Kurghinian’s comeback: 100 years before or later, what difference does it make?

10.03.2006 at 07:04 Оставьте комментарий

Those graduating from a Soviet school remember Shushanik Kurghinian’s “Laborers” poem that was learned by heart by pupils.

Here we come –
In worn-out jackets, in grease and soot,
With shabby caps and dirty hair…

Now there is no Soviet Union, and as it disappeared Kurghinian was also erased from the school curriculum. Today, when you ask a teenager – have you studied Kurghinian, he answers – who is she? The name of Shushanik Kurghinian remains only in the memory of older generations as a trace of Soviet propaganda, as a proletarian poetess.

But there is also another Kurghinian, who is much more advanced than the idea of a woman in today’s Armenian reality: a feminist and rebel poetess to whose readers the book “I Want to Live” is returning.

Shushan Avagyan, a 30-year-old Illinois University doctoral student has translated Kurghinian’s work, published by the Armenian International Women’s Association (http://www.aiwa-net.org).

“For the first time I read a couple of Kurghinian’s poems in a textbook for the sixth grade,” Avagyan writes in a letter. “The teacher overlooked her as ‘not an important’ writer. Years passed, I forgot about Kurghinian, I only remembered that there is a poetess with whom I am a namesake. Years later when I read books by other female writers, I saw that something was missing – missing were those cultural peculiarities that made me different from those writers. Their feminism was not perfect for me. The novels by Bronte and Virginia Woolf raised the issues of an English woman and her peculiarities, Charlotte Gilmann and Kate Chopin built the image of a white American woman and her problems in marriage. Alice Walker and Tony Morison wrote on behalf of black women violated by slavery. It was at that time, in 1999, when I began to think seriously about Kurghinian’s works. When I was in Yerevan, I found two of her books at the library: … And here’s a woman who a century ago wrote about everything that I thought about and continue to think about today.”

The collection “I Want to Live” returns not only Kurghinian, but also the territory she had gained for women where a woman’s life is not for pleasing a man and continuing his generation.

I want to live, 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.

On the occasion of the publication, Columbia University Professor Mark Nichanian writes:

“During her life, after her death and today she met much more than lack of understanding, it was indeed a deliberate campaign to consign her to oblivion. First by czarist censorship because of her communist and revolutionary poetry. And then by the Soviet Armenian intellectuals because she was a rebel, and then by the censorship that was unable to understand it. Because she was a rebel woman, that is a kind of human unacceptable and not understandable in everyone’s eyes.” Nichanian says that so far two Kurghinians were propagandized – in Diaspora as a lyric poet, and in the Soviet Union as a proletarian poet. Literary critics hid the real rebellious and feminist poetess and adjusted her to opportunism: “And her rebellion was like a challenge to the male-dominated social order.”

Kurghinian (1876-1927), was born in Gyumri. In 1903 she fled to Rostov hiding from czarist persecutions. Later she returned to Gyumri.

The rebellious female spirit disappeared together with Kurghinian.

Her challenge became silent: “Then after clearing these disputes of my gender, I want to fight against the agonies of life…” And now her “behest” has again been recovered from obscurity. Until today the parents of a girl give a dowry, including kitchenware and linen, when their daughter gets married. These items symbolize the new bride’s dedication to her new home and family. Kurghinian had also prepared a dowry in her poem “Gift to My Daughter”, which now seems to be a letter addressed to the modern-day Armenian woman:

Carried in the depth of my soul, I will give you a dowry
of noble ideals, trapped in a life of duress…

The Soviet Union reduced the ideas of equality and liberty to slogans that were not applied other than on the banners during parades, and behind the banner there was a woman burdened with family cares who had to cook, washed dishes and did the laundry, cleaned the house after having to work outside.

March 8th, which was determined as the day of women’s struggle for emancipation, was turned into a festival of paying attention to the woman that even more accentuated the social division between women and men. The country broke up, March 8th remained a festival. Now was revitalized the pre-modern patriarchal thinking in which a woman, as an actress on TV says, is a complement to a man.

Now the following thoughts can be heard in interviews of intellectual women: “A woman’s virtue will never be as high as a man’s”, or “A woman’s role is only advising her husband,” or, as the people’s saying goes “a man’s beating is like being beaten with a rose.”

Kurghinian’s book seems to have appeared to dispute lingering ideas and charming female leaders existing (as in today’s Armenia) on grants.

Do not love me as if I were a flower!
I want to live a worthy life-
as an atom in a mass of troubles,
as a child of the street mobs!

The link between generations has been severed, the foundations of society laid down by the intellectual spirit in the early 20th century have collapsed. Now the role given to the woman to raise a child and keep the sacredness of the home is not even disputed. A woman’s career begins when she gets married and ends with raising her grandchildren. And again the link is restored, lines appear that are put before a woman like a mirror.

And your only lot in life,
Eating, sleeping and giving birth,
Is the mark of the slavery
Of being born a girl.

Has anything changed during 100 years? Now criminal-patriarchal “brotherhoods” are ruling for whom “a woman’s word has no grounds.” Some rich, advanced families women are allowed to work, but not for having a career or self expression, but for having something to keep busy (“I work not to stay at home”). That is, work is yet another decoration for the high-society women whom Kurghinian describes as follows:

I pity you, vain captives, whose
Thoughts are lost in folds of velvet
For having minds that are utterly vacant,
For having hearts that are tainted with deceit.

Dozens of seminars are held during a year dealing with women’s emancipation and gender issues. Speakers present the international experience of women’s movements. Where is the Armenian experience? It seems it never existed, it seems that from the Middle Ages Armenia at once appeared in the 21st century.

The research of translator Avagyan say another thing: “If you want to know the truth, I have never met a writer like Kurghinian in any culture or literature. Female writers in Europe and America mainly write about ‘bourgeois’ issues. And Kurghinian wrote about poor women and the working class.”

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Կուրղինյանի վերադարձը. 100 տարով առաջ թե հետ՝ ի՞նչ կա որ Անմազ

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