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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
January 21, 2003

By Eddie Arnavoudian



Soviet Armenian literary critic Hrand Tamrazian, who died in 2001,
possessed a bold imagination informed by an unusually cultivated
aesthetic sensibility and a refined socio-historical vision. So his
commentaries on particular authors or literary periods are also
independent and passionate statements on the artistic and historical
controversies of his days. This short biography of poet Siamanto
(1879-1915) is a good example (another is Tamrazian's fine substantial
volume on Charentz).

Siamanto's poetry focused almost exclusively on the fortunes of the
Armenian peoples, and the Armenian national liberation movement of the
late 19th and early 20th centuries. Tamrazian's volume, therefore,
besides offering an evaluation of Siamanto as poet and artist, also
joins the 1960s Armenian-Soviet era debate that led to a re-evaluation
both of the Armenian liberation movement and of the writers who
supported it.

Despite claims, Siamanto's poetry is no gloomy and despairing echo of
suffering and oppression. It is on the contrary a call to resistance
and revolt. Even in poems that tell of suffering, Siamanto unerringly
holds up the mantle of hope fired by the conviction that the Armenian
people had the right to live with the same honour and dignity as
everyone else. Through extensive quotation Tamrazian effectively
repudiates gross charges of chauvinism and narrow nationalism levelled
against both Siamanto and the liberation movement whose voice he was.
Both were legitimate components, he argues, of a nascent global
anti-colonial and anti-imperialist movement striving for universal
rights of freedom and equality. Victims of 'the crimes of man against
man,' Armenians too had every right to 'create justice and seize
freedom forcibly.'

Writing of Siamanto's political activity Tamrazian comments on his
alleged disenchantment and subsequent breach with the ARF. He gives no
sources. This clearly unacceptable practice does not fortunately
affect the argument resting as it does on Siamanto's poetry not his
political activism.

When he entered the literary stage, Siamanto's poetry marked a radical
departure from trends prevailing in the late 1890s. Following the
1894-96 massacres and the intensification of Abdul Hamid II's
repression, a whole swathe of the Armenian intelligentsia fled
Istanbul. Many who remained were cowed. Writers and artists turned
inwards, retreating from society, rejecting it. Even the most
talented, men like Indra and Demirjibashian, were self-centred,
subjectivist and almost mystical in their extreme individualism.
Siamanto was a fresh voice - he addressed the experience of society,
of the Armenian nation and people then in a historic moment of

Though Tamrazian's assessment of Siamanto as artist has been
challenged, his socio-political and philosophical analysis of the
poetry is persuasive.  Siamanto was the most intensely and the most
exclusively political poet of his time. The destiny of the Armenian
people and the ideals of national liberation permeate his most inner
feelings. He expresses no emotion, sensibility, no pain or pleasures,
no desires or strivings that are not identified with the struggle. As
the personification of national resistance the poet declares 'my name
is Struggle and my end Victory.'

This concentrated national question does not diminish the force of his
work.  Armenian writers as a whole could not escape the dramatic
realities of Armenian life during those dramatic decades. With few
exceptions all major artists reflected upon the issue. Siamanto's own
concentrated delving into this experience produced a broad, colourful
and rousing canvas of a people's struggle in all its aspects and
vicissitudes - in hope as well as despair, in its resistance and
submission, in victory as well as in defeat, but most prominently in
its stubborn and determined ambition for freedom.

Tamrazian's volume also contains many illuminating observations on
issues of Armenian literature. Noting the impact of European literary
trends he adds that the imposing realities of the Armenian national
experience tempered European individualist influences and enabled
poets to create with a broader social and humanist vision. Thus the
'pagan poetry' of the time that eulogised classical Armenian nobility,
courage and strength reveals the influence of certain Nietzcheian
concepts. But as a function of the Armenian experience this 'paganism'
had a primarily social not individualist expression. Siamanto's
rejection of Christian submissiveness, for example, is animated by a
profoundly collective vision - the recovery of a nobly conceived
national past as inspiration to overcome present national subjugation:

    'Let me take your vengeance of 20 centuries for you today
    O Goddess Anahid. There I have thrown in the fires of your altar,
    Two poisonous wings of by destroyed wooden cross
    I beg You,
    ...give the Armenians the gift of an invincible, formidable God
    From your diamond womb, O Goddess, give birth to a formidable God for us.
    (Translation - Shant Norashkharian)

Siamanto's last volume, 'Hayreni Hraver' - 'Invitation from the
Homeland' calls for a return to historic Armenia as the only firm site
for national revival. Here he echoes themes considered by the best
intellectuals and writers of the time.  Besides rage and resistance,
the qualities of reason, intellect, thought and culture required to
accomplish the task are underlined in 'Mesrop Mashtots' - a lengthy
tribute to the gigantic cultural-intellectual accomplishment of the
founder of the Armenian alphabet.  This 'essentially secular homage'
to the Christian Mashtots praises not his Christian faith but his
reason. Discussing these latter works Tamrazian claims that in
underlining the role of reason and culture Siamanto demoted that of
militant struggle and insurrection. Was Siamanto reflecting the
widespread illusions that followed the 1908 Young Turk's
Constitutional Revolution? This, unfortunately, Tamrazian does not
discuss. Yet a discussion of the influence of the post 1908 moods on
Armenian literature may yield some valuable insights.

Siamanto was unable to accomplish the vast project of work he had set
himself. In 1915 he like many another intellectual of the time
believed that his arrest was a mistake shortly to be corrected. The
poet of national liberation was murdered as the nation itself was
uprooted from its historic homeland.



Dr. Yeghig Jerjerian's pamphlet 'Pan-Turanism' (Beirut, Lebanon -
apologies for lack of date and for the possibly incorrect recording of
the author's name. I have at hand only my notes) is useful educational
introduction to the ideology, history and political ambitions of the
phenomenon of Pan-Turanism, better known as Pan-Turkism. It offers
some important insights revealing the inescapably reactionary and
anti-democratic nature of what was to become the quintessential form
of modern chauvinist Turkish nationalism.

Dr. Jerjerian describes aspects of the mythology behind this grandiose
imperialist ideological project to unify all Turkic speaking peoples
into a single state. Turan as the name for Turkic peoples has an
ancient origin. In mythology, Turan is one of three brothers who are
the fathers of all humanity. Firdusi refers to them in his poetry and
the term also appears in Arabic literature. But whatever the mythology,
Turkic speaking national groups, either through conquest or emigration,
spread across a vast terrain from the East Mediterranean to Siberia
and in modern times were substantially contained within the Tsarist
and Ottoman empires. It was within these imperial borders that the
nationalist ideology of Pan-Turkism, first emerged.

The political division of Turkic speaking peoples was to determine
Pan-Turanism's initially dual form. In Tsarist Russia it emerged in
opposition to severe Tsarist national oppression and so became
widespread and popular producing an important political and cultural
tradition with centres in Baku amongst other places. Yet
Pan-Turanism's anti-Tsarist form was from the very outset marked by a
profoundly reactionary axis. It posited the oppressive and decaying
Ottoman Empire as the agent for the liberation of the Turkish
people. Reliance on another brutal, colonial, oppressor state for
one's own liberation could not but bury the possible progressive or
democratic impulses behind any anti-Tsarist national movement.

This becomes clear in Pan-Turanism's Ottoman manifestation. Unlike in
Tsarist Russia, in the Ottoman Empire Pan-Turanism was not based on
any sentiment of opposition to national oppression. Quite the
contrary. From the mid-19th century onwards its ideologues began to
vigorously propagate a cult of Turkish uniqueness and superiority. As
a new Turkish elite attempted to halt the further collapse of the
empire it deployed Pan-Turanism as a supremacist and exclusivist
ideological instrument against the democratic aspirations of oppressed
nationalities within the Ottoman Empire. Initially however the Turkish
elite did not favour Pan-Turanism. Given the weight of Islam within
the empire Pan-Islamism was deemed a more effective cement against
further internal challenge or Russian and Western imperialist
intervention.  However the rise of Arab nationalism and the cessation
of Bulgaria and Albania, both with substantial Muslim populations,
changed this. With the Young Turks, chauvinist and reactionary Turkish
nationalism began to take precedence in the business of keeping the
empire alive.

As the Ottoman Empire was steadily expelled from Europe Pan-Turanist
adherents proposed a new empire-building project - this time eastwards
to Azerbaijan and beyond the Caspian to incorporate what was regarded
as essentially Turkish Central Asia. Jerjerian's claim that this
became the ideology of the modern Turkish state is debatable. Following
its defeat in the First World War the Turkish state was cornered and
engaged in a battle for its survival in Asia Minor. It was in no real
position to pursue any eastward expansionist ambitions. The rump of
the empire was threatened, by European powers planning to divide it,
by an aggressive Greek assault on western Anatolia and a weaker
Armenian effort to re-establish an Armenian state in the historic
Armenian homelands of eastern Asia Minor. In this context Enver's
military adventures beyond the Caspian were just desperate flights of
hapless ambition by a stratum of the Turkish elite that had lost its
bearings after.

While expansion beyond the Caspian was an impossible adventure, the
more modest ambition to annex Azerbaijan and seize control of its oil
resources remained an integral element of Kemal Ataturk's Turkish
state. Such calculations were indubitably part of his war to destroy
the emergent Armenian state. Then, as now, an independent Armenian
state, or indeed any kind of Armenia, remains unacceptable to
Turkey. In this context, even as Pan-Turanism as a grandiose political
strategy is on the backburner, as an ideology it continues to feed the
racism and bigotry that moulds a reactionary Turkish nationalism
seeking to consolidate its shaky foundations against any challenge
from within or without - against the Kurdish peoples' national
liberation struggle within and perceived threats from Greeks, Arabs,
Armenians and Assyrians without.

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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