Posts Tagged ‘Taniel Varoujan’

(Prepared by the Armenian National Education Committee)




Birth of Armen Dorian (January 28, 1892)

Anyone may probably cite a dozen major or less major names in Armenian literature who became victims of the genocide of 1915. Even among scholars, however, the name of Armen Dorian probably does not ring a bell. At the age of 23, he was one of the youngest writers to be caught in the roundup of April 23-24 and sent to death.


He was born Hrachia Surenian on January 28, 1892 in the city of Skopje, the current capital of the Republic of Macedonia. At the time, his birthplace was still part of the Ottoman Empire. His father was a contractor of roads and bridges.


There was no Armenian community and no school there. Hrachia first studied at a local Greek school and then at the French school of Manastir (current Bitola, also in Macedonia). The family later moved to Constantinople, where the future poet received his higher education at the Mekhitarist School of Pangalti, which belonged to the Viennese branch of the congregation. He graduated in 1911 and traveled to France, where he continued his studies at the Sorbonne.


It is not clear why and when he took his literary name. When in Paris, he joined the French literary scene and founded the French newspaper L’Arène in 1912. Filled with dynamic and progressive ideas in poetry, he followed the current known as “paroxyste,” first proposed by poet Nicolas Beaudoin (1881-1960) in 1911, which was a French correlative to another avant-garde movement, futurism. He also published poetry booklets.


As immersed as he was in French literature, Dorian did not leave aside his Armenian roots. He wrote and published both in French and in Armenian, and did not sever his links with the Armenian literary life in Constantinople.


Immediately after his graduation in 1914, he received an invitation to return to Constantinople as headmaster in his alma mater, the Mekhitarist School of Pangalti. He also taught in four other schools, and contributed to local journals with Armenian and French poems. He was arrested at the Modern School in the night of April 24, 1915.


Armen Dorian, together with some 150 people, including poets Taniel Varoujan and Roupen Sevag, among others, was initially sent to Çankırı. Thirty exiles were able to return to Constantinople in one way or another. From the remaining hundred and twenty, in June 1915 a first caravan of 52 people was dispatched with destination to Deir-er-Zor. One of the fifteen survivors of the entire group of 120, Mikayel Shamdanjian, wrote: “At the time, we were not familiar with that name. From the first caravan, only the Protestant bookseller Baronian, as the result of petitions, was excluded and returned to Constantinople. All the other comrades, including the promising and pleasant Armen Dorian, went to become the victims of the roads of Elbistan. . . . Armen Dorian became part of the first caravan because, as someone who had absorbed French humor, was dazzling and had always a song in his lips.”


Dorian’s poetry has remained dispersed in the Armenian and French journals of the time. Other poems were posthumously published in the Armenian press. His brother Zenob Surenian, who had settled in Austria, in 1931 published a small collection of poetry entitled Un poète français d’origine arménienne (A French Poet of Armenian Origin).


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In the first decade and half of the twentieth century, poet Taniel Varoujan rose to become the most remarkable name of Armenian literature. He would have become an internationally known name had not his exile and assassination trounced his career during the Armenian Genocide.

            Taniel Chibukkiarian was born in the village of Perknik, in the vilayet of Sepastia. After attending the local school, in 1896 he went to Constantinople, where he attended one of the schools of the Mekhitarist Congregation of Venice. He then continued his education at the Moorat-Raphaelian school of Venice from 1902-1905. In 1905 he entered the University of Ghent, in Belgium, where he followed courses in literature, sociology, and economics. He adopted the surname Varoujan (from an Armenian word that means "male dove") when he started to publish his poems. In 1906 he published his first volume of poetry, Shivers, followed the next year by a booklet that contained a long poem, The Massacre. He graduated in 1909 and returned to the Ottoman Empire. The same year he published a new volume, Heart of the Race, which TanielVaroujanestablished him as a poet.

Returning to Sepastia, he became a teacher between 1909 and 1912. In 1910 he married his student, Araksi Tashjian, vanquishing the opposition of her father. In 1912 they moved to Constantinople, where he became the principal of the St. Gregory the Illuminator School until his deportation in April 1915.

               He published a new and even more powerful collection of poetry, Pagan Songs, in 1912. In late 1913 he joined forces with four young writers, Kostan Zarian (1885-1969), Hagop Oshagan (1883-1948), Kegham Parseghian (1883-1915), and Aharon Dadourian (1888-1965), to create the group "Mehyan." They issued a manifesto that called for the renovation of Armenian literature and language, and founded a short-lived but important monthly journal, Mehyan, that published seven issues (January-July 1914). Due to aesthetic divergences, Varoujan left the group after the third issue (March 1914).

                The poet had three children: Veronica, Armen, and Haig. His wife was pregnant with their third child, when Varoujan was included in the Turkish black list and arrested on the night of April 23-24, 1915, by the police with hundreds of Armenian intellectuals and leaders. He was deported to Changr (Chankiri) together with many of his colleagues, where they lived in a sort of internal exile for the next two months. On August 26, 1915, along with his friend, the poet and physician Rupen Sevag (Chilingirian, 1885-1915), and three other Armenians, they were taken to Kalayjek. On the road, following a previous plan, a group of Turkish chetes (irregular soldiers) attacked the carriage that transported them. They were forced to take their clothes out, and then savagely assassinated. The same day, Varoujan’s son, Haig, was born in Constantinople.

            The poet’s papers had been confiscated at the time of his arrest. In 1921 his wife Araksi was able to recover, after paying a hefty bribe, his unfinished last book, The Song of the Bread, which was published the same year in Constantinople.

               After his death, Varoujan’s works were published in no less than thirty editions over the past nine decades. Collections of his poetry have been also published in French and Italian. His daughter Veronica Safrasian (1910-2009) lived for many years in New York, while his younger son Haig (1915-2002) passed away in Fresno.

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