The Prayer of Death Making Me Live
Their death is an immortal ‘horovel’
An invitation to Fatherland…
For me taking an oath has always been a sanctimony. Christianity also rejects it, even up to the extent of curse. In my early childhood, when I was playing with children of my age, I hadn’t yet read the Holy Book. I remember that since then I haven’t made a vow. “Swear that you didn’t do it…”. “I didn’t do it, believe it or not”.
My childhood is full of such memories. Surely then I couldn’t explain why I wasn’t swearing, but I remember that I felt offended when they requested an oath from me. And so I never swore in all my life. I never took a vow in the National Unity Party as well.
What vow? Life has been granted to me once, as to anyone else on earth. I can surely say that it even smiled at me: I was the junior offspring of a multi-member, safe family, the favorite son of a large dynasty. Whereas I had refused to have all this and asked God for “non-personal happiness” and instead was granted life of a Soviet political prisoner - perhaps the most inhuman and humiliating life on earth that an ideological fighter could have. The choice and the decision I had made were already an oath for me. More than an oath… And could it be that the sinner in soul shouldn’t sin in deeds for he has taken an oath? My struggle was not a war, but a duel, which, if accepted, no reason for taking an oath.
From a childish game up to an ideological struggle-no matter in what circumstances you take an oath, you unwillingly appear in the role of a suspect, which, by swearing, endeavors to dispel the doubts of the man standing in front of him. Whereas I have never felt myself a suspect and in this very matter I have never considered the trouble of dispelling his doubts to be mine.
My principle of not swearing in different circumstances has probably given rise to various mentalities, but life in its turn gave me cause for recurring to the actual power and importance of a vow when most of the sworn members of the National Unity Party under the pressure of instigating actions of the KGB in a self-denying way begged pardon for all those things for which they had sworn not in the remote past. Here is what I read in a letter received from one of them, “For us there is no otherArmeniabut the Soviet Armenia”. I read it and recollected the text of an oath of our party by the inspired and fervent reading of the author of this letter, “I swear to You, Armenian people… I swear…” What to do? I don’t blame him… It was a sort of realization- “by vow in return for a vow”. In the Holy book it runs for such cases, “But each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed” (James 1:14).
Thus, life proved once and for all that it’s not vow that makes a person reliable or makes him void of the non-acceptable.
As to taking an oath, my instinct, I may say, had initially worked right. But in the life I had chosen, in freedom and more in non-freedom, there were some principles and approaches that still needed to be defined more precisely, to be refined shaping my biography, in which for the time being all the times of my life were present-even my future, as we are the consequence of our “selves”, our road built from each step. I mean heroism. Was what we did heroism? Time will speak about it. But we, together with our fight, had taken upon ourselves the image of a hero. For me that hero was the one whom, though gone ahead with my life, I remember each minute, forgive and miss. Perhaps in this way everything, that man creates, gets materialized and detached from him. Getting materialized… Here is one of the reasons of my memoirs. I said-“I forgive”. Most of all I have this opportunity connected with my haughtiness of the prison years, the only manifestation of which was my heroism. I was taken to the punishment cell, and I was singing (perhaps there is no struggle without pietism). There I was severely tortured, and I was proudly keeping silent (Wasn’t I a hero?). Something essential was missing. I needed something important. Indian author Tagore says, “I throw aside my pride to judge with my knowledge and ability what is good and what is bad”. Now that time had come for me. And when I was already an “experienced” jailbird, I threw aside my pride and found the… prayer.
From dawn to dusk I lived like the one uttering a prayer, but there was no prayer inside me. The instinct of a Christian that since childhood had been guiding me to reject a vow, took its next step in my rebellious, fugitive, searching nature. I discovered with joy the need of my soul, and at the very time Mahari’s prayer about the years of living in the orphanage fell into my hands.
Now, when I should go to bed,
Jesus, I shall pray to you,
My Lord, forgive all my sins,
If I don’t wake up again,
My Master, let me come to You,
This prayer, flooded with the belief of children, who had narrowly escaped from Genocide, at first seemed to make me exhausted. But gradually I realized that it was the peace of my soul. Every night, before falling asleep, those orphan children were actually not swearing that they loved God, but they were praying in his name. “If I don’t wake up again...” . I wonder what those naïve children felt while uttering those lines? Were they aware that the matter was about death? Their non-awareness seemed to me the wisest thing on earth. And I was carried away by prayer.
It was the very period when the KGB was completing the process of extorting pardon from the members of the NUP, and the pressure exerted on me in the camp had considerably increased. Every morning the camp radio announced, “Convict Markosyan, go to the inspectors’ room”. My visit was followed by the actions aimed at breaking me down: punishment cell, deprivation of meetings and shopping in answer to my “impertinent behavior”. The hero inside me had thrown away his pride, but, nevertheless, he never got dispirited. It even didn’t come to his mind to accept the KGB offer to replace detention with going abroad, as he considered the act of being deprived of Motherland a more ferocious punishment.
And in the evening, when I stayed alone with darkness, I lit the candle inside me with prayer. I knew a few prayers, but most of all I liked the infant’s prayer (I had copied out that prayer in Yerevan KGB isolation cell and taken with me toSiberia). It was the prayer under my pillow. The coexistence of a daytime hero and a night prayer-sayer had succeeded inside me. It was a state that helped me ponder life, fall asleep with the hope of getting up in the morning. I had stuck at those small, reassuring prayers. The conduct of my friends was an unexpected shock for me. And its underlying prison pressure, exerted on me, was increasing day by day and gradually multiplied the burden of my state. Something very important had demolished, and I had been left under its ruins. And a time came when those word-hungry prayers, instead of helping me, started to look at my face. I couldn’t get power from them any more.
I hadn’t taken an oath, and replacing it with mercy or promise was not for me. And what was for me then? …Repeating the prayer learnt from the children who had seen death by face, but didn’t know it? I mentally refused from the before-sleeping company of those children and left their prayer together with the re-found peace of my soul to them. The uncertainty prevailed inside me.
And it was that time when Charents’ unpublished poem gave a hand to me: “In memory of NS” that was published in “Grakan Tert” and was the reason for firing editor Hamo Sahyan. Charents had also in a prophetic way penetrated into the nature of those who had done this to Sahyan, when he wrote at the end of his poem:
Oh… What a powerful,
What a mighty bacillus, a moth of soul,
That sawed up so easily,
The powerful spirit of Nairi,
And gnawed it away like a worm.
Why was this poem a good fit for my state? You understand that in those days I shouldn’t have clutched at life and believed in the coming day, but I needed to reconcile with death. The death was closer to me than life, wasn’t it? It had started running through my veins.
The death is mirth on earth,
A victorious, glorious march,
A triumphant parade of the future.
I was continually reading these lines. I, who hadn’t committed any misdemeanor, who had sinned against neither conscience nor law, I-the one “found guilty of love to Motherland”, according to the court decision had to spend the ten years of life in detention. Only ten years of my life were theirs. But all my life and the right of living were put on the altar and were bargained about. The time of clutching at life had passed away. I needed not to be afraid of death. I needed some power, power of not dreaming, and Charents was the one to give it to me. I was reading and thinking how lonely Charents was in front of the coming death-the red poet popular with my generation. I wasn’t so strong, I needed some company and I took in my hand Charents’ NS, in which I clearly saw myself.
And again as leaves,
The tempest was blowing them away,
In order for them not to fall down, not to get hardened,
On native lands,
But as yellow leaves,
To die in enemy fields.
These lines indicated my way and turned death into consolation. I was reading Charents’ poem like a prayer- like a prayer of death. It was a ritual of a noble death, which, though I didn’t see, was day by day changing into military march for me. So Charents, preparing, making death accustomed, made me live. And I lived with the death prayer of a deceived genius and won death with the help of death.