More than five hundred years ago, monk Hakob Meghapart pulled out from a printing press the first copies of a book called Urbatagirk (Friday Book). Printed in Amsterdam, Urbatagirk was a medical compilation, to which the compiler added one of the chapters of the Book of Lamentations authored by 10th-century Armenian mystic philosopher, theologian, and poet of Grigor Narekatsi.
It was with this book that printing in Armenian began in 1512.
In 1513, Hakob Meghapart published four books – “Pataragatetr”, a compilation of canons of church service; “Akhtark”, a collection of astrological treatises and articles on healing; “Parzatumar”, a 36-year calendar containing predictions; and “Tagaran”, a collection of works by medieval Armenian authors.
Interestingly, the very first book published in Armenian was secular, although it was printed by a priest. At the same time, it is known that the very first book that was written in Armenian letters after the Armenian alphabet’s invention by Mesrop Mashtots at the beginning of the 5th century was the Bible.
It is also known that the first phrase written by the very letters that the Armenians use to this day was “To know wisdom and instruction, to understand words of insight…” from the proverbs of the Book of Solomon.
And if in the 5th century, it was clear without any doubt that the first words written in Armenian should be the words from the holy book, after a thousand years, the situation changed. Printing the very first book, a priest chose a secular topic. Maybe Hakob Meghapart did not realize that his Friday Book would go down in history.
Be that as it may, books in Armenian began to be published. If you do not take into account several publications with small Armenian texts published in Paris in 1538 and in Zurich in 1555, then the next book published in Armenian was a calendar published in Venice in 1565. In the same year, the Psalter came out in Venice, and as many as six other books were published in Constantinople.
Armenian typography further expanded its geography in the coming decades. In the 16th century, books were published in Rome, and foreign-language books with Armenian inserts were also published in Berlin, Cologne, and Frankfurt. And, of course, in Venice under the Mekhitarist Order.
In the 17th century, Rome, Marseilles (to where the Amsterdam printing house moved), and Isfahan became centers of Armenian book printing. In the meantime, Constantinople remained a significant printing center, where 350 titles would be published and 20 Armenian printing houses founded by 1800.
Poghos Arapyan, one of the owners of printing houses in Constantinople, became one of the leading publishers in the Ottoman Empire and expanded his business by founding a Georgian printing house in Tiflis in the second half of the 18th century. It operated from 1781 to 1783.
The first Armenian printing house in the territory of the future (now former) USSR appeared in 1616 not in St. Petersburg, not Moscow, but in Lviv, where one of the first published books was a prayer book in the Armenian-Kipchak language. Yes, there was such a language, and Kipchaks for some time used Armenian letters in their texts. By the way, this prayer book is recognized as the first book printed in the Kipchak language.
In the second half of the 18th century, printing houses were also opened in St. Petersburg, New Nakhichevan (now the Rostov area), and Astrakhan.
And the first printing house in the territory of present-day Armenia appeared in Etchmiadzin in 1771. It was founded by the Catholicos Simeon of Yerevan. In the same 1771, by the way, an Armenian printing house appeared in Madras, India.
In the first half of the 19th century, an increasing number of books was published in the modern Armenian language. Constantinople continued to be a major center of printing, the printing house of the Nersisyan Seminary in Tiflis was in operation, and printing houses appeared in Van, Shusha, Kars, Karin, Akhalkalaki, and other cities.
As we approach the present, there are more printing houses, publishers are more active, the circulation of books is growing, more and more periodicals are appearing… But this is a modern story.