The Traveler and His Road


Gostan Zarian

Artwork by Samuel Hickson

Anatolia is in flames. Europe is exhausted and on the brink of collapse.

Orphans, refugees. Ghastly wretchedness piled up on the banks of the Bosphorus. Broken people in the streets with horror in their eyes.

Uncertain news from Armenia. I don't understand anything.

I returned late in the evening. The Turks are giving strange looks. They're not talking out loud. They're not walking in groups.

I stopped by the ruins of the city. Darkness. The sky was painted black without a single star. I have a strange premonition. There is something restless in the air. Spirits are also dark.

The sound of footsteps from a distance. They stop for a moment and turn around. I must have scared him.

Even the new landlord is not singing tonight. Only one room is lit. It's as if the street has curled up in one corner of the sky. I too have curled up in an equal amount of space in this darkness. Something has frozen in me, the muscles in my arms are tense, my head feels heavy.

I quickly return home.


Every day new memories awaken in me.

Our loss is so enormous that it is impossible to write about. We all have a great desire to forget. Yesterday was blood and fire, today is uncertain, tomorrow is unknown.

Those who returned are silent. They are silent so that they can live. But on their faces is the stamp of hell. They speak voicelessly, they laugh without joy, they move mechanically.

From the gait of the stooping man in the street and from the particular way he moves his arms, it is possible to discern the type of misfortune weighing him down. The different lines on his face, the uncertain glimmer in his eyes, the freezing of his brain in the middle of a sentence are all typical expressions of deep grief, of incurable wounds.

We were fluent in the original book of psychology.

Now nothing is comprehensible. The expression of an entire people has changed. When the open sea surges, no sign of it is visible on the shore. What is terrible is that everybody is hiding it, everybody wants to forget and live the way they were supposed to live had the catastrophe not happened.

Even up to the point of wanting to live happily.

I recall 1904 in Baku. For three days I stayed hidden in a Tartar neighborhood with defenseless families. Outside they were shooting, beating, destroying. A few times the mob tried to enter, but we were saved thanks to the Kazan Tartar gatekeeper. When, on the third day, after sleepless nights, it was announced that the struggle had ended, I ran to the city center, full of mad joy, skipping over corpses lying in the streets. Soon after, a group of men appeared before me playing zurnas and drums. They walked down two or three streets and then stopped, confused, they hid their instruments, and turned back, downcast, silent, and grave.

Again a deep grief and fear has enveloped us.

That is what today feels like.

Those who are no longer with us, had they lived, would do the same. They would have to create new opportunities for passion, for an urge to live.

When the world war began, with minds full of hope, we built restless beehives like wild bees.

Amazed and even a little dismayed, poor Shahrigian was watching Varoujan sitting on the editorial desk of Freedom Struggle and shouting, "Long live the war!"

Kegham Parseghian was translating the latest telegrams and announcing them to us out loud.

Siamanto was working on future plans.

Armen Dorian, a gentle and sensitive poet, had abandoned French literature and come to join our Mehian movement at the very last moment.

As for me, I was sending out a "call to arms" from my "mehian."

From one inspiration to another, from one abyss to another, we somehow live falling down. A fire dances around us and the seas groan.

They all went and died. How they died, no one knows. And yet, all of us know, because everything happened in our hearts.

I shudder when I think about how they died. How did Siamanto die? He was so afraid of death and so in love with life.

Varoujan, Ardashes Harutiunian, Kegham Parseghian...

Kegham Parseghian!

There are people greater than him, more talented, more fortunate to live on in memory, but there is no one closer to my heart.

A melancholy Peer Gynt, in whom fantastical adventures had turned into intense melodies. On the other side of the seas, an uncertain Solveig had given him a sign and sung with the sun setting behind a hill.

Kegham lived in gentle awe, silently dreamy.

He loved the arts with great anxiety, with that special sanctity of the mind's feudal lordship, just like genuine monks who love Madonna's memory and solemnly worship her inspiration.

His gestures had something restrained and abstinent about them. At their most extreme, they were pleasant, and at their least, they conveyed a restrained virtue.

Just like all real poets, he considered art to be a type of providential yoke, a great grief and deprivation, a curse. And that is why he got angry, why he despised anyone who, with the conscious sacrilege of a fornicator, approached literature lightly, shamelessly, with the wolf whistle of a "song to the flesh."

From his pitiable trip to Paris he had brought back the depression of autumn leaves falling in the Jardin du Luxembourg, the magic of Verlaine's quavering lines, the unfortunate nobility of Baudelaire, the misery of song, and the golden memory of unbridled new poetry taking wing.

There was a noble topsy-turviness in Kegham's poverty. Gold spectacles, black clothes, worn gaiters over his beaten shoes. Love for coffee shops where one could talk about literature. Hatred for the bourgeois, pharisees, and one-sided partisans. He had a good laugh: kind and boisterous. With the naivety and sincerity of a believer.

He resisted the sway. His anxiety for the arts was so great that he couldn't find the courage to write as he could have done. He was always preparing. He saw big and imagined wide. He was afraid.

He did all the proofreading for Mehian, and with what love! Arguing over articles, running to the printer, creating brand new sources of inspiration. He believed. During the fight against countless enemies, he placed himself within their ranks, and informed on the secret steps of adversaries and on the raids of false friends.

He believed.

The informed youth in the provinces were on our side. Fights were taking place around our ideas in distant cities. Dull officers had prohibited our paper in some schools. Famous literary scholars looked at us, deeply despised us and yet didn't have the courage to express themselves. Victory was near.

It was near.

Kegham Parseghian, with his gold spectacles and dirty gaiters, walked over scorching desert sands, and who knows what sort of horrible death he died.

And he never reached the Solveig of his dreams who had given him a sign and sung a song with the sun setting behind a hill.


We are trying again today. We are gathering coal lumps still burning with Armenian spirit from underneath the ashes. Like poor village women we are again looking for wheat ears in harvested fields.

Partsravank: a self-contained attempt. An observatory in a burning forest. We are looking.

Under the ruins of the extinguished fire, puddles have remained and frogs have been born. Cretinous wordmongers, now turned unrestrainedly shameless after the death of the best, howl from Stambul to Pera. The smell of corpses is still in the air. Drunk people spew out of cheap coffee shops in this now futureless world.

Everything is dying.


They are saying that there are brutal clashes between Greeks and Turks in Anatolia.

The Greeks are winning.


The House of Arts is engaged in its own internal arguments.

The outcome of H. Tumanian's coffee table... The so-called intelligentsia came, met, gave speeches, made promises, "This is how it should be, that is how it should be," then a few of us went into his room, he cursed these, he also cursed those, and told vivid anecdotes until dawn... Turns out that he himself is the hero: he had understood everything a long time ago, but, as you can see for yourselves, there is no one who will listen to him.

A few days later, in honor of the Greek College, a matinee was organized for the poet, and someone read Oshagan's speech. The handwriting was unreadable, but the criticism was concise and ruthless. It lasted an hour. The poet was on edge. He replied. He talked about the past, about future hopes, he shrunk a little, swung the censer of modesty, and no longer said a word about the House of Arts.

From that day on, Siruni would no longer find rest. He locked himself up in his room during the whole war. Naturally, he now feels the need to move. He uses up his suppressed resistance and tenacity. He fights against leftover enemies, reconciles adversaries, appeases the arrogance of a few ignorant and conceited actors. He has found a way to communicate with the musicians, he whispers secret things in the ears of the poets, he inspires the painters with great hopes, he casts forgiving smiles at the sophist artists who have come from the Caucasus, he cultivates familiar ties with the bourgeois club. In short, he does incredible things.

Here, however, everything is panoramic, everything is a performance and spectacle. We are devoid of content. Attempts were made to find a point of unification, in vain. We are satisfied with coffee tables, demonstrations, and plays.

We are celebrating Molière. We are hosting a reception for Charles Diehl. We also celebrated the twenty-fifth anniversary of Tourian's passing.

As always, in the presence of the patriarch, surrounded by a procession and boy scouts.

It was good.

The celebration was supposed to begin at Tourian's grave; therefore, to be on time in the morning, it was decided that the core of the House of Arts should spend the night in Scutari at the Berberian School.

Painters, musicians, literary critics... They lay down in the spacious bedroom of the school, they remembered the days of their childhood, they made jokes, they told stories.

I went in the morning, and they had just started getting dressed. Someone naughty, as was the custom, had mixed up everyone's clothes and shoes. Painter Terlemezian was trying on a shirt that was too small for him. Suni was looking for socks. Another was looking for his shoes. Everyone was in a good mood, laughing and joking around.

And then the ceremony began. The patriarch came to read the liturgy and the church was full. Flags, wreaths, music, and processions to the cemetery from street to street. Many people. All the people from Scutari were there and many people had also come from the city. Speeches, recitals.

In the afternoon to Pera, to the Theater des Petit-Champs. Filled to the brim. Clapping, enthusiasm. Speeches, recitals.

Unbelievable sights after the celebration of the creation of the Armenian alphabet.

I recalled poor Zavarian.

I had returned to Arnavutköy from the church in Kumkapi and was rushing back to the city to be present at I don't know what party. I met Zavarian on the ferry. He was emotional, very angry. I was surprised and started talking about the celebrations. He got extremely angry:

"Idiots. Do they understand what they're doing? The Turks will respond to these protests with a massacre. Yes! I can feel it. I'm convinced that they'll respond with a massacre at the first opportunity... History taught us nothing, we'll be the victims of our big mouths..."

And like that the whole way. When we got to the bridge, he first looked for an island ferry. He wanted to go, to run away, but he was out of breath, he couldn't stop himself. A little later he changed the subject, shook my hand, and quickly walked away.

The next day I read in the papers that he had had a heart attack and collapsed near Taksim.

And he, too, was given a grand funeral...

Today I'm thinking with dread: Is it possible that it'll repeat itself?

The Scots, with their bare thighs and triumphant gait, pass through the city. The warships stand menacingly.

Europe is present.


How important it is to run away from Constantinople, to defeat Constantinople!

I dream of being with shepherds on one of Armenia's mountains and living, for at least one year, a primitive, contemplative life.

To forget everything, to throw aside my civilized outer garments, to be the only man in front of the whole world, and watch the stars and listen to space with the eyes of a child.

Return! But return where? Where are we from, my eternal travelers of thought?


Very often during my rounds, I stopped to listen to the Armenian spoken by the young men on the street.

How beautiful, how supple Constantinople Armenian is!

It's light, uplifting, trembling like the sharp sounds of a violin, beautiful like a woman's veil in which the moon has trapped tiny butterflies. The adjectives glide forth like rowboats to the verbs, which are almost still, and watch the fading view from the beautiful shore.

Its sentences are musical and harmonious. Like Neapolitan songs, they come alive at the edge of the lips, wrap themselves in the mouth, turn over near the throat, caress the palate, and come out as a light moan.

It's plastic and fluid.

It doesn't have a single military stress. No organic unity whatsoever, no light, but the playfulness of light, no sea, but the rippling of waves. Here the word does not attach itself with the sharp teeth of the mind like it does in the Araratian language. It's not a stick stuck under the shoulders of ideas; instead, it's a lightly whirling sign or invisible smoke wafting over a fire.

Like the light Venetian satin worn by Cilician queens, the words gently squeeze the harmonious body and fall to the ground in long folds. They play under the breath of the passing breeze, they glisten in the restless fires of torches, they caress the ornamentation on palaces, they ripple on the silver helmets of knights who have arrived from the West.

Constantinople Armenian is sweet. It is not a fruit; it does not have the natural, juicy, and immediate flavor of thoughts.

Made with long, thin, gentle fingers and with spices from distant countries, it is tasty. It is served on gilded plates with ivory spoons, and you don't know whether to eat it or look at it.

The word rings and stops with a beautiful smile, and then, like a dancer, she spins on the tips of her toes, spins again, and greets. A flock of adjectives enters unnoticeably and transforms the backdrop on stage into a thousand shapes under artificial, colorful lights.

Violins moan under velvet bows while reed pipes sing doleful songs. Caucasian spectators watch from above and with their sharp fangs rip apart verbs like wild apples.


I need to go to Armenia.

How far it seems and how incomprehensible! Between us, there is Asia Minor crackling in the fires, there are countries that were trampled on by opponent armies, there are howling warships on the shores. And between us there is an immense moral abyss, unbelievable piles of collapse, bloody rivers turned to mud, and muddy hills heaped on top of corpses.

The glass needs to be drunk bravely until the end. Being Armenian is not easy. In the hands of Providence, who knows what sort of secret weapon we are and what sort of shadows we were called to illuminate on this planet.

The century rips apart distances like a dreadful screw. We watch the collapsed horizon from an involuntary, rudderless ship.

We go over roads turned dusty with grief, and no one is waiting for us.


The Greeks are losing.

From the top of Çamlica, the Armenians, with dread in their eyes, are contemplating Asia's restless lands.

Secret meetings are taking place in Turkish quarters.

On the top floor of one of Galata's newly built houses, Soviet Armenia has opened up a trade office.

The Armenian soul is announcing the price of caviar and oil to half-dead refugees who fled from burning provinces.

Ararat has planted itself on top of a spelt factory advertisement, and Noah's Ark is transmitting Marxist literature.

Questionable people staggering into the coffee shops of Taksim suddenly wake up at the smell of circling dollars and swarm around desks offering the final groans of a dying world.

With the smooth face of an unsuccessful actor, and tightly holding onto the edge of his seat, slipping from under him, a man is selling importance and cultivating the fear in his heart like a melon.

This office looks like the chain of a big store that opened up in the provinces. They are quickly selling everything, like people who are afraid of some unknown danger.

The keys of the machine that should type out the earthquakes of my world have been relegated to tapping out satanic accounts: terrible fires, massacres, earth-shattering horrors, and ruins that annihilate people have made space for an organized "revenues and expenses" page in regular business ledgers.

Country borders dance like snakes. Cities turn to dust. The axis of the world spins idly like a madman. People are fleeing, seas are howling.

But here, everything has turned into minute arithmetic.

On the American desk, next to a suspicious business card, the bust of Engels is selling shoe polish while Kumkapi's patriarch, with his Assyrian nose hanging over his beard, has turned down the corners of the nation's mouth in front of a piece of cheese made by Molokans.

Behind simple business transactions, telegraph wires are plotting against governments and whetting knives in mosques.

Pera is watching and envying.


Every day there is ominous news.

The Greeks are retreating. The Christian population, trampling over the ashes of burned-down villages and flags that were tossed aside, is fleeing to seashores where no ships come by.

Thrace has bent over its head and is waiting for the gallows.

Izmir is living its last epic medieval scene. It's burning along with all its wealth, standing frozen before European warships. Instead of cannons, one can hear the clicking of photo cameras.

Christians are fighting around churches. Bell towers are falling in the fires and casting deep moans before the silence of radio stations in Paris and London.

Turkish forces are ruining Europe's honor.

Like a wrathful dragon, Asia extends its neck towards Constantinople and lodges its fangs in the medals of the English commander.

The allies will leave the city.

The Armenians have dug up fezes in the dust.


Stambul maintains a mysterious silence in the mornings and turns noisy at nights.

Apprehension trails along under the walls of coffee shops.

Prostitutes spew out their political convictions.

Newspaper editors prepare for their flight, buying the latest ominous headlines.

Armenia's government has planted a fez on Ararat's summit. The Armenian patriarch is restlessly pacing his room and chewing on his abacuses.

Groups of people on the street are looking at the sky confused. Shop owners are selling products for the cheapest price. Everything is either running or flowing.

Inside homes, hearts are pounding against walls and angry hands are sinking into the depths of trunks, preparing bundles of silver spoons and worn paper money.

The paw of the bear has struck the hives of the schools. Male students are looking for points in geometry books and female students are feeling stomach pains.

An operetta troupe is serving laughter from the bottom of its heart to the clutches of fate at Beyler Garden. The spectacle is still going when the approaching howls of a Turkish mob are heard from a distance. The people are fleeing, while the actors, crouching in the corners of faraway streets, are extending their broken hearts in the dark.

Everyone awaits massacre that night.

We sit with pistols arranged on tables. The ear magnifies everything like a radio loudspeaker. Whispers take on the form of definite footsteps. Darkness wanders.

The sun looks at yellow faces in the morning. So far everyone is alive.

In front of embassies, permits are knocking on the doors of distant countries. Corinth is open, Maritsa has crumbled its bridge, Poincaré is counting the money of the Germans.

The Sultan has bad premonitions: he is buying hashish and secretly negotiating. Armed men are passing from the Dardanelles to Thrace, and because of the delay of the Orient Express, the jam that Tokatliyan ordered from Paris has gone bad.

Ships still stop in front of the Bosphorus, but they are afraid to move on to the Black Sea.

Constantinople does not welcome refugees.

Sailboats filled with human beings and their belongings stop like beggars on the shores of various countries and leave cursing.

The Turkish mob, now furious, is rallying in the streets, smashing windows and people.

The Scots, always with bare thighs, are on parade in front of funereal gazes.

The Soviet Armenian office has raised a Soviet flag. The price of caviar has dropped.

The patriarchate is making requests: they're haggling, even though the stock exchange closed long ago.

The first secretary of the British embassy has been having a tête-à-tête with the patriarch for seven and a half minutes. Papers have raised their hopes.

The national authorities are upside-down: they are demanding unpaid taxes and money for permits.

The people of Scutari have gone down to European shores. Yeghia Demirtchipashian's hanging head is looking with horror at the deserted village.

The whistles of ships shake houses.

Hearts sway in the rowboats of the Bosphorus.

People stumble towards Galata and run back confused. The station has been turned into a mosque. Everyone is praying.

Worried eyes look for shelter on thousands of maps. Ship companies are happy and sailors are doing small business.

I'm going to Armenia.

translated from the Armenian by Nairi Hakhverdi