This Week in Armenian History

Birth of Mgrdich Beshigtashlian (August 18, 1828)

Mgrdich Beshigtashlian, along with Bedros Tourian, was one of the most remarkable names of Armenian poetry in the period of the cultural Zartonk (‘Awakening’) of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire. 

He was born in Constantinople on August 18, 1828, in a Catholic family. He lost his parents to tuberculosis at an early age.  

He received his education at the Mekhitarist schools of Constantinople and Padua, Italy. He returned to Constantinople in 1845. He taught in neighborhood schools and also had private students, teaching Armenian to children of families who did not speak the language. 

Beshigtashlian’s most famous student was novelist Srpouhi Dussape (maiden name Vahanian, 1840-1901), who went on to become the first author of feminist novels in Armenian literature. The teacher fell in love with his student, who corresponded his feelings, but their relationship was hopeless due to social class differences: Beshigtashlian was poor, while Srpouhi Vahanian came from a well-to-do family. He wrote some of his most beautiful poems in Classical Armenian telling their story. 

Beshigtashlian wrote some 60 poems in Classical and Modern Armenian. He reached the pinnacle of his talent in the late 1850s, when Armenian political thought and the liberation movement were on the rise. His poems written in the early 1860s (“The Valiant Armenian,” “Death of the Valiant,” “Burial of the Valiant,” and “The Armenian Valiant Woman”) echoed the heroic self-defense of Zeitoun in 1862. 

Beshigtashlian was an active participant in social life. He was one of the founders of the National Society, which had an extensive educational and publishing action, and also strived to create a spirit of unity among Armenians. As a member of the Catholic community, he was a strong believer in the need to end the disputes with the Armenian Apostolic Church. 

He also had an essential role in the writing of the Armenian National Constitution (1860) and supported the formation of the Armenian Benevolent Society in the same year. In addition to this, he participated in the work of the Devoted Society (1860-1863), founded with educational purposes, and supported the publication of the musical journal “Knar Haykakan” (Armenian Lyre), edited by musicians Dikran Chukhajian and Kapriel Yeranian. Beshigtashlian was also an important playwright and founder of various theatrical groups. 

He developed tubercolisis and died on November 29, 1868, in Constantinople. He was buried in the Armenian cemetery of Sisli.