This Week in Armenian History

Death of Asdghik (May 14, 1884)

Siranush (Mehrube Kantarjian, 18571932) was the Sarah Bernhardt of Armenian theater in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Few are aware that she had an elder sister who preceded her on the stage and died prematurely. 

Amber Kantarjian was born on June 30, 1852 in the neighborhood of Pera (nowadays Beyoglu), in Constantinople. She was interested in theater from a young age and participated in family performances at the home of her grandmother. She entered the theatrical group of Hagop Vartovian at the theater Osmaniyeh of Gedik-Pasha during the theatrical season 18701871, aged eighteen, getting the pseudonym of Asdghik (“Little Star”). 

She showed some progress in that first season, which she started with a promising performance in Moliere’s comedy-ballet “Monsieur de Pourceaugnac.” Once her contract with Vartovian was finished, she joined the theatrical group of the Charity Society of Ortakoy, directed by Bedros Maghakian, in 1872-1873. She mostly played in French and Italian melodramas, such as Victor Hugo’s “Le roi s’amuse” (The King Has Fun), Maurice Desvignes’ “L’honneur de la maison” (The Honor of the House), and Paolo Ferrari’s “Amore senza stima” (Love without Esteem), and others, and earned the interest of the audience, surrounded as she was with talented actors like Bedros Atamian and her relative Azniv Hrachia. 

Asdghik returned to the Vartovian group until 1875, playing with her younger sister Siranush, who had already made her debut. Then she joined another group, led by Serovpe Benklian, first playing in Brusa and in 1878, during the RussoTurkish war, in Adrianople (Edirne).  

The two sisters returned to Constantinople in 1879. They met Gevorg Chemeshkian, an actor from the Caucasus, who had the mission of recruiting a few actors to take them to Tiflis. He made a contract with Asdghik, Siranush, the Karakashian sisters, Bedros Atamian, and Mardiros Menakian. Asdghik became famous with her roles in Tiflis, particularly that of Catherine Howard in Alexandre Dumas’ homonymous play.  

After her return to Constantinople in 1881, she continued playing, and her voice made a good fit for various operettas with the group of Serovpe Benklian. She participated in tours in Smyrna, Salonica (which was still part of the Ottoman Empire), and other cities of Greece.  

Asdghik’s last performances were in Salonica, and after her return to Constantinople, she fell gravely ill and passed away on May 14, 1884, at the age of 32. She was buried in the Armenian cemetery of Pera.