Hagop Oshagan: Speaking the Aghéd

Oshagan's grave, Aleppo

Oshagan’s grave, Aleppo

 

The week of April 24 has particular relevance to the life and work of Hagop Oshagan. He survived the Aghéd while many of his literary contemporaries fell victim to the Ottoman genocidal machine. In fact, and as Vahé Oshagan says, his figure stands at the juncture between the loss of the historic homeland and the beginning of the dispersion. But more than that, it was his work that was shaped by the Aghéd (a term he first used in 1932 with a capital A to describe what happened to the Armenians of the Empire). In the words of Krikor Beledian, Oshagan’s legacy is not defined by the fact that he survived the Aghéd, but that he confronted it, “opened thinking to its stupendous emptiness.” From this confrontation emerged a body of literature which is part testimony, part fiction, part myth, part autobiography, part recovery.

In private life, as his daughter (and my mother) Anahid Oshagan Voskeritchian used to say, he never spoke about the Aghéd nor about his years as a fugitive in the Contantinople (1915-1918). He avoided public speaking in general, particularly about the Aghéd. Only on one occasion, did he succumb to the pleas of his students to speak on April 24. The story is told in Anahid Oshagan Voskeritchian’s moving tribute to her father, published originally in Pakine (Beirut) in Armenian and then in The Armenian Review (Volume 35, 1982).

Here is her telling, with some minor edits:
” The week preceding April 24, my father would become a changed man; he was moody, agitated, lost like a sleep-walker. He didn’t eat, had bad dreams, couldn’t write. “All my friends,all of them, I can see them, one after another–Varoujan, Zohrab, Zartarian, Shahrigian,” he used to say.

Once, in Jerusalem, on the commemoration of April 24, the young men begged him to say a few words. He accepted with great difficulty first because of his heart condition, and second, because he used to say that it was just impossible to describe April 24 in words. The patriarch, the priests and large audience attended this memorial service. There were some solo songs, some poems recited. Then, it was my father’s turn. He approached the stage with slow steps and when he turned toward the audience, the public was watching him magnetized, this survivor of a generation of martyrs. He just stood there, so silent, so sad, looking nowhere, but seeing something. A few minutes passed. Still my father was silent,his face as white as a sheet, his gaze lost in the past. After a long silence, he began to cry. The audience burst into tears. He sat down on the chair, his lips curled to try to make a word like “water.” Someone behind me was saying, “Be quick, the man is going to die.” Some young man went upstage, took him by the arm, and brought him back slowly, and turning round to the audience, he ended the event with these word: “Oshagan has spoken his speech. The commemoration is over.”

~~

Thank you, Asbed Kotchikian, for securing the 1982 issue of the Armenian Review at such short notice!

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About Taline Voskeritchian

Writing teacher at Boston University; translator (from Arabic and Armenian); prose writer; occasional editor; incurable wanderer.
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3 Responses to Hagop Oshagan: Speaking the Aghéd

  1. diala says:

    my dearest Taline, am entranced by how you are bringing Oshagan back to life as your mother would have so loved, as she did for me in countless tales and off the cuff translations. She was never able to undertake the actual translation at one go….and here you are, unfolding this oasis of family and national wealth and identity…have wanted to write this to you ever since you published the first picture of Oshagan relaxing up a tree in Cyprus, the focus of your mother’s childhood memories, with your beautiful words…you bring it all back to the world heritage that it is…God Bless and Happy Easter

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