The best figures of Armenian literature in the Diaspora gathered in France in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Besides Shahan Shahnour, Nigoghos Sarafian, and Vazken Shousanian, the name of Zareh Vorpouni, although much less known to the general public, managed to gain some critical attention until the 1970s.
He was born Zareh Euksuzian on May 24, 1902, in Ordu (Turkey), a city on the southeastern shore of the Black Sea. He studied at the local Movsesian school. His father was killed during the genocide, but his mother managed to flee to Crimea with her family. At the end of the war, the family moved to Constantinople, where Zareh attended the Berberian School from 1919-1922. He published his first literary pieces in the newspaper Joghovourti Tzayne, which he signed Zareh Vorpouni (vorp “orphan” is the Armenian translation of Turkish öksüz).
Like thousands of Armenians leaving the Ottoman Empire as refugees during the turmoil of the Kemalist massacres before the founding of the Turkish Republic, Vorpouni and his family departed for France in August 1922. They settled in Marseilles, where they lived for two years. In 1924 the aspiring writer moved to Paris. In the same year, he jointly edited the short-lived literary periodical Nor Havadk with another aspiring writer, Bedros Zaroyan (1903-1986). From his early days in France, he was an avid reader who acquainted himself with European intellectual trends and prominent works of French literature. He would also enter the French Communist Party, which he left in the 1930s.
Vorpouni, who started publishing short stories and essays in the French-Armenian press, soon conceived a cycle of novels entitled The Persecuted. The first volume, The Attempt, would be published in 1929. It depicted the hard life of an Armenian immigrant family transplanted to Marseilles, where they endured the impact of a totally strange environment.
The novelist entered the group Menk (We), which included a number of young intellectuals (also called “the Paris boys”), mostly genocide survivors, bound to achieve a renewal of Armenian literature by reflecting the social, cultural, and psychological distress undergone by the newly-formed Diaspora and the perils of identity loss. They published the journal Menk from 1931-1932 and then scattered away. Vorpouni moved to Strasbourg from 1930-1937 and, upon his return to Paris, he co-edited another short-lived journal with Zaroyan, Lousapatz (1938-1939). He printed a volume of short stories, Room for Rent (1939), which was only distributed after the end of World War II. Drafted by the French army at the outbreak of the war, he was captured by the Germans and held as prisoner of war in Magdeburg until 1945.
Returning to Paris, in 1946 Vorpouni visited Soviet Armenia upon an invitation to participate in the Second Congress of Soviet Armenian Writers. He published his impressions in a volume, Toward the Country (1948). He returned to literature with a new collection of short stories, Rainy Days (1958), which was followed by another collection, Koharig and Other Stories, in 1966. He explored the psychological features of his characters and identity disintegration, with the trauma of genocide subtly felt through these narratives.
In the 1960s Vorpouni also resumed his novelistic project after a hiatus of more than thirty years. After publishing And There Was Man (1964), which was independent of his cycle of novels, he wrote and published the following three novels of The Persecuted in the space of seven years: The Candidate (1967), Asphalt (1972), and An Ordinary Day (1974). The Candidate presented the main character, Vahakn, embodying the tormented young generation that bore the psychological trauma of the genocide and remained its victim through their actions. The next two volumes probed the sources for the anguish of their main characters. An anthology containing The Attempt, And There Was a Man, and some short stories was published in Yerevan in 1967.
Vorpouni passed away on December 1, 1980, in Bagneux, a suburb of Paris. Two of the last three novels of The Persecuted were posthumously published in literary journals in 1980 (Death Notice) and 1982 (For Thine Is the Power), while the seventh novel remains unpublished. An English translation of The Candidate, by Jennifer Manoukian and Ishkhan Jinbashian, appeared in 2016.