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Christopher Atamian (seated left) and Barlow Der Mugrdechian (standing far right) with students from the Armenian Studies Program at Fresno State. (Christian Mattos/The Collegian)

Author speaks about saving western Armenian literature

Author and translator Christopher Atamian visited Fresno State on Friday, Sept. 8, and presented a lecture about the book “Fifty Years of Armenian Literature in France” by Krikor Beledian.  He discussed the historical significance of the book Armenian literature.

Atamian’s translation of the book, originally written in French, was published by the Armenian Series of The Press at Fresno State in October 2016.

Atamian said the book describes a generation of post-genocidal writers who came from the Ottoman Empire after the genocide and who wrote in Armenian in Paris.

“The thing that is unique about what they did is that they wrote for each other,” Atamian said. “And they had this entire community of Armenian writers who were poets, translators, but also people that wrote philosophical treatises, medical treatises.”

Barlow Der Mugrdechian, coordinator and director of the Armenian Studies Program at Fresno State, said the book and its translation are a step toward educating about the history of Armenian literature and writers, especially after the genocide of the early 20th century.

“The important point that [Atamian] brought up is just the question of bringing to the attention of a broader audience some of the masterpieces of Armenian literature,” Der Mugrdechian said. “And a book like this really does bring that attention to some very important Armenian writers whose works have been understudied in Armenian literature.”

Atamian said the book details writers who came out of the diasporan literary movement called the Menk, which took place in Paris from 1922 through 1972.  

Beledian, the author of “Fifty Years of Armenian Literature in France,” studied the works of 40 Armenian writers, provided examples of their writing and offered his own theory that the move to France allowed them to see who they were as people and come back to those roots, Atamian said.

“There are very few examples of people who are able to transplant their entire culture to a completely different country and actually write and produce literature for 50 years,” Atamian said.

During his lecture, Atamian recounted the lives and writing of the authors in the Menk movement, such as historian and critic Kegham Sevan, poet Nigoghos Sarafian and novelist Shavarsh Nartuni.

“I think there is a need for people to understand where Armenian culture comes from but also to understand the depth of it, that it actually has this beautiful literature,” Atamian said. “It’s the literature of exile.”

George Vargas, a fifth-year criminology student, said he attended the lecture to learn about the literature and culture.

“I want to learn [the language] one day,” Vargas said.  “I’m taking the Armenian [148] class right now, and I just thought it was interesting. The land is beautiful.”

Kara Statler, a theatre major who is president of the Armenian Students Organization, said she enjoyed the lecture and, being half Armenian herself, it was interesting to learn about literature related to her own culture.

“I know about William Saroyan and stuff like that, but I don’t know much about specific Armenian-American writers,” Statler said. “So even just to have something about French-Armenian writers is really interesting, and it’s cool to hear.”

Atamian, a New York native, said he learned French and English concurrently as a child, and that he began learning Armenian 10 years ago with a tutor.  

Now working as a writer, filmmaker and translator, Atamian said he works to preserve and spread Armenian culture among all peoples.

“One of the things that I’m very interested in as I look at my own writing and what I’m going to be doing in the next couple of years, [is] I really am invested in trying to save western Armenian and the language and investigating how as either a translator or a researcher I can help do that,” Atamian said.