The State and the Books

The State and the Books

Lately, contemporary Armenian literature has become a hot topic in media and society. Many of us are still in the process of getting acquainted with the modern faces of the local literature. Regional Post talked with Armen Sargsyan, the chief specialist of Literature in the Ministry of Education and Science of the Republic of Armenia, to find out about the perspective of the state regarding the development of the field.

Interview : Margarit Mirzoyan    Photo : Armen Sargsyan's Archive


What challenges does Armenian literature face today? What are the priority issues that need to be addressed urgently?

Armenian literature has undergone a wide range of changes. The opportunities brought by the post-independence period, especially the new times, have had a positive impact on literature.
Today, when contacts with foreign literature are constant, there are open doors for the local literature. If ten years ago talking about the sale of a contemporary author’s book in Armenia was unbelievable and works were published only for presentations, today we have a different situation. The books, actually, are being sold. And, I wouldn’t say that the numbers are discouraging. The population is small; thus we are not losing in terms of numbers. Of course, the dream of Armenian literature is to conquer foreign literary markets. Here is where we should put all our efforts. Everyone should work in this direction: the writer, the publisher, the literary agent, the state. Everyone must do their job well in this chain so that we have results in years to come.


What do we need most to achieve that goal?

First, we need qualified translators – specialists who have been trained abroad and are willing to dedicate themselves to the translation of the classic and contemporary Armenian literature in the languages that are accessible and comprehensible for the outside world. 
The next important issue is the creation and activation of literary agencies in Armenia. I know only two such agencies that are actively operating: “ARI” and “Arajin”. The mentioned processes cannot be carried out without the establishment of this institute. One or two agencies, no matter how hard they work, are not enough to present the whole literary field. There’s a need for more. Besides, I do not even mention that potential writers may be left out of the preferences of those one or two agencies. This is a problem. Not to mention the absolute neglect of poetry. But I must admit that this problem exists everywhere; poetry is not of commercial interest in the foreign literary market. At the best-case scenario, the works of local poets are available in Armenian and are read in Armenia. 


Some representatives of the sphere claim that the active participation of the state hinders the establishment of healthy market relations. What do you think of that? What are the advantages of interactions between the two?

The support for the creators comes not only from the programs of the Government of the Republic of Armenia, the cultural policy of the Ministry of Education, Science, Culture, and Sports but also from the provisions of the UN Convention for the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions, the international legal instruments adopted by UNESCO on the exercise of cultural rights, in particular from the provisions of the 2001 Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity. The Convention member states should implement measures to promote creative freedom, i.e., funding for creative activities, support in promotion, artists’ right to social and economic protection, etc.
The Armenian Law on the Fundamentals of Cultural Legislation defines as goals of the state cultural policy the creation of conditions for the reproduction and development of the creative potential of the society, the support of the expansion of the international creative contacts of the artists, prioritizing the national cultural values of international importance.
This policy reaffirms that literature, literary projects, independent cultural figures who are excluded from commercial or publishing preferences should find their place in the literary field. The Ministry is guided by the conviction that the development of each circle is equally possible, starting from the creative ending with the library and the reader. 

Can we say that the buzz of recent weeks over literature textbooks turned into a PR, good or bad, for contemporary Armenian authors?

In general, we should try to bring back the interest of art lovers and readers to contemporary cultural developments, processes, and trends. Over the years, during these difficult times for culture, the rift between the creative community and the consumers of the culture it creates has deepened. We must try to close that gap, to unite the cultural community and art lovers on the same platform again. The result of that rupture was the noise around subject standards of literature. As they say, you should try to turn the bad course of events in your favor. Of course, this was a good PR. 
Many learned that there is modern literature and that’s not a small thing. They also learned about modern art. The problem here is not only literature. Modern art in general needs to prove its importance. Writers like to complain that people do not read modern literature. Musicians also complain that people do not listen to modern music.


Why is this happening?

The reason is that the highly politicized media field has been guided for decades – and today it continues to be guided – by non-cultural interests. There is no time or place in the media for the proper presentation of culture. The media does not provide time and space for its proper presentation. As a result, the current cultural life of Armenia is not covered, thus important and interesting cultural events are left out of sight.


What are the prospects of contemporary Armenian literature, for example, in the next 10 years?

For the past three years, the Ministry has been implementing the “Armenian Literature in Translations” grant program for foreign publishers in order to take Armenian literature out of Armenia and publish it in other languages. The Ministry supports the latter by allocating the necessary money for the translation of the books. To date, 29 book applications in 15 languages have received support from this program.
It is here that literary agents and publishing houses, pro-Armenian structures abroad, and embassies are of great help to the ministry. All together we must put our efforts to reach the desired results. We have already started, all we’re left to do is to succeed. The state has a lot of work to do here. There are very few resources allocated to literature. It is necessary to double, triple, and even quadruple them. Introducing yourself to the world and gaining popularity through literature is the most effective, shortest, and cheapest way.


What are your favorite works by contemporary Armenian authors?

Due to my professional and reading interests, as well as the opportunities given by my job, I read a lot. I can assure you that today we have wonderful contemporary literature. I am convinced that Armenian literature is living its best period. It’s free. It’s not based on ideologies (and that’s good). It has dropped the function of upbringing from its shoulders. It is different. It is competitive. I know that when given many names it’s hard to memorize them. However, if you want to read good literature, find and enjoy Lusine Hovhannisyan’s “The year has a lot of weather.” Also, ask each other for advice on what to read. Literature will help you to get to know yourself, understand yourself, and finally to live in peace and self-sufficiency. What else do we need to be happy?

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