Revealing Work: Hovhannes Tumanyan’s Granddaughter Publishes Memories About Her Father
86-year-old Sourma Tumanyan, granddaughter of the Armenian writer Hovhannes Tumanyan, has published a book about her father, Areg Tumanyan.
Areg Tumanyan, one of the writer’s ten children, was sentenced to death and shot in the tumult of the 1930s Stalinist purges.
Sourma Tumanyan, an ophthalmologist by profession residing in St. Petersburg, has two children, four grandchildren and four great grandchildren. She’s dedicated the book to the 150th anniversary of her grandfather. As the author notes in the book’s prologue, addressed to her descendants, the work aims to complete Areg Tumanyan's portrait as a human being and a citizen.
Why the book is important
When Hovhannes Tumanyan was lying in a hospital bed in 1923, somebody brought him a book that Dostoevsky's daughter had written about her father. Areg and his daughters were sitting next to him.
Tumanyan is said to have commented that even if the book was sympathetic towards the Russian writer, it would still be valuable and interesting, since it’s his daughter writing about her father.
Susanna Hovhannisyan, a Doctor of Philological Sciences who studies Tumanyan, finds the written memories of family members as important as archival materials.
Hovhannisyan notes that though she’s researched Tumanyan for years, she found some new facts in the book. She didn’t know that Areg had started writing his father's chronicle, in an attempt to disprove the rumor circulated in the 1930s that Hovhannes Tumanyan was a nationalist. Hovhannisyan refutes the allegation.
Areg Tumanyan, the eighth child
Areg was the eighth child of Tumanyan, and the youngest of four sons. There’s a story about his name in the book. Tumanyan's good friend, writer Ghazaros Aghayan, the newly born child’s godfather, said that if it was a girl, she should be named Aregnazan, if a boy – Areg. Aghayan took the names from his fairy tale “Aregnazan”.
Areg was with his father in two dramatic and tragic episodes of Hovhannes Tumanyan's life. When the Turks occupied Gharakilisa (now Vanadzor) in 1918, Tumanyan's entire family was there. Areg was 18 at the time. Tumanyan led 100 people, on foot, from Gharakilisa to Tbilisi (around 170 km).
"There is a well-known reminiscence about that day. People had gathered around a fire, and Tumanyan told them amusing stories to lift their spirits. He then walked away to cry in solitude. Imagine the fortitude it took to cheer up people who were homeless, refugees. Areg was with him then," says Susanna Hovhannisyan.
Areg Tumanyan also participated in self-defense battles in Erzurum, since his father had volunteered to provide his most precious possession, his children, for the country’s defense.
Stalinist persecution and the Tumanyans
Tumanyan's three sons were victims of Stalinist oppression. Hovhannisyan says that they shot Hamlik first, and then Areg. Moushegh died in prison. The Tumanyan expert says their cases haven’t been thoroughly investigated, especially during the Soviet era.
"After my father's arrest, me and my mother, Amalya Piliposyan, moved into a communal flat. I kept nagging my mom with questions about where my dad was and whether he saw the stars. My mother said he was on a business trip, and I started to collect newspapers so that he could read them when he returned. Just four months later, on November 5, 1937, they came after my mother," Sourma Tumanyan writes in her book.
"Sourma investigated KGB archives to find out more about her father and his connections. Anastas Mikoyan was a close friend of Areg. He introduced Areg to Stalin, but it didn’t help. It’s hard to imagine, but Areg was officially accused of having ties with a Pan-Turkist organization. Such an absurd accusation,” says Hovhannisyan.
Author researches KGB files on her father
In 2003, Sourma was able to find out the date when her father had been sentenced to death and executed. It was on June 4, 1938. She spent years trying to find the place where her father was buried, and finally learnt that he was shot by firing squad at a special "Communarka" facility and buried at the local fraternal cemetery. It’s now located in Moscow.
"I’d been waiting for my dad for many years. In 1943, the doorbell rang. When I opened the door, I realized that the person standing in front of me was from ‘there’. That was not my father, since, unlike my dad, he was tall and large. He was Ashot Hovhannisyan, a prominent historian and the secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Armenia in 1922-1927. He had returned from the exile, was in Tbilisi, and came to visit grandma Olya. I lost my composure. I hurried home every day after classes, running up the stairs, secretly hoping that my dad had suddenly returned, and I hadn’t been informed. But, unfortunately, that was not the case. The swallows had built a nest under the roof of our doorway. Sometimes they knocked on our window with their beaks. My grandmother used to say that it was a sign of good news. So, we waited for letters to arrive. Unfortunately, our hopes were not fulfilled,” Sourma Tumanyan writes
Photos taken from Sourma Tumanyan's book