Armenian News Network / Groong

The Critical Corner - 02/15/2016


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
February 15, 2016

By EDDIE ARNAVOUDIAN


Champions of an Armenian national literature

Tlgadintsi (Hovhanness Harutyunyan - 1860-1915) was the outstanding
figure of that group of pre-Genocide western Armenian writers whose
central artistic concern was the lives of the Armenian common people
in their native western Armenian provinces of the Ottoman Empire.
These writers stood in the sharpest contrast to better known Diaspora
authors whose protagonists lived in Istanbul, Tbilisi, Baku or
elsewhere overseas. Patronisingly described as `provincial'
Tlgadintsi's literary endeavour was in fact part of the foundation for
an authentic national literature, one that was shaped by an evolving
but nevertheless centuries old continuity of Armenian community and
tradition within a now wider multi-national context of a historic
western Armenian homeland. A necessary resurrection and appropriation
of these `provincial' writers serves more than just our cultural
enrichment. It is today also critical to securing the memory of
pre-Genocide western Armenian life from systematic falsification by
chauvinist Turkish historiography determined to cast Armenian life in
what was western Armenia into total oblivion.

				  I.

`Tlgadintzi', a Soviet-era monograph by Lusig Garabedian (203pp, 1966,
Yerevan) remains here of substantial interest, offering insight into
his work that describes life in his native Kharpert. Tlgadintzi
appears both as artist and as social critic, his chronicles,
journalism and short stories revealing a deep crisis of the western
Armenian rural town and village in the decades before 1915. With the
finest artistic skill Tlgadintsi brings alive a village and its people
defaced, deformed, demeaned and in the process of fatal decline from
the blows of an increasingly decaying and oppressive Ottoman Empire
and from developing market relations. Doing so he forcefully calls
attention to something frequently overlooked in Armenian social and
national history: well before the Genocide Armenian life in historical
Armenia was undergoing a critical social crisis brought about through
an alliance of the degenerate Ottoman ruling class and an emergent
Turkish nationalist elite. It was a structural crisis fatally
undermining the Armenian national revival, a crisis that as it
unfolded was actually eliminating the very foundations of Armenian
life and community in western Armenia, foundations that were to be
eventually removed and shattered in 1915.

Excelling as a short story writer and dramatist, Tlgadintzi was
initially a chronicler but one of high order, his `Provincial
Chronicles' and `Letters from the Provinces' depicting, in fine art
and powerful prose the rotting and crumbling of Armenian rural
life. Usury, debt, extreme poverty, ill health, the absence of
elementary hygiene, landlessness and forced migration are seen tearing
down Armenian communities. Tlgadintzi's writing is also alert to the
dangerous subjective consequence of oppressed, impoverished and
insecure existence: extreme individual egoism and a ruthless
selfishness that in the struggle to survive extreme odds could
frequently be indifferent to collective community and national
concerns.

>From the mid-1890s Tlgadintzi turns to his masterly short stories
inhabited by rural folk whose relations and experiences reveal the
social truths and traumas depicted in his `Chronicles' and his
`Letters', this time through individual life-experience. Frequently
based on real life characters the clergy (p108-09) is slayed for its
corruptions and its immorality, despite its vows of chastity! As with
the best of Armenian literature Tlgadintzi's also highlights the
enslavement of women (p92-3), criticises the injustices of divorce law
and the buying of wives by men who had made money in the USA (p97).
Rich with humour stories reproduce life seen through the eyes of a
child (p107). It is humour that also served to chastise the rural town
elites who appear in Tlgadintzi's drama `From the other Side' (143-45)
in which some have seen touches of Dante!

Tlgadintzi's short stories, his `Chronicles' and `Letters' are all
written with sharp insight, powerfully and evocatively, with striking
imagery and metaphor. Touched by emotion and melancholy (p75) they are
enriched by language that absorbs folk poetry, imagery and vernacular
(p77). He secured a deserved literary standing in his own life-time
receiving fulsome praise among others from outstanding contemporary
author and critic Arpiar Arpiarian (p80) as well as from Vrtaness
Papazian (p95).


				 II.

A plus in Lusig Garabedian's essay is its clarity on the Ottoman/Turkish
design behind the 1895-96 massacres of 300,000 Armenians. Whenever
Armenian social and economic progress promised a halt to a steady but
fatal decline of Armenian communities in historic Armenia, the
Ottoman/Turkish nationalist elite responded with slaughter and
destruction. Kharpert in the early 1890s underwent notable economic
development, funded in part by monies from Armenian migrants from the
USA. Tlgadnitzi's fine school was a beneficiary of such monies,
rebuilt anew and with the means to sustain a printed periodical. To
such consolidation the Ottoman state reacted with 1895-95!

So the destruction of Kharpert! So the burning down of Tlgadintzi's
school (p81-84)! And so another wave of dispossessed, of starving
people, many forced into migration others to conversion to Islam and
so an accelerating decline of Armenian life. Despite devastating the
cultural core and economic muscle of Armenian Kharpert, fearful still
of Armenian recovery Turkish authorities kept up repression. In 1903
Tlgadintzi and others were arrested and imprisoned. His school,
instructed to remove Armenian subjects from its curriculum was also
subjected to repeated assault, even during the post-1908 so-called
constitutional period (p192).

Despite such bitter blows and despite his unwavering dedication to
national development, Tlgadintzi remained nevertheless essentially
a-political. He had no enthusiasm for any of the ANLM parties
considering them loudmouths who not only failed to secure Armenian
economic advance but who failed to even ensure that Armenian children
would speak their language correctly (165-168). When commenting on
national issues and even the 1909 Adana massacres Tlgadintsi focussed
on education and culture not politics as the way forward (p167). In
this abstention from politics he shared something with Komitas. Like
Komitas he insisted on the primacy of language, literature and culture
- "one pen is worth a sword, two writers constitute and army" (p182).


				- - -

Tlgadintzi was a stalwart of that trend of the Armenian national
revival rooted within native Armenian communities of historical
Armenia. He was here an ideologue of organic national development that
by the turn of the 20th century was drawing to the homeland the best
and most committed sections of the Diaspora intelligentsia that
rightly saw the so-called `provinces' as the sole secure foundation
for national recovery and emancipation. Why some of the best such
activists questioned the function and value of the National Liberation
Movement demands serious thought!

In 1915, in the early phase of the first mass arrests of the Armenian
intelligentsia that set in motion the Genocide Tlgadintzi found refuge
with a Turkish friend to whom he also passed his voluminous
unpublished works for safekeeping. Alas fearing for his own safety his
friend set fire to the lot! Soon afterwards Tlgadintsi was discovered
and thrown into prison. He was murdered on 20 June 1915,


Bringing Tlgadintsi the man to life... Hagop Oshagan enhances appreciation!

Hagop Oshagan's passion, his vast enthusiasm for anything to do with
literature, his verve together with a broad social grasp and acute
aesthetic sensibility bring Tlgadintzi to life in a way that
Garabedian's rather more severe study does not. A wonderful
substantial chapter, over one hundred pages, of Ohsagan's monumental
ten-volume `Overview of Western Armenian Literature' (Volume 7,
pp79-185) shows us a stubborn, strong willed, wily peasant who became
a writer unparalleled in his brilliant depiction of Armenian village
life. Tlgadintzi not only recreates the authentic village, he does so
populating it with its individual but also typical protagonists and
that in a manner unique in Armenian literature.

Having produced literature unequalled in its coverage of native
Armenian life, against all the odds and with no resources, Tlgadintzi
also established his school, `planted his pitiful little hut' as
Oshagan puts it. And so his legacy grew to be larger than that of his
own writings alone, for this school produced Zartarian, Vahe Haig,
Hamasdegh and Nourigian all of whom crafted in Tlgadintzi's groove.
Oshagan affirms however that Tlgadintzi stands head and shoulders
above his pupils, talented as they are. Oshagan as always is a feast
to read, contentious, provocative, outrageous, all-embracing,
insightful, perceptive, and always alighting on essential truths.


--
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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