Born in Scutari (Üsküdar), in Constantinople, Levon Shant attended the Üsküdar Armenian school until age 14. He then attended the Gevorgian College of Ejmiatzin, from which he graduated in 1891. He returned that year as a teacher to Constantinople, where his first literary work was published by the local Hayrenik daily.
He furthered his studies in Germany and Switzerland (1892–1899), where he studied science, child psychology, education, literature, and history. He joined the ARF in its early days and did much work in the fields of culture, society, and politics.
Upon returning to Constantinople, Shant became a leading figure in Armenian theater. In addition to his work as a playwright, he was a poet and teacher.
He was vice-president of parliament in the Armenian Republic, and in April 1920 he led the Armenian delegation to Moscow, seeking entente with the Soviet regime.
After the Soviet takeover of Armenia, He settled in Cairo, Egypt, and in 1928 co-founded the Hamazkayin Cultural Association. Together with Nikol Aghbalian, in 1930 he founded the Hamazkayin Jemaran (College) in Beirut, serving as its principal. Despite his advanced age, he ran the school expertly until his death in 1951, ever active in intellectual and literary matters.
Among his best-known works are his plays, most of which had historical or philosophical themes: Hin Asdvadzner (Ancient Gods, 1909), Gaysre (The Emperor, 1914), Ingadz Perti Ishkhanouhin (The Princess of the Fallen Castle, 1921), and Oshin Bayl (1929). He also penned essays and booklets, including Azkoutiune Himk Martgayin Ungeroutian (Nationhood as the Basis of Human Society, 1922) and Mer Angakhoutiune (Our Independence, 1925).
Hin Asdvadzner premiered in Tiflis in 1913 and shook up the Armenian literary world. It was translated into English, German, Italian, French, and Russian. Konstantin Stanislavski directed a Russian production of it in 1917. Gaysre and Hin Asdvadzner are among the most frequently staged Armenian dramas.
As we have seen, our neighboring peoples in the Caucasus also tend inexorably toward independence, and with more emphasis and urgency than we, because they are more concentrated and dense in population and because they can rely on Turkey. But, for them, a major prerequisite for reaching their aim is the position that we adopt: If we do not move as they do and walk in stride with them, we become an extremely large obstacle.
With our indecision—rather, more correctly, our opposition—we deal a blow not only to our own vital interests but also to theirs, because in such an environment of resolve and passion it is impossible to remain immobile and “prudent”—a non-participant.
And very rightly, very naturally, we will be considered by our neighbors as Russia’s ally and the enemy of their own existence and aspirations. And so that they may reach their aim, first they will attempt to diminish and render useless the enemy that is within them, beside them, and at their rear. They will also consider us the cause of their every defeat and failure, and will therefore wreak their revenge and hatred upon us: Resentment and hatred against the strong is always taken out on the week and the defenseless—that is an ancient principle. They will do whatever they can to strangle us morally, economically, and physically….
Nor can we expect respect and friendship from the Russians in return for our having been laid low and persecuted—for the services we have provided. In political life, as in our individual lives, respect and friendship are attained only if we have value and self-respect. Russia, after having turned us into an obedient tool and pitted us against our neighbors, will, during moments of reckoning, always take the side of the Tatars and the Georgians; because the Georgian and the Tatar, as a result of their very resistance and demands, will represent a force that Russia has to take into account when making its decisions. And what need for Russia to worry too much about their “friend,” the pitiable Armenians, who have resigned from exercising their own willpower and who rely entirely on Russia’s arms and fortunes for their own defense….
Whoever, deep in his heart, has not irrevocably resigned from his homeland, from his national existence and identity, from the Armenian nation, must simply and clearly grasp that there is no benefit to be had from others, nor is there respite to be had from others. If we want to live as a nation, to endure and to develop, our only outlet is independence. There is no other way.
From Mer Angakhoutiune (Our Independence), Hairenik Press, 1925