And a very happy Free For All Birthday to Armenian poet Daniel Varoujan.
Varoujan was born Daniel Tchboukkiarian in what is now Sivas, Turkey, on April 20, 1884. He was educated in Turkey, and later in Venice. In 1905, he enrolled at the University of Ghent, in Belgium, where he studied literature, sociology and economics. He returned home in 1909 and worked as a teacher, and married Araksi Varoujan in 1912.
In 1914, Varoujan and several friends established the Mehean, a literary magazine and social group dedicated to Armenian literature and language. At the time, Armenia was not a country, but a group of people bound together by a common culture, language, and religion, most of whom lived together within the bounds of the Ottoman Empire. There was also a sizable population of Armenians in the Russian Empire (see the map below this paragraph for a visual). As a group, Armenians became a target of political and personal violence when the Young Turks came to power in 1907. The Ottoman Empire (to put it very simply) had been a site of religious and cultural tolerance for most of its history, however, the Young Turks imagined an empire led by those who identified as Turkish, who spoke Turkish, and who practiced the Muslim religion. As outsiders in this vision, Armenians found themselves in danger of persecution.
With the outbreak of the First World War, and especially with the Ottoman entrance into the war in 1915, Armenians came under even more intense persecution. As Christians who lived in both the Ottoman Empire and the Russian Empire (two empires on different sides of the conflict), Armenians were demonized as enemies of the Ottoman state. On April 24, 1915, the Ottoman government authorized the arrest of Armenian intellectuals, religious and community leaders. This event is recognized as the beginning of the Armenian Genocide. Varoujan was among those arrested and later deported. While on route, eyewitness testimony states that Varoujan and four other Armenian men were robbed, stripped, and tortured by Turkish police officers until they died. Though his work was confiscated during the genocide, his unfinished work, The Song of the Bread ( in Armenian: Հացին երգը) was rescued by allegedly bribing Turkish officials. Today, we bring you one of Varoujan’s poems as a tribute to the man, and in commemoration of the Armenian Genocide, which is commemorated this coming week:
At the Eastern part of the earth
Let there be peace…
Let sweat, not blood, flow
In the broad vein of the furrow,
And at the toll of each hamlet’s bell
Let there rise hymns of exaltation.
At the Western part of the earth
Let there be fecundity …
Let each star sparkle with dew,
And each husk be cast in gold
And as the sheep graze on the hills
Let bud and blossom bloom.
At the Northern part of the earth
Let there be abundance …
In the golden sea of the wheat field
Let the scythe swim incessantly
And as gates of granaries open wide
Jubilation let there be.
At the Southern part of the earth
Let all things bear fruit…
Let the honey thrive in the beehive
And may the wine run over the cups
And when brides bake the blessed bread
Let the sound of song rise and spread.
Daniel Varoujan 1914
Translated by Tatul Sonentz (via armenian-poetry.blogspot.com)
*Name of the ritual of the Ceremonial Blessing of the 4 corners of the earth — a Sacrement of the Armenian Apostolic Church
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Until next week, beloved patrons: Happy Reading!