Monday, December 9, 2013

Birth of Hagop Oshagan - December 9, 1883

When Hagop Oshagan, one of the foremost Armenian writers of the twentieth century, passed away at the age of 65, he left many thousands of pages of published works in newspapers and many more that were unpublished. In Beirut alone, 33 volumes of published or previously unpublished works bearing his name were published after his death, between 1958 and 2013.

He was born Hagop Kufejian in the village of Sölöz, near Brusa, in Asia Minor. He was a dropout from school and an autodidact, who read voraciously the classics of the nineteenth century, including Dostoyevsky, his inspiration for his novels. He published his first story in 1902, but his literary career started after 1909 in Constantinople. By 1914 he was already known by his literary criticism and his short stories. He became, along with Gostan Zarian, Kegham Parseghian, Taniel Varoujan, and Aharon, the founder of the short-lived monthly Mehyan, with the hope of starting a literary movement among Western Armenians that was cut short by the genocide.

He was on the Turkish list of targeted intellectuals, but he managed to escape persecution and arrest, and lived in hiding in Constantinople until early 1918, when he surreptitiously crossed the border into Bulgaria, where he married Araksi Astarjian. They would have three children, Vahe, Anahid, and Garo, of which the first two would be writers. (Vahe Oshagan would become one of the leading intellectuals of the Diaspora in the second half of the twentieth century.) They returned to Constantinople after the Armistice. Kufejian started to use the name Hagop Oshagan around 1920 in the newspaper Jagadamard. He became a teacher and continued his literary production. In 1922 he published another short-lived journal, together with Zarian, Vahan Tekeyan, Shahan Berberian, and Kegham Kavafian, but the new attempt at a literary revival was cut short by the retreat of the Allied forces from Constantinople and the victory of the Kemalist movement in Turkey. He left the city, as many other Armenian intellectuals and much of the community did, and moved back to Bulgaria. After 1924, Oshagan worked as a teacher, first in Cairo, then in Nicosia, at the Melkonian Educational Institute, and finally, after 1934, at the Seminary of Jerusalem. He forged his reputation as a charismatic literature teacher, and a demanding literary critic.

Oshagan published two collections of short writings in the early 1920s, but then he focused on his novels. His literary life was defined by the Catastrophe (he practically coined the term Aghed to name the event that had swept over Western Armenian culture in 1915), as he shifted into the literary reconstruction of the lost world. His magnum opus, Mnatsortats (The Remnants), a three-volume novel published in 1932-1934, depicted the life of a Western Armenian family and the complicated Turkish-Armenian relationship on the eve of the Catastrophe. However, he was unable to write a projected final volume where he intended to represent the deportation itself. The first volume of this novel has just been translated into English by G. M. Goshgarian.

He also wrote the “novel of Western Armenian literature,” Panorama of Western Armenian Literature, a monograph that encompassed the period 1850-1915 in ten volumes, of which only the first was published at the time of his death, and the last nine were published in the next quarter of a century.

Hagop Oshagan passed away in Aleppo on February 17, 1948, on the eve of a planned visit to the killing fields of Der Zor. He was buried at the Armenian Cemetery of the city, in an imposing funeral attended by some 20,000 people.