Avetis Aharonian, known as the “singer of Armenian sorrow,” was one of the popular names of Eastern Armenian literature in the first half of the twentieth century. He was equally noted for his active participation in the revolutionary movement and the first Republic of Armenia.
Aharonian was born in 1866 in the village of Igdir Mava, in the district of Surmalu, which would be lost to Turkey after the Moscow and Kars treaties of 1921. He graduated from the Gevorgian Lyceum of Etchmiadzin in 1886, and taught for a few years. He became a member of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation in the 1890s and in 1897 he departed to Europe, where he graduated from the literature course of the University of Lausanne (Switzerland) in 1901. His first stories on Western Armenian emigrants and the movement of national liberation, published in the A.R.F. organ Droshak, attracted the attention of the readers. His most famous stories on these subjects are collected in the volume On the Road to Freedom (1908) and would make him the successor to novelist Raffi (1835-1888) as an inspiration for the Armenian liberation movement.
In 1902 he returned to the Caucasus and became the principal of the Nersesian Lyceum of Tiflis from 1907-1909. The persecution started by the Russian government against revolutionary parties, including the A.R.F., targeted him and he was arrested and jailed for two years. Due to his poor health, he was liberated and went first to Constantinople and then to Europe for treatment. He returned to the Caucasus before World War I, and in 1917 he was elected president of the Armenian National Council in Tiflis. After the independence of Armenia, he was elected a Parliament member and then president. He went to Paris in 1919, where he headed the Delegation of the Republic of Armenia that signed the Treaty of Sevres in 1920. He also participated in the conventions of London (1921) and Lausanne (1922-1923). He wrote down his reflections on the Armenian Cause in a book called From Sardarabad to Sevres and Lausanne (1943).
He had to stay abroad after the establishment of the Soviet regime in Armenia, where his works were banned. Besides his political activities, Aharonian continued writing a steady flow of stories, novellas, literary and political studies, memoirs, travelogues. Symbolist in some of his works and romantic in some others, his emotional style appealed to the heart of the masses and made him particularly cherished among Armenian readers throughout the world, even after his death.
It may be said that he fell on the line of duty. He was one of the keynote speakers at an event organized by Hamazkayin in Marseilles on February 11, 1934, before an audience of 2,000 people. His speech started with the following paragraph: “Armenian people, you have to know that this is a waiting situation. You have to believe that you will return to the land of your ancestors, your braves. We have not come here to stay; we have come here to return...” He had just reached the fourth paragraph of his speech, when he was silenced by a stroke. He lived for the next fourteen years in Marseilles, unable to speak or write.
He passed away on April 20, 1948, and was buried in the cemetery of Père Lachaise, in Paris. His collected works were published in 10 volumes in Boston and Venice between 1947 and 1951.
After the independence of Armenia, his name was returned to the homeland. His works have been published over the years and a street in Yerevan bears his name.