Kept hope for freedom alive
, 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
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