The baton of UNESCO’s World Book Capital will be passed from Buenos Aires to Yerevan starting April 21. The Armenian capital is an interesting selection because while an Argentine newspaper decided to publish a series of articles last year titled “Beyond Borges,” Armenia doesn’t have such a well-known international celebrity overshadowing their other writers.
That is not to say Armenia lacks a vibrant and longstanding literary culture. In fact, the occasion is also being used to mark the 500th anniversary of Armenian printing. The Yerevan World Book Capital website documents the rise of Armenian printing in Venice and throughout Europe. The site also recounts the attempt to celebrate Armenian printing’s 400th anniversary in 1912, an attempt that failed without there being an independent Armenia to support it.
The site also presents some stunning Armenian manuscripts as well as a list of streets and schools named after literary figures. Not surprisingly, many of these places are named after Russian writers as well as Soviet regime favorites such as the Czech communist journalist Julius Fučík and Lenin’s favorite novelist Nikolai Chernyshevsky. Prague-born Franz Werfel has a street, a monument and a school named after him as a result of having written The Forty Days of Musa Dagh, a novel about the Armenian genocide which I previously wrote about in regard to the interest in bringing it to the silver screen by the likes of Mel Gibson and Sylvester Stallone. I will have a review of the novel soon and will try to figure out how Werfel so effectively attracted the action movie crowd.
On the long list of places named after Armenian writers I have to confess to only recognizing one name – William Saroyan, who was born in Fresno, California but wrote quite a bit about the Armenian immigrant community. I hope that some contemporary (and non-contemporary) Armenian writers get some notice and have their books translated because I don’t think I’m the only one who knows virtually nothing about Armenian literature. The site even includes links to Armeniapedia and some free translated books available there.
Photo – Lectionary of Het’um II, Cilicia, 1286, Holy Women at the Empty Tomb