HOVANESS TOUMANIAN

toumanianIntroduction

Hovaness Toumanian (1869-1923) was born into the rural community of Dsegh in the Lori Marz mountains, and largely educated himself before leaving for the prestigious Nersisian School in Tbilisi, from which he was forced to leave two years before graduation by the death of his father. To support himself and family, Toumanian worked at several jobs he intensely disliked, but at 19 he married, in time fathering ten children. He became known as a poet in 1890, when his first poetry collection was published, and Toumanian then formed the `Vernatun' (Upper Room), a literary circle that met weekly in his home from 1902 through about 1908 in Tbilisi. He was imprisoned from 1908 to 1909 for anti-Tsarist activities and again from 1911 to 1912.

Toumanian devoted himself to humanitarian causes organizing societies to help war victims, orphans, refugees, seeking support for an Armenian statehood and helping those fleeing the genocide of 1915. To further those activities, he went to Istambul in 1921, but fell ill, underwent several operations and died in a Moscow hospital in 1923. His poetry, stories and literary criticism, and conspicuous generosity to other writers, made him the 'poet of all Armenia'. Many institutions are named after him, and his work has been translated into 40 languages.

Literary critics said of Toumanian that he brought a fresh spirit to Armenian poetry. Universal, classic and melodious, his stories and poems spoke to universal longings, especially in those seeking national identity. An inner world of peace and harmony characterized all his literary work, even the journalism and everyday correspondence, and the work he left behind is very considerable. Two of his best-known epic poems, Anoush and Almast, have been used as librettos for operas that are still performed, and his version of David of Sasoon is considered the best. Among his most celebrated works are Hokehankisd (Requiem), Akhtamar, The Dove Monastery, The Capture of Tmpkabert, The Construction of the Railway, Neso's Steam Bath and a host of fairy tales, among which is Kach Nazar (Nazar the Brave).

Toumanian helped his countrymen discover the folklore in their own and other cultures, weaving in images, plots and motives that did much to enrich Armenian literature without endangering its individuality. 'The closer the writer is to his own nation and the deeper he delves into its folklore,' he said, 'the greater is the meaning of his work for mankind.' At Yerevan is the Hovhannes Toumanian House-Museum with the 8000 volumes of his private library, but it is in the beauty of the Caucasian countryside that Toumanian's poetry comes alive, as it does with so many Georgian and Armenian writers.

From Armenia comes one of the earliest poems known: David of Sassoun, which acquired Christian characteristics in the 4th century, when an Armenian language was developed for an ecclesiastical poetry separate from Byzantine Greek. Like neighbouring Georgia, but a little later, an extended kingdom produced outstanding poets in the 13th and 14th centuries: Gosdantin Erzengatzi, Hovhannes Blouse and Katchadour Ketcharetsi, the last strongly influenced by Persian models.

Armenia also had its share of invasions, becoming part of the Ottoman and then Russian Empires, and suffering the Turkish genocides of 1886 and 1915 and Soviet purges thereafter, these almost extinguishing Armenian cultural life. Leaving aside the 17th-18th century poets Nagash Hovnathan and Sayat Nova, Armenian poetry returned to prominence only in the 19th century with Bedros Tourian (1820-1901), Missak Medzarentz (1886-1908), and Michael Nalbandian (1829-66). Tiflis produced outstanding poets in the next generation: Hovaness Toumania (1869-1923) and the lyric poets Avedik Issahakian (1875-1957) and Vahan Derian (1885-1920), and there were important poets in Istambul: Adom Yarjanian (b.1878), Daniel Varoujan (b. 1884) and Roupen Sevag (b.1890), all of whom perished in 1915. Soviet Armenian poetry appears in Eghishe Charents (1897-1937), and Gourgen Mahari (1903-69), both victims of Stalinist repression. Succeeding them came Hovaness Shiraz (1915-85) and Barouyr Sevag (1924-72). Poetry plays a large part in Armenian life today, and several contemporary poets have been widely translated: Gevorg Emin (b.1915), Vahakn Davtian (1922-96) and Hamo Sahian (b. 1914).

There are many anthologies, e.g. Der Hovanessian and Marbad's Anthology of Armenian Poetry (1978), M. Kudian's Soviet Armenian Poetry (1974) and D. Rottenburg's Songs of Armenia (1979). Among critical studies these may be useful: H. Thorossian's Histoire de la littérature armenienne (1951), M.J. Arlen's Passage to Ararat (1975) and C. Walker's Armenia: Survival of a Nation (1980).

Suggestion: Anthology of Armenian Poetry Diana D. Hovanessian and M. Marzbad. Columbia University Press. 1978. $32.00.

Few details available, but editors and publisher enjoy excellent reputations. Please let me know how you find the book if you do purchase.

Learning Armenian

Commercial learning sites include: pimsleur and worldlanguage.

Free online sites can be found at: learnarmenian, wikipedia, haias, armenian lessons online and turtlefastarmenia.

Armenian translations and parallel texts can be purchased from Armenian links and via the usual online sources: bookfinder, isbndb, alibris, amazon and abebooks.

Online Armenian-English dictionaries: dictionary point and freenet.

Some useful language exchanges: friends abroad, xlingo, mylanguage exchange, polyglot learn language, and lingozone.

Background to Armenia

A few general resources: armenia studies program, ac forum, armenica, about Armenia and armenians.

Armenian Poetry

Poetry in Armenian may be found at armenianpoetry, and dermidjian.

Translations are at hyeetch, haig, little Armenia, armenianhouse and wikipedia,.

There are many anthologies, e.g. Der Hovanessian and Marbad's Anthology of Armenian Poetry (1978), M. Kudian's Soviet Armenian Poetry (1974) and D. Rottenburg's Songs of Armenia (1979). Among critical studies these may be useful: H. Thorossian's Histoire de la littérature armenienne (1951), M.J. Arlen's Passage to Ararat (1975) and C. Walker's Armenia: Survival of a Nation (1980).

 

C. John Holcombe   |  About the Author    | ©     2007 2012 2013 2015.   Material can be freely used for non-commercial purposes if properly referenced.