The 'Godless' Movie Theater
The screen is dark, and is then illuminated
Armenia, Twentieth Century, blockbuster
The “Godless” Movie Theater
Bird’s-eye view of the center of Old Yerevan, with the caravansaray next to the mosque and the old market, the church on Amiryan, converted into a movie theater called “Godless”, the Mayakovsky school and the military barracks next to it, then the Commissars’ Park (formerly called the English Park) without the Sundukyan Theater, which hadn’t been built yet, and then fruit gardens and houses in the place of Swan Lake or Sayat Nova street, the Opera being constructed in the distance, Mamur Creek being cut off with a construction plot suddenly featuring in place of its continuation.
The voice of the filmmaker says
When I had lived for more than half a century, without ever having seriously collected the stories of my parents or their generation, I finally managed to gather so much material from things that I’d heard here and there, that I wrote a screenplay that spanned from the 1930s to I guess the mid-1950s, until my father and mother met, and got married.
My father had always wanted to write a screenplay.
It looks like this won’t be prose literature, but it’ll do for a screenplay. Because it will probably never be made into a movie, and it is long, I suggest that you imagine it and watch it unfold in your mind. Genre-wise, it will be a combination of Amarcord and Mirror. Bertolucci has had an influence, as has Atom. Because it is impossible to turn this into a real movie, I suggest that you put some effort into your imagination and screen it mentally.
The scenes are mostly documentary, which means they are based on true events or on things and stories that I’ve heard. However, I’ve built a plot—fictional, to a certain extent, but woven into legend on the other hand—and the incidents are neither accurate from a factual point of view, nor chronographically. The end of the thirties is slightly blended into the forties and fifties, while my mother’s age has been brought closer to my father’s. The Yerevan of those times is not completely accurate either, this is the Yerevan of my legend.
Credits roll across an image of Yerevan.
Thank you to my mother and father. Thanks also to the book Yerevan: Twentieth Century, to the digitalized ArmenPress photo archive, the Armenia Totalitaris group, Marat Yavrumyan, Sarhat Petrosyan, Mark Grigorian, Anna Sargsyan, Tigran Paskevichyan, Ara Shirinyan, Vardan Azatyan, Vardan Jaloyan, and Ara Nedolyan, for the work they have done online or elsewhere that has provided this piece with a moment, fragment, detail or nudge in one form or another.
The female professor is tidying herself up in the instructors’ lounge, she is alone, and there is a fearful but determined smile hiding on her face. The growling, let’s call it, of the radio and the ambience suggest that it is the fifties, around 1954. The place where Stalin’s portrait used to be is visible on the wall of the instructors’ lounge, with the traces of the black frame still there.
She goes through the empty corridor to the university classroom. She opens the door and goes in.
There are only girls in the classroom. More than forty of them.
The professor looks at them, takes a breath and then fearfully takes out a picture of Charents from her breast pocket. It is part of a wrinkled newspaper article, which she opens and she looks around her, making sure the classroom door is closed, before showing it to the class.
“Good morning. I have a very good piece of news to tell you. There was an amazing poet, very talented, named Yeghishe Charents. This is him. We haven’t spoken about him until now, but we can finally do so. I urge you very strongly to read some of his work. Unfortunately, not a lot is left. But if any of you happen to have something at home, then you can bring it to class and we’ll choose a poem and write it on the blackboard. We’ll read it together, discuss it, and memorize it. Which of you might have a book by Charents still lying around at home?”
The whole class raises their hands.
Earlier, at the end of the thirties.
The seven-year old girl (Inga) is at a concert. In the newly opened hall of the Opera. A girl is playing the piano there with the orchestra, a classic piece. Inga has sharp eyes and suddenly notices that the girl is reading a book instead of looking at the sheet music. The camera zooms in and we see that she’s reading the Russian novel Anna Karenina while simultaneously playing. She turns the page when she finishes it, and nobody notices that she’s reading a novel while simultaneously playing without making a mistake. The girl’s name is Evelina.
We see Evelina’s and Vram’s house. There are three rooms – a bedroom, living room and a room belonging to their father, Mikael. All three rooms are very small.
Classic piano music can be heard from the living room.
Evelina’s and Vram’s father has come home tired and moody, and is writing a letter at his desk, sitting in his large armchair, after eating. The table is covered with a green cloth. We see the text he is writing in Russian. I am writing to inform you that if you arrest Comrade Gasparyan, then you must also arrest me, because I was in charge of operations and could not have been unaware… I have been privy to all of Comrade Gasparyan’s orders and if he is guilty of any violations, then I am guilty as well, and if indeed there have been any violations, then the blame is primarily mine, and not his…
He falls back in his armchair and calls his wife.
“Siranush, some water, please?”
Siranush’s hands are covered in flour, she’s baking something in the kitchen. She looks down at her beautiful hands and calls out in the direction of the room.
“Evelina, Father wants some water.”
The piano goes silent. Evelina appears, walking up to the window and shouting out into the yard.
The boy replies from a distance,
“What is it?”
“Father wants some water.”
She goes back to the other room and the music starts again.
The yard, full of trees, has two pools in which children are splashing. Vram, however, is further off, at the edge of the yard, where the territory of the church’s land begins. The church is now a movie theater, with Armenian letters featuring on it that say Bezbozhnik. A movie poster has been pasted onto its wall, with writing that says Namus and Chapayev. There is a bas-relief etched into the upper edge of the church – several interwoven hands.
In the yard of the church, Vram and Uncle Vanya, the Public Education Commissar, his son and some other children are making a real “big” aircraft – a U-2 plane. Uncle Vanya is also a pilot, he’s wearing a pilot’s helmet, with the ear muffs untied.
Ten-year-old Vram descends from the left wing of the plane and rushes in from the depths of the yard, enters his house, fills up a glass of water and gives it to his father, and then returns to the plane.
The father drinks the water, looks at his watch, sits quietly for a while longer, folds the letter, puts it in his briefcase, gets up, carefully folds a spare set of underwear in a briefcase, a pair of socks (which had been lying in a corner of his desk earlier), and trudges wearily out the door, without saying anything to his family. It is seven in the evening.
Vram is in the forest with Uncle Ghazar and Chibis the dog (an Irish setter), Uncle Ghazar has a rifle.
“Let me show you a water carousel,” Uncle Ghazar says.
Vram imagines a carousel on the water – joyful, musical… When they get there, he’ll sit in it and spin around on the water, splashing this way and that… How many kids would there be besides him? It’s quite strange, though, for a water carousel to be located in the middle of the forest. No music can be heard… But Vram believes Uncle Ghazar.
Uncle Ghazar brings him to a whirpool. Scrapes, twigs and leaves are spinning in it...
Vram is disappointed, but he doesn’t make a sound.
On their way back, they see people cutting trees, including oak trees that were several hundred years old.
Two oaks stand intertwined at the top, the woodcutters have cut one of them, but their branches are so closely knit that the healthy tree does not let the other one fall. They try hard and finally manage to fell it. One of the woodcutters, angry but satisfied at his victory, kicks the healthy tree and hurts his leg, then stands on the fallen tree and begins to chop off its branches.
“Why would anyone do that?” Vram says, “The poor trees, they’re so pretty and they give us clean air…”
“You’re right,” says Uncle Ghazar.
They sit in Uncle Ghazar’s Emka and the driver brings them back to town, where they stop at the Forestry Commissariat.
A plane soars above them in the sky and Vram waves at it, convinced that it is Uncle Vanya.
It’s a beautiful fall season in Yerevan. The trees are multi-colored. The people, however, are walking past each other with looks of suspicion, silent and moody, avoiding eye contact.
The Forestry Commissar is a 27-year old boy wearing a budenovka. Above his head, there is a huge diploma from the University of Heidelburg. While the adults converse, Vram studies the diploma and the golden stamp on it, and Karl Jaspers’ sprawling signature. The diploma says that the Commissar gained his master’s in philosophical studies at the age of 19.
“Listen to what this boy is saying.”
Vram repeats his words like a straight-A student who has memorized the topic well.
“Why would anyone cut trees? They are living things, after all, they feel pain, and they’re pretty.”
“You’re right, young man.”
The Commissar picks up the phone and issues an order for the tree cutting to cease.
Uncle Ghazar, Vram’s father Mikael as well as Charents, Bakunts, Totovents and Sarajev are sitting in the yard of the mosque, in a café called Tourist, where they’re drinking coffee. Mikael Mazmanyan takes out a piece of paper from his pocket, lays it out on the table, and draws the blueprint for the Publishers’ House building.
Everyone looks at his drawing.
Vram and Bakunts’ son Sevada are playing next to them.
Vram comes closer to the table, sees Mazmanyan drawing and automatically puts the palm of his hand on one section of the paper. Mazmanyan looks at the hand and draws an outline of it. Vram smiles.
“Did you submit your letter?” Axel suddenly asks Mikael (Vram’s father).
Mazmanyan stops the explanation of his drawing and looks up.
“Yes,” Mikael replies.
“Mikoyan’s arrived,” Charents says suddenly.
Totovents says nothing. He looks at the mosque, which is in bad shape.
“Someone should tell him what’s going on,” Uncle Ghazar says.
“Who can do that?” Totovents says suddenly in a singsong voice.
“I can. I know him from Baku. He won’t reject me, he’ll accept a meeting request. He can’t turn me down.”
“Just the two of you escaped,” Charents suddenly says in an indescribable voice.
“They sent me away earlier,” Ghazar responds with humility, “I was following Comrade Lenin’s orders.”
“Give your picture to my son,” Mikael says.
Mazmanyan looks at Vram, picks up the paper and holds it out to him.
Vram takes it, turns it around, looks at it, but his father snatches it from him.
“You’ll wrinkle it.”
And he puts it in his briefcase.
Sarajev silently taps a musical piece with his fingers on the table, moving his lips along with it.
In the distance, near the wall of the mosque’s courtyard, a deep trench has been dug, and construction has begun on the market square for what will later be known as Stalin Avenue. Several clay pitchers and two bells that were extracted from the trench have been placed on the ground, near the trench. Vram and Sevada watch as homeless children in rags run up and start to play football with one of the bells.
The children are also being watched by a beggarwoman sitting slightly further away. She is Avetis’ and Sargis’ mother (we will see more of her later). Ashkhen, Inga’s mother, walks past her, opens her bag and takes out a one kopek coin, which she places in the hat lying in front of the beggar. Seeing what the children were doing (playing football with the bell), she rolls her eyes, and it isn’t very long before she quietly says ‘stop it.’
The children disappear in an instant, as if blown away by the wind, and the bell is left lying there in the middle of Stalin Avenue.
Among those sitting in the café, only Charents notices this, because he was watching Ashkhen’s sleek figure with satisfaction as it disappeared at the corner of Amiryan Street.
Sitting on a horse, clicking along the street, comes Garegin, Askhen’s husband and Inga’s father, from the direction of Etchmiadzin. The horse carefully avoids the bell and keeps moving to Amiryan Street.
Here, near a two-story building, which is in the same district as the “Godless” church, Garegin climbs off his horse, stretches tiredly, ties the horse with difficulty to a post near the house, and goes in.
As soon as he goes in and closes the door, an explosion is heard. The horse bucks and whinnies. The wind blows and raises a cloud of dust.
Garegin does not bother to step outside and see what happened.
Everyone in the Tourist café raises their heads. Sarajev stops tapping his fingers on the table. Vram and Sevada run out of the mosque courtyard and rush towards Amiryan Street. The church is being demolished, and big letters on it say Bezbozhnik. In recent years, it was being used as a movie theater. The explosions were being supervised by Vram’s neighbor, Uncle Vanya, the Public Education Commissar. Sargis is helping him. Mikoyan is standing some distance away, personally overseeing the demolition of the church.
After the explosion, he marches up to the Emka like a soldier, gets in, and the car drives away.
A piece of the wall sculpture falls near Sevada’s feet. Vram picks it up, there’s a hand on it with the fingers broken. Vram puts the piece in his pocket.
The courtyard of the church also contains the airplane that the children were making with Uncle Vanya. It is rocked by the explosion, its right tire and left wing end up broken. The boys look on sadly.
“Don’t worry, we’ll repair it and get it airborne,” says Uncle Vanya.
Uncle Ghazar goes near the entrance of the government building and says to the guard, “I want to see Comrade Mikoyan.” He writes a note and sends it off. He sits down to wait.
(made in the same style as the movie within a movie, see later)
Baku, Bolshevik Commissariat, 1918
“You have a party assignment that is a top priority,” says Shahumyan.
“Yes, sir!” says Uncle Ghazar.
“Our comrade must urgently be rescued from the blockade, he has an important secret message to deliver to Comrade Lenin.”
“Yes, sir!” says Uncle Ghazar.
“Can you do it?”
“Yes, sir!” says Uncle Ghazar.
A younger Uncle Ghazar walks along the sleepy streets of Baku with a cart containing two barrels, drawn by a buffalo. He is wearing the clothes of a Tatar villager. The cart enters a courtyard. It is evening. Uncle Ghazar opens the cover of one of the barrels and takes out a sack of apples from within.
Then he turns to a small house in the yard and says,
Mikoyan emerges from the house. He is of the same age and appearance as in the thirties. Small, dressed in uniform and boots. He marches like a soldier up to the cart.
“Please go in here.”
Mikoyan fondles his mustache and climbs on to the cart, looks inside the barrel, sighs, goes in and huddles.
Uncle Ghazar picks up a cover from the bottom of the cart (it has holes in it), and puts it on Mikoyan, then empties the apples in the sack on top, and closes the barrel with the main cover. He taps on the barrel wall. There are also several less noticeable small holes in the barrel wall.
He hears a tap in reply.
We see the road leading out of Baku. Uncle Ghazar drives the cart along and whistles.
Two armed Tatar soldiers appear in front of him.
“Deyendirdir. Ne götersen?”
Uncle Ghazar starts to actively chat with them, and opens the barrel in which Mikoyan is hiding. He takes out an apple and offers it to the soldiers, then spits out a couple of expletives at the gavur Armenian Bolsheviks.
The askars walk around the cart and stick their swords into the hay. One of them even has the other barrel opened and thrusts his sword into the apples there, moving it around.
When he removes the sword, there is a red apple sticking to its tip. He brings it to his mouth with satisfaction and bites into it with a crunch.
From the booth at the edge of the road, which is their watch post, the “white” British occupying soldier calls out,
“Enough of that. We are not here to spend time on innocent peasants. We need to look for the real enemy – musavats.”
The askars don’t understand the English comments, but they step aside.
Uncle Ghazar drives the cart along happily, urging the buffalo along with a “ho, ho” only later realizing that this was typical of how Armenians herded their livestock. But it is too late.
The askars watch him from behind, sensing something wrong. Uncle Ghazar does not look back, but he can feel them staring at him.
One of the askars wants to stop him, but the British occupying soldier calls out at that moment, so he spits and walks towards the booth.
Uncle Ghazar sighs in relief, then taps on the side of the barrel.
At the banks of a beautiful river, he turns the barrel over. The barrel rolls down from the cart. The apples fall out of it and Mikoyan crawls out, groaning. He straightens his mustache, dusts off his uniform, and gives Uncle Ghazar a firm handshake.
“I’ll never forget this, comrade. You saved my life.”
“What’s going on?” asks Uncle Ghazar.
“I can’t say, it’s top secret. But you deserve to know. An attack is being planned on Baku, all our men will be killed.”
“Why don’t they run away?”
“Bolsheviks don’t run away,” Mikoyan says. “Would Ajax run away? Not in a million years!”
So why did you run away, Uncle Ghazar asks in his mind.
Because they are martyrs, and I’m just another rascal, is the response that forms in Mikoyan’s mind, as he turns around and vanishes in the bushes.
The next scene features a raft with Shahumyan and the remaining 25 Commissars on it, tied with rope, lying on the wooden deck.
“Isn’t Miko going to save us?” Fioletov says quietly to Japaridze.
“If he’s managed to create a cell in Krasnovodsk, then he’ll make it,” Shahumyan replies wisely.
Azizbekov shrugs his shoulders in desperation.
“Only Lenin knows…”
“Silence!” the Turkmen in the sailor’s costume says, jabbing him with the bayonet at the end of his rifle. “Traitor!”
Azizbekov is dumbstruck, and everyone falls silent.
The raft rocks on the calm surface of the Caspian Sea.
The guard returns, holding a note – Very busy, can’t meet unfort. I send you my heartiest Bolshevik greetings. Mikoyan.
Vram has come to Uncle Ghazar’s house to take Chibis the dog. Ghazar’s wife, Nadya, a tall Russian, is busy urgently gathering some items in the house. They have taken her husband away. Some people are telling her to “hurry up and vacate the house,” they are rushing here. One of them is tapping his feet and saying in Russian, “What are you digging around for? You’ve dug enough holes with your anti-Soviet activities.” A cart can be seen in the distance containing a woman and two small children, with several suitcases. The cart is parked slightly further away from the house, the woman and two children watch silently, waiting, without climbing off. The woman’s mouth is open, and she licks her lips.
Nadya is wearing boots and a man’s khaki semi-military uniform. She says to Chibis, “Go to him” and points to Vram. Then she walks up to him and gives him some things in a hurry.
Vram escapes the scene, he goes with Chibis along the same path that he had taken with Uncle Ghazar. The water carousel is still there, whirling furiously, like the dance of dervishes. The water is murky, with a hint of red. Vram walks ahead and sees that there are people cutting trees again. He is holding a package in his hand, given by Nadya.
In Yerevan, Vram hesitatingly goes to the Commissariat of the 27-year old Commissar. He sees a Voronok parked there and that the young man is being led out into it, his hands twisted behind them, and then he is taken away. One of the men implementing the arrest is 18-year old Avetis, who signals to Vram with his eyes as if to say ‘stay away.’ The other, 24-year old Sargis, who is Avetis’ brother, follows the direction in which Avetis is looking and sees Vram. The 27-year old Commisar suddenly makes a move and the gun hanging from Avetis’ shoulder slips down. Sargis gives the Commissar a shake and straightens the gun on Avetis’ shoulder, giving him an angry look. Vram suddenly notices that Sargis’ hands have no fingernails. When Sargis looks again in Vram’s direction, the boy is already gone.
At home, Vram unwraps the package. There is a Kolibri typewriter in it and a Zeiss camera (just like a Kiev). His father picks up the items and takes them to his room.
In the morning, Vram sees that his father is reading the newspaper – Sahak Ter-Gabrielyan has been arrested.
Vram goes to school and ends up late to class.
His teacher pounces on him:
“That’s how it is, the children of enemies of the people don’t bother to be on time.”
Vram turns around, runs out and goes to his father’s place of work.
His father is still at work, he hasn’t been taken away. The teacher had confused him with Sahak.
His father takes him by the hand and they go to the Public Education Commissariat. The Commissar is their neighbor, Uncle Vanya, the one with the pilot’s helmet. His large German diploma hangs on the wall behind him. He listens to Vram’s story, picks up the phone and makes a call.
Vram returns to the school. That teacher, her personal belongings all packed up, walks towards him in the opposite direction. She has been fired. She throws a glance full of hate at Vram, then passes him and leaves.
Vram opens the school door, goes in and closes it behind him.
When Vram leaves school later, a plane is performing death loops in the sky.
We see the yard in front of Vram’s house, the one with the pools. A Voronok is parked below. From one of the floors above, the Public Education Commissar, Uncle Vanya, is being led out with his arm twised behind his back. His neighbor is walking behind him and shouting, “Hurray, they’re taking him away. Away!” She’s licking her lips. And then she starts to dance with joy in the street.
Once again, it’s Sargis and Avetis taking Uncle Vanya away. As they walk, Avetis looks with wonder at the woman, then sees Vram standing in the distance again, and looks away.
Vram looks upwards – there is no plane.
Uncle Vanya’s son is in the yard, surrounded by children. Vram walks up to him and tries to play with him, tries to get him to talk. But he doesn’t make a sound. His mother comes and takes him by the hand, leading him home. He doesn’t seem to have the will to walk, his mother drags him behind her.
Vram comes to school late again in the morning, opens the classroom door, and enters. His teacher is back, she has been restored to her position in the school. When she sees Vram entering, her lips curl into a sinister smile.
When Vram sees her, he turns around and runs away from the school. He runs, schoolbag in hand, in a random direction. Chibis soon joins him.
Perch’s mother has made him wear a beret. They are a family that repatriated relatively recently from France, and Perch’s father had been the university rector until his capture. When Perch goes to school, the boys in the other school next to him whistle.
“Gavroche, Gavroche,” they call out.
Perch does not want to remove the beret his mother has given him even after school, although he knows what that would lead to. He leaves the courtyard of the school (this is another school, not the one that Vram goes to) and the boys catch up to him and start taunting him. Perch argues with them and gets into a fight. But he’s smaller than them, and they also outnumber him. They begin to beat him relentlessly.
Vram, running with Chibis, notices the scene. Chibis wants to attack the assaulters. Vram grabs him by the neck and holds him back, “Chibis, sit, sit!” he says in Russian. He then rushes over and sets about defending Perch. The boys grudgingly retreat. Vram and Perch, scuffed up, walk away. Perch’s beret has been damaged and looks funny, but he does not take it off his head. As they walk, they ask each other’s name and get acquainted.
While walking, they see Nadya in the distance with legs wrapped in cloth instead of shoes, wearing a ragged military greatcoat, dragging two buckets of water. Suddenly, Vram sees his father walking up to Nadya and giving her the package with the typewriter and the camera. They talk. Nadya refuses to take it. Chibis wags his tale happily but somberly at Vram’s feet.
Perch comes home. He lives opposite the university building. His mother, wearing black, is busy with her chores. There’s a piece of canvas in the room covered with a cloth. Perch pulls the cloth off the canvas – it features an unfinished portrait of his father. Saryan had painted the original but it no longer exists, so Perch has been trying to reproduce it from memory. His father has already been taken away. He had been the university rector. His office had been opposite their apartment. Perch glances from the balcony and sees the ransacked office on the other side of the street.
Avetis is asleep in their hovel, still wearing his uniform. It’s a small hut made of mud. His mother and Sargis are looking at him. He wakes up, it’s half past midnight. He gets up, smiles at his mother, then tells his brother, “Let’s go.” They leave. We see that they live at the edge of Tokhmakh. In the dim light coming in from the door of the hovel, the gravestones are lined up one after the other, extending all the way up into the green darkness.
The Voronok is parked outside. The boys get in. Their mother makes the sign of the cross as they leave. She has an extremely tormented look.
1942 or thereabouts
Mikael (Vram’s father) is sitting in his couch and staring fixedly into nothingness. The newspapers are on a corner of the table in a bundle. He opens the table drawer. It contains a feminine Browning, his personal stamp and, below them, a huge diploma from the University of Heidelberg. He picks up the Browning, checks it, and looks in the barrel. He puts it back. He picks up the stamp, looks at it, blows at its surface and cleans it with his figure. He replaces it. Then he takes out the diploma and thinks about where to put it. He puts it beneath the drawer in a secret compartment, then he takes it out and puts it among the newspapers, on the table.
He takes out a pince-nez, folds it, and puts it in his coat pocket. He gets up, opens a suitcase, and starts to pack. He takes the camera and leaves the house. Suitcase in hand, he goes to the hospital.
Vram is lying in the hospital. A greatcoat is hanging next to him, he’s a conscript. He looks pale. Mikael gives him the camera. He’s brought him food.
“It’s khavitz. Your mother sent it. Eat it.”
Vram barely has the strength to move. He looks at Mikael in silence. Mikael says goodbye and leaves. Vram watches him go.
Mikael goes to the station. A large number of young men are getting on the train, many wearing parts of a military uniform while some are not in uniform. Their parents are saying goodbye to them. Mikael waits for another train. After it arrives, many wounded people are taken off of it on stretchers, while cloth has been used to cover the faces of some of them. He sits on this train. The writing on it says Rostov. Later we see him sitting on another train; this one says Novosibirsk.
Deep in the snow of a northern city, Mikael limps as he takes a letter to a relatively well-built wooden structure. This is the city of Norilsk, still half-built. After handing the letter to the guard, he sees a man in a white coat. He shouts, ‘Mikael!’ It’s Mazmanyan. Mazmanyan embraces him and takes him through the storm and snow to his hut, which is the structure next door. He feeds him. Mikael unwraps the bandages on his legs. His legs are frostbitten and swollen. His hands are the same, they haven’t changed – they’re small and delicate. Mazmanyan wonders how best to help him. Mazmanyan is an exile, but he has been tasked with planning and constructing the city. Despite the fact that he does not have his freedom, he is managing a large number of people. There are always guards around him.
“But why have you come here?”
“All of you are here, or in Tokhmakh, or not even in Tokhmakh. Where would I go?”
Mazmanyan clicks his tongue in disapproval. He sees that Mikael will not be able to survive.
Vram has just been released from the hospital. He has been discharged from the army because of his condition. He comes home, the bag and camera in his hand. On the way, this is what he sees – young women are rushing out of the girls’ school and building up a depot of snowballs in the Commissars’ Park. They put stones inside the snowballs. Then, they kneel behind the benches. Soon, young men pour out of the boys’ school, the very same boys who were beating up Perch. The girls attack them and begin to ruthlessly pound them with snowballs. The boys run away. Perch takes several photographs of the scene.
At home, in the dark kitchen, under a red light, he exposes them. Inga is on one of them, laughing, her arm swung back as she strikes one of the boys, who is hunched up and trying to avoid the snowball, his arms raised in defense.
We see Inga’s apartment. Inga’s voice can be heard, reciting David of Sassoun.
The doorbell rings (one of those mechanical round buttons). Inga’s mother, Ashkhen, opens the door.
“Hello. Is Garegin home?” the visitor asks.
“Hello. He isn’t back yet,” Ashkhen says, “Please come in, have a seat, he’ll be back soon.”
“No, I’ll wait outside.”
“No, that won’t do. Come in, sit down.”
The visitor hesitates before coming in, wearing a shabby coat. He starts to go towards the room but then stops and looks at his feet, before returning and taking off his shoes.
“We don’t take our shoes off here,” Ashkhen says, “Go right ahead into the room.”
There are traces of sludge on the painted floor.
“I’m used to taking them off, I can’t just walk in,” the visitor says, taking off his shoes and going into the room still wearing his coat.
In one corner of the room, Inga is reciting David of Sassoun from memory to her small sister, Ida. The splendid book, decorated with Kojoyan’s illustrations and freshly published, is lying on the table, unopened. Inga is not even looking at it, she’s reciting from memory as Ida, sitting next to her, moves her lips to repeat after her, almost in silence.
“Hello,” the girls say.
The visitor says hello.
“Have a seat,” Ashkhen says.
The visitor sits awkwardly in the light couch. He has a small package in his lap.
Ashkhen looks at the kitchen and then at the visitor.
“Would you like some water?’
“No, thank you.”
Ashkhen goes to the kitchen. The doorbell rings.
It’s Inga’s father, Garegin. He’s tired. ‘You have a guest,’ Ashkhen tells him in the corridor.
Garegin puts his saddle down in the corridor and goes in, frowning at the visitor, hesitating for a minute, then extending his hand.
They say hello.
“We’ll have dinner soon.”
“No, I’m not hungry.”
“I insist. Did you arrive today?”
“How was the trip?”
“Well, I left at night…”
“Do you have a place to spend the night?”
“The kolkhoznik’s house.”
They sit at the table. The guest does not take off his coat. Nobody tells him to take it off.
Ashkhen brings the food – a watery soup. The girls go to the kitchen. Ashkhen thinks and then takes out an American can of stewed meat, takes it to the kitchen and opens it, empties it into a plate, brings it back and puts it on the table.
They eat in silence, making just some chewing noises. They don’t touch the several pieces of black bread, nor do they eat any of the canned food, even though Ashkhen has added plates and forks specifically for the latter. The visitor has placed his package on the table, next to the plate.
Ashkhen clears the table and brings tea that had no tea at all, it is just boiling water in a kettle. She pours it into glasses with podstakanniks. They are delicate and made of thin glass. She puts a bowl with yellow sugar next to it, it is barley sugar.
Garegin pours three spoonfuls and passes the sugar bowl to the guest, stirring the sugar with a spoon before slurping a sip.
“We’ll finish the papers tomorrow,” Garegin says through his teeth, as if to himself, without looking at his guest.
“The difference was twenty kilos,” the guest says, “She’s a widow. The bandits shot him that year. She does what she can, she has two children. I’ve got three of my own.”
Garegin is silent.
In the kitchen, Inga listens to what the guest is saying.
1934 or thereabouts
A field. A road. A man wearing a budenovka is kneeling between two others on horses. He’s twenty-seven years old. His horse is a bit further away. One of the men jumps off his horse, puts a gun to the man’s temple and fires.
The horse whinnies.
Then we see the village, a woman is standing in front of the hovel, waiting, looking into the distance, frowning. The shot isn’t heard, but the horse’s whinnying is. The woman is startled. Inga sees the woman as her maternal aunt Anush, and the child next to her is Ida.
Far away, beyond her field of vision, there is a cart and a woman sitting on it with two children. The woman’s mouth is open, and then she expectantly licks her lips.
“This is from our garden,” the guest says and slowly begins to unwrap the package. “It really warms you up; if the kid catches a cold, all you need is one drop of this in boiling water.”
The package contains a sealed black bottle, full of some liquid.
Garegin suddenly jumps from his seat unexpectedly. His glass falls to the floor and shatters, the water inside it splattering.
“Is this why you’ve come?” he shouts, “Grab your trash and get out!”
Ashkhen raises her hand to her mouth and takes a step towards her husband. A fragment of glass crunches under her foot. The sounds in the kitchen come to a standstill.
The visitor gets up, leaving the bottle on the table.
“No, take that thing you’ve brought with you and get out of my house,” Garegin shouts, now beside himself.
His wife embraces him from behind in an attempt to calm him down. He is on his feet looking at the visitor, who has crumpled the package in his hands and is walking out.
Garegin goes after him, shoving him along, and opens the door, then pushes him out and closes the door behind him.
“Calm down, calm down,” Ashkhen says, rubbing his shoulder.
Garegin sits in the couch and throws his head back, closes his eyes and stretches his legs.
Later, he is asleep, and his wife covers him with a cloth and goes into the kitchen.
There’s a folding bed there, where her sister Anush is seated. Anush’s husband was killed by bandits and she lives with her daughter Ida in the same house as Inga. Anush is reading a gold-lined Bible with a red cover, the book placed at her knees. Inga and Ida are seated next to each other in a corner. Inga is continuing her recitation in a whisper, this time it is a section about Tatyana from Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin, in Russian. When her mother enters, they are both silent and look up at her.
Her mother switches on the radio at low volume, and it says,
“…Children’s best friend and an ingenious linguist, the irrepressible leader of the Communist Party, the man behind an unprecedented boom in agiculture, the supreme commander, generalissimus Stalin has struck a shattering blow to the enemies of our state…”
“I wonder if that poor man knows the things they’re saying about him. If he heard this, he’d want the earth to swallow him whole. What kinds of people are they? Aren’t they afraid that he might happen to hear them some day?” Ashkhen says in a low voice.
The radio is struck dumb in mid-sentence. Only static can be heard.
Anush raises her head from the Bible and puts it aside, then asks the girls,
“Did you do your English homework?”
…While Vram is exposing the photographs, there is a knock on the door. Vram goes and opens the door. It’s Sargis and Avetis, they have come to take some things. Since Vram’s father has left and imposed himself to self-exile, he is not being arrested and his family is not being driven out, but they have decided to confiscate his things. So they take Mikael’s couch, his table… Vram secretly gives Evelina the stamp, camera and Kolibri in a package, and Evelina takes it out from the back door, gives it to Vanya’s son and returns. They take away everything else, including the items needed for photo exposure, and they put everything in a truck. They don’t take the books away, but they throw them out into the yard.
“If we take these, they’ll come to get you. Who knows what books you have in there,” says Avetis, leafing through some of the books and then throwing them out of the window.
Siranush stands near the bedroom, her arms folded, her nose pointed upwards, not allowing them to come in. She says that these are her personal items, not Mikael’s. Avetis wants to go in. Vram quietly slips him the feminine Browning, ‘It’s a wonderful thing,’ he says. Avetis throws the item a fleeting glance, puts it in his pocket, says ‘Fine’ and then when Sargis tries to go in there, he says, “There’s nothing left there, we’ve got everything important.”
Sargis looks at him, turns around and goes to check the kitchen, from where he takes the teapot and Mikael’s glass and its podstakannik, and leaves. The newly developed photographs are on the floor in the kitchen and he steps on them as he walks. Vram bends down and picks them up.
They take out the piano last. They can’t get it through the doorway. They try to detach its legs, but it doesn’t work. They break the door to get it out. When they break the door, one of the vertical beams supporting the ceiling is damaged, and it starts to collapse on Vram and his mother’s head.
Uncle Vanya’s son comes down the stairs and watches silently. Their floor has suffered damage too.
They lift the piano up to the truck. Sargis takes out some petrol from the tank of the truck, walks up to the pile of books, pours the fuel on them and strikes a match. He waits until the books have lit up into a proper fire. Then he gets in the truck and it sets off.
The neighbors come rushing up to the pile and extinguish the fire, then start grabbing the books from each other.
One of the books is a half-burned Charents. One of the neighbors comes, picks it up, puts out the fire and starts to blow on it. Vram runs up and grabs it from him. The neighbor lets him take the book. Vram looks at him like a wild animal. The neighbor retreats slowly. He’s licking his lips.
Vram is walking along the street in sorrowful contemplation. Suddenly, he sees Perch. Perch is wearing a beret again.
“Vram, what’s up? Why are you sad?”
“My house is falling apart.”
“Let’s go take a look.”
Perch comes and sees the collapsing ceiling; the broken vertical column is sticking out the wall.
The house is empty, there’s nothing in it except two broken chairs.
“I’ll come by tomorrow and we’ll figure something out,” he says and leaves.
The following morning, there is the sound of a car honking in the yard. Vram does not pay any attention. Then Perch walks in.
“Are you sleeping or what? Hurry up, let’s go.”
“Where are we going?”
They go to the yard, where a truck is parked. Vram gets into the empty cargo hold, Perch sits next to the driver. The driver is an elderly man. He drives to the Osobtorg and stops to honk near the gate. The guard opens the gate and the truck enters, with the gate closing behind it.
At the Osobtorg, Perch, the driver and Vram go up to the director’s office. Perch takes out a piece of paper – a list of items, followed by a stamp and signature, that the shop should provide to the visitors. The list has all kinds of items in it. Laborers bring the items and load them onto the truck. Chairs and all sorts of other things. There is a well-polished wooden beam, in addition to everything else.
When the truck is full, Perch signs a piece of paper, the gate opens and they drive out, coming back to Vram’s house. Perch helps Vram take the wood inside.
“I’ll come and repair it tomorrow,” Perch says and gets back into the truck, which drives away.
Vram watches the truck leave with a pang of regret; he wouldn’t have said no to a few chairs either, but they are going away before his very eyes.
Vram and Perch are replacing the vertical column that supported the ceiling with the wooden beam. Perch is on a ladder. Vanya’s son is beneath him, helping out. Suddenly, someone walks in.
“Is Perch here?”
“Perch, come down,” Vram says.
Perch steps down. The person hands him a paper with a stamp on it and says, ‘Perch jan, we need this.’
He looks like a thug.
Perch examines the stamp on the paper carefully.
“How many times do you need it to work?”
“Once is enough.”
Perch returns the paper to the man, who folds it and puts it in his breast pocket.
“Vram, do you have any potatoes?”
Vram brings out a dozen potatoes from the kitchen in his arms. Most of them are rotting.
Perch wrinkles his nose in displeasure and picks up each one, carefully examining it and testing its firmness. He looks closely at it, presses it, smells it, then puts it aside. Finally, he chooses one, then takes out a folding knife from his pocket and divides the potato into two halves. Using the edge of the knife, he begins to etch all the details of the stamp right there into the potato’s surface. He finishes in a few minutes, examines his work and blows on the potato.
Vram looks at his hands as if hypnotized.
“Get some ink,” Perch says to Vram.
Vram is in shock but obediently brings the ink pot made of blue glass, which his father had brought one day from somewhere, and which they hadn’t taken away, because it had dropped to the floor on the day of that search and some of the ink had spilled. The stain could still be seen.
Perch says, ‘Give it here’ to the person who had walked in.
The man quietly takes out a piece of paper from another pocket, unfolds it, and holds it out to Perch.
Perch uses his finger to get ink on the potato, then he presses it to the paper.
He swings the paper in the air, blows on it, looks at it, then gives it to the man.
The man says ‘thank you’ and gives Perch a gold coin, after which he takes the paper, folds it, puts it in his pocket, and leaves.
“Perch, what was that all about?”
“How do you think I got your wood?”
Perch cuts up the used half of the potato into small pieces and throws them into the trash can. He holds out the other, undamaged half to Vram.
“You’ll need this.”
“You’re not scared?”
“Even if one is afraid of wolves, one does not stop going into the forest or does not start howling with them. I don’t want to howl with the wolves,” he says in Russian.
“So, the other items…”
“It’s getting late in the day. We need to finish this, I’ve got other things to do.”
Uncle Vanya’s son is holding the ladder firmly. Perch goes up, the boy holds up the bowl with plaster, which he takes and begins to apply to the wall.
Vram looks at him, and then at the ceiling. The wood is already in place. You couldn’t take it out even if you wanted to…
Sarajev walks past the Conservatory at night. The sound of the piano being played by someone can be heard.
He enters the Conservatory. The guard looks at him in fear. Sarajev goes up the stairs and opens the door of one classroom, then the other. He sees Evelina in the third one, she’s playing the piano. He closes the door unnoticed. He stands and listens.
He goes back downstairs and asks the guard,
“When did she get here?”
“I’m sorry,” the guard replies, “She said that she forgot something, then I heard her playing. But I can’t leave my post and go after her.”
“It’s okay,” he says, “If she comes again at this time, let her enter and play.”
In the morning, he’s in his office. His deputy walks in and puts some papers on his desk.
“You’re letting that girl from that family of the enemies of the people come in and play here?”
“She doesn’t have a piano at home. Let her play. She’s not bothering anyone. If she were bothering someone, she wouldn’t be here in Yerevan.”
The deputy looks at him with the animosity of the people and walks out.
The newspaper has the picture of an official surrounded by a black frame, “Academician Aharon Besikyan’s life has prematurely ended.”
Sarajev is at a funeral. There are only seven people. It’s cold.
“Well, Sahak Ter-Gabrielyan is gone too,” someone says. It’s Aharon Besikyan.
“They say he picked up the investigator’s inkpot, threw it out the window and jumped out after it,” he continues, “From the third floor of the KGB building, where there are no iron bars. That’s how he slipped out of the investigator’s fingers. I wonder what they did to the investigator for that mistake?”
“I don’t believe it,” the university rector says, “Sahak wasn’t one to commit suicide.”
“I’ve seen the inkpot with my own eyes,” Besikyan says, “It was lying on the ground. Blue glass. I was walking past it. It hadn’t even broken.”
Sarajev is walking along the street, towards the Conservatory. The other instructors and students walk past him, or in the opposite direction. Nobody says hello. He walks with his head held high, not looking at anyone. He enters his office. The secretary is not there. The deputy is nowhere to be seen either. He sits in his chair. It’s nine in the morning. The sounds of music and singing can be heard, but there is something macabre in that cacophony. He sits and stares fixedly.
The window of the university rector’s office faces the window of his house. It’s Perch’s father. Perch is at home and sees how people in uniform are entering his father’s office. They grab his father, hit him and throw him on the floor, then start kicking him. Perch watches, his fists clenching. His mother comes in, covers her mouth with her hand, and embraces Perch. Perch holds his mother and they watch together, shocked.
The people in uniform drag his father away, then begin wrecking the office. On the wall, there is a portrait of the rector painted by Saryan. They take it off, and drop it on the floor. One of them tries to set it alight with a match, but it doesn’t burn well. The one trying to burn it is, of course, Sargis.
The father is dragged out of the building and put in a Voronok, which then drives away.
It’s nine in the evening. In the silence, only the sound of Evelina playing the piano can be heard. Sarajev gets up from his seat, leaves his room, walks along the empty corridors, nods to the guard and exits the building. He walks with his head held high, not looking at anyone. The rare passer-by that sees him turns away in order to avoid eye contact. They know each other, but Sarajev pretends not to see them, so that they are not forced to make a choice about whether or not to say hello.
The prison cell is packed full. The door opens and the university rector is thrown in, half-dead. A man approaches and helps him sit up, dipping a handkerchief in water and cleaning his face with the wet cloth. He puts the handkerchief back in his pocket. The rector’s hand is broken, his fingers are bent in the wrong direction. He regains consciousness gradually and holds his broken hand. A horribly dirty old man is sitting next to him. It’s Acharyan. The old man mumbles something softly. The rector responds to him just as softly. They exchange a few sentences in French. The old man says a few phrases to him. Then he takes out a horribly dirty handkerchief from his pocket, unfolds it, and takes out a piece of hard candy from inside. He gives the candy to the rector. The rector puts it in his mouth gratefully. Then Acharyan wistfully says goodbye to his handkerchief as he uses it to bandage the rector’s injured hand.
Just two hours have gone by, it’s time to sleep, and the lights are switched off in the prison cell. The door opens, the rector is taken out once again. He is pushed forward with the barrel of the gun held to his back. As he walks in the corridor, one hand holding the other, he sees the door of a cell opened fully, with a few lines scrawled and etched in the walls in Charents’ handwriting. Some of the lines are in red and there are streams flowing from them to the floor.
Inga is walking on the street. Suddenly, she sees Nadya in the distance with the buckets in her hands. Vram walks up to Nadya, takes the buckets and walks next to her. Nadya says something to him. Suddenly he feels Inga staring at him, and he nearly drops the buckets when he sees Inga looking. Inga laughs and leaves.
Sarajev is walking on the street, his head held high. People see him and turn away. He does not look at anyone. Suddenly, Vram walks up to him, with Chibis at his side.
“Good day,” Vram says.
Sarajev is surprised that someone has acknowledged him.
“I’m Mikael and Siranush’s son,” Vram says, “Evelina’s brother.”
Sarajev’s face lights up.
“Uncle Ghazar is coming back,” Vram says, “He is ill, they’ve allowed him to come back and die in his homeland.”
Sarajev and Vram go to the railway station. Perch is also there. The train arrives and wounded soldiers get off, some of them are taken off on stretchers. After everyone has left, a man appears, thin like a ghost - it’s Uncle Ghazar, wrapped in rags. Vram runs up to him, as does Chibis. Vram is holding a bag, which he shows to Uncle Ghazar – it has the Kolibri typewriter and the camera. Uncle Ghazar sways, he is unable to hold the bag, and he returns it. Perch takes the bag. Uncle Ghazar takes out the camera from the bag and hands it to Vram.
Sarajev is sitting in his office and drinking wine. Uncle Ghazar is with him.
The sound of Evelina playing can be heard.
“I tell them I’m a professor and they say, ‘There are no documents to prove that,’” Uncle Ghazar says. “I tell them, ‘Give me a copy,’ and they say, ‘Show us your diploma and we will.’”
“Which year did you graduate?”
“1905. It was just like this one.”
Uncle Ghazar points at the gold-lined University of Heidelburg diploma hanging behind Sarajev’s back, signed by Max Weber.
Sarajev gets up, goes down to the second floor, opens the door of a classroom and tells Evelina,
“Please go and call Vram quickly.”
Evelina leaves her music unfinished, jumps up and runs out into the corridor.
Vram and Perch are in the same room with Sarajev and Uncle Ghazar. Perch has a small suitcase in his hand. Sarajev takes off his University of Heidelburg diploma from the wall and gives it to Perch. Perch goes into another room.
Vram, Sarajev and Uncle Ghazar wait.
Perch returns with two diplomas in his hands. He gives one to Uncle Ghazar. Ghazar looks at it from various angles. He looks stunned with surprise. He silently extends his hand in Perch’s direction.
Perch takes his hand and looks at it from various angles, studying his fingerprints and wrinkles, as if through a magnifying glass.
Perch’s trial is underway.
Vram and Evelina are sitting among the attendees. Sarajev’s guard, Sarajev, Uncle Ghazar, Uncle Vanya’s son and other familiar faces are also present. Mikael Mazmanyan, who has returned from exile, is also present. He is sitting on the chair at the end of the row. Next to him in the aisle, Sargis and Avetis are standing, tense and alert. On a piece of paper, Mazmanyan is drawing the trial. Avetis frowns when he sees it. Sargis is looking straight ahead. Then, Mazmanyan suddenly notices something and begins to draw another structure, the Institute of Languages, around the Katoghike Church. He imagines this structure as a fortress that will protect the little church. At the edge of the façade of the Institute of Languages, he draws interwoven human hands in the style of ancient Armenian masonry, sketching their fingernails with great care. There is a male hand, a female hand, as well as that of a child.
“You should have had this,” the prosecutor shouts and waves a small blue book in the air, “This. There is a stamp here – it is real, and a watermark – it is real. Not like your work.”
Then, the time comes for Perch’s closing statement.
“Honorable court,” Perch says, “Over the course of two years, I have increased the production of the factory by three hundred percent, and our targets were exceeded by triple the amount. Had you not discovered that my diploma was fake and that I do not have a university education, you would only have noticed that I have been tirelessly working for the prosperity of our socialist homeland. So what if I don’t have that miserable diploma? Is that what a real diploma is? Is that the diploma I should be holding? Don’t tell me that what matters in our homeland of laborers and peasants is that piece of paper. I know a lot more than my specialization requires, more than any graduate. Do you want to test me with an exam? That punk who snitched on me was causing losses, he was a thief; to save himself, he was accusing other people of stealing Soviet state property and dozens of people were going to suffer. I fired him and now, because of his delusions, you are going to deprive the homeland of a dedicated head engineer like me.”
(In the distant background, we can hear Evelina playing, let’s say, Tannhäuser or something like that)
Sargis and Avetis take Perch away.
Vram is running around the yard of the Armenfilm movie studio, a camera and tripod stand in his arms. A tall director is shouting out instructions. Near the pool, with one arm on a scrawny mulberry tree, a girl is singing,
“The dawn has come, let me go to the field,
The green hill and meadows will bear their yield,
That tractor-driving boy
Has won my heart, o joy!”
Her clothes are in the fashion of the fifties, she’s wearing platform shoes. Next to her, there is a small statue in the pool of a girl holding a jug at an angle such that water is flowing out of it. The camera focuses on the jug.
The tractor-driving boy comes out and sings in response,
“Open your window,
Let me see your cute body,
Let me see those pretty eyes,
Wet and full with many tears.”
The boy approaches the girl and they embrace.
From behind the scene, a choir of girls appears (four of the girls who were preparing snowballs) and sings,
“Varsenik’s black hair is shining, it’s shining…”
Vram turns the camera slowly, the choir is not in the picture from the first moment of their singing as the scene focuses on the tree and the statue of the girl with the jug.
“Cut, cut,” the tall director shouts, “You’ve ruined it again…”
Everyone stops, the choir breaks up.
“We can do it this way too,” Vram tries to propose.
“You’re going to argue with me? When you make a movie, you can do what you want. Here, I’m the one who decides. That’s all. You’ve ruined it again. All you’ve managed to do is increase our costs. Get out of here.”
Inga watches the incident from a slight distance away. It turns out that the female lead is Ida.
The director keeps shouting, he’s angry. He orders Vram to leave the camera.
Vram leaves with his head hung low, and exits the movie studio’s territory. He doesn’t even notice Inga, but Inga watches him leave.
Vram is walking along Amiryan street with his head hung, past the half-finished Charents School, where the Bezbozhnik cinema used to be. Suddenly, he sees Perch, who is calmly walking along the street.
Vram is dumbstruck.
“You’ve been set free?”
“No big deal,” says Perch. He takes out a piece of paper from his pocket and shows it to Vram – “Due for release based on case review,” it says in Russian.
And there is a stamp.
“They’d sent this for someone and I copied it, then I asked a friend due for release to send it by mail from Moscow. As soon as it arrived, they were all over themselves to come and release me. It had arrived eight days late due to a postal delay and they were afraid they were going to end up in court for the late release. They asked me to sign a backdated form that suggested I had been released on time. But I had arranged everything that way on purpose…”
“I’m so happy to see you! What are you going to do now?”
“I’m not going to stay here, that’s for sure. I’ve come to see my mother and tie up some loose ends.”
“But where will you go?”
“I want to be a defense lawyer. You can’t do that in this country, there’s no point.”
Perch crosses the Armenia-Turkey border. The border guards fire, Perch runs towards the bushes on the road to Ararat. The sand in the no-man’s land reveals his footprints. The border dogs come and smell his footsteps, then they howl. It’s a strange smell, they can’t run after him. Perch jumps into the Arax River and swims away quickly. The border guards fire rounds of ammunition. Perch’s head goes below water and does not come back up.
Ripples appear in the water and a few bubbles, like a small whirlpool – a water carousel. A few twigs float about in the whirlpool, then suddenly sink in the middle and disappear.
Vram reads in the newspaper, “Yesterday, the brave Soviet border guards prevented the felonious attempt of dangerous criminal, refugee with multiple convictions Perch Ter-Dzitoghtsyan to cross the USSR-NATO border. The criminal has been destroyed.”
Vram looks at the paper powerlessly as the writing seems to blur and fuse together. He sees the water carousel before his eyes.
A movie within the movie
In front of the house with the high gates in Shushi, Khatun khanum sits in traditional dress, her hair covered by a headpiece. The massacre of the Armenians is taking place in the city. Men and women in panic run around in front of her, holding children’s hands, fleeing from the bloody khanjali of the cruel Tatars. Khatun khanum is sitting calmly, her eyes almost closed, rocking slightly.
Sometimes, desperate people stop in front of her and say something softly, hurriedly, pleadingly.
Khatun khanum nods her head towards the door of the gate. In case of women and children, she lets them all in. In case of men, not everyone is allowed. Some are permitted to enter, others are not.
Those who are not allowed in, leave in desperation to face their deaths, and their final scream is heard shortly thereafter.
Suddenly a mountain Tatar appears in front of her.
“Salaam aleykum, Khatun khanum. I would die for my brother, I would die for the khanum, I would die for my friends… With Allah as my witness, my wife is dying.”
The Tatar’s donkey is further away, tied to a post.
Khatun khanum looks at the man, sizing him up, then nods her head.
The Tatar goes in.
There is no place to walk in the yard – women and children, some elderly people and men, are all sitting quietly and looking at the Tatar in fear. Only a few breastfeeding children can be heard grunting. Walking among them is a blond man, talking to them in the Tatar language, with a jug full of water in his hand and cups, he offers them a drink. It is Sahak.
There is a huge oak in the yard. Many refugees are seated below it, in its shade. It stretches upwards and high up, above the roof of the house, its branches intertwine with those of another oak, which strangely enough is growing from within the house.
The Tatar passes through carefully so as not to step on the people seated. He greets Sahak, approaches the patio, the entrance through which leads into the house, goes up the stairs and enters.
The huge oak is growing from right in the middle of the guest room, breaking through its ceiling and intertwining with the second oak in the yard.
The next room is white – it’s intended for medical use. In one corner, on a small table, there is the hand from the Bezbozhnik wall sculpture, its fingers missing. Above it, Mazmanyan’s sketch for the Publishers’ Building and the outline of Vram’s little hand hang on a wall. The medical cupboard is next to it. On another wall is Abesalom’s gold-lined diploma.
There is a girl sitting on the patient’s chair, her mouth open as it is being examined by Abesalom Hamayakovich, Khatun khanum’s son. Seated in one corner is a young Mikael, Vram’s father and the son of Abesalom.
“Dokhtur, my wife is very bad, she’s dying.”
“Can’t you bring her here?”
“She’s dying, I told her I’d get the dokhtur, she said she would try to hold out ama she is slowly dying.”
“I can’t come, don’t you see what’s going on? They would kill me and you.”
“May Muhammad’s lantern burn out if they kill you. I’ll take the dokhtur to my house and bring him back safe and sound. Dokhtur, my wife is bringing my child, save them.”
Sparks seem to be flying from the eyes of the girl with the open mouth when she hears what the Tatar says.
Seated on two donkeys, they go up into the mountains. Abesalom has wrapped a cloth around his head like a mountain Tatar and is dressed in their traditional costume. A white box with a red cross hangs from the side of the donkey and strikes the side of the animal with each step. It’s covered with a mat, but the donkey’s movements reveal the edge of the red cross from time to time.
Abesalom looks below towards Shushi, which looks like one of Bosch’s paintings. The broken windows of houses look like a mass of cavities blackening a once-perfect set of teeth.
They get to the pasture, where there is a straw hut and the Tatar’s wife is lying on the ground, moaning. Abesalom walks up to her. Her eyes are closed.
“Mam-ma,” the woman says, “Mam-ma.”
Abesalom stiffens for a minute, and carefully looks at her face. Then he puts the medical case decisively on the floor, opens it, takes out a scalpel, prepares everything and, with a quick movement, he digs the scalpel into the Tatar woman’s belly and cuts it. For a moment, all we can see are two brown nipples and the red line of the wound on a swollen belly, perpendicular to the “middle” line and slightly angled such that it’s closer to the left nipple. Abesalom quickly digs his rubber-gloved hands inside and takes out a little Tatar who starts to cry immediately. Abesalom cuts the umbilical cord. He looks at the little child whose hands and fingers are moving in the air, and counts all his nails. He gives the child to the father.
The woman stops moaning.
While suturing her abdomen, Abesalom pricks his finger with the needle and a drop of blood emerges through the rubber gloves. He pays no attention and continues his work.
The sheep are spread like pearls on the green pasture and the shepherds shout from mountain to mountain, spreading the word.
“Hoooo! Long live the dokhtur! What a blessing. Kimir has a boy, a boy! He has an askar, an askar! Allah akbar!”
“He has an askar! An askar!”
“What do you mean ‘huh’? He has a son! A son!”
The ribbon of the movie within the movie begins to burn suddenly and a hole forms in it, which grows, similar to a water carousel, and twigs and leaves swim in circles in it before they are consumed…
The movie within the movie is interrupted
“Stop, stop,” Vram shouts, “You bonehead!”
The lights come on, and we are in a small movie theater, where the Cinema Commission is in session, headed by Sargis.
Sargis has reached new heights – he’s fatter and more mature, dressed in a good suit, but wearing boots, one of which has been worn out and has a hole in it.
Vram leaps up and runs to the film booth, glancing at the faces of the Commission members on his way. Then he returns and takes his seat.
“This is not going to work,” Sargis said, “It’s good that you haven’t made the whole thing. You had the brains to call us in advance, at least. Tatars? Seriously? And in Shushi? Are we now promoting the houses of the rich? Who was that clergyman whose portrait was on the wall? Was that old woman deciding who the Tatars should massacre? Who was she supposed to be, Azrael? And aren’t you ashamed to show a childbirth on the screen, that too of a Turk? Are you trying to start a counter-revolution in our cinematography?”
“We’ll cut that scene…” The tall director who had been shouting at Vram tries to interrupt the flow of words coming from Sargis, “This is just a preliminary…”
“Preliminary what? It seems quite final to me. You think I don’t notice these things? What was that oak doing growing in the middle of the house? What was that supposed to be hinting at? And that girl, that girl… is that what our brides are like? Their mouths open like that. It looks like she’s ready to swallow a horse. She isn’t a suffragist, she’s an Armenian, an Armenian! And you think Sahak would have behaved like that before the revolution? You think he’d speak Azerbaijani like a simpleton?”
“We can’t destroy it,” the tall director says, “We’ve spent money on this. If there’s an inspection, they’ll ask what we spent it on. I’m responsible for the financing. Let’s just put it in storage…”
“I’m the inspector,” Sargis says with a cynical smile. “No trace of this should remain – not a trace! If anyone sees this, neither you nor I will continue our lives this way. We’ll be tried and that will be that – hello Siberia, goodbye pension. You can return the costs any way you like. You can take it from the Guys from the Army Band budget.”
And then he decides that he has reprimanded them enough, that they had learned their lesson, so he changes his tone into a more caring and humorous one, so that he can educate them and not allow the Soviet people to be too disappointed.
“What were you hinting at with those donkeys – that the people of Karabakh are donkeys?” he says paternally as if it’s a witty joke, “What if Comrade Mikoyan were to find out? I’d like to see your creativity then! The whole movie studio would be destroyed. Good thing there turned out to be at least one alert person among you.”
Then he grows serious.
“And you think I didn’t see that reference to Mandelstam? Prohibited literature! I notice everything! You can’t hide any secrets from us!”
Vram’s facial expression twists and a sly smile forms on his lips.
There is a bonfire in the yard of the movie studio and Sargis personally throws the film into the flames. Vram watches tiredly, his face darkening. His curly hair is standing on end.
Inga and a foreigner walk past them, she is the foreigner’s translator and guide as part of her student internship.
“First film of Hamo Beknazaryan was made in 1925 and called Namus – shame. No, sorry, dignity, based on a novel by an Armenian classic.”
“Wow, Dignity. You Russians are so stuck with such noble concepts, aren’t you?”
He sees the film burning.
Instead of replying, Inga jumps towards Sargis, who has plucked with difficulty a green and soft branch off the scrawny mulberry tree next to him. He has twisted the branch off and injured the tree and now, holding the branch in his nailless fingers, he is trying to flip the film over in the fire. The branch is so soft that it is unable to move the film. Instead, it bends and its end blackens, its sap pouring out onto the film. So much smoke emerges that even the viewers can smell it in their nostrils. The film burns with pleasure, crackling away quickly, even with no help from the branch.
Inga attacks Sargis, striking him in the chest with her fists. Inga’s bag, hanging from her arm, flies into the air. Sargis retreats.
Vram is very emotional, with a wild look on his face and his hair standing on end. But he’s holding back and he grabs Inga’s shoulders and pulls her aside.
“It’s okay, it’s okay.”
The American seems not to be surprised at all.
“Tell him that we’re burning an unnecessary piece of film,” says the tall director.
Inga does not reply but gives them an angry look that does not have a single tear in it.
“Film, film, capiche?” The tall director says, “Too much film, too much film kaput. Hitler kaput too,” and adds in Armenian, “You non-comprehending son of a bitch!”
“Yes, we do that too, but in a more environmentally conscious way,” says the foreigner.
He walks up to the fire and uses his foot to pull out a piece of film that has separated from the rest; he looks at the director.
The director is dumbstruck. So is Sargis. They have no choice but to let him take it.
“Get it from him later,” Sargis says to the director, turns around and goes to the white GAZ-21 waiting for him on Teryan Street, striking the branch in his hand against his boots. He’s wearing a suit and tie, but boots. “If I find out that a piece of this has survived, then your ear will be the biggest piece that’s left of you.”
He throws the branch down on Teryan Street, sits in the car and leaves.
“Get it from him later,” the director orders Vram.
Vram looks at the injured part of the tree – it’s white and long. Sap is trickling from it.
Inga approaches the foreigner and holds out her hand.
“Can I have that? I would like to keep it myself.”
The foreigner willingly hands her the piece of film and wrinkles his nose at the bad smell before walking off to get some fresh air.
Inga gathers the film, opens her bag, and puts it inside.
The director watches Sargis leave, then suddenly sits on the ground and starts to strike his head with his fists.
“What have you done, what have you done…”
Vram stands next to the mulberry tree with his head hug low, and the sap continues to flow abundantly from the light green scrawny tree.
The film technician emerges from the booth, lights a cigarette, and looks left and right. It is the man who used to be the guard at the Conservatory.
Inga and Vram are sitting at a bench in the Commissars’ Park. Vram is upset and sad, but calm. Vram gives her the book with Charents’ work, with some pages singed. There is a hand drawn on the cover. The fingers have been burnt. Inga leafs through the book, then opens her bag and gives Vram the remaining piece of the film. They hold it up to the light and look at the scenes together. When the short film ends, the movie continues to play out before Vram’s eyes.
The movie within a movie 2
We see Abesalom’s home. Khatun khanum is once again seated at the gate. The sound of wailing comes from within. There is a coffin in the white medical room, and mourning womendressed in black are crowded around it, including all the women who were seated in the yard during the massacre. The men are in the other room, where the oak is growing. The room is brightly lit now and we can see that a portrait of Khrimyan Hayrik hangs in one part of the room, with a paper ladle in one hand, lowered into a pot. The Ararat is in his other hand, with the Arax flowing below it in a blue line. The branches of the oaks spread over the men who are mostly standing quietly, some leaning on the tree or grabbing a part of it. At times, we are unable to distinguish whether they are holding the trunk of the plant or that of another man.
Suddenly the very same Tatar comes in with his wife, a baby in her arms. Everyone grows quiet.
A blond man walks up to them and says coldly, “Ne var?”
It is a young Sahak.
“The dokhtur was my friend, I would have given my life for him. He went to heaven in my heart.”
Sahak unwillingly lets him pass and indicates the white room. The Tatar goes to the white room and lowers his head at the sight of the coffin, then takes the cold, white hand of the deceased, examines it from different angles, then kisses it, indicating to his wife that she should kiss it too.
The girl who had sat open-mouthed in the patient’s chair on that past occasion watches them with savagely shining eyes, and then jumps at them.
“You killed him, you killed him. His finger was infected because of you. Your pup killed him…”
The Tatar’s wife recoils in fear.
Mikael reaches out and holds the girl’s shoulders, pulling her back.
“Grandmother isn’t saying anything and I am not saying anything. She is not to blame.”
The girl sticks her nose in the air proudly.
“That’s the last thing we needed, for you to say something.”
Sahak, standing behind them, softly reprimands Mikael.
“That’s enough, tell them to leave, you’re not decisive enough, there’s going to be trouble…”
Sahak’s eyes suddenly meet those of the little one, and Sahak immediately falls silent.
The girl stands with her back to the coffin, her nose stuck up, her neck proud, her arms crossed against her breasts, as if protecting the deceased from any further approaches by the Tatar.
Mikael looks at the elegant hands of the girl.
She is Siranoush, Vram’s future mother.
The second movie within the movie ends
The film in Inga’s hands has long ended. Inga releases the film, which coils up and lands in Vram’s hand. Inga laughs, then looks at Vram and shapes her face from laughter into a sad and compassionate expression. She gets up, and walks away swinging her bag, she has to get to class. After crossing one of the bridges in the Commissars’ Park, she turns around and waves at Vram.
After she is no longer visible, Vram looks at his hand and moves his fingers.
Vram is extremely emotional and disheveled, wearing a striped jacket with a red rose in the front pocket but a kosovorotka under it. He is walking towards an office building. Garegin works in that building. His horse is tied to a post in front of it. When Vram walks past the animal, he and the horse frown at each other. The horse turns his head and watches Vram as he walks. The office is the State Supervision Committee on Moskovyan Street. Vram exchanges words with the guard and goes to the upper floor. He stands in front of the doors, thinks, knocks on one of them, then peeks inside with trepidation…
“What do you want?” Garegin asks, “Come in.”
Vram opens the door a crack and slides in.
We see the small office a few minutes later, with the saddle in one corner, a tower of papers on the table, Vram appearing red and ruffled, while Garegin is looking at him in anger and surprise, but suppressing his feelings as he says,
“Don’t you have any male relatives who can come here and talk to me man to man, boy? I can’t make sense of this. You’re so agitated!”
Vram hangs his head and turns around, then walks out.
Avetis is in the KGB building, walking through the same basement corridor through which he had once dragged Perch’s father. He’s wearing a uniform and has a red band on his arm. He walks without looking past the door of the cell which had lines from Charents on the wall. He has a ring of keys in his hand, which he plays with and then puts in his pocket.
He walks upstairs on the twisting staircase.
He knocks on a door and enters a grand office, where he gives a salute.
His supervisor calls him over and gives him a piece of paper.
Avetis reads the paper. It says in Russian – “Due to the exceeding of his authority and behavior unbecoming of a chekist consisting of the destruction of important evidence related to elements of anti-Soviet activity, I order the arrest of Sargis Yegorovich Berikyan. This order must be executed immediately. Serov, Piskunov. Copy confirmed – Zarubyan. Agreed: Mikoyan.”
“You’ll become a colonel,” his supervisor says in Russian. “Your brother has overstepped, and you will overtake him. I appreciate your action! We’ll be working together.”
There is a portrait of Dzerzhinsky behind the supervisor, but it’s a small one, and it is obvious that another picture—a larger one—used to hang there until recently.
Avetis stands stiffly and looks without blinking at Dzerzhinsky, so that his eyes do not meet those of his supervisor’s.
Avetis is in the KGB restroom, once again in the basement. There are dark stains all over the restroom, like crimson camouflage. He leans his face against one of those stains on a wall and stands like that for a while.
He opens a tap and rinses his face with cold water, then looks at himself in the mirror. Instead of his own face, he sees Sargis in the mirror, back in front of their hut in Tokhmakh, and the gravestones line up one after the other like a train, with two new ones appearing – Mikael Abesalomov Ter-Gabrielya is written on the larger one, Chibis – on the smaller one. The large gravestone is small compared to a normal-sized one, such that the end letters of the patronymic and last name are missing.
Avetis comes out of the restroom, walks along the corridor, goes up the stairs, says heil to the people he passes instead of saluting them, and they reply in kind. He walks up to his supervisor’s door, knocks, salutes, enters, and approaches his supervisor. He takes out a piece of paper and places it in front of him.
His supervisor reads the Russian text – “’Please accept this resignation made of my own free will due to family circumsta…’ Have you lost your mind?”
Avetis walks along the street and looks around him – it’s sunny and hot, the month of May. People happily walk by. A reanimated plane buzzes in the sky. He arrives at their new apartment in the building of academicians on the Cascade and walks up to the third floor, to the apartment that used to belong to academician Miskaryan, as the nameplate on the door still says. He opens the door with his key and walks in.
The house is full of furniture, there’s barely any place to walk. Evelina’s piano is stuffed into one corner with its keys to the wall and an impressive bust on top of it, also facing the wall. The house has been tastelessly modeled in a very kitsch style.
His mother is sitting on the couch with Sargis standing next to her.
“I’m being transferred to tourism,” Sargis says in Russian, “And sent off to the peripheral regions.”
Avetis approaches them and embraces his seated mother’s head and his brother’s waist, swaying with them.
“I’ve been moved to the cultural section.Starting from scratch.”
“We’ve been pushed into a dead end,” Sargis says, “Such are the times.”
Their mother looks at an icon of Stalin placed in the corner of the room with a candle below it, and says in Armenian,
“Thank God the devil is no longer among us, my sons are saved.”
She makes the sign of the cross.
Sargis picks an invisible hair off Avetis’ coat with his nailless hand. Then he turns around, stops and all three of them move their faces in the direction of the viewer.
The three of them are turned into an impressive black-and-white photograph, a document of those heart-wrenching times that elicit emotions in anyone who sees it.
Vram is walking on the street, thinking about who to send to Garegin. Sarajev? Uncle Ghazar? He doesn’t find either of them suitable, and is embarrassed. Uncle Vanya? But he isn’t around. Garegin’s horse can’t be seen in front of the State Supervision Committee building, which means Garegin is not inside.
Vram walks on Lermontov Street, then past Sayat Nova. The Swan Lake is not yet there, fruit orchards are being cut down and houses are being demolished… Fruit orchards are being removed as their fruit falls helplessly on the ground. He takes the rose out of his coat pocket and wants to throw it away, but then keeps it, rolling it about in his hand.
Vram is at home, which remains empty and almost without furniture since that distant day when all the family had was looted and taken away.
In her bedroom, Siranush is sitting on the bed, her hand held out – Uncle Vanya’s son has brought some clay and is using it to make a sculpture of her hand. Mikael’s portrait, in a black frame, hangs in one corner of the room. It’s been painted by hand—the work of Uncle Vanya’s son—because when Mikael died in Siberia, they realized that they didn’t have any photos of him. Next to it, there is a half-finished copy of the painting by Saryan of Perch’s father, a leftover of Perch’s time.
Vram is sitting in the living room, quiet and frowning, with Mazmanyan’s pencilwork above him – the sketch of the Publishers’ Building and the outline of little Vram’s hand. Vram has not taken off his coat.
There is a knock on the door. Vram opens it. It’s Avetis.
Vram’s lips tremble.
“Excuse me,” Avetis says, “I have good news.”
Vram steps aside and Avetis walks into the living room. He looks around – he hasn’t been here in around thirteen years. He sees the sketch and turns away. His eyes rest on the renovated and strong ceiling. He notices the closed door to Siranush’s room. He smirks and his hand mechanically goes to his pocket.
“You want to make a movie, don’t you?”
“An American exhibition is coming here for the first time in our history, American graphic pieces,” he indicates the paper sketch with a finger, then continues, “It’s a very important event. Around forty Americans are coming – artists, art critics, what have you. A documentary movie needs to be shot about them – a chronicle of sorts. You have to be with them constantly and you’ll then provide all your material to me. We’ll watch it together and decide how it will take shape. We’ll choose the copywriter later, there are art critics—regular guys—who are ready to do it. Comrade Mikoyan will watch it himself.
“You have to realize how important this task it. It will be your rehabilitation, so that that other story can be forgotten. If you do a good job, you’ll be allowed to make a feature-length movie.”
Vram is looking through a camera on a tripod at the territory of the airport. It’s winter, but there is still no snow and the sky is free of clouds.
A buzzing can be heard from above. He looks up and sees a small plane doing death loops. He is standing in the crowd of people who make up the reception committee; near the airport gates, a slight distance away, stand Inga and Avetis. A large plane with four propellers lands with a loud roar and taxies up to a space not far from where the people are standing. The propellers have not yet stopped completely, when a mobile staircase drives up and attaches itself to the plane door. The door soon opens and the passengers, the Americans, start to disembark.
Suddenly, the place is flooded with children, who leave the crowd of people and rush through the gates, running towards the arrivals. The guests, huge Americans, men and women, stop and pet the children.
“Tzamon, tzamon, gum, gum!” the most active of the children shout, but there are also smaller kids who simply look on in wonder, like a four-year-old girl is being dragged along by her sister by the hand.
The Americans stop and actually take out colorful pieces of chewing gum from their multicolor bags and give them to the children, as if they knew that this would be requested of them.
One of them, a huge man with a green beret, suddenly falls to his knees and kisses the pavement of the runway. Everyone looks at him.
When he gets up, his eyes meet Vram’s – it is Perch. Vram is dumbfounded. He can’t believe his eyes. He gathers his strength in order to pretend that everything is normal. He wants to shout, but suppresses this instinct. Perch smiles secretly. There is a tear in his eye. He signals to Vram that they must not reveal that they know each other. Avetis is close by.
Vram is holding Perch by the hand and dragging him to the State Supervision building. Perch is wearing the same coat that Vram had on the previous occasion, with a rose in the front pocket again. But he’s wearing blue jeans. When they walk past the horse, Perch caresses it and the animal emits a brief, agreeable whinny.
They enter and go up to to the third floor. Vram knocks on the door.
“Come in,” Garegin says, “Who is it?”
Vram opens the door, pushes Perch in and closes it, then puts his ear to the door in an attempt to listen in on what is going on in the room.
No sound comes from inside.
He starts to pace in the corridor and talk to himself, waving his hands in the air.
The door suddenly opens.
“Come in, boy,” Perch says with friendly contempt.
Vram enters with trepidation, his head hung low.
Flash forward ends
The Americans have just seen the ruins of Garni Temple, and they are now getting back on the bus, which sets off to Geghard. The Americans are noisy and sing songs. Inga translates for them, answers questions, and is very active in general. Vram is recording the scene. Avetis is seated, alert, tense and anxious. Perch is seated far away and joins in the songs, asks Inga questions flirtingly, plays games.
Suddenly the bus comes to s stop. There is a lot of snow, it can’t go any further. Snow has blocked the road.
The people get off the bus. The sun is blinding, the mountains are white, the bus is parked and there is a colorfully-dressed crowd around it – more colors than this mountain has ever seen throughout its history.
“How much do we have left to get to Geghard?” the leader of the American group asks.
“Seven kilometers,” the driver says.
“Let’s walk! Hey, who’s up for a hike to Geghard?” the group leader shouts.
All the Americans raise their hands.
“What? Walk? It’s far away, you won’t make it,” Avetis starts to panic.
“Seven kilometers is no big deal – it’s five miles,” the group leader says, “We’ll make it there in forty minutes if we maintain a good pace.”
“You’ll catch cold, you’ll fall ill,” Avetis starts to plead.
“One never catches cold from walking quickly. And we’re all wearing warm clothing.”
And he shows them their colorful coats made of polyester with cotton inside.
“There are wolves out there and… and, they’ll attack… I can’t let you…”
“We’ll drive them off – hooo, hooo.”
Inga was faithfully translating everything, including the “hooo, hooo.”
Avetis finds nothing to say.
“Ready to go?” the leader asks the group.
“Let’s go!” the group echoes in unison.
“You can’t do this. I’ll be fired. Foreigners are not allowed to wander around Armenia without a guide,” Avetis laments.
“Do you want me to translate that?” Inga asks.
“Translate the last part,” Avetis replies.
“Come with us,” the American says in reply.
“But how can I, I’ve got a hole in my boot,” Avetis says.
But they don’t pay any attention to him and get moving. They walk along the mountain slope in single file, sinking into the snow, marching energetically in the direction of Geghard. Perch winks to Vram and Inga, then joins the group.
Avetis starts to panic. He takes out a gun from his pocket (a feminine Browning), points it upwards, and shouts, “I’ll fire!”
Inga attacks him.
“Stop it, you fool! Do you want to cause an avalanche?”
She stands between him and the group, her back to the crowd, her chest facing Avetis, her arms folded.
“Come to your senses!”
Vram, carrying the camera, runs over and puts a hand on Inga’s shoulder, holding her back so that she doesn’t attack Avetis. He looks carefully at the gun in Avetis’ hand.
The driver lights a cigarette calmly and sits on the steps on the bus, watching the scene with interest. It is the man who used to be the guard at the Conservatory.
“I’m done for if they find out,” Avetis mumbles, beside himself.
But the Americans don’t pay any attention, as if they haven’t seen, noticed, or felt that he has brandished a gun, they ignore the shouting, and continue walking with their backs to him. The snow crunches beneath their feet.
Avetis hesitates, then puts the gun in his pocket.
Not knowing what to do, he rushes after the group, then he turns and runs back.
“Why are you still standing here? We have to all go together. Move!”
“I’m waiting for a good shot,” Vram says, “We’ll catch up, you go ahead.”
“Armenians can’t stay here unaccompanied. This is a military zone.”
“Let them get a bit farther away, so that I can get a good shot of the scene.”
Avetis spins on his heel and rushes after the group, sinking in the snow. As if on purpose, the group is walking quite fast, marching at an impressive pace.
He turns around again after that and takes a few steps towards Vram and Inga, waves his arms, then spins again and tries to catch up with the group.
And the group continues to march briskly, with the pace of a military drill, as if they were all CIA-trained secret soldiers indeed—men and women—or perhaps even aliens – large, strong, multicolored. Vram lets go of Inga’s hand and digs the tripod deep into the snow as he attaches himself to the camera lens.
But when he looks through the camera, the group is no longer one of aliens. Instead of Americans, with their colorful coats, they appear as many of the main characters in this movie – the 27-year old Commissar, Uncle Vanya, Charents, Bakunts, Sevada, Totovents, Grandpa Mikael, Uncle Ghazar’s wife, Abesalom, Besikyan, Garegin, Comrade Gasparyan and many, many others… Perch has a guitar which he’s plucking along, singing in an accented voice, “Gori, gori, moya zvezda, gori, siyay zavetnaya.” They march along briskly at an athletic pace, sinking to their knees in the snow. Beneath their colorful coats they are all wearing khaki canvas pants, all of them—men and women alike—and many of them have bandages around the feet, plows in their hands, ice picks or an adz.
And each of them is doing something that is characteristic for the given person. Uncle Vanya is wearing a pilot’s helmet, Anush’s husband and the 27-year-old Commissar are wearing budenovkas. Sarajev is walking without looking around, his head held high, looking haughty. Nadya is wearing a colorful coat but has boots on her feet and buckets in her hands. Uncle Ghazar is carrying an oak log on his shoulder, Acharyan takes out a handkerchief and reveals a piece of hard candy, which he offers to the person walking next to him, and only Mikoyan is not walking. Standing on top of the hill, he puts his hand to his forehead to protect himself from the sun (but it is also like a salute), then follows them with his eyes, with his usual kind half-smile beneath his mustache. He is a bust made of metal.
(All of this happens gradually accompanied by music which transitions from Perch’s song to Evelina performing a classical piece, like Mozart, on the piano).
The sound of a plane can be heard in the sky, it is doing death loops.
(The music changes, Charles Aznavour begins to sing).
The scene is now being shown from far away, as if we are watching from the plane, and the colorful, single line stretches out from the bus and two small figures on the mountain slope in the direction of Geghard. A man emerges from the line and rushes to the two figures, then turns back and returns to the line. He says something to Mikoyan’s bust, salutes it, reports something, and then rushes after the advancing line. The snow starts to blacken at the site of his failed efforts, it is trampled and the traces of his steps fuse together to form a small black pool, as if after a dog fight.
And the line continues to walk without stopping, like a strange multicolor caterpillar. From our highest vantage point, we can see the ruins of Garni on one end and Geghard in the distance, which the colorful, twisting line is trying to connect over the shimmering mountain slope.
And then it turns into a colorful, sparkling curve—on the territory of Armenia seen from space—perpendicular to the peaks of Ararat, which look like two nipples. The curve is slightly angled, such that it’s closer to the larger of the peaks.
The filmmaker’s voice
I was born nine months later. Apparently, as a result of the ruined film.
The screen blacks out.
Translated from Armenian by Nazareth Seferian
 A Russian word meaning “atheist” or “a godless person.”
 Literally translated as “dignity”, this was a Soviet movie from the 1920s based on A. Shirvanzade’s story with the same name.
 A Soviet movie from the 1930s about the celebrated Russian army commander Vasily Chapayev.
 These famous Armenian figures died in 1937-38 during the purges of the Stalinian era.
 Konstantin Sarajev was a famous musician and a director (rector) of the Yerevan Conservatory, who, as an exception, wasn’t formally prosecuted in the 1930s-1940s.
 A famous architect and the designer of several key buildings in Yerevan.
 What follows is about the 26 Baku Commissars, a group of people who briefly held Soviet power in Baku in 1918 and then were executed. Several legends surround this historical event, and many of them relate to Anastas Mikoyan, since he was the only one who survived.
 At the beginning of the 20th century, Azerbaijanis were still often commonly referred to as Tatars.
 “Soldier” in Azerbaijani and Turkish; the word has a negative connotation for Armenians.
 One of the nicknames attributed to Shahumyan.
 A prisoner transport vehicle used in the Soviet Union, especially the People’s Comissariat for Internal Affairs, better known by its abbreviation in Russian – NKVD.
 The main cemetery in Yerevan at that time.
 A small handgun, used on several occasions in the 1930s in suicide attempts by those who were under imminent threat of arrest.
 An Armenian dish made by cooking flour with a sugar, popular among poor people.
 A compiled version of the epic poem David of Sassoun was published in 1938, comprised of several, actually hundreds, of oral versions, transcribed since the 19th century. The publication in 1938 occurred on the occasion of the 1000th anniversary of the epic’s appearance. The reason for this was that the Soviet authorities wanted to counter “individualist-based” literature, based on a single author’s narrative, to the “people’s literature”, with no authorship, as a way to emphasize that the people are more important than individuals. The epic poems of every nation living in the Soviet Union were collected and published in those times one after another. Hakob Kojoyan, a famous artist, did the illustrations for this jubilee-publication.
 Holders usually made of metal were commonly used in combination with glasses in the Soviet Union to drink tea.
 The main industrial goods shop of Yerevan, the Osobtorg, opened in 1940 on the intersection of Abovyan and Sverdlov (currently Aram Street). For many years it was the main mall of Yerevan. In 2017, the building continues to remain closed for many years for unknown reasons, despite a renovation in recent times.
 Martiros Saryan, the renowned artist, painted the portraits of many public figures in Armenia from the 1920s to 1960s. In 1920-40s, when some of these individuals were prosecuted, their portraits were destroyed.
 This building was built around the part of the church that survived, to protect it from destruction, since the Soviet Union was demolishing all churches if their facades would face streets. Mazmanyan was not actually the architect of this building, but at that time architects often drew versions of the different buildings that were planned to be built, and he could have drawn his own version of that building as well. The Institute was the place for the development of the Armenian language, and many famous linguists, including Ajaryan, worked there. It was destroyed in 2014 and a new church was built there, St. Anna, along with the Catholicos’s Yerevan residence. This was one of the controversial cases where a 20th century valuable historical building was demolished without leaving a trace, in order to rebuild a church.
 The Russian poet Osip Mandelshtam, killed in 1937-38, had written a poem about Shushi in 1931, titled The Carriage Driver with the famous line “Forty thousand dead windows…”.
 A famous Armenian Catholicos (1820-1907). Legend has it he claimed that Armenian diplomacy was defeated at the Berlin Congress (1878) because they only had a ‘paper ladle’ and not an ‘iron ladle’.
 An employee of the CheKa, the abbreviated name of the first of a series of Soviet secret police organizations, established in 1918 by Dzerzhinsky. The word chekist entered the Russian language since then to denote a person working for state security agencies.
 Soviet government and secret police officials posted in Armenia after the death of Stalin.
 The Head of the Communist Party of Armenia at the time.
 Armenian for “chewing gum”
11:57 September 03, 2018