Posts Tagged ‘Vahram Papazian’

(Prepared by the Armenian National Education Committee)

Death of Arshavir Shahkhatouni

(April 4, 1957)


Arshavir (Asho) Shahkhatouni went down in history as both a star of Russian and French silent films in the 1910s and 1920s, and as the military commander of Yerevan during the first Republic of Armenia. 

One would say that it was a genetic trait: his father Vagharshak Shahkhatuni (1843-1892) was a colonel in the Russian army, and also the founder of the theater hall of Alexandropol (nowadays Gumri). Arshavir was born in Alexandropol on February 19, 1885. He spent his childhood in Alexandropol, Nor Bayazed (Gavar), Gandzak (Ganja), and Yerevan. He studied at the Mikhailov military school of Tiflis (Tbilisi) and served in Baku in 1905. After the Armeno-Tatar clashes of 1905, he was expelled from the army for refusing to fire over Armenians who had found refuge in a church, as it had been ordered to the battalion he commanded. He went to work in an office and started developing his love for theater as an amateur actor in the local Armenian groups. Over the next seven years (1905-1912), he would gradually become a sought-after name in Armenian theater, both in Baku and in Tiflis. The first Romeo on the Armenian stage, Shahkhatouni was considered, together with Hovhannes Abelian, the preeminent representative of realism in Armenian acting.

In 1913 Shahkhatouni was offered an important role in “Bela,” a movie by Alexander Gromov. For the next five years, he would live in Moscow, where he studied at the Artistic Theater and followed the classes of famous theater theoretician Konstantin Stanislavski. Meanwhile, he continued his cinematographic career, starring mostly in films with Caucasian themes, such as Alexander Volkov’s “The Conquest of the Caucasus,” “The Fugitive,” “Khaz bulad,” as well as others like “Jealousy,” “Storm,” “Venus’ Fur,” etcetera. He was highlighted as one of the well-regarded names of pre-Soviet cinema, becoming also one of the first Armenian actors to appear in Russian cinematography, along with Hamo Bek-Nazarian and Vahram Papazian. 

In the crucial year 1918, Shahkhatouni left Moscow and returned to the Caucasus. His former military experience would lead him to participate in the battles of Sardarabad and Pash-Abaran, and after the foundation of the Republic of Armenia, he was designated military commander of Yerevan, receiving the rank of colonel.

After two years of service, in 1920 Shahkhatouni left Armenia and returned to his old love, theater, this time in Constantinople. He became one of the prominent names in local Armenian theater, until he left the city in late 1922, following the nearing occupation by Kemalist forces. He went to Bulgaria, where he played Hamlet and Othello in Russian with Bulgarian companies in Sofia and Varna. After a year, in 1924 he moved to Paris with America in his sight, but he eventually stayed in the City of Lights, where he became one of the stars of local Armenian theater during the 1920s and 1930s.

Meanwhile, Shahkhatouni developed the second phase of his cinematographic career. In 1926 he was cast in “Michael Strogoff,” a movie by Russian emigré filmmaker Vsevolod Turzhansky, who knew Shahkhatouni from Moscow. A more important achievement was his participation in Abel Gance’s monumental film, “Napoleon” (1927), where he played the role of Napoleon’s childhood friend and later mortal enemy Pozzo di Borgo. He would become friends with such famous names as French filmmaker René Clair and British actor Sir Laurence Olivier. He also participated in five films from 1927-1929.

Armenian national hero Antranig passed away in Fresno in August 1928. In the same year, Shahkhatouni directed and played in “Antranig,” the first Armenian feature movie filmed in the Diaspora with Armenian subject and by an Armenian studio (“Armena-Film”). The film was distributed in several European countries, from Portugal to Sweden, with Turkey protesting against its exhibition. For this reason, it was never shown in the United States, except for one showing in Philadelphia in 1938, in a sound version. 

After sound movies made their appearance, Shahkhatouni’s movie career took a radical turn. Although he participated in a few films at the beginning, he could not continue acting, due to his insufficient knowledge of French. He continued appearing in Russian and Armenian theatrical performances, and wrote two plays, which were performed in the 1940s. However, he did not want to sever his relations with cinematography. He became a make-up expert, and he was credited in many movies of the 1930s, to the point that he was named “a leading professional cosmetician in the world” by the French Journal de la femme (1939). By 1953, forty out of sixty make-up experts working in French cinema had been Shahkhatouni’s students. 

Shahkhatouni, who always lived with nostalgia for his faraway homeland (he would have probably shared the fate of so many people who were victims of the Stalin purges for their participation in the first Republic of Armenia), suffered a fatal blow after the death of his wife Nina in 1950. He had a stroke, and for the next seven years he lived in poverty, practically confined to his home. The fiftieth anniversary of his theatrical career was commemorated in New York, in 1956. He passed away on April 4, 1957.

Arshavir (Asho) Shahkhatouni

Arshavir (Asho) Shahkhatouni


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(Prepared by the Armenian National Education Committee)



Death of Vahram Papazian

(June 5, 1968)

From Constantinople to Yerevan and from Paris to Moscow, Vahram Papazian would become the most accomplished Shakespearean actor of the Armenian scene worldwide for half a century.


He was born in Constantinople on January 6, 1888, in a middle-class family. He graduated from the Esayan School (1902) and the lyceum of Kadikoy (1902-1904), and had his debut on the stage in 1904. Then he went to the Murad-Raphaelian School of the Mekhitarist Congregation, in Venice, where he studied from 1905-1907.


In 1907 he departed for Paris and then for Baku, where he performed with an Armenian theater group for a few months. After this experience, he returned to Italy and studied at the Art Academy of Milan from 1908-1911. Famed actress Eleonora Duse was among his teachers. During his student years, he performed with Italian itinerant groups and gradually perfected his roles (Othello, Romeo, and Hamlet, among them). He returned to Constantinople in 1908 and his performances of Othello, at the age of 20, earned him the applause of Armenian audiences and the press. He went to Paris in the early 1910s to study the different currents of theater and become closely acquainted with acting techniques. As a professional actor, he performed from 1910-1913 in Constantinople and Smyrna, and from 1913-1917, in Baku and Tiflis. He enriched his repertory with a roster of roles in Armenian and non-Armenian plays.

Papazian played in fifteen Russian silent movies from 1917-1918 with the pseudonym of Ernesto Vahram, and would later play in three more films in 1922-1923. In 1920 he returned to Constantinople, where he performed until 1922. After the occupation of the city by the Kemalist forces, he settled in Soviet Armenia. He would perform and direct in Yerevan, Baku, and Tiflis between 1922 and 1927. He moved to Moscow in 1928 and then performed in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) from 1929-1931. In 1932 he played in Lithuania, Letonia, and Estonia, and in the same year he left for Paris, where he played Othello with the Odeon Theater group; his performances were singled out by the French press. In 1933 he visited Berlin, where he met the famous director Max Reinhardt and studied closely the German school of acting.


Thereafter, he returned to the Soviet Union and was distinguished as People’s Artist of Armenia and Georgia in 1933, and People’s Artist of Azerbaijan in 1935. He toured the cities of the three countries in 1934-1935, and continued his tour through Russia and Ukraine from 1936-1941. He played in Moscow in 1941 and settled in Leningrad from 1941-1944, where he survived the German blockade.

After years of new presentations in Russia, Ukraine, Central Asia, and Transcaucasia, from 1946-1954, Papazian finally settled back in Yerevan as a member of the Sundukian Academic Theater, and he also directed plays in Yerevan and Leninakan (now Gumri). He returned to cinema in four films from 1953-1964, and in 1956 he was given the title of People’s Artist of the Soviet Union. In the last fifteen years of his life, the actor revealed himself to be an accomplished writer with his two-volume memoir, Retrospective Regard (1956-1957). He also wrote his reminiscences on Western Armenian actors, My Heart’s Duty (1959), and several books on performance analysis about the roles of Hamlet, Othello, and King Lear.


His art belonged to the classical school, enriched by elements of neo-romanticism and psychological realism. His performances of Shakespearean roles were grounded on the traditions of ancient tragedy and the Renaissance, as well as his own Armenian viewpoint.


Vahram Papazian passed away in Leningrad on June 5, 1968, and was buried in the Pantheon of Yerevan. The State Theater of Stepanakert (Karabagh) carries his name.

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