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Literary Armenia 

Harout Yeretzian

Wednesday, Apr 19 2006
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Instead of the musty smell of old novels, one is more likely to get a whiff of cigarette smoke rising from the back of Abril Books, where owner Harout Yeretzian sits flicking his ashes into a coffee cup, surrounded by “No Smoking” signs. A bespectacled man with salt-and-pepper hair and a walrus mustache, Yeretzian mans Abril’s vast collection of Armenian literature — an avocation that began when he moved from Beirut to a pre–Little Armenia East Hollywood in the late ’70s and started publishing a magazine of the same name (meaning “to live” as well as the month of April). “There were only two political newspapers here,” Yeretzian says. “I did all the interviews with artists, musicians and historians. I thought I was filling a void.”

The monthly publication evolved into a printing company, then a bookstore off Santa Monica Boulevard. Changing demographics and a few robberies, one of which Yeretzian remembers happening on Labor Day weekend, led the bookstore in 1998 to its current digs on a quaint Glendale block adjacent to City Hall. “Thirty percent of the population in Glendale is Armenian,” says Yeretzian. “But, of course, not all Armenians read.”

As with any mom-and-pop shop, Abril is a family operation: Wife and artist Seeroon Yeretzian runs the nearby Roslin Gallery, and her calligraphic posters and post cards of the Armenian alphabet are found not only here but in many local establishments and beyond. And son Arno Yeretzian’s documentary on the late artist Jirayr Zorthian, Planet Zorthian, was screened at the ArcLight two years ago.

Abril stocks the essential classics by poets, novelists and satirists, including Hagop Baronian, Yeghishe Charents, Hovhannes Toumanian, Baruyr Sevag, Avetik Isahakian and Siamanto; children’s folktales, like David of Sassoun and Nazar the Brave; works by Armenian-American authors Peter Balakian (Black Dog of Fate), Michael J. Arlen (Passage to Ararat) and Micheline Aharonian Marcom (Three Apples Fell From Heaven); and just about every book on distinct Armenian art, from tapestries to embroidery to the religious stone crosses known as khatchkars.

There’s also an increasing number of English translations — including one of the most beloved novels in Armenian literature, Raffi’s The Fool, first published in 1881. Yeretzian says these translations will soon encompass half the store, partly due to the always curious stream of odars (gringos) “coming in to see what Armenian culture is, what Armenian music is, what Armenian art is.” Another factor: “It’s very difficult here in the States to get young people to read in Armenian.”

Reach the writer at sbabayan@laweekly.com

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