The Hidden Gem of Armenian Literature. Shushanik Kurghinyan

If you have ever studied at a public high school in Armenia or attended an Armenian school while living abroad then you have definitely had the chance to explore some great Armenian writers that our nation is beyond proud of: Hovhannes Tumanyan, Eghishe Charents, Avetik Isahakyan, the list can go on forever. However, our nation lacks female idols and famous writers in our literature. When you hear the name Shushanik Kurghinyan it most probably does not reveal too much information to you while this writer had an immense influence on society and government during her lifetime. If you haven’t heard of her, she is a proletarian Armenian writer who lived from 1876 to 1927. Kurghinyan was an active socialist, a great feminist and politically active individual, seeking to see Western and Eastern Armenia unite together. Luckily, contemporary writers and linguists spot a light to such authors’ works and reveal their greatness on a national and sometimes international level. Shushan Avagyan is one of them.

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Originally, not recieving appropriate amount of information in her soviet systemed school in Armenia, she came back to Kurghinyan’s works during her studies about female writers in the US. During her lifetime, she has translated Kurghinyan’s works into English, published it and has received a number of responses to expand on this topic and translate Kurghinyan’s works in other languages as well (such as Polish and Turkish).

As Ms Avagyan mentioned, Kurghinyan was originally from Alexandrapol (now called Gyumri), a city where people are independent and rebellious, have their deeply set values and beliefs and are not always in favor of the government’s regime. Ms Avagyan translated most of her poems into English (now available at AUA Papazian Library), however, Kurghinyan also wrote many short stories and plays that unfortunately are paid very little attention to. There are more than 40 notebooks of hers set aside and not explored at all.

“My aim was to shed more light on the original work,” says Ms Avagyan “The translations are obviously not as great as the work in Armenian but by making her pieces available in English, the interest towards her work has raised up instantly. My original aim was to shed more light on the original work. I tried my best to pin her works in the history and I discovered someone whose work was very potent, forward looking actual for today, very provoking and much against exploitation.”

Besides translating her work in English as Ms Avagyan did, Lilit Pipoyan turned some of her poems into songs,  “Don’t Cry (Միլար).” There are many people who turned her quotes into t shirts, as well as a Facebook page that is open to submissions for any information found about this writer. Also, check out the movie “Delivery(Երկունք)” to learn more about the political situation of Kurghinyan’s era.

Here is a spark about this phenomenal writer who is so little appreciated by Armenian society and gives you resources to learn more about her.

Here is one of Kurghinyan’s poems in a translated version.

I Want to Live

I want to live–but not a lavish life

trapped in obscurity–indifferent and foolish,

nor as an outright hostage of artificial beauty,

a frail creature–delicate and feeble,

but equal to you–oh men–prosperous

as you are–powerful and headstrong–

fit against calamities–ingenious in mind,

with bodies full of vigor.

I want to love–unreserved–without a mask–

self-willed like you–so that when in love

I can sing my feelings to the world

and unchain my heart–a woman’s heart,

before the crowds?ignoring their stern

judgmen’s with my shield and destroy

the pointed arrows aimed at me

with all my vitality unrestrained!

I want to act–equal–next to you–

as a loyal member of the people,

let me suffer again and again–night or day–

wandering from one place to another–

always struggling for the ideal

of freedom?and let this burden

torment me in my exile,

if only I may gain a purpose in this life.

I want to eat comfortably–as you do,

from that same fair bread–for which

I gave my share of holy work;

in the struggle for existence–humble and meek,

without feeling shame–let me

shed sweat and tears for a blessed earning,

let scarlet blood flow from my worker’s hands

and let my back tire in pain!

I want to fight–first as your rival,

standing against you with an old vengeance,

since absurdly and without mercy you

turned me into a vassal through love and force.

Then after clearing these disputes of my gender,

I want to fight against the agonies of life,

courageously like you–hand in hand,

facing this struggle to be or not.

7 June 1907

Source: I Want to Live: Poems of ShushanikKurghinian

 

Nune Harutyunyan

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