Every society and every point in time needs critics. Critics may lash out at negative points, and they can hit very hard. However, they will hit even harder if they use satire as their weapon. This is why the late nineteenth century critics of Armenian society are not remembered today, but Hagop Baronian has become the most famous Armenian satirist writer of all time.
He was born in Adrianople (nowadays Edirne, in Eastern Thrace) on November 19, 1843, in a family belonging to the poor class. After graduating from the local Arshaguniats School, he studied for a year at the Greek school of the town (1857-1858). Then he had to contribute to family living. He first worked two years at a pharmacy, and then entered a tobacco company as a bookkeeper. Self-teaching and continuous reading made up for his lack of formal education.
He moved to Constantinople in 1863 and taught at the Scutari Lyceum, where one of his students was Bedros Turian, the future poet. He entered journalism in 1871 as editor-in-chief of the newspaper Yeprad, but soon took a position as editor of the newspaper Meghu, published by Harutiun Svajian, and turned it into a well-known satirical publication. Meghu ceased publication in 1874 and Svajian transferred the right of publication to Baronian, who renamed it Tadron. Becoming the publisher, Baronian gave a free ride to his lashing and educational wit to criticize the negative aspects of society. However, economic troubles ended the publication of Tadron in 1879.
Baronian married Satenik Etmekjian in 1879 and they had two children, Zabel and Ashod. In the same year, he started to work for Minas Kapamajian’s Luys, as the editor of the comic section. His writing attracted a lot of attention, but Kapamajian did not appreciate him, and Baronian was forced to stop his contribution to Luys.
He started to publish the monthly Khigar in 1884, and despite financial hurdles and short interruptions, managed to continue it until 1888. Some of his most important satirical works were published here.
Between 1871 and 1888, he published more than 10,000 pages in the newspapers, although most of his works were published in book form posthumously. His most important works were the novel The Honorable Beggars, the collection of stories The Perils of Politeness, the satirical chronicles A Trip in the Neighborhoods of Constantinople and National Big Shots, and the comedies The Oriental Dentists and Brother Baghdasar.
To make ends meet, Baronian became a teacher of accountancy at the Getronagan School of Galatia from 1888-1890. One of his students was the famous linguist Hrachia Ajarian. He died of tuberculosis on May 27, 1891, at the age of 48, leaving his widow and his young children penniless. Nevertheless, a compact crowd participated in his burial. His colleague Mateos Mamurian, another noted journalist, wrote: “How many people who loved education and the nation responded to the invitation formulated by the Armenian newspapers at the time of his illness...? As a matter of fact, what did we do for the poor man? What did the nation make collectively for its brave son? It made the burial and just decided to collect monies for his orphans. There was not a single official body or individual who would put a crown of flowers on the immortal Baronian, even though his works are his perennial crowns.”
As supreme irony, Baronian was buried in the cemetery of Ortakeuy without a tombstone marking his grave, and the exact location was soon forgotten. Nevertheless, his works were widely published and read after his death; his plays have been frequently performed and even turned into movies (The Perils of Politeness and The Honorable Beggars were adapted into plays), and the comedy theater of Yerevan bears his name.