Armenian News Network / Groong
July 12, 2004
Recently my husband and I returned from a two-week visit to Armenia. Every time that we visit, we encounter new people, places, events. On this trip I had a personal mission to visit as many of the Armenian authors' House Museums as our schedule would allow as I am presently writing monthly installments about Armenian authors for the St. Leon Armenian Church newsletter (Lradoo) at the request of Father Diran Bohajian. I was successful in visiting in Yerevan - Isahakyan, Toumanian and Demirjian's House Museums and Stepan Zoryan's House Museum in Vanadzor. It was Aksel Bakuntz' House Museum in Goris, however, that captivated me - a sight that is not so easily accessible and not a usual stop for first-time tours to Armenia. It is noteworthy that the Armenian people revere their writers by placing their images on their currency while other nations normally place their presidents, statesmen or sovereigns.By Ruth Bedevian
The question was recently asked, `After visiting Armenia eight times, haven't you seen everything?' The following narrative depicts the unfolding discoveries one is blessed to experience as the Land gently and patiently beckons its missing children.
He was a tall, handsome introspective young man born into an impoverished family, but thanks to the local townspeople who contributed (from their own meager earnings) towards his education, he went to the prestigious Gevorkian Seminary of Etchmiadzin and became accomplished in both Classical and Modern Armenian. He loved to write short stories about what he knew best - the simple peasants and village life from which he was spawn. He was about to embark upon writing his first epic novel when the authorities under Stalinist rule arrested him, subjected him to a mock trial and executed him. Among the trumped-up charges against him was treason. He was 37 years old in 1936 and was almost erased from the face of this earth, the awareness of his people, albeit the rest of the world! Today Aksel Bakuntz is treasured for his integrity and as an artist of the highest caliber who bravely and confidently wrote with compassion and artistry about his part of the Armenian soil and soul. Among his illustrious contemporaries are Yeghishe Charentz, Mkritch Armen, Gourgen Mahari, Zabel Yessayan, Vahan Totovents; but Bakountz remains in a class by himself. (Charentz, Yessayan and Totovents suffered a similar fate, but Armen and Mahari survived the labor camps.) After Stalin died in 1953, little by little the name of Aksel Bakuntz and his work began to emerge.
It is to the credit of the people of Goris that this native son is remembered and honored today. A visit to his home is a worthwhile trip along the way to the famous monastery of Datev. Recently this writer made that visit and was privileged to meet Kajik Mikaelian, Director of the Aksel House Museum in Goris. This gentleman has devoted much of his lifetime to collecting whatever Spartan artifacts have been salvaged from the belongings of Aksel Bakuntz. When Bakuntz was arrested, the police destroyed all his writing, memorabilia and notes - everything! Yet, Mr. Mikaelian has managed to gather oral history and joyfully shares the details. Bakuntz volunteered as a soldier and fought in the battles of Erzurum, Kars and Sardarabad. Mikaelian related that Bakuntz was one of four brothers (the brothers were also murdered by the authorities). A charming cottage with a peaceful garden greets the visitor upon entering the door to the stoned wall. A simple table and chairs situated among the plants and shrubs is where Mr. Mikaelian told us that Bakuntz enjoyed resting, admiring nature and meditating. An agronomist, [He graduated from Kharkov Agronomical Institute in the Ukraine in 1923.] Bakuntz had planted flowers that local folk said would never grow in the Goris climate, but Mr. Mikaelian relates with a proud smile that Bakuntz expertly and confidently tended his plantings and the foliage is rich and abundant. A beautiful, tall yellow rose bush bordered the courtyard on one side.
Inside the house hung a portrait of the writer's mother. The artist had a hard time persuading the mother to sit for the painting because her modesty was such that she refused to be so honored. He prevailed and posterity is fortunate. The artist - Martiros Sarian - was a family friend. Mr. Mikaelian related many anecdotes which helped the guests to feel the warmth of this home and the upbringing of this man who was cut down in the summer of his life and whose people were deprived of the blossoming fullness of his talent. Upon leaving Mashtots Street, our driver took us through the streets of this small, quaint town where the people speak their own distinct dialect of Eastern Armenian. In one part, we came to a large statue of Bakuntz which the townspeople have erected. Indeed, one cannot visit Goris without feeling the presence of this beloved, worthy native son.
Bakuntz left Goris to live and work in Yerevan in 1926. Near the corner of Nalbandian and Toumanian Streets there is a shattered building. The walls are down and the rooms exposed on one side. A monument looms in front of it. It says briefly that the heart of Aksel Bakuntz `throbbed' inside this dwelling where he lived and worked during his years in Yerevan.
History pays homage to Bakuntz as a leading writer in Communist times that began the struggle against the Party that pressured writers to make literature an instrument to promote its propaganda. A passage from Hovnatan March written in 1927 reveals the purity of Bakuntz' creed and his brave unwavering stand. His words prove prophetic thirteen years since the fall of the Soviet Union when names of streets and cities are being restored to their origins - such as Gumryi, Vanadzor, Mashtots, etc.
`Revolution?..Socialism?...Driver, drive on. Hovnatan March considers all that to be a passing phenomenon, a period when history is suffering from a flu, so to speak, a temporary ailment, after which, all the dead cities will come to life again from under the ashes, as long as there are still people in this world like Hovnatan March, who will burst into tears as soon as they hear the word Armenia, and who embrace this ideal as an alcoholic would grab his last bottle of brandy.' Aksel Bakuntz (Source: ARARAT Winter Issue 1979 - `The Importance of Bakuntz' by Ara Baliozian)
Some other works by Bakuntz are: `Letters from the Provinces' - `Dark Valley' (Mtnadzor) - 1927; `The Sower of the Black Furrows' (Sev Tzleri Sermnatzane - 1933; `Rain' - 1935; `The Walnut Trees of Brotherhood' - 1936. `Lar-Markar', `This is Javo Speaking From Her Flat,' `The Red Rock' (Karmrakar (1929), `The Alpine Violet,' `The Letter to the King of Russia.'
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