Mourning Taniel Varoujan

varoujan3.jpgFriday, March 30, Marc Nichanian spoke at a HyeQ-sponsored event on the Armenian Turkish poet Taniel Varoujan. Even if it was a little difficult to follow at times it illuminated a main theme in the writer’s works.

Varoujan is one of those key artistic figures of the pre-1915 Genocide. He was deeply impacted by the culture of massacre that enveloped the lives of Ottoman (and Turkish) Armenians, and his poetry reflects that solemn mood. It was a time of contradictions for Varoujan and his community, they were at the brink of destruction while undegoing (simultaneously) the most radical moodernization and cultural revival they had experienced since the 5th C.

Nichanian touched upon the Armenian nationalist movement, a communal project that witnessed the interiorized of the European gaze. He mentioned Varoujan’s romanticism that believed that more nationalization required more aestheticization.

After his introduction to Varoujan and his times, he tackled Varoujan’s poem, “Vahakn” which laments the pre-Christian gods of Armenia after their destruction as a cultural tenet. Varoujan doesn’t recite their tales–most of which have been lost–but he chooses to mourn who he considers their father-figure, Vahakn. In “Vahakn”, the “poet-sacrificer”, who narrates the verse, has found something to sacrifice among the devastation, but what can possibly remain after the catastrophe? The ability to mourn, Nichanian suggests.

Varoujan visits the topic repeatedly in his art and makes the case that a nation = the ability to mourn.

All this, of course, is before 1915 and Varoujan believes that the Armenian nation, no matter what trials it faces, will be erected…aided by art. Mourning, Varoujan suggests, is the foundation of art.

Unfortunately, Varoujan’s beliefs were conceived before the concept of complete genocide was realized, before he himself was killed at the Ayash prison on August 26, 1915. It was once feasible to think that every nation could rise from the ashes like they had done for millenia, but 20th C. genocide has eradicated that romantic idea. The scientific precise of our cruelty makes it possible to erase a people or culture so completely that no one is left to mourn, or worse, those that remain will not even know what to mourn.

Varoujan was killed at the age of 31 at the height of his artistic prowess.

Using Nichanian’s logic, by mourning Varoujan, are we guaranteeing his rebirth in the contemporary world? Is mourning the basic ingredients to see that his art continues to flourish?

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