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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 November 7, 2005 By Eddie Arnavoudian I. FABRICATED HISTORY IN THE SERVICE OF PAN-TURKISH CHAUVINISM Some books are valuable for outlining a problem or exposing some dangerous intellectual subterfuge even if they fail to give adequate rebuttal to the arguments they seek to challenge. One such book is `The Falsification of Armenian History in Modern Turkish Historiography' (192pp, 1995, Yerevan) by Manuel Zulalian. Zulalian reveals the shocking extent to which ultra-nationalist Turkish historians will go in order to de-legitimise the presence of Armenians in what was historical Armenia, now eastern Turkey, and deny them the right to national self-determination and statehood in modern Armenia. Historians, among them names such as Gunaltay, Togan, F. Kirizioglu, Arin Engin, Es'at Uras, Cemal Oskaya, Kamuran Gurun, deploying highly dubious historical methodology argue that Turks, not Armenians, are native to historical Armenia. Armenians, they add, as a people, are in fact little more than a minor, Christianised, sub-group of the Turkish people. Such theories fit in well with grandiose claims by Pan-Turkish ideologists that Turkish history harbours the origins of all history, not just that of Armenia or Asia Minor. Another target for such chauvinist historiography are the Indo-Aryan Kurdish people who are also transformed into a Turkic sub-group. The intellectual vacuity of such exercises is self-evident. If we are all Turks this says nothing about history for it fails to account for the differences among us all that in fact define people and groups in their particular history. And if we are all Turks then why does the Turkish state, instead of denying and destroying, preserve and cultivate the rich legacy of Armenian culture and civilisation in the region? The erasure of Armenian history is carried out by reference, among other things, to the allegedly Turkish origins of Armenian names and places. Classical Armenian provinces such as Sisakan, Kukark, Arax and Ararat are given Turkish birthmarks by asserting dubious linguistic and phonetic similarities. Mythical ancestors of the Armenian people, Askanaz and Torkom, are given Turkish genes. Piling the absurd upon the absurd, the Armenian Arshagouni dynasty and the 10th century Bagratouni royal family are also granted Turkish ancestry. By such and other laughable arguments dishonest historians attempt to stretch a substantial Turkish presence in today's Turkey back to well before their actual post-10th century settlements. The central purpose of such falsification is of course to cover over the imperial, colonial and repressive foundations of modern Turkey. In this effort all evidence to the contrary is systematically eliminated or when this is not possible, then falsified. In the attempted excision of Armenia from the region well-known and well-established relationships between the ancient kingdoms of Urartu and the Armenians are denied. Armenia, these revisionist historians claim, was never more than a geographic description of an area that was in turn never in fact inhabited by a majority of Armenians. Armenia furthermore, the claim goes, never had a genuine independent national state. When Armenian states existed they were little more than local or provincial vassals to greater neighbouring power. In this account Armenians are transformed into a people without a land, without a national culture and without a national history. At best they are a rather undistinguished subsidiary of their greater Turkish neighbours. All this is only a small part of a vast fabric of falsification woven for reactionary political purposes. These are given explicit expression by F. Kirzioglu who unashamedly denies Armenians any roots and thus also rights to be in Asia Minor. `What territorial rights have they', he asks, `if all' their `feudal lords ruling in the past in eastern Anatolia were of Turkish origin.' This sort of national chauvinist charlatanism is not of course unique to reactionary Turkish historians. Political Zionism's rewriting of the history of Palestine to exclude Palestinians and Arabs is another example. There are also Armenians who market a brand of Armeno-centred world history thereby making their own contribution to aggravating internecine conflicts between different peoples who have inhabited Asia Minor for centuries and who now have every right to continue doing so, on condition of course of mutuality. History, even when not falsified, offers no rights to exclusive possession of anything. Affirmations of exclusive ownership by one nation of territory historically populated by different nations serves only to provide justification for anything from denial of basic democratic rights, to national oppression, ethnic cleansing and even genocide. It is a form of argument that must be rejected wherever it comes from. History is rich in the disputes it bequeaths to future generations. But it is incumbent on each living generation to settle these democratically and on the basis of the actual conditions and actual needs of all people of the region whatever their nationality and wherever their origin. In a region such as Turkey and Asia Minor long standing animosities must be removed through a collaboration among peoples that is free of the proto-fascist nationalism exposed by Manuel Zulalian. Shocking as its presentation of the falsification of Armenian history is, Zulalian's volume is not satisfactory in its refutation. It depends too much on dismissal that is often not accompanied by rigorous argument and evidence. Still, introducing us to this world of historical fantasy that is energetically sponsored by the Turkish state, Zulalian alerts us to the determination with which the Turkish elite seeks to undermine the rights of other people that it considers as a threat to its already unstable foundations. II. ROUBEN SEVAK - A LITERARY-CRITICAL BIOGRAPHY BY VLADIMIR GIRAGOSSIAN Vladimir Giragossian's literary biography of poet Rouben Sevak (226pp, 1972, Yerevan) is decidedly worthwhile reading despite the author's annoying eagerness to construct a Rouben Sevak as if he was moving towards Bolshevik-style Marxism. For some Soviet era critics it clearly was not enough that the fellow had socialist convictions. Still Giragossian writes with a genuine humanist vision and an enthusiasm for his subject. He sifts Sevak's work and reveals him as a substantial thinker, a radical nationalist and revolutionary, whose fine poetry and prose has a strong purchase on our own day. Sevak is not however immediately brought to life and Giragossian is ineptly silent on much of his personal history. But he is generous with observations on the poet's irrepressible optimism, his early literary training and the influence of Enlightenment thought on his poetry, in particular that of Voltaire and Rousseau. He also sets out the poet's philosophical, natural scientific and medical background that was to inform his poetry and that contributed to his creation of a new genre of Armenian literary prose. Adding to his merit is Giragossian's readiness to draw on evaluations from a range of commentators and his willingness to even rest arguments on critics who had not been acceptable to Soviet authority, Oshagan being a prime example. Despite the fact that we are also not spared the tedium of template analysis, another evident essential of Soviet era Armenian criticism, we encounter many an astute observation on Sevak's poetic art. With some weight, Giragossian argues that in modern Armenian literature Sevak's love poetry contains some of the finest expressions of a genuine and vital sensuality. Marked by a harmony between the sensual and spiritual, this poetry represents a striving for untainted and wholesome human relations that is universal and available to all. Even Medzarents and Tekeyan, brilliant as they are, Giragossian continues, failed to touch that core of poetic sensuality evident in Sevak. Neither did Varoujean, he adds, whose love poetry for all its splendour was more a `symbolic meditation' rather than a `recreation of lived passion'. Giragossian also accords Sevak a pre-eminent position in the catalogue of Armenian poets of social protest. Though captivated by European progressive thought Sevak was a severe critic of its capitalism, of its decadent mores and of the social suffering it generated, against all of which he wrote some stirring poetry. A defining feature of this poetry is the blending of the social and the national. Agreeing with Oshagan, Giragossian notes the simplicity and directness of Sevak's national poetry that, he believes, makes it more powerful than Varoujean's and Siamanto's. Debatable as such evaluations may be Giragossian offers sparkling examinations of individual poems studding them with insights that bring these and other arguments to considered and even credible conclusions. Sevak's poetry was not without its weaknesses and sometimes the logic of the ideas he sought to communicate dictated and deadened the flow of poetic creativity. In his discussion Giragossian also presents an interesting overview of the evolution of Armenian literature across the 19th and 20th centuries. Using Sevak as an example he underlines the very close connection between political and social development and their expression in Armenian literature. Here Giragossian brings to our attention a striking characteristic of the modern Armenian intelligentsia: it frequently regarded art and culture as superior and more effective than politics and mass struggle in the struggle for national revival. The overstating of the power of art and culture by men like Chobanyan from whose work Giragossian quotes significantly, blinded the intelligentsia to the critical role of political force in the process of modern national formation. This disregard and even disdain for power politics was remarked on earlier, and astutely so, in another context by a relatively conservative 19th century Armenian enlightenment thinker, Stepanos Nazaryan. Criticising the Armenian Church's insistence on defining nationality in exclusive religious terms Nazaryan insisted that `faith without political power, the cross without the sword, is weak and cannot be the basis of nationhood.' This observation went unheeded by later generations, conservative or revolutionary. The exaltation of art and culture in Rouben Sevak's own time occurred at the very moment the Armenian National Liberation Movement dismantled its armed forces to enter into alliance with the Young Turks. Many believed then that cultural battalions could replace armed resistance in the struggle for national revival. Giragossian's enjoyable biography closes with a stimulating overview of Sevak's prose collected under the title `Pages from a Doctor's Notebooks.' Written as a series of popular medical articles and medical short stories, some have artistic depth and are marked by prose passages of poetic vigour. As with his poetry, Sevak here is a social observer and critic of an unjust order that generates the illnesses described or that prevents their treatment. In these pieces as with his poetry, albeit of uneven quality, he also touches on the conditions of women, arranged marriages, the vice of financial power and the plight of emigrant life. For all its flaws, and many of its ill arguments that we bypass silently, this is a worthy volume by a name that one does not frequently come across. -- 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.