BY MARIA TITIZIAN
Two years before his death in 1921, Hovhannes Tumanyan wrote a letter to Avetik Isahakyan.
“…I do not want and cannot write long from our country, although you ask this of me. In short, I will say that we have destroyed our country from within and from beyond. Mainly we. I am saying we, and herein lies the truth. Some are unruly scoundrels, others are robbers and thieves, others are incompetent derelicts and there wasn’t a multitude, at the very least a small group, who would uncover the renewed breath or moral capability. Amidst the calamities and the losses, not a single guilty person was revealed, no one was brought to justice and no one answered. And it continues. Now it is the same people on the same journey… And not a single person committed suicide to show that shame and conscience exists among these people.”
This letter was written 93 years ago from one great Armenian writer to another, yet it could have been written today, or yesterday or ten years ago and it can be rewritten ten years from now if a fundamental paradigm shift doesn’t take place. Anyone reading these words, linked together from the past, will feel the pain and desolation of a man who witnessed the decimation of his people and who had to bear witness to continuing calamities and losses.
If we want to have a different result from the result we keep arriving to, we need to stop doing the same things over and over again. A new script has to be written where the unruly scoundrels, the robbers and thieves and the incompetent derelicts are cast out. We keep limiting our choices, we keep making ourselves vulnerable to foreign threats and we seem to be spawning a kind of person that should not be allowed to have access to the levers of power.
The past year was a mix of highs and lows, of expectations and disappointments but mostly disappointments. The only thing that allowed us to get through it was putting one foot in front of the other and remembering to breathe.
Let’s return to the past. Hovhannes Tumanyan had written an earlier letter, this time to General Andranik in 1917:
At a horrific time, every person must bring what he can and what he has to the common table to prevent the impending danger and to reach a desirable victory.
I have four sons. All four of them are at your, the country’s government’s, the National Council’s disposal and my four daughters are preparing for work at the posts, they will do whatever they are capable of doing. I have nothing else more valuable than this, therefore I am not sparing anything so that we can, like all honest nations and freedom-loving people, push back the impending danger and protect our sacred rights and freedoms. I steadfastly believe in your experience, acquired amid many storms, your ardent patriotism and love of freedom, your innate humanitarianism and your high military talent. I am ready to come where and when your brotherly voice summons me.
I kiss your heroic brow.”
Hovhanness Tumanyan adds a post script to his letter where he commits to pay 100 Rubles every month because he was of the opinion that every Armenian must voluntarily contribute to the cause.
I often wonder, what happened to the Hovhannes Tumanyans of our nation? I know they exist out there, somewhere. I see it in the good deeds that go unnoticed. I see it in the Diaspora with its army of volunteers working and serving within its various structures and organizations. I see it in Armenia, too but they are not enough. Unless more and more people are inspired by this kind of responsibility for the general welfare, attaining a semblance of social justice will be merely a dream.
Today, we celebrated one of the holiest days in the Christian calendar, Armenian Christmas. We went to church, we said our prayers, we lit candles and celebrated the birth of Christ. We sat around dinner tables, surrounded by family and friends. We drank toasts, we gave thanks for our blessings and continued preserving traditions that were passed on to us by generations before us. Hovhannes Tumanyan and Avetik Isahakyan and all the greats of our nation also sat down with their beloved families around tables that were much more humble and dreamt great dreams and wrote prolific thoughts and contributed to our literary heritage and so much more.
We can continue to lament that all is dark and dismal, but these are mere reflections of our own jaded eyes.
Albert Camus wrote, “When you have seen the glow of happiness on the face of a beloved person, you know that a man can have no vocation but to awaken that light on the faces surrounding him. In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.”
I can only hope that the invincible summer in all of us will blossom and bring forth fruit.