The Great Crime That Was Brewing: The Meaning Of ‘Medz Yeghern’ Befo


by Vartan Matiossian on December 20, 2012

‘We want to believe in the victory of Freedom and of tomorrow’s
brotherhood, we want to enjoy smiles, we want to strengthen our
faith that famine is not eternal, blood is not eternal, yeghern is
not eternal.’ E. Aknuni (1910)1

The meaning of yeghern in Classical Armenian (“evil,” “crime,”
and “calamity”) may seem to give some credence to claims that Medz
Yeghern doesindeed mean “Great Calamity.” However, before we accept
these claims, we must first verify whether those three meanings have
survived in Modern Armenian. Their survival is contingent not only
on their presence in dictionaries, but also on their actual usagein
literature. As translators know firsthand, dictionaries may give
definitions, but the key to using them effectively depends on one’s
ability to place a given literal definition within its proper context.

Armenian survivors of the Adana massacres at the ruins of their houses
(Source: The Armenian Genocide Museum-Institute) In this study, we
will first overview the definitions of yeghern in Modern Armenian
dictionaries, both monolingual and multilingual, published before
and after 1915, to validate the accuracy of the “Great Calamity”

The meaning of ‘yeghern’ in Modern Armenian until 1915

A primary meaning of yeghern as a breach of law or a crime was already
present in Modern Armenian before 1769. Proof is offered by the
second tome of the Haigazian Dictionary by Mekhitar of Sebastia and
his disciples, published that year. This dictionary contained three
wordlists: a Classical Armenian dictionary, “where the words of the
Haigazian [Classical] language are interpreted only with vernacular
[ashkharhabar] or Turkish words”; a Modern Armenian dictionary with
translations into Classical Armenian; and a dictionary of proper
names. In the second volume, the word yeghern appeared interpreted
in the “vernacular language” as Õ´Õ¥Õ® Õ¡Õ¶O…O~@Õ§Õ¶Õ¸O~BÕ©Õ”O~BÕ¶
[medz anorenutiun, “great lawlessness”], Õ¡Õ¶Õ”O~@Õ¡O~BÕ¸O~BÕ©Õ”O~BÕ¶
[aniravutiun, “evil”].2 This suggests thatatsome time between the
5th century and 1769, yeghern was no longer defined as “calamity.”

This development was reflected in the 1821 English-Armenian dictionary
of Rev. Paschal Aucher and John Brand, which introduced yeghern as
one of the translations for the English words “crime”and “evil”:
crime = ÕµÕ¡Õ¶O~AÕ¡Õ¶O~D [hantsank], Õ´Õ¥Õ²O~D [meghk], Õ¾Õ¶Õ¡Õ½
[vnas], Õ¹Õ¡O~@Õ”O~D [charik], Õ¥Õ²Õ¥Õ¼Õ¶ [yeghern], Õ¸Õ³Õ”O~@ [vojir];
evil = Õ¹Õ¡O~@Õ”O~D [charik], ÕµÕ¡Õ¶O~AÕ¡Õ¶O~D [hantsank], Õ¥Õ²Õ¥Õ¼Õ¶
[yeghern], Õ¾Õ¶Õ¡Õ½ [vnas], Õ¡Õ¶Õ”O~@Õ¡O~BÕ¸O~BÕ©Õ”O~BÕ¶ [aniravutiun],
Õ¦O~@Õ¯Õ¡Õ¶O~D [zrgank], Õ¹Õ¡O~@Õ¸O~BÕ©Õ”O~BÕ¶ [charutiun],
Õ¡ÕºÕ¡Õ¯Õ¡Õ¶Õ¸O~BÕ©Õ”O~BÕ¶ [abaganutiun], Õ¾Õ¡Õ¿Õ©Õ¡O~@Õ¸O~BÕ©Õ”O~BÕ¶
[vadtarutiun], Õ¡Õ²Õ§Õ¿O~D [aghedk], Õ©Õ·Õ¸O~BÕ¡Õ¼Õ¸O~BÕ©Õ”O~BÕ¶
[tshvarutiun], Õ¤Õ¡Õ¼Õ¶Õ¸O~BÕ©Õ”O~BÕ¶ [tarnutiun], Õ¡Õ­Õ¿ [akhd],
Õ°Õ”O~BÕ¡Õ¶Õ¤Õ¸O~BÕ©Õ”O~BÕ¶ [hivantutiun]. The word was not
listed as translation for calamity, catastrophe, or disaster:
calamity = Õ©Õ·Õ¸O~BÕ¡Õ¼Õ¸O~BÕ©Õ”O~BÕ¶ [tshvarutiun], Õ¡Õ²Õ§Õ¿O~D
[aghedk], Õ¾Õ”Õ·Õ¿ [vishd], Õ¹Õ¡O~@Õ”O~D [charik]; catastrophe =
ÕµÕ¥Õ²Õ¡O~CÕ¸Õ­Õ¸O~BÕ©Õ”O~BÕ¶ [heghapokhutiun], Õ¥Õ¬O~D Õ¡Õ²Õ§Õ¿Õ¡Õ¬Õ”
[yelk aghedali], Õ¯Õ¡Õ¿Õ¡O~@Õ¡Õ® Õ¸Õ²Õ¢Õ¡Õ¬Õ” [gadaradz voghpali];
disaster = Õ¤ÕªÕ¢Õ¡Õ­Õ¿Õ¸O~BÕ©Õ”O~BÕ¶ [tzhpakhdutiun], Õ¡Õ²Õ§Õ¿O~D
[aghedk], Õ¹Õ¡O~@Õ”O~D [charik], Õ¾Õ”Õ·Õ¿O~D [vishdk],
Õ¿Õ¡Õ¼Õ¡ÕºÕ¡Õ¶O~D [darabank], Õ±Õ¡Õ­Õ¸O~@Õ¤Õ¸O~BÕ©Õ”O~BÕ¶

The Armenian-English dictionary of 1825 by the same pair repeated
the trend. The meanings for yeghern reflected “crime” and “evil”:
Õ¥Õ²Õ¥Õ¼Õ¶ = rascality, offence, misdeed, malice, crime, wickedness.4

Interestingly, the revision of this dictionary, undertaken by Rev.

Matthias Bedrossian and published in 1879, added “catastrophe”
as a secondary meaning for yeghern.5 It goes without saying that
he wished to accommodate the classical meaning of yeghern, just as
Rev. Srabion Eminian had done in his 1851 French-Armenian-Turkish
dictionary, where he translated yeghern into French as mal (“evil”)
and calamité (“calamity”). Incidentally, this was the reason the
dictionary also contained the only available translation of yeghern
into Turkish as felâket.6 However, it is interesting to note
that in 1893, Gomidas Voskian’s French-Armenian dictionary wrote:
“yeghern = see vojir,” and “vojir = crime, attentat [attack], méfait
[wrongdoing], forfeit [crime].”7The fact that yeghern did not appear
as translation of “catastrophe,” “calamity,” or “disaster” in late
19th-century and early 20th-century English-Armenian dictionaries
shows that the meaning was completely outdated by that point in time:
crime = Õ¥Õ²Õ¥Õ¼Õ¶ [yeghern], Õ¸Õ³Õ”O~@ [vojir] (V. H. Hagopian,
1907); crime = ÕµÕ¡Õ¶O~AÕ¡Õ¶O~D [hantsank], Õ¥Õ²Õ¥Õ¼Õ¶ [yeghern],
Õ¸Õ³Õ”O~@ [vojir] (M. K. Minassian, 1907); crime = Õ¸Õ³Õ”O~@ [vojir],
Õ¥Õ²Õ¥Õ¼Õ¶Õ¡Õ£Õ¸O~@Õ®Õ¸O~BÕ©Õ”O~BÕ¶ [yeghernakordzutiun], Õ´Õ¥Õ®
Õ¡Õ¶Õ”O~@Õ¡O~BÕ¸O~BÕ©Õ”O~BÕ¶ [medz aniravutiun] (Z. D. S. Papazian,

The use of ‘yeghern’ at the time of the Massacre of Adana

The word appeared in literary usage, indeed. For instance, it
showed up twice in Avetik Isahakian’s famous philosophical narrative
poem, “Abu-Lala Mahari,”written in 1909 and published in 1911. Its
protagonist, the homonymous Arab poet, expresses his contempt and
pessimism for humanity. The two relevant stanzas follow:

And woman I hate. She’s the fertile cause of unbridled crime [yeghern],
of passion the seed; A well never failing, whose copiousness steams
earth’s growing wickedness water and feed.

For nothing but gain. To the claw of crime [yeghern]divinity men will
ascribe; Such ever is man, the image of God–whom abort of the devil
would best describe.9

Isahakian’s poem was written in the same year of the forerunner to the
Armenian Genocide: the 1909 massacres of Adana. E. Aknuni, one of the
leaders of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) in the early
20th century, was nevertheless hopeful that better times were to come.

In September 1910, when touring the United States, he wrote an essay
titled “To the Exiled Armenians of America,” in which he inscribed
the words of the epigraph: “… [W]e want to strengthen our faith
that famine is not eternal, bloodletting is not eternal, yeghern is
not eternal.”

Logical thinking in the process of writing would have placed one
reference to a natural cause of death (“calamity”) along the other
(“famine”). The order of Aknuni’s references indicates that yeghern
did not mean “calamity,” but “crime,” which is why he placed it after
a violent cause of death (“bloodletting”).

Around the same time, Armenian writer Tlgadintsi (Hovhannes
Harutiunian, 1860-1915) published a chronicle called “Take My Sun,
Send Me My Death,” where his interlocutor, Rev. Aslanian, a priest
who had been to Adana, was quoted as saying: “Babikian too, that poor
man but also a select and true Armenian, was melting like a candle
against the fire when he saw things and heard the stories of the
unprecedented extremes of the yeghern committed by the Turkish mob
with a kind of official treason.”10

The reader would have readily understood yeghern to mean something
committed by man (a crime), rather than by nature (a calamity),
supported by Simon Kapamajian’s 1910 modern Armenian dictionary, which
defined yeghern as “O~DÕ¡Õ²Õ¡O~DÕ¡Õ¯Õ¡Õ¶ Õ¯Õ¡Õ´ Õ¢Õ¡O~@Õ¸ÕµÕ¡Õ¯Õ¡Õ¶
O…O~@Õ§Õ¶O~DÕ” Õ¤O~@ÕªÕ¸O~BÕ´ [breach of political or moral law];
Õ¹Õ¡O~@Õ”O~D [evil]; Õ¾Õ¶Õ¡Õ½ [harm]; Õ¸Õ³Õ”O~@ [crime].”11

Hagop Babikian (1856-1909), an Ittihad Party deputy in the Ottoman
Parliament, had been sent to Adana as part of an investigative
commission. He died under suspicious circumstances only two days after
having shown a draft of his damning report to some parliament members.

His report was surreptitiously published in Ottoman-Turkish in
Constantinople in 1913. It is likely that it was translated into
Armenian at the time, but only published six years later due
to political turmoil and the genocide years. Hagop Sarkisian’s
translation was titled “The Yeghern ofAdana.” In his preface, dated
Feb. 1, 1919, he made clear that “[Babikian] was poisoned by the
Young Turks as repayment for this report about the yeghern of Adana,
which he prepared for the Chamber of Deputies and for which he died
on July 20, 1909.” The preface began with the following statement:

“It was in the spring of 1909 when the black Mongolian claw painted
the whole Cilician plain red and turned it into one vast cemetery; the
rivers Sihoun [Seyhan] and Jihoun [Ceyhan] received floods of Armenian
blood. The Young Turks, openly or secretly, rubbed their hands together
with devilish smiles on their faces and with an insolence worthy of
hyenas at having accomplished some supreme duty spat in the face of
Civilization and of the Allah they worshipped. This was the result of
the old and new Turkish mentality, one which never wanted to understand
that the owners of this country, of yesterday and of tomorrow, might
have the right to live too. The days of awakening came, nevertheless;
it was necessary to sow ashes over the Medz Yeghern and conduct the
burial of Justice crucified.”12

While Babikian’s use of yeghern by itselfmay not have shed a great
deal of light on its meaning, the context surrounding the words Medz
Yeghern–from the “black Mongolian claw” to “Justice crucified”–make
it quite clear that there was no question of “calamity,” or natural
disaster, here. The massacres of Adana had turned yeghern from “crime,”
into “pogrom.”

It is curious that the translator, writing in 1919, used the concept
of Medz Yeghern, butdid not make any explicit reference to the events
of 1915-18. He was in fact echoing an expression already used by Sahag
II Khabayan, Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia, in a letter of
appreciation written on Dec. 4, 1912 and printed in “The Catastrophe
[Aghed] of Cilicia,” by Hagop Terzian, a witness to the massacre of
Adana. The letter stated the following in its penultimate sentence:

“It [the book] is the living image of the Medz Yeghern, extracted
from beneath the ruins and the ashes by the dedicated and inquisitive
effort of an authentic child of Cilicia, which will be the eternal
affront of the much-touted civilization and the inexistent humanism
of the 20th century.” 13

The horror of Cilicia, where Armenians young and old had been
indiscriminately slaughtered, surpassed the massacres of 1895-96 in
both scope and brutality: “… [T]he most painful and hellish episodes
of the events of ’95, in comparison with what actually happened
in Kozluk, were not even the beatings sparked by the ballgames of
schoolboys…”14 The Catholicos bore witness to the annihilation of
his flock three years later in a much bigger “eternal affront” that
also took the lives of Aknuni and Tlgadintsi, and was condemned by the
Allied Powers (Great Britain, France, and Russia), as early as May 24,
1915, as the “new crimes of Turkey against humanity and civilization,”
as reported by the U.S. State Department.15

Guy de Lusignan’s and K. J. Basmadjian’s Armenian-French abridged
dictionary, ironically published in 1915, defined yeghern as “crime,
forfait [crime], attentat [attack], délit [wrongdoing]; malheur
[misfortune], fatalité [fatality], catastrophe.”16 A single dictionary
that has the secondary meaning of yeghern defined as “catastrophe”
cannot prove that such an understanding was so widespread that
Armenians named the darkest page of their history to imply that

The reason for this intriguing double meaning was that Karapet
Basmadjian had posthumously abridged Lusignan’s voluminous dictionary,
which revised his 1861 Armenian-French dictionary. The definition
of two groups (“crime” and “misfortune”) repeated the latter;
Lusignan had followed the inaccurate classification of the New
Haigazian Dictionary and put together yeghern (Õ¥Õ²Õ¥Õ¼Õ¶) and yegher
(Õ¥Õ²Õ¥O~@) as synonymous words. Thus, he defined yeghern as “crime,
forfait [crime], attentat [attack], délit [wrongdoing]; malheur
[misfortune], fatalité [fatality], catastrophe.”17

Interestingly, Lusignan’s voluminous French-Armenian dictionary,
published in 1900, defined crime as follows: “Õ¸Õ³Õ”O~@
[vojir], Õ¥Õ²Õ¥Õ¼Õ¶ [yeghern], Õ¸Õ³O~@Õ¡Õ£Õ¸O~@Õ®Õ¸O~BÕ©Õ”O~BÕ¶
[vojrakordzutiun], Õ¥Õ²Õ¥Õ¼Õ¶Õ¡Õ£Õ¸O~@Õ®Õ¸O~BÕ©Õ”O~BÕ¶
[yeghernakordzutiun], ÕªÕ¡Õ¶Õ¿Õ¡Õ£Õ¸O~@Õ®Õ¸O~BÕ©Õ”O~BÕ¶
[zhandakordzutiun], Õ¾O~@Õ”ÕªÕ¡Õ£Õ¸O~@Õ®Õ¸O~BÕ©Õ”O~BÕ¶
[vrizhakordzutiun], Õ¡Õ¶O…O~@Õ§Õ¶Õ¸O~BÕ©Õ”O~BÕ¶ [anorenutiun],
Õ¡ÕºÕ”O~@Õ¡Õ¿Õ¸O~BÕ©Õ”O~BÕ¶ [abiradutiun],” with the phrase commettre
un crime (“to commit a crime”) translated as Õ¸Õ³Õ”O~@, Õ¥Õ²Õ¥Õ¼Õ¶
Õ£Õ¸O~@Õ®Õ¥Õ¬ [vojir, yeghern kordzel]. The sixth meaning of the
word mal (“evil”) was “Õ¹Õ¡O~@ [char], Õ¡Õ¶ÕºÕ¡Õ¿Õ¥Õ°Õ¸O~BÕ©Õ”O~BÕ¶
[anbadehutiun], Õ¥Õ²Õ¥Õ¼Õ¶ [yeghern], Õ´Õ¥Õ² [megh], Õ¾Õ¶Õ¡Õ½
[vnas], Õ¡ÕºÕ”O~@Õ¡Õ¿Õ¸O~BÕ©Õ”O~BÕ¶ [abiradutiun].”But the Armenian
equivalents for calamité (“Õ¡Õ²Õ§Õ¿O~D [aghedk]; Õ¿Õ¡Õ¼Õ¡ÕºÕ¡Õ¶O~D
[darabank], Õ­Õ¡O~@Õ¸O~BÕ¡Õ¶O~D [kharvank], O~CÕ¸O~@Õ±Õ¡Õ¶O~D
[portzank]”), catastrophe (“Õ¡O~@Õ¯Õ¡Õ® [argadz], Õ¡Õ²Õ§Õ¿O~D
[aghedk], Õ¹Õ¡O~@Õ¡Õ²Õ§Õ¿ Õ¤Õ§ÕºO~D [charaghed tebk], Õ´Õ¥Õ®
Õ¹Õ¡O~@Õ”O~D [medz charik]”) and désastre (“Õ¡Õ²Õ§Õ¿O~D [aghedk],
Õ©Õ·Õ¸O~BÕ¡Õ¼Õ¸O~BÕ©Õ”O~BÕ¶ [tshvarutiun]”) did not contain any trace
of yeghern.18

Before 1915, then, yeghern was solidly established, both in
dictionaries and in literary texts, with the meaning of “crime.” The
genocide would bring the use of the word to a higher level.


[1] E. Aknuni, Depi Yerkir (Towards the Country), Boston: Hairenik
Press, 1911, p. 15.

2 Bargirk haykazian lezvi (Dictionary of the Armenian Language), vol.

2, Venice: Antoni Bortoli, 1769, p. 113.

3 Father Paschal Aucher and John Brand, A Dictionary English and
Armenian, Venice: Armenian Academy of S. Lazarus, 1821p. 116, 128,
213, 258, 318.

4 John Brand and Father Paschal Aucher, A Dictionary Armenian and
English, Venice: Armenian Academy of S. Lazarus, 1825, p. 180.

5 Rev. Matthias Bedrossian, New Dictionary Armenian-English, Venice:
St. Lazarus, 1875-1879, p. 155.

6 Rev. Srabion Eminian, Baragirk gagghieren-hayeren-tajkeren
(French-Armenian-Turkish Dictionary), Vienna: Mekhitarist Press,
1871, p. 155, 743 (first edition, 1851).

7 Gomidas A. Voskian, Ardzern baragirk hayeren gagghieren
(Armenian-French Pocket Dictionary), Constantinople: H. Matteosian,
1893, p. 195, 641.

8 V. H. Hagopian, A Dictionary English-Armenian, Constantinople: H.

Matteosian, 1907, p. 159; M. K. Minassian, A Dictionary, English,
Armemian and Armeno-Turkish, Constantinople: V. and H. Der Nersessian,
1908, p. 246; Z. D. S. Papazian, Illustrated Practical Dictionary
English-Armenian, Constantinople: H. Matteosian, 1910, p. 252.

9 See the original Armenian in Avetik Isahakian, Yerker (Works),
Yerevan: Sovetakan Grogh, 1987, p. 237, 250. The first stanza is
a literal reproduction of Zabelle C. Boyajian’s 1948 translation,
while the second revises the translation, where the word yeghern
had not been translated (“For nothing but gain. To the grabbing claw
honour and sanctity men will ascribe;/ Such ever is man, ‘the Image
of God’–whom ‘Sons of the Devil’ would best describe”). For the two
stanzas in Boyajian’s translation, seeAvetik Isakakian: Great Armenian
Poet, Armenian Program, 35th Annual Women’s International Exposition,
November 3-9, 1958, 71st Regiment Armory, Park Ave. at 34th St.,
New York City, p. 11 and 18.

10 Tlgadintsin yev ir gortze (Tlgadintsi and His Work), Boston:
Tulgadintzi Alumni Union, 1927, p. 230.

11 Simon Kapamajian, Nor baragirk hayeren lezvi (New Dictionary of
the Armenian Language), Constantinople: R. Sakayan Press, 1910, p. 407.

12 Hagop Babikian, Atanayi yegherne (The Yeghern of Adana), translated
by Hagop Sarkisian, Aleppo: Armenian Prelacy of Aleppo, 2009, p. 15-16
(second edition).

13 Hishatakaran Atanayi agheti (Memorial of the Catastrophe of
Cilicia), vol. II, Antelias: Collection of the 100th Anniversary of
the Massacre of Adana, 2010, p. 14 (third edition of Terzian’s book).

14 Tlgadintsin yev ir gortze, p. 229.

15 Annette Höss, “The Trial of Perpetrators by the Turkish Military
Tribunals: The Case of Yozgat,” in Richard Hovannisian (ed.), The
Armenian Genocide: History, Politics, Ethics, New York: St. Martin’s
Press, 1992, p. 209.

16 Guy de Lusignan-K. J. Basmadjian, Dictionnaire portatif armenien
moderne francais, Constantinople: Librairie B. Balentz – Imprimerie O.

Arzouman, 1915, p. 199.

17 G. A. Nar-Bey de Lusignan, Dictionnaire arménien- francais and
francais-arménien, third edition, Paris: L. Hachette and Co., 1881, p.


18 Guy de Lusignan, Nouveau dictionnaire illustré francais-arménien,
vol. I, Constantinople: H. Matteosian, 1910, p. 358, 408, 626, 710;
vol. II, p. 138.

From: A. Papazian