Redistribution of Groong articles, such as this one, to any other
media, including but not limited to other mailing lists and Usenet
bulletin boards, is strictly prohibited without prior written
consent from Groong's Administrator.
© Copyright 2001 Armenian News Network/Groong. All Rights Reserved.
Worth a read Neither masterpiece nor particularly outstanding, yet none will bore the lover of literature. Reading them, one will always find something of value... Armenian News Network / Groong February 23, 2001 By Eddie Arnavoudian 1. A study of individual self-hatred Time and circumstance often bury valuable works of literature that, even in translation, retain a capacity to satisfy and inspire through their illuminating grasp of aspects of human experience. 'The Natural Son', (Selected Works, 1992, Antelias, Lebanon) a short novel by Yeroukhan (Yervant Srmakeshkhanlian, 1870-1915), first published in 1913, is a telling instance. Reading it one cannot but think that, had he lived beyond his brief 45 years, a few masterpieces may have graced the shelves of many a literature lovers' library. The novel's concerns are as contemporary as ever. In less than 100 pages, Yeroukhan recreates the painful experience of an individual, who, even while enjoying the material comforts of life, is not at ease with himself, cannot cope with his past and, terrified of the social disgrace this past threatens to bring upon him, suffers a devastating personal crisis. As a portrait of an individual whose shattered self-confidence and self-esteem leads him to question his very reason for living, it is convincing. An individual's self-doubt and self-hatred, and the resulting pyschological drama as he struggles to recover himself, is conveyed with remarkable force. Benjamin Parseghian is the son of a wealthy pre-1915 Istanbul-based Armenian family. Like many of his contemporary male youth he is sent to Paris for his education, where he also lives a dissolute and debauched night-life. But on returning and settling in Istanbul as a respectable, married businessman his youthful sexual adventures return to haunt him. Malvine, his wife, desperately wants children. But Benjamin is infertile. While in Paris he had fallen victim to venereal disease. His relations with his wife are thus thrown into crisis. Additionally, he lives in a society where a man's worth, indeed his very manhood is diminished by the failure to father children. Thus begin the psychological strains and stresses, the self-doubt and loss of self-esteem which will eventually break Benjamin's spirit and even his will to live. To escape social embarrassment and personal humiliation Benjamin desperately seeks medical advice. He even returns to Paris, spending vast sums in an effort to restore his fertility. A brief period of relief, an unbelievable second chance in life, seems to appear with his wife's sudden and unexpected pregnancy and the birth of a child. But it is a false hope, one which only accelerates and accentuates his psychological collapse. Desperate for a child Malvine has an affair with Vahe, a family friend, and becomes pregnant by him. As the child, Aram, grows Benjiamin's world is once again shattered by the slow and traumatic realisation that Aram is not in fact his own natural son. The burden of pain is made heavier by his wife's infidelity. His inner hell now burns fiercer than ever. The cycle of crisis begins anew and leads him to an almost inevitable end: suicide. With wonderfully clear and inventive prose Yeroukhan takes us into the centre of a lonely nightmare as Benjamin's sense of social rejection and personal worthlessness overwhelms him. This crisis he must suffer alone. He feels too shamed to reveal the truth of his condition either to his wife or wider family. In Parisian society youthful dissolution may not have led to such a traumatic personal crisis in later life. In the morally conservative world of Armenian Istanbul, wonderfully underlilned by Ghiragos, the family servant from the provincial town of Van, a crisis was inevitable. Benjamin has not the wherewithal or the strength to defy and ignore the strictures of society's moral codes. And for his misdemeanours society eventually, so to speak, revenged itself upon him by forcing him to suicide. Some have argued that the suicide is an artificial, abrupt and unsatisfactory termination to the story. It does not really matter. In a work of substance an arguable conclusion does not detract from the human experience which it so effectively brings to life. 2. Ani - that great monument to Armenian and human civilisation Leo, a great Armenian historian (Arakel Babakhanian, 1860-1932) was a prolific writer and somewhat of a specialist in virtually every subject he turned his brilliant mind to whether it was literature, politics, linguistics, architecture or archaeology. Leo's exciting travelogue 'Ani' was written shortly after a visit to the ruins of this magnificent medieval Armenian city. It is an adventure into a dark and unknown world that is page by page illuminated by Leo's loving portrayal of the city's past, by his evident passion for the welfare of the people, by his wide erudition, his poetic imagination and his remarkably limpid, fluent and crisp Armenian. No visitor was able to pass through the remains of this ruined grandeur without being mesmerised by its sumptuous beauty, by the magical quality of its architecture. Despite centuries of destruction and disrepair, what remains, remains as fresh and vivid as if it had been erected but yesterday. What remains, even though only the tiniest proportion of what was, remains testimony to greatness, to culture and to beauty. Leo excites us with his evocation of Ani's historical fortunes, citing foreign visitors and their assessments of the city's glorious past and its architectural marvels. His subsequent account of his own impressions, peppered with an amazing quantity of quality historical data, is gripping and educative reading. Admittedly Leo's eagerness to pile on the detail sometimes buries the essential thread of the story right up to the point of exasperation. But readers who persevere will not will be recompensed profitably! The descriptions of the natural environment as Leo travelled to the city are quite splendid. The monumental and imposing Arakadz and Massis and the lush but overpowering natural environment of Lori come to life in our imagination. Yet as he travels through scenes of awesome natural beauty he cannot help, with heartfelt pain, from noting the scenes exposing the most appalling and degrading poverty and ignorance in which the Armenian people then lived. But, Leo comments, not far away the ruins of Ani stand witness to the peoples' capacity for civilisation and culture. For Leo, as for any self-respecting intellectual, historian, artist or philosopher, the revival of knowledge about Ani does not serve mere academic ends. It is no disinterested archaeological excavation of the past. Ani may lie in ruins, populated now by bandits and scorpions. But its legacy must be transformed into a living inspiration to the present. Knowledge of its achievements must be put to the service of eliminating that false and slavish consciousness that Armenians are by nature essentially backward, passive, cowardly, uncultured and ignorant. Ani can inspire pride, it can inspire the people raise themselves and leave behind the centuries of backwardness and ignorance. Despite the importance of this monument for Armenian history, the corrupt elite of the time (aped to precision by the corrupt elite of today) refused to finance and/or sponsor urgently needed preservation work on what remained. Leo is ruthless in his denunciation of this elite who despite fine words, a thousand speeches and mountains of sentimental poetry refused to advance funds to help preserve the ruins. Now the city lies under Turkish state control and for decades has been systematically destroyed. But it appears that some measures to preserve it are now being taken. It can be a tourist attraction to earn Turkey some foreign exchange. But the Turkish authorities are determined in any publicity about Ani to expunge any reference to its Armenian heritage. ------------------------------------------------------------------- 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.