The nineteenth century was a period of awakening for Armenians both in the Ottoman and the Russian Empire. In Russia, one of its pioneers was Stepanos Nazariantz, a journalist, teacher, and orientalist.
He was born on May 27, 1812, in Tiflis (now Tbilisi), in the family of a priest. The Nersisian Lyceum, founded by the primate of the Armenian Apostolic Church in Georgia, Nerses Ashtaraketsi, was opened in 1824, and Nazariantz studied there between 1824 and 1829. He became also one of the first Armenian students of the Caucasus to study in Dorpat (now Tartu, in Estonia), which had one of the best, German-speaking universities in the Russian Empire.
In Dorpat, Nazariantz first studied at the gymnasium for a year (1833-1834) and then at the schools of Medicine (1835-1836) and Philosophy (1836-1840). He wrote his doctoral dissertation on the work of Persian poet Ferdowsi, Shahnameh (Book of Kings). From 1842-1849 he was the chair of the Armenian language department at the University of Kazan. Later he moved to Moscow, where he was professor of Persian language and literature at the famous Lazarian Lyceum until his death. From 1869-1871 he was also principal of the lyceum.
Influenced by European enlightenment and Russian social movements of the 1840s, Nazariantz wrote against the ruling feudal system and its ideology. He was a fervent advocate of modernization, as well as of patriotic ideas, such as the struggle against Turkish domination. He saw education as the key of Armenian progress, and supported the development of secular instruction and methods of pedagogy that were consistent and age-appropriate. He advocated the use of Modern Armenian, and perhaps his greatest achievement was the publication of the monthly Hiusisapayl (Aurora Borealis, 1858-1864), together with his younger associate Mikayel Nalbandian, which had an important role in the development of Eastern Armenian. The monthly became the voice of progressive ideas, and ran afoul of the Armenian establishment due to the discussion of sensitive issues, such as his criticism of serfdom and clerical power. Nazariantz and Nalbandian developed principles to modernize literary criticism among Armenians.
Nazariantz wrote a number of books in Russian (A Brief Survey of Thirteenth Century Armenian Literature, 1844; A Survey of Armenian Literature in the Modern Period, 1846) and Armenian (Discourse on Experimental Psychology, 1853; First Spiritual Nutrition for Armenian Children, 1853; Source Book of Religion, 1854, and Review of Modern Armenian Speaking, 1857). He also wrote poetry and translated many works, including those of Swiss poet Friedrich Schiller. He passed away on May 9, 1879, in Moscow.