Al-Fineeq (The Phoenix) -- Jordanian Cultural Magazine in Arabic
Translated from Arabic exclusively for ANN/Groong by
Katia M. Peltekian
Book: Alexander Saroukhan: Biography and Works
By Hrant Keshishian and Rashed Issa
Alexander Saroukhan is an Egyptian-Armenian caricaturist whose drawings have appeared in a number of Arabic and international newspapers and magazines. The Egyptian minister of Educations said, "Saroukhan as well as thousands of Armenians arrived in Egypt to have a better life of peace and equal opportunity. Saroukhan became well-known in the printed media for his distinguishing style in caricature. He settled in Cairo and became a ‘jealous' nationalist and established his place as one of the foremost caricaturists in the Arab world."
This book is a "memorial" album that includes a biography of the artist with references to his art, style and achievements in the world of caricatures as described by other artists and caricaturists.
This is not a complete album of Saroukhan's drawings. Neither is it an academic study of his art and style. It is simply an album that provides a quick glance to his diverse artwork. The features of his drawings are realistic, but at the same time exaggerated.
This book was published with the support of the Cairo Armenian General Benevolent Union (Satenig Shaker Fund). It includes chapters written by the Egyptian minister of education Farouq Hussni, the artist Hussein Bikar, the artist Jumaa Farhat, in addition to the biography written by Hrant Keshishian.
Alexander Saroukhan was born in 1898 in a district "beyond the Caucasus" in the Russian Empire. However, his family later moved to Batumi, where Saroukhan and his brother showed interest in drawing at an early age both encouraged by their father and a Russian teacher at school. During that time, the Ottoman Empire promised an atmosphere of freedom of expression (1908), so Saroukhan's family of seven moved to Turkey.
Saroukhan studied languages at the Catholic schools, and with his brother Levon published a weekly magazine to practice journalism. Soon, his parents left him and Levon at the school in Turkey and went back to Batum Their fate was never to see their parents again.
Later, tragedy struck the Armenians during the first World War, when 2.2 million Armenians were displaced and deported, and 1.5 million perished in barbaric methods. Many escaped to Syria and Egypt. However, Saroukhan and his brother remained at their school until the end of the war with respect to Turkey in 1918. Saroukhan worked as a translator of the Russian, Turkish and English languages in the British army. At the same time, his caricatures were published in Armenian newspapers and magazines, such as the satiric "Javroush" paper. However, Saroukhan and his brother left Turkey in 1922 and went to Austria where he received $50 dollars from a paper published in Boston in return for some of his drawings. The two brothers then went to Brussels where his uncle helped him study at the Graphic Art Academy where he finished his studies in 2 years instead of the usual four because he excelled. In 1924, Saroukhan left for Egypt with more than 125 pieces of his work that he had accomplished while at school.
Among his drawings were the very accurate anatomies of the male and female bodies. Also, there were some sketches of the different types of human beings drawn in coal and pencil.
Thus, he came to Egypt with an artistic maturity and his drawings were published in a satiric magazine called "Armenian Cinema". In addition, he gained fame through another magazine published by Rose el-Yusuf until the magazine went bankrupt.
Saroukhan first taught art at the Calouste Goulbenkian Armenian School in Bulak where he met other Armenian artists as the Zincographist Aram Berberian who is well-known for preparing the cliches for books and magazines in many languages.
Saroukhan later met another Armenian with whom he published the weekly "Armenian Cinema" in 1925. Through this magazine, Saroukhan's sketches and drawings became known for their sarcasm and humor that relied on the grotesque.
When the paper stopped publication, Saroukhan presented 95 of his works at an exhibition in Cairo and then in Alexandria. Through these exhibition, he met an Egyptian journalist Mohamad el-Tabii. Cooperating with each other, the two became the most important and influential journalists in Egypt for 20 years. Saroukhan worked as a caricaturist for the widely circulated "Rose el-Yusuf" paper the editor of which was el-Tabii. The newspaper then became a political magazine with some interest in culture and literature. Saroukhan's first drawing that appeared on the cover of the magazine was that of Rose el-Yusuf in March 1928, number 118. From then on, Saroukhan became known as a ‘political' caricaturist.
His fame was also established through his character "Efendi el-Masri" (Egyptian Efendi). However, because of a dispute between Fatima (aka Rose) el-Yusuf and Mohamad el-Tabii, Saroukhan left the magazine and joined the staff of another Egyptian well-known paper called "Akher Sa'a" (Last Hour) which el-Tabii published until 1946 when he sold it to another magazine "Akhbar el-Yom" (Today's News). Of course, Saroukhan moved to "Akhbar el-Yom" and worked for it until his death in 1977.
Among Saroukhan's publications is the book "This War" in which he predicted the coming of World War Two. It is considered to be his finest book as it defined his talents to discover humor in criticism. The Saroukhan style was prominent, independent and famous as he drew more than 20,000 different caricatures – political, social or humorous. In addition to "This War" he published another book on political caricatures called "The Political Year 1938". He has also written a book in Armenian on the art of caricature, five satirical plays also in Armenian, "Our Seven Deadly Sins", and an article "How I Came to Egypt."
This is how life ended for a world-renowned artist of Armenian origin and Egyptian upbringing: Alexander Saroukhan. Establishing a special art school for generations to come, he is considered one of the best and most famous caricaturists in the world.