Category: War

In the Midst of War: Family, Friendship, and Death, an article by Armen Palyan

14/11/2020
Yerevan, Armenia

 

In the Midst of War: Family, Friendship, and Death

In his book, Soliloquies in England and Later Soliloquies, the Spanish-American philosopher George Santayana said the following: “Only the dead have seen the end of war.” With the countless wars humanity has fought and the countless ones that will have to be fought still, it really isn’t difficult to accept the reality captured in Santayana’s sentiment—those possessing the privilege of being able to read what’s written here will at some point or other be exposed to war, if they haven’t been already. The extent of this exposure will vary greatly for each individual and depend on factors that are both completely outside of a person’s control but also very much within: For one, we can’t all choose to be born in Switzerland; at the same time, however, people can exercise agency; they can try building closer relationships with the people who hate them and thereby attempt to prevent an attack, but this has rarely produced results, especially if you reside in a country situated between two nations with whom both borders are closed—the land to the west is the one who committed genocide against you one hundred years ago and the one to the east is hell-bent on “recapturing” the lands on which your people have lived on for thousands of years; to make the situation even more absurd, the land to the west has now decided to help the land in the east achieve their vain ambitions.

That’s precisely the fate my friend, Garik Arevikyan, inherited when he was born on November 7th, 1997, in a little Armenian village called Panik, with a population of just over 2,000 residents. Indeed, it was both Garik’s great fortune and also misfortune to be born on this ancient land, which has seen conquerors of every complexion and temperament; from the raging Mongol to the blond-bearded Russian, back to the stately Roman, all the way down to the mystical Arab. That the Turk—who had almost once conquered all of Europe—likewise, at some point, also made his presence felt in Armenia is, therefore, not a surprise; what’s surprising is that he has come back, attempting to exercise his dominion over this tiny nation yet again. It’s not all bad, however; in the same vein, Garik was born in a country with an incredibly rich history, one which goes back far longer than anything the Turks or Azeris can claim. A quick look at this map showing territories held by Armenia roughly 2000 years ago reveals no trace of either Turkey or Azerbaijan—for the mere fact that the Turks entered Europe a mere 600 years ago, more or less.

I’ve always believed in free will—at the same time, I’ve never questioned the power of fate, of destiny’s cold expression that never changes, even when it’s confronted by the most desperate pleas for mercy on the part of humanity; that’s the world Garik was born into and not just because his birthplace was Armenia but because in the end we’re all, as individuals, bound by this oath—this is especially true for Armenians, however. Looking in from the outside, very few understand our existential struggle. As the great Armenian-American writer, William Saroyan, once wrote: “our wars have all been fought and lost,” (so much for the present) and though we’ve laughed in the face of every enemy, something which allowed us—until this very day—to preserve our ancient traditions and Christianity in an environment very much hostile to them, I’m not sure how much longer we can continue to do it. I think forever sounds reasonable enough and I’ll continue to believe that just to honor my friend, Garik, who made the ultimate sacrifice.

I met Garik in 2017, when I decided to attend my first Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu course in Yerevan. The head trainer (sensei) paired me up with him; at the time, I thought he would be an easy challenger—just a skinny, innocent-looking kid. Before I knew it, he had forced me into submission three or four times in what must’ve been less than five minutes. I was dumbfounded, but it was precisely Garik’s talent that made me fall in love with the sport, which I continue practicing to this day.

Garik’s talent, work-ethic, and determination was infectious—it made a great impression on me. As a white belt, he was already having great success in various competitions, winning the AJP Tour in 2018, previously known as UAJJF Russia National Pro when Garik won it; below is the picture of him with his medal.

It seemed like my best friend never suffered fatigue during training; he was absolutely committed to achieving greatness. His energy was my fuel and when he was called up for military service, I began spending less time at the dojo. I dearly missed my friend and his competitiveness; challenging him was like playing chess with human bodies.

Garik didn’t abandon the principles of hard work, integrity, and honesty when he was sent to serve. In the military, he utilized the grit he had developed during his martial arts training to help him get through the dangers and difficulties of war. He saw his closest friends die around him and said that he was heading into a dark place, stating he had become martaspan—literally translated as mankiller or people-killer. Even strong individuals like Garik, however—built to endure every physical and psychological difficulty—are just people in the end; they’re searching for what we all want, which is love, compassion, and understanding, as this picture shows so well.

After enduring horrors in Jabrail, where he was first stationed, Garik was transferred to Martuni, where he died under rocket fire, supposedly when he was asleep. During his thirty-three days of combat, he described sleeping no more than one or two hours, as the enemy was shelling them uninterruptedly.

My fondest memory of him occurred in December of last year. During a short period of leave from the military, he called me and I invited him to dinner at one of the best restaurants in Yerevan to celebrate our reunion; it was also the last time I saw him. After our meal, I hugged him, not knowing there would never be another chance. Shortly after, he returned to his military duties and I to my civilian ones. I thought of him often, eagerly awaiting his return; I think of him now, knowing it’s not to be.

Garik passed away some time between October 31st and November 1st; it’s not exactly clear. What can’t be doubted, however, is that he died just about a week before his 23rd birthday and less than two weeks before the ceasefire. His birthday on November 7th will now be the most difficult day of my life, not simply because Garik is gone, that his funeral had to be conducted in a closed casket manner, that he leaves behind a sister, his father and mother, but because my own brother, Tigran, passed away on the very same day one year ago. What else can I do but post their pictures here?

What other choice do I have but to live for their memories? I can do nothing else but live for the memories of family and friends. I must do this. Defeat is no longer an option.

 

About Armen Palyan

Armen Palyan was born in the United States but returned to his homeland in order to study dentistry. He divides his time between Los Angeles and Yerevan. This is his first publication.

 

“Quarantine Diaries,” by David Garyan (Day 42)

Quarantine Diaries – Day 42
April 25th, 2020

Trento, Italy

 

Liberation Day

And just like that, we’ve arrived to the day of Italian liberation, but it looks like it’ll be a while before we ourselves will be liberated from this virus.

Things are taking a turn for the better, however; although The Local says that “Italy’s national lockdown is the longest one currently in force anywhere in the world,” some shops and also construction sites can slowly start opening on May 4th, followed by the most important industries that everyone cares about—bars and restaurants, which, for now, have been given the green light on May 18th; that day, I guarantee you, will be no less significant than April 25th. Sixty million Italians will be liberated and subsequently allowed to consume their alcohol in the confines of different spaces—confines in which they’ll have to pay much more for a glass of beer than if they had just bought a six pack at Eurospin.

Yes, someone has to bail out the economy, and, until now, it was never clearer how much, in fact, alcoholics and gluttons contributed to the well-being of society. I, myself, came to Italy for the eating and drinking; it was either that or go to the Samoa, where “Overeating and inactivity are intrinsic to traditional Samoan customs,” at least according to the American Samoa Department of Health.

For the love of God, how do I always go off track? We were talking about the liberation of Italy—I’m completely sure that the American Samoans (hold the Samoans) contributed greatly to that effort; even though the US was late to the party (like they always are).

Indeed, we love to enter wars fought on the European continent behind schedule and then take all the credit. In WWI, we only arrived in 1917, when the war had already been raging for three years; in this entire conflict, we lost approximately 116,000 soldiers; while that was the total number for the greatest country in the world, at the Battle of the Somme alone, the British suffered more than three times as much and the French almost twice the amount. The French and British each regularly lost more than 100,000 men in several battles. At the Battle of Verdun, the French incurred over 300,000 casualties, but who cares about that? The US entered the conflict in 1917—when everyone was already on their last leg (no pun intended)—fought for about one year, and then won the Great War, as the narrative goes—the only thing is that everything except the last part is left out when the narrative is actually presented on the home front, so to say.

Ah, yes, you have to love this land—they win wars on the backs of other soldiers, but I’ll speak at greater length about that on May 2nd, when German forces surrendered to General Vasily Chuikov of the Red Army. The greatest country in the world opened the second front so late (once again only a year before the end of the war) that they didn’t even make it to the German capital—seeing as how global politics are developing, however, I’m sure the US will soon get a third chance to make up for their constant tardiness to World War University.

I don’t know why I’m so bitter lately; this always happens when I talk about history. Indeed, neither Italy, nor the USSR, nor even the US are perfect countries. They all have dark histories, which they try their best to hide through the good deeds they’ve done. Italy, I believe, has enough greatness in not only its past but also the future to call itself a glorious nation. In WWI, it made the right choice and ended up on the winning side; however, they weren’t given all the territories promised to them by the British and French; thus, Italian glory was referred to as a mutilated victory by nationalists; thus, Mussolini heavily relied on the term to create his Fascist propaganda.

When walking in Trento today, I was surprised to see il Duce’s quote plastered right on a building. As you can see, his name has been carved out of the concrete; however, the quote is most definitely his, as confirmed by il Giornale, and it reads: “The Italian people created the empire with their blood, will fertilize it with their work and defend it against anyone with their weapons.” To some extent, I’m of the opinion that a country must come to terms with its history; erasing the name of a guy who said something isn’t really the way to do that, however. In fact, it’s more dangerous than simply leaving it there; before I get into that, I’d like to compare this dilemma to what the US has been doing.

In the aftermath of racially inspired shootings and violence, the greatest country in the world decided to remove statues of Pierre Beauregard, and Robert E. Lee, although the latter, according to NPR, was kept through judicial intervention; the argument was that historical preservation isn’t based on racist foundations. I’m very much torn on this issue. On one hand, it’s important for the younger generation to know these figures—to be aware of their failures and shortcomings so that they’ll have the historical awareness not to go down the same road; on the other hand, exposing people whose ancestors had a connection to such events may cause them psychological trauma. Given that yesterday was the observance of the Armenian Genocide, I don’t know how I would feel seeing a statue of Talaat Pasha, the main orchestrator behind the whole thing, in a main square, or perhaps his words on a plaque—even if his name had been removed, as was done with Mussolini’s statement in Trento. Yes, we should remember history, but perhaps, also, we should remember it in a way that’s less “invasive,” so to say.

Given my love for Italy, I’m not sure about this fascist plaque. The middle road—removing the dictator’s name but keeping the sentiment—is the most extreme, to some extent, because, instead of communicating the danger behind such ideology, white-washing the attribution not only takes the “learning from history” part out of the equation, but even worse, it gives the statement a positive framework. In other words, since many won’t realize who actually said it, the imperialist ideology inherent to the quote is lost—all that remains is the very purported Italian glory that Mussolini used for his propaganda purposes to begin with. Indeed, the whole thing should’ve either been removed or kept just like it was in the first place. No, the removal of his name is the most extreme position in this case because it takes away the context from the message on the wall and thus gives it an “eminence” it shouldn’t have to start with.

I was a bit surprised because the city pays plenty of tribute to its fallen soldiers in WWI and the WWII resistance; among the most notable examples of the latter is Piazza Mario Pasi. Born on the 21st of July, 1913 in Ravenna, Pasi obtained a degree in medicine and surgery from the University of Bologna in 1936. He was captured in 1944 by the Germans and hanged on the 10th of March, 1945 with nine other partisans in what has become known as La strage di Bosco delle Castagne (The massacre of Bosco delle Castagne). The site was turned into a historical park. For his valor, the city of Trento, where Pasi worked as a doctor, commemorated him with this square.

Another area of commemoration is the Piazzetta 2 Settembre 1943; it pays homage to the bombing of Trento by Allied forces on that day. The San Lorenzo bridge was completely destroyed, along with Piazza Dante; about 200 people died and the Italians refer to it as la strage della Portela (Massacre of the Portela); the aforementioned link will also give you pictures of the bombing. I’ve chosen to include a photo of the square which commemorates the event.

Italians are a very proud people and the memories of WWII linger deep in the minds of everyone. Even the young generation strives to capture the maximum amount of glory they can from the country’s heroic resistance. Women played a big part in the effort as well, both in combatant and non-combatant roles. In his article, “Italian Women in the Resistance, World War II,” Dan A. D’Amelio writes: “Although the majority of women partisans functioned in non-combat roles, a significant number had already been in action. Some 300 women had fought alongside of men in the street fighting in Florence when the city was liberated a few weeks earlier. Women had also fought in one of the greatest pitched battles of the resistance.” Women like Clarice Buni Burini even became officers; in this case a lieutenant, she was captured and subjected to the most horrible tortures, receiving a medal for her heroism.

In every major city, such as Bologna and Rome, you’ll find many plaques and memorials honoring the fallen partisans. Sometimes, for me personally, it even comes across as too much, too overbearing—an act of compensation for being on the wrong side the second time around. Seeing the huge monuments in Bologna, for example, I really felt the degree to which Italians take pride in their country and how difficult it really is for them to deal with the past. For almost every WWI memorial, the WWII resistance is commemorated alongside with it; below is an example of such a plaque in Trento.

Walking by the Cattedrale di San Vigilio today, I stopped by the scale model of the city; I felt incredibly small looking at it. Everything is about perspective. Glancing down at the thing, I did wonder: Does the world itself have the same size to someone else out there?

Approximately 75,000,000 people died in WWII; that number is hard to comprehend, but let me try it this way: Take everyone living in New York City—they would all have to perish nine times before the war could be over and I doubt that New Yorkers have the power of cats.

 

About David Garyan

David Garyan has published three chapbooks with Main Street Rag, along with (DISS)INFORMATION, a full collection with the same publisher. He holds an MA and MFA from Cal State Long Beach, where he associated himself with the Stand Up Poets. He is currently studying International Cooperation on Human Rights and Intercultural Heritage at the University of Bologna. He lives in Ravenna.

 

 

“Quarantine Diaries,” by David Garyan (Day 9)

Quarantine Diaries – Day 9
March 23rd, 2020

Trento, Italy

 

American Flu

“Be careful.” That’s what Spaniard José Ameal Peña—the last survivor of the 1918 flu—said about the coronavirus. In the same vein, a witness from the US, Joe Newman, said the following about our times: “There are those of us who say, well, this too shall go away. And it will. But at what cost, at what expense?” When someone is 105 and 107 years old, respectively—you listen to what they’re saying.

I’ve always downplayed the seriousness of this virus for the sake of my sanity and perhaps also insanity, but deep down, I know it’s serious. Maybe the quarantine is messing with my head but it’s all becoming much too comfortable. Sitting at home and doing nothing isn’t really so bad, and that’s what I’m afraid of. As Dostoevsky said in Crime and Punishment: “Man grows used to everything, the scoundrel!” People can get used to all types of adversities and ecstasies, which is good if the changes you must adapt to are permanent; however, getting used to something that’s bound to end relatively soon presents many challenges—the obvious one being: How do I shed this new skin of laziness and get back to my old state—a mobile, energetic individual?

What’s the famous quote that neither Bertrand Russell nor John Lennon uttered? “Time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time.” According to Quote Investigator, the saying comes from a 1911 novel which no one’s ever heard of, written by an author no one’s ever heard of; the novel is called Phrynette Married and the author is named Marthe Troly-Curtin—see, told you.

What does this all mean? It means that neither Bertrand Russell nor John Lennon thought that wasting time was a good idea; only some character in Marthe Troly-Curtin’s novel thought so and whoever that character was, they were wrong.

Suffice it to say—I’ve enjoyed wasting a lot of time during this quarantine and it just came to bite me in the ass. That Geography of the Mediterranean Region exam I had today was harder than expected and my lack of serious preparation might’ve cost me a chance at a good grade; then again, even if I hadn’t enjoyed wasting my time and actually studied for it, I’m not really sure that my proactive attitude would’ve made a significant difference because the exam presented a rather curveball topic, which I really don’t want to bore you with.

Let’s come back to something more interesting, like the Spanish flu, or perhaps even German measles. Over the past few days, I’ve encountered many Facebook posts—by people who can only be Trump supporters, I assume—justifying our president’s actions in referring to the coronavirus as the “Chinese Virus,” based on the fact that other pandemics like the Spanish flu and German measles also refer to a people.

White House officials have staunchly defended their use of the term, despite warnings by the World Health Organization that stigmatizing people in such a way is not only hurtful, but can also lead to violence—something I’ve discussed in a previous entry; the crimes have gone up to such an extent that Asian American groups are starting to compile hate crime reports.

Let’s take the stupidity of our president for granted and leave him be for a second. It’s really the Facebook posts that are driving me mad, especially when they’re made by people from the US. It’s called the Spanish flu not because it originated there, but because the country reported the outbreak, which led to the belief that it did originate there, and this isn’t the case (no pun intended). The Spanish flu, in fact, originated in Fort Riley, Kansas—a fact that’s also corroborated on the official site of the US Army. I say, President Trump, it’s very tempting to call it the American flu, but I won’t stoop to your level, or will I?

I still don’t understand why the Spanish didn’t jump on the chance to insult the US, instead choosing to call it the “French flu,” according to a Time article. It really is surprising, given the brilliant propaganda manufacturing campaigns of William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer (yes, the prize guy), which reported fake atrocities and crimes committed by the Spanish to sway US public opinion in favor of war. This was the birth of yellow journalism, which a hundred years ago was targeted at Spain and has now found a new recipient in Russia. As Allen Ginsberg wrote in his poem, “America,” satirizing such hysteria:

It’s probably irrelevant to mention that the newspaper campaign run by Randolph and Hearst did manage to manufacture the war and that a 1974 Rickover investigation concluded that contrary to Randolph’s and Heart’s claims, Spain was actually not responsible for sinking the USS Maine. But what else is new? The US loves war and has only been at peace for seventeen years of its 239 year history—that’s 93 percent of the time, by the way.

And how about German measles? They didn’t originate in Germany either. The name comes from the fact that in 1814 German doctors correctly identified Rubella (the more common label for the virus) as being something separate from measles or scarlet fever.

Ah, information, knowledge, facts—but who has time for any of that on Facebook? In a quarantine it’s best to sit on your ass and get drunk; indeed, it took a while, but here’s the first picture of the day. Beer or wine? What will I have tonight? To be completely frank, although I look like a 1970’s alcoholic in the photo below, I haven’t touched a single drop since this quarantine dropped on March 9th. It just feels too depressing for any kind of alcohol. Although I rarely drank in the US, Italy did make it hard to resist a glass of Sangiovese or a bottle of Ichnusa in the company of friends. Now, however, there are no friends and all the bars are closed. Good times.

Nevertheless, I keep one bottle of beer (not Ichnusa) for sanity and one bottle of wine (not Sangiovese) for insanity. In Ancient Greece, beer was considered the drink of barbarians, which is something we shall become if this quarantine doesn’t end soon. Despite the general consensus of the Ancient Greeks, it’s always nice to see the same Nelson who wrote the aforementioned book stating that: “Xenophon of Athens is remarkably complimentary about the beer he tasted in Armenia.” Then there’s the strange story of Lycurgus of Thrace, who killed the followers of Dionysus because he either thought them to be effeminate or was himself “temporarily driven mad (or made intoxicated) by Dionysus,” according to Nelson.

If to drink wine is to share in the Dionysian mysteries of madness and revelry, then what does it mean to consume beer and hence become a barbarian? Isn’t it kind of the same thing? All I know is that I don’t want to drink wine alone and I don’t want to consume beer in the presence of Lycurgus, but I’ll gladly drink beer with Xenophon and attend a symposium with Socrates. In a quarantine, however, I neither want to speed up the process of becoming a barbarian nor do I want to have a symposium by myself. I do apologize for the scant amount of pictures today, but last time I checked this was a diary, not a scrapbook.

All the way from quarantined Italy: I may seem crazy now, but in a month everyone here will be no different.

Until next time.

 

About David Garyan

David Garyan has published three chapbooks with Main Street Rag, along with (DISS)INFORMATION, a full collection with the same publisher. He holds an MA and MFA from Cal State Long Beach, where he associated himself with the Stand Up Poets. He is currently studying International Cooperation on Human Rights and Intercultural Heritage at the University of Bologna. He lives in Ravenna.