Eva Blénesi with her dove, Rubik

YEREVAN/BUDAPEST — Recently Lector Publishing House of Transylvania published the bilingual (Armenian-Hungarian) anthology, Contemporary Armenian Poetry, initiated by the Hungarian-Armenian Alliance of Transylvania. It includes poems by 18 Armenian authors, writing in Armenian and other languages. Eva Blénesi is the editor and the author of the afterword of the volume.

Blénesi, 64, is a literary critic and political scientist of Hungarian-Armenian origin. In 1989, she moved from Transylvania to Hungary with her parents. Blénesi studied at BabeșBolyai University in Kolozsvár (ClujNapoca, Romania), specializing in Hungarian and English literature, and also at Cambridge University (Great Britain), specializing in global security issues. She received her PhD from the Department of Humanities at the University of Szeged, Hungary. She is the author of several academic volumes and articles. Some of her works have been translated into Armenian, English, French, Romanian and Bulgarian. In addition to her teaching and research activities, Blénesi is actively involved in photography, making also short documentaries and painting on glass and silk.

Dear Eva, first let me congratulate you about you newly-published anthology of contemporary Armenian poetry. Whose idea was it and who supported the realization of the project?

Thank you, Dear Artsvi. The credit is not mine alone at all, but it belongs to all of us who contributed to the realization of this project including the publishers, the printers, the cover designers and the language lecturers. First of all, it belongs to the authors as well as the translators, who have a highlighted position in this regard seemingly also to those — like my Ciróka cat for instance — who helped keep the creative spirit alive in extreme challenging circumstances: Covid 19, the renewed conflict is Artsakh, tragic human losses (Armen Shekoyan, Géza Szőcs), illnesses and accidents in my case (fighting back a malignant tumor with a lymph metastasis, the painful Sudeck-syndrome caused by my broken right wrist), the unprecedented rise of the price of the paper caused by the war among the others. But from a retrospective point of view, I consider that all these challenges played also a positive role in my life in terms of better understanding the Armenianness, if I may say so. Since there are a library-length bunch of poems in Armenian literature that speak in a wide register of all that is the innermost characteristic of the Armenian spiritual setting: even after the losses and suffering, there is always the search for a way out, after the destruction there is the new beginning and the pervasive power of creation. One of the possible books in this library is this verse anthology. Therefore, I don’t think that I have exaggerated in the Afterword while saying that it is the merit of the excellence of poets and their inspired translators to feel that every book is the book of books and every poem is the song of songs. As for myself, as an editor, I like to associate myself with the role of the conductor from the Simple Symphony by Benjamin Britten, where every instrument from the orchestra has a solo role, an added value to the whole. However, the idea of setting up the current book project came from Géza Szőcs, an excellent poet about whom I wrote my first monograph back in 1999. He initiated the anthology not only in the capacity of the president of the Hungarian PEN Club, but also as a former state secretary of Cultural Affairs who lobbied for the re-establishment of the deteriorated Armenian-Hungarian diplomatic relations.

Why was the anthology published in Transylvania, Romania, rather than Hungary?

The main reason behind not publishing it in Hungary, but Transylvania was the unexpected tragic death of Géza Szőcs, the key promoter of the anthology who wanted to publish it within the framework of the Hungarian PEN Club. But after his death, his successors categorically refused to publish the Contemporary Armenian Poetry by arguing that the Hungarian PEN Club does not have the necessary funds for its publication. To be honest, I was even happy and felt a great relief when they initiated breaking the contract with me, since none of Géza Szőcs’s successors measured up to his intellectual level and cosmopolitan views. The shallow spirit they represent which is very much in line with those who are in key positions nowadays in the field of culture is very far from my system of values, therefore I can only be grateful to God and incorporate in my everyday evening prayers that nobody can associate me with them. Thus, like so many times throughout my life, I managed to turn the disadvantage into an advantage when it came to my mind to ask Attila Puskás, president of the EMÖSZ (Association of the Hungarian Armenians from Transylvania) to apply for funds in Hungary and publish it. It appeared that I was knocking at open doors and his Association got a modest sum from Gábor Bethlen Fund provided by the Prime Minister’s Office for National Secretariat. Indeed, Transylvania is part of Romania after the Trianon Treaty. Both Hungarians and Romanians claim to be their cradle, but what really matters is that Erdély/Ardeal/ Translyania/Siebenbürgen, is a colorful spot in the big mosaic within Romania with a great variety of rich multicultural, multireligious and multinational heritage and a landscape of breathtaking beauty.

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Why did you decide to publish it in Armenian and Hungarian, when most Hungarian Armenians do not know the language?

The current anthology of poems was designed bilingually to contribute to the linguistic improvement of the Hungarian-Armenian minority communities in Hungary and Transylvania. Hopefully, it will be helpful in this regard. Both publishers, Lector and Erdélyi Magyarörmények Szövetsége will promote it within Transylvanian context. We are planning together a series of book presentations in Transylvania including Marosvásárhely (Targu-Mures) Kolozsvár (Cluj), Gyergyószentmiklós (Gheorgheni), Csíkszereda (Miercurea-Ciuc) and so on.

I can see my role in doing the same within Hungarian and international context.

The first book presentation took place in the Writers’s Bookshop, which is a high-profile spot of this kind. Hopefully, many other will follow in Budapest alone, or in Szeged, where there  is a very enthusiastic Armenian community who already showed an interest in organizing a meeting with the readers. I am planning to organize a very lively interactive event at Három Holló (Three Crows) coffee shop and art Gallery where I would combine the book presentation with the exhibits Arnold Gross, a graphic artist with Hungarian-Armenian background from Transylvania. Hopefully, the planned book presentation at the Tree Crows and Art Gallery will be interactive also in terms that I would like to create an event where due to multimedia facilities the participants to the event will be able to connect with the authors of the book, too.

You mentioned the deteriorating Armenian-Hungarian diplomatic relationship. After the extradition of the Azeri murderer (who beheaded the sleeping Armenian officer in Budapest) by Hungarian government to Azerbaijan, where he became a national hero, relations between Armenia and Hungary have been frozen, yet recently diplomatic relations have been restored. Let’s hope such initiatives will foster the further cooperation between two countries.

I think, that it is a shame that such tragic event could ever happen. The subsequent events were a shame, too as well as the controversial attitude of the Hungarian government in this regard. It is a shame that Hungary did not recognize the fact of the Armenian Genocide officially yet and did not ask for apology at the highest possible governmental level from the Armenian state for tragedy of the young Armenian victim but it hides himself behind the Catholic Church, Péter Pázmány Catholic University, or the Hungary Helps organization to exercise symbolic positive gestures towards Armenia instead of having a fair, honest and straightforward, ethical approach in rebuilding the diplomatic relationship. However, a country and a people should never be fully associated with its leadership. Even if the diplomatic channels are frozen momently, the kind of initiative, like this book gives evidence of the fact that at the level of civic life and in the field of culture cooperation between Armenians and Hungarians never stopped to exit for one single moment. Moreover, the very fact that Armenians have found a home in Hungary and Transylvania, and their history has been so intertwined with the history of Hungarians can serve as an equally important argument for the publication, and it obliges us Hungarians to treat Armenian culture with interest, sympathy and special attention. I have a strong belief in the power of the words especially if they are articulated in a way that they are appealing both to the heart and to the intellect as it is the case of this book. I do hope that this book along with the powerful exhibits of Arnold Gross will also play a role in speeding up the process of rebuilding the broken diplomatic relationship.

During our conversation it was nice to know you call yourself an Armenian princess. We know there were many Armenian noble families in Hungary. Please tell our readers about your Armenian roots.

Did I? Then it was mistake or misunderstanding, in any case over-exaggerating. Perhaps I referred to myself in the best case as a Lady in between converted comas, somebody who has Armenian background and also has noble title. Our family is included in János Gudenus’s book entitled Örmény eredetű magyar nemesi családok geneológiája (The Genealogy of Hungarian Noble Families with Armenian Background). I have also a copy of a book of a well acclaimed Transylvanian Hungarian historian, named Dezső Garda entitled A székelység a 12-17. században és a Blénesi család (The Szekler People in the 12th-17th Century and the Blénesi Family) with our coat of arms on the cover of the book. My ancestors participated in the army of János Hunyady, father of King Mathias, who successfully defeated the Turks in Nándorfehérvár (Belgrade) over the course of 1456. Perhaps, it is not well known within Armenian context that since that time the bell is being called every day at 12 o’clock in midday in Europe commemorating the glorious event. So, when I am praying at that moment my ancestors are also incorporated. As a recognition for my ancestors’ brave participation to the battle they were given the noble title in 1615 by Gábor Bethlen, ruler of Transylvania at that time. Hence my choice to stay in Gábor Bethlen street in Budapest. It is very funny that I have a heritage of family property in Gyergyószárhegy (Lazarea), Transylvania, which is located also in Gábor Bethlen Street. So, wherever I stay, no matter it is in Budapest or Gyergyószárhegy, I stay in a street named after Gábor Bethlen. Therefore, choosing Gábor Bethlen street as a place to stay in my case was a conscious act, since both of my parents were born in Gyergyószárhegy, a village with the most beautiful Renaissance castle in Transyílvania, within which Gábor Bethlen was raised as a child. Due to my family background I also spent my most significant and best period of my childhood at my grandparents in Gyergyószárhegy. I nurture a warm spot in my heart to that place as well as to our family history and the figure of Gábor Bethlen, who is recognized to be a ruler of Transyílvania who contributed to its Golden Age. I have painted on glass our coat of arms somewhat before the burial of my father in 2016 and I dedicated this book to his memory. I am particularly proud, that I do not have a noble title because of my so-called blue blood as an aristocrat, but due to the merits of my ancestors, seemingly to the title of Sir, accorded to Nicholas Kaldor, a Cambridge economist, or Zsolt Solti, a famous Hungarian conductor.

 Armenians have lost the language and religion, but many of them have kept their identity. How is it being expressed?

Identity is a complex issue and can be celebrated in different forms and means: in custom, religious rituals, in meals, in remembering the past. Even if we don’t speak the language, we have a strong sense of belongingness to our Armenian roots. I had a very witty and gifted student named Ildikó Kincses, with a Hungarian-Armenian background from Transylvania who nurtured her identity by dedicating a considerable segment of her scholarly activity to the research related to the question of the Armenian identity and the issue of Genocide. I was her supervisor at Corvinus University. She still has a continuous interest towards the Armenian identity no matter if she works within the framework of the Hungarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs or elsewhere. I nurture the hope, that once the diplomatic relationships will be re-established between Armenia and Hungary, she will have a role as a diplomat. She is well equipped intellectually and she has the necessary skills and talent for assuming a key position as a diplomat. 

Do you have any Armenia-related project for future?

Indeed, I have. Too many even. First of all, I would like to improve my Armenian language skills. Armenian Summer course in Venice is a promising opportunity in this regard. Secondly, I am longing to visit Armenia, especially in the period of harvesting the pomegranate. Thirdly, I would like to organize a book presentation of the current anthology combined with the art exhibition of the graphic art of Arnold Gross. I already shared my idea with his son, András Gross and he seemed to be enthusiastic about it. By the way, Arnold Gross has already had a successful exhibition in Tbilisi, Georgia, but unfortunately not in Armenia yet.

The line of my plans is endless which includes also the idea of editing an anthology of the contemporary poetry and prose where I would definitely include some of the best translators of this anthology, including  Orsolya Fenyvesi, András Gerevich, Botond Kaáli, Noémi László  and last but not least Anna T. Szabó, who happens to be the wife of György Dragomán, a well acclaimed Hungarian writer with Transylvanian Armenian background from his father’s side. His novels are translated into dozens of foreign languages except into Armenian for the time being. However, his family name means translator, mediator.

Who else if not them and the kind of first-class literature produced by the above-mentioned poets and writers can serve as best mediators between Armenia and Hungary?


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