Francis Scott Key is just remembered as the author of the lyrics of the U.S. national anthem. It is not the same in the case of Mikael Nalbandian, who was an influential intellectual of the nineteenth century and is an important name in the history of Armenian culture, besides being the author of the lyrics of the Armenian anthem.
Nalbandian was born on November 14, 1829, in Nor Nakhichevan, the town close to Rostov-on-Don founded in the late eighteenth century by Armenian emigrants from Crimea, in the family of a craftsman. He studied in his hometown at the school of Gabriel Patkanian, and for a while he was classmate of his son, the future poet Rafael Patkanian (Kamar Katipa). He worked as a secretary in the Armenian diocese of Nor Nakhichevan and Besarabia from 1848-1853. Then he left his post and went to Moscow, where he taught Armenian language at the Lazarian College for a short while, and took classes at the Medicine School of Moscow University as an auditor (1854-1858).
Similar to Khachatur Abovian, Nalbandian championed the introduction of Modern Armenian (ashkharhapar) instead of Classical Armenian (krapar), and confronted the opposition of ecclesiastics and conservatives. He translated poems of Alexander Pushkin, Mikhail Lermontov, Heinrich Heine, and others. Among his own poetry, three poems became favorites of the public: “The Song of the Italian Girl” (Idalatsi aghchga yerke), “Freedom” (Azadutiun), and “Days of Childhood” (Mangootian orer). The first, better known as Mer Hairenik (“Our Fatherland”), would become the anthem of the first Republic of Armenia in 1918, and was adopted again after the new independence of 1991.
Nalbandian published the journal Hiusisapayl (Aurora Borealis) with another influential intellectual, Stepanos Nazarian (1812-1879), in Moscow. During its five years of existence (1859-1864), the journal became a leading name in the cultural awakening of Eastern Armenians. Nalbandian had already made a name for himself since the 1850s due to his progressive and liberal views, as well as his outspoken and ironic style. Reform and renewal were his main ideas, as he espoused them in his writings on different issues. He published various political tracts, of which the most important was Agriculture as the Right Way (1862), where he criticized the peasant reform of 1861 in Russia.
The writer made two trips to Europe (1859 and 1860-1862), and he also visited India. In London he became friends with various famous Russian revolutionaries, such as Alexander Herzen and Mikhail Bakunin. After his return in 1862, he was arrested by the Russian secret police and spent three years in prison in St. Petersburg. He was accused of inciting anti-government sentiments and exiled to the fortress of Kamyshin, in the province of Saratov. He passed away at the age of 37, victim of tuberculosis, on April 12, 1866. He was buried in the Armenian monastery of Holy Cross, in Nakhichevan-on-Don. An important street in central Yerevan and a statue remember him.