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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
April 25, 2000

By Eddie Arnavoudian

				  1

`The Cracked Miniature' (168pp, 1987, 2nd edition, USA)  by
contemporary poet and prose writer Vehanoush Tekyan is an impressive
collection of stories wrought from the horrors of the civil war in
Lebanon. Written in the midst of raging battles, exploding bombs and
sniper gunfire, these stories feature the lives of Lebanese Arabs,
Palestinians and Armenians, combatants and non-combatants, as they are
brutalised by the experience of war. With harsh, jagged prose Tekyan
pierces the anodyne slogans, the dry and lifeless news headlines and
party-ideological constructs that often concealed the human cost of
the conflict.

The emotional, psychological and physical destruction of war is
precisely and movingly communicated. No romantic glorification of war
can survive Tekyan's account of the pain of maimed and dismembered
combatants writhing in agony as they die a wretched lonely death, or
the story of young Hamo, victim to murderous snipers, or that of
Frederick Bashara, a gentle millionaire gunned to death as he stops to
help someone wounded in a street.

A real masterpiece is the `Essence', the briefest of minatures, a mere
two and a half pages. Yet it is an unforgettable image of a Palestinian
woman Suheylan, tortured and physically broken by Zionist jailers yet
still possessed of an indomitable human spirit, courage, conviction
and hope. Tekyan's scope is wide, embracing experiences from all walks
and classes of Lebanese life. She thus succeeds in presenting an
overall picture of the human, social and physical disintegration of
the country.

An aspect of the Armenian experience is Vahe's story: a portrait of
the crisis of national identity experienced by many Armenians
evacuating the Lebanon for the USA. Caught in a war they do not
consider their own many Armenians on departing to the USA suddenly
realise that this breach with Lebanon will also destroy that sense of
Armenian identity they had taken so much for granted. They are gripped
by remorse and misgiving. But nothing can stem the flight. For the
sake of life and the future they must escape the relentless pounding
of bombs and mortars and the ever growing threat of hunger and even
starvation.

The volume is particularly remarkable in its depiction of the
powerlessness and despair felt by the non-combatant civilian
population. The war impresses itself on them as a raging machine,
destructive, criminal, unrelenting. But it is beyond any determination
by them. There is a powerful truth to this perception, a recognition
of the different experiences of civilian and soldier. But it is not
yet the whole truth, for frequently these spheres overlap. Even within
Tekyan's stories we see that many of the combatants, some engaged with
idealistic hopes for a better future, are the sons and daughters of
the civilian population. But they too die horrible, tortured deaths.

Tekyan's partial perception of the war determines another absence
worth noting: the failure to register, alongside the individual
experience, the social and political character of the conflict. For
the war, however horrific and eventually brutalising, was a political
conflict between the entrenched privilege of the Maronite minority and
the just demands of the Muslim majority. Reading these stories it is
virtually impossible to perceive the desperation of the Muslim
Lebanese in the face of an intransigent Phalange refusal to reform.
This unmentioned truth stands as silent refutation of suggestions
scattered throughout the volume that the war could have been or should
have been resolved by reasoned discussion between contending parties.

Nevertheless these moving reconstructions of scenes from the Lebanese
civil war are bitter reminders that all war is brutalising and
dehumanising. That sometimes there is no other road but war does not
detract from its horrors.  To be convinced of this read Tekyan's book.

                              * * * * *

				  2

`An Intimate Portrait of Hagop Baronian' (Marmara, 1965, 81pp,
Istanbul) written back in 1965 by Robber Haddejian, an Istanbul-based
prolific Armenian writer and newspaper editor remains eminently
readable 35 years on.  Baronian is our greatest satirist, yet we
possess hardly any biographical material on him; virtually nothing in
the form of personal memoirs, letters or reminiscences.  In an attempt
to fill this void Robber Haddejian distils an `intimate portrait' from
Baronian's enormous journalistic, literary and artistic output.

The attempt is successful. Baronian emerges in his real stature - a
giant among mediocrities. Similar in many respects to Khatchadour
Appovian or Mikael Nalpantian, Baronian was a staunch supporter of the
Armenian national revival from the mid-1850s onwards. He did not
posses Nalpantian's polished philosophic and theoretical outlook, but
was nevertheless a man of the same mettle: an uncompromising and
dogged critic of all social hypocrisy, evil, corruption and
immorality. For this, like his two other compatriots from the east, he
was persecuted, reduced to poverty, starved and driven to an early
death by the Armenian establishment.

Haddejian clearly loves his subject and quotes freely and fully to
reveal a man who had no time for the romantic inanities of his
age. Instead of producing idealised and romanticised images of our
history Baronian urged the Armenian intelligentsia to dedicate itself
to the practical improvement of the lives of the people. To this end
he campaigned in support of a modern written Armenian, cleansed of
unnecessary foreign imports, as an instrument of communication with
the ordinary people.

Baronian was vitriolic and ruthless in his satire, sparing nothing and
no one whom he judged to be damaging to the national interest. The
corrupt and venal clergy and the greedy moneyed class were the main
and constant targets of his acerbic pen. But so too were those
Armenian `parliamentarians' and `community leaders' who did nothing
but posture and that for no other reason than to secure public
applause. He was scathing in his criticism of the fawning and ignorant
Armenian intelligentsia and scorned those who expected European powers
to resolve the problems facing the Armenian people in the Ottoman
empire. Needless to say the ailments Baronian so relentlessly
castigated infect social life througout the world to this day.
 
Despite his great admiration for Baronian, Haddejian paints his
portrait `warts and all'. He does not shirk from commenting critically
on Baronian's one great weakness: his refusal to support equality for
women. Haddejian reveals that that despite Baronian's timely attacks
on the abuse of cosmetics and the frippery of Armenian 'salon life',
he was bigoted and reactionary in his defence of the idea that a
woman's place was in the home as a servant to the husband.

With this 'intimate portrait' Haddejian has produced one of the best
and most lasting introductions to Baronian and his work. Get hold of
it if you can.
 
                              * * * * *

				  3

`Pages from Medieval Armenian Prose' edited with an introduction by
G. Melik-Ohanchanian is a wonderful companion volume to Assadour
Mnatsaganian's `Medieval Armenian Folk Poetry' (see Worth a Read March
2000).  Two hundred and fifty pages of stories, fables and apocryphal
religious anecdotes culled from Armenian language manuscripts from the
14th to the 17th centuries reveal aspects of popular sentiment,
morality and psychology which find no reflection in the more august
literary works produced by Armenian monasteries who dominated
intellectual life during these centuries.

Though drawn from manuscripts from the 14th century onwards some of
these tales are echoes from even earlier times, being the first
written record of word of mouth inheritances from generations gone
by. Others are of foreign origin, but so modified to Armenian
circumstance that it is almost impossible, and indeed irrelevant, to
detect their source. Despite the plebeian nature of the stories they
are written with some artistic skill: vibrant with sharp dialogue,
imagery, wit and humour. Interestingly a feature common to many is a
sarcastic assault on merchants and the clergy who are frequently
depicted as hypocrites and crooks.


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Eddie Arnavoudian holds degrees in History and Politics from
Manchester, England. He has written on literary and political
matters for "Haratch" in Paris and "Nairi" in Beirut. His reviews
have also been published in "Open Letter" in Los Angeles.

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