Friday, April 4, 2008

Hatspanian: Spring didn't come. Pt. 2.

This is the second part of Sarkiss Hatspanian's chronicle. My opinion about its authorship is that he probably did write it. It has a certain, unmistakable quality, style-wise, that belongs to the Armenian school of writers in the France of the 1920s and 30s that Hatspanian is no doubt very familiar with. There are passages in his writing, for example, where he strings together present participle, continuous action verbs set in the past that evokes a dream-like quality so distinct that only people with his background could have written it. And as far as I know there are no other people like that there who, on top of that, would be aware of all the details about the war, the protest, and Armenia in general that he as a long-time resident is privy to. So, yes, he wrote it.

But the literary quality not only helps establish the piece's authorship, it puts the piece's status as a chronicle into question. I'm not saying that what it says happened, didn't happen. On the contrary, I don't think there is one made-up thing in there. What I am saying is that, strictly in terms of identifying its genre, you can't call it a chronicle because it is also a work of art. It's a work of art in its plotting, which follows the classical realist novel's progression from an initial, happy state, to something happening that throws everything into disorder, to some meaningful occurrence (the hero or heroine "learns something" as the middle class always likes to point out on yahoo book reviews) that resolves the conflict and re-establishes some kind of stability, good or bad. Hatspanian's anticipates a tragic end, but has to stop with him on the way to his fate because, of course, the piece is a chronicle, too.

It's also a work of art in its characterization: he takes one essential thing about a person and characterizes them that way: the young men saying they'll defend him but being a little naive, ironically so; L.T.P. shown walking with and talking to the people; the soldiers falling on their knees after they're allowed to stop beating (and it's particularly significant that they kill a young man, just like themselves); the shefs, ignorant, mean spirited, and pathetic. The figurative language that it uses sparingly is quite beautiful, too; when he describes the sun dimming, for example (I mean the description is beautiful, not the event, of course), or when he talks about the desire to be freed from the earth where the sacrifice has taken place, an idea which has philosophical implications.
I'm not saying Sarkiss Hatspanian is another, I don't know, Balzac (or maybe he is more than a Balzac--such a judgment can't be based on one short piece), but he has taken a moment in history and pointed out its essential meaning, very artfully and very elegantly. Not everybody can do that, and that is why this piece is special. And again, everything it says happened, happened, and, too boot, he is willing to testify in a court of law.

There is a kind of inspiration in the air, driving Armenians to realize extraordinary things, in politics, in art, and in daily life. Hatspanian's piece is one of its results. And, yes, I think Levon Ter Petrossian has been a key part of this rebirth. The conditions necessary for this Renaissance that is about to flower take a very long time to develop. L. Ter Petrossian is not responsible for them; he, himself, in fact, is their product. What he did do, however, is pull the trigger, particularly through his speeches--just like Obama. The coincidence is rather amazing, but we'll get to that.

On March 1st, Spring didn't come to Armenia -- (pt.2 of translation)

It was around 5:40 AM on March 1st when the Internal Police, who had (likely) surrounded Freedom Square, attacked the people. They were all wearing helmets (casque) and carrying batons in one hand and long, thick shields in the other. Between every five or six policemen was one who was carrying a firearm instead of a baton and shield. The shots that were fired were so chaotic and disorderly, you couldn't understand what their purpose could be. They kept firing tear gas [canisters] at us. They were endowed with gas masks, but [not] the poor people who were doubling-over and writhing on the ground with their eyes closed and streaming tears. And they were beating and beating barbarously the people lying on the ground, beating them to death. In that chaos, I heard someone's voice from afar: "Don't beat [her], brother, that lady is pregnant." The speaker's voice took on an inhuman quality, "Don't hit her, man, the sister's pregnant!" The voice had already turned into an animal's howling; it transformed into an inhuman yelp and suddenly stopped. Motionless bodies lost in blood were lying everywhere. I was on the floor, grunting from the pain of the blows I had received. They had encircled the people (hardly several hundred of them) and were beating them with abandon. The disorderly shots continued intermittently. I was trying to ascertain from the sound of the shots what type of firearm was being used, but I was unfortunately unable. Tracer bullets were regularly flying through the air. The huge, powerful projectors (projecteur) pointed at us from several different directions were blinding the people's eyes.

The peaceful demonstrator's of the gathering were kneeling or lying on the ground with their eyes closed; if they were still physically capable of it, they were swinging their legs or fists in the air.

The blows delivered to particularly the heads of the innocent and defenseless people were so barbarously severe that it seemed hardly likely that they would survive them. They kept beating and beating the bodies lying on their backs on the ground and long-since motionless, delivering blows to their noses, their mouths, their hearts.

Suddenly I heard a voice from afar. "That's enough boys, stop the beating. There are many who've been killed," he shouted. Two of the soldiers who had mercilessly beaten the young man lying just beside me threw down their batons, fell to their knees, and began sobbing. Their batons were completely covered in blood. One of them bent over toward the ground where the kid they had beaten was lying motionless and listened to his heart. In a halting, sobbing cry, he exclaimed, "Listen, man, he's dead. He's not breathing, man. He's died. We're murderers now!" His friends nearby were pulling him away, but he kept on screaming, "We're murderers now, man. We killed a person."

I was lying on the ground breathless and motionless, following the goings-on there with one eye. They were already carrying them away. Mixed in with the screams and the sounds of cars were also the grunts of the barely breathing and severely wounded. Blood has an odd smell to it. The smell of the motionless body beside me, lying on its back and awash in blood was reaching my nostrils. What happened in Liberty Plaza was a massacre, a POGROM [emphasis in original] directed against its own people, ordered and realized by the (illegal) government of the Republic of Armenia. I have been a witness to the massacre and I am ready to testify in any neutral trial (if one ever takes place), in order that everybody in the whole world learn the truth.

"Where is he? Have you found the Frenchman?" Lying on the ground, I heard a distant voice say. I'd closed my eyes. The one asking the question was doubtless one of the chiefs, one raised in corruption to arrive at adulthood with his infantility preserved, used only to reducing his defenseless countrymen to pitiful beings, and ignorant of any moral values or human feelings--a miserable, pathetic "Shef," no doubt.

Fat-bellied, and fat in the neck [big bully], he was a person who lived off of the people, the only one among those tens, hundreds, or thousands of people that was the type of person to whom not even the future of his own children is sacred. I simply felt pity for these "Shefs"; in me, there was only the feeling of pity.

"Find him, man. Find that dog of a French whore," ordered the same voice. Ay, "Shef"-jan, if you knew that I am standing in this plaza, cold, hungry, and sick, for your children, too, for the children and grandchildren of the thousands of government functionaries like you, you would doubtlessly feel ashamed before me and my children. Perhaps you don't now understand, but you are going to understand in a short while, the moral meaning and value of the steps that I have taken.

I was very romantic, living in the inner world of art: I still believed in man, and the Armenian man at that. They say, "Hope dies last." But the last, the end, had already come, and here I was still living with hope. It suddenly occurred to me that those internal army forces who orchestrated this inhuman assault [on us]--must have already killed L. T. Petrossian, too. Yes, without a doubt, the country's elected president had certainly been killed. This was the government's final base act, I argued within myself, believing my supposition. "Wherever people, there a problem; you eliminate the man, and the problem is eliminated." This is how Talaat Pasha dealt with our ancestors in 1915. Now the victim was L. T. P., and the executioners, the (illegal) government.

[Thinking to himself] The end.... If they have killed president Ter Petrossian, then its the end. Armenia will find itself in the Middle Ages, the tyrannous dictatorial order will become permanent, and those who are not even the masters of one-third of the Armenian alphabet will become the rulers of my children. The sun will fade in the Armenian heavens, and the light of daybreak will be defeated by the darkness.

It has come to an end. Yes, it has come to an end, therefore, the chant of hundreds of thousands, "Struggle, Struggle, until the end." L. T. Petrossian's murder was certain. A man who only a short while ago was reciting Charentz in this very plaza and looking into our eyes: "Let no sacrifice be demanded except mine; let no shadow approach the noose...."

My supposition of the government's murder of L. T. Petrossian had turned into a conviction. I was taken over by the desire to be freed from the earth of the sacrifice [the place where the sacrifice took place and its host, in a sense], from everything having to do with earth, and to calmly and easily float up into the sky. It was as if it had all been a nightmare (cauchemar). It was as if my legs, my hands, my head, my whole body were not lying on the floor. I felt lighter in my spirit, and my body no longer felt any was as if I had become a winged creature, flying, like a balloon, an airplane, higher and higher into the sky.

Below was blood, motionless bodies, brutalized people and individuals. The police were grabbing them by the arms and legs and taking them and throwing and pushing them into the cars. All of a sudden, I tried to raise my left arm and began attempting to yell out, "I'm here. The Frenchman is here." Several police gathered around above me. One of them extended his hand to me, and I turned over on my back. I whispered in the policeman's ear, "The Frenchman is not the dog of a French whore, but a man raised on the clean milk of an Armenian mother." I continued, drained of strength, like a condemned man saying his last words, "I know that your 'Shef's are going to kill me. Please tell my little children that this year Spring did not come to Armenia. Their father did everything for it bloom. But, alas, evil was getting in the way of even nature." I was asking the policeman who was staring at me, stupefied, "Did you hear me, did you understand, brother?" He was squeezing my hand tightly and nodding, saying, "Yes." While adjusting myself on the bench, I was sobbing and crying, and repeating with a hoarse voice and halting phrases:

"This year, Spring did not come to Armenia."

Sarkiss Hatspanian

March, 5, 2008
"Freed Warriors"


parisan said...

thank you for this excellent translation; I couldn't read the original in Armenian easily enough.

I am the person who transmitted the original pictures to unzipped -- of course it doesn't mean much to say this on the internet, but I can assure you the text is original.

Once again, thank you.

parisan said...


I meant authentic.

Armen Filadelfiatsi said...

Dear parisan,

You are very welcome, and thank you for transmitting the authentic text to Unzipped. It is a genuine historical document and one with a history of its own, as I mention in the introduction, going back to people like Nikoghos Sarafian, c. 1930, Paris.

It was a pleasure for me to translate, and I hope I did it justice.

Anonymous said...

Well, on the same day LTP gave a press conference and stated that no tear gas was used. Who is lying then? If the author wants to try real tear gas, he can do that in France where police regularly uses it on protesters. The real touching point is on "the pregnant sister." Assuming he is not lying again, what the hell a pregnant woman was doing through the night in the square? Maybe she got pregnant that night?

Armen Filadelfiatsi said...

Well, when the criminal government officials go on trial, and the evidence is presented, we can settle all accounts then, right?

I'm sure you are in favor of that, aren't you?