A Visit Home for Varoujan’s Birthday
The 20th April 1884 is Taniel Varoujan’s birthday, and it’s an opportunity for us to celebrate the man and his work. It’s difficult to comprehend how such a young person, only 31 when arrested, would have the maturity, sophistication and vision to pen the words and themes he did, but many geniuses are born old and die young.
Taniel was born in the village of Perkenik, it was the place that inspired his love for nature and humanity and where he would retreat from the hustle and bustle of Constantinople to see his family and friends ¹․
Օne of Varoujan’s students, Arakel Badrig has given us a delightful description of the Chebukkerian home (Vaoujan’s original family name), in 1912, when he was a teacher at the Aramian Academy in Sebastia.
“After we completed our graduation ceremony, Varoujan congratulated us, saying: ‘Tomorrow, you’re all invited to come dine at our house in Perkenik.’
After passing outside the city limits we soon found ourselves between two oceans of tall amber-colored waves of grain. From time to time we encountered Perkeniktsees, some on foot and others mounted, and exchanged greetings and good-natured banter. They were keen in their replies and their witty wise-cracks delighted us no end. We were still youngsters just on the threshold of life and everything delighted us.
When we reached the village proper, women in red aprons, sitting by their doors watched us, somewhat startled. One old lady said in the local dialect
“‘Koh, zoaheer mer Donelin yeehon.” –
“Hey look, evidently they’re going to our Daniel.” ²
It seemed that our group’s passing through the village was the day’s big event. Girls with well-groomed woven hair, and wearing sparkling multi-colored beads, stared down at us from the rooftops.
At that moment, Varoujan appeared and shouted loud and cheerful greetings. Varoujan was beaming.
We knew that the source of his joy was not merely the charming life here in his paternal home, but also ‘she who was to come.
For Varoujan had been engaged for a few months now under romantic circumstances and he was no doubt living to its full the sweet dreams of tomorrow. We knew this and read it in his every expression.
This was perhaps the happiest period of his life.
And now, as I finger the monotonous and often discoloured beads of my days back in time, that day in Perkenik shines like a brilliant emerald, truly a magic emerald into which I gaze — as in a fairy tale — and still see that joyful village sprawled along the banks of a stream, through whose narrow streets women in red aprons are still passing by. Elderly women sitting fingering their rosary beads. And I see a young woman sitting in a yard under the shade of a mulberry tree rocking a cradle, or a pair of ruddy oxen walking along the edge of a field, ahead of a villager’s thin frame.”
A barefooted boy is throwing stones at the ducks in the rivulet. …Suddenly the church bell rings the Angelus. In front of the mill a whitened miller appears, shakes off the flour from his clothing and makes the sign of the cross. “
We will never know what other wonderful works Taniel would have written, if his life had not been cut short in the Armenian Genocide. What he gave us in his short years is still fresh and exciting, visions of love, life and the spirit of humanity. Taniel’s voice was salvation for the oppressed and poor, the spirits of the land and heavens, pagan passions of the fables with textures of pearls and silks. His voice is as important today as it was then and the sounds and visions of the past should be preserved not only as a memory but also an inspiration for the future.
¹ Research: History of Perkenik by Fr. Ephrem Boghossian C. M. Vd (Mechitharist of Vienna, Austria) Translation by Joe Topalian
² In the typical rustic dialect of Perkenik. In less rustic popular Western Armenian: “Ka, zar mer Danielin g’ertan.” “Ka” is a popular interjection when calling a woman’s attention (as “dzo” to a man) and can be translated “Hey “or “Look.” “Zar” is colloquial for the Turkish-Arabic “Zahir” meaning “evidently, etc”
Featured image: Perkenik Village: Photo by Maggie Land Blanck