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.