Sunday, July 19, 2015

Death of Yeghia Demirjibashian (July 19, 1908)

Yeghia Demirjibashian was born in Khasgiugh (Haskoy), a suburb of Constantinople, on May 8, 1851. He completed his education at the local Nersesian and Nubar-Shahnazarian schools, and graduated with distinction. From early youth he was a solitary person and an avid reader, with an encyclopedic mind. He was principally captivated by books that represented the sadder aspects of life, its vanity, and the reality of death, which seemed to suit his melancholic disposition.

He worked for a while at the Printing Office of the government, and as a secretary of the administrative assembly of the ministry of Public Works, but he quit his job with the intention of going to Paris. Family situation shook his delicate psyche and his physical health, and the project failed. He was in love with a young lady who had decided to marry a wealthy man. Out of desperation, he attempted to commit suicide in 1874, but failed. Deeply concerned about his condition, his family found the means to send him to Marseilles with the advice to studying economics. Instead, he spent his time reading voraciously and even trying to publish a newspaper in French, Le Moniteur littéraire et financier de Marseille.

He returned to Constantinople in 1876 and became involved in the dispute over the grammar and spelling rules of Modern Armenian that his classmate Minas Cheraz (1852-1929) had suggested, and that ultimately met the rejection of the Armenian Education Council.

In 1879 he began publication of the Philosophical Dictionary, with the aim of introducing a critical spirit and freedom of thought into literature. He published critical articles and book reviews in the periodical Masis from 1880. He also launched two newspapers, Kragan yev imasdasiragan sharjum (1883) and Yergrakunt (1884); while the first was filled with his own articles, the second had contributors such as Krikor Zohrab, Reteos Berberian (another of his classmates), and Yervant Odian. Both papers ceased publication in 1888. He also briefly edited other publications. Besides the Philosophical Dictionary, his only other books would be two bilingual dictionaries, Armenian-French (1894) and French-Armenian (1896).

By 1889 Demirjibashian’s health started to deteriorate, and he sank into despondency. His main desire became to die and to attain Nirvana, to which he frequently referred in his writings. The pessimistic mood that engulfed him was aggravated by the loss of his mother in 1890, following the death of his young brother. His father had passed away years before. He continued his work as teacher and editor until 1893, when he attempted suicide again, but a boatman saved him from the sea. He frequently changed his place of residence, driven by a persecution complex. In 1895, during one of those moves, he rang the bell of a house in Pera. The landlady, a Hungarian woman called Mrs. Ellen Nisen, took pity on him, gave him a room in her house, and eventually became his guardian angel, as Demirjibashian himself recognized more than once. The financial support of an aunt allowed him to travel to Geneva, Vienna, and Budapest in 1897, but this did not help his situation. He returned to the hospitality of Mrs. Nisen, who compassionately took care of him. After a year spent in the National Hospital (1901-1902), the illness practically confined him to his home, and then, to his bed. In the end, on July 19, 1908, he hanged himself during his hostess’ absence with a scarf that she had given to him as a present.

A talented but eccentric figure, Demirjibashian reflected his psychological turmoil in his writings. His artistic sensitivity produced moments of deep emotion, but his poetry was not balanced enough to become a finished product. He would leave hundreds of poems, but not a single literary work finished. Several collections of his poetry were published posthumously. The library of the Armenian Cultural Foundation in Arlington, Massachusetts, carries his name.