Illuminating Artak

The Armenian Weekly August 2013 Magazine

Ever since I saw Steven Spielberg’s masterpiece, “Empire of the Sun,” as a child, the subject of war and its effects on children and civilians has been a theme of constant research and preoccupation. It’s not so much war’s mythos that makes for good cinema, but the “war after war’s end” that has both disturbed and inspired me to write. This is what triggered my first journey to Nagorno-Karabagh in the late 1990’s, as a student at USC Film School. The war had finished a handful of years before, and the raw effects were still present in the faces on that bewitching and ancient patch of earth. After graduating I returned again, trying to understand the chaos, the displacement and civilian casualties of a war that was fought tooth and nail until the 1994 ceasefire, and that resulted in the displacement of over a million people and an estimated 30,000 casualties on both sides.

Artak (R) and the author in Boston in May 2013
Artak (R) and the author in Boston in May 2013

I recently dug into my dog-eared pocket notebooks from 2003 and found a line I had written after meeting my dear friend Artak Beglaryan in Stepanakert 10 years ago: “If there is anything in the world worth despising, it’s war.” I continue to despise war for the human waste and ravage it leaves behind. Those who survive war, and those of us blessed never to see what war produces, have a responsibility to bear witness, illuminate empathy, and foster a meaningful human dialogue.

Driving into the capital of Stepanakert, I had this graphic- novel image of the ancient Phoenix curling into flames, then rebuilding itself from the ash. This city has risen again but there is still work to be done. A lot of the pockmarked buildings have been renovated. Busloads of pilgrims from the diaspora visit the ancient monasteries and villages. The new generation still grapples with the after-effects of the war, and many questions have yet to be answered. The dark weight of the post-war aura that I first remember feeling has dissipated for the most part, but the ghosts of war will always be present, cautiously reminding natives and visitors of the resilience and ravage that complete each other.

My dear friend Artak Beglaryan was blinded at the age of 6 after picking up an unexploded ordnance in the courtyard of his apartment building in Stepanakert. I don’t know if “Illuminating Artak” is the right title for this piece; I hope it affords a glimpse into his courage, humility, and panoramic vision.

The shrapnel robbed Artak of his eyesight, yet ultimately produced a young dreamer who is an inspiration in my life. His gift is willpower, survival, and a hunger for knowledge, for higher learning and self-betterment. War’s irreversible damage only strengthened his resolve to learn, travel, and spur critically engaging dialogue that crosses borders and gives a human voice to the struggle of the Karabagh-Armenians.

I could write a book about Artak’s journey as a child war survivor, and then as a young international scholar. Artak was 14 when I met him in 2003. I was out of film school struggling to piece together a film about the war and the civilian survivors on both sides of the line. Through the grapevine of this small city, all roads pointed in the direction of Artak’s home. We met there for the first time. He recited poetry, sang the village ballads and folkloric odes of his grandfathers, and managed to beat me and my dear friend Spiros multiple times in chess. I vividly remember our first encounter, and his incredibly witty and effortless sense of humor. I still don’t know how he does it, but five minutes into a conversation the belly laughs keep rolling.

Beglaryan climbed Mount Ararat in Aug. 2013.
Beglaryan climbed Mount Ararat in Aug. 2013.


Over the past 10 years, Artak has studied at Yerevan State University, at University College London, and at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy in Boston. He has learned English and is a speed-reader on the internet, with the aid of screen- reader software that allows him to speak-type and commit ideas to cyberspace and to paper very rapidly.

It was a short journey to Stepanakert, but a special one. Artak was turning 25 and I was happy to be there on the day he celebrated with his family. Surrounded by his brother Garen’s family, we savored a few shots of homemade pear vodka while taking in the summer heat that dipped into a nice afternoon rain in Shushi. Melancholy swept over the rainy city as we drove back to Stepanakert, passing the Brotherhood Cemetery, where scores of civilians and soldiers lie side-by-side. It is a beautifully groomed but sad monument to the many lives lost in the storm of war. The weight of that loss will forever hang in the air above these roads and in every home. And with this weight, life will go on and tomorrow will be a new day.

The next day, over a hearty breakfast of fresh bread, thyme tea, and honey from Garen’s bees, Artak mused about the current state of affairs in Armenia and Karabagh, and of the Syrian refugees in Armenia and the diaspora. “I think, nowadays the most important thing for us is the demographic development of Karabagh,” he said. “In this case, the Syrian Armenians currently are the core target because they combine the main goals of Armenians. The first is repatriation. Tragically, because of the war in Syria we have been given this chance to repatriate. The second dream is to develop and populate Artsakh, which would ensure a bright and secure, enduring future. The third goal, which is an occasion-based mid-term one, is to create a sense of security for Syrian Armenians. The diaspora and Armenia should be concerned first of all about the situation of Syrian Armenians, and that’s why this process of repopulation is very important from that perspective. So, in supporting that process, one contributes simultaneously to the above mentioned three goals of Armenians.”

In preparation for his journey to the Czech Republic, where he will continue his studies, Artak remembers Herbert Spencer’s wisdom that “the great aim of education is not knowledge but action.” Armed with Spencer’s wisdom, Artak will continue his struggle for a better tomorrow—for all of Artsakh and Armenia—from his desk across the hall from the prime minister’s office. His laptop and iPhone are his modern-day tools, but gadgets and software are impermanent, soon to be replaced by tomorrow’s technology. The real sweat-of-the-brow work is done every day inside his encyclopedic mind, which has produced an inner field of vision that transcends blindness.

The world indeed is your oyster, my dear brother.

This article appeared in the Armenian Weekly magazine issue (Aug. 2013) dedicated to the 25th anniversary of the Artsakh liberation movement.

Eric Nazarian

Eric Nazarian

Eric Nazarian is a screenwriter, filmmaker and photojournalist. In 2007, Nazarian wrote and directed “The Blue Hour,” a first feature film that won six international awards. In 2008, Nazarian received the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences® (home of the Oscars) prestigious Nicholl Fellowship in Screenwriting for his original screenplay, “Giants.” In turn, Nazarian’s film “Bolis” was the recipient of the Best Short Film Award at the 14th Arpa International Film Festival in 2011.
Eric Nazarian

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  1. Eric, jan. Thanks for all the great humanitarian work that you do!
    You give voice to so very many noble causes through your art and have the ability to keep the “spirit” true and alive. Artak is just one of the heroes that you have introduced us to.

  2. Touching story about Artak. I agree with Eric’s assessment about the need to assist the Syrian-Armenians. Despite what it means to live in the diaspora for many Armenians, there is now an opportunity to energize a well thought out socio-political strategy to revitalize a repatriation movement in earnest. Equally, from what the Armenian government has learned of its history of repatriation (namely the one after WWII), positive steps to this end can be achieved!

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