By Hagop Vartivarian
Translated by Aris G. Sevag
The necessity of our diasporan cultural organizations, which remain the trustees of our true national values and remind us about our cultural figures of the recent past, is still being tangibly felt. Their literature, which stems from historical Armenia, became the foundation of diasporan Armenian literature, with its unadulterated Western Armenian language, taste, and patriotic spirit.
One of the best representatives of that generation undoubtedly was Aram Haigaz, a compassionate Armenian who was born in Shabin Karahisar, spent four years in captivity in the mountains of Kurdistan, then studied under Hagop Oshagan in Constantinople, and finally immigrated to the United States. He was well known in the American Armenian literary world for more than half a century; he was widely read and written about, and deservedly honored in the latter part of his life.
The New York chapter of the Hamazkayin Armenian Educational and Cultural Society created the opportunity to again remember Aram Haigaz by organizing a memorial program dedicated to the 110th anniversary of his birth, under the patronage of Archbishop Oshagan Choloyan. The program, which was attended by New York-area literary enthusiasts, took place on Nov. 5, 2010, at the Armenian Center in Woodside, N.Y. Aram Haigaz was not unfamiliar to many of them; indeed, many of them had known him personally because his home had been open to intellectuals of both the older and younger generations. Many of those present had enjoyed the warm hospitality of Aram Chekenian, better known by his penname Haigaz.
Dr. Herand Markarian, executive committee chairman, gave the opening remarks. Many times, we, the cultural enthusiasts of this megalopolis, have whispered to each other, “What can Hamazkayin’s future in New York be without Herand?” Regardless, he continues to carry out his mission of presenting serious cultural programs in this important American community with the same uncompromising conviction. He proceeded with a slideshow highlighting the four stages of Aram Haigaz’s life, starting from his birthplace and ending with his death in New York in 1986. In the process, he dwelled on the important junctures. It was an impressive and gracious effort, to be sure.
It was enjoyable to hear young literary enthusiasts read selections from the works of Aram Haigaz. If he had been present at these readings, he too would surely have been moved. Liza Yessaian and Avedis Hadjian read from Haigaz’s provincial reminiscences. Nazareth Markarian, Sossi Essajanian, and Norika Boiatchian read pieces about the author’s period in exile. In addition, Norika Boiatchian, Hasmig Tatiossian, Sossi Essajanian, and Liza Yessaian read pieces that reflected life in Queens, N.Y. Especially moving was Aram Haigaz’s memoir devoted to Yerevan; he had visited the homeland in his older years and, after seeing the capital city with his own eyes, had become totally enthralled by it and the progress made by it. Subsequently, he wrote his impressions in letters and in articles, which were widely published.
Iris Haigaz Chekenian, the daughter of Aram Haigaz, spoke during the third part of the program. She confessed that she had remained quite aloof from her father’s Armenian world during her childhood and even youth. This was the general pattern for the offspring of all the other contemporary writers, too. After all, how could she and her brother, growing up in America, commune with their father’s soul and walk along that horrible road of deportation—from the shores of the not-so-distant Black Sea to the Syrian desert and Kurdistan; then study briefly in Constantinople; come to America and start learning the English language and, at the same time, begin writing in Armenian.
Iris, who herself is devoted to the arts—having worked with well-known Hollywood stars, including the recently deceased Tony Curtis—presented the human, Armenian, and patriotic sides of her father. “I wasn’t interested in Armenian matters during my youth,” she said, “which I now regret.” She gave as a gift to the members of the audience copies of a newly edited version of The Fall of the Aerie, a long-since out-of-print book written by her father, which was translated and published in 1935. This 180-page book describes the fall of his birthplace Shabin Karahisar following the heroic month-long self-defense struggle waged by its Armenian inhabitants. Unfortunately, the latter, facing imminent starvation, were forced to surrender to the Turks. Nevertheless, this struggle has its permanent place in the pages of our history due to the bravery and patriotism shown by the Armenians of that city.
The final speaker was Dr. Margaret Khachatrian from Yerevan, who has turned her attention in recent years to Hamasdegh (Hampartsoum Gelenian), Haigaz, and Hagop Khashmanian. She has already published the first volume of Aram Haigaz’s Moratsvats Echer (Forgotten Pages) (1924-1950) and Namagner (Letters), and she plans to continue the work she has started. She is a graduate of the department of philology of Yerevan’s Khachatur Abovian Pedagogical Institute. She is the author of some 10 books and is an expert on the satire in the works of Derenik Demirchian. She is also very much interested in diasporan Armenian literature.
With this literary get-together, through Aram Haigaz, we honored and remembered our other great literary figures who settled on these shores in the first decades of the last century: Peniamin Noorigian, Antranig Antreassian, Alex Klijian, Hamasdegh, Hagop Asadourian, and Souren Manuelian.
Their permanent memory deserves our utmost respect and Hamazkayin deserves our thanks for having presented this occasion.
The original Armenian text of this article was published in the Nov. 19 issue of the Hairenik Weekly.