After his elementary schooling in Tiflis, Derian went to Moscow to the Armenian Lazarian College. His poetry teacher there was Dor Langen, a Dutch poet and the Dutch consul in Moscow, who introduced his students to the symbolist poets of the time.
He continued his education at Moscow University and while there joined the Russian Social Democrats. The Czarist police had him jailed for political activity. In 1906 his first book, "Dreams at Dusk", made him an immediate celebrity. He was hailed by the dean of the Armenian poets, Hovhannes Toumanian, as the most original lyric poet of the decade. He later published "Night Remembrance", "The Golden Legend", "The Return", "The Golden Link", "In the Land of Naiyiri", and "The Cat's Paradise".
In 1913, Derian left Moscow University for the University of St. Petersburg, where he majored in oriental languages. His political involvement also intensified. He became a friend of Maxim Gorky and together they published an anthology of Armenian literature.
After the revolution Derian was in charge of the Armenian sector in the ministry of the nations. He died of tuberculosis in 1920.