Sayat Nova (‘King of Songs’ in Persian) was born Harutyun Sayakyan on June 14, 1712 in Sanahin in modern-day Georgia. He is considered one of the great Armenian poets and made significant contributions to the arts in his lifetime. The 220 songs attributed to him continue to be sung and are considered fundamental parts of the canon of Armenian music.
Sayat Nova was a skilled poet, singer and instrumentalist. He played mainly stringed instruments, like the kamancheh, chonguri, and tambur, and performed in the court of King Erekle II of Georgia. Sayat Nova also served as a diplomat, forging an alliance between Georgia, Armenia, and Shirvan against the Persian Empire, but lost this position after falling in love with the king’s sister, Princess Anna. He spent the rest of his life as a troubadour. His mastery of Georgian, Persian, Azerbaijani, and Armenian gave him a diverse audience and contributed to his popularity throughout the region.
In 1759, Sayat Nova was ordained in the Armenian Apostolic Church and served as a priest in Tbilisi and at the Haghpat Monastery. Although he lived his entire life in a deeply religious society, his songs are mostly secular and full of romantic expressionism.
In 1795, he was killed by Mohammad Khan Qajar’s army for refusing to renounce his Christian faith and convert to Islam. He is buried in the Cathedral of Saint George in Tbilisi.
Sayat Nova’s legacy still remains today both in Armenia and in the Armenian diaspora. In Yerevan, there is a music school and a major street named after him and in North America both a dance troupe and a pond bear his name.
His memory has also been kept alive in Armenian art. A 1969 opera by composer Alexander Arutiunian tells his life story and a film entitled "Sayat Nova,” by Sergei Parajanov, also chronicles the poet's life from his childhood as a weaver’s apprentice to his adulthood in the Haghpat monastery. The film was released in the United States under the title “The Color of Pomegranates.”