Sunday, July 29, 2007

Voice of the countryside: Tlgadintsi

Hovhannes Tlgadintsi (Harutyunyan) served for 28 years as director of the Getronagan school, from the time he founded it as a 27 year old teacher in 1887 until his death in 1915 in the Great Calamity. Although he was one of the brilliant authors of his time, he never put being an educator into a secondary role. Perhaps more than his articles and books, he prided himself on the students he raised. The school that he established in competition with the American College in Harput and watched grow over the years was one of the best in Anatolia, together with Sanasaryan in Erzurum.

Tlgadintsi was born in the village of Tilgadin, south of Harput (1860) and learned to read at his village school. When he lost his father at an early age, his mother sent him to the Simpadyan school in Harput. He inhaled, word for word, the literary works published in Istanbul newspapers and wrote short stories and poems in imitation. He was talented and it did not take him too long to find his own voice and style. His success at being published in the two important newspapers of his day, in Masis and Arevelk (East) spurred him on. These two newspapers, especially Arevelk, were supporting a more socially conscious, more realist line than the romantic movement dominant in Armenian literature up to that time. Tlgadintsi who spent his entire life in the countryside, among the Armenian peasantry, continued in the footsteps of Father Migirdic Hirimyan and Hirimyan’s student Karekin Sirvantzdiyants who established the countryside literary movement and was perhaps the author who most improved and deepened this movement.

As a theme, he always took various aspects of village life. From his pen, issued forth exciting ups and downs; at times a delicate sorrow but most often humor and satire. He talked of ethical pressures that drowned women, decrepit customs, ineptitude of religious officials, emptiness of the education given in village schools, young women sent from Harput to America to be married to a man they had just seen in a single photograph. He was always concerned with the problems of his people, especially with social injustices. He pointed out reasons for the backwardness of the village populations and the terrible results of this situation. Like all Armenian authors sensitive to social problems during the Abdulhamid period, he was scrutinized and harrassed. Being a school director who continued to write in the midst of problems was enough to draw the anger of political powers. After the massacres of 1894-96, he did not withhold from describing the squalor and misery of widows and orphans with a sharp observing eye and a bold pen. In 1903, without any concrete accusations, he was jailed for nine months.

A number of Tlgadintsi’s students became writers themselves. The most famous is Rupen Zartaryan of Sivas who was arrested along with other intellectuals in Istanbul on 24 April 1915, and later killed. He influenced Penyamin Nurigyan, Vahe Hayg, Vahan Totovents, Hamasdegh (Hampartzum Gelenyan), each of whom were to emerge later as important literary figures in Armenian literature. This great teacher and author who said in the 1500th anniversary celebrations of the invention of the Armenian alphabet that “We can be sure that we will never die, never cease to exist since we have Armenian letters and literature”, managed to hide away at a Muslim friend’s house when the massacre and deportation days began in Harput in 1915, but he was caught soon. During this time, his wife and seven children were sent on the road to Der Zor. Tlgadintsi was murdered on the outskirts of Harput in July and there were no survivors left from his family.

April 13, 2007


An excerpt

After settling in America, whoever wishes for a fiancee from Harput sends a hefty sum – enough to cover travel and engagement expenses – to his parents, or if they are not alive, to a relative and asks them to find one of the fresh virgins of the country and bring her immediately, or, if they are not able to come themselves, to send that fresh young fish under the care of someone. A girl to his specifications or more than his specifications is soon found. For, if a suitable bride-to-be is not to be found in this house, there is bound to be two or three behind that door, there. On display in the hamams, churches, orphanages, there are thousands of girls who resemble blooming lilies of the valley and would come to resemble withered poppies soon. (...) When the day of bargaining arrives, the woman on the male side, the mother or relative, will engage in such charlatan behavior to assure a favorable outcome that their sweet tongues can talk even a snake out of its hiding hole. Ah, the pupil of their eye is a lord over there, earns so many dollars a week, many rich girls are pursuing him but he rejects all and is adamant in wanting a girl from his country. When the mother or relative hands over the photograph of their precious one to the girl’s guardians, she is sure to mention the age: past 28, but not quite 29. A young man built like a bull, the apple of his boss’s eye.

Hovhannes Tlgadintsi, “The Child in the Picture”, 1905

3 comments:

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lka01 said...

The idea of the getronagan at Kharpert (or was it in nearby Mezireh?) being in direct competition with the American school, Yeprad College is intriguing. How sad that both were destroyed. I had several great aunts who were graduates of the getronagan, known as "varjouhies." Is there a more complete biography of Tilgadintsi and the once rich academic community of Kharpert?