I recall a letter written in 1911 by Daniel Varoujan from Perknig [his birthplace near Sebastia] to his friend, a student in Belgium: “Dear Pierre, I’ve been married for two years already. My wife is named Araxie, she’s a fair-haired beauty whom I have a bucolic love for. In addition, I have a one-year-old daughter, who’s endowed with a precocious intelligence. She can already say %u218hayrig,’ that word fills me with indescribable joy. I’ve dedicated a poem to her, titled %u218To my Varoujanig.’ That’s the name of my little angel, whom I’m so terribly fond of.”
Varoujan often used to put his little girl on his lap and recite that poem:
Aghvor, aghvor, aghvor vartn im Karunis,
Vor srdis vra patsvetsar,
Yev kezi hed patsir hokis vshdaheghts,
Nor yerazi me baidzar;.
A lovely, lovely, lovely spring rose,
You bloomed on my heart,
Relieving my troubled heart,
Becoming a bright new dream;
The firstborn child of the great poet, Veronica Varoujan Safrasian, is now 96 years old, living in the United States. She recently published a book of reproductions of postcards kept in her family album. The Armenian texts of the cards, which were mainly holiday greetings, were translated into English by the well-known translator Aris Sevag. Varoujan wrote 16 of the 26 cards published, when he was a student, first in Venice, then in Ghent, and sent them to his mother, father and brothers. Thanks to [the fine state of the cards’ preservation and] the high quality of the printing, his handwriting that’s now over 100 years old is still quite legible.
The Easter card sent by Varoujan to his mother Takouhi in 1908 from Ghent is particularly moving:
“Sweet Mother, Christ is risen from the dead. God willing, next Easter we’ll color eggs red together. I’m hale and hearty. I have a new suit and my belly is full. Don’t worry. If there is something missing, that is you. It won’t be too long now. Pray that I pass my exams this year so that I can come to Perknig in the summer and kiss your two hands, your two eyes, which get no sleep from watching over me. Hugging you, jan jigger mayrig [my dear mother], I remain. Your son, Daniel.”
He often tried to match the contents of the cards to their illustrations, and even created his message in poetic form. On the front of a card showing swallows on a telephone wire (see accompanying photo), which he sent to his father Krikor, Varoujan wrote a poem entitled “Farewell”:
Hayr, art yes al dzidzernag,
M’yegha bantukhd, dar Asdvadz,
Vor tarnayi voghch, usadz,
Poons hayreni cherm, kaghtsrig.
Mnas parov, hayr im,
Pajanman keri m’e vortit.
Father, now I too have become an emigrant swallow. I pray to God that I may return an educated man, safe and sound, to my nesting ground warm and sweet. Stay well, my father. I’m a prisoner of separation.
The last card sent by father to son is dated January 7, 1915 (January 20, according to the new calendar). It is interesting to note the latter’s address on the card: Mr. Daniel Varoujan (Tchiboukkear), Principal S. K. L. [Sourp Krikor Lusavorich, or St. Gregory the Illuminator] School, Yeshil St. No. 1, Pera, Constantinople.
In response to his son’s New Year’s greeting card, the father also sent greetings, promising to “always pray for your health” and wishing “may the Lord keep you happy, together with my lovely grandchildren.” In addition, he expressed hope “for God to grant total peace to the entire world” in the New Year.
What happened just three months after this exchange of greetings is universally known. I have quite another reason for writing about this album. When I go abroad, I often leaf through such family documen’s-turned-relics. In particular, I see libraries of old Armenian books and always worry over the fate of such riches, in light of the fact that even the grandchildren of Diasporan Armenian writers, not to mention their grown-up great-grandchildren, don’t read Armenian. It’s easy to say, “Armenia is the final homeland of any given national value, its rightful heir is the Armenian people.” However, carrying it out, judging from our cultural values turning to dust in the Diaspora, is difficult. This is so, despite the fact that we have embassies throughout the world representing the Republic of Armenia, and cultural attaches working in them;.
This article originally appeared in one of the November 2007 issues of Yerevan’s Grakan Tert [Literary Gazette]. Copies of the album, entitled “The Tchiboukkearians of Perknig,” may be obtained by writing to: Aris Sevag, 33-39 80th St., Apt. 2, Jackson Heights, NY 11372 USA. Price, including postage and handling, is $15 USD. (Orders placed from outside the US are payable only by money order.)