Moushegh Ishkhan, ‘prince of Armenian letters

He was the poet, novelist, playwright, and pedagogue who won the hearts of thousands of people with his quest for a home and pursuit of a dream…

 in 1990, Moushegh Ishkhan, “prince of Armenian letters,” passed away in war-torn Beirut, while editing the last verses of “Dear Books,” anxious about the fate of the Armenian books he would leave behind.

Due to heavy bombardment, only a handful of people were able to attend the funeral of the poet, novelist, playwright, and pedagogue, who won the hearts of thousands of people, from children who recited his “Letter to Father Christmas,” to musicians like Arthur Meschian, who turned several of his poems into rock songs, “Strange, Strange Human Being,” for one. 

Born as Jenderejian in Sivrihisar in 1913, Moushegh Ishkhan belonged to a generation of writers who were orphaned during the Armenian Genocide. His life changed upon a chance meeting with a teacher in Damascus, where he was struggling to make a living as a child. As he famously said, “Instead of becoming a shoemaker, I become an educator.” His three-volume textbook, “Modern Armenian Literature,” continues to be a standard resource for high school students. 

Ishkhan’s quest for a home and his dream of a homeland fueled his writing. Some of his titles, like “The Song of Homes,” “Life and Dreams,” “For Bread and Light,” “For Bread and Love,” and “Armenia,” are suggestive in this sense. 

His ultimate home, Ishkhan seems to be whispering to us, is the Armenian language: “haven where the wanderer can own roof and wall and nourishment,” while Armenia is “the only true fairy-tale,” “a huge sun-cast bell that tolls from the dome of the universe.” 

A bronze bas-relief sculpture of Moushegh Ishkhan greets students at the Hamazkayin Armenian College (Djemaran) in Lebanon, where he taught Armenian literature for decades, while a museum dedicated to him is housed at the “Moushegh Ishkhan School” in Yerevan.  

“Moushegh Ishkhan’s story is the story of his times… and those times cannot be fully grasped without him,” as Armenian poet, Vehanoush Tekian, once observed. 

Ishkhan remains a timely voice. A heartening song rendition of his “Armenian Spirit” spread “blessings and love” during the dark days of the COVID-19 pandemic.  

By h-pem

Hay Hokin – «Հայ Հոգին»

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