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Armenian Education Ministry Approves Use Of Azatutyun Film As A Teaching Aid

Video grab from Radio Azatutyun's film on poet Vahan Teryan.
The team at RFE/RL’s Armenian service, Radio Azatutyun has stepped beyond its usual news reporting and into a creative project -- a 30-minute film about Armenian poet Vahan Teryan titled "Last Journey".

Their effort, the second in a planned series of documentaries examining the lives of Armenian intellectuals, was shot over four days and cost only $1,000 to make. Viewed more than 18,700 times on YouTube, it’s been formally approved by the Armenian National Institute of Education for use as “training and support material” for high school students.

Watch: The Last Journey

Teryan, who died in 1920, was immensely popular in his time and is now considered an Armenian cultural icon. He was the first to employ poetic devices such as the sonnet form, syllable emphasis and the elevated use of rhyme in Armenian.

The lyrical quality of Teryan’s poetry makes his work particularly difficult to translate into English, but this hasn’t stopped translators. A selection of Teryan’s poetry featured in the film can be found here in English translation.

Not Just A Poet

"Last Journey" focuses on the last years of Teryan’s life, as he moved away from intense creative work and immersed himself in politics. The service’s decision to use video – as opposed to widely-available written analyses -- caught the attention of reviewers.

According to Tamara Tovmasyan, a specialist at the National Institute of Education, the film successfully depicts him both as an artist and “a figure concerned with the problems and the future of his country, a figure who tries to create the future spiritual image of Armenia.” Tovmasyan continued, “This is an emotional and sensitive video film that suits the age peculiarities of high school students.”

National Institute of Education Chief Specialist Naira Toghanyan added, “Not only can [the film] become an additional source of information, but can further contribute to the formation of students’ value system.”

Resurrecting The Poet(s)

This is not the first time Radio Azatutyun -- which produced a documentary on poet Hovannes Tumanyan in 2011 and plans another on poet Yeghishe Charentz, the first Armenian victim of Stalin’s terror -- has integrated Armenian culture, politics and history into a video project. No other Armenian media outlet has produced such films on the tragic fate of Armenian intellectuals. According to Radio Azatutyun director Harry Tamrazian, they “are not merely works on Armenian literature and culture, they fit easily within our mission [at RFE/RL].”

Tamrazian, who produced and directed the film on the basis of a script written by Gayene Danielian, said he hoped to create an educational documentary that would include cinematic elements found in any good movie. The final result, Tamrazian said, brings to life a man who “was not only a poet but also a philosopher.”

Although most Armenians grow up learning something about Teryan, Tamrazian said that this is the first work to comprehensively examine Teryan’s attitude toward the West.

Teryan is often – wrongly, in Tamrazian’s view -- considered to have been a pro-Russian communist. In fact, Teryan, who attended university in Moscow and St. Petersburg, believed that the Armenian nation’s only viable path for development lay in adopting European culture. In the film, Teryan’s character states, “We are students of Europe and our future depends on how good we are as students of European civilization.”

The Soviet revolution Teryan supported as the representative of Armenians in the new government’s Ministry of Nations, in effect, killed him. Despite his long struggle with tuberculosis, Teryan was sent in late 1919 by the Soviet government on a mission from Moscow to Central Asia. For a man already ailing, the journey proved to be a death sentence.

This journey is portrayed in the second half of the film. The ending is dramatic, but the actual death of the poet is not shown on camera. Instead, we are given a final, tender scene where his wife lays her head upon his chest. The film then cuts present day Armenians reciting in turn pieces of a Teryan poem. The poet, in this film and in his own writing, lives on.

-- JoEllen Koester