BY CATHERINE YESAYAN
As we left Vanadzor for the village of Dsegh, we passed the outskirts of the city. The 17th century “Black Church” as it’s called, was on our right and the tombstones that are erected at the edge of the road were on our left. Then my taxi continued on the beautiful scenic route towards the village of Dsegh. Mountainous woods with dark shades of green enveloped us. I can boldly say that the scenery of that region is the most beautiful in Armenia.
We arrived in just half an hour. I wished the distance was longer so I could enjoy more of the breathtaking views which always inspire me to write. I came to Dsegh for the first time a few years ago, when my tour itinerary included even the less traveled corners of Armenia.
The village of Dsegh is definitely off the beaten path. Few tourists are guided through there. That first trip to Dsegh was for the purpose of visiting the home where Armenia’s beloved poet Hovhannes Tumanyan was born. Now, it’s a museum.
On that day the head docent, Vera, delivered such a moving narrative during the tour, that I could not hold my tears. She gave details about Tumanyan’s life, adding delicate verses of his poetry to her talk. The mélange of the poetic language and the details that she included about many aspects of his life left such a great impression on me that I kept returning to Dsegh. That’s how the village gained an auspicious place in my heart. This was my fourth visit to Dsegh—it is definitely getting into a habit.
I returned this time for two reasons: First, I wanted to spend time in a rustic setting, which means going to bed with the barking of the stray dogs and waking up to the sounds of roosters and the mooing of cows. Among other things, it means having breakfast outside in a garden at an ancient wooden table covered with an old plastic tablecloth (which doesn’t look clean). I could spread my bread with butter churned the night before and would have the free range chickens roaming around as companions at the breakfast.
Second, I wanted to be close to the spirit of Tumanyan and write my reflections about him. For that I wanted to hear the same docent speak again.
On the second day of my stay, I went to the museum and listened to Vera again. She started her talk with a quatrain that Tumanyan wrote about his own christening.
“At my christening…
The mountain became my God-father,
Dew, the life-giving myrrh,
and I was baptised by Him who created me as a bard.”
Tears rolled down my face as soon as she began reciting the verses. I was wearing glasses, and I hoped Vera wouldn’t notice the tears. But I guess she did, because she kept glancing at me inquisitively.
Tumanyan is considered to be the national poet of Armenia. He lived to the age of 54, and wrote thousands of verses, many in story form. My generation, and my parents’ generation, all grew up with Tumanyan’s stories. He may be considered the Armenian Christian Anderson, with a more delicate slant.
A poet of immense insight, often Tumanyan’s lyrics and stories portray the everyday life of his time, either in his hometown of Dsegh, or in Tiflis, Georgia, which during the 19th and early 20th centuries was a city under the influence of Russian Empire and a hub of Armenian culture.
Tumanyan, with his simple but poetic verses, brought life into old Armenian fables, history and mythology. He wrote his first poem at the age of 12, while studying at a school outside of Dsegh in Jalaloghli—now Stepanavan. He lived there at his teacher’s house and was in love with the teacher’s daughter Verginé. His first poem is preserved, with his original handwriting, at the museum.
I won’t dare to translate the poem, because part of the beauty of the poem is how it rhymes. However I can tell what in general it says. First he refers to Verginé as his little dove. Then he says, “How amazing is that a young guy (referring to himself) can go to school and learn his lessons, while he’s in love”
Դու մի հօգար
թե կան դասեր
կա նաև սեր
Եվ ինչ զարմանք
Որ կենդանի մի պատանի
Սերը սրտում դաս է սերտում։
My adoration of Tumanyan cannot be finished unless I tell you about his most famous story “Gikor” which is a sad account of a young boy whose dad takes him from their village to Tiflis to work as a hired hand to gain life experience. The short story ends when Gikor dies at the hospital in Tiflis.
I’ve shed so many tears over listening to the story of Gikor. However I would not have imagined that I would cry again, as an adult, when a few years ago, I started to read the story to a friend, who wanted to learn about Armenian literature. I apologized to her and said that I couldn’t continue.
My eagerly awaited three-day stay in Dsegh ended on September 1st which is the day the new academic year begins in Armenia. I had planned to be there to participate at the opening ceremony of the school, which was spectacular, beyond my expectation.
More about my stay in Dsegh in my next column.