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The interview conducted by writer Arina Obuh with our Department Head, Assoc. Prof. Dr. Hülya Arslan, and Spanish translator Prof. Rafael Guzmán Tirado has been published in Literaturnaya Gazeta, Russia's oldest and most respected literary publication. You can access the original interview by clicking here.

Translation of the Interview:



Russian Translators and Russian Literature Connecting the World

Arina Obuh, October 27, 2023

This autumn, experts from sixty-three countries were invited to the fifteenth congress of the International Association of Russian Language and Literature Educators (МАПРЯЛ). Despite the intense program of the congress held in St. Petersburg, I had the opportunity to chat with two well-known experts in the literary community. The first of my guests was Hülya Arslan, a Turkish translator and the Head of the Department of Russian Language and Literature at Yeditepe University, and the other was Rafael Guzmán Tirado, a Spanish translator, Professor at the Department of Greek and Slavic Philology at Granada University, and a member of the Board of the International Association of Russian Language and Literature Educators.

During our tour of Petersburg, when our path led us to St. Petersburg's Art Square, Hülya Arslan, upon looking at the sculptor Anikushin's work depicting Pushkin, said, "Canım," and I asked her what that meant. She translated it as "my dear."

- Hülya, are there many people in Turkey who can address Pushkin as "my dear" like you?

- Russian classics have been an inspiration for Turkish writers and translators of my generation. For example, Orhan Pamuk mentioned at the Nobel Prize ceremony that he had read both Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky. It is possible to examine this interaction from multiple dimensions. It is even possible to say that the short story in Turkish literature is derived from Chekhov's stories.

- Can we then say, "We all came out from under Gogol's Overcoat​"?

- Of course. I want my students, the future translators, to know that we share common characteristics in our cultures. Moreover, understanding the life of the author whose work is being translated is also crucial. I call this a "window." Because every writer opens a new window to life, and that is very valuable.

- Rafael, how did you open your window to Russia?

- My family really wanted to see the Soviet Union, so I arranged a trip for them with my first salary. In April 1979, we first went to Moscow and then to Leningrad, staying at the Pribaltiyskaya Hotel. By the way, the participants of the current congress are also staying at the same hotel, so I have special feelings for it.

In fact, I loved Russia even before coming here. Everything started with language. I was teaching English and French in La Mancha, the homeland of Don Quixote, and at the same time, I was trying to learn Russian on my own. One day, I got a scholarship to start my master's studies at Moscow State University. Of course, it was quite surprising to see a Spanish student who could hardly speak Russian at the university in Moscow but wanted to write a thesis in Russian. The young lady who was my thesis advisor was a very good specialist, and she realized it wouldn't be easy for me. However, Professor Klavdiya Vasilyevna Gorshkova, the department head, said, "Make him a Russist." That's a beautiful memory.

Then I returned to my country, and in 1991, my university decided to open a Slavic Studies department, and this task was assigned to me. A different life began.

- Hülya, there must be many interesting nuances in your relationship with Russia, don't you think?

- It dates back to 1987. I was studying psychology at a very good university, and in my second year, there was a topic in the curriculum called "Creative Minds and Heroes." My classmate had written about Dostoyevsky and Raskolnikov. At that moment, I thought if only she could read the works in Russian, she would understand them better, and her work would be more successful. I wanted to read Dostoyevsky in the original, so I retook the university entrance exam and switched to the Russian language department.

Rafael says his family wanted to go to the USSR in the 1970s. However, we couldn't even dream of that. During those times, the Soviet Union was not viewed favorably in our country. Despite considering ourselves "leftists" and dreaming of socialism, my generation didn't know much about your country. We just thought it was very far away, and we could never go there.

Our university professors had not been to the USSR. I always remember torturing each other with my Turkish-Bulgarian professor over the pronunciation of the letter "J" during the process of learning Russian. I couldn't produce the sound she wanted. Imagine both of us pursing our lips and practicing the "J" sound. I hated that letter.

In general, reading was very challenging because most teachers were distant from the USSR, and professors had received their education in America. However, Russian literature united us all. Then perestroika and glasnost began. The Moscow Treaty, signed in 1921 between Turkey and the Soviet Union within the framework of friendship and brotherhood, had not led to any developments in the field of education. Within the framework of this agreement, I was one of the first students sent to Moscow for an internship at the Pushkin Russian Language Institute in 1988. This marked the beginning of my ongoing journey to Russia.

- How did present-day Petersburg welcome you?

- R.T.: My brother and I were in St. Petersburg before the designated time. We took a taxi, and the driver spent the entire journey telling us about Dagestan! He even played a film on his phone showing the mountains and waterfalls of his homeland. At the same time, he had time to inform us about the places we were passing through. It was quite an unusual Petersburg-Dagestan trip, and I enjoyed it immensely. When we arrived at the hotel, we met colleagues from different countries. This congress is truly a gift of fate. I express my gratitude to the International Association of Russian Language and Literature Educators (МАПРЯЛ) and the Russian World Foundation. By the way, organizing a similar congress in Granada in 2015 is an honor for me.

- Hülya, is it true that you toured St. Petersburg with the Dostoyevsky book you translated?

- Yes, I walked the entire route of Raskolnikov with my book. When I entered the building where the pawnbroker lived, I sat on the stairs, couldn't hold back tears, and cried.

- Are there modern literary authors who evoke the same feelings for you?

- I like the writing style of Yevgeny Vodolazkin. He is a fantastic writer. For me, not only the plot but also words, tonality, and style are important. For example, I was translating your short story, "Portability and Impossibility," with my students. It was a challenging translation in terms of understanding and preserving word and meaning plays.

- Life separates people, but translators unite them. Thank you for that. Rafael, for Hülya, everything started with Dostoyevsky. How about the beginning of your literary translation career? Which book marked the start?

- In the second half of the 1980s, writers who had been banned before in the USSR began to be published. They would come to Moscow State University's dormitory with suitcases full of books, and one day I came across a book of short stories by Averchenko. I was captivated by this book. From that moment on, I started living with the thought that one day I would translate this author. While my academic career covered all sides of me, that book looked at me from the shelf for fifteen years, and finally, it was Averchenko's turn. Then the era of Zoshchenko came. I loved Ilf and Petrov, but unfortunately, they had already been translated. I can imagine that a translator's job is not easy with so much subtext and details.

I met Yevgeny Vodolazkin eight years ago, as I mentioned before. His "Laurus" captured my heart. There was probably always a desire in me to be a writer, but I didn't have the talent for that. However, when I translate literary works, I feel like a part of him, as if I am creating something. Entering literature is equivalent to infinity.

I feel happy. I have managed to live two complementary lives. I love my culture and language, and I am very pleased to see Spanish motifs in Russian literature, just like I love Russian Language and Culture. I thank God for such a destiny.

"Literary Newspaper" - Dossier

The International Association of Russian Language and Literature Educators World Congress was held for the second time in Petersburg. The first forum took place in the Northern Capital 20 years ago. This year, philologists, teachers, writers, translators, Russian language institutes and department heads from 63 countries, including representatives of national associations of Russian scientists from Armenia, Bulgaria, England, Hungary, Vietnam, India, China, Mongolia, Serbia, and other countries, participated in the congress. Over 400 scientific reports and discussions on the most vital issues of Russian language teaching were held within the framework of the congress's thirteen thematic areas.