An Eminent Mother-Daughter Writing Duo in Armenia

YEREVAN—One book doesn’t necessarily make an accomplished author, but with Knarig Svazlian it’s a step in the right direction.

The 41-year-old just published a work titled The History of the Armenian Community in America, dating back to 1618 when Armenians first set foot on this land to the period just following the genocide in 1924.

Dr. Verjine Svazlian and daughter Knarig are keeping the literary world active with their publications.
Dr. Verjine Svazlian and daughter Knarig are keeping the literary world active with their publications.

For that, she feels a sense of accomplishment and gratitude after eight years of arduous research. But more than that, she’d like nothing better than to catch up with her mother some day.

That’s a rather tall order. Dr. Verjine Svazlian, a noted folklorist and ethnographer, has authored no fewer than 23 books in various languages. At age 75, she has no intention of slowing down but is rather heightened by the literary and historic word.

Her latest, The Armenian Genocide and The People’s Historical Memory, documents the eyewitness accounts of 700 survivors throughout Armenia and the Armenian Diaspora.

Together, they represent the eminent mother-daughter writing duo of Armenia.

We met the Svazlians over lunch at a popular restaurant in Yerevan called “Sherlock Holmes.” In their hands were copies of their books and a wealth of information regarding the Armenian Question and other vital matters.

Much as the daughter spent eight years compiling her work, the mother’s book proved more gregarious, beginning in 1955, and extending a half century. Wherever Verjine Svazlian attended a conference, her notepad and video camera were sure to follow.

As fate would have it, not one of the 700 survivors she encountered is alive today.

“When my father died, his final words to me at age 14 were well calculated,” said Dr. Svazlian. “He wanted me to become an intelligent, tireless worker for the homeland. He was a genocide survivor and wanted to write this book. I wrote it for him.”

The 1,600-page publication was ultimately translated into seven languages and subsidized by the Armenian government on the 90th anniversary of the genocide.

Editor Sarkis Harutyunian, an associate member of the National Academy of Sciences for Republic of Armenia, calls it “an enormously laborious and gratifying work designed to save and perpetuate the unique memoirs and songs depicting this tragic and heroic history.”

“In this study, the author skillfully conjoined her rich and diverse materials with actual historical evidence,” he said. “They support to great extent the defense of the Armenian Case and, in particular, refute the distorted accounts of history as written by Turkish and pro-Turkish historians.”

As much as Dr. Svazlian’s literary achievements have been inspired by her dad, no doubt Knarig remains a chip off her mother’s block. Granted the output is far askew but the spirit remains on a parallel course.

“My mother played a major role in the publication of my book with her ability to translate and her concise economic ways,” said Knarig. “I’m indebted to her in a lot of ways, especially the way she motivates me to write.”

She praises her mom’s vast literary accomplishments and admits to gaining a strong influence by both parents. Her father is an attorney and also writes. His stories touch upon the social and human climate of Armenia. The family lives in a three-room Yerevan tenement and shares one computer.

“It doesn’t mean the other two stop writing when I’m using the computer,” Knarig said. “They prefer having me use the updated technology while they write in long-hand, then pay to have it printed. They’re usually sacrificing for me.”

Knarig started her project in 1992 and finished eight years later with a completed volume of 240 pages. A second edition is being compiled from 1924 to the present. Among those contributing to the project are Professor Dennis Papazian, Nancy Kolligian, Mark Mamigonian, Van Aroian, Gary Lind-Sinanian, NAASR, and ALMA.

Why America?

“A family matter close to the heart,” she pointed out. “My great-grandfather [Mehran Svazlian] was the founder of the first Armenian lobbying organization in America which took place in Boston in 1917. He also published the Armenian Herald Journal for five years.”

With a doctorate in history from Yerevan State University, Verjine Svazlian continues to teach and lecture on diasporan history at the National Academy of Sciences. Her $120 monthly salary is irrelevant.

“I don’t work for money,” she said. “I work for the idea—for the welfare of my country and the preservation of our history—so those outside our race will recognize the genocide and respect our people with moral understanding.”


About Verjine Svazlian

Verjine Svazlian, 75, author, ethnographer, and folklorist, was born in 1934 in Alexandria, Egypt in the family of writer Karnik Svazlian, an eyewitness survivor of the Armenian Genocide.

She had her elementary education at the local Poghossian Armenian National School and secondary education at the Armenian Nuns’ Immaculate Conception School with a French language bias.

In 1947, she repatriated with her parents to Armenia and graduated with honors nine years later from the historico-linguistic department of the Yerevan Khachatour Abovian Armenian State Pedagogical University.

On her own initiative, she started to jot down the various folklore relics communicated, in different dialects, by the Armenians forcibly exiled from Western Armenia, Cilicia, and Anatolia to the various countries of the world.

In 1958, she began work at the Manouk Abeghian Institute of Literature of the Armenian Academy of Sciences. Other areas of employment were National Academy of Sciences and Museum Institute of the Armenian Genocide of the National Academy of Sciences.

She has participated in a number of international conferences, discoursing upon folklore, ethnography, the Armenian Genocide, and the Armenian Question.

She has authored 23 books in different languages, including her latest The Armenian Genocide and The People’s Historical Memory, along with more than 500 academic and public papers published in Armenia and abroad.

Svazlian has written down and taped, word-by-word, fragment-by-fragment, studied, and published during a period of 50 years the various relics of the oral tradition. She has documented the testimonies and historical songs (in Armenian and Turkish) of genocide survivors deported from more than 100 localities of Historic Armenia, Cilicia, and Anatolia.

Her efforts helped save the collective historical memory of the Armenian nation with a view to presenting it to the world in different languages (Armenian, Russian, English, Turkish, French, and German).

She is the mother of published author Knarig Svazlian, 41, who has just released her own book titled The History of the Armenian Community in America.

Tom Vartabedian

Tom Vartabedian

Tom Vartabedian is a retired journalist with the Haverhill Gazette, where he spent 40 years as an award-winning writer and photographer. He has volunteered his services for the past 46 years as a columnist and correspondent with the Armenian Weekly, where his pet project was the publication of a special issue of the AYF Olympics each September.
Tom Vartabedian

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  1. I think this is an amazing work of art that when publishing such an article it is also important to reference where the book can be purchased  somewhere in the context.

  2. Verjine Svazlian’s book “The Armenian Genocide and the People’s Historical Memory” (2005) is available at:

    National Association for Armenian Studies and Research (NAASR)
    395 Concord Avenue
    Belmont, MA 02478
    Tel: (617) 489-1610
    Fax: (617) 484-1759

    My book “The History of the Armenian Community in the USA (From Beginning to 1924)” (2000) unfortunately has already expired, but you may find it, as well as the above one, in the Libraries at NAASR, UCLA, Library of Congress, etc.
    Thank you.

    National Academy of Sciences, Armenia
    Address: 36 Saryan St., Apt. 23
    Yerevan 375002
    Tel.: (374-10) 53-60-06

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