A Mother-Daughter Writing Duo Has History on Their Minds


By Tom Vartabedian
YEREVAN — One book doesn’t necessarily make an accomplished author but with Knarig Svazlian, it’s a step in the right direction.

The 41-year-old just published a work titled The History of the Armenian Community in America, dating back to 1618 when Armenians first set foot on this land to the period just following the genocide in 1924.

For that, she feels a sense of accomplishment and gratitude after eight years of arduous research. But more than that, she’d like nothing better than to catch up with her mother some day.

That’s a rather tall order. Dr. Verjine Svazlian, a noted folklorist and ethnographer, has authored no fewer than 23 books in various languages. At age 75, she has no intentions of slowing down but rather heightened by the literary and historic word.

Her latest, The Armenian Genocide and The People’s Historical Memory, documents the eyewitness accounts of 700 survivors throughout Armenia and the Diaspora.

Together, they represent the eminent mother-daughter writing duo of Armenia.

We met over lunch at a popular restaurant in Yerevan called “Sherlock Holmes.” In their hands were copies of their books and a wealth of information regarding the Armenian Question and other vital matters.
The daughter spent eight years compiling her work, yet the mother’s book was started in 1955, and extended a half century. Wherever Dr. Svazlian attended a conference, her notepad and video camera were sure to follow.

As fate would have it, not one of the 700 survivors she encountered is alive today.

“When my father died, his final words to me at age 14 were well calculated,” said Dr. Svazlian. “He wanted me to become an intelligent, tireless worker for the homeland. He was a genocide survivor and wanted to write this book. I wrote it for him.”

The 1,600-page publication was ultimately translated into seven languages and subsidized by the Armenian government on the 90th anniversary of the Genocide.

Editor Sarkis Harutyunian, associate member, National Academy of Sciences for Republic of Armenia, calls it “an enormously laborious and gratifying work designed to save and perpetuate the unique memoirs and songs depicting this tragic and heroic history.”

“In this study, the author skillfully conjoined her rich and diverse materials with actual historical evidence,” he said. “They support to great extent the defense of the Armenian Case and, in particular, refute the distorted accounts of history as written by Turkish and pro-Turkish historians.”

As much as Dr. Svazlian’s literary achievements have been inspired by her dad, no doubt Knarig remains a chip off her mother’s block.

“My mother played a major role in the publication of my book with her ability to translate and her concise economic ways,” said Knarig. “I’m indebted to her in a lot of ways, especially the way she motivates me to write.”

She praises her mom’s vast literary accomplishments and admits to gaining a strong influence by both parents. Her father is an attorney and also writes. His stories touch upon the social and human climate of Armenia. The family lives in a three-room apartment in Yerevan and shares one computer.

“It doesn’t mean the other two stop writing when I’m using the computer,” Knarig says. “They prefer having me use the updated technology while they write in long-hand, then pay to have it printed. They’re usually sacrificing for me.”

Knarig started her project in 1992 and finished eight years later with a completed volume of 240 pages. A second edition is being compiled from 1924 to the present. Among those contributing to the project are Prof. Dennis Papazian, Nancy Kolligian, Mark Mamigonian, Van Aroian, Gary Lind-Sinanian, NAASR and ALMA.

Why America, she is asked.

“A family matter close to the heart,” she points out. “My great-grandfather (Mehran Svazlian) was founder of the first Armenian lobbying organization in America which took place in Boston in 1917. He also published the Armenian Herald Journal for five years.”

With a doctorate in history from Yerevan State University, Verjine Svazlian continues to teach and lecture on Diasporan history at the National Academy of Sciences. Her $120 monthly salary is irrelevant.

“I don’t work for money,” she says. “I work for the idea — for the welfare of my country and the preservation of our history so those outside our race will recognize the genocide and respect our people with moral understanding. ”