Nanor Injejikian has prepared the following interview with humorist Hagop Bekiarian, who is based in Aleppo, Syria.
– Mr. Bekiarian, you are a known name in Aleppo and in many Armenian communities with a legacy of more than thirty years, but despite this fact, you have never published a book under your name.
As I have mentioned several years ago in the Syrian Armenian yearly “Keghart“, the poor quality of the books published nowadays has discouraged me to take such a decision. It is a fact that hundreds of books are published annually, but how many of these enjoy the reader's attention? A thinker once has said: “The soul of an author cherishes every time someone reads his book“. When we were young, we consumed with great interest the masterpieces of our classical and revolutionary authors such as Yeroukhan, Raffi, Dzerents, Shahnour, Shoushanian and others.
– However you need not be worried, as you have had many readers who have enjoyed reading your articles, whenever they were published in the literary periodicals.
I believe that the Armenian press has a wider presence in Armenian families compared to the Armenian book, thus I feel satisfied my voice has reached the public through the former. Without generalizing, I would like to mention, with sorrow, that I have known people who have acquired luxurious Armenian publications, just for decorating their living rooms.
– Decades from now, those who would like to read your work will be obliged to revert to the media archives.
Let a cultural organization undertake the mission of publishing my works after my death, similar to the volumes published in the past under the title “Series of Martyred Writers”. Fortunately, there are cultural and literary funds in present time too.
– It has been almost a century since our great humorists Hagop Baronian and Yervant Odian published their masterpieces (“The disadvantages of etiquette”, “The community bosses”, etc), but their works still keep their freshness and are still continuously performed on stage. Do you attribute this to the real and immortal talent of these humorists or to the embarrassing backwardness of the people, who continue to give substance to these works?
Both are correct. First, it is beyond doubt that Baronian and Odian have unprecedented talent. The reason these works are still fresh is in the fact that after one hundred years obviously not much has changed in our reality, living style and manners. Many of the characters mentioned in their works are still alive amongst us.
– The number of humorists has usually been limited and in modern times, this figure is even less. What is the reason behind that?
Comedy is a very difficult genre of literature. It is more difficult to be a comedian writer than a tragedy writer. The committed satirist is a person with great responsibilities, whose works are – though bitter – but similar to sugar-coated medicine. Great tragedy is sometimes disguised behind a comedy.
– What type of literature attracted you in the beginning of your literary life?
At the beginning, I produced some poems, then I wrote some general articles, but soon afterwards, I noticed that humor and satire are more effective.
– Is comedy therefore a matter of choice or disposition for you?
It is quite natural that, without strong inner disposition there would be no choice for any kind of literature at all. In this context, I can partly justify the word “choice” in the sense that, from the onset of my literary life, I instantly noticed that, a page of criticism or satiric writing has more influence on the heart and mind of the reader than 10 pages of essay. Here I recall a Chinese proverb that says a picture can say far more than a book with ten thousand pages.
– The heroes in your works usually come from the ranks of the middle class workers. Do you believe that there are also ignorant people in the ranks of the intellectuals?
You are right. My heroes are usually from simple Armenian families, from the so-called masses, those who have preserved throughout centuries the Armenian traditions, customs, language, etc It is within the ranks of these people that the national pride, ideology and the consciousness against common threats are instinctively formulated. We should not forget that heroes, cultural activists, writers and others are born from the bosom of the people. Of course, there are ignorant and inapt intellectuals, but if the masses are healthy and educated, they will give birth to real intellectuals.
– If, as you have mentioned above, the Armenian public has the sense of consciousness against common threats, why then different alerts and calls for awakening are circulated and many educational lectures are delivered with this content?
Unfortunately, it is not enough to know what a danger is in order to avoid it. For example, in recent years thousands of our Armenian compatriots emigrated from the fatherland to America, Canada, Russia and other countries. Don't they know that after many years abroad they will be assimilated and disappeared? I have dealt in my writings with many serious Armenian topics, such as mixed marriages, the decline of the number of the Armenians in Middle East communities (something which effects the Armenian Cause negatively), the necessity of the Armenians to live together and communicate with each other, the need for strengthening the Armenian media and school, the moral obligation for naming the newborns with Armenian names, etc. Let us look into this last example: Do the foreigners call their children with Armenian names? I believe a strong pan-Armenian body should be established to deal with many issues, otherwise my efforts and the efforts of the others will be in vain.
– You have been for many years an Armenian language and literature teacher in several schools in Aleppo. In your view, how successful is the modern day Armenian teacher in conveying the love of the Armenian book to the new generation?
I tried to convey this love to the children, but the results were not encouraging at all. It is difficult to go against the tide. It would be difficult to convey the love of Armenian book, parallel to modern day technological innovations.
The reason is the modern mass media. The Western globalization has invaded our homes and we have been downgraded to slaves. Hundreds of satellite channels, 24 hours movies, soap operas, computer, internet, mobile, in addition to immoral websites and meaningless pass time electronic games. Therefore, it is not correct to blame the Armenian teacher always, it is not also right to consider the Armenian textbooks outdated. Times have changed and we need to think about new methods. This is the question.
– The majority of modern time Armenian writers are not producing interesting books. Isn't this affecting also the readership?
The answer is yes to a certain extent. In recent decades, our writers did not succeed in producing novels close to the heart and the daily life of our teenagers and young generation. We have abundant children and fairytale books, but after that age category there is a big gap.
– Some of your humorous works have been adjusted to the theatre and performed in front of the public in the form of short scenes. Have you ever tried to write theatrical pieces with comedy content?
I have not produced comedy theatrical pieces because this requires a deep knowledge of theatre, its techniques and tools. Also, it requires a long breathe, something which I do not possess. I have the feeling that the non-theatrical works produced by me have managed to convey my thoughts to the public and this is enough reason to feel satisfied and limit myself to the type of writings I am already doing.
– It is worth mentioning that your pen is very bold and daring, especially when you deal with national topics. Have you ever been criticized for your honest expressions?
Satire, especially in the shape of sharp and relentless criticism, is like a dangerous and adventurous journey, during which you never know when a problem might occur. In my case, apart from several minor incidents, I can confirm that I am writing without any hazard, because I am keeping the balance with great caution, without ignoring the red lines. In international arena, the number of satire and comedy writers who have fallen victims (exile, detainment and even capital punishment) is considerably high. I believe the last victim of this line is the courageous Palestinian caricaturist Naji El Ali, who was assassinated more than ten years ago in London. As far as our humorist writers are concerned, we can mention poor Hagop Baronian, who was found with cracks of bread and slices of onion in his overcoat's pocket at his burial. Odian has suffered a lot during his life and has traveled from one place to another to secure a piece of bread and a modest living. Neshan Beshigtashelian died in dreadful conditions in France, while comedian writer Ler Gamsar was exiled to Siberia.
– It is noticed that in your writings you usually use the everyday language of the people and not the literary language.
The reason is simple: to keep the unique taste and flavor of the popular language, since the conversations take place between family members. On the other hand, I develop dialogues in my writings in order to avoid expressing my views in the form of direct and monotonous preaching.
– Is the writer Hagop Bekiarian able to entertain the individual Hagop Bekiarian and make him laugh?
On the contrary, he makes him cry. Humorist Hagop Bekiarian first laughs at what he writes, but eventually his sharp and black eyes unconsciously dampen with tears when he notices that nothing is changed and everybody is doing what he/she pleases.
– Many of your readers express their astonishment that, although you lead a relatively lonely life, but still you are able to deal with accurate and documented subjects in what you write.
They will be certainly surprised, because I am not an “ideal” person as far as social or family life is concerned, but let me clarify that I do not also live an isolated or lonely life like a medieval monk or a philosopher sitting in ivory tower. I gather news about our life and national concerns from the Armenian press, while I have fully opened my radars in order to hunt down useful pieces of social news. Fortunately or unfortunately, our public is not trained to keep secrets.
– Do you believe that one day the public will return back to the habit of reading books?
I have big hopes in this respect, under the condition that a miracle takes place and television-computers disappear, etc. When this happens, all those who seek food for thought will take the Armenian “dusty” books into their hands and live with the joy of reading and in doing so they will keep alive the legacy of all writers, dead or alive alike.
– Have you experienced significant moments of joy throughout your literary life?
There are two unforgettable and joyful moments: The first one goes back to my beginnings, when I had just started to sign humorous articles, a friend of mine came into my shop waving victoriously a copy of “Jamanag” periodical (published in Istanbul) and shouted: “Mr. Hagop you are shining in Jamanag, they have republished your article there”. I was very happy and felt enormously confident. Of course, later “Marmara” (Istanbul daily published by Rober Haddejian), Egyptian and American – Armenian press republished my articles.
– And what about the second moment?
I do not know if it is suitable to mention the second one here: After writing humorous pages without receiving any compensation for more than 20 years and at a period when I was feeling somehow idle, out of a sudden, I received from Sem Rakoubian, the editor of a newly published monthly periodical in Beirut called “Tidag”, an invitation for contribution with substantial reward, under the condition that, I should not send the same article to other places. Beyond the monetary reward, I was amazed with the moral stance of appraising a talent. I accepted his offer and became for 10 years a special contributor of the magazine's humorous pages.
– At the end of this interview, we would like to thank you for your honest and heartfelt answers.
I would like to thank you myself, because you, as a poet, detached yourself for a while from your mystical poetic world and entered into the completely different world of humorous writings and managed to bring into the light some hidden aspects of my life, thus offering interesting material to the readers.