Artsvi Bakhchinyan compiles the stories of Armenians past and present, far and near
Published: Saturday April 18, 2009
Artsvi Bakhchinyan of Yerevan, an art expert who holds a Ph. D. in philology and is employed by the Institute of History of the National Academy of Armenia, has been engaged in research on famous Armenians ever since his early school years. He collects detailed material from archives, libraries, and the Internet; he establishes contact with them; and during trips abroad he arranges meetings with those who are alive and outside Armenia. All of this effort has resulted in some 10 books and numerous articles and studies published in both the native and diaspora Armenian press. "We live in a small country; therefore, the desire to find compatriots in the world at large is quite natural. And I do that not to be sensational, without going overboard, without being chauvinistic," says Bakhchinyan.
Magdalina Zatikyan: Artsvi, when was your first book published?
Artsvi Bakhchinyan: At the end of 1993, when I was just 22 years old. It was titled Tsakumov hay en (They are Armenian by origin); it contained concise biographies of more or less famous Armenians who had lived and worked, or who live and work, in various countries. Those were difficult years for Armenia. Although the printing of the book was of poor quality, it gained a wide reception. Years later, in 2002, the revised, corrected, and completed edition of this work was published under the title Hayazgi gortsichner: Hnaguyn zhamanaknerits minchev mer orere (Prominent Armenians from ancient times to the present); it contains more than 2,100 biographies. I'm continuing to supplement the storehouse of my data. This is a never-ending process. Armenian biographies are very colorful. I'm always amazed by the restless character that is special to the Armenians, their zeal regarding what's new, their being in perpetual motion, their multiculturalism. I'm always excited by Armenian biographies; in particular, I enjoy reading the autobiographies of various Armenian individuals, especially artists.
MZ: The Armenian diaspora, the historical-cultural connections of Armenians with other nations, the contribution of our compatriots abroad to world culture - what did this work start from?
AB: I was born into a family of philologists. My father, Henrik Bakhchinyan, is a well-known literary specialist and translator, in addition to being director of the Museum of Literature and Art, one of the treasure-houses of our culture. My interest in everything Armenian became apparent from my childhood, since Armenian literature, art, and history have always been a part of our family. I dreamed of becoming an artist, then a film director, but philology won out in the end when I was accepted to the Department of Armenian Language and Literature of the School of Philology of Yerevan State University. I read encyclopedias and old newspapers a lot, and I was amazed at the abundance of interesting facts pertaining to the Armenian people, which have remained unknown. Although I wrote my master's thesis about Armenian literature, my scholarly interests nevertheless include philological research in the realms of culture and history.
MZ: Could you be more specific?
AB: Ties between the Armenian people and various countries interest me the most in the field of history. For example, my second book was Napoleon Bonaparte yev hayere (Napoleon Bonaparte and the Armenians) (2003). This topic hadn't been previously researched in detail. I gathered together the available evidence scattered here and there in the literature, which pertains to the remote and close connections between various Armenians and that mighty emperor of France. In my historical-philological research, I basically select the history of Armenian communities that have not been studied much or practically at all. In 1996, I lived for 10 months in Sweden as a scholarship student at Uppsala University, in whose libraries and archives I stubbornly searched for evidence about ties between the Armenian people and that country, as well as the other countries of Scandinavia. And it turned out that, starting from the time of the Vikings, there had been connections with our people, one more interesting than the other; Armenians had even reached as far as Iceland and Greenland in the Middle Ages. The result of my research was Hayastan-Skandinavia. Patmamshakutayin arunchutiunner (Armenia-Scandinavia: Historical-cultural connections), a book in Armenian (2003), and a smaller book, Armenia-Sweden: Historical-Cultural Connections, in English (2006).
MZ: This is truly a totally unfamiliar and, to a certain extent, exotic theme, "The Armenians in Scandinavia."
AB: I customarily study those topics, about which a void exists that I would like to see filled. For example, there aren't separate works about the Armenian communities of Yugoslavia, the Czech Republic, Albania, and Africa; therefore, my interests also include those topics. (I've already made some reports on these topics.) I have a special fondness for the cultures of China and Japan; therefore, I can't help but engage in the study of the ties between Armenians and those countries too. An extensive article of mine about Armeno-Japanese historical-cultural ties has already been published in an anthology in Armenian and Japanese. Furthermore, my study about Sino-Armenian ties is ready for publication as a separate volume in Armenian and Russian. In this study I have dwelt primarily on the history of the Sino-Armenian community in the 20th century, about which likewise very little is known.