Armenian novelist Alexander Shirvanzade was born Aleksandr Movsesyan in Shirvan, in 1858. His father was a tailor. At age 17 Shirvanzade found work in the Caspian Sea city of Baku, Azerbaijan, which was seeing a boom because of its vast oil reserves.
He worked in various capacities–clerk, accountant–for a number of different oil companies, but still found time to immerse himself in the works of Russian and Armenian writers, as well as such Western European writers as Honoré de Balzac, Emile Zola and William Shakespeare.
Seeing the effects–both good and bad, but mostly bad–that the oil boom was having on the average citizens in the Baku area, he wrote a flurry of novels, plays, articles, etc., protesting against what he saw as the exploitation of both the land and its people by the oil interests, and became active in social protest movements outside Baku.
In 1894 he led protests against the Turkish massacres of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, resulting in his imprisonment in TIflis; that experience produced what many believe to be his finest work, “Chaos” (1896).
Upon his release from prison he began to agitate for a cause that not many men of the era considered important–women’s rights. His plays “Evgine” and “Did She Have the Right?” were about giving women the right to vote.
“For the Sake of Honor” (1904) railed against the injustices and excesses of capitalism. In 1916 Russian writer Maxim Gorky praised Shirvanzade’s works, saying they “were known and read not only in the Caucasus but also in England, in the Scandinavian Peninsula, and Italy.”
In his later years he lived abroad but returned to Armenia in 1926 and settled in Yerevan. He died in Kislovodsk, Armenia, in 1935.