Shushanik Kurghinian (Armenian: Շուշանիկ Կուրղինյան) (August 18, 1876 – November 24, 1927) was an Armenian writer who became a catalyst in the development of socialist and feminist poetry. She gave voice to the voiceless and saw her role as a poet as profoundly political. Her first poem was published in 1899 in Taraz, and in 1900 her first short story appeared in the journal Aghbyur. After founding the first Hunchakian women’s political group in Alexandrapol, Kurghinian fled to Rostov on Don in order to escape arrests of the tsarist regime. Her first volume of poetry, Ringing of the Dawn, was published in 1907, and one of her poems from this volume, "The Eagle's Love," was translated and included in Alice Stone Blackwell’s second anthology Armenian Poems: Rendered into English Verse (1917). After the Russian Revolution, in 1921 she returned to Soviet Armenia where she lived until her death. Throughout her lifetime, Kurghinian cultivated significant relationships with famous members of the Armenian artistic and literary worlds of her time, including Vrtanes Papazian, Avetik Isahakian, Hovhannes Toumanian, and others.
Shushanik Kurghinian (née Popoljian) was born in Alexandrapol, (present-day Gyumri), Armenia, into a family of artisans. The young Shushanik benefited from the expansion of Armenian education to the working-class and attended an all-girls' primary school at a local monastery, before attending the Alexandrapol Arghutian Girls' School. In 1895 she studied at a Russian gymnasium, which was one of the many schools instituted by Tsar Alexander III to russify the Caucasus and expand the borders of Imperial Russia. At her school Kurghinian's literary ambition was known and encouraged by her teachers.
At twenty-one she married Arshak Kurghinian, a member of the socialist underground in the Caucasus. In 1903 she moved to Rostov on Don with her two children, while Arshak stayed in Alexandrapol. Experiencing utmost hardship and poverty, Kurghinian immersed herself in the Russian revolutionary milieu and some of her most powerfully charged poetry was written between 1907–1909, during the years of her affiliation with Rostov's proletarian underground.
Arshaluysi ghoghanjner (Ringing of the Dawn), her first book of poetry was published in Nor Nakhijevan in 1907. It was a direct response to the failed revolution of 1905 and was published with the assistance of Aleksandr Myasnikyan. Kurghinian's second volume was heavily criticized and rejected by tsarist censorship. From the late 1910s to the October Revolution, she continued to write and participate in social projects, but her activities were curtailed by fragile health. In 1921, the year after the sovietization of Armenia, she moved back to Alexandrapol, her native city. In 1925 she traveled to Kharkov and Moscow for medical treatment and returned home disappointed. In 1926, after the Alexandrapol earthquake, she settled in Yerevan, where she was welcomed with great enthusiasm by literary circles. Due to health complications, Kurghinian died at the age of fifty-one in Yerevan on November 24, 1927. She was buried in the Komitas Pantheon-Park.
I WANTED TO SING
I wanted to sing: they told me I could not,
I wove my own songs: quiet, you are a girl!
But when in this troubled world
an elegy I became,
I spoke to the hearts of many.
The more I sang:
the sooner she'll get tired, they said.
The louder I sang:
the faster her voice will fail.
But I kept singing endlessly,
that's when they started to cajole.
(from I Want To Live, AIWA Press, 2005)
- Victoria Rowe, A History of Armenian Women's Writing, 1880–1922 (London: Cambridge Scholars, 2003), page 170. ISBN 1-904303-23-4.
Works by Shushanik Kurghinian:
- Arshaluysi ghoghanjner. Nor Nakhijevan, 1907.
- Yerkeri zhoghovatsu. Yerevan, 1947.
- Banasteghtsutyunner. Yerevan: "Hayastan" hratarakchutyun, 1971.
- I Want to Live: Poems of Shushanik Kurghinian. Shushan Avagyan (trans.), Susan Barba and Victoria Rowe (eds.). Watertown, Mass.: AIWA Press, 2005.
Works on Shushanik Kurghinian:
- Bakhshi Ishkhanian, The Concept of Work and the Worker in the Poetry of Ada Negri, Hakob Hakobian and Shushanik Kurghinian. Nor Nakhijevan, 1909.
- Hovhannes Ghazarian, Shushanik Kurghinian. Yerevan: National Academy of Sciences, 1955.
- A Review of I Want to Live: Poems of Shushanik Kurghinian at The Critical Corner — 2/27/2006
- "A Forgotten Heritage" at The Critical Corner — 7/15/2003
- "The Keepers of Our Letters" at The Critical Corner — 1/10/2005
- Two or Three Things She Knows About Shushanik on YouTube a short film by Tina Bastajian (2005)
- That's Her, They Say read by Shushan Avagyan