The Library of Shaumiani

by Juri Wasenmüller

We learn about the library from a group of men sitting at a long table in front of the village’s former Dom Kultury. The clacking of their game pieces at the Birja is the only sound that fills the main street of Shahumyani at noon, sometimes interrupted by a passing car. While the Dom Kultury from Soviet times is closed and slowly being overtaken by the trees taking up space in the forecourt, the library and the adjacent museum in memory of the conductor Alexander Melik-Pashayev still open their doors every day.

How is history told in a room full of books in Georgian, Armenian and Russian? What is the present of a library subsisting in Soviet legacies? How do book stocks, languages and wishes of the readers change with time? Who is taking care of this multi-lingual archive of shifting political, ideological and national projects? In the South Caucasian village of Shaumyani in Georgia, inhabited mainly by Armenians, not far from the borders with Armenia and Azerbaijan, we were able to explore these questions.

During several encounters and conversations with the librarians Mariam Galichyan, Salome Paravyan and Varsik Baghiryan, and the museum employee Rita Taranyan, we had the opportunity to listen to them speak about the past, the transient and the already lost. We were able to observe their work with books and learn how they fill a place that seems doomed to decay, with visions for a future and life.

The short documentary emerging from this encounter will be released in early 2023.

Thank you Mariam Galichyan, Salome Paravyan, Varsik Baghiryan and Rita Taranyan for your trust and your stories.

A warm thanks to Hermine Virabian for translating into Armenian, Lala Iskandarli for translating into Azerbaijani, Ketevan Lapachi for translating into Georgian and Vani Aslikyan for helping us find our ways around the village!

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