Bayara Aroutunova Manusevitch

Bayara Aroutunova Manusevitch

Senior Lecturer on Slavic Languages and Literatures, 1963-1987
Bayara Aoutunova photo




(1 November 1916–12 March 2019)


Bayara Aroutunova Manusevitch died at home in Belmont, Massachusetts, on March 12, 2019, at the age of 102. After receiving a Ph.D. in Russian linguistics at Harvard in 1958, she joined the faculty as a lecturer on Slavic Languages and Literatures, earning a promotion to Senior Lecturer in 1975. She retired from her post in 1987.


Bayara was born into a highly cultured family of Russified Armenians in Rostov-on-Don. Her father, Aroutun Aroutunian, had been in Paris studying to be an engineer when he met Kristina Yablokova, his future wife, educated in Moscow and traveling with a fellow student, Aleksandra Ekster, who would later become a major artist in the Russian avant-garde. Aroutun and Kristina returned to Russia to marry in 1913.


In 1935 Bayara entered the Department of Literature in the Rostov Pedagogical Institute, but her life took a radical turn with the onset of the Stalinist purges. Her father, by now a prominent engineer, was arrested in 1937 by the Soviet secret police (NKVD) as an “enemy of the people” and sentenced to ten years imprisonment. He was executed in 1938, but his family was unaware of his fate for another twenty years. Her mother was arrested six months later, but released after nine months of incarceration. That same year Bayara married Georgii Gaevskii, a professor of literature at the Institute.


In 1939 Bayara graduated with honors and in 1940 was accepted into the master’s program at the Institute to pursue a degree in Russian linguistics. A year later Gaevskii was arrested and executed. The German invasion of the Soviet Union put a stop to her pursuit of a higher degree. Bayara and her mother were able to leave Nazi-occupied Rostov in 1943 and make their way to Germany, where they took on odd jobs to survive.


Bayara was ultimately befriended by the family of an American intelligence officer stationed in Germany who provided her with a stipend that enabled her to come to the United States in 1952 to complete her graduate studies. Her mother joined her two years later and was allowed to stay permanently after intervention by then Senator John F. Kennedy. Bayara entered Harvard’s Slavic Department in 1953 and under the guidance of Roman Jakobson completed a doctoral dissertation in 1958 entitled “Linguistic and Stylistic Problems of Word Order in Modern Russian.”


In 1965 she married Victor Manusevitch, a violinist for the Boston Symphony Orchestra who was additionally studying for a master’s degree in Russian literature in the Department. Bayara and Victor established two homes, one in Belmont and the other in Stockbridge, near Tanglewood, the orchestra’s summer home. They were consummate hosts in both locations, noted for evenings devoted to music, art, literature, and fine food.


Bayara was a dedicated teacher, offering advanced courses in Russian grammar and stylistics, and on nineteenth- and twentieth-century Russian literature. Known for her extremely high standards, she trained generations of Harvard students, many of whom went on to populate major Slavic academic positions across America during the dramatic expansion of the field in the 1960s and beyond. At her retirement in 1987, she was presented with a festschrift entitled New Studies in Russian Language and Literature Presented to Bayara Aroutunova, with contributions in linguistics and literature from colleagues and former students. Among her later works were Lives in Letters: Princess Zinaida Volkonskaya and Her Correspondence (1994) and her memoir, Недавно прошедшее (2014). For the last decades of her long and productive life, Bayara was cared for by her dear friend from St. Petersburg, Alla Mynbaeva.


Bayara has outlived many of her contemporaries, but for those fortunate enough to have attended her classes or interacted with her as colleague or friend, her passing will be deeply felt; her elegance and grace, fondly remembered.


Michael Flier

Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures

Harvard University


(This obituary is partly based on published materials by Sonia Ketchian and Jane Slavin.)