Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Birth of Ler Kamsar - October 24, 1888

Together with Nishan Beshigtashlian (1898-1972), Ler Kamsar (pseudonym of Aram Der Tovmaghian, wrongly recorded as Tovmasian) may be considered the worthy heir of Hagop Baronian and Yervant Odian in Armenian satirical literature after 1920. 

Ler Kamsar was born on October 24, 1888 in Van. His father was a priest. He received his elementary education in the local American school. He graduated from the Kevorkian Lyceum in Etchmiadzin (1909) and returned to Van, where he worked as an actor and then as a teacher in the school of the Holy Cross monastery of Aghtamar and the Yeramian School.

His first satirical piece appeared in the “Ashkhadank” newspaper of Van in 1909 that made him instantly famous. His literary pseudonym was born at this time. When he went to the editorial offices to deliver his writing, they asked him under what name they should publish it. As he was leaving, he nonchalantly said, “Krek ler kam sar” (write ler or sar).  Both words mean “mountain” in Armenian, and the editors turned the option “ler or sar” into Ler Kamsar.
In 1915 he participated in the self-defense of Van, during the days of the Armenian genocide. His home was one of the defense positions against Turkish attacks. After the evacuation of Van, he left for Yerevan, where he continued contributing to many newspapers of the Caucasus. Many of his writings had been lost on the road to exile. In 1918 he published a satirical piece on Lenin in the daily “Horizon” of Tiflis that became one of the causes for his disgrace during Soviet times. The piece was called “The Letter of Czar Nicholas to Ulyanov Lenin.”
After the sovietization of Armenia, Ler Kamsar was a regular contributor to the organ of the Armenian Communist party, “Khorhrdayin Hayastan.”  He published three works during this period: Apocryphal Deads (1924), National Alphabet (1926) and Wrongful Tears (1934).
In 1931, during the purge of kulaks (the so-called “bourgeois” of Soviet times), he was accused of being one, because he owned 40 beehives, from which he made no profit, yet paid 200 rubles in taxes. The persecution continued until 1935, when Ler Kamsar was arrested and incarcerated in Yerevan, charged of organizing an attempt to assassinate Stalin. A ludicrous trial followed and he was sentenced to three years of exile in Vorkuta, a coal-mining town just north of the Arctic Circle, and then seventeen years of internal exile in Armenia, in Basargechar (actual Vardenis), with no right to see his family or publish his writings.
He returned to Yerevan in 1955, after a general amnesty, and requested a review of his case by the Supreme Court of Armenia. The Court found him innocent. He noted bitterly, “A small error, but it is interesting they do not offer even a half-hearted apology for their enormous mistake, as elemental courtesy would require.” And he acerbically added: “What about those unfortunate people who learn of their innocence...after being shot?”
Twice his files were confiscated and destroyed by the KGB, and the flood of 1946 severely damaged his archives in Yerevan. Many of his works remained unpublished because they were unsuitable for the Soviet regime. He managed to publish one collection of articles in 1959 (Old People, 1959); another collection titled The Man in Home Clothes (1965) was censored because of one article. The resulting stress caused a heart attack that led to his death on November 22, 1965 in Yerevan. Some of his earlier works were published in two volumes in 1980 and 1988. With the independence of Armenia, more of his work is being published and his literary heritage is being reevaluated.