Hovhannes Avakian was among the Armenian intellectuals who animated the cultural life of the community of New York with his essays on literature and culture.
He was born on October 12, 1882, in the village of Pingian, in the district of Akn, the birthplace of celebrated poet Misak Medzarentz. He received his elementary education at the local school and then was sent to the Swiss orphanage of Sepastia (Sivas) in 1897. Upon graduation in 1902, he taught there for two years and then studied at the Anatolia College of Marsovan (1904-1907), earning a B.A. degree.
After a two-year stint at the Evangelical School of Marsovan as principal and teacher, Avakian taught Armenian language and literature as well as mathematics at the American School of Van until 1915. At the same time, in 1911-1912 was the editor of the journal “Vantosp,” devoted to provincial literature.
He left for America following the self-defense of Van in April-May 1915 and the evacuation of the city afterwards. He arrived in New York, where he did a clerical job for a while until he moved to Boston as an assistant editor of the daily “Azg” in 1917-1919. He published a collection entitled “Jewels of Armenian Literature” in 1916.
He returned to New York in 1919 as an editorial member of the weekly “Gochnag,” later renamed “Hayastani Gochnag.” He edited the section of Armenian news, but also contributed essays and reviews on literary and cultural subjects. Some of them were gathered in the volume “Literary Figures” (1925). He also published other volumes in Armenian: “Famous Operas” (1927), “We Lived in This Way” (1930) and “Avetis Aharonian” (1930). He translated various literary works into Armenian, including Count Alexis Tolstoy’s drama “Czar Fyodor Ivanovich,” published in “Hayastani Gochnag” (1928). He also contributed articles to yearbooks, newspapers, and journals.
Avakian served as editor-in-chief of “Hayastani Gochnag” in 1944-1958, when illness forced him to resign. He passed away on June 10, 1959, in New York.