Most of us will not give the ultimate sacrifice for our country. The reasons we give to not join the armed forces will vary in validity, but a time will always come when some of us are forced into physical conflict for the sake of others. During those sad and unfortunate times when might makes right, pens become less valuable and history is written in blood. Yet, the times after war and tragedy are precisely when great philosophies are forged, during the aftermath and digestion of what has occurred.
The time that followed the culmination of WWII saw a revival and evolution of many philosophies: Jean Paul Sartre brought the rebirth of existentialism; J. Robert Oppenheimer saw himself “become death” after his work on the Manhattan Project; the Geneva Conventions sought to have humane wars in the future (if such things exist); and, of course, the Cold War was born.
Today, Armenia seems to beg for a renaissance and a revolution. The country has been independent for over twenty years and, aside from the Artsakh War, the greatest threats to our nation have come from within. The Armenian people have slowly allowed an oligarchy to take control — an oligarchy that no longer feels the need to even mask itself as a democracy. An authoritative government that preaches democracy yet does whatever it wants is a government that fears the power of the people. Armenian politicians no longer have that fear because even the greatest philosopher cannot overcome tank shells and bullets. The people’s responsibility is to stay involved in government and create an atmosphere that welcomes critical discourse, debate and conflict. Kings are mortal, but ideas are not.
The enthusiasm and nationalism that we have seen in America through Armenian Students’ Associations, the Armenian National Committee of America, the Armenian Youth Federation and other organizations is very motivating — yet most of the American-Armenian population is out of the loop and apathetic to the current and future welfare of Armenia. The community leaders in America and in Armenia must nurture an active populace and a rich marketplace of ideas. We must elect officials unafraid of being wrong — officials who are not conservative or reluctant to change because of their ego and image to uphold. In our search for the truth, we must not forget that we can only seek it and never posses it. We must humbly defend our opinions with the knowledge that we may be wrong. Above all, we must respect others who seek to find the truth, and distrust all who claim to have found it.
We as a people are not unique in our challenges. Countless other societies have been conquered, enslaved and discriminated against. We are not unique, but that does not diminish the amount of blood and suffering our ancestors have endured for us to still be here. The thought of losing all feeling provokes a great deal of emotion, because to lose life is to pay the highest price. And to learn nothing from those who gave all to death and abandon our memories of them is to commit treason against humanity. On the cosmic scale, all human drama, tragedy and conflict seems petty and anthropocentric. In 1969, we went to the moon and discovered the Earth, yet on our pale blue dot we continued to kill for our imperfect thoughts and opinions on life. We must not forget that we are humans first and Armenians second, although humans have not yet collectively evolved to care about one another globally. Our genes are most common within family first, culture second and finally in people from other ethnicities. Charity starts at home, and so our most precious and grueling fights must come from within.
The ways in which you choose to serve our culture are many, but to do so is imperative. A stagnant culture is built from stagnant individuals who resist change because of fear, bigotry and ignorance. Paruyr Sevak, speaking of Armenia, once said “I have not participated in any fights, but I have never in my life taken half a step that hasn’t brought me to you, I start and end with you, like a circle.” The resources are in front of us and the demand for bright ideas is strong; all that needs to be done is to start walking towards the truth – while never forgetting road we traveled.
In all societies, the discrimination women experience during and after armed conflict stems from a traditional understanding of gender roles. The Armenian society, deeply entrenched in patriarchy, is no different. The perception of women as nurses, wives and mothers is the norm, whereas men are cast as aggressors and soldiers. Although women in the struggle for Artsakh’s liberation originally entered the war effort as nurses, it wasn’t long before many of them grew impatient of their limited roles and began to take up arms.
Varduhi Gevorgyan, who was awarded with the Battle Cross Medal for her participation in the war, said:
“I swore on the grave of my first commander and a good friend of mine from childhood that Karabakh [Artsakh] will be freed. Our people must live in peace. Back then, Gayane Arakelyan and I spoke to Arkady Ter-Tadevosyan asking his permission to create a female unit. After receiving approval, we posted the announcement. A few days later, we already had twenty-eight volunteers. Eighteen of them were sent to a training center, and eight girls were ready to go into battle.
Now, we can proudly say that the female unit was not inferior to the male unit in any sense; sometimes we even surpassed them. Sometimes, they wanted to be like us.”
Women who wanted to join their male compatriots in the trenches met resistance. Men wouldn’t allow them to join fighting units and tried to convince them not to fight. Garineh Danielyan, a freedom fighter, explained that although the men tried to convince her, to stay at home she wouldn’t budge. She was so stubborn that they eventually had no choice but to accept her. She said, “At first, I was the only female in our group; I didn’t know there was a woman’s group in the city. Later, when they came to Shushi, we joined forces. It’s one thing when you’re alone with men, it’s another when there are women with you.”
During this time, women fell victim to corruption and bribery, solely based on their gender. Anoush Ter-Taulian, a diasporan Armenian living in Artsakh since 1994, recounted the stories of young women who gained or retained posts in return for giving in to the sexual advances of army leaders and generals. Others, on the other hand, were forcibly summoned to a newly-built mansion to face severe punishments for refusing these advances. In one case, an entire family from Martakert fled Artsakh to avoid the consequences of refusal.
Gen. Samvel Babayan, Karabakh’s Defense Minister and Commander-in-Chief (1994-2000), is the man responsible for these developments and credited with provoking a culture of machismo and corruption in the military. As a result, women’s efforts to break down barriers and achieve gender equality— during and after the war —were threatened.
History often fails to recognize the contributions of women. Women who have exercised power, determined the course of events, and fought for our rights and our peoples are often forgotten. Women’s roles in the war should be honored and particularly respected due to all the hardships they faced as a result of their courage. Just like their male counterparts, they too had the next generation in mind when risking their lives for their homeland. We must now ask ourselves – what have we done and what will we do to carry on the legacy of women like Varduhi Gevorgyan, Gayane Arakelyan, Garineh Danielyan, or Anoush Ter-Taulian?
– Nora Kayserian
— Sources —
Danielyan, G. (2008). Personal interview with T. Aghabekyan.
Kasbarian, A. (2001). Challenging the Order or Reconfirming It? Reflections on Nationalism and Gender in the NagornoKarabakh Self-Determination Movement, 1988-1995. Doctoral Dissertation, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey.
Ter-Taulian, A. (2001, January). Personal interview with A. Kasbarian.
The Armenian Youth Federation has proclaimed 2012 as the Year of the Armenian Freedom Fighter. The AYF Western Region Chairperson, David Arakelyan, explains the reasons behind that decision and shares his experiences of interactions with azadamardiks in Armenia.
By: David Arakelyan
The history of our people is a tale of survival and victory against great odds and powerful enemies. From Vartanank to Sardarabad, the Armenian people have shown that our determination to live on the land of our ancestors cannot be shaken even by the mightiest of the foes. Over the course of the centuries, we have had to prove that determination to those who aimed to destroy our culture and our country. Most recently, an existential struggle was waged for the liberation of Artsakh, which was able to defend itself through the tremendous sacrifice of its people and the uncompromising stand of Armenians worldwide against the genocidal policy of the Azeri government.
This year, we are marking the 20th anniversary of the Liberation of Shushi, perhaps the most important victory of the war, which ultimately enabled the independence of Artsakh and ensured the survival of its people. Shushi was the new Vartanank, the new Sardarabad for the generation of our parents and it stands as one of the most glorious pages of the Artsakh Liberation struggle. Every year in May, the celebratory parades in Yerevan and Stepanakert mark this important victory and send a clear message to our enemies that our military – the only guarantee of our existence – is capable of defending our country and our people.
What remains in the backdrop of the military fanfare and the loud speeches of government officials are the stories of those who fought and bled for the liberation of Artsakh. With all the pride that the Armenian political establishment takes in the victory in this war, these same politicians have failed to take proper care of those who risked their lives and sacrificed their health to give us a free Artsakh. Obviously, this is not the only area where the efforts of our government have not been sufficient to address the existing problems. But from the many stories of neglect and betrayal by the state, the story of our freedom fighters is the most embarrassing and painful one.
This state of affairs is especially dangerous given the ongoing ceasefire violations by Azerbaijan and the constant threat of renewed hostilities. The recent events on the border prove that we must have a strong military with high morale in order to ensure the security of Armenia and Artsakh. That, in turn, requires having a society where those who protect our country have the respect they deserve and receive the treatments they need for wartime wounds and injuries. Without that, our ability to respond to another possible aggression from Azerbaijan significantly weakens, exposing our country to new threats and new dangers. And we know all too well that a failure to properly defend our borders will have detrimental consequences for our people and our statehood.
Under these circumstances, the Armenian youth has an important role to play in filling the void left by the government. We are the generation that enjoys an independent Armenia and a free Artsakh, which would not have been possible without the sacrifice of our freedom fighters. It is our turn to rise to the occasion and honor these heroes, tell their stories, learn from their deeds and help them in their time of need. We should not forget that these guys were not much older than we are (and many were even younger) when they left their homes and took up arms to protect our country. They have had to live with the consequences of that decision ever since, having been deprived of many things that the rest of us take for granted. Showing appreciation and support is the least we can do for those who have sacrificed so much for us.
That is the main reason why the Armenian Youth Federation has proclaimed 2012 as the Year of the Armenian Freedom Fighter. During the course of the year, we have organized a number of events to educate the public about the problems faced by the azadamardiks and to raise funds to assist them in solving their health issues. What we have accomplished so far, though significant, is not sufficient to make the impact we want to make on the lives of freedom fighters in Armenia and Artsakh. This is an issue that should concern not just the AYF, but all Armenians, in the homeland and in the Diaspora alike, and I encourage everyone who is reading these words to join the effort and become a part of the solution to those problems.
The fact that those problems exist and they are deep and serious became very obvious to me when I visited Armenia earlier this year. This short trip – the first one I took since leaving Armenia 20 years ago – left a lasting impact on me and reinforced the urgency and the importance of this campaign. The people I met – the individuals who helped our nation in the time of need – are now in need of help themselves, some confined to a wheelchair, others unable to see due to severe eye injuries and many others incapable of finding work because of various health impairments. As most of Armenia’s population, these men (and women) live in homes built during the Soviet era which have not seen any repairs since the country became independent. Many have no jobs and the ongoing economic problems are compounded by the physical pain from injuries and the unbearable red tape that makes getting medical help through government programs nearly impossible.
I vividly remember the trip to Hrazdan (in the Kotayk province) to visit Armen Begyan, a young man in his late 30’s who was just 19 years old when he joined the newly formed Armenian Armed Forces and went to the front lines. Having fought in Karvajar and Mardakert, Armen was wounded and spent a long time in snow and cold prior to being rescued by his fellow soldiers. As a result, he lost mobility in both of his legs and is now confined to a wheelchair. I found him and the remaining three members of his family in the living room of his small apartment. The family cannot afford to heat the entire home, so they eat, sleep and live in that one room. Armen needs expensive treatments and post-surgery rehabilitation, but obviously cannot afford any of that: his monthly pension is barely enough to cover the cost of food.
Even in his situation, the proud soldier is not asking for charity. I was surprised to hear that he actually wants to get a special car, which he can use to work and take care of both his family and his medical needs. It is a shame that he has not been given this opportunity by his own country, but we have taken on his cause and want to help this azadamardik become an independent member of the society, something which is very challenging in Armenia for people with mobility issues and something that Armen wants more than anything else.
In the city of Charentsavan, I met Hamlet Vartanian. He is known by everyone in the small town because of the deformation of the eye (a scary picture) that was caused by the war-time wounds. In 1993, he was actually treated for leg injury and got a blood infection as a result of the unscrupulous ‘care,’ which caused a damage in his nerve and resulted in the shift of the pupil of his eye. The condition is not only uncomfortable since Hamlet lives in constant pain and under the close scrutiny of the local kids, but also dangerous for his overall health. He has waited for 15 years to start living a normal life, to have a family and build a better future for him and his mother. That will not be possible unless we all show our support to this azadmardik.
I had a particularly inspiring encounter with a man named Mikayel Apresian, who was a commander of the ‘Artsakh’ military unit during the war. When I walked into his small one-bedroom apartment in the suburb of Yerevan, a gray-haired man in his 70’s (or so it seemed; in fact, he was only 57) slowly approached me, breathing heavily and with great difficulty. Mikayel had a distinguished military career, and in both his actions and his speech, one could see the once charismatic commander who led his men towards many victories. I spent a long time talking to him about the war, his comrades, and his life since he retired. Mikayel did not want to talk about his condition, which, as I found out, was already hopeless: he had been diagnosed with cancer. With a weak voice interrupted with severe coughs, he told me some of the most memorable stories I heard during my trip. Towards the end of our conversation, his friend asked for help in paying for MIkayel’s chemotherapy. Unfortunately, the cancer had spread too far and wide by then, and it was too late to stop its destructive work. Mikayel Apresian passed away shortly after my return to the US.
Mikayel’s death is a testament to the urgency of the situation. Our freedom fighters have endured enough in the battlefield and they deserve a better treatment from all of us. Most of them, unwilling to discuss their medical needs, were more concerned (or as it seemed to me, disappointed) by the simple lack of attention from the authorities and the public at large. They neither complain about their conditions nor demand too much from people around them. More often than not, we use this modesty as an excuse to ignore their needs until one day it is too late to do anything. As an Armenian, I am ashamed that we have to deal with these problems a generation after the war, but I also know that if we do not do something about this issue today, tomorrow might be too late.
The last thing I wanted to share about my trip is the deep feeling of respect and admiration that I developed towards these individuals during the course of my visit. At the end of our interviews, I asked each of them whether they would choose to do the same thing if they had a chance to go back in time. The answer that I invariably received was a unanimous and an unwavering ‘Yes.’ Despite the years of neglect, pain, suffering, and deprivation these people are still the soldiers that our nation can count on in the time of need. They are not just a part of the story of our glorious past; they can and will be the writers of the story of our future.
It is up to all of us, me and you, to help them write that story. We owe it to them and to ourselves to give these people the chance to have normal lives as a way of expressing our deep gratitude for their service to our nation and the gift that they have given to our generation – the gift of a free and independent Artsakh. That gift must be cherished and preserved so that we can add new victories to the liberation of Artsakh and make our shared dream of a free, independent and united Armenia a reality in our lifetime.
HAYTOUG: Can you tell us a little about Fugitive Studios? What exactly does it work on and how did it come about?
ROGER KUPELIAN: Fugitive Studios Entertainment is a production company and Invader Digital Visual Effects is the visual effects arm. They have different mission statements but converge when the time is right.
H: A good segment of the stories and projects you have worked on deal with themes of armed conflict and fighting for freedom. What fundamentally draws you to tell such stories?
R.K.: Just my background. Every country of my childhood ended up mired in civil war or open conflict: Sierra Leone, Lebanon, Ancient and Soviet Armenia etc. Also, the best and worst of people comes out during conflict, which heightens the drama in storytelling. It’s what I have seen and experienced but, thankfully, it has not scarred me beyond what art can’t repair.
H: In 1994, you traveled to the frontlines of the war in Artsakh and documented the story of men and women who put their lives on the line to liberate their homeland. What was that experience like and what drove you to such lengths to document what was going on there?
R.K.: I just needed to see for myself what was going on. It was my last year of college and I sold my film equipment and bought the latest video camera for the trip. My family’s historic experiences had something to do with it too. (One grandpa was a fedayeen and the other a photographer, at the time of the Medz Yeghern). Bottom line, I saw a lot of lip service and very few people actually willing to help. That’s as true today as it was then, by the way.
H: Having spent time directly in the trenches with the freedom fighters of Artsakh, how important would you say it is for the community to stand by the side of our soldiers, whether during times of combat or peace?
R.K.: Very important. They walk our talk. It’s that simple. We complain of all these little silly things and they have dealt with some big things, and it only takes a trip down to that region to see its importance.
H: In your latest project, East of Byzantium, you delve into late antiquity with the historic “Battle of Avarayr” and developments surrounding Armenia’s struggle to survive as the first Christian nation. What are some of the main lessons from this historic battle that stand out to you and what do you think we can draw on as a people today?
R.K.: Always surrounded, but holding our ground. Faith, hope and respect for our ancestors. But more than that, learning from the past to inform the present. Even with all the debates around some of the facts of Avarayr, the basic story of how they persevered against all odds and finally got what they wanted from the Persians (and their countrymen) is crucial. Some feel those stories are more legendary than factual but then again, legends are more valuable to a culture than mere facts that inspire nothing. Legends and Myths are based on facts, and they embody Truths.
H: Where does the East of Byzantium project currently stand? Can you tell us about any recent developments?
R.K.: The first graphic novel, WAR GODS, is rolling out and the project as a whole is involved in the recent Mel Gibson developments.
H: Where can people go to find out more about your work and show their support?
R.K.: They can hit rogerkupelian.com and also like East of Byzantium on Facebook. Also our www.eastofbyzantium.com site is being revamped with addresses of stores that are selling the book.
H: Is there anything you would like to add or speak on regarding your work or this issue’s theme of the freedom fighter that we didn’t address in these questions?
R.K.: Being someone who is ready to sacrifice for the freedom of your own tribe should extend to the freedom of every tribe. I’ve lived in many places around this planet, and the human need for freedom, connection, and self-worth and dignity is a common value. Any jackass can shoot a gun, but a system of values around which you are ready to sacrifice is a lifestyle that builds character. And oh yes, keep your sense of humor.
Throughout our history, the life of the Armenian soldier has been one of difficulty and resilience. From Avarayr to Sardarabad to Shushi, our heroes have fought and defended our very existence. They have fought with the ideal that no Armenian should be oppressed and no Armenian land should be occupied. Warriors defended our culture and religion for centuries, fedayis rescued countless lives and organized resistance during the genocide, volunteers fought for liberation in Artsakh, and throughout all the struggles have proven that no force, no matter how great or malevolent, can defeat principle and determination.
Today, with socio-economic troubles compounded by physical injuries, the state of our freedom fighters from yesteryear is in need of change. Many have been left without the healthcare they desperately need while the government looks away. They are often times kept jobless because the injuries they sustained in the Artsakh war have left them handicapped. All while a government who was founded on their sacrifice offers little to nothing in terms of the care they need. The current struggle of our servicemen and women has left a deep stain among the Armenian nation. Today, more than ever, we must stand with our soldiers.
We must make sure that the Armenia they struggled to defend is governed by the ideals that have existed for millennia. Those who served are the embodiment of freedom, honor, and sacrifice.
Our nation cannot survive and thrive when the most honorable among us have been cast aside into the shadows, neglected and even killed. Stories of injured veterans of the Artsakh liberation movement, to stories of crimes against current servicemen, to the tragic murder of Vahe Avetyan at the hands of an oligarch’s henchmen paint a worrisome picture of the treatment of our nation’s brave men and women.
With Azerbaijan hinting at war on a regular basis, glorifying an ax-murderer and continually violating the ceasefire, there is no better time than now to loudly proclaim that we stand with our freedom fighters.
We must be soldiers for our soldiers. We must be soldiers for our cause and our nation. Yet our fights are not confined to a battle field but rather against those who try to tarnish everything our heroes have fought to defend. There is no question that the new generation stands ready to defeat any of our nation’s enemies, both external and internal.
2000 թուականին, ընկատիքիս հետ միասին, առաջին անգամ ըլլալով աձցելեցի հայրենիք: Թէեւ բաւական փոքր էի տարիքով, սակայն Հայաստանը վրաս մեծ ազդեցութիւն գործեց ու զիս մղեց որ յաճախ վերադառնամ այնտեղ: Հայաստան գտնուած եմ զանազան առիթներով. Մասնակցած եմ ժողովներու, սեմինարներու եւ զբոսաշրջումներու, սակայն բախտաւորութիւնը չէի ունեցած կամաւորաբար աշխատելու Հայաստանի մէջ:
Չբաւարարուելով Թորոնթոյի Հայ գաղութէն ներս տարած յամեստ գործունէութեամբս, որոշեցի այս տարի վերադառնալ Հայաստան, սովորականէն
քիչ մը աւելի երկար ժամաակով, կամաւոր աշխատանքի ճամբով, ու «Դէպի Հայք» կազմակերպութեան աջակցութեամբ, ծառայելու եւ ուղղակի ներդրում ունենալու հայրենիքիս աստիճանաւոր վերելքին. Որոշում մը, որ իմ կածիքով, ամէն Հայ երիտասարդ արնուազն մէկ անգամ պէտք է արնէ: Փափաքս էր աշխատիլ «Հրայր Մարուխեան» Հիմնադրամին մէջ: «Հրայր Մարուխեան» Հիմնադրամը սոցեալ-դեմոկրատական հիմնարկ մըն է, հիմնուած 2009 թուականին, որուն նպատակն է տառածել հաւասարութեան, ազատութեան եւ ժողովրրդավարութեան արժէքները Հայաստանի եւ տարածաշրջանի մէջ: Հիմնադրամը կիրագործէ գիտական հետազոտութիւններ, կը կազմակերպէ համաժողովներ եւ դասընթացքներ երիտասարդ քաղաքական ղեկավարներու համար, եւ կը հրատարակէ բծախնդրօրէն պատրաստուած ուսումնասիրութւիններ՝ բարելաւելու համար երկրի սոցիալական, տնտեսական եւ քաղաքական վիճակը: Հիմնադրամը նաեւ սերտօրէն կը գործակցի Հայաստանի Հանրապետութեան խորհրդարանի խմբակցութիւններուն, տեղական տարածաշրջանային եւ միջազգային քաղաքական ու հետազոտական այլ հաստատութիւններու հետ:
Երեք ամիսներու ընթացքին, աշխատանքային շրջանիս մասնակից եղայ կազմակերպչական ծրագրային աշխատանքներուն, ուսումնասիրութիւններուն եւ խորհրդաժողովներուն, որոնց ընդմէջէն, աւելի լաւ ըմբռնեցի թէ մեր հայրենիքը որքան շատ կարիքը ունի նոյնանման կազմակերպութիւններու իր քաղաքական, սոցիալական եւ տնտեսական բնագաւարներու վիճակը բրելաւելու համար:
21 Սեպտեմբեր, 1991-ին Հայաստանի Հանրապետութիւնը հրչակուեցաւ ազատ եւ անկախ պետութիւն, վերջ դնելով 70 տարուայ համայնավարական տիրապետութեան: Հայ ժողովուրդի աւելի քան 99 տոկոսը «այո՛» քուեարկեց՝ երկար ժամանակէ ի վեր սպասուած վերանկախութեան: Սակայն յաջորդող տարիները որ անմիջապէս յետեւեցան հրչակման եղան դժուարին եւ յուսախաբեցուցիչ: Յաճախակի եւ շարունակական պատերազմ Ատրպէյճանի դէմ, համատարած թշուարութիւն ու աղքատութիւն, 7 Դեկտեմբեր, 1988-ի երկրաշարժի ահրելի հետեւանքներն ու լայնատարած տնտեսական անապահովութիւնը պատճառ եղան որպեսզի Հայաստանի քաղաքացիները յետսյետէ յուսահատին եւ սկսին երկմտութիւններ ու կասկածներ ունենալ վերանկախութեան բերած բարիքներու մասին: Ահաւասիկ անցած են քսան երկար տարիներ Հայաստանի վերանկախացման օրերէն: Դժբախտաբար շատ բան չէ փոխուած Հայաստանի քաղաքացիական, տնտեսական եւ հասարակական ընթագքներէր ներս: Մինչեւ օրս, Ատրպէյճանի հետ կայուն եւ ստոյք համաձայնութիւն չէ հաստատուած: Տակաւին կան արտաքին ճնշումներ: Հասարակութեան տնտեսական արժէքները կը ոտնակոխուին մի քանի օլիկարքներու կողմէ, որոնք տնտեսական մենաշնորհներ (monopolies) ըլլալով՝ թոյլ չեն տար որպէսզի տնտեսութիւնը, մասնաւորաբար փոքր ու միջին գործատերերը զարգացնեն իրենց սկսած գործերը, զագացնելով նաեւ հայրենիքը: Հասարակական արդարութիւն եւ ընկերային անարդարութիւն երկրի չորս կողմը կը տիրէ, եւ Հայաստանը կը շարունակէ մնալ անկայուն, սահմանափակում եւ կաշկանդուած իր իսկ սահմաններուն մէջ:
Այս բոլորին հանդերձ, հսկայ ուրախութիւն էր ինծի համար ապրիլ, շնջել եւ գործել Հայաստանի մէջ, եւ աւելին՝ ներկայ գնտուիլ ու մասնակից դառնալ Հայաստանի վերանկախացման 20 ամեակի տօսակատարութիւններուն: Անհաւատալի զգացում մըն էր ականատէս ըլլալ եւ վայելէլ ժողովուրդիս ցնծութիւնը՝ իր երկրին հանդէպ ունեցած սէրն ու գուրգուրաքը, եւ դարձեալ ազատ ու անկախ պետութիւն ունենալու ուրախութիւնն ու հպարտութիւնը: Անբացատրելի զգացում էր տեսնաել բազմահազար հայրենակիցներ՝ տատիկներ ու պապիկներ, չափահասներ, երիտասարդ-երիտասարդուհիներ, պատանիներ եւ նոյնիսկ մանուկներ ու երեխաներ որոնք լայն ժպիտներ իրենց դէմքին կը յետեւէին քաղաքի չորս կողմը տեղի ունեցող հրաշալի եւ անմոռանալի վերանկախացման միջոցարումներուն: Վերանկախացման տօնակատարութիւնները վերջացան հանրապետութեան հրապարակի մէջ տեղի ունեցող բարձր մակարդակի եւ հիանալի սինֆօնիք երաժշտական համերգով, որուն յաջորդեցին գեղեցիկ ու լուսաւոր հրավառութեան փայլատակումներ. Պայթումներ, որոնք ցնցեցին եւ անակնկալի ենթարկեցին բոլորիս: Դէեւ շատ փոքր եմ յիշելու այն օրերը, ճիշդ այդ րոպէին էր որ մտածումներս զիտ փոխադրեցին Արցախեան պատերազմնի դժուար տարիներուն, ուր մեր հայրենի եղբայրներն ու քոյրերը, մայրերն ու հայրերը վախով ու սարսափով կը լսէին մարտական ռումբերու պայթումները, մեր պապենական սահմանները պաշտպանելու ընդացքին: Այսօր, 20 տարեներ ետք, այն նոյն սարսափելի պայթումները վերածուած են ուրախութեան ու ցնծութեան փայլատակումներու, որոնք հպարտութեամբ կը լսէինք միասնաբար, ու անգամ մը եւս կ՛ստիպէին զիս որպէսզի խոնհարիմ մեր հերոս մարտիկներու եւ նահատակներու յիշատակին առջեւ, քաջ գիտնալով թէ անոնց անձնուէր նուիրումի հետեւանքովն է որ մենք ունինք 2 անկախ, ազատ, ու զիրար ամբողջացնող պետութիւններ այսօր:
Անցեալ մի գանի ամիսներու ընթացքին, ինծի համար շատ աւելի հստակացաւ թէ մեր հայրենիքը կարիք ունի անձնուէր երիտասարդներու, որոնք պատրաստ են նուիրեալ աշխատանք տանելու երկէն ներս, ու բարելաւել Հայաստանի ներկայ վիճակը: Ես կը հաւատամ որ անցած են այն օրերը, երբ Հայաստանը մեր սրտերու ու մտքերու մէջ միայն իտէալ մըն էր, մեր տուներու պատերուն կախուած Արարատ լերան նկարով խորհրդանշուող: Հայաստանը իրական երկիր է իրական խնդիրներով Հայրենի հողին վրայ, ֆիզիքական ներկայութեամբ, մեր մասնագիտական կարելիութիւններով թափ տանք աստիճանաբար դէպի վեր բարցրացող մեր անկախ հայրենիքի վերելքին՝ հաստատելու համար մարդկային իրաւունքներու հաւասարութիւն, պաշտպանելու տկարներն ու անիրաւութեան զոհ գացած հայրենակիցները եւ օգնելու համար մեր երկրին ընկերային, քաղաքական եւ տնտեսական վիճակին: «Հրայր Մարուխեան» Հիմնադրամը օրինակ մըն է միայն շատ մը այ հաստատութիւններու կողքին, որոնք կը պայքարին փոփոխութեան ու բարելաւման ենթարկելու Հայաստանի իրավիճակը: Մեր բոլորին պարտականութիւնն է, հակարակ որ ափերուն վրայ կ՛ապրինք, հաւատարիմ մնալու անկախութեան գաղաբարին եւ էականօրէն ցքտիլ Հայաստանը անգամ մը եւս ուղղելլու դէպի իրաւացի եւ ճշգրիտ ժողովրդավար պետութիւն:
“What do savage tribes today take over first of all from the Europeans? Liquor and Christianity, the narcotics of Europe.” – Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science
Liquor and Christianity are similar to the effect that they both have the ability to alter one’s state of mind and dull one’s senses. Where alcohol is able to intoxicate physically, as a result of the release of inhibitory chemicals in the brain, Christianity’s ability to intoxicate is of a wildly complex, counterintuitive, and entirely mental nature. Christianity is grounded on the assumption that the real world is attainable only after death, in the form of an afterlife, and is promised only to the pious. Piety entails the denial of worldly pleasures and refusal of the temptations of the present life. In essence, the present life is to be turned away from and treated merely as a means to an end—that end being admission to heaven. The concept of the afterlife is one that has greatly influenced the reality and behavior of many faithful Christians, argued Nietzsche, similarly to liquor and other “narcotics”.
Liquor and religion both appear in a different context for Nietzsche in his earlier work The Birth of Tragedy. In this work Nietzsche gives a historical explanation of the concept of Greek tragedy, and highlights the existence of a dichotomy in tragedy that includes both Dionysian and Apollonian influences. The Dionysian was named after Dionysus, the Greek god of wine, and signifies intoxication, irrationality, instinctual behavior, and ecstatic pleasure. The Apollonian, on the other hand, was named after Apollo who represents rationality, sobriety, and discipline. An ongoing struggle between these two influential elements is essential in preserving the balance necessary for the continuity of progress. Therefore, neither the Dionysian nor the Apollonian forces are to succeed in triumphing over the other. Though Christianity is not explicitly mentioned in this particular work, it shares in common with the Apollonian the fundamental principles of choosing rationality over instinct and a dedication to discipline in the face of life’s temptations. Similarly to the Apollonian, religion strongly antagonizes all of the objectives of the Dionysian.
These and many other ideas articulated by the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche have influenced the works of various Armenian authors from the early twentieth century until the present. The work Hin Astvatsner by the playwright Levon Shant is one of such works. As the title suggests, the Dionysian–Apollonian dichotomy present in the play Hin Astvatsner corresponds to the clashing of the ancient gods with the Christian god. A young monk is torn between an Apollonian drive to devote himself entirely to what he believes to be rational teachings of Christianity, and a Dionysian longing to worship the ancient gods Vahagn and Anahit, who represent the visceral and worldly passions of war and love. After leading a monastic life of utter isolation from the outside world in an effort to ward off all worldly temptation, he falls in love with a girl whom he rescues from drowning. His faith is tested as he is consumed with delusions of the girl, in which she introduces him to the ancient gods that previously occupied the land his monastery is built on. The teachings of these gods encourage treating life as an end in and of itself rather than disconnecting from one’s life to contemplate the afterlife. He is intrigued by the revolutionary idea of living in fulfillment of the present and pursuing rather than renouncing one’s desires. The young monk’s balance is ultimately disturbed when the Dionysian forces win him over, leading to his tragic end by unintentional suicide.
The influence of Friedrich Nietzsche’s philosophy on Armenian thought is evident in Levon Shant’s play Hin Astvatsner, and may also be found in the writings of the famous Armenian poets Varuzhan and Avedik Isahakyan.
The voice is a human gift to be embraced and used. It is through speech that one may relay their most pertinent ideas and engage others with their vision. Yet, the spoken word is an obligation, viewed as an essential in the advocacy of any cause. But the ability to remain silent, constitutes a strength in and of itself, and allows each person to foster their power. We have created tactics and methods that aim to generate the greatest amount of noise, which have, nonetheless, proven to be successful in the past. Yet, we have passed over the notion of silence as a tool for the mass portrayal of a message as well as the increased consciousness of individuals.
On Thursday, January 26, 2012, the affiliated schools and organizations of the Confederation of All-Armenian Student Associations joined in silence to protest the denial of the Armenian Genocide. Silent protests were organized in conjunction at UCLA, USC, UCSD, UCSB, UC Irvine, Cal State LA and CSUN. The “Stain of Denial” was aimed at informing the greater campus communities about the Armenian Genocide and the ensuing denial campaign by the government of Turkey. Through their individual student bodies, the respective All-ASA organizations spread the collective message of the detrimental effects of injustice and denial, generations after the initial crime was committed. Covering their mouths with tape and bearing written signs as testaments of their message, hundreds of college students coalesced to condemn the cyclical precedent of the repression of justice. Following the passage of legislation in France criminalizing the Armenian Genocide, these students encouraged the US government not to succumb to political bullying and reject Turkey’s gag rule.
A sudden silence ensuing on a normal school day in January can really take us back to the fundamentals. It takes the silent portrayal of our message to reveal to us the multi-faceted approaches involved in the advocacy of our cause. Through my participation in the silent protest at UCSD, I saw a dynamic overcome the participants throughout the day. As students first arrived, they giggled in skepticism when we placed tape over their mouths, handed them a poster and asked them to sit silently in a high-traffic area on campus. Hesitant at first, they continuously peeled off their tape, distracted themselves with conversations, and mingled with friends. After about an hour, a certain sense of solemnity came over the participants, as the gravity of their task seemed to finally settle in. Silence ensued and each person became cognizant of their individual contribution in our collective message. Contemplating over their current situation, a certain aura of consciousness was obvious within each student, recognizing the substantive importance of the message they were relaying. Instead of being merely supportive of an event or project, these students were the spectacle themselves, feeling the characterization on their own skin and physically carrying the label of their message.
Cultivating silence as a means of advocacy has proven challenging, as it lacks the galvanizing effect of the fervent, loud desperation of spoken word. Silence and powerlessness are often equated through a causal relationship. Nevertheless, where silent demonstrations lack in ardency, they make up for in attracting inquisitive interest. From the participant standpoint, what seemed elusive and were solely held as ideas, had now became a tangible reality. Individuals were challenged to not only advocate the reality of our issue, but to become a representative part of it. To the unknowing passerby on campus at these colleges, written messages and their human characterizations incited curiosity as to the rigor of this sit-down, silent demonstration. Media coverage, via school and community newspapers, television news networks, magazines, and blogs, created a vibrant buzz around events where virtually no words were spoken. Almost all participating schools had segments published in either their community or school newspapers, with several protesters being featured on the covers of well-known school media.
There are many situations in which silence has the loudest voice. The ability for a person to say nothing and stand for a cause nurtures a great strength and understanding. What is said through spoken word is understood, but what is said through silence is felt. Part of our responsibility as student leaders is to ensure that there is a resonant consciousness among our student bodies of the issues that we all represent. Before we can render others responsible for our causes, we need to promote education and understanding within our own ranks. The collective message will be relayed, be it through traditional modes of demonstration or newly employed tactics, but focus on developing the individual advertence to our cause is a priority. Thus, it was this very zeal for raising awareness and setting demands that incited hundreds of college students to demonstrate that sometimes saying nothing actually says the most.