In Memory of Vahan Teryan – How Stalin Got Rid of the Great Poet

Armenian poet Vahan Teryan was born on January 28, 1885, into the family of a priest in the village of Gandza, Tiflis Governorate, Russian Empire.

In 1899, Teryan entered the Lazarev Institute of Oriental Languages in Moscow. Together with his friends, Teryan published the hand-written newspaper “Nadezhda” in the institute. He wrote editorials for the newspaper. In addition, he published poems under the pseudonyms Shvin, Volo, and many others.

In August 1906, Teryan entered the department of the Russian language and literature of the Faculty of History and Philology at Moscow University. Under the direct influence of the Russian revolution of 1905-1907, he wrote a cycle of poems “The Crown of Thorns”, in which he glorified the fighters of the revolution.

On the night of December 3, 1906, Teryan’s apartment was searched by the police. He and his friend were arrested. But on December 13, Teryan would be released from custody. During this period, Teryan wrote the poems “Estonian song”, “Autumn song”, “Autumn melody”, “Wonder girl”, “Bury me in the sunset”, “Desire”, and many others.

Teryan’s poetry with its subtlest lyricism, penetrating feelings, exceptional musicality, and richness of language is the largest phenomenon in the history of Armenian literature.

In 1908, his first collection of poems “Dreams of Twilight” was published in Tiflis. The collection received positive reviews from Armenian writers Avetik Isahakyan and Hovhannes Tumanyan.

In 1910, in parallel with his studies at Moscow University, Teryan edited and published the anthology “Garun” (“Spring”). In 1915, Maxim Gorky ordered Teryan to compile the “Armenian Collection”, which would be published in Moscow. In the same year, he wrote the patriotic cycle “Land of Nairi.”

Russian poet Valery Bryusov translated a number of Teryan’s poems and called him “the most prominent figure” among the young poets of “Russian Armenia.”

In 1918, Teryan saved thousands of Armenian refugees who found themselves in the hell of a civil war in the North Caucasus and Astrakhan. Leading the medical and sanitary group that arrived from Moscow, Teryan placed the refugees in the homes of local Armenians and in other dwellings, provided them with jobs, and ensured their safety. To make this possible, his team was provided with over 6 million rubles and two train cars of medicines and other goods.

After the Moscow revolt of the Left Socialist-Revolutionaries on July 6, 1918, all “bourgeois organizations” were shut down by the order of Lenin, and their property was requisitioned. However, Teryan did not allow the Chekists to confiscate the property of Moscow’s Armenian church. He locked and sealed the doors of the church and thereby saved the values inside. Subsequently, after the establishment of Soviet Armenia, the church’s property was sent to Etchmiadzin.

Vahan Teryan did not surrender and repeatedly battled Leon Trotsky and Joseph Stalin, defending the pro-Armenian solutions to the Armenian question. During the Brest-Litovsk negotiations in which Teryan participated as an adviser without the right to vote, Trotsky called Teryan a “little Armenian” after another stormy argument.

Teryan protested against the transfer of the Armenian territories to Turkey, substantiating his protest with the documents he had requested from Moscow. These documents proved that the territories in question were originally Armenian, and that the majority of its population comprised of Armenians before WWI and the Armenian Genocide.

In the end, Stalin found a way to get rid of Teryan – he was sent on an official journey to Persia and Turkey through Turkestan. Stalin realized that Teryan would not endure the journey.

Indeed, for the poet suffering from tuberculosis, this was the road of death. Due to the civil war, the railway practically did not function, and the train cars did not have any heating. And so it happened: Vahan Teryan died on January 7, 1920, in snowy Orenburg. He would be buried at the Komitas Pantheon in Yerevan.

Georg Khachaturian

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