Vaghtang Ananian - for peace and harmony between humanity and the natural world
Armenian News Network / Groong
November 22, 2021
By Eddie Arnavoudian
The very best of Vaghtang Ananian’s (1905-1980) short stories about the natural world (in Selected Works - 4 Volumes, 1984, Yerevan), about animal life and the bonds between nature, beast, and humanity, are genuinely exhilarating. They help make one particularly conscious of the disaster we humans are inflicting on nature in this, the 21st century. Ananian is a charming and captivating raconteur who focuses on life in the villages, the hills, mountains and valleys of the early Soviet Armenian era and the years immediately preceding it, particularly in the northern Lori and Dilijan regions. His stories read like pleas to our age, pleas for harmony between humanity and the environment that is the foundation and condition of human existence.
Beautiful and illuminating tales humanize nature and animals. Or more accurately put, naturalize human life and human experience today so comprehensively alienated from its natural foundation. Observant, detailed descriptions and narrative capture the existential vitality, the movement and life force of the natural and animal world revealing much that we share in common with them as living beings. We instantly identify with the world of nature even at its tiniest, all vividly evoked with deep knowledge and love.
Ananian’s animals, be they his dogs, the cattle he and his friends tend to, the trout that he hunts, but also protects and countless other animals, all appear as the living and feeling beings they are and with whom we coexist in nature. Dramatic short story adventures unravel truths that bind men, women and beast and their natural habitat into an embracing inter-dependent whole. Tales, many borne of personal experience, summon the life-giving forces of nature. Rain for example appears as such a giver, a source and foundation for life, indeed a mother or father of humanity fertilizing the land that produces our wheat.
But Ananian is no romantic, no sentimentalist. Rain comes both as a benefactor and a possible killer too as he tells of how exposure when a baby nearly killed him. Further while nature makes no class distinctions, its impact on men and women is frequently determined by one’s class position in society. All is told in a single image of the leaking, stitched together tents of the poor besides the better off’s grand palatial ones, the former guarded by mangy, starving dogs with hardly the energy to bark and the ferocious menace of the well-heeled neighbor’s well-fed beasts.
In Ananian’s vast output one could look for and find many an artistic flaws, jarring moments, forced moralizing, baseless, unscientific claims about human-animal solidarity, inauthentic echoing of enforced official Soviet era ideology and aesthetics. But at his best he rises above all this to leave us a legacy that draws attention not only to the wondrous beauty of nature and beast but alerts us also to the complex unity of human, beast and nature, a unity that is being destroyed by our modern profit driven social order wreaking havoc upon the foundations of all life, human and natural.
As a concluding aside, as the Soviet era steadily recedes into history we should bear in mind that it produced much literature such as Ananian’s that enriched Armenian and global culture. Whatever one’s judgement of the Soviet era, this literature and much else too one can add, deserves recovery, recalling and attention.
Eddie Arnavoudian holds degrees in history and politics from Manchester, England, and is ANN/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.