Armenian mss photographed in Syria by HMML

Via Paleojudaica I learn of an interesting article on the PanArmenian website.

PanARMENIAN.Net – Hill Museum & Manuscript Library at St. John’s University completed a manuscript preservation project in the Middle East shortly before the violence worsened in Syria, sctimes.com reports.

“This was our last current project in Syria, and we had done actually a series of projects – about six of them in Syria – in different locations,” said the Rev. Columba Stewart, executive director of the Collegeville-based library.

However, HMML-trained technicians in Aleppo, Syria, were able to complete the digitization of 225 Armenian manuscripts belonging to the Armenian Orthodox Diocese of Aleppo – one of the largest Armenian collections in Syria.

“We began the work before the current turmoil in Syria, and this particular project was finished just as the situation started to get bad in Aleppo, which had been quiet until fairly recently,” Stewart said during a call from Bethlehem. …

“We also work on Islamic projects, so our interests transcend particular denominations or religious groups because all of this handwritten manuscript heritage is really the heritage of all humankind,” Stewart said.

HMML has now completed a series of projects in Aleppo that have included important collections belonging to the Syriac Orthodox, Syriac Catholic and Greek-Catholic communities, for a total of 2,150 digitally preserved manuscripts. …

Adam McCollum is the lead cataloger of Eastern Christian manuscripts at HMML and will be responsible for getting the Armenian collection cataloged once it is at the HMML.

“Once the library has entered into a partnership with people who have collections of manuscripts, a studio is set up there with a digital camera, and entire manuscript collections are photographed and put onto hard drives and mailed back to us,” McCollum said.

One digital copy of the Armenian collection will stay with Bishop Shahan Sarkissian and the Armenian Orthodox Diocese of Aleppo. HMML will keep an additional digital copy of the collection in a highly secure location.

“The general populace in these places is still pretty safe – at least at this point – but we have no idea what’s going to happen in the future,” he said of HMML’s continuing work in Iraq, Lebanon, Turkey, as well as in Ethiopia, southwest India and Malta.

I think that we must all wish this enterprise well.  HMML is doing a rescue job here, and a very necessary one. 

Before the first world war, scholars were very excited to discover that the “mountain Nestorians” in the Turkish empire, in what is now the north of modern Iraq and Iran, were still speaking Syriac.  It was discovered that they had preserved manuscripts of various important patristic works previously thought lost.  They were based in the mountains in order to resist Moslem attacks, mainly by Kurds.  American missionaries set up a base at Urmia and copied whatever they could access.  The Archbishop of Seert, Addai Scher, became a well-known scholar and collected a number of irreplaceable items, including a complete Syriac translation of Theodore of Mopsuestia’s lost work, De incarnatione, discovered in 1905 and unpublished.  

Then the war came, and the Turks orchestrated genocidal attacks on the Armenians in 1915, but also on Christians generally.  Scher was murdered and his library vanished, taking with it any chance that men could ever read De incarnatione.  The losses of manuscripts in that period were severe. 

Likewise the violence in Iraq after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein once again led to Moslem violence against Christians, and the loss of cultural treasures.

The revolutions going on at the moment — and I have no idea what is truly happening there, and I don’t believe our media reports — are very likely to involve the destruction of irreplaceable material. 

The work of HMML in making copies of manuscripts is undoubtedly a wise precaution.

Armenian literature itself is much better known than Old Slavic, but simply cataloguing those manuscript, as Adam McCollum is to do, will itself make material more accessible. 

I once wanted to learn if there was any catena material in Armenian.  I was defeated by the fact that all the titles, in the catalogues of manuscripts that I consulted, were in Armenian script and so unreadable!  A web catalogue will not have this problem.

Yesterday the Slavicists were talking about the need for a Clavis listing all works and authors known in the language, and assigning each a numeric reference.  Is there a Clavis for classical Armenian, I wonder?  If not, why not?

2 Responses to “Armenian mss photographed in Syria by HMML”


  1. Dioscorus Boles

    This raises a lot of concerns about other invaluable historical manuscripts kept in Syrian churches and monasteries, which could be lost as a result of the violence by Sunni Islamists in Syria. Does the UNESCO get worried about those?

  2. Roger Pearse

    I don’t know much about UNESCO, so I can’t say.



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