By Cristopher Gor Patvakanian
When I was a junior in high school, I wrote an essay about Philip Zane Darch, the first soldier from my hometown, Watertown, MA, to die in World War II. Darch was just 18 years old when he lost his life defending the United States in Pearl Harbor, and his bravery, sacrifice, and patriotism was an inspiration to me for the rest of my life. He was someone who answered the call to action, and was willing to die for his family and country to be protected and safe. In short, he was a hero. Years later, I guess it was fate that I’d meet another hero like Darch thousands of miles away, in Yerevan, Armenia, during the summer of 2018. And that hero was Senior Lieutenant Gevorg Arshakyan.
I had the honor of meeting Gev, short for Gevorg, before he became Senior Lieutenant Arshakyan, when we were both volunteering at the Aurora Prize for Humanity. Aurora Prize is a humanitarian organization recognizing individuals for humanitarian work, and gives awards on behalf of the survivors of the Armenian Genocide. The bar for becoming a volunteer with Aurora Prize is honestly quite high, and looking back, it’s not a surprise I met Gevorg there. From the first day, I knew he was different from any other person I had ever met. My first impression was pure amazement at just how well he spoke Armenian. And when I say he spoke Armenian, I mean he spoke the purest, cleanest Armenian I had ever heard – no use of Russian/English terms or slang, which is quite honestly rare. I remember he even wanted to change the culture of using the word “okay” in Armenian to using ale (ալէ), which was an acronym for “everything is good” (“ամեն ինչ լավ է”). From thereon, the more time we spent together, it became very clear his command of Armenian was only one of many remarkable things about Gev.
It turns out Gevorg was not only studying philosophy and law at his beloved Yerevan State University (YSU), but also receiving a third degree from the Vazgen Sargsyan Military University, which is the Armenian equivalent of West Point. I’d never met anybody who was so well versed in multiple disciplines, not to mention very dedicated about serving in the military. Gevorg told me that he believed Armenia needed intelligent, passionate people to serve and make the military better. It was very different from the usual attitude of people believing they were too smart or too valuable to fight in the army. Gevorg was the kind of upstanding citizen who truly lived and practiced the values he spoke of.
And in that short summer, I had the pleasure of spending time with Gevorg not only volunteering, but bonding and discussing any and all topics of life. Gevorg had a level of maturity years beyond his age and such honest character, and it was just unbelievable. That’s why so many people gravitated towards him – we all admired and aspired to be even a fraction of the kind of person he was. Conversations with Gevorg lived up to his personality; they were one of many places where his intellectual curiosity and grasp of philosophy and law shined. He could talk about anything and impart wisdom – making cunning arguments, and drawing from life experience or philosophical theories as if it were second nature. It was a blessing that we turned out to be neighbors, and we would often come home together after volunteer shifts and hang out around the neighborhood, having chats for hours under the streetlights of Papazian Street.
That summer, Gevorg was finishing up his final year studying at the military university, but until he graduated and was deployed, he had some last weeks to spend with his friends and family. That we got to spend time together before he would go to serve for two years meant a lot to me, because I knew he had an endless number of friends and loved ones to pass the time with. A few of our best memories included getting autographs from Henrikh Mkhitaryan, watching the World Cup soccer games, and visiting his favorite Yerevan State University. Something I noticed was that every time we would hang out, so many people, at least 5-7 each day, would recognize Gevorg and stop him to catch up. One of our mutual friends told me, “Oh this is completely normal, get used to it if you’re going to be spending time with Gev.”