Armenians Make a Strong Showing at Frankfurt Bookfair

By Muriel Mirak-Weissbach
Special to the Mirror-Spectator

FRANKFURT, Germany — Frankfurt plays host to the most important and the oldest book fair in the world. This year 7,400 exhibitors from more than 100 countries joined to present their most recent publications and other cultural products.
Finland was the guest country this year.The Republic of Armenia could not be absent. With a large stand exhibiting books from Zangak, the Cultural Ministry hosted several events, among them the presentation of a new Armenian cookbook in German. Their special guest was Armenia’s Ambassador to Germany Vahan Hovhannisyan, who launched his new book, The Mandylion, published in Armenian, English and Russian.
The author, a historian and archaeologist, has created a work of 450 pages which, though in the form of a novel, is embedded in the “history of the Armenians and peoples of the eastern Mediterranean, intertwined with the history of Christianity and the struggle of Christian people of the region for their freedom.”
It is an “intellectual thriller, spanning several centuries” and recounting the “quest for an ancient secret, full of dangers and adventures.”
Though the first version appeared two years ago, obviously the current crises in the region make this book, which depicts threats against the ancient local Christian civilization, all the more relevant.
Concluding the program organized by the Ministry of Cultural Affairs was a roundtable discussion “Literature and Humanity” on the role of literature in preventing genocide. The two main speakers were Turkish writer Gulcicek Gunel Tekin, a Kurdish author who has written on the Armenian Genocide, and Ragip Zarakolu, a leading publisher in Turkey who has been imprisoned several times for having put out books on the same theme. Tekin gave a short, moving account of how she as a Kurdish child was traumatized by cultural oppression, not being allowed to speak her native language, then, as an adult, by her learning about the Armenian Genocide and the role that Kurds had been forced to play. By visiting Kurdish villages and interviewing their inhabitants, she documented and published 126 stories on the Genocide.
Zarakolu, a human rights activist since the 1970s, said his publishing house did not bother to deal with the question “if” the Genocide occurred or not, but rather concentrated on the proof, issuing books on the factual history and individual stories. But this is not enough, he said; one must learn about the culture – the art, the literature, the architecture – of the Armenians, to show what the Turks themselves lost through the Genocide; the Armenian contribution to Ottoman culture was immense, and if they succeeded in destroying it and its traces in Anatolia, they could not do so in Istanbul. He ended by citing the role literature has played, as in Franz Werfel’s Musa Dagh saga, and stressed the importance of the fact that there were now Turkish intellectuals fighting to ensure that the truth win out. Not far away, in another pavilion of the Frankfurt Book Fair, SchilerVerlag hosted informal readings from the book by Dr. Hagop Martin Deranian, President Calvin Coolidge and The Armenian Orphan Rug, which it has published in German.
Bea Ehlers-Kerbekian, the Armenian-German actress from Berlin who has starred in the play, “Anne’s Silence,” by the prizewinning German-Turkish writer Dogan Akhanli, read passages from the book, against a backdrop of a huge poster reproducing the beautiful Ghazir rug.