Gohar Charents, Tigran Mansourian, Hratch Djerrahian

Charents’ Most Iconic Creation Becomes Accessible in 35 Languages

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By Gayane Ghazaryan

Special to the Mirror-Spectator

YEREVAN – On October 20, a presentation of the newly published Yes Im Anoush Hayastani [Ode to Armenia] by Yeghishe Charents, a book containing the translation of the famous poem of this name translated into 35 different languages, took place next to the Aram Khachaturian Opera and Ballet Building as part of the Aurora Humanitarian Forum of 2019. The audience included one of the greatest modern Armenian composers, Tigran Mansourian, as well as the grandchildren of Charents and of his best friends, poet Avetik Isahakyan and painter Martiros Saryan.

Charents was merely 23-24 years old when he wrote this great poem. It was dedicated to his first wife Arpenik, who died when she was 27. The creation story behind the poem is unknown, but it was always obvious to everyone that Charents’s love for Armenia was above everything else. As only one example of this, Charents volunteered to fight against the Turks when he was just 17. He dedicated his whole life to his country and his people, and his writings from prison indicate that he was still thinking about his people at the very last moments of his life. Unfortunately, he did not manage to do everything he planned in his lifetime for his country, yet his legacy is an indelible part of Armenian literature.

Gohar Charents

His granddaughter, Gohar Charents, started the presentation by telling the story that inspired the creation of the book. It turns out that four years ago, a young Indian tourist entered the house/museum of Charents (where Gohar works), and approached her to ask about different translations of “Yes Im Anoush Hayastani.” Not long after, he showed translations of the poem done by him and his Indian friend into Hindu and Bengali. Gohar admitted that it was a quite big surprise for her, since she has never heard of the Bengali language before, but he told her that it was one of the most widespread languages in India.

The young tourist also explained the reason behind their desire to know and understand better what the poem was about. The Indian boy once asked his Armenian friends to guide him to find the most beloved poem by Armenians, and the answer he received was “Yes Im Anoush Hayastani.” This inspired Gohar and planted a fresh idea in her mind, to find the best translators all around the world in order to give the opportunity to understand the poem to more than 30 different nations around the world. She determined to find translators who were Armenian, since she felt that the best way of achieving this was to translate the poem directly from its original Armenian. “The process of finding the translators was quite tough,” she admits. “We had to keep the correct format and the word count so the poem sounds right. The translators also had to have a decent knowledge of Armenian literature, history, Charents, and have the spirit of the poem inside themselves.”

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The task that awaited them seemed to be quite difficult one, but very promising. Gohar told us that the design of the book was as important as its contents. This is precisely why the team that worked on the creation of the book chose Martiros Saryan’s paintings that portrayed Charents’ “summer sun” and “Nairi maidens,” and placed them next to every translation as a visual representation of the passion and beauty of Armenia.

Armen Charents (Charents’ grandson)

“Yes Im Anoush Hayastani” is undoubtedly considered to be a masterpiece, but how does the Armenian nation perceive and see it? Saryan once expressed his thoughts about the poem by saying, “’Yes Im Anoush Hayastani’ is both a prayer and an oath. You can whisper it in your mind or sing it on the streets as a hymn to freedom. And, finally, it is the stamp of affirmation and perpetuation of the Armenian race. Charents is immortal. In order to bring such an opus to the world you have to be at least a semi-god.”

Another noted representative of the Armenian nation, the writer William Saroyan said, “I love the sun-savouring words of ‘Yes Im Anoush Hayastani’ … to this day I consider it the most beautiful song about our country, our soil, and our history, a prayer close to Hayr Mer [Our Lord].

Participating at the event with a very similar idea about “Yes Im Anoush Hayastani,” the sponsor of the book, Hratch Djerrahian, spoke about the role he foresaw for it.

“First of all, we are all aware that this book is more than a reference point of greatness. It is like a prayer book for us,” he declared. He asked the audience if they agreed, and the answer of the crowd became obvious through their cheers.

Djerrahian continued: “In reality, we all must have this book in our households as a prayer book. But we also have to believe that this greatness is not only for Armenians, but everyone else in the world. So how can this happen? Once, we had a meeting and a discussion with some of our friends, Khachik Vardanyan, a close friend, and Gohar Charents, about the book that was about to be born. We all came to an agreement that the book needs to be like a gift, a present that will change lives. It has to be a serious book, that by having it in your hands you could feel the same power and energy as that radiating from a prayer book. This all belongs to Charents. We had to make sure that all these things will become reality and a part of the ‘Yes Im Anoush Hayastani” book. Every single one of us realized that imagining [and] speaking about these things are very different from working and making them come true. It was only a week ago, when I first held this book in my hands and I felt it, that I had the right feeling about it. So I thought to myself, and said, ‘it is good!’ It is definitely worth it! This book has a crucial mission to travel from generation to generation, and besides, it is important for Armenia to have something, a gift, to give to our visitors, a part of ourselves, our souls and true emotions that Charents depicted in the poem.”

Tigran Mansourian

The entire event was emotional. All the beautiful words and thoughts managed to reach everyone’s hearts and play on the most gentle strings of love and patriotism. It got even more emotional when Khachik Vardanyan, the founder of Bookinist, one of the most popular bookstore chains in Armenia, who played a substantial role in the creation of the book, was about to start his speech. He stopped for a moment and wiped away his tears with his hands. Then, after apologizing, he started telling us about the effect the process of the creation of the book had on him.

He said: “It is a call of spirits; it is a prayer for millions of Armenians. We have decided that the only benefit we want from this project is, with the help of Aurora, to awaken humanity and love towards it. This is why I want to thank every single person that played a role in the creation of the book and made it special.”

During the event we all had a chance to hear what some of the translators had to say about “Yes Im Anoush Hayastani” and the translation process through video recordings. It did not really matter whether the specialists were Armenian or of other nationalities. They all stated one thing collectively: this poem is a true definition of an immense love for a homeland, lovely Armenia, and it also sparks a fire of interest towards this country.

It is unbelievable how strongly Charents was attracted to literature from a young age. A proof of this statement is a story that happened when he was but a five-year-old boy. His father gave him money to go and buy some new shoes for himself, but instead he went to a bookshop and bought a book. When Charents returned home, his father was not very happy about his son’s choice, and told him, “You totally lost your mind and ate it with bread! You are going to remain barefoot now!”

Charents could not say a word, and left the house silently. He went out to the yard and told his friend about what happened. He proudly stated, “I would rather have my feet barefoot, than my brain.”

Could this little boy imagine that one day one of his creations would become so iconic for his nation? On the very last page of the book, behind the back cover, there is a short but powerful message concluding the book in the best possible way: “The iconic poem for all Armenians…”

As composer Tigran Mansourian said, “There could be absolutely no doubt that “Yes Im Anoush Hayastani” has the most appropriate lyrics worthy of becoming the new national anthem of Armenia. What is left to do now is to find a deserving melody.”

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