Armenia honors Charents in Frankfurt

FRANKFURT – The largest and most important Frankfurt Book Fair in the world is something I look forward to every October. This year, after two years of limitations imposed by the Covid pandemic, the fair opened as an in-person event, and people came in droves. Although the numbers still did not reach those of the pre-pandemic years, there were a good 4,000 exhibitors from 95 countries and 180,000 visitors. During the first two days, reserved for professional visitors, there were 93,000 people present, and from Friday to Sunday this figure was increased by another 87,000 private visitors.

“Translate, Transfer, Transform” was this year’s theme, and it couldn’t have been more fitting. In these times of strategic crisis and war, we need more than ever to improve communication, to speak the language of others and, through fruitful exchanges of ideas, to help transform a suffering world.

It is therefore not surprising that the Armenian Ministry of Education, Science, Culture and Sports has set up a stand dedicated to the art of translation, not in the abstract, but in the concrete. The spacious stand bore the name and image of Yeghishe Charents, in commemoration of the 125th anniversary of his birth. And among the many books on display were translations of his works in different languages: among the new editions published this year are those in English, French and Italian.

I spoke to Armen Sargsyan, a senior literature specialist at the ministry in Yerevan, his colleague, Tatev Sukiasyan, and Astghik Saribekyan, an Armenian living in Germany who offered her services to translate for German guests. Sarkissian pointed me to the various new translations of Charents’ works, then took a special book from the shelf to show me. This anniversary edition contains the most famous work of the beloved Armenian poet, “Yes Im Anoush Hayastani” (“My sweet Armenia”). The deluxe edition contains the poem translated into 35 languages. Illustrations by artist Martiros Sarian adorn the pages. Charents’ granddaughter, Gohar Charents, organized the ambitious translation project which was presented in 2019. In her introduction, she cited Sarian’s praise of the literary masterpiece as a “panoramic portrait of our ancient country…both a prayer and an oath…a hymn to freedom.”

Recent translations of works by Charents. Jubilee edition in the center

What better way to celebrate the anniversary of Charents’ birth than with a deluxe edition of translations that make his monumental poem available to readers around the world? But it’s not just the translations honoring the accomplishments of this great Armenian poet that are noteworthy. Publishing houses in Armenia have been active for the past 20 years, and for the past four years have focused their efforts on a project to promote translations. The goal is to make classical and contemporary Armenian literature available in modern translations to a global readership. To date, no less than 70 books in more than 20 languages ​​have been published.

The “Armenian Literature in Translations” program launched by the ministry, I read in a brochure, “aims to ensure that the best of Armenian prose, poetry, drama, journalism and children’s literature is accessible and known beyond the borders of Armenia”. Under this program, financial support is available for foreign publishers who will produce books of Armenian literature in translation.

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