by Muriel Mirak-Weissbach
the Armenian Mirror Spectator
FRANKFURT, NOVEMBER 2, 2023 — Despite crises at home and abroad, several representatives of Armenia’s rich literary culture and publishing enterprises travelled to Frankfurt for this year’s book fair, which took place from October 18 to 27. Receiving visitors at the large Armenian stand were Arevik Ashkharoyan, founder of ARI Literary and Talent Agency, Zara Hakobyan, from the National Library of Armenia, and Ani Musheghyan, researcher and librarian from the Komitas Museum-Institute. And featured in the Armenian presence were two authors, both women: Lusine Kharatyan and Susanna Harutyunyan.
The Armenian stand displayed several new publications, including an anthology presenting 13 emerging authors from as many European countries, with excerpts from their works, in the original language and English translation. The European Union Prize for Literature (EUPL) was established in 2009 by the “Creative Europe programme” of the European Union, which issued the anthology. The aim is to support the book sector in Europe, in its diversity and competitiveness, devoting special attention to up-and-coming authors from countries and language cultures one finds less frequently in bookstores.
Thirteen authors of fiction were nominated for the prize by literary associations in their respective nations, among them Lusine Kharatyan, for A Syrian Affair. Her first novel was An Oblique Book (2017), which was followed by a collection of short stories, A Dead End Forget-me-not, short-listed for the EUPL in 2021. For her second novel, featured here, she received a grant from the Armenian Ministry of Education, Science, Culture, and Sport. A cultural anthropologist and translator, Kharatyan has received degrees in public policy, demography and history/sociocultural anthropology from Minnesota University, Cairo Demographic Center, and Yerevan State University, respectively.
Her newest novel presents the story of three Armenian women recruited by an American group to conduct research on the Armenian communities in Syria and Lebanon. The narrative explores the accounts provided by Armenians they interview in both countries, while all the time the trio are followed by Syrian intelligence (Mukhabarat) who think they might be American or Israeli agents. In its report, PEN Armenia praised the novel for its literary excellence, as well as its insights into pre-crisis Syria, and the depiction of cultural-political diversity of the diaspora communities, the role of women in the post-Soviet context, and the challenges facing women researchers in patriarchal societies. It is also a thriller, full of suspense until the end. The chapter excerpted is titled, The Emplaced, translated by Nazareth Saferian, it presents the three women, Shushan, Ester, and Astghik, in their first encounter with Armenian representatives in Damascus.
Susanna Harutyunyan, who was personally present in Germany, is already a well-known author. Her ninth novel, Ravens before Noah, published in the centenary year of the genocide, won the Presidential Prize for Literature in 2016, and is familiar to readers of the Mirror-Spectator (https://mirrorspectator.com/2021/05/20/haratunyans-ravens-before-noah-towards-an-armenian-baroque/). Now the celebrated novel has appeared in a German translation. Harutyunyan was a featured author on October 21 at the book fair, where she read passages in Armenian, which translator Susanna Yeghoyan read in German. A day earlier the she had been the guest of the Armenians in Munich; introduced by Board member Sona Krüger, she presented her novel, again in the original and translation.
Following the book fair, Harutyunyan travelled to Berlin, where a large audience welcomed her at the Literary Salon of Ekke Maass, who runs the German Caucasian Society. The event was dedicated to Armenia. Dr. Tessa Hofmann delivered a report on the situation in Artsakh, then introduced Harutyunyan. German-Armenian actress Bea Ehlers-Kerbekian delivered readings from the newly translated novel. In a review of the book, Hofmann compared Harutyunyan’s treatment of the Ottoman genocide to the prose of authors from the diaspora in America and Europe, defining her innovation in depicting the genocide of Western Armenians as double victimization, that is, including the guilt of Soviet Armenian lawyers and police officers. This refers to crimes committed during the Stalin era, against members of the clergy and their families, and against intellectuals who sought refuge in the South Caucasus. She also stressed the author’s intimate knowledge of the history, myths, and customs of her home country.
The narrative explores the origin and fate of a mountain village in Harutyunyan’s home region on Lake Sevan. There the story of Pertch unfolds, a refugee from the 1890s Ottoman Empire, and his little nephew Haruth, who find shelter in a deserted village, where he brings further refugees in the years thereafter, including those from 1915. The narrative continues through the next great world war, and the Soviet chapter introduces new forms of persecution. Hofmann’s conclusion: “An inventory of contemporary Armenian history told without sentimentality or glossing over, using the example of individual fates.”
Threats to Artsakh, Memories of 1915
The annual literary event in Frankfurt takes place not only in its enormous fairgrounds, with numerous pavilions and halls, hundreds of publishers’ stands and thousands of exhibitors, visited by hundreds of thousands of book lovers. Events also take place in other local venues, theaters, and bookstores, as well as community organizations. One such is the Armenian Cultural Society in Hessen, which hosted a gathering on October 21 to discuss two books on Armenian themes. Shushan Tumanyan, vice chair of the organization, welcomed Christian Mkhitaryan, Board member of the German Armenian Jurists Association, and Ani Kanayan, also a member of the DAJ. Mkhitaryan presented a book edited by DAJ Board Chairman Dr. Gurgen Petrossian, together with Dr. Sarah Babaian, and Dr. Arlette Zakarian, also lawyers. The book, entitled, Analysis of the Artsakh Conflict from the Standpoint of International Law (Nomos 2022), is an impressive volume containing articles by the three editors and by Mariana Amoyan, Araksya Arakelyan, Max Friedrich Bergmann, Marina Carlsen, Anita Grigoryan, Goharik Mnatsakanyan, Elinar Oganezova, Ani Rshtunyan, Erik Torosyan, Angela Tovmasyan, and Lilit Weber.
The three parts of the book deal with 1) the historical development of the conflict and the legal status of Nagorno Karabakh up to 2020, with respect to cultural claims, diplomatic negotiations, self-determination, the 1993 UN Security Council resolutions, and the legal status after the third war; 2) developments leading to war, arms deliveries and the role of the German arms industry, hate speech as state policy, violations of humanitarian rights and war crimes; and, 3) international law consequences, as exemplified in proceedings of the European Human Rights Court. The work is based not on Armenian sources but international sources and is a scientific study.
Ani Kanayan read excerpts from the book, after which discussion centered on several urgent concerns: the threat of aggression against the sovereign Republic of Armenia, the project for a Zangezur corridor, which would constitute a violation of sovereignty, as “international,” though unforeseen in the 2020 agreements; Azerbaijani plans to “de-Armenianize” the Republic of Armenia; the legality or illegality of Soviet-era transfer of Artsakh; and, the legality or illegality of the 2023 “dissolution” of Artsakh without referendum. The political importance of the role played by the Armenian government was discussed, especially the problem of its recognition of Azerbaijan sovereignty over Artsakh. Mkhitaryan explained that from a juridical point of view, since the then-president of Artsakh made the declaration of dissolution under coercion, it was illegal, and the Armenian government should state as much.
Turning from consideration of the current crisis to the historical background, Shushan Tumanyan introduced the panel on a second book, led by Heide Rieck, poetess, author, and editor, together with Azat Ordukhanyan, of an anthology, Roots in the Air: Genocide and Traces of Life (https://mirrorspectator.com/2021/10/07/new-anthology-in-german-looks-at-genocide-aftermath/). It is a collection of writings by 25 descendants of Ottoman genocide survivors, from various ethnic and religious communities. On hand was Selay Ertem, widow of one contributor to the volume, Ali Ertem, who had dedicated his efforts to achieving recognition of the Armenian genocide. It was in fact two years ago that Ali Ertem and his close collaborator and author Dogan Akhanlı passed away. As selections from the anthology, including by this author, were read, one could sense an atmosphere clouded by sorrow and mourning, reflecting not only memories of the past but also profound concern about the current crisis and future destiny awaiting Armenians in Artsakh as well as the Republic of Armenia. Shushan Tumanyan, who has organized several demonstrations in defense of Artsakh, concluded with a confident plea to participants to maintain hope, and to continue to strive for peace and justice.