A Century of Spring: Bayara Aroutunova-Manusevich at 101
On Nov. 1, Dr. Bayara Aroutunova-Manusevitch turned 101 in her beautiful Belmont, Mass. home. Born in 1916 to a Russified Armenian family in Novyi Nakhichevan (New Nakhichevan, now in Rostov; in 1778, Catherine II forcibly relocated over 200,000 Armenians from Crimea), she was named after her maternal grandmother Bayar. “Bahar,” the little girl was told, means “spring,” which she must always youthfully emulate (I do not know that definition. Commonly in Armenian homes “bahar” means “spice”).
Bayara’s father, Haroutun Haroutunian, born in Karabakh, was educated from age six on in the family of a wealthy Anglicized relative—Ekizler—who financed the bright lad’s entire education: gymnasium, the exclusive Lazarev Institute in Moscow, and the study of engineering in Paris. In Paris, Haroutun met Kristina Iablokova (Khndzarian) of a cultured Russified Armenian family, whose wealthy great-grandfather had attained Russian nobility. Educated at Rostov Gymnasium, Kristina moved to Moscow for the Higher Women’s Courses of Guerrier (three years). Kristina was traveling in France with her fellow student friend, Aleksandra (Asia) Ekster, later a world-famous Russian artist, whose gifted paintings and decorated boxes little Bayara liked to “improve upon,” to Kristina’s chagrin. Married in 1913, Kristina and Haroutun shared a happy family life immersed in music, books, and art, and vacations in Crimea.
At Rostov University, Bayara graduated with high honors (1935-39), and in 1940 she was accepted into a program for a Master’s Degree in Linguistics at the Rostov Pedagogical Institute, where she completed her examinations in two years and wrote her dissertation, but World War II disrupted its defense. Well before the war, however, tragedy and suffering had shaken her idyllic family. In 1937, Haroutun Haroutunian, by then a prominent engineer, was arrested as an “enemy of the people” by the NKVD, and sentenced to 10 years “without the right to correspond,” which meant immediate execution. His parting words to Bayara were, “Complete your education.” Six months later, Kristina was arrested, but fortunately released within nine months; Bayara could not recognize the old emaciated woman who came to the door as Kristina. In the meantime, in that despondent situation, Bayara appreciated the moral strength and love of her brilliant sympathetic professor, Georgii Gaevsky, but their marriage was short-lived: In February 1941, he was arrested and executed.
During WWII, Bayara and Kristina ended up in Germany as “house servants” to one of Kristina’s long-established brothers. Their living nightmares would gradually come to an end. In December 1952, with U.S. help, Bayara arrived in New York, where she received a stipend to continue her education in the graduate program of her choice.
In 1953, her choice fell on Harvard’s Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures, with world-renowned luminaries Roman Jakobson and Mikhail Karpovich. Kristina and Bayara were reunited in 1954, and permanently in 1956 thanks to the efforts of Senator John F. Kennedy. Mother and daughter rejoiced as Bayara defended her Ph.D. dissertation, titled “Linguistic and Stylistic Problems of Word Order in Modern Russian,” in 1958, with Prof. Jakobson as her main adviser. The department invited her to remain, so Bayara Aroutunova became tenured senior lecturer for 30 productive years, teaching impeccable Russian stylistics, advanced Russian, and literature in Russian until her retirement in 1987. A great asset to the department with her superb, vibrant intelligence, stupendous Russian, articulated in her beautiful voice and intonation, fine training, dedicated teaching, vivacious genial personality, superior elegance, Bayara prepared many of the lucky best American specialists in Russian language and literature.
Bayara and Victor Manusevitch fell in love at the Slavic Department, where he was studying Russian literature, received an A.M., and was continuing toward his Ph.D.
However, multitalented Victor already was an accomplished violinist in the Boston Symphony Orchestra (BSO) under S. Kusevitsky. He and Bayara had much in common. They loved generous hospitality, and enjoyed many illustrious friends, music, literature, art. Together they purchased their Belmont home, enjoyed their life of concerts and art socializing with many friends, built their own summer place in Stockbridge, Mass. (Bayara made corrections to their architect’s vision, so the amazed architect asked whether he could use her ideas; she agreed, but rejected payment), near where the BSO played in Lenox, Mass. In his youth in Leningrad, Victor had met the Russian poet Anna Akhmatova at a friend’s gathering. They had sat chatting on a sofa. Victor told me he now wished he had asked certain questions.
As a scholar, Bayara researched in the Vatican archives and in cities of Europe, but never returned to visit the Soviet Union that had shattered her life, depriving her of a happy youth and her adored father and much-lamented first husband, Georgii Gaevsky.
In 1965, I met Bayara Artemevna at the Harvard Slavic Department as a neophyte graduate student who came to greatly admire this elegant, beautiful, sophisticated, talented scholar and instructor for her knowledge, love of culture and life (“Liubliu krasivo zhit’”—I love to live beautifully—I heard her say). Being a native speaker of Russian, I was never her student (my loss), but I did substitute for her when she was hospitalized years ago. Bayara values friendships, the longer the better, and goes out of her way for friends.
Never to be forgotten was the time I was teaching at Dartmouth College, and at my initiative we invited Bayara to come to lecture in Russian on a topic of her choice. She spoke on Solzhenitsyn to a mesmerized audience of students of Russian and faculty, and entertained questions in Russian to an energized audience. The next year my students wanted me to invite Bayara again. “What will my chairman think? He will not believe it was not my idea to invite Bayara again. I won’t.” My students assured me, “You’ll do it because you like us!” My chairman, Richard Sheldon, was happy to accommodate the initiative of the students by inviting Bayara for a repeat, magnificent presentation, this time on the poetry of Boris Pasternak.
Bayara participated in national and international conferences and published articles on Gogol, Pushkin, Dostoevsky, Pasternak, and others. Her first book, Lives in Letters: Princess Zinaida Volkonskaya and Her Correspondence (Columbus, Ohio: Slavica, 1994), recently appeared in Russian translation. Her memoir, Nedavno proshedshee (Recently Past) was published in Russia in 2014, co-edited with Alla Mymbaeva. Much appreciated by her former students and colleagues, Bayara was acknowledged with a festschrift: Studies Presented to Bayara Aroutunova. (Eds. A.L. Crone and Catherine Chvany. Columbus, Ohio: Slavica, 1987). It features my article among the contributions.
Happy birthday to Bayara, whose youthful spirit and love of humanity have turned adversity and tragedy into successful intellectual service to students, scholarship, colleagues, friends, family, and her adopted United States.
Sonia I. Ketchian, is an independent scholar and an associate at the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies, Harvard University.
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