THIS WEEK IN ARMENIAN HISTORY
(Prepared by the Armenian National Education Committee[ANEC])
Birth of Barouyr Sevag
(January 26, 1924)
Barouyr Sevag was the successor of Yeghishe Charents in Soviet Armenian poetry, and was widely admired during his lifetime. Both had a short life, tragically cut off, although under different circumstances.
Barouyr Ghazarian was born in the small village of Chanakhchi (now Zankagadoun), in the district of Ararat, in Armenia. His parents were humble villagers. He attended the local school and graduated with honors in 1940, moving to Yerevan to study at the philological faculty of Yerevan State University. He had written his first poetry at the age of thirteen, and three of his poems appeared for the first time in the monthly Sovetakan Grakanutiun in 1942, with the signature Barouyr Sevag. The editor of the monthly, Ruben Zarian, was a literary scholar fond of Roupen Sevag, a fine poet who had been killed together with Taniel Varoujan in the Armenian genocide, and thought of perpetuating his memory by using his name as a pseudonym for the 18-year-old beginner.
Sevag graduated in 1945 and started postgraduate studies of Armenian literature at the Manuk Abeghian Institute of Literature of the Armenian Academy of Sciences. However, he had to cut his studies short in 1948. In the same year, he published his first book, The Immortals Command. He married linguist Maya Avakian and had a son, Hrachia.
In 1951 he moved to Moscow to study at the Maxim Gorky Institute of World Literature. There he met his future second wife, Nelly Menagharishvili, who would give him two more sons, Armen and Koriun. He graduated in 1955 and worked there from 1957-1959 as an instructor at the chair of Literary Translation.
Meanwhile, during the eight years of ostracism, he had managed to publish poetry, translations, and literary criticism in the Soviet Armenian press. His three books of poetry, however (Uncomprising Intimacy, 1953; Love Road, 1954; and With You Again, 1957), failed to unleash his entire potential. His long poem of 1959, The Unsilenced Belfry, dedicated to the life of Gomidas Vartabed, made his name instantly known by Armenian readers throughout the world. The book earned him the National Prize of Armenia in 1966.
Sevag went back to Yerevan in late 1959, and returned to the Manuk Abeghian Institute of Literature as a scholarly researcher from 1963-1971. He served as secretary of the Board of the Writers Union of Armenia from 1966-1971. In 1968 he was elected a representative at the Supreme Soviet of the Armenian SSR.
During the sixties, Sevag became the most powerful voice of Armenian poetry, and his articles on literary and public issues were widely read. In 1963 he published a groundbreaking collection of poetry, The Man in the Palm, which marked the return to the path of modernism that had been closed since the death of Charents a quarter of a century before.
In 1966 the poet and scholar defended a doctoral dissertation on the life and work of Sayat-Nova, the popular troubadour of the eighteenth century. After a defense of his dissertation that lasted four hours, his work was so highly esteemed that he was conferred with a second doctorate degree when the dissertation was approved and published in 1969.
Barouyr Sevag was not a dissident, but, as many intellectuals under the Soviet regime, some of his work clashed with censorship. This was particularly notorious when his last collection of poetry, Let There Be Light, was printed in 1969, but because of censorship issues, the entire edition of 25,000 copies remained undistributed until his death on June 17, 1971, in a car crash, while driving back to Yerevan. His wife also died in the crash, and only his two children survived. The circumstances of the accident were suspicious, and they have given fodder to lingering doubts about foul play by the Soviet regime.
The 47-year-old poet and his wife were buried in the backyard of his home, in Chanakhchi, which later became a museum. The village was renamed Zankagadoun after the independence of Armenia in honor of his poem The Unsilenced Belfry (Անլռելի զանգակատուն, Anlreli Zankagadoun).