Redistribution of Groong articles, such as this one, to any other
media, including but not limited to other mailing lists and Usenet
bulletin boards, is strictly prohibited without prior written
consent from Groong's Administrator.
© Copyright 2003 Armenian News Network/Groong. All Rights Reserved.
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 1. THE POETIC VOICE OF ARMENIAN NATIONAL LIBERATION 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 revival. 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. 2. AN INTRODUCTION TO THE HISTORY OF PAN-TURKISM 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.