2012 marks the 500th anniversary of Armenian printing, as it was in 1512 that Hakob Meghapart (Jacob the Sinner) opened the first Armenian press in Venice, Italy. To mark the occasion, UNESCO designated Yerevan, Armenia's capital city, as its 2012 World Book Capital and the Correr Museum in Venice featured a major Armenian exhibition earlier this year. Now, the Library of Congress - the largest in the world - is showcasing some of its own treasures here, in Washington, DC: "To Know Wisdom and Instruction."
The Armenian Exhibit poster at the main entrance of the Library of Congress.
Dr. Levon Avdoyan, Library’s Armenian and Georgian area specialist in the Near East Section and Curator of the exhibit, says the exhibit took a lot of time and effort. With support from the Dolores Zohrab Leibmann Fund and some generous donations from several Armenian Diasporan families, Dr. Avdoyan managed to put together a display of more than 70 objects from among the 45,000 Armenia-related items held by the Library. Of course, he says, the choice was a difficult one, but his intention was to tell the story of the Armenian literary tradition, while highlighting the Library's invaluable collection.
I got special permission to take pictures inside and what follows are just some of the items on display.
Before I get there, though, I believe it is important to point out the exhibit's immense contribution to Armenian cultural and public diplomacy, in general. Hundreds of thousands of people visit the Library and I bet that many of them would not be able to identify Armenia on the world map, even if they have heard of the country before. This exhibit - right next door to Jefferson's legendary library collection, by the way - not only provides a crash course on the more recent part of the Armenian literary history, but it also contextualizes it within the Ottoman, Persian, Russian, European and American histories, without all the drama and tragic tone that usually accompanies such Armenian endeavors. And perhaps more important: independently from the Armenian government itself (whether financially, or otherwise).