REV. HARUTHIUN SHMAVON – Resurrection Was His Name – by Gregory John Marcar

The son of Mr. Shmavonian of Shiraz, Persia, Ter (or Rev.) Haruthiun Shmavon was born in Shiraz in 1750. His parents named him Haruthiun which means resurrection in Armenian and he was my 4xgreat grandfather. He was ordained a priest in New Julfa.[1] As was customary Rev. Shmavon would have married quite young as by 1777 it is reported that he lost his two young sons within a week.[2] This suggests some catastrophic event, possibly an infectious disease. Driven to distraction by inconsolable grief Rev. Shmavon abandoned family and work and secluded himself in the Babakoh Hill, the haunt of Sufi dervishes, outside Shiraz.
For seven long years Rev.Shmavon lived the life of a recluse associating with his Sufi neighbours, becoming learned in Persian and Arabic and Sufi philosophy. Finally in 1784 he was prevailed upon to end his self imposed exile. It could be said that at this point the man who bore the name did indeed experience a kind of spiritual resurrection as he emerged from a life of reclusive introspection. Not much later Rev. Shmavon was appointed pastor to the Armenian Church in Madras (now known as Chennai), India, taking up the position in 1784.[3]

Mirzaian_Shumavonian (1).jpg
St. Mary’s Armenian Church Madras. Credit Father Aramais Mirzaian & Charles A Price- “The Wandering Armenians”- 1980

A few years after arrival Rev. Shmavon started a print shop in 1789 which published books in the Armenian language. On October 16th. 1794 he launched the first Armenian language journal in the  world.[4] and he is revered as the “father of Armenian journalism” throughout the Armenian Diaspora. The monthly journal was called “Azdarar” (Intelligencer or Monitor).The publication printed news and articles of interest to the Armenian community and articles on political and  patriotic issues were included in the 48 page journal. The print run was 200 copies with articles mainly in classical Armenian (grapar).[5]
Some of the articles promoted the liberation of Armenia, emanating from a liberation movement which had blossomed in Madras and Rev. Shmavon is considered to be a pioneer of this movement which was started by Jacob Shamirian. Members of the local Armenian community could make submissions to the journal .

Aztarar-2018. Greg& Mike visit Matenadaran Library Armenia..JPG
Credit Michael Marcar, Bound copy of AZDARAR- National Library Of Armenia-2008

Those wishing to be anonymous could leave their submission in a box placed under the Church Bell Tower. Azdarar had only 40 subscribers.[6] Due to a shortage of paper Shmavon manufactured his own paper using cotton pulp. He also arranged the type and lay out for the printings.[7]
Overall 18 issues were published before publication ceased on 8’th. March, 1796 due to lack of subscribers.[8] Afterwards this printing press continued with publication of Persian language books for the first time outside Persia.[9] Operation of the press finally ceased in 1809. Rev, Shmavon suffered the loss of his home and printing press due to heavy debt caused by his daughter and grandchildren and died impoverished in 1824.[10]

MADRAS The  Birthplace of Armenian journalism by Mesrovb J Seth-7.jpg
Belfry, Armenian Church Madras, Illustration from Mesrovb Jacob Seth 1937-”Madras The Birthplace Of Armenian Journalism”

At this point I should explain that my family traces its lineage to Rev. Shmavon through a daughter , Varthanoosh Gulnabath. It is not known if Varthanoosh was the daughter referred to in the previous paragraph. Records may exist in Iran but are notoriously difficult to access and many records of the Madras Church were lost or destroyed. We do know however that other sources have confirmed the existence of family and children [11] and at least one daughter[12]. Varthanoosh had three children that the family knows of. Descendants of two of her children have been identified in depth.
Rev, Haruthiun Shmavon was a pious and industrious man. He spoke several languages fluently and had a deep understanding of his own religion as well as the mysticism of Sufi Islam. He was passionately patriotic, promoting the cause of Armenian independence and he faithfully served as the pastor of the Madras Armenian Church for forty years. He is buried in a raised grave in the church garden to the left of the Bell Tower. The present gravestone is a more recent replacement  and the original is set into the wall of the Belfry. In 1995 a Khatchcar (cross stone) prepared in Armenia and blessed by Catholicos Vasgen the First was installed on Rev. Shmavon’s tomb to mark the 170’th. Anniversary  of his death the previous year. [13]
A century earlier in 1894 the Centenary Jubilee of the Journal Azdarar, was celebrated  by Armenian journalists throughout the diaspora. To mark this event the Viennese Mekhitarist  monks published an artistic phototype of Rev. Shmavon surrounded by all the world’s Armenian journalists who were publishing papers and magazines at the time. [14] See attached illustration. Rev. Haruthiun Shmavon is venerated as the “father of Armenian journalism” by Armenians the world over. A monument bearing his likeness, sculpted by Levon Tokmajian was erected outside the House of Press, Yerevan.[15] Another bust by the same sculptor is installed at the Surb (saint) Nazaret Armenian Church in Calcutta. In 1994 Armenia issued a stamp commemorating the bicentennial of the publication of Azdarar.

Shmavon monument-unveiled 16 Oct. 2004-Yerevan Armenia..png

DescriptionՀարություն Շմավոնյան.JPG
Հայերեն: Հարություն Շմավոնյան
Source Own work
Author Armineaghayan
This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

The above is a photograph of a monument in Yerevan, Armenia depicting Rev. Haruthiun Shmavonian. It is obtained from Wikipedia.

Bust of Shmavon- Erected at the Armenian Church of the Holy Nazareth-Kolkata-11 Dec. 200--Wikipedia..jpg

DescriptionHarutyun Shmavonyan.jpg
English: Bust of Harutyun Shmavonyan at the Armenian Church of Holy Nazareth, Kolkata, India.
Source Own work
Author Rangan Datta Wiki

Description English: Bust of Harutyun Shmavonyan at the Armenian Church of Holy Nazareth, Kolkata, India Date 6 January 2015, 10:40:25 Source Own work Author Rangan Datta Wiki
This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.This photograph is obtained from Wikipedia.

Armenian stamp commemorating bicentennial of publication of AZDARAR.jpg
Postage stamp issued by Armenia commemorating the bicentennial of the Journal Azdarar.

I was struck by the curious fact that there was no mention of Shmavon’s wife. Rev. Shmavon was a “Kahanna” meaning a married priest. One source mentions children [16] and another makes reference to a daughter and grandchildren. [17] Hence there was the strong possibility of a spouse with him at Madras; yet not even her name is known. Church records in Iran (Persia) may hold the answer but are not easy to get to. In any case the absence of a wife in Rev. Shmavon’s story continued to intrigue me. Then a colleague in family history research (see acknowledgement) unearthed vital information that dramatically changed the picture.
At this point it should be explained that the Armenian name Shmavon translates to Simeon in the English language. We had three documents to hand which left no doubt that Mrs. Shmavon resided in Madras with her husband. The first was an entry from “Transcription of Death Announcements 1809-1844” by FIBIS referring to a Mrs. Aratoon Simeon (anglicised version of Haruthiun Shmavon) who died in Madras on 10’th July,1820. [18]

Death of Mrs. Aratoon Simeon- FIBIS Transcription of Death Announcements 1809-1844.

The second was an entry in the East-India Register and Directory, 1821. Here there were death notices for the Madras Presidency commencing from 1820 on page 468 and listing the death of a Mrs. Aratoon Simeon on 10’th July, 1820. [19] The clincher was another listing in Vol. XI of the Asiatic Journal 1821 in the section for January. Under Madras deaths on page 77 there was the following entry for the previous year : “July 10. Mrs. Aratoon Simeon, wife of the Rev. Mr. Aratoon Simeon, vicar of the Armenian Church at the presidency.” [20] This was the anglicised version of Haruthiun Shmavon and was undoubtedly his wife as it is well documented that he was the pastor of the Madras Armenian Church at the time. So now we Know that Rev. Shmavon’s wife was “thiroohie” (priest’s wife) at the Madras church. This role carries considerable responsibilities for assisting the vicar and coordinating the activities of the female congregation which play a vital role in the conduct of church activities. It is quite possible that she also assisted her husband in the manufacture of paper and other work associated with the press. Rev. Shmavon was clearly the driving force for this work but let us not forget his lifetime companion and faithful assistant who now lies in an unrecognized grave in the churchyard and not even her name is known. May these lines redress the omission.

Shmavon wife death notice. p.77 vol. XI , Asiatic Journal 1821. See 10 jly...JPG
Death of Rev. Shmavon’s wife listed for July 10(1820) in January issue of the Asiatic Journal Vol XI, 1821.

Rev. Haruthiun Shmavon died on the 9’th of February, 1824. Energized by my colleagues discovery in the journals I delved into these volumes and discovered an entry in Vol. XVIII of the Asiatic Journal 1824, August issue page 218. Deaths are listed under “Asiatic Intelligence” and for Madras Presidency deaths there was the following listing: “ Feb. 9. In the Black Town, of spasmodic cholera, Aged 74 years, the Rev. Arathoon Shemaon.” [21]
The date of Rev. Shmavon’s death is well documented elsewhere but the nature of his death and his wife’s death announcement in the journals have not been covered in previous articles on the subject. In less than four years after his wife’s death the venerable father of Armenian journalism succumbed to a cholera epidemic in a state of impoverishment.

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Death of Rev, Shmavon listed for Feb. 9.(1824) in August issue of the Asiatic Journal Vol. XVIII, 1824.
Mike Stephen copy.JPG
Rev. Shmavon’s original tombstone, now set in the wall of the Belfry at the Armenian Church Madras(Chennai)
Poster-centenary Jubilee of -AZDARAR. Small..jpg
Reproduction poster marking 180,th Anniversary of publication of AZDARAR,(1974) A reproduction of the original commemorating the Centenary of this event(1894)
Credit: Raffi Calendar, addendum Armenian News, Modern Printing, Tehran.

a) Various sources have spelled Rev. Shmavon’s name a number of ways in
English. I have adhered to the spelling engraved on his tombstone which
reads, “ Rev. Haruthiun Shmavonian.” Later in the body of the text I have
shortened the surname to Shmavon for the sake of brevity as the traditional
“ian” or “yan” following the surname signifies “son of.”

b) The prefix “Ter” precedes an Armenian priest’s name. It is a term of respect that equates to Rev. in English. “Ter” translates as “Lord.” A married priest may be
referred to as “Ter Hayr.” By the end of his life Rev. Shmavon had achieved the
status of arch priest.

c) Mesrovb Seth’s “Madras the birthplace of Armenian journalism” is the seminal
work on Rev. Haruthiun Shmavonian and has been widely referenced by subsequent writers.

d) Only three copies comprising every issue of Azdarar exist. One of these resides at the National Library of Armenia in Yerevan.

e) Rev. Shmavon continued his duties as vicar of the Madras Armenian Church
litterally to the end of his life despite personal tragedy and hardships. Several
entries in the Asiatic Journal serve to emphasise this point. The January,
1821 issue [22] refers to a special service conducted at the Madras Armenian church to mourn the death of King George III of Great Britain. After Sunday mass the congregation, dressed in mourning, attended a most solemn funeral ceremony according to the rites of the Armenian Orthodox Church and the vicar (Rev.  Shmavon) gave an “impressive and feeling” eulogy. The Journal also lists marriage  ceremonies conducted at the Armenian church on 20’th November, 1820 [23] and July 19’th, 1823. [24] these respective dates are just four months after his wife’s death and seven months prior to his own.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT: The stirling assistance of Mrs. Patricia Venn is acknowledged.

Ref. 1.
Agop J Hacikyan, et al, 2000, The Heritage of Armenian Literature from the
eighteenth century to modern times.”
Ref. 2,3,7,8 &14.
Mesrovb Jacob Seth, 1937, Madras,the birthplace of Armenian journalism:
a history of the first Armenian journal, the Azdarar, published monthly at
Madras by Arathoon Shmavon in 1794.
Ref. 4,5,11 & 16
First issue of the first Armenian Newspaper “Aztarar”- This week in Armenian
History, prepared by the Armenian National Education Committee.

Ref. 6,10,12&17
Vazken Ghougassian, Nov. 2012, The printing enterprise of Armenians in India.
Ref. 9
David Zanian, The Armenians of India.
Ref. 13
The Hindu, Friday 17, 1995, “Armenian Archbishop Baliozian in city.”
Ref. 15
Yerevan Press Club, Weekly, Newsletter, October 8-14, 2004.
Ref. 18
FIBIS-Entry from Transcription of Death Announcements, 1809-1844.
Ref. 19
The East-India Register 1821, page 468.
Ref. 20
The Asiatic Journal and Monthly Register for British India and its
Dependencies, Vol. XI, January to June 1821, January 1821 issue,
page 77.
Ref. 21
Ibid, Vol. XVIII, July to December 1824, August 1824 issue, page 218.
Ref. 22
Ibid, Vol. XI, January to June 1821, January 1821 issue, page 71.
Ref. 23
Ibid, June 1821 issue, page 621.
Ref. 24
Ibid, Vol. XVII, January to June 1824, February 1824 issue, page 202.


Rev. Shmavon's grave-Vinita, 22,2017.jpg
Rev. Haruthiun Shmavonian’s grave at the Madras(Chennai) Armenian Church. Credit Vinita Govindarajan &, 22’nd August, 2017.

“Prayer and homage to you, O Reverend.

Your memory is immortal.

And as we say in Armenian, 

May this foreign but beloved land, which adopted you,

Be soft on you.”    

Prayer by His Eminence Archbishop Aghan Baliozian delivered at the grave of Rev. Shmavon during commemoration of the 200’th anniversary of publication of Azdarar, 18’th February, 1995.