor, Barsegh (1105-1113) sent them to the school of the monastery of Karmir Vank, headed by Bishop Stepanos Manouk, a highly regarded scholar and theologian.

Nerses’ brother Grigor became Catholicos at the age of 21, in 1113. Nerses was ordained a celibate priest in 1119 and consecrated a bishop at the age of 35, in 1137. He was one of the best educated men of his time.

He assisted Catholicos Grigor III in moving the Catholicosate to Dzovk, on the property of their father, in 1125. This move was brief, as in 1151 the Catholicosate moved its headquarters to the fortress of Hromkla, near the Euphrates River (Nerses’ surname “Klayetsi” was derived from the name of the fortress). In 1165 hostilities broke out between Toros II, Prince of Cilicia, and one of the strongest princes of the country, Oshin of Lambron. Grigor III sent his brother to mediate.

On his way to the mediation, Nerses met Byzantine governor Alexios and discussed the strained relations between the Armenian and Greek churches since the Greek Orthodox Church had declared that the Armenian Church and the Jacobite Church were heretics in 1140. This discussion impressed the Byzantine governor to the point that he urged the Armenian bishop to write an exposition of the Armenian faith. Nerses stressed in his letter that, as both the Armenian and Greek churches accepted the statements of the first Council of Ephesus (431), there was no clear reason for them not to be in agreement, and did not make any polemical statements about the later Council of Chalcedon and its Confession.

On Nerses’ return from his successful mediation effort and the death of his brother shortly thereafter, he was made Catholicos of the Armenian Church. He convened a council with emissaries selected by Byzantine emperor Manuel I Comnenos to discuss how they might be able to reunite the two churches (1171). The terms the emperor offered were, however, unacceptable to both Nerses and the Armenian Church, and the negotiations collapsed.

Nerses Shnorhali passed away on August 13, 1173 and was buried in the fortress of Hromkla. The Armenian Church celebrates him as a saint on October 13, during the feast of the Holy Translators, while the Catholic Church also celebrates him, but on August 13.

His prolific literary output included long poems like Lament of Edesa (1145-1146), Jesus the Son (1152), and others, such as the cosmological poem About the Sky and Its Ornaments. He refined and completed the Sharaknots (collection of liturgical hymns) and the Divine Liturgy, enriching it with his own songs, whose number amounts to more than a hundred. One of his best sharakans is the well-known Morning of Light (Առաւօտ լուսոյ, Aravod luso). He also composed some 300 riddles, extracted from Armenian folklore. His Universal Epistle, written in 1166 and addressed to the entire Armenian people, was particularly influential in Armenian medieval thought.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Birth of Stepan Lianozov (August 9, 1872)

John Reed, the American Communist militant who witnessed the October Revolution that would give birth to the Union Soviet, called Stepan Lianozov the “Russian Rockefeller.” Both Lianozov and Rockefeller competed for the oil of Baku in the early twentieth century, at the time when Armenians like Lianozov had an important share in its production and exploitation.

Stepan Lianozov (Lianosian) was born on August 9, 1872 in Moscow. His father, Gevorg Lianozov (1835-1906), descended from an Armenian family that had been deported from Eastern Armenia by Iranian Shah Abbas III at the beginning of the seventeenth century. He was a dominant name in the production of caviar from the Caspian Sea, and would inherit the interests in the oil of Baku that his brother, also called Stepan, had built since 1872.

Gevorg Lianozov’s son Stepan graduated from high school and in 1894 entered the School of Natural Sciences of the University of Moscow. He changed his career and graduated from the School of Law four years later. He worked for two years as an assistant to a magistrate in the court chamber of Moscow.

In 1901 Stepan left to his brothers Martin and Levon the caviar business and entered the growing and lucrative field of oil to assist his father.

After the death of his father, Stepan Lianozov founded the oil company G. M. Lianozov and Sons in St. Petersburg (1907), with a statutory capital of 2 million rubles. He transformed the family business into a corporative activity, attracting big investors, and engaging the biggest players in Baku: the Nobels, the Rothschilds, and the Shell Company. Between 1907 and 1910, G. M. Lianozov and Sons multiplied its production almost nine times.

The company owned oil fields, as well as subsidiaries in Baku that produced kerosene and refined petroleum, a pipeline in the Caspian shore, and others. Lianozov was elected member of the Baku City Council and the Baku Stock Exchange council.

On July 28, 1912 the Russian Main Oil Union, also called Oil, was founded in London. It united three Armenian and one Russian oil companies, several big Russian banks and representatives of British business, with a founding capital of 2.5 million sterling pounds. Stepan Lianozov became director-manager of the new company, which soon bought twelve big oil companies (including Mantashov and Co., Mirzoyev Brothers and Co., A. S. Melikov and Co., and Aramazd), and became the third biggest oil company in the world, after Standard Oil and Royal Dutch Shell. 

Oil rigs around a pool of crude in Baku around 1900. 
G. M. Lianozov and Sons paid 18% to its shareholders in 1913. It had representative companies in Great Britain (British Lianosoff Wite Oil Company), France (La Lianosoff Français), and Germany (Deutsche Lianozoff Mineralöl Import Act.Ges). 

In the spring of 1914 Lianozov and the Mantashov brothers (sons of the late Armenian oil magnate Alexander Mantashov or Mantashiants) made a big investment in the movie company Biochrome, founded by Sergei Prokudin-Gorski. The headquarters of the company were in Moscow, in one of the houses of the Lianozovs, which would become the offices of the Ministry of Cinematography after the Russian Revolution. The company filmed several movies until 1918, when the movie sets were burned by a fire: “No Exit,” “The God of Revenge,” “The Eternal Tale of Life.” 

Lianozov’s business activities continued successfully after the beginning of World War I, but the Russian Revolution ruined the oil magnates of Baku. Unlike many other businessmen, Stepan Lianozov actively entered politics and participated in the civil war that followed. After migrating to Finland, in May 1919 he participated in a meeting organized by the counterrevolutionary forces (the Whites), which decided to create the Northwest Republic with center on the north of current Estonia. Lianozov was designated head of government, and took the positions of Prime Minister, Minister of Finances, and Minister of Foreign Affairs. General Nikolai Yudenich, who had been one of the main Russian commanders in the Caucasian front, and was one of the military leaders of the counterrevolutionary movement, together with Generals Kolchak and Denikin, took the position of Minister of War and commander in chief of the Northwest Army. 

One of the first measures by Lianozov was to recognize the independence of Estonia on August 11, 1919, followed by the recognition of Latvia (September 3) and Finlandia (September 23). He also issued rubles of the Northwest Republic, signed by Yudenich and himself.

In October 1919 Yudenich headed an attack against St. Petersburg. However, the White offensive failed to occupy the capital of Soviet Russia, and, as a result, the Northwest Republic self-dissolved on December 5, 1919 and Lianozov moved to Paris.

In 1920 Stepan Lianozov founded TorgProm (Russian Trade-Industrial and Financial Union), together with the brothers Poghos and Abraham Ghukasian, and some Russian emigré businessmen, to protect the interests of Russian businessmen in Francia. He worked as a film producer in 1925, which became his main source of income for several years. Meanwhile, in 1926 he was the representative for France of the Russian Congress Abroad. This organization published its own newspaper from 1925 to 1940, called Renaissance.

Stepan Lianozov passed away on August 10, 1951 in Paris and was buried in the cemetery of Passy. He left one son, called Nikolai.