THIS WEEK IN ARMENIAN HISTORY
(Prepared by the Armenian National Education Committee[ANEC])
Death of Vazken Shoushanian
(June 2, 1941)
Vazken Shoushanian, a talented young writer of the “School of Paris,” was also one of the orphans of the Armenian Genocide.
He was born in Rodosto (nowadays Tekirdag), a city of Eastern Tracia, on February 9, 1902. His birth name was Onnig. He studied and graduated from the local elementary schools. In September 1915 the Shoushanian family was deported to Asia Minor, from where they continued on the exile routes. Onnig lost his father, mother, brother, and sister on the deportation routes between 1915 and 1917. Meanwhile, he had reached Aleppo in February 1916. The young orphan, deprived of any family support, managed to survive doing various menial work in Aleppo and elsewhere until the end of the war, when he went to Constantinople and then to Rodosto.
In 1919, Shoushanian entered the Agriculture School of Armash, and moved to the Republic of Armenia with the rest of his schoolmates in September 1920. Caught in the whirlwind of the end of the independence and the beginning of the Soviet regime, the students finally left the country and returned to Constantinople in May 1921.
In July 1922, Shoushanian came to the United States, but he was not admitted in Ellis Island due to trachoma and he had to return to Constantinople. Months later, he managed to travel to France. He became a factory worker, and in the meantime, he studied agronomy from 1923-1926 in Valabre, near Marseilles. Meanwhile, he had started to write poetry, prose, and essays in the Armenian press of the Diaspora under the name Vazken Shoushanian, including Hairenik daily and monthly, in Boston. He had also become a member of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation and in his twenties he represented the party at the Socialist International. He would pursue studies of Social Sciences in Paris and graduate in 1930.
From 1931-1932 he was part of the literary group Menk, which published the homonymous journal and gathered, for a short while, the most promising names in Armenian literature in the Diaspora, such as Shahan Shahnour, Zareh Vorpouni, and others.
Shoushanian was already a noted writer when in 1932-1933 he became entangled in the internal struggles of the A.R.F. and was left outside the party. However, as he wrote in a journal entry of 1939, he considered himself a member, “whether I have a party card or not.”
In the last years of his life, Shoushanian remained on the margin of Armenian life. He worked at a French boarding school in Rouen from 1933-1939. The school was closed due to the war in 1940 and Shoushanian made a dangerous trip to bring the students to their homes. After a seven-year absence, he then returned to Paris.
He caught pneumonia in the spring of 1941 and died practically alone, forgotten by almost everyone, in a Paris hospital. He did not have a tomb and was buried in an unmarked grave.
Few of his books were published in his lifetime; some remained scattered in the press, while others were left unpublished. His archives, in the end, went to Armenia, and some of his work started to be published in the 1950s, with publication still continuing until this day. A famous passage in his Journal was a testimony of his love for the Armenian language: “Armenian language, how much I love you! No girl on earth can brag that has received so much warm affection, so much love, so much entreaties from me. The fidelity that I feel towards you is more powerful than this miserable life of ours. I would like to study you until my last moment, your ultimate accents and your ultimate words, your internal music and the road you have traced in history. You are our prayer and our pleasure, Armenian language, I love you.”