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The Multicultural Cities of Plovdiv and Ruse Through the Eyes of Elias Canetti and Angel Wagenstein. Two “Post-Ottoman” Jewish Writers
Giustina Selvelli, 2019, published scientific conference contribution abstract

Abstract: The aim of my presentation is to illustrate the cosmopolitan setting of the Bulgarian cities of Ruse and Plovdiv during the first half of the 20th Century, as depicted in the memoirs of two Sephardic Jewish writers: Elias Canetti (born in Ruse) and Angel Wagenstein (born in Plovdiv). Particular attention will be devoted to the role played by the Jewish communities during the Ottoman and post-Ottoman period, in terms of their contribution to the economic and cultural life of the cities. Canetti was born in 1905, in post-Ottoman Ruse, while Wagenstein was born in Plovdiv in 1922, in the after-war period. Notwithstanding these years of difference, the situation in the two cities appeared rather similar: the Sephardic Jews were still living as a distinct unity in terms of religion and language, being able to keep their own cultural identities alive. The memoirs of Canetti and Wagenstein are quite significant as they come from a later period, expressing a principle of “nostalgia” as the process of “de-Ottomanization” had almost completely been carried out. For what concerns Canetti, the memories of Ruse occupy a special place in his novel Die Gerettete Zunge (The tongue set free,1977): the writer recalls a fascinating setting, characterized by a Babylonian confusion of languages, where the most diverse nationalities crossed and met, such as Russians, Jews, Romanians, Roma and Armenians. In relation to Plovdiv, in his novel Dalech ot Toledo (Far from Toledo, 2002), apart from the Bulgarian majority, Wagenstein describes the lively presence of the Turkish, Jewish, Armenian, Greek and Roma communities, defining their patterns of daily interactions as a specific model of interethnic coexistence. By relating to the composite legacy of their home towns, Canetti and Wagenstein stand out as highly multicultural Jewish personalities, acknowledging the importance of the different cultural worlds they were exposed to, not only the Jewish and Bulgarian, but also the Turkish and in general the “Oriental” ones.
Keywords: Elias Canetti, Angel Wagenstein, Plovdiv, Ruse, Bulgaria, Multiethnic cities, Post-Imperial Legacy
Published in RUNG: 22.12.2020; Views: 3964; Downloads: 0
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The role of the Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU) in supporting literacy in the minority language among the Bulgaria diaspora
Giustina Selvelli, 2019, published scientific conference contribution abstract

Abstract: In this presentation I will illustrate the question of the Armenian language preservation among the diaspora members of the Bulgarian city of Plovdiv, where the community counts approximately 3500 members (1% of the total urban population). To this aim, I will employ data gathered during ethnographic fieldwork as well information emerged from the analysis of the Armenian diaspora media in order to highlight the fundamental role of the Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU), the largest Armenian non-profit organization that operates at a global level. Based in New York, the AGBU embodies the main educational institution across the Armenian diaspora worldwide and supports a number of social activities related the preservation of this minority language. In particular, I will focus the attention on the importance of the (Western) Armenian language classes organized by the AGBU Plovdiv Saturday School (in addition to the ones held at the local Armenian School Tiutiundjian) and the contents and articles published by the AGBU Bulletin (Parekordzagani Tzain), a bi-weekly and bilingual (Bulgarian-Armenian) newspaper. Furthermore, I will treat the topic of the recent creation of the AGBU Armenian virtual college, an advanced online platform for learning the Armenian language, in line with the most modern technologies in language teaching, that has been employed in the last years during the classes at the AGBU Saturday School and which represents a significant innovation in the promotion of literacy in the mother tongue. Finally, I will consider the importance of diaspora institutions such as the AGBU in fostering a specific language ideology that is inscribed in a discourse on ethnic identity and community’s survival in the context of globalization and which proves crucial in the improvement of the minority’s relationships with the Republic of Armenia.
Keywords: Armenian Diaspora, Literacy, Bulgarian Armenians, Armenian Minority, Minority Media, Plovdiv
Published in RUNG: 22.12.2020; Views: 2639; Downloads: 0
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Giustina Selvelli, 2011, original scientific article

Abstract: Tema di questo intervento è l’amicizia fra Bulgari e Armeni e il discorso su di essa quale è venuto sviluppandosi negli argomenti prodotti dai due popoli e radicati nella loro lunga storia di vicinanza e di convivenza. La vicinanza si fonda principalmente su tre fatti storici: un’in- venzione alfabetica alle origini di entrambe le tradizioni letterarie, i contatti dei Bulgari con il paulicianesimo, l’insediamento dei profughi armeni in Bulgaria – insediamento così stabile da divenire parte integrante dei processi di autorappresentazione nazionale bulgari e da lasciare traccia, fra l’altro, nel poemetto Armenci di Pejo Javorov. Le informazioni utilizzate in questo lavoro sono state ricavate da un’esperienza di ricerca condotta sul campo fra gli Armeni di Plov- div, oltre che dalla disanima del volume Bălgari i Armenci zaedno prez vekovete e dallo spoglio di articoli a stampa in lingua bulgara pubblicati sui giornali della minoranza armena di Plovdiv.
Keywords: Rapporti armeno-bulgari, Armeni bulgari, Massacri Armeni, Minoranza Armena di Plovdiv
Published in RUNG: 25.08.2020; Views: 2350; Downloads: 0
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Giustina Selvelli, 2015, original scientific article

Abstract: This work investigates the relation between the maintenance of Armenian identity and language and the multifunctional employment of the Armenian writing system in the diasporic context of Plovdiv, Bulgaria. Departing from the assumption that a writing system’s cultural meaning goes far beyond its technical function, the aim is to demonstrate how the Armenian alphabet becomes a fundamental component of a process of symbolic cultivation of collective imagery, employed by the local intelligentsia in different writing settings in order to keep the link with the cultural and spiritual legacy of the historic Armenian motherland alive. In this vision, I integrate the analysis of ethnic identity with the study of the representational factors that allow a group to exist in the symbolic horizon of its members, with the purpose of underlining the symbolic aspect of ethnicity and identifying the mechanisms active in its persistence in time as a historic and cultural construction.
Keywords: Armenian Diaspora, Armenian Alphabet, Bulgarian Armenians, Plovdiv, Armenian Language
Published in RUNG: 24.08.2020; Views: 2627; Downloads: 0
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Giustina Selvelli, 2017, original scientific article

Abstract: The aim of this article is to present some commonalities between the works of two writers who share the same Bulgarian and Jewish origin: Elias Canetti (1905–1994) and Angel Wagenstein (1922–). Both writers can be considered as highly multicultural personalities: they both came from Sephardic Jewish backgrounds, and were influenced and fascinated by different cultural worlds such as the Bulgarian one, the Jewish one, the Central- European one, and even more. This paper will explore the contribution of their birthplaces, respectively, Rustschuk (today, Ruse) and Plovdiv, to the development of what I will define as a particular kind of sensibility for multiplicity which was central to their subsequent cultural and social undertakings.
Keywords: Angel Wagenstein, Elias Canetti, Bulgaria, Bulgarian Sephardic Jews, Plovdiv, Ruse, Multiethnic Cities, Post-Ottoman Bulgaria
Published in RUNG: 22.06.2020; Views: 2737; Downloads: 0
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Giustina Selvelli, 2018, original scientific article

Abstract: This paper describes the linguistic and identitary challenges faced by the members of the Armenian diaspora of Plovdiv, Bulgaria, in relation to what can be viewed as an irreducible multicultural context. Through the consideration of the community’s main cultural institutions embodied by the AGBU organization, the related press organ Parekordzagani Tzain and publishing house Armen Tur, I highlight the Armenian diaspora’s ability of combining different resources from a transnational perspective, while keeping alive a fixed sense of collective identity. In such process, I show how language reveals itself as the main chore of the community’s value systems, embracing different domains of the diaspora social and cultural life.
Keywords: Armenian diaspora, Multilingualism in Bulgaria, Armenians in Plovdiv, Armenian institutions, Bulgarian Armenians.
Published in RUNG: 19.06.2020; Views: 3039; Downloads: 0
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