- Armenian Literature, History, Religion
Avetik Isahakyan

Avetik Isahakyan


Avetik Sahak Isahakyan (alternate spelling: Avedik Issahakian) – famous Armenian poet, writer, academician, member of the Armenian Academy of Sciences and a prominent public figure. Born October 19 (31), 1875, in Kazarapat, near Alexandropol (present day Giumri), Armenia.

Isahakyan began his formal education at St. Etchmiadzin Gevorgyan seminary (1889-92). In 1893 he attended classes at Leipzig University as a non-matriculated student. He started his literary as well as political careers in his early youth. Upon his return from Leipzig in 1895 he entered the ranks of the newly established Alexandropol committee of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation; through his activities supported armed groups and financial aid sent to the Western Armenia from Alexandropol. He was arrested in 1896 and spent a year in Yerevan’s prison.

Upon his release from the prison, 1897, he published first compilation of his poems “Songs and Wounds”, however soon was arrested again for his activities “against Russia’s Tsar” and sent to Odessa. The lyricism, emotional charge and melody of his poems earned him immediate popularity. His best works are filled with sorrow and lament meditations about the fate of the humanity, injustice of life. His compositions are penetrated with love to one’s motherland and people. Later Isahakyan went abroad, where in Zurich University attended Literature and History of Philosophy classes. He returned to his homeland in 1902 and then moved to Tiflis.

Between 1899-1906 he wrote “The Songs of Haiduks”, a compilation of poems that became the first creation within the classical Armenian poetry dedicated to the Armenian freedom struggle. In 1908 Avetik Isahakyan, with 158 other Armenian intellectuals, was arrested and after spending half a year in Tiflis’s Metekha prison (just like H. Toumanyan) he was freed on bail. Staying in Caucasus was not possible any longer and by 1911 Isahakyan had emigrated.

Not for a moment did he ever believe in the deceiving promises made by the government of the Young Turks regarding self-government and autonomy of the Western Armenia. Isahakyan, assured that the danger of Panturkism, which was aimed at total extinction of Armenians, could be prevented by Turkey’s supporter, the Kaiser’s Germany, went to Berlin where with a number of German intellectuals participated in German-Armenian movement and edited the group’s journal “Mesrob.” The start of the First World War and the horrifying massacres had confirmed his gruesome predictions about the annihilating nature of the Young Turks government’s policies. After the war and the genocide, Isahakyan described through his compositions the sorrow destiny and Armenians’ heroic struggle for freedom. The poet put forward the accusations of the Armenian Genocide, of which the worst part had taken place between 1915-1922, in “The White Book.” At that period of time Isahakyan expressed his ideas mainly through his social and political articles in which he discussed the topics of the Armenian cause, reunification of Armenia and the restoration of the Armenian government. The images of the massacres are persistent in his poems like “Snow has Covered Everything…”, “To Armenia…”, and “Here Comes Spring Again.”

A symbolical story portraying the Armenian politics and Armenian cause of the 19th early 20th centuries must have been “Usta Karo,” an unfinished novel, the work on which had accompanied the writer through all his life. “Usta Karo will be done on the day when the Armenian cause is resolved, “- used to say the master himself. Ishakyan could not get used the idea of a dismembered Armenia. With a deep emotional pain and bitterness in his heart he continued to believe that a time would come when Armenian people would return their native shores.

Ishakyan returned to the Soviet Armenia in 1926 where he published a new collection of his poems and stories (e.g. “A Pipe of Patience” -1928). Between 1930 and 1936 he lived abroad where he acted as a friend of the Soviet Union. He later had finally moved back to Armenia where he continued his enormous social work. Among his works of that time are famous “Our historians and Our Minstrels” 1939; “To my Motherland” 1940; “Armenian Literature” 1942; “Sasna Mher” 1937.

During the Second World War of 1941-1945, he wrote patriotic poems like “Martial Call,” 1941; “My Heart is at the Mountains’ Top,” 1941; “To the Undying Memory of S.G. Zakyan,” 1942; “The Day of the Great Victory,” 1945 and many other. He was awarded with the state prize in 1946. He was a member of the Soviet Committee for Protection of Peace. Between 1946 and 1957 he was the Chairman of the Writers’ Union of the Republic of Armenia.

His creative work, filled with humanism, and a great respect to the human dignity, is deeply connected with the history and culture of the Armenian people, embracing the best traditions of the Russian and the World literature. The Russian poet A. Blok characterized him as “the first class poet, fresh and simple, whom one, perhaps, cannot find in Europe anymore.”

Isahakyan’s works have been translated in many languages and his poems have been used as lyrics for new songs.

Avetik Isahakyan was a deputy of the II-IV Supreme Soviets of the Armenian SSR. He was awarded with two orders of Lenin and medals.

Avetik Isahakyan died October 17, 1957 in Yerevan.


Translated by: Aleksandr V. Gevorkyan
Edited by: Ruth Bedevian

See also:

H. Tumanyan: "Letter to Isahakyan (sent to Venice)"
Avetik Sahak's The Fatherland poem translated by Alice Stone Blackwell

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