Sembat Shahaziz (Shahazizian) was born on September 17, 1840, in the village of Ashtarak. His father was a priest, and he was the younger of six brothers. He studied until the age of ten at the local school, and in 1851 his father sent him to study at the Lazarian Lyceum in Moscow. He graduated in 1862, and for the next thirty-five years he remained at his alma mater as teacher of Armenian language and literature. In 1867 he received the degree of “candidate in Oriental languages” by resolution of the scientific council of the University of St. Petersburg.
Shahaziz started publishing poetry in 1859 and his first book, Hours of Freedom, appeared in 1860 in Moscow. He gathered poems in classical and modern Armenian about nature, love, patriotism, and historical heroes. He was closely associated with the monthly Husisapayl, a progressive publication edited by Stepanos Nazariantz—one of his teachers—and Mikayel Nalbandian until 1866. Shahaziz was also an active commentator, and later in his life he would progressively abandon poetry and dedicate himself to expound his views in the press and in various books, such as Summer Letters (1897).
In 1865, he published his second volume of poetry, Levon’s Sadness, in which he was clearly influenced by Lord Byron. It contained the homonymous poem, considered his masterpiece, and poetry with a very ostensible social and political content. A little lyrical poem, “Dream,” written in 1864 and included in this book, became his most well-known work and was turned into a popular song.
The thirtieth anniversary of the poet’s literary and pedagogical activity was celebrated in 1892. A collection featuring speeches and articles on the occasion, as well as seven poems published in the 1870s was printed in 1893. Shahaziz destined the sums obtained from the book’s sales to a fund called “Abovian-Nazarian,” which assisted Armenian needy writers from 1893 on. He created and headed a committee founded in Moscow (1898-99) to organize care and education for Armenian orphans from the Hamidian massacres.
Sembat Shahaziz passed away in Moscow on January 5, 1908, and was buried in the local Armenian pantheon.