The Armenian Genocide, perpetrated from 1915-1923 by the Ottoman and Turkish authorities, as well as the collapse of the First Republic of Armenia and the Soviet persecutions that followed caused immense chaos. The survivors were dispersed all over the world, particularly the Middle East.
It was necessary to organize and unite the dispersed Armenians and to support their continuity. There was the need to create Armenian intellectuals who would develop social concepts, inspire the nation, and lead its spiritual world. The Armenian classical literature had to be published to bond Armenians to their past and make them the possessors of their own history and rich, national and cultural legacy.
Language, literature, and an educated and visionary youth were the factors essential in the struggle to preserve the Armenian identity.
Many Armenian elementary schools in the Middle East were functioning; however, the communities did not possess middle schools. A lyceum was necessary to play the same role as the Kevorkian Seminary in Echmiadzin or the Central School of Constantinople.
In Egypt, Levon Shant, who was directing the Boghossian School in Alexandria alongside Nigol Aghpalian, suggested founding the "Louys" (Light) cultural-educational association, which would sustain one secondary school.
The proposal led to a series of discussions among the activists in Cairo, finally resulting in the establishment of an organization to tend to the needs of the entire Armenian Diaspora: "Armenian Educational and Publishing Pan-national (Hamazkayin) Association."</p>
The formulated objectives and bylaws of the newly founded association were ready on May 28, 1928. The nine founding members of the association are Dr. Hamo Ohanjanian, Sdepan Yesaian, Kasbar Ipegian, Levon Shant, Nigol Aghpalian, Minas Khachadourian, Setrag Balekjian, Hagop Balekjian, and Sarkis Malkhasian.
The first half of the association's bylaws describe Hamazkayin's objective: "The goal of the Armenian Educational and Publishing Pan-national (Hamazkayin) Association is to increase the education of the Armenian people through the Armenian language and the Armenian spirit." To achieve this objective, Hamazkayin would function in three directions:
To achieve the first goal, middle schools had to be established and textbooks had to be written in Armenian on all topics, for all levels. The association had to support authors of Armenological publications. Works of foreign and medieval authors concerning Armenia and its people had to be translated. Ancient Armenian texts and manuscripts had to be republished.
May 1928 to the end of 1929 was a period of preparation, exhaustive exchange of ideas, and the proliferation of new Hamazkayin chapters, primarily due to the efforts of N. Aghpalian and L. Shant. At this time, the Central Committee of Hamazkayin obtained the support of ARF.
In March 3, 1930, the Armenian middle school and high school Djemaran was established in Beirut. Years later, in memory of its benefactor, the institution was called Neshan Palanjian Djemaran of Hamazkayin. Decades later, the school was renamed Melankton and Haik Arslanian Djemaran of Hamazkayin, in the name of its new benefactors.
In 1947, the center of Hamazkayin was relocated to Beirut, the site of Hamazkayin's main activities and the city of residence of L. Shant, N. Aghpalian, and K. Ipegian. The Lebanese government officially recognized it as Hamazkayin Armenian Educational and Cultural Association.
In 1931, Kasbar Ipegian successfully directed the premiere of Oshin Bail by L. Shant. In 1934, with equal success, he staged his own play, Ara and Shamiram.
As the president of the Beirut Committee of Hamazkayin in 1941, K. Ipegian formed the Hamazkayin Theater Association, which aimed to bring theater to the Diaspora and to enhance Armenian theater's educational role in the preservation of the national identity. The opening performance of the Hamazkayin Theater Association was Princess of the fallen fortress (1942), My baby (1943), L. Shant's Ancient gods (1944) and The Caesar (1945). Kasbar Ipegian died in 1952. In his memory, the Hamazkayin Theater Association renamed itself Hamazkayin Kasbar Ipegian Theater Company and still carries that name today.
K. Ipegian's successor was George Sarkissian, who with great passion served as stage director and actor. Due to his efforts, the Lebanese Armenian community acquired its own theater, the Hagop Der Melkonian Theater House.
In 1931, the Hamazkayin Print and Publishing House was established in Beirut. It was later named the Vahe Setian Printing House of Hamazkayin to honor its benefactor. Today, Hamazkayin owns its own bookstore in Beirut.
At the initiative of the ARF Bureau, Pakin literary-cultural periodical has been published since January 1962. In the late 1990s, Pakin became Hamazkayin's official publication.
In the 1970s, the Central Committee of Hamazkayin initiated the development of a higher institute of Armenological studies in Lebanon. For this purpose, a particular committee was formed including Karekin Bishop Sarkissian (who later became Catholicos of the House of Cilicia, then the Catholicos of All Armenians), Vahe Setian, Hrach Dasnabedian, Shavarsh Torigian, Vahe Oshagan, and Yervant Pamboukian.
Based on the curriculum developed by this committee, Hamazkayin Higher Armenological Institute began its classes in 1974 with 15 students. The Lebanese civil war interrupted the expectations for the project. After reopening in 1979, the Institute presented its first graduating class (1983) of 21 students who had completed the four-year program. At the end of the 2002-03 school year, the Armenological Institute of Hamazkayin presented its 21st graduating class, having increased the number of its graduates to 146.
For decades, the Institute has made a constant effort to serve its mission. It has created a dynamic resource of educators and dedicated professionals who are at the managing posts of various Armenian national institutions, in Lebanon and elsewhere. Due to a lack of financial means and the limited number of candidates, the Institute stopped functioning in 2005.
In 1980, the Marseille Lyceum of Hamazkayin opened at the initiative of the Hamazkayin Central Committee. In 1986, Arshag and Sophie Galstaun School of Hamazkayin opened its doors at the initiative of Hamazkayin's Regional Committee in Sydney.
Since 1995, the Central Committee of Hamazkayin has organized the Student Summer Forum in Lebanon, and since 2002, in Armenia.
Throughout the years, various cultural activities developed at regional levels. Starting in the 1960s, because of the mobility of Armenian communities and the expansion of the Armenian Diaspora, Hamazkayin chapters spread in Europe, North and South Americas, and Australia.
In August 1990, the first pan-diasporan General Assembly of Hamazkayin convened. The current name of the association was adopted as Hamazkayin Armenian Educational and Cultural Association, and the first-ever elected Central Committee was voted into office.
In September 1994, the second General Assembly was held in Dzaghgatsor, Armenia. In September 1998, March 2002, and April 2006, the third, fourth, and fifth General Assemblies took place in Adma and Ain Saade, Lebanon.
Hamazkayin functions with head offices in Beirut and Yerevan.