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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