Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Even though the official Saroyan Centennial is over in Armenia, events continue, for example today’s presentation at the Krikor Zohrab school in the Erebuni district of Yerevan. Arriving, Hasmik and I were invited to meet the school principal, a woman dedicated to teaching children about Armenia’s great writers and cultural figures in general. Today, in the school library, in coordination with a special UN program, children of all ages presented short skits of Saroyan short stories and of a young Saroyan in elementary school and also being interviewed as an adult. A girl’s rendition of the song “Krunk” was especially good. As the presentation progressed, large black and white photos of Saroyan during visits to Armenia were shown, including one with Hrant Matevosyan, Razmik Davoyan, and other writers, all standing in front of the ruins of the walls of the monastery of Khor Virab, several years before its renovation. Stories were told of Saroyan’s meetings with Charents, Hrant Matevosyan, Shervanzade, and Vahan Totovents, whom Saroyan met on his first visit to Armenia, in 1939.

During a business meeting in a coffee shop in the city center I came across a friend who works in one of the folklore departments at the Ministry of Culture, as well as coordinating cultural shows on radio and television. “I need to leave the ministry,” the person said. “I understand when people help their friends and acquaintances, but things have gone too far. They give money, in the thousands, to people who present worthless programs, programs which don’t help culture at all. I can’t believe the staff there, most of whom have no tie to culture and don’t understand what they’re doing. Sometimes I wonder if there’s any point in raising my kids in this country, as if our cultural situation continues like this, I might as well move to Turkey. Let the Turks kill me, I don’t care, it’s better than a cultural death.”

My friend asked if I was going to the opposition rally on March 1, and I answered with a question, asking if it was going to be safe there. “If you even ask that question, you shouldn’t go,” the person said. “Did the Armenians have a choice before being sent on death marches? Did the people camped out a year ago by the Opera building worry about their safety and stay home? Armenians need to stop worrying so much and start taking chances, or in the future we won’t have a country.”

The day’s activities concluded at another Saroyan presentation, this one at the Puppet Theater on Sayat Nova, the opening day of a two-week film festival in Yerevan. For about the fifth time, we watched the Malyan Theater’s “Stories on a Train,” based on several short stories by Saroyan, including the “The Poor and Burning Arab” and the story of “poor Uncle Missak” and his travels around the world. Not only did the full house enjoy the evening, but also the movie and art experts who spoke at the discussion after the presentation ended. When a poet said that he thought the actor who played Uncle Khosrov and the barber during the Uncle Missak skit spoke in a loud and exaggerated manner, several of us explained that not only Saroyan but the entire clan spoke that way, and that their hand gestures and loud voices were famous during their day.

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