“I stayed away from writing. My Armenian was not good. But writing is part of my thinking. I think through writing. I made my peace with English, because I was at war with English for many many years. That is how I became a late writer. I would consider myself an amateur writer, amateur in the old sense of the word, meaning one who loves doing something, not the professional meaning.” – Taline Voskeritchian
Taline Voskeritchian is a writer and a writing professor, who came to AUA in the fall of 2016 as a visiting professor.
She believes in the power of literature and the humanities. For her, a society without strong humanistic and cultural bases cannot produce good citizens. “If you think of education not only as a means of making a living or a killing, but rather of becoming a good citizen, a person with intelligent love, everyone in the society will benefit from that,” Voskeritchian says.
According to her, thinking people and people in literature and culture are an important part of the society. “I am very happy to be teaching the students I am teaching, many of whom understand that good citizenship means thoughtful and committed human beings — committed to ideas that go beyond making money,” Voskeritchian says.
Writing and literature were always part of her environment. Her grandfather Hagop Oshagan, and her uncle Vahe Oshagan were very well known writers. But they wrote in Armenian, and her Armenian was not good as she did not attend Armenian school when she was growing up. In the Diaspora, the post-genocide generation was not skilled in giving encouragement. “I was living in the presence of the shadow of two great writers, and in the end, everything in life is you, you have to do it, you fail, you try again, you fail again; it is like romance,” Voskeritchian explains.
The idea to come and teach in Armenia was something that she had been considering for a long time. But the circumstances at the time, were such that she could not. “There was an open period in my life after my husband died, and I thought maybe I should give it a try, because I have always thought how I could possibly help Armenia with what I know,” Voskeritchian says. “I am an incurable teacher, and the idea came back to me. Although I was extremely hesitant and nervous, here I am.”
Voskeritchian describes Armenia and Armenians as a communal web. She says that whatever is taken for granted in Armenia is not questioned, and this makes Armenians feel that they are in a communal web. “We are all in this web together. I do not feel the same in the States. In the States, we are constantly questioning everything. There is no such web,” Voskeritchian says.
Although Western Armenian is her language of intimacy, she somehow feels that Eastern and Western Armenians are merging together. “Being in the Armenian environment, you feel an unspoken connection. There is a philosophy of life; there is a kind of bittersweet, sad joy in life, and this speaks to our past, to our history,” Voskeritchian explains. “That is what I feel especially in Gyumri; we are one in our attitude, in a very deep, primary level.”
“Gyumri is my latest love affair,” Voskeritchian says. She met a woman in Gyumri, which was a brief meeting on the street, and they had a very small exchange. The meeting sparked something in her, which will probably become a piece of writing. She thinks that her encounter with this woman is a phenomenon typical to Armenia. “You meet people, you talk, you do something, they ask for something, and then a bond forms. Then, each one goes their own way; you may never see them again, but something stays,” Voskeritchian says. “I returned to Gyumri a week later, I did not try to find her, but she was there, I know she was there.”
“Raw” is the adjective she would use to describe Armenia and Armenians. She thinks that there is a beauty in that rawness, but there is a lot of intensity and danger. There is a mixture of melancholy and humor as well. As for her, she is afraid of humor as it can easily become cynical. She believes that there is much cynicism in Armenia, which she tries to keep her students and herself away from. “I want my students to understand paradox and contradiction, because life is contradictory and knowledge is the appreciation of contradictions, but cynicism kills the mind,” Voskeritchian says. “At first it appears as humor, but you see that underneath there is cynicism, which can become very problematic.”
Voskeritchian writes essays that move the readers. “The way I choose my stories is a mystery. The subject chooses you, metaphorically, of course. It is always like that,” Voskeritchian explains.
She has a strong conviction that the best pieces her students write are those that they have already thought about in the past, without realizing it. Her job as a writer and as a teacher is to recognize that fact and open up for what has been chosen for her. “You want to be in the company of subjects that open themselves up to other subjects. You want the subject to be like a flower, to take you somewhere,” Voskeritchian says. She believes that there is an element of the unknown in all writing. The best work that writers produce is a little unkno wn to them. They may know something about the subject, and they may even have the be
ginning of the thesis, but they have to develop it. The best writers and student writers are those who are aware that there is something unknown about the entire process at a very early stage.
Voskeritchian has three pieces of advice to student writers:
“Write, write, write. Write a lot. Most of it will be very bad, some of it will give you the possibility to continue with it.”
“Read, but read good writing and read like a writer, in order to find out how this particular writer solved this particular problem.”
“Intelligent love: have intelligent love for the world and the materials of the world, because that is what you are going to use, which means use your heart and your mind in an equal measure.”
Photographer: Tatevik Avetisyan