"I Studied the Armenian Language to Be Able to Read Charents"

Julieta Puppo is a student of mine who started by taking a course on Armenian history at the School of Oriental Studies of the Universidad del Salvador, in Buenos Aires, in the late 90s and ended by learning the language and becoming a teacher of Armenian history and culture, of all places, at the school where I pursued my elementary and secondary studies. She traveled to Armenia in July 2008 and participated in the Youth Forum of Hamazkayin.
In an interview held afterwards ("Armenia," October 2, 2008), Vera Voskanyan wrote: "She is not Armenian. However, she knows Armenian history in depth. She has researched each corner of it. Julieta Puppo is 33. She has a B.A. in Oriental Studies. She currently works at the Khrimian School as a teacher of Armenian history and culture. This year, she traveled to Armenia to get to know the land she had studied so much. She wrote her thesis about the Armenian people, focusing on its literature and especially the poet Charents, whom, she said, she deeply admires." She also deserves to be known a little better. Belatedly, here are the main excerpts of that interview in English translation:

What did you motive to research and insert yourself in the Armenian community? Why Armenia and not another country?
I can't say well why. I actually studied Armenian history in college and also did a seminar. I had to prepare a thesis in my last year with a professor as a tutor. One day I met in the street with Vartan Matiossian, who had been my professor in college, and he asked me what I planned to do for my thesis and I told him that I didn't know. He suggested me to choose the Armenian people, and since he knew that I liked literature, he told me to focus on it. I had worked on Raffi with him and I loved it. We had several meetings and that's how the idea of reading Charents came out. Therefore, I decided to learn Armenian to read this writer.

Why did you study Armenian?
I didn't study Armenian to communicate with people, but to be able to read. I was actually interested in the language for research purposes, not so much in order to communicate. I wanted to work with the original source. I also studied Hebrew and Arabic. I love languages.

What do you think about the Armenian people after having studied it so closely?
It is a people open to share. I have never felt bad or rejected anywhere for not being Armenian. On the contrary, people opened their doors to me to know more about them and I stayed in.

Why did you decide to travel to Armenia?
It was years in the works. For a long time I had wanted to go and see . . . My main aim was to see Charents' home, to be at the Arch of Charents, to be in Yerevan where he had lived. At his home, today a museum, where he was for the last time and was arrested. I was really moved to see the things about which I had read so much; I somehow relived some moments, recalling the descriptions of his poems. Obviously, I also wanted to visit the other places in Armenia. I teach Armenian History in Khrimian School and I believe that this experience helped me a lot, now I can teach from a different position. Today I know what I knew before only in theory, and perhaps I'll be able to transmit it from experience.

What was your first impression on arrival?

It is related to my link with Charents' work. I read a lot about him. He was a victim of Stalin. I read about his last years of life, his last writings. He disappeared and the archives say nothing. He has no cemetery. Then, when I arrived I felt that pang that started to go away through the days when I was able to see "the other Armenia" and forget the image of Communist Armenia. Besides, my days in Yerevan were very enriching, not only for my work as a teacher, but also on a personal level. I had the oportunity to live together with a very interesting group, from the organizers of the Forum to the young participants who came from different parts of the world.

How did people treat you?
It was very good, I can't complain. One time I traveled alone in the subway and I got lost; people took interest in me and helped. They're very helpful and hospitable. I traveled with a group of 31 people, but sometimes I rather enjoy loneliness and I used to walk through the city alone.

What did you like better?
Something surprising, I don't know whether I liked it better, was to see ducks in all the fountains. I loved to go to the fountains to have a coffee and see the ducks going by. It looked funny to me. I also loved the landscape when going to the Arch of Charents. I also enjoyed, among many other things, watching closely the works of Martiros Sarian.

What did you bring from this trip, both material and immaterial?
Many books of literature and history. To see those books in my library is extremely moving, I have Charents' books, Paruyr Sevak's books. I also brought some music; for my students, I brought sweets and stones. Actually, what I wanted is that they had something from there, from that land. The theme of "seeing and touching," belonging and being present. It is one thing to hear about Armenia and another, to see and touch...

What do you think about the permanent struggle of the Armenian people for the recognition of the genocide? What about the ways to carry it?
I think it's very important. I believe that the way is to promote it to Armenians and non-Armenians alike, to make it known to non-Armenians from school, in order for them to be able to transmit this information to other people. To promote memory is very important, but I consider education the ground of everything. I think that we teachers have to be well-rounded is we want to transmit and educate. There is a lot of material, but the hard thing is to know how to use it, namely, how to work with students in regard to their age. I believe that we have to put forth some criteria and, since the genocide is included in educational programs at an official level, it is time to work on that. The work has began...

What do you think about marching?
I join the marches for April 24. Let's say I feel more of a compromise when I'm at the school. I think that social participation may be achieved both collectively and individually. Many times you don't join from a physical presence, but from a way of living. In the past, I wasn't used to go to mobilizations, I don't have that social compromise. The idea of the march is being addressed from the school as a way of defense; I adhere to that concept and that's why I participated. My choice is also related to the image I give to my students.

Last but not least, what's your opinion about Armenian culture?
As a non-Armenian, I believe it's a culture to be discovered. The world has to know it; it is so rich, so beautiful, and may be very rewarding. I would like that this moving history were known and shared. I'm of the idea that one must share.

Translated by Vartan Matiossian

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