It is more difficult to write about phenomena that you either have to write about very well or not write about at all. It is also difficult to tell whether it is written well or not. It is difficult to put emotions aside, to judge a person for perceiving wars as something wrong or right. It is difficult to decide whether they were right to remain silent or not. It is difficult.
Even after writing about it, they will ask:
What is the book about?
What happened during the war?
And what about the impact of war? On soldiers? On a human being?
The human being?
The human being…
Literature about human beings often explores calamities or triumphs, which connect back to humans. Throughout history, many wars have taken place, and unfortunately, more will continue to happen. But what happens before or after a war? People change, opinions and perspectives shift. But we have established reading as our job, so we have to explore whether books have changed in response to war. John Lennon would have said, “Stop war! Let the world live in peace.” While ending wars is crucial, it is also important to understand the impact that wars have had on literature since the 1990s, and what is encompassed within the genre of so-called Armenian “war literature”. This reflection serves as an introduction to the exploration of this topic.
Perhaps we can ask, “Do we have generations similar to the Beat Generation or the Lost Generation?” Out of these two, the Lost Generation was closely associated with the First World War. For writers such as Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and others, that war played an important role in literature. These writers fearlessly depicted war as the main character, the driving force, and the force of destruction. The constant thoughts of war and constant pain were deeply ingrained in people’s minds. But it should be acknowledged that the First World War brought together a generation, forming a community that became the catalyst for some of the most important books and ideas of the first half of the twentieth century.
The Beat Generation, a product of the Great Depression and the aftermath of the Second World War, was known for their focus on freedom, jazz, sex, drugs, travel, dreaming, and above all, people and love. They were modern existential romantics who lived life to the fullest. However, their chosen lifestyle ultimately led to their downfall, which they embraced with open arms while dancing and hitchhiking to the melodies of Davis or Coltrane. Figures like Jack Kerouac, Alan Ginsberg, and William Burroughs created a sense that there was a generation who thought and wrote in a similar manner, a generation that was disillusioned or deeply broken, living in the shadow of the war’s aftermath and leading melancholic lives.
And what did we have?
While studying Armenian prose of the 1990s, a gust of solid literature emerged: clear language, precise ideas, a fresh approach. Gurgen Khanjyan, Levon Khechoyan, Rafael Nahapetyan, Vrezh Israelyan, Lusine Vayachyan, Garun Aghajanyan, Vahan Tamaryan, Varuzhan Ayvazyan, Susanna Harutyunyan, Marine Petrosyan, Violet Grigoryan, Vahan Ishkhanyan, Vahram Sahakyan, and many others. This literary generation is often referred to as the Young Generation or the Independence Generation. However, while we may observe similarities in ideology, there is no clearly defined “generation” connected by shared paradigms and thought processes.
And so, Independence?
Independence and the changes in the country’s literary language were closely intertwined. In literature, there was a noticeable shift towards more open texts expressing opinions. The language became more localized, embracing new combinations of letters without hesitation. These changes can be attributed to the transformation of reality, lifestyle, and pace. But, the most significant change in lifestyle was the collapse of the USSR and the achievement of independence. Before the collapse, writers were subject to censorship and literary constraints, but after the collapse, these restrictions were also eliminated.
If Soviet literature wanted to express its impartial position on a certain topic, it had to resort to a special footnote, concealed between the words. The restrictions on literature also impacted the use of the official language and discourse. Therefore, it was only natural that there was a drastic change after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Whether it was right or wrong, writers began to freely express their thoughts and emotions through their writing.
What is also intriguing is that during the period of literary restrictions, if, for instance, Yeghishe Charents had to employ the mesostic form of poetry (using the second letter of the first word of each line to spell out a message — in Charents’ case, “O Armenian people, your only salvation is in your unity”) to appeal to the Armenian nation, would writers now have the freedom to express their appeals and guidance when Armenian literature was finally liberated from such constraints? Moreover, were there any responses to the newfound independence, or should there have been? Should there have been a stance about the war? What was written after these momentous events?
Levon Khechoyan chose history as his literary path, Gurgen Khanjyan tried to get the individual hanging by a thread to speak, while burning that thread in places. Lusine Vayachyan wrote about the “bad” woman using fresh, local slang. She discussed human weaknesses and grew bolder in comparison with her works from the 1980s. Vahagn Grigoryan created a delicate language to describe surreal and paradoxical situations. In his stories, Rafael Nahapetyan created a real world, but one that was uniquely his own. He made people believe in this world because he himself believed in it.
Of course, poets also left a most significant influence on literature, as their linguistic changes and innovations played a crucial role in the latter’s advancement. Notable poets such as Marine Petrosyan, Ashot Khachatryan, Violet Grigoryan, among others, left a lasting impact. In the case of poetry, the sharp transition from the classical was much more apparent. This is how they were all fundamentally different, but what their literature revolved around was the human being and the longing for freedom. Longing, which was often feared and suppressed in the hopes that it would disappear.
However, the idea of freedom for Armenian writers is very different from, for example, the freedom portrayed in America’s Beat literature. The freedom they desired was subjective, while with our writers it was “objective.” Sometimes, it was impersonal, while at other times, it was deeply personal, even uniquely individual. Each person’s perception of life was different — different and dreamlike, different and painful, different and patriotic, or exhausted.
The writers often searched for the right formula for life, attempting to shed light on issues, raise ideas, and express thoughts to achieve the best outcome. In this sense, there were writers who were also actively engaged in politics and produced political literature. One notable example is Vano Siradeghyan, whose literature vividly depicted the life, speech and aspirations of the 1990s.
Most writers tried to avoid the subject of war, trying to shield themselves and their readers from the pain. Readers, who, like impressionable children, followed the thoughts of their favorite authors and emulated them. It is a weighty responsibility — one that must either be fully embraced and overcome or be completely avoided.
For instance, Gurgen Khanjyan gave his novels allegorical undertones, delving into the human subconscious, taking readers from Yerevan to Gyumri to Tbilisi, traversing different time periods, yet the underlying problems did not change. In his novels, the protagonist gradually evolves and undergoes transformation, but the pain persists, as does the collective misunderstanding.
And can you imagine that a new hunt will begin in a different sphere, in a different field of gravity, in different conditions of physics and chemistry, in a different life, with different laws…
After every war, writers are burdened with the responsibility of comforting people and instilling hope. As a result, many writers succumb to this pressure and write about subjects they have no genuine desire to discuss. Most of them are unable to express their true feelings and thoughts, while others completely avoid the topic of war.
Literature about war is predominantly found in the works of our writers from the previous centuries and they often wrote in the aforementioned ‘obligatory’ format, resulting in many stories that seem false or exaggerated. Naturally, it is important to consider the historical period, genre, and lifestyle of these writers, as well as their literary genres. However, the majority of society has become accustomed to this type of literature and continues to desire a familiar portrayal of war.
With few exceptions (particularly in the case of Western Armenian and Diaspora literature), our literature often neglects the portrayal of people as flawed human beings, with their own mistakes and forms of being. Put simply, the human is not the main character at the core of our literature. Instead, the focus is on the homeland, love, and loyalty, without giving much attention to the individual. Love without a person lacks authenticity, as it ignores weaknesses, deep struggles, escapes and returns. However, in modern and postmodern works, the individual takes center stage. Not that everyone can construct characters well, but it is refreshing to see the person at the forefront of literature.
Modern writers, however, are now more daring and honest when it comes to writing about war. This extreme openness and frankness have often faced criticism because, according to public perception, literature is meant to educate, and readers should not know the harsh realities of the battlefield. Vrezh Israelyan has written an interesting novel on this topic entitled “Sona and the War.” In his novel, Israelyan vividly portrays the battlefield: a group of soldiers and one woman, who plays a crucial role for the soldiers. In the above-mentioned, earlier novels, this woman would lose her identity as a woman and turn into a mother figure. But here, Sona finds the motivation for the soldiers to live and win the war. She is both a friend and wife to them. Sona promises:
Boys, es dzer tsavy tanem (I’ll take your pain away). Sona is with you, don’t be scared. Sona is a part of you. As soon as you come home victorious, I’ll give it to you all one by one. With these hands, I will shave your furry faces one by one. I will wash all of you with fragrant soap. And I’m going to dig into you… I’m going to dig into you one by one. Sona’s condition is a condition… If you don’t come back victorious, I will cut these juicy apples and throw them to the dogs…
People who have battlefield experience can also convey a clear picture of war. In this regard, two writers stand out for their novels and essays based on political themes: Vano Siradeghyan and Vazgen Sargsyan. Siradeghyan primarily wrote speeches and essays, whereas Vazgen Sargsyan also wrote fictional novels, often drawing from his own experiences. Of course, the political and patriotic stories written by these two authors were influenced by their own lives. Although Siradeghyan is only now primarily recognized as a fiction writer, often compared to Matevosyan, he previously played a more active role as a publicist.
Hrant Matevosyan’s language was considered perfect, and his thoughts were regarded as universal. Some have expressed the opinion that Armenian literature as such has seen little development since then. While appreciating Matevosyan’s contributions to Armenian literature, I don’t agree with the notion that literature has not developed. Here, I would cite Levon Khechoyan, who can be compared to Matevosyan in certain respects. Khechoyan’s stories, like Matevosyan, portray ordinary characters and showcase beautiful artistic language. In his novels, Khechoyan focuses on the history of the past, and anchors it both in specific places and times. This distinction makes Khechoyan a worthy successor of Matevosian’s literary legacy.
Beyond this language, writers started to embrace more slang, informal, and profanity-laced language. Lusine Vayachyan stands out in this regard, particularly in her novel “Balagoye” (2008). The themes of women’s freedom and women’s rights are also distinctive here. The author is able to address seemingly trivial matters, discuss marital relations, women’s concerns, even hygiene and being single, all in a natural and sincere manner, unlike many other writers who touch upon these issues but come across as insincere. The topics introduced by Vayachyan were exceptional and unique for her time, predating the Me Too Movement.
I live, I search, I want to be happy. I am a single woman (woman?), and the mother of a sixteen-year-old fairy. I am homeless and talentless, faceless and lifeless, without a present or future, without good or bad, without evil or purity, without guilt or forgiveness; I am a rather strange and primitive provincial being. I have lived a difficult but interesting life. I have no regrets, and I’m not ashamed.
When it came to exploring different forms of expression and content in literature, writers and literary circles naturally became interested in the publishing process. If a writer managed to get published, it would usually be in a limited edition, accessible to only a few readers, and without effective publicity, the work would be quickly forgotten. Therefore, writers not only had to overcome internal challenges relating to their writing but also faced difficulties in the publishing world. The hope was that gaining independence would also lead to an independent and free culture. Unfortunately, the reality turned out to be the complete opposite. New obstacles emerged, including moral, economic, and political barriers. The Soviet legacy was forgotten, and interest in new voices was confined to narrow literary circles.
One noteworthy figure is Varuzhan Ayvazyan, who has a unique voice, expressing himself in a mythical language. Not only is he an exemplary figure of intellectual literature, but he has also created a conceptually complex language and fearlessly embraced a distinct identity, presenting ideas and content in a completely new manner.
Even if flying saucers would never have come, we might have destroyed ourselves by not being able to stand the loneliness .
The generation of the 1990s was followed by the generation of the 2000s. This generation did not directly experience the war, but emerged from its aftermath of pain, psychological burdens, and lasting effects. The literature of this generation reflects greater pain and a stronger desire to explore and understand people. They write extensively about the traumas born of war, about violence, and about mental and psychological problems.
One notable work that addresses these themes is Hrachya Saribekyan’s novel “The Journey of Idiots” (2008). The author portrays Azerbaijani and Armenian mental patients who find themselves on the same train. The novel depicts with clarity the senselessness and pain of war. However, when writers and literature discuss the futility of war, they often face criticism. This, I believe, is also a result of the lack of sincerity in our past literature.
Besides the futility of war, the army was also a highly criticized subject. Writers who dared to address the army faced significant backlash for their honesty. Instead of focusing on the issues raised by these contemporary writers and working towards change, people blamed the writers for simply writing about these topics in general.
The theme of the army plays a prominent role in Aram Pachyan’s novel “Tstesutyun Tsit” (Goodbye Chick). I think that the problem with Pachyan and the “Tsit” goes beyond just the army. It explores themes of violence, pain, longing, childhood, non-conformity, filth, love, and purity – essentially everything that relates to the human experience, including the struggles that can oppress or define a person.
He discusses literature with an “Attempt at an Epilogue” — the kind of literature Pachyan desired and achieved, the literature that won, and lost. This novel could have served as a catalyst, prompting politicians, analysts, literary critics and other “honorable persons” to think about why a young writer would choose to write about such painful issues. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.
While the novel enjoyed wide distribution, adoration, and continues to be read to this day, it seems to resonate more with ordinary readers than with literary circles, critics, and others.
Armen Hayastantsi and Hambardzum Hambardzumyan have both written about the topic of the army. Hayastantsi specifically addresses gender issues, focusing on what happens to women in the army. His highly provocative book, “Mayrenik Drosh” (Motherland’s Flag, 2015), is precisely about this flawed, cruel, filthy society, and is notable for its unique structure. Hayastantsi’s language constantly changes and adapts to the characters, a characteristic also found in Hambardzumyan’s literature. The author localizes the language by typifying the neighborhoods of Yerevan through their unique dialects and even through specific people. On the other hand, the language of novelist-poet Anna Davtyan is somewhat similar to the Matevosyan style language mentioned earlier. Davtyan draws an interesting line by showcasing the generational relationship between herself and her grandmother. She primarily focuses on the liberation of the modern woman, understanding emotions, differences in living environments and lifestyles, as well as challenging stereotypes in her novel “Khanna.”
And yet, as I try to conclude this discussion of generational literature, specifically focusing on the “waves” of the 1990s and 2000s, I would like to argue that there is no collective, “dialogical” generational literature in our literary landscape. The messages differed. Their perceptions of life were also different, which is also worth noting. We are in a constant search, we are in constant wandering, we are in endless uncertainties, which have been transferred to our literature. Perhaps it is these qualities that define the destructive impact of war and our inability to establish a unified trajectory.
When analyzing several writers from the 1990s, it is evident that they challenged several classical rules, principles, and laws. In contrast, most writers of the 2000s built upon the themes introduced in the 1990s, exploring them with greater boldness and clarity. Since the war of 2020, literature, especially prose, has yet to make a significant creative response. Instead, there has been a prevalence of books dedicated to soldiers, often written by their comrades. While there may be other literary works, they tend to remain on the level of direct emotional expression.
Then, as it turns out, after the war, we had literature that was not always focused on the war. However, there were people there who had experienced pain and intense emotions, people who felt lost within themselves, unable to be found. They were the ones who brought the woman into the battlefield and loved her, who spoke the language of everyday life without any embellishments. And yet, that Person has yet to speak about the outcome of the war. Especially now, I believe that after these small and large wars, we should expect a new literary perspective about the war, about the life experienced, found, and saved after the war.
 G. Khanjian, “Patience to You, Man”, Yerevan, 2019.
 V. Israelyan, “Tonapet,” Yerevan, 2010.
 V. Ayvazyan, “The Month of the Fly”, Yerevan, 1998.
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