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Commemorating fifty years of Krikor Beledian’s literary activity

Այս թղթակցութեան արեւմտահայերէն տարբերակը կարդալու համար սեղմել հոս:

Date: Monday 25 January 2015
Venue: Khalili Lecture Theatre, SOAS, University of London
Speaker: Krikor Beledian
Chair: Raffi Adjemian

In late January, the Programme of Armenian Studies had the honour of hosting an event dedicated to the 50th anniversary of Krikor Beledian’s illustrious literary career. It was a particular privilege for the Programme of Armenian Studies to have Beledian himself attend and speak at the event.

Krikor Moskofian, director of the Programme of Armenian Studies, initiated the event with a welcoming speech. He spoke of the admirable nature of Beledian’s work, which has retained its ‘freshness’ throughout the past 50 years. He praised the influence of Beledian on Armenian literature, having pushed its boundaries of expression and meaning in the contemporary age. Moskofian also welcomed Christian Batikian, a young writer originally from Istanbul, who then performed a reading from one of Beledian’s early texts, and Raffi Ajemian, an Armenian writer from Montreal who has written extensively on Beledian’s literature, who chaired the event.

After Christian Batikian’s reading, Raffi Ajemian expressed his delight at being invited to participate in an event where no particular political affiliation or direction was being promoted or glorified. He stated that in such events within Armenian communities, where a writer’s life and works were being commemorated, there would normally exist either a subliminal or overt connection between the writer and a particular political group. However, on this occasion, no such pretensions could be perceived, and the event was attended by people who simply read and appreciated Beledian’s work. Ajemian then gave a broad overview of Krikor Beledian’s works, mentioning influences on the writer and motivations that led him to begin writing about the world around him.

Raffi Ajemian moved from his speech to initiate a dialogue with Beledian himself. Ajemian posed what he deemed to be a ‘naïve’ question, but one that is nonetheless the most pertinent of questions to ask Beledian – ‘when, how and why did you get the desire to start writing?’ Beledian referred to an exact date – April 1965. This was when he was attending the lycée franco-libanais, which, for Beledian, was a new and foreign environment. He was the only Armenian student in his class. During this period he met Michel Ribon whom Beledian praised as a wonderful teacher of philosophy. He alluded to Ribon as the inspiration for him to become a writer.  Beledian was especially motivated to write philosophy. Ribon spoke extensively of the French writer, poet and philosopher, Paul Valéry. Beledian remarked that his first noteworthy piece of written work was heavily influenced by Paul Valéry.

Ajemian’s next question pertained to Beledian’s choice of language – ‘how did you decide to write in Armenian?’ Beledian responded by saying that the thought of writing in any other language had not crossed his mind. Although he did make the particular decision to write in Armenian while he was in Paris. This was when he came across the works of Hagop Oshagan, initially through his literary criticisms. Beledian professed his amazement at the time of the fact that such deep and sophisticated thoughts could be expressed in the Armenian language. Beledian also mentioned Vahan Tekeyan, whose works he initially found rather simple and uninteresting, but later realised the immense influence that Tekeyan had had on the literary development of the Western Armenian language. Beledian recounted the shortcomings of education at his Armenian school at the time where his teachers would not encourage their students to read such ‘difficult’ writers and teach them about the rules that exist in literary texts. This was the result of the teachers’ own ignorance with regards to such topics. Beledian seemed to imply that he had to be somewhat of an autodidact when it came to learning about Armenian literature and also about the art of writing. Ajemian mentioned that in those years, and even now, it was somewhat of a fashion to write poetry. Beledian responded by saying that in his first years as a writer, writing poetry in Armenian seemed to be an immensely difficult task since he had not yet mastered the language fully. He remembered spending hours sitting and waiting for inspiration to come to him. In addition to a lack of knowledge and experience with the Armenian language, Beledian had nobody to teach him prosody. This he had to learn himself, first from books, then from gaining more and more experience with the language, its sounds and its rhythmical nature.

Beledian then spoke more about the development of his style of writing. He would set himself tasks and limits when writing, playing with words and the structure of sentences. He had learnt this from Paul Valéry. For example, he would attempt to write a number of lines without using a particular vowel. This was a purposeful attempt to make writing a more difficult task in order to improve one’s grasp of the language. Beledian noted that one is only inspired to burden oneself with such a task only when one has reached a certain level of mastery.

Ajemian noted that Beledian had written before about what poetry is not. Ajemian posed this question to him. Beledian listed a number of types of language that he believes do not constitute poetry – descriptive, patriotic, rhetorical and narcissistic. One of Beledian’s primary aims in writing poetry is for the ‘I’ (perhaps this may be translated as the ‘ego’) to not exist. The aforementioned playing with words was not simply a game for Beledian, but it was a means of mastering the language to such a degree so as to feel ready to be able to remove the ‘I’ when putting pen to paper. They were exercises that later enabled him to find greater room for expression, without relying so much on one’s ego for inspiration. The process of improving one’s writing technique constitutes work on one’s mind, one’s feelings and one’s language. The ultimate aim in writing poetry is the reconciliation of the mind and language.

Beledian continued speaking about the history of his literary works including his poetry, literary criticisms, mantras and badoumner. Beledian discussed his idea of badoum (from the Armenian verb badmel ‘to tell, narrate a story’; it is also the root of the word badmutyün ‘history’). He differentiated this form of literature from the novel, which he described as being a larger text that relies on the importance of a plot and necessitates a hero within the story. Badoum, on the other hand, is a way of thinking in which a certain problem is posed. A text that does not consist of a particular problem becomes simply a story, and this cannot be regarded as a badoum. Simply telling or describing a story does not interest Beledian. There must be a problem or issue to explore within the badoum.

Beledian asserts the importance of the image, badger. Aristotle said that one cannot think without an image. The image is the manner and aspect in which one thinks. The aim of the badoum is to give life to the image. The image is initially ‘frozen’. The badoum breathes life into it and brings about its appearance. Beledian stresses that when writing one must not be a slave to the image, one must not surrender to it.

The event concluded with Beledian expressing his gratitude to Krikor Moskofian for organising this commemoration. Beledian, however, took issue with the fact that the event was called a ‘jubilee’ of 50 years of literary activity and preferred to see it as a meeting in which simply literature was the topic of discussion.

The Programme of Armenian Studies was honoured to host such an event and it took great pleasure in having Krikor Beledian himself to discuss his illustrious literary career.

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