On February 5, around 15 Armenians from different parts of south India and Kolkata gathered at the Armenian Church in Chennai, to remember Reverend Father Harutyun Shmavonian, priest and founder-editor of “Azdarar,” the first Armenian journal ever to be published, coordinator of Indo-Armenian Friendship NGO for South India Ashkhen Khachatryan writes in an article published by the Times of India.
Azdarar was printed and published in Madras 229 years ago by Shmavonian, who lived most of his life in the city, until his death on February 9, 1824.
Shmavonian was born in Shiraz in 1750, but when he was serving as a priest there, he lost both his sons within a week of each other to an infectious diseas. He requested to be sent as a priest to Madras, which at the time had an influential Armenian community engaged in commerce.
Shmavonian arrived in Madras in 1784 with his wife and daughter. During his stay here, he became acquainted with Shahamir Shahamiryan, an Armenian writer, philosopher and merchant. Shahamirian founded the first Armenian printing press in Madras in 1772 and published ‘Snare of Glory’ under the name of his son, Hakob Shahamirian, in 1773, which contained a proposed constitution for the future Independent Armenian Republic.
Shmavonian then began to publish ‘Azdarar’, the first periodical and newspaper in Armenian in the world, on October 28, 1794. At the outset, Azdarar had only 28 subscribers. It was a monthly journal of 48 pages.
Introducing the first issue of Azdarar, Shmavonian is supposed to have written: “One month ago, a distinguished Englishman started publishing, at the end of each month, a journal that contains the lives of celebrated people, interesting articles and stories. . . Following the example of that paper, we too started publishing, at the end of each month, a similar paper.”
Azdarar contained literary articles, contributions, as well as announcements of births, marriages and deaths in the Armenian community in Madras. It also contained commercial and shipping information, reviews of books and advertisements by Armenian merchants. It is said that merchants brought him news from Armenia, Persia and Russia, almost like overseas correspondents. He also translated news from English and French publications into Armenian. Some pages contained information about the natural beauty of Madras and vignettes on life in the city.
Azdarar was a monthly publication printed for 18 months. After Azdarar was launched in Madras, several other Armenian language publications began cropping up in other cities.
Shmavonian later lost his home because of heavy debt incurred by his daughter and grandchildren. He lived almost all his life in Madras, where he died at the age of 74. He is buried in the Armenian churchyard. The present gravestone is a recent replacement and the original is set into the wall of the belfry tower.