- Armenian Literature, History, Religion

Mikael Nalbandian

Kept hope for freedom alive

Khachatur Abovyan , Raffi, and Mikael Nalbandian (alternate spellings: Mikayel Nalpantian, Miqayel Nalbandyan) dominated 19th century Armenian literature. Reform and renewal are the pinnacles of Nalbandian’s literary legacy. His writing was influenced by the leading journalists that he encountered throughout his extensive travels. Nalbandian was greatly admired for his efforts in the movement towards creating a national literature that would realistically reflect the aspirations of the Armenian people.

Largely self-educated, he pursed the priesthood, but left it, studied medicine briefly at Moscow University (1854-58) and finally succeeded in collaborating with Stepanos Nazaryan (1812-1879, a bright intellectual) in founding an influential periodical, “The Northern Lights” (Hiwsisapayl). He traveled widely throughout European cities: Warsaw, Berlin, Paris, London and Constantinople. He journeyed to India. His passionate activities led to his arrest and imprisonment in St. Petersburg by the Czarist government in 1862. Having been accused of inciting anti-Tsarist sentiments with the distribution of ‘propagandist’ literature, he was eventually exiled (in 1885) to Kamyshen, a remote area over 500 miles southeast of Moscow on the west bank of the Volga in the province of Saratov. He died of tuberculosis in prison a year later. It was forbidden in Russia to possess a picture of Nalbandian; but portraits of him, with his poem, “Liberty,” printed in the margins, were circulated secretly.

In A Reference Guide to Modern Armenian Literature, Kevork B. Bardarkjian writes, “Nalbandian attracted attention as an outspoken publicist... whose lively and bold style, at times crude and arrogant, was almost invariably laced with irony ... In both his literary and journalistic pieces, Nalbandian emerges as an unrelenting champion of freedom and equality; a fearless opponent of despotism, imperialism, and serfdom; an interpreter of human life from materialistic positions; a tireless propagandist of enlightenment, science; and scientific approach; a believer in agriculture as the key to prosperity and independence;...” History has labeled him a Revolutionary Democrat.

His poem, “Song of the Italian Girl” brought him lasting fame. It is believed, according to Bardakjian sources, that it was borrowed and with some changes in wording was adopted as the current national anthem of Armenia (Mer Hayrenik). Nalbandian is buried in the Holy Cross Armenian Monastery (Sourp Khatch) in Nor Nahijevan where he was born.

by Ruth Bedevian


Provided by: by Ruth Bedevian

© by Ruth Bedevian. Published with the permission of the author. No copying or any sort of redistribution allowed without the prior written permission of the author.

See also:

Mikael Nalbandian's biography in Armenian
Poems of Mikael Nalbandian translated into English in in Russian
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