By Arthur Ipek
As a sixth-grader at Holy Martyrs Armenian Day School, I learned the poem Yegeghetsin Haygagan by Vahan Tekeyan. When I first read one of Tekeyan’s poems, I was amazed at all the metaphors, similes, and personification he used to describe his subjects. Vahan Tekeyan, known to some as the “Prince of Armenian Poetry,” has captured the Armenian lifestyle through his vivid and picturesque poems, some of which are The Armenian Church (Yegeghetsin Haygagan), The Armenian Language (Dagh Hayeren Lezvin), and The Lamp of the Illuminator (Loosavorchi Ganteghu). When you dip into his animate phrases full of deep contrast, it feels like you are in your personal realm. The words fly off the page as if each one is a dove soaring through the halcyon skies. But while his writing may be flawless, his life is anything but.
His birth on January 21, 1878, was never welcomed. Rather it was humiliating to his family, and neither his mother nor his father showed him affection or care. His grandmother was the only one who showed delight and joy in all things he did. Tekeyan never finished his secondary education and was self-taught.
During the 1915 Armenian Genocide, he was one of the few writers who escaped the deportation and execution. He settled in Cairo, Egypt, where he continued his writing and later in his life started an Armenian publication called Arev.
Not long after that, he took the responsibility of caring for Armenian refugee and orphans. He said in one of his letters, “We have to ensure the higher education of our orphans. They [orphanage caretakers] are hesitating here a bit because the money for educating ten to twenty boys could be used to feed one hundred people, saving their lives.” This commitment to education is reflected in his poems, such as To the Armenian Nation. After all his efforts in places like Constantinople, Cairo, Syria, and Beirut, he died in Cairo on April 4, 1945.
His work is not just a description, but an inscription of fruitful writing that has so much life in its words. I will continue his legacy and share his poems with my friends, family and the generation yet to come.
Here is one of my favorite poems.
THE ARMENIAN CHURCH
By Vahan Tekeyan
The Armenian Church is the birthplace of my soul.
Like a vast grotto it is simple and profound, dark and light –
With its hospitable court, ample tribune, and hushed altar
Standing in the distance as though it were a ship afloat.
The Armenian Church I see with my eyes closed.
I breathe and hear it through the clouds of incense
Which rise towards the feet of the Infant Jesus,
And through the fervent prayers vibrating its walls.
The Armenian Church is the mighty fortress of my forefather’s faith.
Raised by them from the earth stone by stone,
And descended from heaven, a dewdrop and a cloud at a time.
In it they unfolded themselves peacefully and humbly.
The Armenian Church is a great embroidered tapestry
Behind which the Lord descends into the chalice, and
Before which all my people stand with bowed heads
To commune with the past through life-giving bread and wine.
The Armenian Church is a peaceful haven across turbulent seas.
It is fire and light in the cold of night;
It is shady forest in the scorching midday sun
Where lilies bloom by the River of Hymns.
The Armenian Church, beneath every stone in its floor.
Holds a secret passage leading up to Heaven.
The Armenian Church is the shining armor of Armenia’s soul and body.
Her crosses rise to protect her;
Her bells ring forth and her song is always Victory.
Arthur Ipek is a graduate of Holy Martyrs Armenian Day School and is currently a student at the Diocese’s Khrimian Lyceum. He is volunteering this month in the Zohrab Center. Arthur will start high school in the fall.