Born in Istanbul, Alishan was educated in a number of universities in Europe an spent most of his life in Venice teaching, editing Pazmaveb (a literary periodical still published to this day), and producing an enormous quantity of prose and verse of a more or less patriotic cast. His poetry (Songs of a Patriarch, The Nightingale of Avarair, which is based on the 5th-century historian Yeghishe, recorder of Vartanants, Shoushan of Shavarshan, and many others) was widely read, and influenced the younger generation of poets, among them Daniel Varoujan who called Alishan “an eagle with a sun in his heart.”
Alishan also produced voluminous studies on the philology, history, ethnography, geography, and botany of several Armenian provinces (Shirak, Ayrarat, Sissakan, and others), some of which, like the one devoted to Armenia Minor, Sissouan ou l’Armeno-Cilicie (Venice, 1889) have been translated into French.
Alishan was the first major writer of his time to abandon krapar for askharapar. He did this independenly of Khachatur Abovian, who is generally regarded as the father of modern Armenian literature.