By Hagop Vartivarian
ENGLEWOOD, N.J.—After Detroit, Toronto, Los Angeles, and Fresno, the Tekeyan Cultural Association (TCA) made New York reverberate with the words of a pair of newly published volumes dedicated to the writings of Vahan Tekeyan—Vahan Tekeyan: Selected Poems, translated into English by Gerald Papasian and his uncle John Papasian, and the Armenian-language Vahan Tekeyan: Panasdeghdzutiunneru hadendir, edited by Edmond Azadian.
The presentation took place on Friday evening, Oct. 31, at the New Jersey TCA Center, where admirers of Tekeyan the poet and public figure filled the hall completely. The program was at a professional level suited to the audience, which itself appeared to have serious literary interests. The director, actor, and translator Gerard Papasian had come from Paris for the occasion, while literary critic Edmond Azadian and artist Nora Ipekian-Azadian came from Detroit.
After words of welcome from the chairman of the New York TCA executive, the artistic portion of the program began with a performance by one of the best interpreters of classical music, soprano Anahit Zakaryan, accompanied on the piano with composer Hampartzoum Berberian’s music of Tekeyan’s poems “G’antzreve, dghas” (“It Is Raining, My Son”) and “Ser me kaghdni” (“A Secret Love”).
Zarmine Boghosian, educator and writer, served as the master of ceremonies. Boghosian was recently given a medal by the Mother See of Etchmiadzin. Thanks to her efforts, the program went smoothly, and she introduced the participating artists with a seriousness worthy of Tekeyan.
While the program had been initiated and organized by the TCA, the Hamazkayin Armenian Education and Cultural Society and the Essayan-Getronagan Alumni Association also participated as fellow cultural organizations. As Vahan Tekeyan had been a student in, and then principal of, Constantinople’s [Armenian] National Central [Getronagan] School, it was particularly appropriate that the chairman of the latter’s alumni association, Arto Khrimian, give a heart-felt talk.
The anthology of poems in English translation was presented by the well-known intellectual and translator Dr. Hrant Markarian. He analyzed on video the difficult work conducted by the Papasians, which reappeared at a late date by chance in John Papasian’s home in Rome, after the latter had passed away in Cairo in 1989. This initial work was continued by Gerald.
The book was published by California State University, Fresno, and edited by Edmond Azadian. The cover illustration, a portrait painting of Vahan Tekeyan, is by Nora Azadian, who personally knew the writer while he was living in Cairo. The Prince of Poets would frequently visit the home of Azadian’s maternal grandfather, Mihran Damadian, the hero of Sasun and an Armenian Democratic Liberal leader.
The poet Vehanoush Tekian presented in the Armenian language the second book, which was published by Armenia’s TCA in Yerevan in 2012. Edmond Azadian both edited this volume and wrote its foreword. The book is comprised of a selection of Tekeyan’s poems in separate chapters, “Presenting Oneself,” “Love and Impossible Loves,” “Armenian Verses,” “Something Terrible Thing There,” and “Beyond Life and Death,” which represent the true measure of the great poet.
Instead of just introducing the book, Tekian also gave information on Tekeyan’s biography and work, which she conscientiously prepared (and which could be presented in a separate literary assembly).
Gerald Papasian first expressed his gratitude to the TCA executive for organizing the event and then reflected on the process of translating the volume. It was laborious and the book was given to the publisher only after a hiatus of many years.
Then the graceful actress Nora Armani and Papasian recited six poems from the English translation of Tekeyan’s verses.
The multitalented Nora Azadian, despite her advanced, age recited with deep feeling two well-known Tekeyan poems—“Bidi esenk Asdudzoy” (“We Shall Say to God”) and “Bidi iynas” (“You Will Fall”), which at the threshold of the Centennial of the Armenian Genocide display Tekeyan’s rage even against God as he wrote:
“Let us all swear that when at last we meet
God in his paradise coming to greet
and comfort and make amends for our pain,
we shall refuse his tardy gift, and say:
‘Send us to hell. Send us to hell again.
You made us know it alas, all too well.
Save paradise for the Turks. Send us to hell.’”
The audience responded with a long-standing ovation to Nora Azadian’s interpretation of Tekeyan’s words.
Edmond Azadian then spoke, thanking the organizing committee and specifically mentioning each artist in the program. Azadian himself is one of only a few living intellectuals who knows Tekeyan’s work and life, and transmits to the new diasporan and Armenian literary generation the legacy of Tekeyan’s Armenian national activities and the talent he used for the advancement of Armenian literature.
Azadian has various works dedicated to Tekeyan and other Armenian writers scattered throughout the pages of our national press, and finally is engaged in assembling them in the form of several volumes.
The talented contemporary singer and songwriter Berge Turabian then performed three songs of Tekeyan’s verses that he had set to music. Turabian is one of the best interpreters of Tekeyan, and of Charles Aznavour. He has a compact disc of Tekeyan verses turned to song.
At the conclusion of the event, some in the audience brought copies of the books to be autographed by the authors.