Armenian News Network / Groong
July 15, 2004
By Ruth Bedevian
Usually it is very hot and dry in Armenia during the month of July in Yerevan, Armenia. However, it rained heavily throughout this one particular day during my last visit. My friend Gohar had a morning to spend with me before she met her students to teach English lessons. She and I sported our umbrellas and boldly walked up Abovian Street from Hotel Armenia. We reached our destination - 29 Abovian Street - where together for one hour we mused over the life of a man who had lived and worked at that address in what is today known as the Derenik Demirdjian House Museum.
A contemporary with Avetik Isahakian, Demirdjian was born in Akhalkalaki. Georgia. His early education took place in local schools before he entered the Gevorkian Seminary of Etchmiadzin in 1892. One of his teachers was Hovhannes Hovhanessian, a prominent writer. Later he attended the Nersesian School in Tbilisi and ultimately the University of Geneva. He was artistically multi-talented and in 1903 he studied violin in Moscow, continuing when he went to Geneva. During his time in Tbilisi, he worked for and published in the Armenian Socialist Journal `Murch' (Hammer). He was a member of a literary circle known as `Vernatun' (Upper Room) whose meetings first took place in 1902 at the home of the revered poet/writer Hovhannes Toumanyan. `Vernatun' initially had five writers in the group: Toumanyan, Isahakyan, Levon Shant, Nikol Aghbalian and Demirdjian. The group agreed to consider Ghazaros Aghayan as the sixth member and as its patriarch. The meetings continued regularly according to Avetik Isahakyan's memoirs. By 1907-1908 the group slowly disbanded when its members left Tbilisi to go abroad. In some `Vernatun' group photographs displayed in other House Museums other individuals appear. Komitas and Vrtanes Papazyan are seen as well as renowned painters. These individuals were occasional visitors. Some of them either claimed or were considered to be members of the group.
By 1925 Demirdjian settled in Yerevan and by 1927 he rose to a prominent position as President of the Soviet Armenian Writers' Union. These are the basic facts of his life.
However, a visit to this modest museum introduces one to the man behind the `basic facts' that an encyclopedia can relate. The photos that decorate the walls of this modest apartment which served as his home and workplace, reveal the intimacy of his family relationships and friendships. In one section of photos there is a snapshot of Demirdjian enjoying a picnic with Hovhannes Toumanian in Dsegh, Toumanian's boyhood village home in the Lori Region. Another photo depicted the Nersisian School in Tbilisi where Dermirdjian was a student. It was one of three prestigious Armenian educational institutions in the nineteenth century that left an indelible mark on generations of Armenian intelligentsia. The other two were Aghababyan in Astrakhan [established in 1810, located southeast from Moscow in the delta of the Volga River) and the Lazarian Institute in Moscow (established in 1815).
Demirdjian revered his mother and many of her belongings can be seen here in display cases. According to the young docent, he was a fastidious man. His dining room table was set as though he were expected to arrive for his noonday meal. A napkin was folded in the fashion which he had seen somewhere and admired. We were privileged to see and even touch the desk at which he wrote his most famous work, Vartanank. Most probably he wrote this by hand as we saw no typewriter. It was during World War II that Stalin allowed writers in the Soviet Republics more leniency with `nationalistic' themes in order to bolster the morale of the people to fight against Nazi Germany. It is to Demirjdian's credit that he wrote Vartanank, this inspiring account of the spiritually victorious battle by the Armenians against the Persians in 451 AD. Vartanank proclaimed the national dignity and identity of the Armenian people. In this historical novel Demirdjian also extolled the sacred creed of the martyrdom of his people. Translations of Vartanank can be read in French, Russian and Georgian. He also left a legacy of children's literature which still provides popular reading in Armenia today. As recently as November 2003, Demirdjian's novella entitled, `The Book of Flowers' (Girk Dzaghkants), was made available in English translation. Of this story, Professor Kevork B. Bardakjian has written in A Reference Guide to Modern Armenian Literature, 1500-1920, (Detroit, Michigan, Wayne State University Press, 2000 page 218) that it is `...a synthesis of Demirdjian's views of the intellectual and artistic creativity of his people, a hymn to those often anonymous monks, creators of tradition, and to the touching ways in which such treasures were fostered and handed down to posterity.'
As my friend and I were leaving the coziness of this House Museum, the young docent pointed to the guest book, asking me to record my impressions. I flipped the pages to see if anyone else had written in English and there was one other. I mustered my courage and wrote: `I am filled with appreciation for the wealth of Armenian Literature that my brothers and sisters here in Hayastan have preserved and for the artifacts which have been saved and valued from the lives and times of these `Heroes of the Pen.' Abrik! (I managed to write `Abrik' in Armenian letters.) Typical, so very, very typical of the warmth and hospitality of our brothers and sisters in the homeland, the docent invited us to return soon again. The aura and the evidence of a life that was lived fully and to its natural end beckoned me and I made a promise to myself to return.
Ruth Bedevian recently visited many Armenian authors' House Museums around Armenia. She's writing monthly installments about Armenian authors for the St. Leon Armenian Church newsletter (Lradoo) at the request of Father Diran Bohajian.
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