Friday, April 26, 2013

Birth of Hovhannes Shiraz (April 27, 1915)

       Poet Hovhannes Shiraz, one of the most popular names in Armenia and the Diaspora during Soviet times, was born in Alexandropol (later Leninakan, now Gumri), in 1915. His birth name was Onik Karapetian. At the age of five, he lost his father, who was killed in the Turkish invasion of Armenia that followed the Armenian-Turkish war of 1920. He grew in poverty. He went to work at the textile factory of Leninakan in 1932. He published his first poems in the factory newspapers. Apparently, he first signed them with the pseudonym Hovhannes Shirak (Gumri is located in the plain of Shirak).
        One year later, he was hired as teacher in the village of Haji Nazar (now Kamo), in the district of Akhurian. He published his first book of poetry, “Spring Initiation,” in 1935, with the pseudonym Hovhannes Shiraz. According to his testimony, writer Atrpet (1860-1937) gave him the pseudonym of Shiraz (a city in Iran, well known for its flowers), saying: “The poems of this young man have the perfume of the fresh and dew-covered roses of Shiraz.” In the same year, Shiraz became a member of the Writers Union of Armenia.
        He attended the Faculty of Philology of the Yerevan State University between 1941 and 1947, where he studied Armenian language and literature. Afterwards, he lived from his pen. He also followed the courses of the Institute of Literature Maxim Gorky of Moscow from 1952-1954.
        Shiraz’s most important collection of poetry was “Lyre of Armenia” (three volumes, 1958, 1965, and 1974). He won the State Prize of Soviet Armenia in 1975 and the Hovhannes Tumanian prize in 1982.
       Although the press run of his books was over half a million copies and his poems were translated into 58 languages, Shiraz ran into many problems with censorship. His patriotic poetry, particularly his evocation of the historical injustice suffered by Armenians and the lost territories of Western Armenia and, at the time, Gharabagh, was forbidden several times. In 1974, when the well-known literary critic Suren Aghababian told Shiraz about receiving the Lenin Medal, the response was: “And what do they want from me in exchange? To buy my silence?”
        He was never allowed to travel outside the Soviet Union, but many of his unpublished poems were smuggled outside the country and published in the Diaspora press. For instance, the first draft of his poem “The Armenian Dante,” about the Armenian Genocide, was written in 1941. Only a few excerpts were published in Armenia during his lifetime and a few chapters in Beirut and Tehran. The entire poem was posthumously published in 1990. His poem “Ani,” about the medieval capital of Armenia, written in 1950, was also published in excerpts in the Diaspora, and the final edition only appeared in 2012.
       Shiraz first married poet Silva Kaputikian (1919-2006). They had a son, the future sculptor Ara Shiraz. Shiraz and his second wife, Shushan, had seven children, including poet Sipan Shiraz (1967-1997).
        Shiraz, who had become a living legend, passed away in Yerevan on March 14, 1984. He was buried in the pantheon of Komitas Park, where many famous Armenians are buried.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013


Sleep, sleep away young child
Twist and turn in the dark -
Dream lightly on.
I relate our tale of woe, woe
in all it’s depth of saddening loss.
The madness so long endured
The waste of youth demanded
Mother’s grief handed down
Creeping of seasons past seasons.
Hush, Hush, Wake not……sleep, sleep.
Invaders came through the ages
Plundered, Ravaged, Destroyed.
On and on cross centuries
come screams of nothingness -
Blowing o’er our trampled lives.
Then the greatest trial of all –
Words fail me to describe the horror
So, so many lost in that long, long march -
Of brutal life or death.
We mouth the past in our native tongue
Let loose yearnings for those now gone
We, the flickering emblems of our race
Hold fast our culture, long,
in music, words and dance.
Pummeled, Squashed again yet again
Near to obliteration
Still, always, some sparks…a glow -
Where burns the hope.
Devastated, Broken,  Rebuilt,  Smashed
Countless times,  Empire after Empire
Must we …To what end -
Bent in servitude.
Beyond reason
I exist
Lost in red haze of blood and rage
Blinded by tears
This orgy of humanity
History I tread, ours and others
To thrive on knowing
We are not alone –
The scythe’s edge dulls.
Hark the deafening sighs, who’s listening.
Walk the villages of tears, who’s weeping.
I sing you words of ours
that caress our ways.
Now is my piece of happiness
recalling greater days -
As you grow in slumber.
This great treasure of lore,
though laced with strife
I pass on
To flood your tranquil mind.
Torrents of thoughts
on our people’s strength
That conquers all –
Now you slowly stir.
My songs echoing
Through your dreams
I try to rise, rise up.
To you I will
Many a bright dawning day –
This time is yours my child.
Armen Ghazaryan (Violinist), Frank J Cunningham (Poet) & Robert Behrman (Piano) performing Cunningham’s poem “Lullaby” written for Aram Khachaturian’s Ballet “Gayane”

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Birth of Taniel Varoujan (April 20, 1884)

Taniel Chibukkiarian was born in the village of Perknik, in the vilayet of Sepastia. After attending the local school, in 1896 he went to Constantinople, where he attended one of the schools of the Mekhitarist Congregation of Venice. He then continued his education at the Moorat-Raphaelian school of Venice from 1902-1905. In 1905 he entered the University of Ghent, in Belgium, where he followed courses in literature, sociology, and economics. He adopted the surname Varoujan (from an Armenian word that means "male dove") when he started to publish his poems. In 1906 he published his first volume of poetry, Shivers, followed the next year by a booklet that contained a long poem, The Massacre. He graduated in 1909 and returned to the Ottoman Empire. The same year he published a new volume, Heart of the Race, which established him as a poet.
       Returning to Sepastia, he became a teacher between 1909 and 1912. In 1910 he married his student, Araksi Tashjian, vanquishing the opposition of her father. In 1912 they moved to Constantinople, where he became the principal of the St. Gregory the Illuminator School until his deportation in April 1915.
       He published a new and even more powerful collection of poetry, Pagan Songs, in 1912. In late 1913 he joined forces with four young writers, Kostan Zarian (1885-1969), Hagop Oshagan (1883-1948), Kegham Parseghian (1883-1915), and Aharon Dadourian (1888-1965), to create the group "Mehyan." They issued a manifesto that called for the renovation of Armenian literature and language, and founded a short-lived but important monthly journal, Mehyan, that published seven issues (January-July 1914). Due to aesthetic divergences, Varoujan left the group after the third issue (March 1914).
        The poet had three children: Veronica, Armen, and Haig. His wife was pregnant with their third child, when Varoujan was included in the Turkish black list and arrested on the night of April 23-24, 1915, by the police with hundreds of Armenian intellectuals and leaders. He was deported to Changr (Chankiri) together with many of his colleagues, where they lived in a sort of internal exile for the next two months. On August 26, 1915, along with his friend, the poet and physician Rupen Sevag (Chilingirian, 1885-1915), and three other Armenians, they were taken to Kalayjek. On the road, following a previous plan, a group of Turkish chetes (irregular soldiers) attacked the carriage that transported them. They were forced to take their clothes out, and then savagely assassinated. The same day, Varoujan's son, Haig, was born in Constantinople.
       The poet's papers had been confiscated at the time of his arrest. In 1921 his wife Araksi was able to recover, after paying a hefty bribe, his unfinished last book, The Song of the Bread, which was published the same year in Constantinople.
        After his death, Varoujan's works were published in no less than thirty editions over the past nine decades. Collections of his poetry have been also published in French and Italian. His daughter Veronica Safrasian (1910-2009) lived for many years in New York, while his younger son Haig (1915-2002) passed away in Fresno.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Armenia Hosts an International Poetry Festival

Yerevan hosted its first International Poetry Festival. Over 50 notable foreign poets from 30 countries attended the festival, and an anthology of 50 poets was published in Armenian and English.

The Union of Writers invited each poet to plant a tree to make the Poetry Square. The union also marked the 500th anniversary of book-printing in Armenia.

As reported by the Armenian Diocese in New York City:

This week at Holy Etchmiadzin, His Holiness Karekin II, the Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians, received the participants of the International Poetry Festival taking place in Armenia. His Holiness offered his pontifical blessings and best wishes to the visitors, and encouraged them to use their God-given talents to foster peace and love in the world.

The poetry festival, organized by Levon Ananyan, president of Armenia’s Writers Union, drew poets and writers from 30 countries for a week of readings and workshops. As part of the program, participants also planted acacia trees in a new poetry park in Yerevan.

The festival was organized in the spirit of last year’s celebration of Yerevan as the UNESCO World Book Capital.

New Spanish book of Armenian poetry

Un idioma también es un incendio (Alción editora - Activo Puente). 

We are happy to announce the publication of this book edited by our colleague Ana Arzoumanian. The book will be presented in Argentina on April 22, 2013.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

I Left My Shoes In Istanbul (film trailer)

I Left My Shoes in Istanbul,” a documentary film by Beirut-based writer and director Nigol Bezjian, was screened at the Istanbul Independent Film Festival in February. The film chronicles the journey of a Lebanese-born Armenian poet through his first visit to the city, and the discovery of his cultural roots. It first premiered at the Golden Apricot Film Festival in Yerevan last summer, and finally made its way to the titular city of Istanbul. 

Thursday, April 11, 2013

20 poetas de Armenia (UBA)

El 22 de abril a las 19.30 horas en el Salón Azul de la Facultad de Derecho, UBA, 20 poetas de Armenia

La caída de la Unión Soviética, la Tercer República de Armenia, la guerra de Nagorno Karabagh.
La violencia, la melancolía, la rabia, la desintegración, el amor.

Por primera vez el Cáucaso Sur en Latinoamérica.

20 poetas de la Armenia de hoy traducidos al castellano.

Imágenes integradas 1

Tatul Sonentz: Letter to Hovsep

When beheaded
on your native soil
on a bright April day
by those with dark souls
whose brood still do worship
gray wolves on moonlit nights
you were a much younger man
than my sons–your own grandsons
whose blood was spilled that day
long before they were born…
That – we’re told – is our yesterday
that never was or ever happened
to be banished from memory 
and to be interred in haste
with your severed head
in the name of today
as the pack of gray wolves
howls a lewd dirge of sublime
rapture and joy at the final burial
of all recall of their forebear’s crime…
      * * *
Allow me to call you Hovsep
since I am your elder now
and in my mind you are
and will forever be
the young father
of my mother
loving husband
of my grandmother…
Hovsep--my faceless
headless silent forebear          
forever spouse and parent
yet a mute and blind memory
    …of a lost grandfather.
------------Tatul Sonentz

Monday, April 01, 2013

Cheri Babajian: Miles of Dirt and Sand

Forced across miles of dirt and sand
Singed not only the soles of their feet on the land,
But sent shock waves of pain deep into the souls
Of men, women and children, forced into roles
That none had chosen but at gun point coerced,
Pushed along in terror, parched in thirst,
Watched in horror as loved ones no longer stand
From murderers’ hands or the stark stinging sand.
Parents screamed as their children collapsed,
And cried out in desperation unable to grasp
That Hell had opened up right at their feet
In the faces of Turkish soldiers intent on defeat
Of the Armenian people…a true genocide.
While a generation of youth and intellectuals died
For no other reason than their ethnicity
Hatred so vile—no empathy!
Scientists, scholars, poets and more
Captured, tortured-- wiped out at the core.
The nightmare returns as I sleep in my bed
A comfortable place where I lay my head
In soft and warm bedding until the scene comes again
As I see my tribe bleeding …I see Turkish sin.
I feel myself walking across hot desert sands
Parched, weak and frail, it is hard to stand.
I am angry with every gasp of air that I breathe
And feel protective of all of my brethren I see.
As I choke on the dust from the dirt and debris
I wonder why no one has set my people free.
I see beautiful children slaughtered by grown men.
Innocent young ones unable to defend
Themselves, as their parents have already died
On the blood soaked trail of deceit and lies.
I gasp for air as my lungs search for more
And awaken confused and away from the horror.
Stand up and demand that the truth will be known!
All nations, all people must take hold and own
Their past, their present and their future too.
No immunity from truth, for me or for you.

Copyright Cheri Babajian 2013. This poem appears on APP with kind permission of the poet.