(Translated by Karen Jallatyan with editorial assistance by Alec Ekmekji; Marseille: Editions Thaddée, 207 pp.)
Reviewed by Christopher Atamian
Special to the Mirror-Spectator
History often comes down to us in the form of memorized acts and dates or else completely fictionalized as literary discourse. So it’s a pleasant change to read a series of biographical dialogues between two incisive and successful members of the Armenian diaspora. Serge Avédikian and Tigrane (Dikran) Yegavian have both made their mark in French and French-Armenian circles, the first as a filmmaker and actor (Paradjanov, We Drank from the Same Water), the latter as a journalist and author of several books. (In the Shadow of a Sacred Mountain, Mission). In many ways their work is notable not only for its objective content but also for its ability to have mixed the French and the Armenian contexts and cultures with their own biographical journeys.
Much of what Avédikian and Yegavian discuss in the present volume is in a sense old hat — double allegiances, double cultures, double (sometimes triple) languages—but the personal stories that they interject here render these themes interesting again and gives them new blood. We learn for example that Yegavian’s father ran the Maison des Étudiants Français in the Cité Universitaire in Paris and moved to Lisbon to work for the Gulbenkian Foundation after a bomb exploded in his father’s office, a reaction it seems to recent ASALA bombings and the fact that the Cité housed a number of known ASALA members. Avédikian was born in Soviet Armenia to parents who had repatriated from France during the great reverse migration of 1946-47 known as the nerkaght or return before the family later returned to France.
To me the best parts of this book recount specifically biographical details, as when Avédikian recalls his life in as a child in Armenia: “Yes, I was the son of a repatriated foreigner; that is to say, they called me “François” to mark this fact, or sometimes, in a more vulgar way, akhpari d’gha ‘son of a brother’ (the word ‘brother’ was said with the accent of Armenians coming from outside, from diaspora, to mark the difference). We lived in a semi-basement of a building and the passersby saw what was going on in our apartment. My mother and her girlfriends smoked while drinking coffee, a tradition that is more occidental than oriental.” (p. 30)