Writers Assembled from Around the World in Armenia in October

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By Aram Arkun
Mirror-Spectator Staff

YEREVAN — The Fourth Annual Conference of Armenian Writers in Foreign Languages took place in Armenia this year from October 10 to 15. Sessions took place at the Writers Union centers in Yerevan and Tsaghkadzor. Writers, translators and editors from at least 10 countries (Armenia, Canada, France, Georgia, Germany, Iran, Romania, Turkey, Ukraine and the United States), as well as from the Republic of Mountainous Karabagh, participated in the sessions. The Ministries of Culture and Diaspora were organizers of the conference, together, of course, with the Armenian Writers Union, and the sponsors, the World Armenian Congress and the Union of Armenians of Russia.

An opening press conference on October 10 in Yerevan presented the outlines of the conference’s activities to the media. The first official session was opened on October 11, again in Yerevan, by Levon Ananyan, chairman of the Writers Union of Armenia. Ananyan pointed out that the activity of Armenian translators in a sense allows many writers of Armenian origin abroad who write in other languages to take their places in the ranks of Armenian literature. Armenian independence has facilitated this process. Many of the writers abroad deal with issues of importance to the Armenian people such as Armenian culture and the Armenian Genocide.

A letter from President Serge Sargisian of Armenia, read by Hranush Hakobyan, minister of diaspora, valued the contributions of the participants and stressed the contemporary importance of the complex issues of Armenian identity. Hakobyan then welcomed the conference participants on behalf of her ministry and awarded the William Saroyan Medals, granted by the Diaspora Ministry in recognition of efforts toward the dissemination of Armenian culture in the diaspora, to Mari-Antoinette Varténie Bédanian (France), Madeleine Karacashian (Romania) and Aram Arkun (US), as well as certificates to Khachik Khacher (Iran), Natella Lalabekyan (US) and Levon Osepyan (Russia).

Conference patron Ara Abrahamyan, who is president of the World Armenian Congress and the Union of Armenians of Russia, gave a speech of welcome to the conference participants. Abrahamyan felt that the present conference was one of the various positive results of the independence of Armenia, whose 20th anniversary had just been celebrated.

The winners in various categories of the World Armenian Congress’ literary contest, “Twenty-first Century Armenian Prose,” conducted together with the Union of Armenians of Russian and the Armenian Writers Union, were then announced: Kurken Khanjyan (novel), Husik Ara (short story) and Eduard Khachikyan (short story series), while a special diasporan writer’s award was given to Boghos Kupelian.

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Levon Ananyan then bestowed Abrahamyan with the award Literary Benefactor. Hasmik Poghosyan, minister of culture of the Republic of Armenia, spoke of the importance of October for Armenian culture. She awarded Peter Sourian (US), Migirdiç Margosyan (Turkey), Peter Cowe (US), Alan Whitehorn (Canada), Alexander Bozhko (Ukraine) and Raffi Kantian (Kebabciyan) (Germany) with Gold Medals of the Ministry of Culture.

Three papers were then delivered on a variety of topics in a session chaired by Ananyan. The first speaker was Prof. Souren Danielian, who is the founder and director of the Diaspora Scientific-

Educational Center, which focuses in particular on Western Armenian language and literature. His talk was titled “Armenian Destiny in Modern American-Armenian Literature” (for the text of his speech, and Armenian-language reports on the conference, see http://spyurk-center.am/am/news/79). Davit Gasparyan presented a report examining which works of writers of Armenian background writing in non-Armenian languages were included in the curriculum of schools and universities in the Republic of Armenia. Finally, poet and writer Artem Harutyunyan spoke about Peter Balakian’s poetry and its reflections of Armenian and American realities. Harutyunyan, who had spent several months in Balakian’s home, presented some personal reminiscences as well.

The day concluded with two symbolic and emotionally-laden trips. First was a visit to Echmiadzin, where the group was received by Bishop Arshak Khachatryan, chancellor of the Holy See. Khachatryan spoke about the role of intellectuals in Armenian society and answered questions from the writers about the activities and positions of the Church of Armenia. Second was a visit to the Genocide Memorial, where the writers placed flowers next to the eternal flame in honor of victims of the Armenian Genocide and a wreath next to the monument itself.

Moving to Tsaghkadzor

The group then departed for Tsaghkadzor, where the next sessions took place on October 12. Ananyan started the day by pointing out that in a sense, reports would be given about the creative activities of the participants in various countries and the effect that they have had.

A panel of four prose writers presented their thoughts on “Armenian destiny” in their works in a session chaired by Aram Arkun, who translated where necessary in this and later sessions. First, Arkun noted the passing of first-generation American-Armenian writer Dr. Nishan Parlakian and spoke briefly of his literary and editorial work. Everybody in the room stood up to honor Parlakian’s memory. Then Arkun pointed out how the panel’s speakers were from very different environments and each had struggled in his own way to deal with the 20th century’s tribulations of the Armenians, overcoming them in a sense through literature that presented the Armenian destiny, if there was really such a thing, to the world.

The first speaker, Peter Sourian from New York, is one of the important representatives of the first generation of American-Armenian writers, who has over the decades played an important role as a literary critic, novelist and short story writer in the United States, while supporting the Armenian- American community. Sourian spoke about how his grandfather Missak Sourian sent his son Zareh to America to learn journalism in order to serve Armenia. Though Zareh did not do this, Peter, his son, felt that perhaps unconsciously he transmitted the same hope to him, to “try to bear humble witness to the ‘incomprehensible destiny’ of the Armenians.” Peter Sourian then read an excerpt of a short story, published in the Spectator (which later turned into the Mirror-Spectator) by his father, who, it turns out, did dabble at least a bit in writing, too. The moral of the story, as interpreted by Peter Sourian, was that one important role of the writer was to bear witness.

Levon Osepyan, vice chairman of the Union of Russian [Armenian] Writers, editor-in-chief of two literary magazines, Aragast and Metsenat I Mir (as well as of the monthly Armyanski Pereulok from 1996 to 2002), and author of six volumes, then spoke about his own literary work, as well as his attempts to represent Armenians, together with Seda Vermisheva, in Russian cultural and intellectual circles. Osipyan also is a photographer and has provided illustrations for various works, including Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven,” in Russian translation. Osipyan spoke in Russian and his words were translated into Armenian by Lilit Hovsepyan.

Raymond Boghos Kupelian, now of Los Angeles, spoke of the difficulties of his childhood in the Middle East and his experiences in Africa, which he turned into literature. He later began writing about the American-Armenian immigrant experience in Los Angeles, and his son Roger, in turn, became a filmmaker who has attempted a film about Vartanantz. Kupelian, vice president of the Armenian Writers Association of California, has published three novels and a number of collections of short stories.

The fourth speaker, Migirdiç Margosyan, is considered one of the last representatives of Western Armenian literature of the provinces. His works on Dikranagerd in the post-Genocide period show what had been preserved of the past and the price paid to do so, as well as the nature of human relations in Turkey. He has written them in Armenian and Turkish versions, while Kurdish translations of his short stories have also appeared. Margosyan pointed out that the Turkish editions of his works sell many, many more copies and are republished much more frequently than the Armenian versions of the same works. He noted that ironically, though he received a medal last year from the Armenian minister of the diaspora, he is not a diasporan writer, having been born in Western Armenia. However, he did not learn Armenian until he was an adolescent.

That afternoon, Los Angeles-based Lalabekyan’s book of poetry and short stories, Road to Yourself (translated into Armenian by Artem Harutyunyan), was presented to the conference with praise from Ananyan. The author herself spoke about her views on life and then read some samples in Russian from her work, while translator Harutyunyan read some of the Armenian versions.

The following day Davit Muradyan chaired the morning session. Alan Whitehorn of Canada, a grandson of an orphan of the Armenian Genocide, presented his poems as well as his activities in Canada toward the recognition of the Genocide. Whitehorn professionally is a political scientist teaching at the Royal Military College of Canada since 1978, and genocide and human rights are important themes in both his academic work and his poetry.

Raffi Kantian of Germany spoke next. He has published a number of volumes of short stories in Armenian using his family name of Kebabciyan, and one collection of his short stories has been published in Turkish. He declared that his preferred writing style is realism. Born and raised in Istanbul, the September 6-7, 1955 riots had a great effect on him, and he later dealt with them in a short story. Kantian is also the Hanover-based editor of the German-Armenian Society’s literary and research publication Armenisch-Deutsche Korrespondenz (ADK).

Kantian suggested that working groups be created for the future to make presentations on various topics to the conference. Collective translations or other types of workshop activities could be conducted. Also, a website could be used to present the materials that would be discussed at the conference.

Khacher of Iran, an engineer by profession, is a writer by vocation. He primarily writes poetry and prose in Armenian and Persian. He also is engaged in much translation, in order to make Armenian culture better known in Iran. He related that his volume of Zahrad’s poetry translated into Persian garnered much attention in Iranian cultural and literary circles. He helped organize the commemoration of William Saroyan’s centenary in Iran recently, and writes in Iranian newspapers periodically.

Araz Barseghian, a young writer from Iran, then commented about the importance of a variety of other Iranian-Armenian writers. Zoya Pirzad for example has sold millions of copies of her Persian-language novels to Iranians. Barseghian himself is the author of several published works.

Translator and writer Aram Arsenyan’s newly-published translation of Peter Sourian’s Armenian-themed novel The Gate (Darpas) was presented that afternoon at the conference. Arsenyan last year translated a collection of Sourian’s short stories into Armenia, but Darpas is the first of Sourian’s novels to appear in Armenian. Arsenyan’s labors have turned Sourian into part of the corpus of Armenian literature, as well as a senior writer in the American-Armenian literary canon. Arsenyan spoke about how he became acquainted with Sourian’s work.

Olexander Bozhko, former ambassador of Ukraine to Armenia, then introduced Levon Osepyan’s collection of short stories, Telephone Call, to the audience, and praised it highly. It was translated into Armenian from Russian by Hovhannes Ayvazyan.

Bozhko at one point noted about himself that he had helped create a radio hour in Kiev which both offered folk music like that of Komitas to the Ukrainian public, as well as information about topics such as the Armenian Genocide. He has translated a number of Armenian literary works into Ukrainian and at present is working on a late medieval Armenian work about Kamenets-Podolsk.

After this, various members of the audience presented their own works, especially poetry, to the conference. For example, young Armenian poet and university Prof. Vahe Arsen (son of Aram Arsenyan) read some of his poems, including a piece translated into English recently by Diana Der- Hovanessian.

The assembled group of writers had the opportunity to visit Armenian monasteries and churches in several parts of Armenia and also were pleasantly surprised to be part of the 65th birthday celebration of Levon Ananyan on October 13. Delegations from various Armenian government ministries, as well as Russia, Georgia and Iran made various presentations on this occasion, and Ananyan was granted the Garegin Nzhdeh Medal from the Ministry of Defense of the Republic of Armenia. President Serge Sargsian sent Ananyan a special letter.

This was also approximately the 10th anniversary of Ananyan’s active leadership of the Writers Union, and many writers and others congratulated his accomplishments during this period of time.

Perhaps not totally by coincidence, two works of Ananyan were published and presented to him on his birthday — a bilingual Armenian-German children’s book, Anna and Armen, which he prepared with German writer Yurgen Yankovski (with Hermine Navasardyan as translator), and Wild Tulips, a Georgian-language anthology of Ananyan’s works published in Tbilisi.

On October 14, further writers spoke about their works under the chairmanship of Margosyan. Jaklin Çelik of Istanbul (but born in Dikranagerd) presented a paper in translation from Turkish about questions of cultural identity. She examined the relationship of religion, land, nationality belonging and destiny and concluded that in the Armenian case, destiny was the migration of the heart.

Cathy Salibian (Rochester, NY) explained the background of Genocide and immigration which impelled her to travel in search of her ancestors’ homes in Turkey and formed an important foundation of her literary work. Moved, Margosyan on the spot invited her to visit him in Turkey. Mari-Antoinette Varténie Bédanian of France spoke of the sorrow of the internal division and quarreling of Armenians in France over many decades and added that she was forced to publish her own works in non-Armenian publishing houses because Armenians did not want to consider her writings. However, she pointed out that the conferences of foreign-language writers of Armenian origin in Armenia have created new connections and together though they were from so many different countries, the participants managed to serve as a conduit of Armenian culture and heritage that almost was destroyed as a result of the Genocide.

Khosrov Khajavian of Iran spoke about his own writing in Persian, including translations.

Karacashian spoke about her decades of work as a journalist in Romania. She worked 18 years for the newspaper Nor geank. She also is a translator and member of the Romanian Writers Union. Her fourth volume of With the Armenians, About the Armenians was just published a few months ago in Romania. This series, the fruit of her publications in periodicals, serves to better inform Romanians about the Armenians. She has translated both prominent Armenian writers of the past and contemporary Armenian writers into Romanian. The Romanian state fortunately sponsors works by minority nationalities like the Armenians.

That afternoon, Ananyan introduced Aram Arsenyan’s third volume of Contemporary American- Armenian Short Stories, largely based on pieces translated from the printed version of Ararat quarterly. This volume includes works of Peter Najarian, Sourian, Mark Arax, Aris Janigian, Nancy Krikorian, Aram Saroyan, Mary Kandilian-Aslanian, Jack Aslanian, Cathy Salibian, Vonnie Madigan, Michael Minasian, Nancy Agabian and Alan Whitehorn. A number of writers present praised Arsenyan’s efforts.

In the closing session on October 15, Ananyan explained that a chief goal of such conferences has been to unite foreign-language Armenian writers around the idea of the homeland. Professor of philology Davit Gasparyan suggested that in the future, foreign-language Armenian writers join Armenian- language writers in conferences. Ananyan felt the idea was a good one but perhaps the time for it had still not yet come. Margosyan pointed out that previous such conferences have led to useful work such as his Aras Publishing House’s publication of the Turkish translation of Iranian-Armenian writer Zoya Pirzad’s novel, and this year too there no doubt would be similar results. Khosrov Khajavian’s offer to financially support the publication of the presentations of the present conference as a separate book was enthusiastically accepted by the participants.