By Areg Davtyan

How the Armenian General Benevolent Union has been supporting Armenian literature and Armenian writers in foreign languages from the 1920s to the present

From the very first days of its establishment, the Armenian General Benevolent Union, considering Armenian writing and literature to be a high priority, has provided direct support to Western Armenian and Diaspora Armenian literature. Through AGBU sponsorship, many works of literature have been published by Diaspora Armenian authors. Diaspora Armenian educators and writers have enjoyed constant support by the Union. Today, pieces on literary knowledge and Armenian studies continue to be published through the foundations established by the Union, particularly the AGBU Vahram Abdalian Memorial and Antranik Poladian foundations.

Both in the Diaspora as well as Armenia, the Union has sponsored the area of publication. With the help of the Garabed and Krikor Melkonian Foundation, it began to support the publication of works in Armenian studies in the 1930s. The books published in that period included Acharyan’s Armenian Etymological Dictionary, Yervand Shahaziz’s Old Yerevan and others, a total of 30 valuable monographs. In order to make the publication of these works and others possible and also help the public read them, the Union constructed the buildings of the Public Library and the Publishing House, both designed by Alexander Tamanyan.

The literary and academic work simultaneously continued also in the Diaspora. In 1960, AGBU founded the Ararat English-language literary journal in New York. The journal was published for around half a century and its editors-in-chief included famous individuals from the American-Armenian literary scene. It was an important and reputable platform for many of the Armenian writers living abroad. Ararat also published translations of Armenian pieces, biographical and historic articles. The journal would periodically release special thematic issues – “William Saroyan”, “Gevorg Emin”, “Armenians in the USA” and so on. In 2010, Ararat moved to an online platform –

Translations of literary and academic pieces have been published with the support of the AGBU Alex and Marie Manoogian Cultural Foundation established in 1968, and a range of various programs has been implemented to spread Armenian culture throughout the world, including the founding of centers for Armenian studies. The programs for the development of Armenian studies include a partnership between AGBU and the Mesrop Mashtots Matenadaran. The sponsorship of the Union has made it possible to periodically publish the “The General Catalogue of Armenian Manuscripts” of the Matenadaran, as well as its publication Banber Matenadarani (Herald of the Matenadaran).

After Armenia gained independence, the Union continued to actively support academia and literature. In recent years, AGBU’s support has resulted in the publication of collections of English translations of modern Armenian prose, poetry and theatrical scripts. Along with the Institute of Literature, AGBU has published the Armenian translations of works by renowned American-Armenian writer Leon Zaven Surmelian, such as 98.6 o and Techniques of Fiction Writing: Measure and Madness, as well as a work in Russian by Eduard Melkonyan dedicated to the history of the AGBU. An academic two-volume collection of Avetik Isahakyan’s works has also been published. Continuing its traditional support to the publishing sector, AGBU and the Writers’ Union of Armenia initiated the establishment of a publishing house named after the writer Leon Zaven Surmelian. As part of its program for the development of Armenian literature, AGBU supported the Pan-Armenian Writers’ Summit and Armenian Writers in Foreign Languages Summit, both convened in Yerevan. The Union also sponsored the publication of the English-language collection Modern Armenian Prose.

Original source: Yerevan Magazine