It is a well-known fact that Yeghishe Charents’s personal life was very turbulent and rich in love adventures. But there was only one to whom the great poet experienced a really deep feeling and whom he would not forget until the tragic end of his life. She was Arpenik, Charents’ first wife.
Arpenik Ter-Astvatsaturyan was born in 1899 in the village of Verin Aza in the province of Gokhtn (now part of the Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic). She received her primary education in a female college in Tbilisi. In 1920, Arpenik arrived in Yerevan and started to work at a boarding school for children with special problems. It was here that Charents and Arpenik met. The future poet was working as a teacher in the same school as well.
Arpenik had many virtues. Besides, she was a brilliant expert on Armenian and Russian poetry, and she beautifully recited poetry. The young people quickly got close to each other, finding many common interests. Soon, in May 1921, they got married and together went to Moscow to study at the Communist University of the Toilers of the East. Charents was then 24 and Arpenik 22.
Charents’ love for Arpenik was strong. Later, he would call her “wife, comrade, and heroic friend.” This love would further serve as a source of inspiration for the poet. Arpenik’s character was mild, calm, patient, contrasting with the restless and rebellious nature of Charents. Wife has always been psychologically supporting Charents.
When he was sad, she sang to make him feel better. Most importantly, Arpenik always understood the poet, accepted him as he was, forgave him all his sins, intrigues, and numerous household and literary disputes.
In September 1926 when Arpenik left for Leningrad for a business trip, Charents developed a feeling that would play a cruel joke on him. In one of the Yerevan clubs, Charents met 16-year-old Marianna Ayvazyan, the sister of composer Artyom Ayvazyan. He tried several times to chat with the girl but received a refusal every time. In the city park, offended Charents shot and slightly wounded Marianna.
A criminal case against Charents was initiated, and he was imprisoned. At the end of December, the health of Charents’s wife Arpenik who had returned to Armenia by that time was deteriorating. She had complications during pregnancy.
On January 1, 1927, Arpenik passed away. Charents was allowed to attend his wife’s funeral. Arpenik was buried in the Yerevan cemetery, in the place where the Komitas Pantheon now stands. Her grave did not reach our times.
Charents strongly mourned the death of his wife. According to eyewitnesses, the entire funeral procession was in a severe psychological state. At the grave, he resisted, not allowing the coffin to be descended into the ground. He forced the carriers of the coffin to open it to allow him to cling to the wife’s face once again.
Vahram Hovsepyan would write: “The coffin was carried to the city cemetery along the present avenue. A loud, heart-rending cry was heard: it was Charents… He was taken away from the grave hill in an unconscious state…” There is evidence that Charents left some manuscripts in a glass jar in the coffin – probably poems dedicated to Arpenik.
The very next day after the funeral, Charents took out of his apartment and burned in the yard all the clothes of his late wife. In 1924, he had brought these clothes from a European tour. He probably did this so that these dresses would not fall into the hands of others, thus offending the memory of his beloved.
Before the funeral, Charents ordered a plaster mask and a copy of his wife’s hand. He always had those treasures with him. Now, they are kept in the house-museum of Charents.
Charents also tattooed the date of death of Arpenik and her initials on his chest closer to the heart. And years later, he would name his daughter from his second marriage in honor of Arpenik.
In 1930, Charents’s book “Epic Dawn” was published in Yerevan, which he dedicated to Arpenik: “I dedicate my book to the memory of my wife, comrade, and heroic friend Arpenik Charents”. In the book, there are also two sonnets dedicated to Arpenik.