Works and Days

Presidents Summer Fellowship, Connecting to Armenian Artists Part 2, Knar Hovakimyan

Working on the ground in Armenia, President’s Summer Fellow Knar Hovakimyan ’16, linguistics major, seeks to introduce Armenian literature to English-speaking communities through poetry translation.

I just finished unpacking back home in LA. When I opened my suitcase, I was greeted by the faint smell of khorovats (Armenian barbecue) in my clothes: the pants that I wore to harvest apricots at my uncle's, the sweater I wore to Lake Sevan on a stormy day. I removed the large number of books I had managed to fit in my suitcase: I remembered discussions with poets at different cafes, afternoons I spent scouring through several volumes to pick which poems I wanted to translate, the look of the books scattered across our apartment all month. My sunscreen spilled all over everything; I had completely neglected to use it on our sightseeing side-trip to Khor Virap, Noravank, Tatev and Karahunj. My purse was crushed way at the bottom of the suitcase, water-stained from the day strangers poured three buckets of water on my head in celebration of Vardavar.


Amidst all of these messy yet bright memories, what stands out in my mind most is something I couldn't bring back with me: the warmth of the people – the eagerness of my second-cousins and family friends and old neighbors to host us; the friends of parents' friends who stepped in when their help was needed; the security guard at the conservatory who asked for my life story and gave me advice; the cab driver who didn't take my money because he came from the same village as my grandpa. It was so difficult to leave all these people behind. It was so difficult to leave this sense of togetherness behind.

As a tourist, I experienced all the best parts of life there, but in talking about my experience I can't leave out the fact that life is especially hard for locals. Things are a little better than the literally "cold and dark years" after the collapse of the Soviet Union, but many people are still hardly getting by and they don't carry much optimism in the face of the political and economic instability.

I'm really lucky to have grown up in the states. I'm lucky that my parents won a green card lottery. I'm lucky to have had more opportunities than my peers in Armenia could have dreamed of. But just this summer I realized how far away from home I am...

Tags: psf, presidents summer fellowship, summer, armenia, poetry, literature, translation