Saturday, 26 January 2008

Nadia Tueini - Poetess

Nadia Tueini was a French-writing and published Lebanese poet, of Druz origin. She was married with Mr. Ghassan Tueini, founder, owner and editor of the two biggest Lebanese dailies, with massive distribution and influence in the Arab countries; Al-Nahar (=The Day) in Arabic, and L’Orient-Le Jour in French; Ex-Lebanese government minister, and Lebanon’s Ambassador at the United Nations, covering the period of the horrendous Lebanese Civil War.
I myself was the editor of the literary pages dedicated to the Arabic culture, of the Yeridassart Haiouhi (=Young Armenian Woman), the first feminist Armenian Monthly founded in the 30-ies by a prominent Armenian Francophile from Istanbul, Madame Siran Kupelian, known under her literary pseudonym Sehza, also its long-time editor.
As a journalist, I was well-connected with the local Arab literary circles.
I first met Nadia at the editorial offices of Al-Hasnaa (=The Beautiful One), a woman’s weekly in Arabic , owned by Mrs. Souad Najjar, and edited by Mrs. Sonia Beiruti, the well-known Lebanese journalist and TV broadcaster. Nadia and I struck up an instant friendship. I had gone there to interview Mrs. Najjar and Beiruti for my journal. I ended up interviewing Nadia...
Nadia was a remarkably intelligent woman, an enormously talented poet, and stunningly beautiful. I was therefore extremely distressed and absolutely devastated, when one day I met by chance her private nurse, an Armenian lady, who informed me of Nadia’s serious illness.
I met Nadia next at her husband’s plush offices at the Al-Nahar Daily. Ghassan Tueini greeted me warmly saying, “I know you have come not for me but for Nadia”, and had led me to her own office.

It was a joy to communicate with Nadia on every subject under the sun, while the political and social turmoil and chaos of the Middle East was raging during the Cold War.
Nadia was suffering truly personally for the lot of her fellow citizens. She was entirely dedicated to the ideals of Beauty in life, and human rights for all. We shared this together, for which reason our friendship grew an intense spiritual link.
Nadia was a leading light in the Baalbek Cultural Festival Committee; she inspired a series of programs of profound aesthetic and emotional experience by inviting world-class creative artists. Nadia told me that she wanted to always show the world that Lebanon was a country of great beauty and profound humanity, unfortunately to be shattered soon by a civil war caused by external political interference.
One night, after midnight in 1978, I received a surprise phone call from New York.
It was Nadia. With a trembling voice, she was asking for my news. Her distinguished husband was having a tough time at the United Nations, defending Lebanon from aggression, from all sides. Nadia burst into sobs. I was frightened for her well-being, and determined to calm her down. I pleaded with her not to upset herself, myself pretending that all was well with us in our beautiful country. I said, “Nadia, if there are still people like you and me and our husbands, Lebanon will never be defeated!”
Nadia concluded her conversation telling me, "Never ever want to live in America – because it is a bigger jungle than war-torn Lebanon."
In spite of the unendurable dangers during the horrors of the civil war, we never relented on our cultural programs – the reason for my frequent meetings with Nadia, after the Tueini-s returned from the United Nations. Unfortunately, the Lebanese civil war got worse and worse, more and more inhuman by the day. Mr. Ariel Sharon of Israel had seen to it that his Lebanese partners had genocided the Palestinians of the Sabra and Shatila Refugee camps.
On that same fateful day of that genocide, well into the midnight, I received a phone call from Beit-mary, where the Tueinis owned a mountain-retreat overlooking the capital city.
It was Nadia, hardly able to speak, in a hardly audible voice, mixed with uncontrollable sobbing.
She stammered, “Arsineh, what have we come to! Should the human race sink so very low? How can people behave so inhumanly in the natural beauty of our world, especially here in the Lebanon!"

I began sobbing myself. I said, “Nadia, I shall leave everything right now and come to you immediately – would you like me to?” She said, “No Arsineh, no – please stay where you are, with your family, the roads are very dangerous!"
When I insisted that I must absolutely go to her, Nadia repeated, “No Arsineh, you should not see me as I appear now.... I want you to remember me as I was when we first met...”
The only heart-felt, soulful satisfaction I felt was that our conversation had taken some time...

Little did I know that it would be the last time that I would hear Nadia’s voice!
It seems it was also her last telephone conversation ever.
Today, indeed I remember Nadia as a unique beauty, with a classical languid countenance that would make people want to love and adore her forever.

Thursday, 11 October 2007

Meetings With Great People

Nazim Hikmet - Poet

My late husband was the well-known Armenian writer Armen Tarian (Alphonse Attarian, by his baptismal name), whose short -stories in Western Armenian were already translated into several languages; Czech, Russian, Arabic and French. My husband was also the editor-in-chief of FORWARD (Haratch-Kragan), the Armenian literary Quarterly.

It was 1960 in Beirut, Lebanon. My husband was friends with; Jack Ihmalian, the Armenian painter from Istanbul, whose works can be found in the collections of the Tretyakov Museum in Moscow; Dr.s Haig and his wife Angel Achekgeuzian, Consultants (in TB) at the famous national hospital of Azounieh in Lebanon; the late Kegham Sevan, an Armenian novelist from Istanbul; and Aram, who was close to the internationally acclaimed Turkish poet Nazim Hikmet, having shared the latter’s years of imprisonment in fascist Turkey. When Nazim was saved through international pressure, and taken to Moscow with great honors, his Armenian friends had escaped to the Lebanon.

My husband was a founder member of the Armenian Literary Circle (Kragan Sherchanag) in Beirut. He was also employed as a Secretary in the Czechoslovak Embassy. We were all members of the International Peace Committee (Lebanese branch). A prominent Arab intellectual, Dr. George Hanna was our President. He was awarded the Medal of Peace by the organization’s headquarters in Moscow.

Nazim Hikmet was chosen to present the Medal to Dr. Hanna in person at an official ceremony held at the Soviet Embassy.

My husband and I were part of the reception committee. We met the great poet earlier at the hotel, overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. Nazim asked us via the internal telephone to go up to his room. The door of his suite was already open. We sat in the frontal waiting room. Nazim was a giant of a man, extremely handsome, with a baritone voice of an actor, blonde and blue eyes…. When he came in, with a broad smile, he had to bow his head to go through his bedroom door! We ourselves were all too short compared to him – he held us and hugged us like a Gran’dad saying, “Oglum, kizim (my son, my daughter), nasilsiniz (how are you)”. Kegham Sevan told him that I had just had a baby-boy baptized Viken. My husband had carried copies of his poetry books to get them autographed. Nazim said, “As you just have had a baby, I better autograph first for him!” He wrote, “Oglum Viken’e sevgilirle amcase (for my son Viken, from uncle full of love)”.

Nazim Hikmet wanted to show us the medal he had brought for Dr. George Hanna. He asked Kegham Sevan to get it from his bedroom table saying,"Oglum, please check if there is a safety-pin (toplu) on the medal …" My husband burst out laughing, expressing surprise that the medal could come without a pin to hang with. Nazim reciprocated the laughter with a biting satire on Soviet bureaucracy saying, “ Oglum, planda yokder,toplu yok! (My son, if it is not in the five-year plan, there won’t be a medal pin)”.

My husband asked, “Well, if there isn’t a pin, what are you going to do about it?" Expressing his poet’s improvisational genius, Nazim said, "I’ll have to put the medal in his hand…”

Next time we met the great poet, it was at the official reception at the Soviet Embassy in the presence of the Lebanese government officials and eminent literary figures of the country, led by Mikhael Naimey, Maroon Abboud, Raif Khoury, Hosein Mroueh, Ghassan Toueiny , etc…

The times were dangerously hot at the start of the Cold War, just after the Korean War. With the threat of a nuclear Third World War hanging over the fate of mankind, fighting for peace was vital more than ever!

The good news was that the medal did indeed have a pin, and Nazim Hikmet, one of History’s greatest poets managed to hang the medal very smoothly on Dr. Hanna’s lapel….
The Photographs are scanned from the book Unesco Laureates - Nazim Hikmet & Aram Khatchaturian, by Khatchatur I. Pilikian, Taderon Press, London 2005.