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500 Anniversery of Armenian Printing History

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OLD PRINTED BOOKS IN ARMENIAN AND THEIR BIBLIOGRAPHY

With the loss of their statehood at the beginning of the present millennium, Armenians were compelled to leave their homeland and were dispersed all over the world. Yet, deep in their hearts, they maintained an undying hope of returning home to their native land. Wherever they set foot, their first concern was to preserve their culture, religion and language; they built churches, founded schools, libraries and somewhat later printing presses, thus restoring cultural ties severed between ancient and new times. It may be obviously understood what tremendous material, moral and physical efforts were required to carry out such measures in a foreign environment, in a foreign language, under other religions and numerous other suppressive circumstances.

Armenians were among the first to take advantage of Gutenberg's invention. In 1512-1513, Hakob Meghapart was the first Armenian who printed the first books in the Armenian language: "Urbatagirk" (Friday Book), "Parzatumar" (Simple Calendar of Armenians), "Pataragatetr" (Book of Liturgy, Missile), "Aghtark" (Collection of Astronomical and other Predictions) and "Tagharan" (Book of Songs) - the beginnings of Armenian printing. Thereafter, in all corners of the world where there were Armenian communities, Armenian printing presses were founded and Armenian printed material put out. The following is an incomplete list of where books in letters originated by Mesrop were published: Constantinople (1567), Rome (1579), Lvov (1616), Milan (1621), Nor Djugha (1638), Livorno (1644), Amsterdam (1660), Marseilles (1672), Smyrna (1678), London (1736), Echmiadzin (1771), Madras (1772), Trieste (1776), Peterbourg (1781), Nor Nakhidjevan (1790), Astrakhan (1796), Calcutta (1796). Somewhat earlier, in 1486, a German book which included an Armenian alphabet was printed in the city of Mainz.

Thereafter, in Bavia (1539), Zurich (1555), Berlin (1583), Colone (1587), Frankfurt (1593), Leipzig (1680), Pa'dua (1690) and elsewhere many books in foreign languages were printed, which included Armenian alphabets or texts in the Armenian language.

The contents of the first books printed in Armenian are proof of the fact that the main purpose of Armenian printers and publishers was to firmly tie Armenians living in foreign lands and facing the danger of assimilation, with their native tongue, their language and literature and thus aid in promoting noble ideals of national preservation. It is worth noting that Abgar Dpir (scribe) Tokhatetsi, far from his native land in distant Constantinople, printed Armenian books in 1568; while the Turks printed their first book in that same city of Constantinople in 1729, that is 161 years later. Likewise, Armenians in Iran founded a printing house and published Armenian books in 1638, when not a single printing press existed in the entire Middle East; the first Persian book to be printed in Iran came out 192 years after the first Armenian book, in 1830.

The XVI-XVII centuries were outstanding in the history of Armenian printing. It was during that period that Armenian printing houses were founded in different parts of the world; although in that initial period of Armenian printing they were few in number (and only functioned for a short time), in later centuries, the number of printing houses and the sites where they were founded, as well as the number of printed Armenian books increased a few times. Thus, if in the XVI century only 31 Armenian books were printed in all (of which 17 were Armenian, while 14 were foreign language books containing Armenian texts), in the XVII century, the number of Armenian books rose to 164, and in the XVIII century, it had already reached 825 (not taking into account 73 undated Armenian books and 60 foreign language books containing Armenian texts).

It was during this period that many valuable manuscripts of Armenian chronologists, translators, scholars and musicians were printed and were thus saved from being lost.

During the first three hundred years of Armenian printing, along with religious-moral, historical, art, educational, scientific books and those having other contents were printed in grabar (old Armenian) and ashkharabar (modern Armenian), in the original or in translation.

Thereafter, in Bavia (1539), Zurich (1555), Berlin (1583), Colone (1587), Frankfurt (1593), Leipzig (1680), Pa'dua (1690) and elsewhere many books in foreign languages were printed, which included Armenian alphabets or texts in the Armenian language.

The contents of the first books printed in Armenian are proof of the fact that the main purpose of Armenian printers and publishers was to firmly tie Armenians living in foreign lands and facing the danger of assimilation, with their native tongue, their language and literature and thus aid in promoting noble ideals of national preservation. It is worth noting that Abgar Dpir (scribe) Tokhatetsi, far from his native land in distant Constantinople, printed Armenian books in 1568; while the Turks printed their first book in that same city of Constantinople in 1729, that is 161 years later. Likewise, Armenians in Iran founded a printing house and published Armenian books in 1638, when not a single printing press existed in the entire Middle East; the first Persian book to be printed in Iran came out 192 years after the first Armenian book, in 1830.

The XVI-XVII centuries were outstanding in the history of Armenian printing. It was during that period that Armenian printing houses were founded in different parts of the world; although in that initial period of Armenian printing they were few in number (and only functioned for a short time), in later centuries, the number of printing houses and the sites where they were founded, as well as the number of printed Armenian books increased a few times. Thus, if in the XVI century only 31 Armenian books were printed in all (of which 17 were Armenian, while 14 were foreign language books containing Armenian texts), in the XVII century, the number of Armenian books rose to 164, and in the XVIII century, it had already reached 825 (not taking into account 73 undated Armenian books and 60 foreign language books containing Armenian texts).

It was during this period that many valuable manuscripts of Armenian chronologists, translators, scholars and musicians were printed and were thus saved from being lost.

During the first three hundred years of Armenian printing, along with religious-moral, historical, art, educational, scientific books and those having other contents were printed in grabar (old Armenian) and ashkharabar (modern Armenian), in the original or in translation.

Practically all elements and forms of printing were first made use of in old Armenian books. There are printed specimens of reprints, similar to those of today (No. 1095), calendars (on one page, No. 6), book plates (exlibris, No. 1085), annotations (No. 1042), pamphlets'in verse (No. 1059), odes (No. 1087), applications (No. 1080) as well as official blanks in various forms (No. 1013, 1037).

Among books printed in national languages of the Soviet Union, the oldest are Armenian books; the number of old printed books in Armenian is second only to those in Russian.

The number of old printed Armenian books (according to present bibliographical data) reaches 1154. Nevertheless, not all works of Armenian printing have reached the present; many books have been lost without any traces.

The best way to amass the culture of any peoples and to easily benefit from that culture is by having a general (comprehensive) national bibliography. Attempts have been made in the past to create such a bibliography of Armenian books, the most noteworthy being Garegin Zarbhanalian's "Armenian Bibliography" (Venice, 1883) and Arsen Ghazikian's "New Armenian Bibliography" (Venice, 1909-1913). However, the former has such shortcomings as insufficient use of the material, in the descriptions of books and principles of classification; while the latter, in spite of its obvious advantages, is incomplete, ending with the letter "li" and does not have any appended lists.

Therefore, the question of a general bibliography of Armenian books remained open.

In 1958 the department for the bibliography of Armenian books was founded at the Alexander Myasnikian State Library, which was entrusted with the task of compiling a general bibliography of Armenian books to include all Armenian books from the first book printed to all those printed up to our days everywhere in the world (besides periodicals); it was to be published chronologically volume by volume.

Armenians do not have any incunabula. The only specimen pertaining to the XV century in Armenian is the 1486 Armenian alphabet in the German book printed in Mainz (No. 1076). The first volume of the General Bibliography of Armenian Books includes books printed during the years 1512-1800, called "Hnatip" (old 1801 -1850. The third volume will include material printed in the years printed books). The second volume (already published) covers the years 1851-1900, etc.

The present volume of the Bibliography includes all material printed in Armenian up to the year 1800, among them: books, maps, calendars-amulets, licenses, pictures with Armenian titles and other kinds of printed matters, in other words, all that was printed in Armenian letters. Foreign language books of the XVI century are also included; they offer Armenian texts, alphabets or Armenian extracts

The Alexander Myasnikian State Library (Main Library) is the richest depository of Armenian books in the world, consequently its collection served as the fundamental basis for this Bibliography.

First of all descriptions were prepared of the great quantity of old printed books in the Main Library; then old printed books in other libraries of Soviet Armenia and the Soviet Union and in private collections were also described. Those lists were then compared with works by philologist-bibliographers G. Zarbhanalian, A. Ghazikian, Theodik, Leo, G. Levonian, F. Makler, T. Palian, A. Yeritsian, V. Nersessian and others on bibliography and Armenian printing and with a few lists of books. The books mentioned in those source materials but not found in libraries of Soviet Armenia, the Soviet Union and private collections were added to the general descriptions, so that they would be found, described or their existence be verified.

The most difficult and toilsome part in the preparation of this volume of the Bibliography was that concerning books in countries abroad, since due to circumstances, the greater quantity of Armenian old printed books were in the past, published outside the limits of Armenia. Up to the present time, those books are scattered in public and private libraries in various cities abroad. Therefore, it is extremely difficult and time consuming to find those books, count them, describe them or collect precise information.

For this purpose, in 1963 a list called "Bibliographical List of Armenian Old Printed Books" (1512-1800) based on descriptions of old printed books in Armenian and foreign bibliographical sources and those in the larger libraries of Armenia was prepared. Two copies of that "list" were sent to all large libraries abroad, to Armenologists and to those possessing rich collections of books, requesting them to keep one of the copies and to return the second copy after comparing the list with their own books, making corresponding notes, and adding to the list the names of books which are in their possession but not on the list.

The "list" sent to libraries in different countries was helpful to our compatriots who immediately undertook collecting and sending to their native land microfilms or photocopies of such old printed books and, in some cases, even sent the books themselves which were in their possession but not on those "bibliographical lists" of old printed books.

It was thanks to the "Bibliographical List" of old Armenian printed books that the collection of the Myasnikian library was enriched with such rare old printed books which do not exist in libraries of the Soviet Union and are not mentioned in bibliographical sources. They include such books of which only one copy has been found to date.

It was on the basis of all this and assignments to other countries during the past twenty-five years, researches, discovery of new books as well as microfilms of rare books received from various parts of the world and the help offered, that the descriptions of old printed books in libraries of the Soviet Union, in libraries abroad and in private collections were collected, verified and compiled and this first volume of the Armenian Bibliography created.

The aim of the Bibliography "Armenian Books, 1512-1800" was to collect and in so far as possible to present a complete and detailed description of books and other printed matter in Armenian and make them available to book lovers and readers.

Another bibliographical problem was to reveal and correct errors concerning old printed books in bibliographical sources, clear up confusions and as much as possible, to reveal new books and to determine the exact number of old printed books in Armenian.

The authors of this Bibliography succeeded in discovering 131 rare old printed books which in the past, had been overlooked by bibliographers and philologists and not been mentioned in any bibliographical source.

During the compiling of this Bibliography, various misinformation found in previous bibliographies was corrected. For example, many old printed books were not mentioned in earlier bibliographies; in some cases, the same book was mentioned twice, under two different authors or two different dates of publication and even under two different titles, etc. The date of publication of many old printed books became clear only as a result of such detailed investigations. It also was found that a number of printing houses and books printed there, never, existed, while books said to be printed in a certain printing house were in reality printed in other cities and at other printing presses. Likewise, certain books were printed twice during the same year in the same printing house (No. 44, 45), in two variations (No. 58), the place and date of publication mentioned on titlepages of certain books were really those referring to the manuscript (No. 391), etc. A number of printing houses and their sites have been verified and corrected.

The present bibliography mentions, for the first time, more than two dozen printing houses functioning in London, Constantinople, Rome, Venice and Paris with their new names. To date bibliographies had not mentioned some six dozen old foreign language printed books which contained texts, extracts or alphabets in Armenian.

After such corrections and verifications of the 1041 titles of old printed books known in the past, 49 were removed from the list since there were no such books and 29 names were repetitions. Thus the correct, factual number of old printed books is 963 to which adding the 131 titles of recently discovered books, brings the total to 1094. Together with the 60 books in foreign languages which contain Armenian texts published in the XVII-XVIII centuries, the number of old printed books in Armenian reached 1154; of them 789 are described de visu; 225 are photocopies and 140 are from bibliographical sources.

This unique Bibliography, the only one of its kind today tells where and when Armenian printing houses functioned in the XVI-XVIII centuries, how many and what Armenian books were printed, what branches of knowledge they refer to, where those books are at present, what bibliographers and where and on what occasion have expressed themselves on those books. Various diverse information is also given such as what books translated into Armenian and from what languages have been printed in the XVI-XVIII centuries, when were books first printed in ashkharabar and their contents, besides Armenian books what foreign language books contain original Armenian texts, how many and what Armenian books there are in different depositories of the world, etc. In these respects this Bibliography offers profuse material to those interested in Armenology and the Armenian book art, the history of printing and books in general.

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