THIS WEEK IN ARMENIAN HISTORY
the Armenian National Education Committee (ANEC)
(August 18, 1828)
Megerdich Beshigtashlian was a pioneering writer and public figure of Western Armenian society, considered the founder of modern lyric poetry among Armenians. He was born in Constantinople, and received his primary education at the school of the Mekhitarist Congregation in the suburb of Pera (today Beyoglu) from 1834-1839. He continued his studies at the Samuel-Moorat school of Padua, in Italy, until 1845. The atmosphere of the Italian liberation movement would greatly impact over his intellectual formation.
He returned to Constantinople and became a widely-sought teacher. He taught Armenian language and literature, as well as French in the Tarkmanchats, Loosavorchian, and Hripsimiants Schools. He was particularly successful in teaching the language to Armenian children who spoke foreign languages. For instance, since the late 1850s he was the Armenian teacher of Serpouhi Vahanian (1842-1901), who at first disdained the language, as she had grown speaking French. However, Beshigtashlian’s patient work engaged her student, who later would become a pioneering feminist writer in Armenian literature, Serpouhi Dussape (after marrying her French music teacher, Paul Dussape, in 1870).
Beshigtashlian is considered the founder of Western Armenian theater on a permanent basis. He organized a theater group in 1856, which started to stage plays in ashkharhapar (Modern Armenian). This was an important advance, as plays were performed in krapar (Classical Armenian), becoming an obstacle for popular success. He wrote various plays with historical subjects, seeking to awaken national feelings among the public. He also translated various pieces from French and Italian with similar subjects. He also wrote musical comedies.
Beshigtashlian was particularly active in the public sphere in the 1860s, with an important role in the preparation and approval of the National Constitution (1863). The writer also participated in the foundation of the Abnegated Society (Antznever Engerootioon), which functioned from 1860-1863 and was devoted to education, but also helped financially and morally the rebels of Zeytoon in 1862. He was also the driving force behind the Alumni Association of the Moorat-Raphaelian school between 1858 and 1868.
However, Beshigtashlian’s main contribution to Armenian literature was his poetry. His output was not very big, some 60 poems, but it was quite varied. His poetry, in Classical and Modern Armenian, touched subjects such as love, nature, and homeland. He wrote children’s poems, elegies, etcetera. He published his first poem in 1849. His two most famous poems, “We Are Brothers” and “Spring,” were later set to music. The first was a call of unity to Western Armenians, while the second was a romantic love song to the homeland. He wrote several poems dedicated to the rebellion of Zeytoon.
Beshigtashlian passed away at the age of 40, on November 29, 1868. He inaugurated a list of famous Armenian poets who died from the “romantic disease”: tuberculosis.