Born in Tiflis, Aghbalian studied at the Nersisian School in his hometown and subsequently Gevorgian College in Ejmiatzin. He later attended universities in Moscow, Paris (the Sorbonne), and Lausanne, Switzerland.
Joining the ranks of the ARF in his youth, he was sent to Egypt in 1905 on organizational work. From 1909 to 1912 he was director of the Armenian National School in Tehran, as well as a member of the ARF Central Committee there.
In 1913 Aghbalian was appointed a member of the Horizon editorial team, along with Arshak Jamalian, in Tiflis. He was also a member of the Tiflis National Bureau and the organizing committee of the Armenian Volunteer Movement in 1914–1915.
After Armenian independence, he was elected a member of parliament and appointed Minister of Education. Due to his efforts, the Armenian State University was founded, in Alexandropol, on January 31, 1920.
Aghbalian was arrested by the Bolsheviks on February 9, 1921, but was freed due to the February Revolt 10 days later. He crossed into Iran, then settled in Alexandria, Egypt, where he became director of the Armenian school.
He was a founder of the Hamazkayin Cultural Association in 1928, in Egypt. He also co-founded, together with Levon Shant, Hamazkayin’s college (Jemaran) in Beirut, Lebanon, in 1929–1930. He remained in Lebanon as a teacher at the college until his death.
Aghbalian is acknowledged as an erudite philologist and impartial literary critic, gifted with a profound sense of literature and art.
He died in Beirut. He was 74.
Dashnaktsoutiun serves the interests of the public and not the interests of its members…. Those who become members of our party must, from the very beginning, be reconciled with an idea that to many may seem askew and meaningless: namely, that he is joining an organization in which he must continually give of himself and sacrifice, without expecting any material gain, and that it is not the party
that must sustain him but he who must provide for the party with his work, money, and life.
Thousands of Dashnaktsakans have left home, given up positions and influence, and have entered into an organization that is at once dreadful and attractive; and their only gain has been death. The organization provides its members with invitations for a life of rigor and immolation, not prosperity; in a certain sense, the Dashnaktsoutiun is like the early church. It teaches its members to die for an ideal…. It promises nothing to its members, neither positions, nor honor, nor wealth, nor comfort…
If yesterday you were a simple soldier or squad leader, and today you become a government minister, you do not cease being a Dashnaktsakan who is subject to the [ARF’s] Constitution and Bylaws. And if Dashnaktsoutiun notices that in your new position you are attempting to think and work as a non-Dashnaktsakan, it will mercilessly unseat you, without regard to your fame or your position. Many have seen how renowned reputations have been made by the Dashnaktsoutiun for one or another of its members; they have also seen the precipitous fall of the same people, carried out by the same
Dashnaktsoutiun: Because Dashnaktsoutiun demands that public affairs be conducted by idealist individuals who serve only the public interest and who dare not, for a minute, consider using their position for personal gain. Thus, various positions toward which glory-seekers madly rush are pure anguish and tribulation for the Dashnaktsakan, for he must reconcile the demands of public office with the candid and humble lifestyle of his calling as an idealist Dashnaktsakan. And it is only through decree that such positions are given to a Dashnaktsakan— not as an honor but as an obligation. To people on the outside all this may seem a legend, but Dashnaktsakans know otherwise.
From the series “Mtatzumner” in Droshak, 1929–30