THIS WEEK IN ARMENIAN HISTORY
(Prepared by the Armenian National Education Committee)
Death of Hagop Oshagan
(February 17, 1948)
His writing has remained unknown by the general public. However, Hagop Oshagan was one of the most important novelists and literary critics in twentieth-century Armenian literature.
He was born Hagop Kufejian on December 9, 1883 in Sölöz, a village near Brusa, in western Turkey. He lost his father at the age of five and endured much hardship during his childhood. He studied for a short while in the seminary of Armash, but he was essentially an autodidact. His voracious reading was the main source for his learning.
He became a teacher at the age of 19, when his first short story appeared in the newspaper Arevelk of Constantinople. He started to make a name for himself in the short period of literary renaissance that followed the Ottoman Revolution of 1908, both as a short story writer and a critic. He joined with Gostan Zarian, Taniel Varoujan, Kegham Parseghian, and Aharon Dadourian to create the short-lived literary group “Mehyan,” which published the journal of the same name from January-July 1914 and attempted a literary renovation.
Hagop Kufejian was on the April 24 lists of the Turkish government, but was able to elude persecution for the next three years, despite being arrested several times. In early 1918, disguised as a German officer, he managed to flee to Bulgaria, where he remained until 1920. He married and would have three children. His elder son, Vahe Oshagan (1921-2000), a poet and literary critic, would become one of the leading names of Armenian literature in the Diaspora during the second half of the twentieth century.
Hagop Kufejian adopted the last name Oshagan in 1919 and returned to Constantinople, where he worked as a teacher and was active in literary life. He published his first book, a collection of short stories, The Humble Ones, in 1921. In 1922, together with Gostan Zarian, Vahan Tekeyan, Shahan Berberian, and Kegham Kavafian, published Partzravank, a literary journal that tried to be a qualified literary voice.
The occupation of Constantinople by the troops of Mustafa Kemal in 1922 provoked the escape of many Armenians from the city. Oshagan also left and, after living in Bulgaria from 1922-1924, he became a teacher in Egypt (1924-1928), at the Melkonian Institute of Cyprus (1928-1935), and at the Seminary of Jerusalem (1935-1948).
In the last twenty-five years of his life, Oshagan put together a prodigious amount of literary production, including several lengthy novels. Particularly important was the eighteen hundred-page novel The Remnants (1932-1933), which he left unfinished and was intended to be a novel about the Armenian catastrophe of 1915. Barely read at its time, it became an object of cult followers during the past thirty years, as well as the subject for important literary studies.
Aside from his fiction, including also plays and many literary essays, Hagop Oshagan wrote the ten-volume Panorama of Western Armenian Literature (1939-1944), a collection of monographs about the most important literary figures of the period 1850-1915, which he intended to be the “novel” of that period in Western Armenian culture. He only saw the publication of the first volume in 1945. The remaining nine volumes were published between 1951 and 1982. This cemented his fame as the most important name in Armenian literary criticism.
Oshagan passed away in Aleppo, where he had gone to visit the areas that had been the scene of the Armenian deportation and killing in 1915. He died from a heart attack on February 17, 1948, and was buried in the local Armenian cemetery. He had not been a writer for the masses in his lifetime; nevertheless, twenty thousand people attended his funeral. Every year (until the recent Syrian civil war), the students of the Karen Jeppe College of Aleppo went to the Armenian cemetery at the beginning of the school year to pay their respect at his tomb.