Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Death of Avetik Isahakian (October 17, 1957)

Avetik Isahakian was and remains a popular name in Armenian literature, particularly for the folkloric style of his poetry. Many of his poems have become songs.

He was born in Alexandropol (nowadays Gumri) on October 30, 1875. He spent his childhood and adolescence in the surrounding village of Ghazarapat, now called Isahakian after him. He studied at the Kevorkian Seminary of Holy Etchmiadzin, and from 1893-1895 he was an auditor at the University of Lepzig, in Germany.

He started writing in his youth years, while he also delved into political activities. He returned to Alexandropol in 1895 and became a member of the local committee of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation. He was arrested by the Russian police in 1896 and spent a year imprisoned in the fortress of Yerevan.

He left the country after coming out of prison. In 1897 he went to the University of Zurich as auditor of history of literature and philosophy. A year later, he published his first book of poetry, Songs and Wounds. In 1902 he came back to the homeland and then settled in Tiflis. He published a second book of poetry, Poems, in 1903, followed by an enlarged edition of Songs and Wounds in 1908.

In 1908 the Russian government launched a repressive campaign against the revolutionary movements throughout the empire. Isahakian was among the 158 intellectuals arrested in the “A.R.F. case” and, after remaining for half year in the prison of Metekh, in Tiflis, he was liberated with a huge bail. The atmosphere was irrespirable and perhaps was one of the reasons besides the writing of the long poem Abu-Lala Mahari from 1909-1910. In 1910 the poet married Sofia Kocharian in the ruins of Ani. They moved first to Constantinople, where he published the poem in 1911, and then to Europe with their newly-born son, Vigen.

They settled in Berlin, where Isahakian would become one of the founders of the German-Armenian Society in 1914 together with a group of Armenian and German intellectuals. In 1916 the Isahakians moved to Geneva. The poet would actively follow the Armenian cause and reflect it in his writing, journal notes, and articles. He started writing a novel, Usta Garo, where he intended to present Armenian political life in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, which remained unfinished despite working on it for many years. He published two collections of poems in 1920 and 1922, as well as the first version of his poem Mher of Sassoon, based on the final cycle of the Armenian epic.

Isahakian moved to Paris in 1924 and, after fifteen years in exile, he visited Soviet Armenia in 1926 and remained there for four years. He returned to Europe in 1930 and lived in the French capital for the next six years, where he was an activist on behalf of Soviet Armenia until 1936. In this year, he returned definitively to the homeland with his family.

In Armenia, where he was familiarly known as varpet (“master”), a title that he only shared with painter Martiros Sarian, Isahakian was the dean of Armenian literature in the hard times of Stalinist repression. He continued writing and publishing. He became a member of the Academy of Sciences of Armenia in 1943. He earned the State Prize of the USSR in 1946, and in this same year he was appointed president of the Writers Union of Armenia, a position he held until his death on October 17, 1957 in Yerevan.

Avetik Isahakian was buried in the “Komitas” Pantheon of Yerevan. His house-museum in Yerevan was opened in 1963 and another was later opened in Gumri. There are statues of him in both cities, as well as schools, streets, and libraries carrying his name in different towns of Armenia.