This Week in Armenian History

Birth of Vazgen Gevorgian (March 31, 1923)

Gregory of Narek’s poem “Book of Lamentations” (Narek, in popular denomination) is considered the most important work of Armenian literature. In the twentieth century, five translators worked to render this jewel of Classical Armenian into the modern language. The first translation, little known, was published in 1902 and was due to Misak Kochounian (Kasim), the founder of the newspaper Jamanak of Constantinople six year later. Two decade later, it was followed by the popular translation of Archbishop Torkom Koushagian, the future Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem, which appeared for the first time in Cairo (1926) and has been reprinted many times since then, the last one in Antelias last year. Both translations were in prose. The third translation, in verse, was undertaken by Archbishop Karekin Khatchadourian, the future Armenian Patriarch of Constantinople, and published in 1948 in Buenos Aires (reprinted in Delmar, New York, in 1983, and in Aleppo in 2003).

All these Western Armenian renderings have also had their Eastern Armenian counterparts. The most popular is Mekertich Kheranian’s version, published for the first time in Yerevan in 1960, and reprinted eight times (the last one in 2020). It was followed by the version by Vazgen Gevorgian, published in 1979, which also had two reprints, the last one in Antelias (2005). There is also a new translation by Rev. Fr. Mesrop Aramian, published in 2019 in Yerevan.

Vazgen Gevorgian, whose translation of the Book of Lamentations was considered the best at the time by literary critics, was a linguist of Classical Armenian, born in Nerkin Akhta (nowadays Hrazdan), on March 31, 1923. He graduated from school No. 13 of Yerevan in 1940 and entered the School of Linguistics and Literature of Yerevan State University the same year. He participated in World War II between 1941 and 1943, but was gravely wounded and discharged. He received the decoration of first grade for his service. He returned to the university and graduated in 1945. In 1946, he entered graduate school at Yerevan State University and defended his dissertation of candidate in Philological Studies (first doctorate) in 1950.

Gevorgian taught Classical Armenian for more than half century at his alma mater, first at the chair of Armenian language, until 1984, and afterwards, at the chair of Armenian language history until the end of his life. He received the title of docent (given to those teachers who have defended a dissertation) in 1952 and the higher one of professor in 1991.

He translated works by Russian classic poet Mikhail Lermontov, and also wrote a tragedy in verse about the life of this poet, entitled “Lermontov” (1956). In 1971, he published his translation into modern Armenian of the history of medieval historian Aristakes Lastivertsi.

The year before, he had published fragments of the Narek, and in 1979, the complete translation, which earned him the prize Stepan Zorian in 1980. His translation of Gregory of Narek’s “Odes” also appeared in the same year.

Vazgen Gevorgian passed away on May 15, 2002, in Yerevan. One of the classrooms of the School of Philology of Yerevan State University has been named after him.