Written by Levon Javakhyan
Levon Javakhyan is a modern Armenian short story writer. He wrote the story “Kirva” in 2008. In this story he describes the beginning of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict in 1988 and the sufferings of common people on both sides. This humanistic story stands above any religious, political or national ambitions. Kirva is a friendly addressing mode used to address Azeris and Kurds. In 2010 this story won the peace award of the Baku Peace Centre in the nomination for spreading tolerance and peace in the South Caucasus.
We didn’t go to war: war came to us. Peace and happiness had ruled before then. Happiness was complete at 5 pm. The radio said “Banshr Baki”. We turned it up to the highest volume. What an enchanting channel it was! And then a gurgling came, a sort of heartbreaking, doleful and melancholic gurgling…
“Hey, whose wedding …?”, wondered my Granny Ashkhen.
She wasn’t to blame. They only used to sing at wedding parties in our village. In the meanwhile the gurgling melody bubbled out of the radio, filled the house, got out and floated around the yards and the maidan… Azerbaijan used to walk with wide steps then.
The world was a great state, the USSR. Happiness was a sad mugham, communist type.
The summer heat was slightly blinking on the tile roofs, slothfully raising the sunburnt dust off the tired footsteps, and as Eden hashish the sweet chagrin with sorrowful gurgling was honey flow seeping into our tranquilized brains. We were somewhere on the way to communism…
Our life was a fallacious music tune which was sometimes vocalized by my Grandpa Ashot with his velvet baritone. He would put his hand on his carotid, and the world could hear his mournful mugham. His voice was gurgling like water springs in my Village Shnogh. He had an Azeri friend, kirva, Hasan by name who lived in Airum, a village in Armenia where Azerbaijanis lived. His song took its source from there. Their friendship was real. If my granpa told Hasan to throw himself down the mount, he would do it. But he wouldn’t tell him to throw himself down the mount. He used to take him up to the mount.
It was the February of 1988. There came the time to roll down the mountains.
When war broke out we were not leading an idle life: we were conducting rallies. The war news came before the war itself. Armenians’ pogroms took place in Sumgait. We went up to Tsitsernakaberd with the pictures of 32 casualties in our hands. History repeated itself. Then there were the pogroms in Baku. How long did we have to be slaughtered…? I was working in the Ministry of Education then. Next to our building there was an Azerbaijani theatre which had been idle for years. I took an ax and went to take my nation’s revenge. The administration was against it: as I raised the ax, they pulled it down saying, “You mustn’t do it.” Moscow had taught us so. At first I broke down Moscow’s taboo and then I turned to the door. What a bang it was!… The door squeaked and gave way. The inside was not welcoming with its musty smell that filled the empty hall and seats. I was a little frustrated, unsatisfied. Perhaps like Alexander of Macedon, encountering the Indian Jungles. But he had reached the end of the world, whereas I had just stepped on the theater backstage. The location was too small for our heroic deeds. Only years later did I realize that my battle was merely against a locked door, of which I am ashamed now. But I wasn’t ashamed then. I was a hero then until I came back to the human nature of mine, and the heroic times never came again. Man is generally a hero when he is struggling against evil. But in which army is the evil?… That’s the question…
Blessed is the one who is simply man.
But I don’t consider heroes to be in bliss. Let the fatherland glorify him… My heroes are common people. Real man has no rival boundaries. His fatherland’s boundaries are somewhere near his heart and conscience, and woe to him who breaches these boundaries. Our Kirva crossed the border but he didn’t breach the boundaries. My story is about it.
My Granpa Ashot’s Jeyran, a cow, was unique in our village. No other cows could give so much milk, and no other cows would gore like Jeyran. There was a sea of sadness in her two lake like eyes. She would ruminate her share of grass gazing at the surrounding world with her mournful eyes, and nobody could guess that there might be such rise of revolt in this mournfulness. Late in the afternoon she would come back lowing and heavily rocking her stout body. People would pass by him undisturbedly as they used to pass by a cow. It is difficult to say whether the cow in her was asleep or whether the bull in her was alert at that moment. For a moment she would stare her gloomy look at a passer-by and warm steam rose out of her black wet nostrils. All of a sudden she would lower her head against her breast, stretch her sharp horns forward and attack. Men could somehow defend themselves. God forbid, if the passer-by was a woman. Shame and pain mixed on the hooked horns. The woman fell down with her dress pulled up, and her naked thighs were up in the air. My poor grandpa had lost his sleep. He was constantly compensating losses… He punished Jeyran by hitting her with a stick, but with no result. Jeyran obediently stayed in the same place and stared at her master with a mournful look. After each blow she slightly lowed and stretched her neck to lick my grandpa’s cheeks. The stick petrified in the air… How could Grandpa make that animal comprehend anything?… No, he couldn’t turn to knife. He thought selling Jeyran was the right thing to do. But who would buy that crazy animal? And again Kirva Hasan gave a hand.
“On my word, Kirva Ashot”, said he, “Let me buy your cow Jeyran.”
Pan-Armenian Movement was just speeding up. Anti-Azerbaijani passions were boiling everywhere.
It is hard to say whether Kirva Hasan needed our cow’s lavish milk or her sharp horns. In any case, our Kirva left an initial deposit of 100 rubles and took her to Airum where Azeri’s lived. In the meanwhile, “The time was out of joint.” Our dawns were not peaceful.
The news coming from the borders with Azerbaijan was becoming more and more dreadful. Only my mother was peaceful. She used to say: “Whoever throws stones at you, throw apples and pomegranates in return.” My mother was poetical and lyrical, furthermore, she was maternal….
Airum didn’t belong to Azeris. It was an area in Lori, Armenia, inhabited by Azeris. The Pan-Armenian Movement had reached there. Those were troublesome days. The village woke up with morning dew but people stayed at home like frightful chickens. They trusted in their Gods. We trusted in our God. They read the Quran, and we read the Bible. That was the difference. Personally my belief is a bit different. I believe in God, not in the way it is written in the Book but in the way He exists. He is the Peacemaker, Almighty… People had lost the Peacemaker. Meanwhile the country was in resentment. New idols spoke up who enjoyed exceptional popularity and love. God is love but love is not God. The opposite of love is hatred. Together they were creating a fight, and people were “enjoying” it.
If people hadn’t divided the God, they wouldn’t have divided His sons as well.
That night my grandpa changed seven drawers. Closing his eyes he saw the same nightmare, and felt feverish when he opened them. The bed was wet with cold sweat. His drawers stuck to his body and he chattered his teeth involuntarily. Cold threatened to get to his bones.
“Ashkhen”, my grandpa was groaning, “Get me dry drawers.”
“Again?”, reacted my half asleep granny.
…Squad Kaitson was there when his eyelids were down again: Avetants Pasho, Petnants Koto, Mrjanants Shalo, Trtmanants Giko, Grap Osan’s Purchul, Azaronts Vahan, Inanants Kamsar, Hansants Miso, Chichil Piliz, Hwbosants Gevo, Boshants Samat, Chichonts Suro, Iritsants Tato, Javakhants Javahir and others were attacking. Airum was in smoke and on fire. Chichil Piliz had overturned the canvas roof of UAZ Willis and protruded the machine gun barrel which began firing at the houses. The naked village began rising instead of raising their hands. Like in a fairy tale they were rising as if on a flying carpet they were going up trying to hide themselves in the clouds. But there was no rescue in the sky either. The houses were being tossed among the clouds and they collided into one another as if they were in a huge sieve. The houses were big, and people were small…
The big houses remained in the sieve and the people were dropping out of the holes and piling up in a heap. In that heap of people the innocent were the sinful. The heap was like a movable ant-hill.
“Ashot, Ashot” a voice came from that heap. It was Kirva Hasan strangely riding on Jeyran. He was creeping out of small insect like people. He was not alone on Jeyran. All his belongings and family members were with him. Hasan was whipping the cow to go but she wouldn’t… She was looking at him with her bent neck and a big yearning for something in her eyes and mooing like a calf having lost its mother.
The rising sun rays were tickling my grandpa’s nose. He was involuntarily touching his nose, murmuring something unwilling to open his eyes.
“Ashot, Ashot…,” his eyelids were heavy as if they were riveted with bitumen and wouldn’t split. But the voice was unpleasantly drumming his tympanic membrane. He couldn’t realize where its source was. Was it coming from that human heap or from this window? However, little by little, his opening eyes could distinguish the light source.
“I say Ashot, they’ve come to see you…” That was my Granny Ashkhen, who had gone out into the yard to do her early sweeping.
Rubbing his eyes unsteadily Grandpa said, “What’s up?”
“He says he has news from Hasan,” said Granny.
That was something he didn’t expect. He threw the blanket aside and came to consciousness immediately. In no time did he get dressed. Avetants Pasho was quietly smoking under the mulberry tree. He was the commander of the village fedayeens. He looked as if he hadn’t shaved for centuries, a hajduk who had just come out of the forest. His face was covered with thick beard and moustache. He was lighting another cigarette after he had smoked one.
“Have good news?”, asked my grandpa hesitatingly.
“Last night we made the Azeris evict from Airum…”, Pasho was calm. He was holding the lit match under the cigarette. His rough hand palms were protecting the shivering light from the front breeze. He was quiet and thoughtful, as if he was doing the most serious work in the world.
“I saw your Kirva Hasan on the border of Sadakhlo, ” uttered he at last, and meanwhile, my grandpa was listening with bated breath, “they were all moving, old and young, with all their belongings…On seeing me he came up to me begging desperately, “Kurban olum, Pasho jan, bu para verasan manim kardash Ashot…I’ll be your sacrifice, Pasho jan, give this money to my brother Ashot.”
Pasho put his hand into his breast pocket. It was a bundle of fifty red Soviet ten-ruble bills carefully wrapped in a sheet of paper. We guessed it was the rest of the payment for the cow… But my grandpa refused to guess. He stood baffled not knowing: to take it or not? He didn’t know which pocket to put it into… He was taking it out of one pocket putting it into another, and then out of one and into another…That money was certainly not to my grandpa’s liking… Then some years later a great inflation of the ruble took place. But great enough as the inflation was, the Soviet ruble already didn’t have the same value in my grandpa’s wrinkled hands.
The English translation by Yura Ganjalyan
Pietro Shakaryan, a PHD student at Ohio University, has written the following comment on this story: “This is an excellent and beautiful short story about friendship and humanity and the challenges that war and ethnic nationalism pose to harmony among nations and peoples. It is heartbreaking to see how a conflict can tragically change relationships among people simply due to national differences. The story is especially powerful because it illustrates all this from the perspective of the average man. It is a great work and the English translation is fine! Javakhyan is a great writer and this work conveys a strong sense of humanness (человечность).”