Late 2017, PEN Armenia elected a new president – fiction writer and activist Armen Ohanyan, known more widely by his pen-name, Armen of Armenia. After years of inactivity, this was an important momentum in the history of the Centre, which is now witnessing a Risorgimento – a comeback – which is part and parcel of PEN Armenia’s rich history of 27 years.
The Centre in Armenia, which was among the first post-Soviet countries to join the global family of PEN, was established in 1991. It was founded by the renowned poet and translator Gevorg Emin, who presided over the Center until his last days in 1998. In fact, Armenia will be paying tribute to Gevorg Emin’s memory on the occasion of his 100th anniversary in 2019, and PEN Armenia is determined to launch a series of events dedicated to his vast legacy. After Emin's death, the lead of the center was taken by two other outstanding individuals – Madame Anna Hakobyan, the acclaimed translator of French literature, who became PEN Armenia's next president; and the late Mika Danielyan, prominent defender of human rights, who became secretary. The efforts of these two individuals marked the beginning of a most fruitful period in the history of PEN Armenia: it began publishing a literary journal, established the prestigious PEN Armenia Annual Awards and unleashed an uncompromising fight for freedom of expression in Armenia. As a matter of fact, PEN Armenia was the first to speak up and defend the then emerging oppositional journalist Nikol Pashinyan during his earlier political persecution at the beginning of the 2000s. Symbolically, Nikol Pashinyan is the country's political leader today.
PEN Armenia’s restart almost coincided with the restart of the entire country in spring 2018, as Armenia plunged into its Velvet Revolution, known otherwise as a Revolution of Love and Solidarity. PEN Armenia took an active part in the turn of events all the way through. Several of its members (fiction writer Aram Pachyan; poet Gemafin Gasparyan; fiction writer Christian Batikian; and others) were detained for participating in peaceful demonstrations alongside a number of journalists.
Armenia's Velvet Revolution symbolises a changing attitude towards freedom of expression. It also brought Nikol Pashinyan to power, a former journalist, novelist and the author of several revolutionary extra-popular song lyrics, whose name has appeared in several PEN publications since the 1990s.
As Armen Ohanyan put it in his letter to the community of PEN international:
‘It is our ardent wish that we should perpetuate this tradition and give it a new impetus. I therefore cherish the hope that we now stand on the verge of new beginnings, such that will herald the commencement of many new initiations, turning PEN Armenia into a major contributor to the PEN mission and its vision. We are also hopeful that our efforts will culminate in our qualifying to host one of the upcoming Annual PEN Congresses in Armenia.’
For more information, please contact Armen Ohanyan, president of PEN Armenia: firstname.lastname@example.org.