“We’ve entered the land of books,” reported the invaders in surprise, after the first Arab invasion of Armenia.
From a “land of books” far away from Armenia’s cradle, in Venice in the year 1512, Hakob Meghapart, who worshipped manuscripts, printed the first Armenian book; this was altogether ten decades after Gutenberg’s invention of printing.
Typography held an important role and was a turning point in the lives of the people of Armenia: after writing was invented, the literature and writing in translation that were established independently over ten centuries were given new life—a new perspective for development arose. Knowledge was secured—indeed by its eternal presence. The book written with the letters of the Armenian alphabet became brilliant witness to the rebirth of Armenia.
The first printed books (Urbatagirq, Parzatumar, Saghmosaran) were styled like Armenian manuscripts, prompting the continuation of this tradition.
Typography began in Venice and continued on its indivertible course to Madras, then Lvov in the year 1616, Rome in 1623, Milan in 1624, Paris in 1633, Nor Julfa in 1640, Amsterdam in 1655, then Saint Petersburg, Constantinople, Tbilisi, Shushi, and Yerevan. More than three decades across the world’s cities.
From the years 1512-1920 a major part of 11,000 well-known Armenian books were printed outside of Armenia: in Venice (2243), Constantinople (5492), and in Tbilisi (3637). It was only from 1920-40 that 18,000 books were published in Armenia.
In the year 2012, the miracle of the Armenian book will be made as visible and accessible as possible. Unique presentations will provide the opportunity to look at antique Armenian books kept in the libraries and museums of foreign countries. In showing 1,106 antique Armenian books, Armenian publishing, its geography and its founding ideas will be made evident.
The year will proceed showing these Armenian books: in presentations, in world book fairs from the libraries of the US Congress, Italy’s St. Marcos library, France, Romania, Bulgaria, China, Holland, Germany, and the Russian Federation. Only in St. Petersburg’s largest library, for example, are kept 75,000 Armenian books in print, including 93 antique books from the 17-18th century: Movses Khorenatsi’s History of Armenia (1669, Amsterdam), and Alphabet Book (1623).
In a separate presentation, the arts developed out of Armenian typography will be shown: the art of decoration, and the art of engraving.
An impressive fact: in 1912 the Armenian Church, Armenian communities, and independent Armenian intellectuals, understanding well the role of typography, endeavored to celebrate the 400th anniversary of printing. Due the nonexistent condition of the state they’re efforts were doomed; it was an impossible thing to celebrate an Armenian holiday outside of the country and its cradle. A few intellectuals tried to make the celebration possible for the Armenian people, in their words, “from the free capital of France”, and from far off Saint Petersburg by All-Armenian poet Hovhannes Tumanyan.
One century later in the Republic of Armenia’s capital, Yerevan, this 2012 nationwide celebration is not only a respectable tribute to Armenian typography’s foundation and development, and a reminiscence of the talented, but also for today, it serves to ensure the sacred connection of generations, and to show the historical path tread by the book: from Gutenberg’s invention all the way to the internet.