Kuyumjian Trilogy Presentation in New Jersey on Andonian and Teotig

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Dr. Kuyumjian with daughter-in-law, Taline, on the left

 

By Aram Arkun
Mirror-Spectator Staff

FAIR LAWN, N.J. — Dr. Rita Soulahian Kuyumjian presented her three new books concerning the Armenian Genocide at St. Leon Armenian Church here on April 13 in an event cosponsored by the church and the Tekeyan Cultural Association. This was one in a series of book presentations she has been making recently in the US and Canada. The trilogy of books was co-published by the Tekeyan Cultural Association and the Gomidas Institute in 2010 and dedicated to the 95th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide.

The annihilation of the lives of the victims of the Armenian Genocide, remembered each year by the Armenians and others, can easily be reduced to platitudes. Our knowledge of the Armenian Genocide often does not extend beyond a basic outline of events, combined with an instinctive revulsion and desire for some kind of justice to be seen on this earth. The few survivors that are still with us were children in 1915 and their personal memories are consequently restricted by their age at the time. Yet there are other resources that can help us better understand what the true nature of this event was. Memoirs written by adult survivors are among the most important, and luckily for those who do not read Armenian, one by one, many of the most important ones are being translated into English. In recent years, for example, the memoirs of Bishop Grigoris Balakian, Mikayel Shamdanjian and Patriarch Zaven Der Yeghiayan have been made accessible to a larger group of readers in new English-language publications.

Kuyumjian’s efforts have contributed several more “classics” to this group of important works with the publication of Aram Andonian’s memoirs on the arrest and exile of the Armenian intellectuals of Constantinople, and Teotig’s collection of short biographies of the deported and murdered leaders of the Ottoman Armenians, accompanied by an introductory biography of Teotig. She also has written a short biography of Aram Andonian.

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Dr. Anie Kalayjian, a trauma expert and psychologist who has spent much effort dealing with issues concerning the Armenian Genocide, introduced Kuyumjian to the audience. Kuyumjian is a graduate of the Yerevan State Medical Institute who continued her studies at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, and became an assistant professor of psychiatry at the latter institution. She is also director of the Psychiatric Outpatient Department of St. Mary’s Hospital in Montreal. Her volunteer work with children after the 1988 Armenian earthquake led to her 1990 Armenian-language book Hayasdanean husher hokepoyzhi orakren [Memories of Armenia from the Diary of a Psychiatrist], which chronicled her experience working with children after the 1988 Armenian earthquake. She also is the author of a 2001 psychobiography of the composer Komitas Vartabed, titled Archeology of Madness: Komitas, Portrait of an Armenian Icon.

Kuyumjian accompanied her presentation with slides of maps and pictures of the individuals and places being discussed in order to facilitate understanding of sometimes complex series of events. She attempted to give the audience a basic understanding of the lives of Andonian and Teotig (and the latter’s wife Arshagouhi), as well as the fate of the Armenian intellectuals of Constantinople.

Kuyumjian’s interest in Komitas led her to discover 25 articles published by Aram Andonian in the newspaper Arevmudk between 1946 and 1947 in Paris about the arrest and deportation of Komitas and the other intellectuals of Constantinople in 1915. As Andonian himself was among those intellectuals, his testimony was vital. He described the beginning of the mental breakdown Komitas experienced.

Readers asked him to give a broad picture of those events, and he did. Like many Armenian periodicals, a full set of Arevmudk is not available in any one library, so Kuyumjian had to collect the articles from Beirut, Paris and Yerevan. The translation and editing of these articles turned into the volume Exile, Trauma and Death: On the Road to Chankiri with Komitas Vartabed. I can say as a historian that this is an extremely important source on the early period of the Armenian Genocide. It also makes for riveting reading, and is leavened with black humor. Many of the great names of the Ottoman Armenians are mentioned in this work (and for those unfamiliar with this period, Kuyumjian has provided basic identifying information in footnotes).

Kuyumjian pointed out in her talk that the deportation and death of the Armenian intellectuals was not only a big blow to Armenian society, but it was also a great loss to the Ottoman Empire. Many of these men had made great contributions to democracy and constitutionalism in the Empire, and were internationally renowned experts in various fields of knowledge.

In order to identify many of the Armenian intellectuals mentioned in Andonian’s work, Kuyumjian turned to a work prepared by Teotig, Memorial to the Martyred Intelligentsia, which was published in 1919. This useful and readable work gives concise biographies in a paragraph or two of 763 of the intellectuals and leaders arrested on April 24, along with their pictures. It is a valuable reference work, and includes short eyewitness accounts of the fate of the intellectuals by Piwzant Bozajian and Mikayel Shamdanjian, and several other essays. Kuyumjian published this work, which was translated by Ara Stepan Melkonian, along with a biography of Teotig himself that she wrote, as a two-part volume titled Teotig: Biography & Monument to April 11.

Teotig, born Teotoros Labjinjian, dedicated his life together with his wife, Arshagouhi, to educating the Armenian public, as they felt this was the proper path to Armenian liberation. He is best known for a series of yearly almanacs called Amenun daretsoyts or Everyone’s Almanac, which appeared between 1907 and 1929, and have recently been republished in Aleppo. Teotig missed being arrested on April 24 because he was already in jail for two pieces he had published in his almanac for 1915. Not long after his release, he was rearrested and sent into exile. His wife, an accomplished author herself, kept the family together through these difficult years, but after Teotig’s return, she died of tuberculosis. Teotig himself suffered not only from this and the torments of what he had witnessed and endured during the Genocide, but also from difficulties in finding suitable employment and poverty. He died in 1928 in Paris, and as there was no money to maintain his cemetery plot, it disappeared over the years and the exact site of his remains are unknown.

Kuyumjian’s third volume is called The Survivor: Biography of Aram Andonian. Andonian was a sharp-tongued journalist and prolific writer and satirist. Not only was his own survival of the Genocide a veritable epic, but he was responsible for preserving some important documents on the Armenian Genocide obtained from an Ottoman official in Aleppo, Naim Bey, which he published in Medz vojire [The Great Crime]. Interestingly, Kuyumjian feels that the original Naim Bey materials collected by Andonian must have been stolen from the Armenian General Benevolent Union’s Nubarian Library in Paris sometime after the first half of the 1960s. Andonian was the founding curator of that library, and defended it when the Germans had occupied Paris during World War II and seized some of its volumes.

Andonian assembled many contemporary eyewitness accounts of the Genocide from Armenians after the British-occupied Aleppo. These are held at the same Nubarian Library, and are an invaluable resource for researchers. Andonian also published a collection of short stories in 1919 based on his experiences during the deportations called Ayn sev orerun: Badgerner [During Those Dark Days]. Kuyumjian includes one short story from this collection translated into English by Aris Sevag as an addendum to Andonian’s biography.

While Kuyumjian’s presentation was in English, she answered some questions from the audience in Armenian. She hopes that a new generation of Armenians will use these works as the raw material for new artistic creations. After the talk, Kuyumjian’s daughter-in-law, Taline, read some excerpts from the books.

The evening ended with Hagop Vartivarian, chairman of the Greater New York branch of the Tekeyan Cultural Association, thanking Kuyumjian for her work, and Sarkis and Ruth Bedevian for their support of Armenian culture and the Armenian heritage. The Bedevians were among the financial supporters of the publication of Kuyumjian’s trilogy, along with the Tekeyan Cultural Association and the grandchildren of Fr. Stepan Kuyumjian. Kuyumjian made her presentation also in Toronto, Chicago and Montreal, each organized by the local Tekeyan chapter.

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