Sunday, October 12, 2008
The much awaited Saroyan Conference has come to an end, almost sadly, with a flurry of activity following three days of speeches, reports, meetings, interviews, and studies of the great writer.
On the final day, Friday, October 10, participants visited Garni and Geghard and several museums, notably the Martiros Saryan home-museum, where a special gathering was organized to honor Saroyan and talk about the relationship between the two cultural giants. A great-granddaughter of the painter showed the two portraits Saryan painted of Saroyan, including the famous one often used in books of his paintings.
During the program, Hasmik, backed by Shoghaken blulist Levon Tevanyan, sang “Gorani,” a song of Moush, “Tnen Ilar,” a work song from Shatakh, and “Bari Luso Astgh Yerevats,” a work song written by Khrimyan Hayrik. Later, at a reception held in the artist’s studio, we were told that Saryan had painted the portraits of twelve Armenians known in the arts and sciences, and how these paintings were all burned one day in the Opera square by the Soviets. We were also shown a certificate given to Saryan by the French government, and told that when the Soviets found out about the certificate, they decided not to send Saryan to Siberia (in 1937), where he would have likely met the same fate as many other Armenian intellectuals. Standing on the outside balcony, we saw the dome of Zoravor church, and the tall apartments buildings facing Pushkin street. Saryan’s granddaughter told us how angry the painter became when the buildings were erected, as it blocked the view of Mt. Ararat from his home.
After leaving the home-museum, we made our way through a traffic jam, caused by several roads being blocked due to a concert of pop stars to be held that evening in the central square, to the Congress Hotel and then to the Painters’ Union. There, hundreds of guests and noted figures in the local culture scene attended an exhibition of paintings by the well known painter Arevik Petrosyan.
Leaving the exhibition, we were drawn to an open air presentation in front of Kino Moskva, where a group of African singers and dancers performed ethnic African songs to a throng of somewhat enthralled Yerevantsis. A parliamentarian who had stopped there on his way to the painting exhibition told us his opinion about the presentation at the Sundunkian theater, another of many done this year of works by Saroyan.
“Again, someone took money and said he could put on this play, and again, the result was nothing short of a disaster. It was sickening. I only hope people start to tell these people their real opinions, not just say, ‘oh, what a good job you did,’ as I think these directors actually believe they have great talent and anything they produce is noteworthy.”
Then, after talking with several friends and relatives near the African presentation, we walked to the American-Armenian University to attend a reception there for someone in the law department, after which several of us crowded into a taxi and went to the Paplavok restaurant, where we ate, drank, and listened to jazz, tonight played quite well by Yerevan Armenian musicians. We then made our way to the Congress Hotel, where we bade farewell to our cousins and friends, which included Haig and Connie Mardikian of San Francisco and other Saroyan experts we had met over the past week.