Paruyr Sevag led a relatively short life, cut short by a suspicious car crash, but his work had such an impact that he was considered to be one of the outstanding Armenian poets of the 20th century. From humble beginnings he became a well-educated man who filled university posts at different times as a translating professor and a scientific researcher. He also served on the Board of the prestigious Writers Union of Armenia as Secretary.
He was born Paruyr Ghazaryan on the 24th January 1924 in the small Armenian village of Chanakhchi, which was then part of the Soviet Union. His education began in the local village school and then, at the age of 16, he began his studies at Yerevan State University, in the philological faculty. Five years later he graduated but went on to postgraduate studies at the Academy of Sciences Abeghyan Institute of Literature. He studied Armenian literature here and found that he had a talent for writing poetry.
It is not clear when it happened but, at some point, and for the purposes of writing, he changed his name to Paruyr Sevag in honour of the previously well-known Armenian poet, the Turkish-born Ruben Sevag (sometimes written as Sevak). Keen to further his knowledge of literature, Sevag moved to Moscow in 1951 and began a course of study at the Gorky Institute of World Literature. The environment was very much to his liking and, following graduation, he remained at the Institute, filling the post of translating professor between 1957 and 1959.
In 1960 Sevag returned to where his lifelong study of literature began, at Yerevan State University. Here he began a significant and fecund period in his life, a time of meaningful scientific and literary study, along with dedicated public activism. He had, for some time, been speaking out against what many saw as a corrupt, ruling Soviet establishment and his writing reflected his views. He was fiercely proud of his Armenian heritage and this was demonstrated clearly in the following poem called To My People:
By now he was a well-respected scientific researcher at the Abeghyan Institute of Literature and, for what turned out to be the last five years of his life, he served the Writers Union of Armenia as its Secretary (1966-1971). In 1967 he was a awarded a doctorate in Philology.
Perhaps his criticism of the Soviet authorities had not quite reached a peak in 1968 because he was, at that time, elected to the Supreme Council of the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic. This was, of course, a great honour but he did not remain in favour for too long.
On a summer’s day in 1971 he was driving back to Yerevan and was killed in a car crash. It could have been an accident but many Armenians believe that he had been forced off the road deliberately, perhaps by members of the Soviet KGB. Perhaps he had voiced one too many criticisms of the Politburo. His wife, Nelly, was in the car and also died.
Paruyr Sevag’s short life ended on the 17th June 1971. He was aged 47 and his remains were buried at Zangakatun, in the back yard of his former home. Such was his reputation in Armenian literary circles that the house was later turned into a museum to honour his memory.