On August 10, the Honoured Art Worker, well-known actor Yervand Manaryan marked his 85th birthday anniversary. Neither the Armenian authorities nor mass media honored him with attention. Even the First TV Channel of Armenia disregarded the occasion. Talking to NEWS. am, Mr. Manaryan did not want to address the matter. Our talk was just about modern-day theater, the actors’ life and career.
Question: Mr. Manaryan, I did not receive your consent to an interview at once. You said you were not in the right mood. What was the cause?
Answer: Everything… The present is of interest to you, the whole life is ahead of you. For people of our age it is the end.
Question: So it is your age that is the cause for your low spirits?
Answer: Yes, it is the age – I have not any special expectations.
Question: What expectations do you mean? Are they expectations from the State?
Answer: State issues are most complicated. Do we have a state at all? It is a question arising before an aged man, and there is no evading it. For so many years you, Armenian, labor, going through troubles, and at the same time put a question to yourself: do I have a state? There is power, but no state. They should be discriminated. We wanted to create a state – a free and independent one. May be, it went wrong. I would not like to call it an error. Rather, it went wrong.
Question: But when you stood side by side with Levon Ter-Petrosyan, you believed that power would be able to rectify the mistakes and create the State you have just mentioned?
Answer: I do not have a special wish to speak of an individual, though we cannot do without that: it is individuals that make history. However, the truth is one. We think we can we can avoid it, but we cannot. Society and the State have two poles: the authorities and the opposition. The State does not exist without authorities. On the other hand, the State becomes uncivilized without the Opposition.
Question: Did you join any other force before joining the Ter-Petrosyan-led Opposition? Did you appear in the political arena?
Answer: At the age of 20 I was engaged in politics. I worked as a political observer for the organ of the press of the People’s Party of Iran. Twenty is twenty. At that time there was no politics for me, there was Homeland. The concept of Homeland is somewhat different for Iranian-Armenians than for Armenians residing in Armenia. A local Armenian can see both strong and weak points of his Homeland, wants to improve something… In a foreign land, the Homeland is far away from you. You seek it…
Question: You mean the Diaspora is unable to contribute to the Homeland’s prosperity? Should activities aimed at bringing benefit to the Homeland be launched in the Homeland itself?
Answer: People should come and take care of their Homeland. Donating part of your earnings, even a greater part, is nothing. People should come and take care of this land. It is a most laborious process. It requires great devotion – the devotion displayed by me and many of them who were like me.
Question: The well-known people who returned to the Homeland with you?
Answer: There were eleven of us. Now I am alone. Hovhannes Badalyan was among us. If you are acquainted with modern literature, Abig Avagyan was among us – he was the oldest. Albert Hayrapetyan became a Doctor of Physiology, Hamlet Yeganyan a Doctor of History, Hrair Movsesyan defended a PhD thesis on philology and Manuk Barseghyan a PhD thesis on medicine. In short, they are all well-known people.
Question: How did the repatriates launch activities in the Homeland?
Answer: Some people ask: what and how it was, if we did not want to go back? I told them nothing like that had happened. I had family problems. It is easier for a young man to overcome difficulties. In short, I have been in this walk of life for 63 years.
Question: Did you launch your career at the Puppet Theater?
Answer: No, it was dramatic art. My parents were actors. They left Armenia and met there, in Iran, got married and started a family. We are two brothers. I studied dramatic art, and Arman took interest in film art. It was great we were besides each other at work. He was a film director, and I a scriptwriter… I love this work very much.
Question: Mr. Manaryan, many people know you from the film “A bride from the North”. How did it happen that you acted in the film?
Answer: My friends, Zhora Harutyunyan, Nerses, called me. We were good friends. They offered. I had had nothing noteworthy before. I played a role in Arman’s “Karine”. I am good at languages. Although I have nothing in common with Western Armenian, I am a good speaker. With Nerses and Arman I played a role in “Tzhvzhik”. A second time, with Nerses I played in the film “Cooks’ contest” – a character of Western Armenian. In a word, I worked much in Armenian cinema and theater and I had no problems. I thank God for having an opportunity to work in Armenia theatre.
Question: It was when you starting working at the Puppet Theater?
Answer: At the Sundukyan Theater I assisted Vartan Ajemyan, when I was offered work at the newly opened Tumanyan Puppet Theater. I started working chief stage director. After retiring, I thought of opening my own theater – I did not even let a day pass. Fortunately, at that time the Soviet Union granted freedom to theater though they continued watching over. At that time we created “Aghulis”.
Question: What is the state of “Aghulis” now? What are its problems?
Answer: I find it difficult it say. The problem is the repetoire. We are going to stage a play for young people…
Question: Are these the only problems? And what is the theater’s financial position?
Answer: Financial problems as well. How can a 50-member company maintain itself? It is great that enthusiasts can be found among young people. Girls, mostly graduates. We thus maintain ourselves. We have to specify the theater’s image, which is most difficult. I think we need plays for young people. We are staging a new play now — Hayk and Bel.
Question: Do you feel more responsible to young or adult spectators?
Answer: It cannot be compared. At a puppet theater, a child hands his or her pure soul over to you. Also, children are surprisingly trustful. Some children argue with puppets, they cannot stand their “bad deeds.” You should be most cautious. You cannot feel free. It is a matter of human relations. You sow first seeds in the soul of a future citizen. It is not so with adults. In this case, you set creative tasks. The theater has numerous “heights”, which does not seem to be taken into account now. Theater’s mission has changed. The purpose for which it was created thousands of years ago no longer exists. It hardly works in this field. It is issues of aesthetics that are mainly of interest in Armenia, whereas theater’s true purpose is a discussion with audience. People go to the theater to find ideas, and the ideas must be in conformity with the questions they bring to the house. At present, aeshetics is irrelevant because television and cinema sometimes demonstrate this aesthetics so there is not sense if going to the theater to see the same. Theather is supposed to answer society’s questions.
Question: What about modern-day theater?
Answer: Theater is fully dependent on the spectator’s spiritual “ego.” What do you give to him? What he takes… Something like the most savage barter. How does the spectator asses your acting? The modern-day spectator comes to the theater with serious questions, which are far from being everyday ones. For instance, the most serious question is that of nationhood. If entertaining is the main aim, it is not theater. Another matter is that entertainments provide answers to serious questions. Biographies must be in effect in theater. There must be a conflict of biographies, which provides food for reflection. No society can have theater, without this excitement passing by its theater. We cannot hear about someone staging a play on the March 1 events and be told: no, we are not going to stage it. It is theater too.
Question: Are you writing as play about March 1? Do you plan to do it?
Answer: I did it at my time. I am bold in this matter, and my conscience is clean. I wrote a play about the first stages of Ter-Petrosyan’s rule. It was published in the miscellanea. I staged it at the Sundukyan theater. The play told about the hard times our society was going through, about an ancient people that could not find a shepherd to put it on the right track. Lorents Arushanyan played the leading part. Renovation work was under way at the theater, it was bitter cold. For technical reasons, it was not a long-term play.
Question: Besides the recent years’ political activity, did you appear in the political arena?
Answer: Being an Armenian citizen, I am always interested in political life. I am not a political figure, I am a citizen. At the 2004 rallies I was the only representative of Armenian intelligentsia that was speaking with the people through a loudspeaker. I cannot understand why I was alone Why are so many intellectuals on this side, and none of them on that? I cannot understand. It is a serious question, and I find it difficult to answer it. Because, like it or not, I will have to say bitter words, but I do not want to.
Question: Mr. Manaryan, you preferred a way leading to Opposition. But they preferred a way leading to power. Why are you surprised?
Answer: Yes, it is a clear thing. Society must be like this – the authorities and the Opposition. And art critics must mostly be in the Opposition. It is a standard for any society – for the authorities’ errors to be indicated. A word of a man of art is sincere.
Question: Would not it be better if intellectuals united and, without joining the Opposition, pointed to the authorities’ errors? The Opposition has demands, seeking power, but not the ways of resolving the social problems.
Answer: Of course, the Opposition came out to overthrow the authorities and occupy their place. Depriving the Opposition of its mission means, excuse me, castrating it. If anyone thinks the incumbent authorities must yield their place to new forces, let them go and stand besides them. Is it possible for a person of my age – I marked my 85th birthday anniversary three days ago – to seek power. Intellectuals, workers of art are not only for entertaining.
Question: Was Ter-Petrosyan the reason for your participation in the movement?
Answer: Ter-Petrosyan was a able to breathe new life into the political Opposition. He is a person knowing what to do. He does not tell everything to us – it is his nature. We do not know anything about his thoughts. He wants to put them into practice. I am a person that gained experience in the Dashnak School. All our teachers in the Teheran school were Dashnaks. They were different from these. What games are these playing? I am disappointed with their steps. I can say what I am sure of: the Soviet people has not yet relegated to oblivion. And, being in agony, they are manifesting themselves in a subtler way. I do not complain about the Soviet power. It existed for a certain historical period and must go away. Functions are gone, but the way of thinking is still alive – with immoral people. No decent person is a bearer of Soviet ideology. I can see with my own eyes their efforts to return Soviet power.
Question: Who wants to return it?
Answer: Those having levers in their hands because Soviet power allowed them to have levers under the guise of great names. The only difference is that a powerful hand did not allow them to exceed the limit at that time. At present it is not so, they are moving forward in an organized way.
Question: As an Armenian intellectual and citizen, what do you think of the Nagorno-Karabakh settlement and of the issue of return of territories?
Answer: I do not know what to say. It is diplomacy. But I am Armenian. How can we return Aghdam?! I see a problem is a morally degrading society. Such a society will never reach anything even if they are presented with an Armenia from sea to sea. It is a pity! There are more than enough intellectuals supporting the authorities. Whose weighty utterance can we hear? What is it if not indifference? There is nothing worse for society than indifference. I do not know about the end, but we have sustained great moral losses, which are most difficult to make up. Our intellectuals have much to do, but they are sitting with their arms folded.