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Worth a read... Not necessarily masterpieces or artistically outstanding. Yet none will disappoint the lover of literature. Reading them one will always find something of value... Armenian News Network / Groong May 17, 2010 By Eddie Arnavoudian I. ARANDZAR - A FIRST IN WORLD LITERATURE? Arandzar is another most interesting but now also almost forgotten short story writer whose real name was Missak Kouyoumjian. He was born in 1877 in western Armenia and died in Adana in 1913. It is a fact that a good writer need not be honored with labels such as 'genius', 'talented', 'brilliant', and so on and so forth to be readable beyond their day. Such is the case with Arandzar who was mostly remembered, if at all, for 'The Laughter of Misery' that depicted an episode of mass human suffering during the bloody devastation of Armenia by Leng Timour and used to be featured in many a literary anthology. Arandzar however perhaps deserves a greater accolade and not just in Armenian but in world literature for his 'From the Gallows to a Wedding' that contains one of the earliest references in international fiction to the manner in which governing elites would put industrial and technological development to the use of mass, scientifically organized slaughter and genocide: 'Our modern civilization' he writes `along with lots of other things has also made the business of massacre that much easier. From within his four walls, the electrical cable, like death's unseen hand, within a split second will communicate orders from the chief executioner. And almost immediately, at a moment of least expectation his victims will be bloodied and laid low. Villages and towns that were standing at dawn will not witness dusk. Thanks to the advance of knowledge new discoveries will further perfect this system in the future. But let me not stray too far....' `My Cotton Trade' further enhances his reputation for besides its vivid detailing of the corruption of the Ottoman state apparatus from the top to the remotest province at the bottom it registers episodes of the 1895-96 massacres to particularly reveal the manner in which the Armenian trading and merchant class was targeted. Here is a vital record of the overarching Ottoman strategy to blight Armenian economic development in historic Armenia. Arandzar wrote little. But some of what he wrote offers excellent insight into Armenian life in Istanbul and Ottoman occupied western Armenia prior to the genocide, covering in fact the period from about 1890 -1908. With endearing charm and wit Arandzar creates warm and living characters for who we cannot fail to have sympathy. They are ordinary mortals like you and me attempting to live their lives as best they can. Yet at each step their life becomes a misery or a nightmare, a terror or a death, for they live as an oppressed group within the Ottoman Empire. They exist as second class citizens, discriminated against, regarded as inferior and treated unequally, with contempt and humiliated as a matter of course. Arandzar's stories bring all this to light and show how men and women must have felt at being so treated. Though heavy with the burden of oppression Arandzar's stories gain by the absence of any sentimental nationalism or declamatory patriotism. We hear not the ringing slogan but the cry of pain. Giving Arandzar's writing the quality of art is his humour, his capacity for telling a story, his clarity of language and most of all the vitality of his characters, underlined by focus on a critical particular or by a phrase that is expressive of the type of character represented. Deploying his sharp wit Arandzar also takes steady accurate swipes at the mediocrity of the Armenian intelligentsia and artist in Istanbul. His `Short Story of a Short Story' is literary criticism in the form of fiction disposing of that segment of Armenian writers and literature that artificially aped and copied French samplings and produced tripe that was then duplicated and quadrupled. Arandzar also targeted the press of the time that encouraged and gave a platform to such mediocrity. How appropriate to the decadent intellectuals of our own times the ridicule that Arandzar heaps upon pretentious, pompous language adorned by countless borrowings from the French designed to cover vacuity with phraseology that is incomprehensible. His barbs hit in addition at the pretentious, self-flattering but socially useless stratum of students who whilst in Europe posturing as hard workers aspiring to academic excellence lived lives of egotistical hedonism whilst swindling charities to cover their expenses. It is a great pity that Arandzar wrote so little and gave up his art well before his early death at the age of 36. II. BERJ BROSHIAN (1837-1907) - AN ARTIST AND ACTIVIST FOR TODAY Nineteenth century novelist and educationalist Berj Broshian is today undeservedly neglected. Slighted and even derided, his novels dismissed as third-rate art, albeit admitted to owning valuable ethnographic data, his educational work is also almost forgotten. Manoukian's wonderful little biography (198pp, 1964, Yerevan) is an apt challenge to such inept evaluations. In this endearing account Broshian appears as a type desperately needed in contemporary Armenia whose people are being abused and wasted by corrupt elites totally indifferent to the lives of the common people. Immensely talented Broshian possessed a phenomenal memory - at 15 he could recite the whole of Narek as well as the works of Khorenatzi, Barpetzi and other 5th century and classical historians. He also had the ability to take courageous and risky initiatives and support these with the stubborn determination of the most stubborn mule. Gifted and talented Broshian, had he chosen, could have secured for himself a privileged existence. But he dedicated himself instead to working to advance the education and the culture of the people. Amidst reactionary clerical forces that suffocated Armenian education Broshian was a star and the work that he did here is as valuable if not more so than his literary legacy for which he is better known and that he perhaps loved better too. In 1861 Broshian set up the very first public girl's school in Tbilisi. Thereafter in a life of teaching he established yet another school in Yerevan in 1866 and two years later still another in Akoulis. Regarding theatre as part of popular education in 1863 he helped in the formation of the first permanent Armenian theatre company in Tbilisi. Inspired by Khatchadour Abovian's example Broshian fought to introduce modern educational methods into the Armenian classroom and to end flogging that took the place of discipline. He opposed the violence and brutality of a clergy that drummed useless dogma and superstition into their often cold and hungry students. For this he was reviled and relentlessly persecuted by the dominant reactionary wing of the Church that after much effort secured his state disqualification from teaching in national schools. The great historic accomplishment of 19th century educational work is easily overlooked. Though there may be little direct trace of the results of Broshian's pedagogical work it can be argued without exaggeration that it contributed its very significant part to the survival of the Armenian nation in the eastern portions of their historic lands. The network of schools of which Broshian's were a part served to generate among its students a powerful sense of national identity and pride that was to serve future generations well in their battles against Tsarist oppression and assimilation as well as Turkish invasion and slaughter. Committed to popular education, Broshian once again in Abovian's footsteps, favoured literature in the spoken language of the people. In 1859 when only just 22 writing in local dialect he completed his first novel `Sos and Vartiter' that was judged by Mikael Nalpantian to have established, along with Abovian's `The Wounds of Armenia', the foundations of the modern Armenian novel'. Broshian was not however able to devote himself to writing full-time. Relentless Church persecution and the Russian closure of Armenian schools also denied him the opportunity to earn a consistent living by teaching. So he also turned to proof-reading, to photography and even did a stint as a coal merchant. Broshian's photograph of Raffi remains in use to his very day. Despite obstacles and hardship Broshian managed to write a string more of novels. `The Battle Front', `Shahen', `The Problem of Bread', `Parasites', `Pghte', `Huno' and `Revenge' (still unpublished) all in different ways give expression to his disgust for Armenian commercial and Church elites, for their corruption, selfishness, ignorance and superstition as well as his hatred of the thievery of parasitic priests and merchants. Some also reflect a vision of the inter-ethnic with the protagonist in `Khetcho' making it his business to warn `greedy Armenians or Turks' `who seized a slice of bread from the mouth of a poor man' to `correct their ways...or...become components of hell' whilst the protagonist in `Huno' defends the downtrodden of any nationality. A refutation of the unfavourable artistic judgement passed upon Broshian's novels must await another opportunity. For the moment an evaluation of Broshian's `The Parasites' by great novelist Shirvanzade must suffice. Shirvanzade never held back from the harshest evaluation when this was necessary. Whilst noting some of the structural weaknesses of Broshian's novels, as well as their psychological and linguistic failings Shirvanzade nevertheless adds: `Broshian differs from our other writers in that he knows well that which he writes about. He grasps the common people's lives authentically. He grasps its language, traditions, sayings and turns of phrase better than any of our other authors... The characters that he depicts, whatever the flaws, are living people. They are not the author's artificially produced whimsical constructs.' Beyond his educational and literary work Broshian stood by the common people in journalistic work as well. In his memoirs he judges the 1865 destruction of the Tbilisi city mayor's offices by protesting workers as `a very natural phenomenon', an `expression of the sacred principle of self-defence'. A few years later in his `Letters from Yerevan' he criticised the exploitation of the peasantry in rural Armenia where `despite the rich yield of the land the native population lives in the harshest poverty whilst others benefit.' How then to explain Broshian's absurd consignment to the dustbin of conservatism? Perhaps his refusal to join the influential Krikor Ardzrouni in an uncritical welcome of capitalist development offered ideological opponents ammunition to portray Broshian as a feudalist of sorts. Perhaps the stringent secularist Ardzrouni and his cohorts who then dominated Armenian public life demanded of a Broshian a commitment to the complete separation of Church and education that he could not accept. Conscious of an enlightened trend within the Church Broshian sought to collaborate with it in his pedagogical ambition. Whatever the reasons behind the conservative label none sticks. Berj Broshian was no revolutionary but neither was he a reactionary. He was part of the democratic and popular artistic and intellectual tradition alongside Toumanian, Shirvanzade, Aghayan and others. Indeed as intellectuals, artists and public figures dedicated to the national and the people's good they all, including the derided Broshian can serve as role models for public life in Armenia today. -- Eddie Arnavoudian holds degrees in history and politics from Manchester, England, and is Groong's commentator-in-residence on Armenian literature. His works on literary and political issues have also appeared in Harach in Paris, Nairi in Beirut and Open Letter in Los Angeles.