One year later, he was hired as teacher in the village of Haji Nazar (now Kamo), in the district of Akhurian. He published his first book of poetry, “Spring Initiation,” in 1935, with the pseudonym Hovhannes Shiraz. According to his testimony, writer Atrpet (1860-1937) gave him the pseudonym of Shiraz (a city in Iran, well known for its flowers), saying: “The poems of this young man have the perfume of the fresh and dew-covered roses of Shiraz.” In the same year, Shiraz became a member of the Writers Union of Armenia.
He attended the Faculty of Philology of the Yerevan State University between 1941 and 1947, where he studied Armenian language and literature. Afterwards, he lived from his pen. He also followed the courses of the Institute of Literature Maxim Gorky of Moscow from 1952-1954.
Shiraz’s most important collection of poetry was “Lyre of Armenia” (three volumes, 1958, 1965, and 1974). He won the State Prize of Soviet Armenia in 1975 and the Hovhannes Tumanian prize in 1982.
Although the press run of his books was over half a million copies and his poems were translated into 58 languages, Shiraz ran into many problems with censorship. His patriotic poetry, particularly his evocation of the historical injustice suffered by Armenians and the lost territories of Western Armenia and, at the time, Gharabagh, was forbidden several times. In 1974, when the well-known literary critic Suren Aghababian told Shiraz about receiving the Lenin Medal, the response was: “And what do they want from me in exchange? To buy my silence?”
He was never allowed to travel outside the Soviet Union, but many of his unpublished poems were smuggled outside the country and published in the Diaspora press. For instance, the first draft of his poem “The Armenian Dante,” about the Armenian Genocide, was written in 1941. Only a few excerpts were published in Armenia during his lifetime and a few chapters in Beirut and Tehran. The entire poem was posthumously published in 1990. His poem “Ani,” about the medieval capital of Armenia, written in 1950, was also published in excerpts in the Diaspora, and the final edition only appeared in 2012.
|A behind the scenes shot of the making of the film, Shiraz, in Gyumri, in 1983. Hovhannes Shiraz is second from left, sitting in the carriage.|