Biography Mkrtich Nagash

Mkrtich Nagash (1390 -1470) was born in Bitlis (North of Lake Van in the eastern part of today`s Turkey) to the family of a priest and educated in a variety of monastic schools, Nagash became an arch bishop of the Armenian community in Mesopotamia and was an adviser to the Armenian Catholicos (the supreme patriarch of the Armenian Church). His wife died soon after the birth of his son thus changing the entire tenor of his life.

This migratory experience gave rise to a special folkloric genre of extemporaneous oral poetry based on the plight of the “Ghareeb” or wanderer.  These spontaneous poems were often fitted to melodies and sung in a theatrical way. The language in the poems is very direct and accessible. When combined with their intricate rhyme schemes and theatrical oral presentation they can perhaps be seen as some sort of high-minded Armenian rap!

It is clear that Nagash experienced first hand the hardships of the “Ghareeb” but what makes the Nagash poems so remarkable is that he was the first poet to transcribe these thoughts while in exile. Though he was a great scholar and high-ranking clergyman, the 17 remaining poems of Nagash are a means of reaching out to the ordinary people of the Armenian community. In Nagash’s writing we see for the first time a combining of 2 traditions, one the high written style often associated with scholars and the church and the other an oral style more characteristic of an Armenian Bard.

Another significant theme running through many of Nagash’s works can be traced back to the wisdom schools of the Old testament particularly Ecclesiastes.  “Vanity of vanities; all is vanity” is a theme that is used again and again in the old and new testament as well as the poetry of Mkrtich Nagash. Do not form strong attachment to the “things” of this world. Nothing here endures. Lay up your treasure in heaven for the longer hall. Good council and advice on how to lead ones life but with Nagash “sugaring the pill “with poetry and music.

This stream of thought is a major force in medieval Islam and Buddhism. It is interesting to note that these 3 major religions are in very close interchange at this time in this part of the world.