Just five days ago, Tony and I returned from a short visit to Armenia where we were the guests of arguably Armenia's best-known and most highly-regarded poet, Razimik Davoyan, and his wife / translator, Arminé Tamrazian. The reason for our visit was to present Arc's new edition of Razmik's long poem, Requiem, at a public event in the new auditorium at the Museum of Manuscripts in Yerevan, which coincided with the publication of the original version of Requiem exactly 50 years ago. Requiem is a poem that both looks back to the horrors of the Armenian Genocide by the Ottomans in 1915, and also shows how the Armenian people have come to terms with their terrible loss without rancour or hatred.
Because of the high regard in which Razmik Davoyan is held in Armenia (for decades, his children's poems have been part of the school curriculum and there is always somebody in the street who wants to shake his hand or talk to him in a cafe), our visit caused a lot of interest. We were interviewed for newspapers and the television -- how had we come across Razmik's work? what did we find most attractive about his poetry? did we have plans to publish further work by him in the future? -- and even had a very enjoyable 45-minute meeting with the President of Armenia and his wife at which the conversation covered everything from poetry on mobile phones, to British history, to fairy stories.
The presentation of the Arc edition of Requiem on our final night was a very moving affair. Before a large audience, Tony made an introductory speech about how Arc had come to publish Razmik's poetry in Armine's excellent translations in the first place, and I read some short sections of the poem in English, before Razmik read the central section, 'Give Me My Eyes...', followed by Armine reading her translation of the same section. The evening concluded with a priest representing the Catholicos of the Armenian Orthodox Church (the equivalent of the Archbishop of Canterbury) talking about the importance of the poem in relation to Armenian Genocide Memorial Day, and saying a short prayer. And finally, as everybody was about to leave, a close friend of Razmik's came onto the stage and paid an impromptu heartfelt tribute to him as a poet and a man, which, judging from the applause, expressed the feelings of the entire audience.
The presentation evening was filmed in its entirety, and apparently snippets have already appeared on television in Armenia. We haven't yet received the final film, but we did record Razmik and Armine reading from Requiem at home, and you can see this here.
I'm writing this blog on Armenian Genocide Memorial Day, 24 April. Today, most of the population of Yerevan, as well as those living further afield, will visit the Genocide Memorial on a hilltop at the edge of the city and leave a flower, and for days afterwards, there will be a huge floral carpet of red and white surrounding the monument and its eternal flame, as pictured on the front cover of Requiem.