Khachatur Abovian is the forefather of Armenian modern literature and literary Eastern Armenian language.
The most mysterious disappearance in Armenian literature. The question of how he disappeared is more interesting to Armenians than that of who killed Kennedy.
But, more interesting are his poems and his contribution to Armenian modern literature. Meet Khachatur Abovian, an Armenian writer and public figure of Armenia of the early 19th century.
Khachatur Abovian: His Origins
Khachatur Abovian was born in 1809 in the village of Kanaker, now a district of Yerevan, in a prominent though not wealthy family.
The Abovian family were descendants of the Beglaryan melik (aristocratic) family, one of five Armenian families who ruled around the current day Nagorno-Karabakh region. They held the position of tanuter (hereditary lordship) in Kanaker.
In 1819, Khachatur’s parents took him to the center of the Armenian Apostolic Church, Echmiadzin where he was supposed to study for priesthood.
In 1824, Abovian moved to Tbilisi to study Armenian studies and languages at the famous Armenian Nersisyan School.
Afterwards, he taught briefly at Sanahin church school and then worked for Catholicos Yeprem(the head of Armenian Church) as his clerk and translator. At this position, young Khachatur met many notable foreigners.
Khachatur Abovian: Education in Dorpat
In 1829, professor of natural philosophy from the University of Dorpat in Livonia (present-day Tartu, Estonia), Friedrich Parrot, arrived in Armenia with the aim of climbing Mount Ararat to conduct geological studies.
Parrot required a local guide and a translator for the expedition. Catholicos assigned Abovian.
With Abovian’s assistance, Parrot became the first explorer in modern times to reach the summit of Mount Ararat. (Overall, Abovian climbed Ararat with foreign expeditors three times in his life.)
Impressed with Khachatur Abovian’s thirst for knowledge, Parrot took him to the University of Dorpat in 1830, where he started auditing classes in the Faculty of Philosophy of the Philological-Historical department until 1836.
Abovian studied social and natural sciences, European literature and philosophy, music and arts, and mastered German, English, French and Latin. He also made good friends and connections during his studies in Europe.
On his return home in 1836, Khachatur Abovian was very enthusiastic to bring knowledge and enlightenment to his nation, but he faced hostile reaction from the Armenian clergy.
Tsarist officials were also against him. This was mainly because Abovian, with excellent European education, was against dogmatism and formalism in the school system. Abovian became the supervisor of the Tbilisi district school and later moved to the Yerevan district school.
On an early April morning in 1848, Khachatur Abovian left his home and was never to return. From then on, the reason of his disappearance and his further death remains concealed.
His family, his German wife Emilia, son Vartan (1840–1896) and daughter Zarmandukht (later known as Adelaide; 1843–1909), lost their father forever and never saw him again.
Among the theories of his disappearance are a possible suicide, murder by his Persian or Turkish enemies, or arrest and exile to Siberia. None of these has ever been proven.
Khachatur Abovian’s Contribution to Armenian Literature
Khachatur Abovian left a rich literary heritage in Armenian, Russian and German. His first poems were written in Classical Armenian, the so-called Grabar.
Later Abovian understood that most of Armenian people did not read in Grabar as it already differed a lot from the modern Armenian language they spoke everyday.
In 1841, Khachatur Abovian wrote his masterpiece, “Wounds of Armenia”, the first novel in modern Armenian language (Eastern Armenian dialect). This way Abovian, actually, became the father of modern Armenian literature.
The usage of modern language was not the only revolution made by Khachatur Abovian. His novel “Wounds of Armenia” marked the beginning of a new era in Armenian literature.
From then on, a great literary movement began. It was called the Revival (Zartonk) and was almost identical to the European Romanticism.
It was characterized by its emphasis on emotion and individualism as well as glorification of the past and nature. Armenian Romanticism or Zartonk encouraged Armenian nationalism and glorified love for freedom.
Khachatur Abovian also wrote fables, stories, travel notes, textbooks, etc. His only work, published before his disappearance, was his textbook “Education Pathway”.
Abovian also created the first Russian-Armenian comparative grammar textbook. He was also the first Armenian ethnologist and wrote about the life of Armenians and the life of other nations, living in Armenia.
Khachatur Abovian’s Legacy
During the Soviet rule in Armenia, Khachatur Abovian became popular partly due to his pro-Russia ideas. As a result, schools, streets, boulevards and parks were named after him.
Abovian street is one of the most beautiful central streets of Yerevan where locals love taking a walk on summer evenings.
There are Abovian streets in Sochi and Tartu as well. The village of Elar (10 kilometres (6.2 mi) northeast of Yerevan), which became a city due to growing population, was named after Abovian in 1961.
As Abovian was a teacher and educator, Armenian State Pedagogic University is named after him. The medal after Abovian is awarded to school teachers, who show exceptional abilities in teaching and education.
Kachatur Abovian House-Museum
Khachatur Abovian’s native home in Kanaker became a house-museum in 1939, where personal belongings, a rare collection of manuscripts, books and periodicals are kept.
There are two statues of Abovian in Yerevan. The first one was made thanks to the funds, raised in 1908 by Armenian intellectuals, to commemorate the 60th anniversary of Abovian’s disappearance.
In 1910, they ordered a statue, designed by Mark Grigoryan and sculpted by Andreas Ter-Manukyan in Paris. The statue is 4.5 metres (15 ft) high, made of bronze on a granite pedestal. The statue was only delivered to Yerevan in 1925 and placed on Abovian street by “Moscow” cinema in 1933.
Then it moved to the children’s park on the bank of the Hrazdan river. Finally, in 1964, it found its permanent home by the Abovian house-museum in Kanaker.
The second statue of Abovian in Yerevan is situated in Abovian square, at the head of Abovian street since 1950. The 9-metre (30 ft) high bronze statue was designed by Gevork Tamanian (son of famous architect Alexander Tamanian) and sculpted by Suren Stepanyan.
Khachatur Abovian’s Works
Written in 1841. Published in 1858
The historical novel “Wounds of Armenia” was the first Armenian secular novel dedicated to the fate of the Armenian people, its sufferings during the Turkish and Persian rule and the unification of Eastern Armenia to Russia.
The author wanted his readers to feel national merit, patriotism and hatred of oppressors. The hero of the novel, young Armenian Agassi, personifies the freedom-loving national spirit and its will to fight against the foreign conquerors.
Give away your life, but never give away your native landsAgassi
Khachatur Abovian sent several messages to young generations of Armenians. He showed, that the salvation of the Armenian nation is strongly tied to national unification, education and enlightenment. He stated that to protect its national identity, the small Armenian nation needs to preserve its language and faith.
Kachatur Abovian’s Poetry
Khachatur Abovian’s poetic activities can be divided into three periods.
- Pre-Dorpat period
Before he went to study in the Dorpat University, Abovian had already started writing poems. His first poems were written in Grabar and reflected his romantic worldview (for example “Longing for the past glory of my fatherland»). At the end of 1820s Abovian wrote love poems as well.
- Dorpat period
During his studies in Dorpat, Abovian tried to modernize Armenian literature, first of all, by writing in modern Armenian language. He wrote poems like “The morning of the familiar and parent-loving son”.
He also started to pay attention to the destiny of the individual and of his motherland and wrote poems like “The feeling of my painful heart…”, “What a bitter strike…”, “Evening”, “R.M.K.”, “Love to my country”.
- Post-Dorpat period
All poems Abovian wrote after he returned from Dorpat were linked to his enlightenment goal. He tried to describe the moral uprightness of people and mocked on Russian bureaucracy.
In his works he dreamt of a rational society, free of religious dogmatism, where people ease the burden and pain of each other, perceive the religion of love, brotherhood and friendship (“The Turkish girl”).
In 2012, two of Khachatur Abovian’s works, “Turkish girl” and “Nakhashavigh”, were translated into English for the first time, published by Khachatur Abovian’s House-Museum.
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