‘Armenian Genocide Survivors’ Influence on English literature: Swallows and Amazons – Fiction and Non-fiction of a Children’s Classic’.

“Photo from the 1974 film ‘Swallows and Amazons’,

Thursday, June 24th at 8PM

The fictional Walker children are much-loved characters in Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons, a quintessentially English family in an archetypal English children’s classic. But it was an Anglo-Armenian family that proved to be the catalyst and the inspiration for Ransome’s fictional family. Taqui, Susan, Mavis (known to her family as Titty), Roger and Brigit Altounyan lived in Aleppo in Syria where their grandparents had established the first modern hospital of that country. Their paternal grandfather Assadour Aram Altounyan was from Sivas in Ottoman Turkey. In 1920 Aleppo was full of refugees, many of them survivors from the Armenian genocide. The family were pro-active in their medical treatment, rehabilitation, education and training. They rallied the family in England to help fundraise for further aid and relief. The children that Ransome met during a summer holiday of sailing, fishing and camping in the Lake District in 1928 were lively, independent and personally affected by the Armenian Genocide. Their experiences of learning to sail on Coniston Water inspired the author and journalist to write his first book of fiction for children.

Karen Babayan was born in Iran to Armenian/British parents, moving to Leeds in November 1978 just prior to the Islamic Revolution of January 1979. Babayan is a multi-disciplinary artist whose work engages with audiences through the visual and performing arts and creative writing. Swallows and Armenians, Babayan’s book of short stories and essays explores the relationship between Arthur Ransome and the Altounyan family and firmly re-establishes the connection using newly-appraised correspondence and diaries. In 2016 Babayan gained a PhD in Contemporary Art Practice from Leeds Beckett University and was awarded C-Art Cumbria Artist of the Year.

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