Teotig: The First Historian of Armenian Printing

Vartan Matiossian

The name Teotig meant little to the English reader until the recent publication of volume II of Rita Soulahian Kuyumdjian’s Trilogy – April 24, 1915, which includes Teotig’s biography and Soulahian Kuyumdjian’s translation of Monument to April 11, Teotig’s compilation of biographies of intellectuals who were victims of the Genocide.
Himself a survivor, Teotig (Teotoros Lapjinjian, 1873-1928) was a prolific editor, author, and publisher. A native of Scutari (Constantinople), he started his literary career in the late 1890’s. His name has become synonymous with his almanac, Amenun Daretsuytse (“Everyone’s Almanac”; 1907-29), an encyclopedic undertaking of well over 10,000 pages, which today stands as an inexhaustible reference for anyone interested in Armenian life in the first quarter of the 20th century.
Teotig was assisted in his enterprise by his British-educated wife, Arshaguhi Teotig (1875-1921)—herself a writer and educator—until her untimely death. He fled from Constantinople in 1922 on the eve of its occupation by the army of Mustafa Kemal. He lived a wandering life for the next six years, in Corfu, Nicosia, and Paris, with the last yearbooks being printed in Venice, Vienna, and Paris. He passed away in May 1928 in Paris, when the 18th volume of his yearbooks (his “paper children,” as he called them) was in press. His son Vahakn Teotig died in the United States sometime in the 1960’s.
The yearbook contains a huge array of diverse material, ranging from poetry and fiction to scholarship and yearly chronicles and obituaries. It has become a classic, both because of its well-crafted editions, profusely illustrated, and its extensive contents, which included, in addition to Teotig’s enormous output, contributions by many writers and scholars of the time—from poets Taniel Varoujan and Vahan Tekeyan to women writers Zabel Essayan and Shushanik Kurghinian, to historians Arshag Alboyadjian and Garabed Basmadjian.
Among Teotig’s many published and unpublished works—one of them, Koghkota hay hokevoraganutian (“The Golgotha of the Armenian Clergy”), was painstakingly edited by Ara Kalaydjian, recently deceased, and first published in 1985 by St. Vartan Press in New York—his lavish Dib u darr (“Type and Letter”), published in 1912 by V. and H. Nersessian Press in Constantinople on the 400th anniversary of Armenian printing, stands out. It is an outline of the history of Armenian printing since the beginnings, and until his time. After an introduction of the history of printing since Gutenberg’s time, Teotig also surveyed, for the first time, Armenian books published all around the world, from Turkey (and Western Armenia) and Russia (and Eastern Armenia) to Asia, Europe, and the New World. He gleaned information from various reference sources, as well as his own library, which contained well over 4,000 volumes.
The rich contents of the book has stood the test of the time as the product of a single-handed effort by an indefatigable amateur and connoisseur of Armenian books (he called himself madenamol, “bibliomaniac”) that paved the ground for the next generation of trained scholars and bibliographers.
On the 500th anniversary of Armenian printing, we offer for the first time in English a translation of the brief chapter of the book devoted to Armenian printing in the United States (pp. 186-8), enriched with some footnotes (the title is ours). Despite its shortcomings, it is a pioneering and neglected source for the study of Armenian-American culture, written at a time when the East Coast, particularly New York, was the hub of Armenian-American life (a position that has been mostly ceded to the West Coast in the past four decades). It is a memory of a bygone time when printing in Armenian flourished in the area, before the period of major expansion between both World Wars. Today, a few generations later, some relics of that time (books, newspapers, and journals) have been painstakingly gathered, albeit not completely, in the main Armenian and non-Armenian research libraries of the area. Some may also turn up in church or club libraries, private collections, or even basements and attics.
This translation may also serve as a timely reminder. In the last decade, the name of Teotig experienced a rebirth among Armenian-language readers in the diaspora (despite their dwindling numbers) because of the enterprising spirit of publisher Matig Eblighatian from Aleppo (Syria), the owner of the Armenian bookstore-press “Cilicia.” The first 15 volumes of Teotig’s Amenun taretsuytse (up to the 1925 issue) have already been reprinted since 2007 in careful photographic editions that also include much-needed indexes, patiently prepared by another intellectual from Aleppo, Levon Sharoyan. The reprint is sponsored by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation.
In 2006, Eblighatian had reprinted Teotig’s landmark Dib u darr, again with the sponsorship of the Gulbenkian Foundation. I have used this second photographic reprint for the translation (see below), as a testament to the cultural renaissance that the Syrian-Armenian community experienced over the past two decades, in these critical days when both our brothers and sisters in Syria, former Syrian-Armenians scattered around the world, and any concerned Armenian anxiously follow the developments of a country practically engulfed in a civil war.
"The Armenian Weekly," September 1, 2012

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