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 July 13, 2015 By EDDIE ARNAVOUDIAN I. Contemporary recollections of Missak Medzarents and Daniel Varoujean Recollections about famous authors (`Missak Medzarents and Daniel Varoujean: remembered by their contemporaries', 1986, Yerevan, 344pp) are of course hugely valuable with multitudes of fact, incident, impression and anecdote serving a richer biographical canvas. But they do need to be read with judgement that distinguishes the authentic from the hagiographic, the honest from those jumping onto fame's bandwagon, especially those so shameless with cheap claims of having been loved by the famous! MISSAK MEDZARENTS Missak Medzarents hardly had time to live before he was struck down at 22 by tuberculosis. Two slim volumes of poetry, the first published one year and the second three months before he died in 1906, aroused immediate critical passions. By most accounts, in contrast to Bedros Tourian with whom he is compared, and who also died young at 21, Medzarents appears to have been completely apolitical. No hint tendered here of public life, of social or national dedication, no evidence of patriotic effusion. Yet hailing from a very well to do family in Armenia's heart, in Peng near Kharpert/Agn, Medzarents delighted in the company of the common people, associating with them where others would not. Critical of those growing indifferent to their roots and even though himself migrating to Istanbul, where in 1905 illness forced him to abandon education, Mdezarents never let go of bonds to his homeland. Its natural and social life featured prominently in his consciousness that also accumulated its sounds and its colours, its rural music and its song that together all flowed into his poetry. Together with rural folk poetry and song Medzarents loved Narek. But his interests were international too. He immersed himself in French and English poetry having a fine command of both languages, evidently speaking English with impeccable British accent. An avid reader he was also a translator, of Rudyard Kipling among others. But writing was his first love. Perhaps unable to live life `normally', he lived through writing and with an intensity and concentration that he may have hoped would compensate for the early dying of his light. A sharp, witty, clever man-boy Medzarents was disgusted by eggs and cheese and was fastidious too, in the extreme, about personal cleanliness and tidiness. He was in his writing similarly single minded and particular, producing endless drafts as he strove for envisioned perfection. Sending his work to print he insisted turbulently that publishers leave all his punctuation untouched. The poetry that resulted has secured enduring acclaim. In Armenian social and political history Medzarents's home town Peng was significant, its fate indicative of the challenges and fortunes of the Armenian national movement in a land of many nationalities. Amid Turkish and Kurdish communities Peng was envied for its economic progress and blessed too with natural defensive barriers and a population that with access to arms was ready to use them in self-defence. Small, it was still a significant nucleus for Armenian national development and so was targeted and reduced to rubble in the 1895-96 Ottoman slaughter of 300,000 Armenians that was a prelude to the Genocide twenty years later. DANIEL VAROUJEAN Twelve year old Daniel Varoujean had only just arrived in Istanbul when the 1895-96 anti-Armenian pogroms exploded in the Ottoman capital. The future poet was devastated by the slaughter he witnessed. A quiet, thoughtful boy he became rebellious and truculent. He was to remain rebellious and truculent but in aid of the Armenian national movement, in aid of the underdog, the dispossessed, the poor, the dismissed and the despised. Precocious, nothing escaped his attention and his inquisitive questioning was relentless. Overcoming early diffidence Varoujean became an inspiring teacher and a magnetic speaker, mesmerising an audience when reciting his own poetry. Of Armenian writers among his favourites were Mekhitarist Father Alishan and historical novelist Raffi. But top of his list was the founder of the modern Armenian novel, Khatchadour Abovian. He had high regard for Srpouhi Dussap too, the first Armenian woman novelist and despite different poetic styles he was among the first to acclaim Medzarents. While appreciating Toumanian's language in `Anush', Varoujean thought it unsuited for the Armenian national epic `The Daredevils of Sassoon' and had hoped to render the epic his own volcanic style and dramatic language. Obsessive about writing he would use only clean white lined paper and would proceed only when absolutely happy with the handwriting of a line he had just completed! A critic of arbitrary, anti-democratic and obscurantist power Varoujean pointedly rejected any glorification of the Church though acknowledging its value as a national and social institution. He clashed with the Church and bitterly so in his personal life too when his community was split by the proposed marriage between the Roman Catholic born poet and Araksi a member of Armenian Orthodox Church. Araksi a daughter of a well-to-do family had been betrothed in an arranged marriage to another man, of higher class! The issue was resolved to the couple's advantage by Araksi's stubborn determination and perhaps also by the threat of force following a visit to the families by Murad of Sebastia, renowned Armenian guerrilla commander and close friend of Varoujean's! In a compromise of sorts, two priests, one from each denomination presided at the wedding. Daniel Varoujean's unbelievably naive faith in the Young Turk regime is shocking. Despite all the evidence of murderous Ottoman and Young Turk nationalism, to the very end he saw Armenian futures within a reformed Ottoman entity. Rumour, gossip and fear were all afoot. Yet he remained utterly impervious, more even than an already impervious Istanbul intelligentsia. Did he and they remain wilfully blind to all the signs, to all the evidence, to all that was being reported of the repression, the murder and the anti-Armenian organisation and mobilisation throughout the rotting, dying Empire? Varoujean's death was an almost surreal tragedy. Illusions in Ottoman/Young Turk capacity for reform, even under arrest, manifested itself in an unalterable personal equanimity, in a dismissing of all urgings to seek safety! Even in the months of incarceration, confident of release he wrote ceaselessly, producing a virtual volume of poetry. Then his murder, his skinning alive and the burning of his body and of that volume of poetry! Fathoming the individual disaster is beyond mind and emotion. An impossible, ineffable crime, this murder of a young poet, the most naive of the patriotic intelligentsia, the one who was most trusting of those who gave the order to skin him alive. In the story of this single death one can see the Ottoman State's entire machinery of genocide in operation: the police and Army, the Young Turk network of political organisation and the mercenary bandits and criminals they released from prisons to form death squads. II. HRANT TAMRAZIAN ON MISSAK MEDZARENTS Hrant Tamrazian's substantial essay on poet Missak Medzarents (Armenian Lyricists, Volume 1, 1996, Yerevan, pp105-185) is a creative, inspired exercise. Tamrazian opens with a reminder that fine poets are always more than just individuals, their work reflecting something universal. To properly situate and evaluate his subject, Tamrazian at the same time takes to task Yeghishe Charents for diminishing Medzarents by limiting him to a brilliant poet of nature, forgetting that in poetry the world of nature serves to illuminate human drama, to reveal the tide and flow of human spirit, soul, sensibility and emotion. Suffused with stunning images of nature, Medzarents's is poetry of pain, of tragedy, of death, but it is at once also a striving for life, for beauty, for immortality even. It is art as manifestation of the life instinct, a manifestation recast from the images of the world of natural beauty that the poet inherited from his boyhood home and that remained a hinterland, a spiritual retreat from where to grapple with death. In this striving for life and light, Medzarents's poetry blooms with passionate generosity and solidarity for fellow human beings, poetry that compares with the best internationally. Tamrazian's affirmation of poetic talent includes an enlightening comparison to the flat/monotone of Ardashes Haroutyounyan's verse that was supposed to be a significant influence on Medzarents. Tamrazian reminds us that the poet was in addition a deep reader of Narek whose humanist message he drew from beneath its religious blanket. A famous `Self-Critique' is also valued for its grand humanism, its opposition to symbolist vapidity and social isolationism and its readiness to be stern and critical of his own poetry without however any false humility. Inventive as ever Tamrazian on occasion steps into dubious territory. Perhaps as a nod to Soviet bureaucratic demands of the time he claims, with not a single cementing quotation, that Medzarents's return to the hinterland of his youth was driven by a desire for political emancipation from national and social contradictions of the age. One must also contest an untenable view that Bedros Tourian, unlike Medzarents, had no hinterland of beauty from which to affirm life. Quite the contrary! But of course Tamrazian remains as always rewarding. -- 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.
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