Anyone may probably cite a dozen major or less major names in Armenian literature who became victims of the genocide of 1915. Even among scholars, however, the name of Armen Dorian probably does not ring a bell. At the age of 23, he was one of the youngest writers to be caught in the roundup of April 23-24 and sent to death.
He was born Hrachia Surenian on January 28, 1892 in the city of Skopje, the current capital of the Republic of Macedonia. At the time, his birthplace was still part of the Ottoman Empire. His father was a contractor of roads and bridges.
There was no Armenian community and no school there. Hrachia first studied at a local Greek school and then at the French school of Manastir (current Bitola, also in Macedonia). The family later moved to Constantinople, where the future poet received his higher education at the Mekhitarist School of Pangalti, which belonged to the Viennese branch of the congregation. He graduated in 1911 and traveled to France, where he continued his studies at the Sorbonne.
It is not clear why and when he took his literary name. When in Paris, he joined the French literary scene and founded the French newspaper L'Arène in 1912. Filled with dynamic and progressive ideas in poetry, he followed the current known as “paroxyste,” first proposed by poet Nicolas Beaudoin (1881-1960) in 1911, which was a French correlative to another avant-garde movement, futurism. He also published poetry booklets.
As immersed as he was in French literature, Dorian did not leave aside his Armenian roots. He wrote and published both in French and in Armenian, and did not sever his links with the Armenian literary life in Constantinople.
Immediately after his graduation in 1914, he received an invitation to return to Constantinople as headmaster in his alma mater, the Mekhitarist School of Pangalti. He also taught in four other schools, and contributed to local journals with Armenian and French poems. He was arrested at the Modern School in the night of April 24, 1915.
Armen Dorian, together with some 150 people, including poets Taniel Varoujan and Roupen Sevag, among others, was initially sent to Çankırı. Thirty exiles were able to return to Constantinople in one way or another. From the remaining hundred and twenty, in June 1915 a first caravan of 52 people was dispatched with destination to Deir-er-Zor. One of the fifteen survivors of the entire group of 120, Mikayel Shamdanjian, wrote: “At the time, we were not familiar with that name. From the first caravan, only the Protestant bookseller Baronian, as the result of petitions, was excluded and returned to Constantinople. All the other comrades, including the promising and pleasant Armen Dorian, went to become the victims of the roads of Elbistan. . . . Armen Dorian became part of the first caravan because, as someone who had absorbed French humor, was dazzling and had always a song in his lips.”
Dorian’s poetry has remained dispersed in the Armenian and French journals of the time. Other poems were posthumously published in the Armenian press. His brother Zenob Surenian, who had settled in Austria, in 1931 published a small collection of poetry entitled Un poète français d’origine arménienne (A French Poet of Armenian Origin).