This Week in Armenian History

Death of Sergei Agababov (October 23, 1959) 

Sergei Agababov’s name did not make great waves in the Armenian world, perhaps because of his life outside of Armenia and his career cut short prematurely. 

He was born on October 25, 1926, in Makhachkala, in the Russian autonomous republic of Dagestan. At the age of 25, in 1951, he graduated with honors from both the Dagestan Medical Institute and the conducting and choral department of the Dagestan Musical College, where he wrote his first songs, “Daughter of Dagestan” and “Song of Oilers,” and was a student of Dagestani composer Gottfried Gasanov, who exerted a noticeable influence over him. He made his choice in favor of music and entered the Moscow Conservatory in 1952 in Anatoly Alexandrov’s composition class. In 1954 he became a board member of the Dagestan Composers Union. He graduated from the Moscow Conservatory in 1956 and continued his postgraduate studies there.  

Agababov composed a range of works, including a suite (1951), a poem-rhapsody for violin and piano (1959), “Dagestani Suite” for symphonic orchestra (1954), the vocal series “From the Poetry of the Past” (1957-1958) and “From Armenian Poetry” (1957-1958), and cantatas. His songs belonging to the “strada” genre are well-known in Dagestan. He wrote musical articles for the newspapers “Dagestanskaya Pravda” and “Komsomolets Pravda” (1958-1959).  

On October 23, 1959, two days before his 33rd birthday, Agababov boarded a flight Baku-Moscow with stops in Makhachkala, Astrakhan, and Stalingard (nowadays Volgograd). The flight was marred by bad weather. A first approach to the airport of Vnukovo in Moscow failed because the airport was closed and the plane returned to Stalingrad. The crew, on duty for almost 14 hours, made a second takeoff four hours later. But when the plane was trying to land at 10 pm in low cloud cover, it touched trees a few hundred meters from the runway, fell to the forest, and was burned. All five crew members and 23 passengers, including composer Sergei Agababov, were killed in the crash. Only one passenger survived.  

Agababov was posthumously awarded the title of Emeritus Art Worker of Dagestan in 1960. Two schools of music and a street in Makhachkala bear Agababov’s name, and a commemorative plaque was unveiled in 2010 on the building of the capital of Dagestan where he was born and grew up.