Sunday, January 20, 2013

A Journey to Soviet Armenia:
The Red Flag at Ararat

The Red Flag at Ararat book cover.
Yes, this is another non-film-related post.  However, it is Soviet-related and is totally worth reading – I promise!

On the shelves now is the new republication of the 1932 book The Red Flag at Ararat.  Printed by the London-based Gomidas Institute as part of its Sterndale Classics series, it features a new introduction, written by me, that contextualizes the work for students, scholars, and contemporary readers.  It also includes all the illustrations from the original work as well as a new glossary of place names.

The Red Flag at Ararat is the account of a young Armenian-American woman's experiences traveling from her home in New York City to Soviet Armenia in the early 1930s.  The work was the first English-language account ever written exclusively about the Soviet Armenian republic.  Notably, the original cover art, preserved in the new republication, was illustrated by the architect Zareh M. Sourian who designed St. Vartan Armenian Cathedral in Manhattan.

The author, Aghavnie "Ave" Yeghenian (1895-1963), was a highly distinguished member of the Armenian-American community.  A committed New Deal Democrat, a practicing Armenian Christian, and a social activist, she was a graduate of Yale Law School (in 1937!) and a founding member of the National Association for Armenian Studies and Research (NAASR) in Belmont, Massachusetts.  A specialist in immigration issues, she also served the YWCA, the AGBU, the New York City government, the Federal government, and the American Red Cross.

Newspaper photograph of the author,
Aghavnie "Ave" Yeghenian from 1933.

Her account is an eye-opening text, a portrait of Soviet life in the early 1930s filled with plenty of fascinating observations and insights.  Outside of Soviet Armenia, she also visits Leningrad, Moscow, Baku, and Tbilisi, the latter of which she enjoys the most.  She also recounts discussions with several locals as well as Soviet Armenian officials, including the head of the Armenian GPU (predecessor to the KGB)!  A fluent speaker of Armenian, she had little communication difficulty.  Significantly, many of the officials with whom she meets (including Sahak Ter-Gabrielyan and Aghasi Khanjian) would later become victims of Stalin's Purges later in the 1930s.

Ms. Yeghenian's account serves not only as a work of major historical interest, but also as an entertaining read as well.  Her prose is witty, charming, fun, and always insightful.  It is a work long overdue for republication.

This is not all, however.  The year 2013, in general, appears to be an exceptionally good year for new Armenia- and Caucasus-related books.  On 1 February, Gomidas will be publishing another Soviet Armenian-related work, Unmailed Letters, the memoirs of the Armenian dissident-activist Hambardzum Galstyan. An advocate for Armenian cultural and political rights, Galstyan was a member of the Karabakh Committee and a leader in the Armenian national democratic movement during the era of Mikhail Gorbachev's glasnost. He then became the first post-independence mayor of Yerevan before being assassinated in 1993. The book is translated from Armenian to English with an introduction and annotation by Agop J. Hacikyan.

Then, on 18 February, Matthew Karanian and Robert Kurkjian will be publishing the third edition of their Stone Garden Travel Guide on Armenia and Nagorny Karabakh.  If you enjoyed the last edition of their book, then this new one promises to be even better yet.  If you have never heard of the Stone Garden Guide before, then be sure to purchase it as soon as possible!  Packed with useful information, detailed maps, and beautiful color photographs, it is a must for anyone interested in visiting the region.

Next, literally a day after the publication of the Stone Garden Guide on 19 February, NYRB Classics will be publishing Robert and Elizabeth's Chandler's English-language translation of An Armenian Sketchbook, Vasily Grossman's account of Soviet Armenia in the 1960s.   It is noted for being Grossman's most intimate work, characterized by "its tenderness, warmth, and sense of fun."  However, it was also partially censored by Soviet authorities and, consequently, the author never saw a complete version published during his lifetime.  This translation (the first in English) is derived from an unedited text and will no doubt prove to be an invaluable resource for historians and literary analysts alike.

Finally, on 18 June, the Yale University Press will be publishing Nora Seligman Favorov's English translation of Arthur Tsutsiev's Atlas of the Ethno-Political History of the Caucasus.  A stunning geographic resource with full-colored maps and detailed analyses, Tsutsiev's Atlas is rivaled only by Robert H. Hewsen's Armenia: A Historical Atlas as a major geographic resource on the Caucasus.  The original Russian edition was published in 2006 by the Europa Publishing House and proved to be an indispensable resource to scholars, historians, and area specialists seeking a clearer, objective understanding of the Caucasus free from the thicket of rival nationalist narratives.  Therefore, Mrs. Seligman Favorov's translation will be a major contribution to the field of Russian and Soviet studies.  It is a must-have for anyone seeking to better comprehend that mountainous stretch of territory between the Black and Caspian Seas.

So be sure to pick up a copy of The Red Flag at Ararat today and keep your eyes on these three other upcoming books!   All are essential for any Russian/Soviet library.

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