Aram Pachyan (photo by Umar Timol)

By Aram Pachyan

Translated, from the Armenian, by Margarit T. Ordukhanyan


How does one come back home?

Krikor Beledian


I don’t know how to write about war.  What to write, perhaps—I may be capable of doing that much, but how to write about war in today’s world is an impossible feat, especially for an ordinary writer of average talent who, under normal circumstances, deploys his pen from time to time to produce, for profit, short stories, novels and essays. And so, all word choices, all original meanings of words, all appeals, all attempts to convey something to the world from the dilapidated positions of the universally accepted truths come off as nothing but fragmented recriminations. When there are bombs exploding, everything has a tendency to lose power, especially words: you weigh them, meticulously or flippantly, you read, consider and diligently evaluate them, but you fail to discover in their foundation or surface any fundamental or even shallow meaning, even emptiness.

Words also have their limits, even if they continue to exist.

Get the Mirror in your inbox:

How can the children, women, and the elderly, hiding in bomb shelters of Stepanakert and Shushi from air-raids, choose personal pronouns through terror and despair? How can they find appropriate words and stylistic devices to capture their feelings, their pleas and their fury as they appeal to the neutrality of the so-called “civilized world” while trying to ensure that, in a bid to restore justice, they don’t lose the support of politicians, who, clad in expensive suits, spend their days making pronouncements about basic human rights?

I don’t have the audacity to serve as the voice of Artsakh’s peaceful population, which is being slaughtered on a daily basis, because the same war that has been part of our—Armenians’— lives for nearly thirty years has long rendered me incapable of serving so much as my own voice, has robbed me of my ability to hear and recognize my own voice.

In an attempt to reconceptualize and to revisualize the reality of war, my body and my thoughts seem to be trapped in a whirlwind of order and disorder, in the famous words of Paul Valery, one of my most important and influential teachers. According to Valery, “Two dangers threaten the world: order and disorder.” For many years now, the rigid and lucid order of these lines has bothered me, because order is as real as chaos. In fact, that order is nothing but the reflection of reality’s chaos, which almost always presents itself in the neat guise of a person giving orders—in this instance, to the peaceful civilian population fighting for its only and fragile life in Artsakh, a population that is on the brink of extinction from the murderous rockets built within legal parameters and “appropriate” security demands. So at this point, it isn’t that I am permitting myself to be banal, romantic, sentimental, pathetic, heroic, emotional, blind, furious or distracted—it is that I am all of these things because there is a war. In the 21st century, a sensible attitude towards sensible wars and sensible murders is the worst kind of madness. I must say this in order to codify, right here and now, my right not to treat this war rationally, so that I give myself the encouragement and support that I will need when time comes to defend myself against the


arrows of your criticism, of your weighty opinions, and of the conclusions that you have drawn based on your thorough academic training.

Long before September 27, long before the bloody military actions, with Turkey’s open and direct participation, erupted along the entire Azerbaijan-Artsakh border, everybody was there: the “civilized world,” the UN, the UNESCO. They were all there to watch as the Middle East was devastated in real time, when Syria was leveled in real time, when “freedom fighters,” supposedly acting on behalf of entire nations, slayed authoritarian rulers, when Yezidis were slaughtered on Mount Sinjar, all in real time. International humanitarian organizations were there and are there now, as terrorist Turkey’s Hitleresque Erdogan’s imperialistic aspirations and military actions infringe on neighboring countries’ very existence. “The civilized world” was there for the life transmission of arm sales, of exporting “democratic values,” of redistributing capital so skillfully as to border on the artful. It was the consumer of the live transmission then, and it continues to be the consumer of the live transmission now. For centuries on end, colonizers and conquerors have forced us to do so much, have made us believe in so much that we have  come to confuse them  with the “civilized world.” The fog of confusion lifts little by little once you recognize the futility of your expectations and hopes. Bereft of a way to defend themselves, the Armenians waited in vain for the “civilized world” in 1915 and were slaughtered in their homes and cities, left with nothing, alone with their expectation. A hundred years later, Turkey is attempting to perpetrate another genocide, this time using the “temple” of Armenophobia erected at the state level in Azerbaijan.

But I will stop here and take an unsanctioned road: I am going to personalize the war, I am going to deliberately undermine the notion that the “great calamity” is a shared tragedy, that it concerns everyone. I am not an individualist, I denounce tribalism, and I equally doubt that I would make a reasonable centrist.

I was a creature that never for a day waited for the civilized world. All I was doing was waiting for my father.

I believed that he would definitely cure all of the people wounded in Hadrut and Stepanakert and come back home. The war was in full swing, it was the 1990s. I waited for him for seven years. During those years, I periodically saw a certain man: he would appear in our house, greet us the way my father would, get clean undergarments from our father’s closet, sip coffee in gentle, pensive sips, the way my father would, pack boxes of medical supplies, the way our father would, go into our father’s bedroom, lie down on his bed, exactly where our father would, and then vanish before daybreak, the way our father normally vanished before daybreak. I was assured that the familiar person who occasionally materialized in our house was my father himself, a descendant of displaced Erzrumians, surgeon Hakob Tamamyan, whom I should have recognized—after all, I was his son, one of those thousands of Armenian and Azerbaijani children who comprehended only one thing about war: their fathers’ return. From time to time, that man, whose photograph I had been shown and told, “Don’t you recognize him, he’s your father,” would make his existence known by sending home bullets extracted from people’s bodies, shards of an exploded shell, a Christmas tree made of spent cartridges, an aluminum spoon with “Tsavd tanem*, 1990” scratched into its handle with a needle-tip.

[*a ubiquitous term of endearment, which literally translates into “I will take away your pain.”— translator’s note]

My father would send his patients to our house in Yerevan for post-hospital rest and convalescence; they would stay with us, sharing our miserable days, the pale fire of the kerosene lamp, the barley coffee cooked over heat tablets, the matnakash flatbread, the cool heat of the wood-burning stove. Father’s patients arrived silently, went to bed silently, convalesced silently, left silently, and perished silently. I hated them; I didn’t want them to come. I hated them because if they came, it meant that they would have to leave. I hated them because if they lived, it meant they would eventually be killed. I hated them because if they existed, it meant that the missiles and bullets that killed them existed as well. Why did my father keep sending them? Why did he make me grow attached to his patients, love them—the most mortal among the living—with my heart and soul only so that I could relive over and over again how doomed my love for them was. After all, I didn’t actually hate them.

I kept waiting for my father, even after hearing the news that he had been killed. They said he had gotten buried under the ruins of the bombed hospital in Stepanakert. I continued to wait for him when the news of his death was retracted. I waited for my father when his death was re- announced and then retracted anew. How easily he died and how easily he came back to live! He had completely outdone the biblical Lazarus. As far as I know, Lazarus returned from the dead  only once. My father was a double Lazarus: dying and resurrection were his favorite pastimes, and I kept on waiting. Once a week, my mother, my sister and I would turn on the radio and hear the same voice announce, in the same tone, “Doctor Hakob Tamamyan is alive.” But why should I have cared whether my father was dead or alive? While I kept waiting for him, what significance did words like “alive” and “dead” have, if they had no power to stop my waiting, if they had no means to interrupt my waiting or free me from it. Incurable were my false illusion of rationalizing the war and my feverish waiting that defied the will of the entire world. Later, people kept telling me that the man we remembered, the man who had performed surgeries in the military and field hospitals of Artsakh, was my father, and that he had come back home. I did not recognize the person who’d come home, though; no matter how many times I was told otherwise, I kept looking at him and waiting for someone else.

In our home, he lived out all the stages of his collapse and terrible existence: his compassion, his shame, the habit he had picked up at the frontlines of drowning in drink his pain and the proximity of death, all of his virtues and transgressions. In that house, shovel by shovel, he buried his children and his wife alive, unhurriedly, torturously, and seemingly against his own will. He truly didn’t want it to be that way, but he also couldn’t want it any other way. The father who was merely a father, who in the eyes of the nine-year old boy was a doctor curing people’s pain, who was the best human in the world—the best if only because before leaving for the war he had somehow, unwittingly, “bribed” his son with trifles: he had uncovered for his son the world of books and reading, the magic of evening conversations and the beauty of kindness—was now killing the same child with the soil of death, feeding it to him spoon by spoon, with such solicitude and with such incredible care as to make sure that not a single crumb was wasted.

I know he didn’t want it that way, but he couldn’t want it any other way either.

Nobody comes back from war. The soldiers who fall on the front lines don’t come back. The peaceful civilians—mother and son—murdered, brutalized in their own home in the town of Hadrut, will not go anywhere, they will stay home, disembodied. Those who relive the war and come home neither actually relive nor come back. There is no coming back from war. My father passed away in 2017, in the very same hospital where he had worked for about forty years. In the ICU, with his last breath, he begged me to take him home.

The deceased seemed familiar to me: he resembled the man that I had seen at our house back in the 1990s, and he also resembled the man who never came home from war. That man didn’t belong to Europe’s artificial, money-driven “civilized world;” nor did he belong to the world of Russia’s militant authoritarianism. He was the father of a child, one of millions, who had gone to war and had never come back. In the meantime, his child keeps waiting to this day, while clearly realizing that his father will never return. Nevertheless, he keeps waiting. One must wait only for those who are destined never to come back.

Yerevan, October 20, 2020

Get the Mirror-Spectator Weekly in your inbox: