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The Turkish poet and the Armenian - Nazim Hikmet and Missak Medzarents

Armenian News Network / Groong
May 20, 2002

By Eddie Arnavoudian


This year we celebrate the 100th anniversary of Nazim Hikmet's birth.
In none of the deserved tributes to this fine Turkish poet and
communist activist will there be even a passing comment on a
remarkable poetic affinity with the Armenian and essentially
apolitical poet Missak Medzarents. Alas, that the world, and the
Armenian world by and large as well, is ignorant of Medzarents' legacy.

Be that as it may, a juxtaposed reading of a few of their poems
reveals a common generosity of spirit, a common sense of human
solidarity and a remarkable parallel of poetic imagination and
technique.

In 'The Rain' Hikmet writes:

	'If I were a door
	I would open for the good and shut for the
	wicked
	If I were a window, a wide open window,
	without curtains,
	I would bring the city into my room
	if I were a word
	I would call out for the beautiful, the just,
	the true,
	if I were a word
	I would softly tell my love.'


As with Hikmet, in Missak Medzarents's string of gems entitled 'Ellai'
(Oh That I Were...) the poet and his person are transformed into a
harbour and a refuge where safety, justice, truth, comfort and love
meet all those who wander by. Medzarents' sentiment can be gleaned
from the following:

	'Oh that I were
	an inn
	on the path that crosses the field
	or at the foot of the mountain
	there to meet the (lone) traveller.'

In another, he writes:

	'Oh that I were the morning
	to flood light and warmth
	into dark and barren hovels.

	Oh that I were the morning
	that would give even a single spark from my fire
	to the frosted lanterns of gloomy spirits.'


The two poets were from different ages and differing nationalities,
and Nazim was only six when Missak died in 1908 at the age of 22.

Is there a common heritage from which each poet draws? Both writers
were from the same region of the world and could have tapped the same
rich vein of natural beauty and the undoubted osmosis of cultural
legacies.  The question is worth pondering.  But their affinity
perhaps also reaffirms that feature of the best of 20th century poetry
remarked on by John Berger in one tribute to Hikmet:

'Sometimes it seems to me that many of the greatest poems of the 20th
century - written by women as well as men - may be the most fraternal
ever written.  If so, this has nothing to do with political slogans.
It applies to Rilke who was apolitical, to Borges who was a
reactionary, and to Hikmet who was a life-long communist. Our century
was one of unprecedented massacres, yet the future it imagined (and
sometimes fought for) proposed fraternity. Very few earlier centuries
made such a proposal.'



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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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