Bedros Tourian was a 19th century poet from Western Armenia whose tragically short life was cut short by tuberculosis. Despite his unfortunate circumstances he made a huge impact on the history of Armenian literature. As well as being an accomplished poet he was also a fiercely patriotic playwright and actor whose writing often reflected a deep desire for independence for his country. Some of his plays also delved into deep social issues, his country being largely poor and suffering from a great deal of moral decay. His name can be found in most references books pertaining to Armenian writers but it is sometimes spelled differently. Alternatives to be found are Petros Duryan, Petros Tourian or Bedros Tourian.
Tourian was born in 1851 into extremely poor circumstances in Istanbul. His father was a blacksmith but it was a struggle to eke out a decent living. The boy somehow rose above these social and financial difficulties and grew up with a great deal of sensitivity and skill as a writer. He was well educated in the French language thanks, in no small way, to his school teacher, Hagop Baronian, who was also a famous satirist. Tourian studied the works of de Musset, Hugo and Lamartine and some of these French influences made their way into his own writing which has been described as
Some critics have attributed the introduction of the modern lyric tradition in verse to Bedros Tourian.
His fame as a writer went beyond his native Armenia and has been translated into a number of languages including German, French, Russian, Italian and English. It is to his credit that he overcame opposition from his own father to become an actor and playwright. Perhaps there was a hint of jealousy that his son was seeking a way out of their traditional poverty but Tourian was determined to succeed, and he did. He wrote a number of stirring plays, often based on military struggles and social injustices. Examples were Artashes, the Peacekeeper, written in 1869, and Theatre or Outcasts (or Wretched People), in 1871. The latter play is a tragedy which includes the on-stage suicide of two desperate lovers who cannot see a way out of their desperate situation.
His dramatic works probably brought him to the attention of the public during his lifetime more than his poetry and it is likely that, had he lived longer, he would have developed into an even more sophisticated playwright. Life expectancy in 19th century Armenia was very short and it was as if Tourian had a premonition of his own early death in pieces of work such as My Death Poem which describes in touching detail the journey from death bed to the grave and beyond. Here is the poem:
Much of his work displayed his anguish that he would probably not live long enough to make a significant contribution to his country, or to know true love. In his poem Little Lake he describes an actress scornfully dismissing him with the words:
Tragically, this is exactly what happened. He contracted tuberculosis and died in 1872. He was only 21 years old. Despite such a short time to live he left a significant legacy of poetry and plays and is still popular with his people today.