From left, Ann Perkins, Bayara Aroutunova-Manusevich, Sonia Ketchian (Photo: Elsa Ronningstam)

A Century of Spring: Bayara Aroutunova-Manusevitch at 101

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By Sonia Ketchian

BELMONT, Mass. — On November 1, 2017, Dr. Bayara Aroutunova-Manusevitch turned 101 in her beautifully appointed home. Born in 1916 to a Russified Armenian family in Novyi Nakhichevan (New Nakhichevan, now in Rostov, where in 1778 Catherine II forcibly re-located over 200,000 Armenians from Crimea), she was named after her maternal grandmother Bayar.

“Bahar,” the little girl was told, in Armenian means “spring” that she must always youthfully emulate.

Bayara’s father, Haroutun Haroutunian, born in Karabakh, from age 6 was educated in the family of a wealthy Anglicized relative, Ekizler, who financed the bright lad’s entire education: Gymnasium, the exclusive Lazarev Institute in Moscow, and study of engineering in Paris. In Paris Haroutun met Kristina Iablokova (Khndzarian) of a cultured Russified Armenian family, whose wealthy great-grandfather had attained Russian nobility. Educated at the Rostov Gymnasium, Kristina moved to Moscow for the Higher Women’s Courses of Guerrier (3 years). Kristina was traveling in France with her fellow student friend Aleksandra (Asia) Ekster, later a world famous Russian artist, whose gifted paintings and decorated boxes little Bayara liked to “improve upon,” to Kristina’s chagrin. Married in 1913, Kristina and Haroutun’s happy family life was immersed in music, books, and art, and vacations in Crimea.

At Rostov University, Bayara graduated with high honors (1935-39) and in 1940 was admitted for a master’s degree in linguistics at the Rostov Pedagogical Institute, where she completed her examinations in two years, and wrote her dissertation, but World War II disrupted its defense. Well before the war, however, tragedy and suffering shook their idyllic family. In 1937 Haroutun Haroutunian, now a prominent engineer, was arrested as an “enemy of the people” by the NKVD, and sentenced to 10 years “without the right to correspond,” which meant immediate execution. His parting words to Bayara were, “Complete your education.” Six months later Kristina was arrested, and fortunately released in nine months; Bayara could not recognize the old emaciated woman who came to the door as Kristina. In the meantime, in this despondent situation, Bayara appreciated the moral strength and love of her brilliant sympathetic professor Georgii Gaevsky, but their marriage was short-lived when in February 1941 he was arrested and executed.

During World War II, Bayara and Kristina ended up in Germany as “house servants” to one of Kristina’s long-established brothers. Their living nightmares would gradually come to an end. In December 1952, with US help, Bayara arrived in New York, where she received a stipend to continue her education in the graduate program of her choice. In 1953, her choice fell on Harvard’s Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures with world-renowned luminaries Roman Jakobson and Mikhail Karpovich.  Kristina and Bayara were re-united in 1954, and permanently in 1956 thanks to the efforts of then Sen. John F. Kennedy. Mother and daughter rejoiced as Bayara defended her PhD dissertation titled “Linguistic and Stylistic Problems of Word Order in Modern Russian” in 1958 with Jakobson as her main advisor. The department invited her to remain, and therefore Bayara Aroutunova became a tenured senior lecturer for 30 productive years teaching impeccable Russian Stylistics, Advanced Russian and Literature in Russian until her retirement in 1987. A great asset to the department with her superb vibrant intelligence, stupendous Russian, articulated in her beautiful voice and intonation, fine training, dedicated teaching, vivacious genial personality and superior elegance, Bayara prepared many of the lucky best American specialists in Russian language and literature.

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Finding Love Again

Bayara and Victor Manusevitch fell in love at the Slavic Department where he was studying Russian literature and was continuing toward his PhD.

However, the multitalented Manusevitch already was an accomplished violinist in the Boston Symphony Orchestra under Serge Koussevitzky. He and Bayara had much in common, they loved hospitality, enjoyed many illustrious friends, music, literature, art. Together they purchased their Belmont home, enjoyed their life of concerts, art, socializing with many friends, built their own summer place in Stockbridge, (Bayara made corrections to their architect’s vision, so the amazed architect asked if he could use her ideas; she agreed but rejected payment), near the BSO summer home in Lenox, Tanglewood.

In his youth in Leningrad Victor had met the Russian poet Anna Akhmatova at a friend’s gathering. They had sat chatting on a sofa, but Victor told me he now wished he had asked certain questions. As a scholar, Bayara researched in the Vatican archives and in cities of Europe, but never returned to visit the Soviet Union that had shattered her life, depriving her of a happy youth and her adored father and much-lamented first husband Georgii Gaevsky.

 

Meeting a Mentor

In 1965, I met Bayara Artemevna at the Slavic Department as a neophyte graduate student who came to greatly admire this elegant, beautiful, sophisticated talented scholar and instructor for her knowledge, love of culture and life (“Liubliu krasivo zhit’”—I love to live beautifully—I heard her say). Being a native speaker of Russian, I was never her student (my loss), but did substitute for her when she was hospitalized years ago. Bayara values friendships, the longer the better, and goes out of her way for friends.

Never to be forgotten was the time I was teaching at Dartmouth College and at my initiative we invited Bayara to come to lecture in Russian on a topic of her choice. She spoke on Solzhenitsyn to a mesmerized audience of students of Russian and faculty and entertained questions in Russian to an energized audience. The next year my students wanted me to invite Bayara again. “What will my chairman think? He will not believe it was not my idea to invite Bayara again. I won’t.”

My students assured me, “You’ll do it because you like us!”

My chairman, Richard Sheldon, was happy to accommodate the initiative of the students by inviting Bayara for a repeat magnificent presentation, this time on the poetry of Boris Pasternak.

Bayara participated in national and international conferences and published articles on Gogol, Pushkin, Dostoevsky, Pasternak, and others. Her first book, Lives in Letters: Princess Zinaida Volkonskaya and Her Correspondence (Columbus, Ohio: Slavica, 1994), recently appeared in Russian translation. Her memoir, Nedavno proshedshee (Recently past) was published in Russia in 2014, co-edited with Alla Mymbaeva. Much appreciated by her former students and colleagues, Bayara was acknowledged with a Festschrift: Studies Presented to Bayara Aroutunova (Eds. A.L. Crone and Catherine Chvany. Columbus, Ohio: Slavica, 1987). It features my article among the contributions.

Happy Birthday to Bayara Aroutunova Manusevitch whose youthful spirit and love of humanity have turned adversity and tragedy into successful intellectual service to students, scholarship, colleagues, friends, family, and her adopted United States!!!

(Sonia I. Ketchian teaches at the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies, Harvard University.)

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