Thursday, October 19, 2017

Death of Varaztad Kazanjian (October 19, 1974)

World War I led Armenian American oral surgeon Dr. Varaztad Kazanjian to be regarded as the founder of the modern practice of plastic surgery.

Kazanjian was born in Erzinga (Western Armenia) on March 18, 1879. He attended a French Jesuit school in Sepastia (Sivas), and then he moved to Samsun, on the Black Sea shore, to live with his older half-brother. In October 1895, at the age of sixteen, he arrived in the United States as an escapee of the Armenian massacres ordered by Sultan Abdul Hamid II. He settled in Worcester, Massachusetts, and took a job at the local wire factory, where he first displayed the dexterity that would serve him so well in the future.

The future surgeon decided to pursue a career in dentistry at the suggestion of a coworker. He continued working during the day, spending his nights taking classes and learning English. He entered the Harvard Dental School in 1902, receiving his D.M.D. degree three years later.

Kazanjian began a private practice upon his graduation, and also accepted a position as an Assistant in Prosthetic Dentistry at his alma mater. While working at the Harvard Dental School Clinic, he treated over four hundred jaw fractures and introduced a new method of treatment. He was one of the first to replace the inter-dental splint with a simpler inter-maxillary wiring method.

He was married and successfully running his own dental practice in 1914, but when the First World War broke out, he volunteered to join the Harvard Medical Corps, and posted to a huge tented hospital complex in Camiers, France, where he served British forces. There Kazanjian began to treat some of the worst injuries suffered in trench warfare: jaws, noses, cheeks, and skulls shattered by bullets and grenades.  After treating more than 3,000 such cases, and reconstructing many disfigured faces, he was celebrated as the “Miracle Man of the Western Front.” Working under primitive conditions in makeshift hospitals, the surgeon’s humane concern, combined with innovative medical procedures, established his reputation and marked his career as a founder of the modern practice of plastic surgery. He was subsequently promoted to the rank of major in June 1916.

For his efforts, British King George V invested Kazanjian as a Companion of the Order of St. Michael and St. George in 1919. In the same year, he returned to Boston and accepted a position as Professor of Military Oral Surgery in Harvard Dental School. He completed his medical studies in 1921, when he graduated from Harvard Medical School, and became head of the combined Plastic Surgery Clinic of the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary and Massachusetts General Hospital. He also served on the staffs of several hospitals. In 1922 he became Professor of Clinical Oral Surgery at Harvard Medical School, a position he held until 1941, when he became the first Professor of Plastic Surgery at the same educational institution.

Varaztad Kazanjian’s groundbreaking use of medical technology in eliminating facial deformities and reconstructing faces after injuries was widely lauded during his lifetime. His pioneering contributions transformed plastic surgery into an esteemed surgical specialty. He recorded his unique treatments and methods in one hundred and fifty journal articles, and co-authored the classic The Surgical Treatment of Facial Injuries (1949) with John M. Converse.

During the 1950s, Kazanjian received many honors and awards from the American Society of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, the American Society of Oral Surgeons, and the American Association of Plastic Surgeons in 1959. Besides being a Fellow of a string of scientific organizations in the United States and Great Britain, he served as president of the American Association of Plastic Surgeons, the American Society of Maxillofacial Surgery, and the New England Society of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery. He died on October 19, 1974 at the age of 95. Armenian American actress and radio and TV personality Arlene Francis (Kazanjian) was his niece.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Birth of Rafael Nogales Méndez (October 14, 1879)

Among the many sources about the Armenian Genocide, the memoirs of Venezuelan soldier Rafael de Nogales Méndez occupy a particular place. Firstly, Nogales served in the Ottoman army, and secondly, his writings
did not show him as particularly appreciative of Armenians. This makes his testimony more compelling and trustworthy.
Nogales (his birth name was Rafael Inchauspe Méndez) was born in San Cristóbal, state of Táchira, on October 14, 1879. His father sent him to Europe, where he studied in Germany, Belgium, and Spain, and spoke German, French, and Italian fluently.
The thirst for adventure and the attraction of the military profession turned him into a soldier of fortune from the late nineteenth century. In 1898 he fought with Spain during the Spanish-American War. He returned to Venezuela in 1901, but he was critical of Cipriano Castro’s dictatorship. In 1902 a revolution started and Castro tried to have him arrested, but Nogales escaped to Nicaragua, where President Zelaya supported him in a failed expedition to overthrow the Venezuelan dictator. After spending time in Mexico, where he enjoyed the protection of another dictator, Porfirio Díaz, he went to China and then he was involved as a double spy in the Russo-Japanese war. In 1904-1905 he mined gold in Alaska. Then he returned to California, where he fought along the forces of Mexican revolutionary Ricardo Flores Magón. After the military coup of Juan Vicente Gómez in Venezuela, which overthrew Castro’s dictatorship, Nogales returned to his homeland (1908). He was appointed governor of the state of Apure, but two months later he made himself an enemy of the new president and had to go into exile.
He tried to join the French army at the outbreak of World War I, but he refused to renounce his Venezuelan nationality. In the end he enlisted in the Ottoman Army and was assigned to the Caucasus Front, where he reached the rank of major. During the siege of Van in April-May 1915 he led gendarmerie troops, but asked to be relieved for what he characterized as “unjustified massacres of Christians.” He wrote that the massacres were executed by Halil Bey, the commander and chief of the expeditionary army he had volunteered to serve. (Halil Bey was Minister of War Enver Pasha’s uncle.).

In his book Four Years Beneath the Crescent (1924), Nogales recounted the massacres perpetrated against the Armenian population of Van by order of Governor Jevdet bey (Enver’s brother-in-law): “Supported by the Kurds and the rabble of the vicinity, they [the civil authorities] were attacking and sacking the Armenian quarter. I succeeded at last, without serious accident, in approaching the Beledie reis of the town, who was directing the orgy; whereupon I ordered him to stop the massacre. He astounded me by replying that he was doing nothing more than carry out an unequivocal order emanating from the Governor-General of the province to exterminate all Armenian males of twelve years of age and over.”
Nogales visited Diarbekir (Diyarbakir) in June 1915, and was a witness to the widespread massacres of the local Armenians. According to his conversation with Governor Mehmet Reshid, the orders to massacre had been sent by Interior Minister Talaat Pasha.
The Venezuelan soldier was transferred from the Caucasus and continued fighting in Mesopotamia and Palestine. He was awarded the Iron Cross by Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany and earned several Ottoman medals.
After the end of the war, Nogales worked with Nicaraguan revolutionary Augusto César Sandino and wrote Spanish books, including his memoirs of World War I, Four Years beneath the Crescent (1924), translated into English and German, The Robbery of Nicaragua (1928), and Memories of a Soldier of Fortune (1932). After the death of Gómez, he returned to Venezuela and was appointed to study the army of Panama, but died in Panama City on July 10, 1936.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Death of Khachatour Lazarian (October 10, 1871)

The Lazarian family had an important role in the history of the Armenian liberation movement from the eighteenth century. Hovhannes Lazarian (1735-1801) worked to that end through his connections to the Russian court. He bequeathed a big sum of money to the foundation of a high school in Moscow for Armenian children, designating his brother Hovakim as executor of the will. The Lazarian College, founded in 1815, would become an education beacon for the Armenians in the Russian Empire.

Hovakim Lazarian’s younger son, Khachatour, continued the family work. He was born on June 1, 1789. The details about his early life are sketchy. In 1819 he married the daughter of Manuk bey Mirzayan (1769-1817), a well-known trading partner of his father in Moldavia (Moldova), who had been very active during the Turkish-Russian war of 1806-1812.

The obstacles put by Russian high-level bureaucracy, particularly the Ministry of Education, to the activities of the Lazarian College led the Lazarian family to take an unprecedented step. In 1824 Hovakim Lazarian addressed the Council of Ministers to ask that the College be taken out of the ministry’s orbit and put under the direct supervision of the council. Brothers Hovhannes and Khachatour Lazarian, together with two members of the Committee of Educational Institutions, prepared the bylaws of the College, which were approved. The Lazarian College was renamed Lazarian Institute of Oriental Languages in 1828.  

Meanwhile, Khachatour Lazarian had been actively involved in the last phase of the Russo-Persian war of 1826-1828. Along with Prince Konstantin Arghoutian and scholar Alexander Khoudabashian, Lazarian prepared a project of autonomy for the Eastern Armenian territories that would be annexed to Russia after the war. The project, entitled, “A Series of Proposals for Georgia and Adjacent Territories,” called for an ample autonomy of Armenia within the Russian Empire and the restoration of the Armenian kingdom with Czar Nicholas I adding “King of the Armenians” to his titles. The project also anticipated the immigration of Armenian population from Persia to Eastern Armenia. Lazarian also lobbied the Russian authorities to incorporate the province of Maku, beyond the border of the Arax River. The idea of Archbishop Nerses Ashtaraketsi (future Catholicos of All Armenians) was to turn its mountains and valleys into a natural protection for the country. However, Lazarian failed in his purpose due to the obstinate refusal of General Ivan Paskevitch, who had fought and won the war. The autonomy project was also rejected, but it contributed to the initial creation of the Armenian Province (1829-1840). He was also a member of the committee that prepared the reforms in the administration of Eastern Armenia. The project, known as Polozhenye, was approved by Nicholas I on March 11, 1836.

To confront the matter of insufficient income for the Lazarian Institute –the family covered the deficits from their own pocket—Lazarian presented a project in 1837 that proposed to unify the five Armenian churches of Moscow and St. Petersburg with the Institute and establish a synergia between them, with the units mutually covering their deficits. He also suggested the creation of a religious section in the Institute for the education of the clergy. The project was approved by Catholicos Hovhannes Karbetsi and the Synod of Etchmiadzin in 1840, and then approved by the czar in 1841. Another project approved in 1848 by Nicholas I turned the Institute into an eight-year educational institution, instead of the previous six-year period.

Khachatour Lazarian’s only son, Hovhannes, passed away at an early age in 1850. His parents and uncle donated 60,000 silver rubles in his memory to establish a preparatory section for the children of Armenian poor families that lacked knowledge of the Russian language to enter the Institute. As an exception, the czar agreed to this donation.

In 1860 Lazarian, a man of progressive ideas in education and always ready to have the best possible level, made a huge donation of 200,000 rubles from his own fortune to improve the educational level of the Institute—now divided into two sections, gymnasium and Oriental languages—and allow the graduates to pursue higher education without additional exams. Czar Alexander II (1855-1881) decorated him with the order of the White Lion. The intervention of the Minister of Education, Count Dmitri Tolstoy, another man of progressive ideas, established a new reform, which reunited both sections while keeping their high educational level. The new curriculum remained unchanged from 1872 to 1918, when the newly established Soviet government closed the Lazarian Institute.

Besides his support for education, Khachatour Lazarian continuously sought to support Armenian Studies among Russian scholars and convince wealthy Armenians of throwing their support “in favor of the Church and the Armenian people, which demand and are thirsty for education and science.”

Lazarian passed away in Moscow on October 10, 1871. A marble bust was installed in the hall of the Lazarian Institute in the same year thanks to the fundraising of Russian Armenians.