Yeghishe Charents was born in 1897, March 13 in Kars, one of the former capitols of Armenia, currently located in North-Eastern Turkey. Born into a family of tradesman, he became one of the legendary figures of Armenian art and anti-Soviet activism. His works have fostered generations of patriotic Armenians and have been translated and read by peoples as diverse as the subjects on which he wrote. One of the leaders of the literary elite of the Soviet Union, his poetic dynamism and musical modality set him apart as one of the most inspired poets—not Armenian poet, but poet—of the twentieth century.
The ever socially conscious writer, Charents covered topics such as civil war in Russia and Armenia, world communism, famine, poverty, World War I, the Bolshevik Revolution of Red October 1917 and everyday life. Langston Hughesesque in his negotiation of social ills and the state of his people, Charents found that the essence of these ideas lay within the history of his people and within nationalism.
At first, inspired by Communist utopianism, he spurred his fellow countrymen to fight for the victory of Communism and Leninism in Armenia and abroad. As he later experienced the realities of the Soviet brand of communism he became a famous anti-Soviet, gradually increasing the nationalistic tone in his works. His political dissidence led to his arrest by the Armenian NKVD (same as KGB) on the orders of Moscow during the Great Purge, and his further imprisonment and ultimate death at the age of forty in the jail for political dissidents in Yerevan.
At age fifteen, Charents enlisted as a volunteer in an Armenian self-defense regiment fighting Turks in Van. His active participation in the national struggle to defend his homeland, inspired Charents to write such major works as: “Danteesque Legend” (Danteakan Araspel, 1916), “Three Songs to a Pale Girl” (Erek erg tkhradaluk aghjkan, 1914), “Blue-Eyed Homeland” (Kaputachia Hyerenik, 1915), and “Rainbow” (Tsiatsan, 1917).
In 1916, Yeghishe Charents went to Moscow, to pursue literary studies at the Shaniavskii Institute. Immediately following the October Revolution of 1917, he put himself into the service of the Soviet Union, where he actively fought within the Red Army against Armenian and Russian nationalists from 1918-1921.
During that time, Charents wrote other significant poetic pieces, including “Soma” (1918), and “The Demented Crowds” (Ambokhnere Khelagarvats, 1919), which became one of the most respected Soviet poems about the October Revolution.
Thereafter, in June of 1921, Yeghishe Charents married Arpenik Ter Astvatsatrian, who passed away less than seven years after they were married. The year after their marriage, Charents published, in two volumes, a collection of his poems entitled, Collected Works (Ergeri Zhoghovatsu), which became widely available throughout the Soviet Union.
Charents spent 1924 and 1925 as a Soviet diplomat, traveling throughout the Armenian Diaspora, visiting Italy, France, Germany, Turkey and other countries, urging Diasporan Armenian writers to return to Armenia, and continue their literary work there.
After Charents returned to Armenia, in 1925, he and a group of other talented Armenian writers including: Gegham Sarian, Gurgen Mahari, Vagharshak Norents, Mkrtich Armen, and Aksel Bakunts founded a literary organization called the Association of Armenian Proletarian Writers. Unfortunately, many of his colleagues mentioned here were either deported to Siberia, or shot or both, under Stalin’s regime.
During the years following 1925, Charents published his satirical novel, Land of Nairi (Yerkir Nairi), which rapidly became a great success among the people. Later on, Charents became the director of Armenia’s State Publishing House, while he continued his literary career, and began to translate, into Armenian, literary works by various writers like: Pushkin, Nekrasov, Esenin, Maiakovskii, Goethe, Gor'kii, Remard Verhaeren, Walt Whitman and others. Charents also published such famous novels as: Rubayat (1927), Epic Dawn (Epikakan Lussapats, 1930), and Book of the Road (Girk Chanaparhi, 1933). The last collection in this list, also the last book he ever published, contains his reflections on Armenia's past, the folk epic David of Sassun, verses on art, and cultural and philosophical lyrics.
In one of his most famous poems, more infamous probably, called "The Message", written in Book of the Road, Charents, supposedly praising the greatness of Stalin, transmits a hidden message to the Armenian people by stringing together the second letter of each line: "Oh! Armenian People, Your Salvation Lies Only in Your Collective power" (Ov Hye Zhoghovourd, ko miak prkootyune ko havakakan uzhi mej eh). The message, deemed “nationalistic” by the Soviet regime, was banned and earned Charents heavy criticism and ridicule in the communist Armenian press. Some of Charents’ loyal supporters, however, including famous Armenian intellectuals such as the chief architect of Yerevan Aleksandr Tamanyan and folk Artist Martiros Saryan spoke in defense of Charents’ work.
But shortly after the release of Book of the road Yegishe Charents was arrested and later died on November 29, of 1937. While officially the circumstances of Charent's death were not confirmed by the Armenian communist government of the time, it was said that Charents was on a hunger strike, during which, he is said to have banged his head against the walls until he killed himself.
After a famous speech by Anastas Mikoyan (Armenian official within Moscow's government elite), on March 11, 1954, Egishe Charents was rehabilitated into the cannon along with many other Armenian Soviet writers, who fell victim to Stalin's reign of terror.
The legacy of Charents and his works now stand proudly and firmly within the cannon of Armenian literature. And many of his words and thoughts have become national slogans and emblems of Armenian unity, even to the extent that they have been printed on official government documents in nationalistic support of unity.