#ArtsakhPoemsOnHPem | 'Vaspurakan’s echo' (Artsakh trilogy, #1) by Harasharzh
November 23, 2020
Can we expect war to give rise to creative beauty? What is the role of poets in contemporary warfare where sensational media leaves little to the imagination? Do poets still have to bear testimony to war? Stir feelings? Raise arguments? Can war poetry become a path to redefine identity? In "Vaspurakan's Echo," the first poem of the "Artsakh Trilogy," Harasharzh, a young American-Armenian poet, draws answers from history, literature, and the spaces between.
Poet; Writer; Professor
|About the writer||
On Sep 27, the attack on native Armenian lands in Artsakh sent reverberations throughout the Armenian world. With every beat of the slogan Haghtelou enk (Յաղթելու ենք | We shall win), the Armenian spirit fought its existential battle not only on ancestral soil, but also in places as far as Alaska.
In the ensuing days, as the fifth-generation warfare was evolving into a struggle of epic proportions, h-pem received submissions of poems inspired by the dramatic turn of events in our homeland. The poems were not written in response to any specific call from our platform, but rather emerged from a spontaneous quest for eternal truths.
One submission was from a young poet who writes under the pen-name Harasharzh (Յարաշարժ | Forever moving), “an alias within the alias of Liminal Armenian,” an Instagram account which he uses to publicize his “journey through Armenian mythology, art, literature, poetry, and a dash of history.”
Harasharzh defines himself as a diasporan Armenian that took roughly three decades to really connect and immerse himself in his own culture. He submitted his “Artsakh Trilogy” one at a time, capturing the pulse of the nation, as events on the battlefield unfolded with blistering intensity.
“This also marks half a year on since I began the journey of “becoming” Armenian, and I do so in the face of existential tragedy,” he said upon submitting “Vaspurakan’s* Echo,” not sure, if it would be the first in a series of poems or the only one.
The frustration of not being able to connect with his “Armenianness” the way he would have preferred, was evident in Harasharzh's words, as he described his struggle to comprehend the enormity of what he was witnessing at the start of his spiritual journey.
““Vaspurakan’s Echo” was born as a confluence of different factors. Recent events in Artsakh and Armenia have left me speechless on the one hand, guilty on the other, sprouting more hands to feel helpless, angry, frustrated, voiceless... juggling everything and dropping each ball,” he reflected.
I read “Vaspurakan’s Echo,” in one breath, my initial feeling being that of utter astonishment.
Here was a poet who reacted to the Artsakh war, a critical moment for the Armenian nation, by evoking obscure and sometimes worn-out references in Armenian culture, yet spinning them in such a way as to make them resonate in unpredictable and mind-blowing ways.
But first, how did he manage to go beyond the simplified version of events to fuse details from one story to another?
“I am a pattern-based thinker, and in all my research of historical fact entwined with poetry, I concluded for myself that these recent events are an echo of the 5th century Battle of Avarayr: we are a nation that has faced defeat but comprised of people that will never let up. I wanted to blend allusions, subtle and explicit homages, to our poetic legacy: Paruyr Sevak, Avetik Isahakyan, and Shushanik Kurghinian. I wanted to evoke our historical roots in olden centuries, to call upon the guiding nature of water in Mother Araxes, to express my sincere solidarity with the victims and martyrs of Artsakh,” explained Harasharzh.
Having spent my childhood on a frontline during the Lebanese Civil War, reading Varoujan, Siamanto, Raffi, and Abovian to find refuge in my true identity, it was not difficult for me to grasp the influences that shaped Harasharzh’s perspective—each carried with them all the others, so that each expressed that ever-present Armenian legacy.
Torn between the mysteries of the past and the demands of the present, Harasharzh seeks answers to his own questions about war: “I feel so damn frustrated here and now that my people are dying, and I have the luxury to write a poem. The same kind of luxury Yeghishe had after serving Vardan Mamikonian, being defeated, and retiring to priesthood by Lake Van. Was he frustrated, too? What did he think of the following three decades of guerrilla warfare leading to the Treaty of Nvarsak?”
Harasharzh ponders the quandary he is in, as war rages in Artsakh and he is forced to make a choice: “I believe there are two kinds of Armenians—those who wield the sword, and those who hold the songbook,” he muses. “Without the sword, the songbook would have long ago been shred apart. Without the songbook, the sword loses its edge and becomes dull. One needs the other, and this is how I will choose to fight—to hold the songbook.”
The poet's pen-name couldn’t be more fitting! Harasharzh “holds the songbook” to bring back the classic feel of lineage; to give voice to the silenced poets of the past...
The war may not be the only story in his “Artsakh Trilogy.” The narratives may range from the personal to the reflective to the deeply national. Yet, steeped in metaphorical insight, they outlive their time, and redefine the power and purpose of poetry in wartime.
Read “Vaspurakan’s Echo” below
Defeat at Avarayr rings to this day,
sixteen centuries on, a high-pitched peal in
Paruyr Sevak’s belfry—
Mournful chimes buried deep
down the insatiable esophagus of war,
trapped by specks of dust caught in my throat,
floating frustrated by false promises
like stars that hang still in suspense
above Mount Ararat.
How many times can a heart break
before reaching its very atoms?
Smaller pieces than pomegranate seeds,
agitated whenever the bell tolls:
A morning-star of ill-tidings
parading as the sun’s incessant rise,
and deep beneath my limbs, as if under earthen crust,
flows a subterranean river
following Zangmar to Mother Araxes—
She who witnessed Artashes betray Yervand the Last;
She from whom borders and their conflicts form;
Me, one of her 11 million tributaries,
submerged in a languid fume,
insidious provocateur of paralysis:
I am Stepanakert.
I am Shushi.
I am Hadrut.
I am Artsakh.
The century speaks through us,
Expresses itself through us,
Plays music through us,
Loves through us,
Fights through us,
Mourns with us.
Tears dry, anger remains;
Our fists clenched in unison,
ready to pull at the rope by the bell’s tongue.
Can you not hear the sonorous song,
both plea and battle cry
of Dear Armenia?
Defeat at Avarayr made us an enemy to the world;
Always in the goddamn way,
Always making a goddamn racket.
*Vaspurakan meaning the "noble land" or "land of princes" was the eighth province of the ancient kingdom of Armenia, which later became an independent kingdom during the Middle Ages, centered on Lake Van. Located in what is now called southeastern Turkey and northwestern Iran, the region is considered to be the cradle of Armenian civilization.
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With the recent outbreak of war in Artsakh, it is now more essential than ever to learn about the history of Artsakh when trying to understand the intensifying situation. Conflicting reports are widespread, misinformation is prevalent, and individuals with suspicious motives are a constant threat in falsifying the history of Artsakh.
Through h-pem and its efforts to inspire young Armenians to learn and embrace the Armenian homeland and its culture, we provide our readers with a brief introduction into the culture of Artsakh, consisting of some essential “facts you should know.” This series is not intended to be exhaustive and we welcome any suggestions for additions you may have!