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‘Gna Merir, Yekur Sirem’: Artsakh War Veteran, Outspoken Activist Sarkis Hatspanian Dies at 55

Artsakh War veteran, political commentator, and political activist Sarkis Hatspanian passed away on Jan. 20 in Lyon, France. He was only 55.

Born in Adiyaman in southeastern Turkey (former Cilicia), he had left for France in 1980 to avoid persecution of the military dictatorship in Turkey. In 1990, he moved to Armenia to join the Artsakh War effort. Sarkis participated in the liberation of the Karvajar (Kalbajar) region, which unites Artsakh and Armenia. A photo of him with an elderly woman became a symbol of the war.

This photo, taken by Zaven Khachikyan, had two stories—one very real, the other a complete lie.

A photo of Hatspanian with an elderly woman became a symbol of the war. The photo had two stories—one very real, the other a complete lie. (Photo: Zaven Khachikyan)

The real story was as reported by a French journalist who accompanied the Armenian forces during the campaign, depicting Sarkis with an 80-year-old Azeri woman, Shaikha Hanum. She was left behind, along with other elderly Azeri women and children in the Karvajar district, when all the able-bodied Azeris had fled ahead of the advancing Armenian forces. Her son was a police commander in the district. Sarkis was in charge of taking care of the Azeri civilians, and eventually providing safe passage for them to Gandzak (Kirovabad). Armenians took such good care of the civilians that Shaikha Hanum stated she loved Sarkis more than his cowardly son who had abandoned her. On the same day that this story and photo was published in France, a fake story was posted in the Turkish daily Milliyet using the same photo. Sarkis was described as an Azeri soldier rescuing his Azeri grandmother from the Armenian enemy.

After the war, he became politically active and a fierce critic of corruption in Armenia, particularly of the oligarchs who had stakes in the government and in the Armenian Church, expressing his views eloquently and articulately during frequent television appearances. Sarkis and I met and became fast friends when I took groups of hidden Armenians from Turkey to Armenia. He was fascinated by this new Armenian reality. He would follow our tour itinerary and meet us at museums and churches that we visited, becoming a volunteer guide, counselor, mentor, and lifelong friend to our “once hidden” Armenians.

When he was struck by cancer this past summer, he had to move to Lyon to receive the required treatment in a race against time. He needed a place to stay during the treatments and was in dire financial need. Our numerous pleas for some financial assistance from heads of Armenian organizations, influential or politically active Armenians in France or Europe, unfortunately fell on deaf ears. Ultimately, a fundraising campaign was organized in Canada to send emergency funds to Sarkis and family, with a few anonymous donors from Turkey also contributing. He passed away disappointed and dejected by the apathy of his fellow Armenians.

And now, as soon as he passed away, the accolades and eulogies by Armenian Diaspora leaders rise to the sky for the “Artsakh war hero.” We have a saying in Armenian:  “Gna merir, yekur sirem” (“Once you die, then you’re loved”). Perhaps this attitude is unique to Armenians, because I cannot find such a cruel yet poignant proverb in any other language.

I remember a similar situation with my other hero friend, Hrant Dink. He was disliked and heavily criticized by most Diaspora Armenian leaders for his readiness for dialogue with Turks. We were chatting after the first Ottoman Armenian conference held in Istanbul Bilgi University in Sept. 2005, where he and other speakers were pelted with eggs, tomatoes, and coins. I had suggested that perhaps a similar conference can be organized somewhere in U.S. or Europe, by inviting both Turkish and Armenian historians. He smiled bitterly: “Raffi, you would have more problems with the Diaspora than I have here with the Turks.” Unfortunately, Hrant became a unanimously accepted hero only after he was shot dead.

In the last few months of their lives, both Sarkis and Hrant felt alone and abandoned in their struggles, one fighting the ever-increasing cancer eating at him from the inside, and the other fighting the ever-increasing death threats eating at him from the outside.

I hope Armenians can adopt a new proverb by reversing the order of the four words: ‘Yekur sirem, gna merir” (“Let me love you, then you may die”).

28 Comments on ‘Gna Merir, Yekur Sirem’: Artsakh War Veteran, Outspoken Activist Sarkis Hatspanian Dies at 55

  1. Sarkis was a true patriot and yet he was imprisoned for three and a half years by this criminal regime like so many others who are still in prison now under trumped up charges.

  2. avatar Craig Markarian Demirjian // January 22, 2018 at 3:00 pm // Reply

    In this sense, we truly are our worst enemy.
    Thank you for this beautiful, sad yet poignant article.

  3. Dear Raffi,
    What a beautiful article to eulogize an Armenian hero such as Sarkis Hatspanian who I have had the honor of knowing since back in 1991-93 when I was in Armenia and when he was fighting for Artsakh.
    You are so right! If Armenians were not oblivious of one another, or even hateful towards one another during their lifetime, we would not be where we are now… The same may be said of the Genocide… Many people died because some were selfish enough to think only of themselves and their own salvation, instead of standing together with their compatriots in a unified front against the enemy. Sadly only one such example may be cited and that is Musa Dagh. Only when Armenians learn to love one other (and by implication learn to help and support each other) BEFORE death, will they be able to really claim a place under the sun along with the great civilizations of the world. Otherwise, we are just a petty little nation that is trying to stand on its past ruins and its defeats to appear taller than it will ever become. A sad truth indeed.
    The fact remains that the nation has lost an important hero such as Sarkis Hatspanian who was not supported and appreciated during his lifetime, much in the spirit of what Armenians are accustomed to doing.
    If there is a lesson to be learned from this, it is maybe the reversal of that saying, at least amongst those of us who can see its detrimental and negative effects on the growth and development of our nation.
    Can we for once have heroes who are ALIVE and whom we honor and respect because of their deeds and not for their cash worth? Only the latter category seem to be honored during their lifetime amongst Armenians. Those are the ones who have the means to pay for such honors.
    Let us hope that there is still hope.
    Thank you for pointing out this most important, obvious and sad ‘disease’ that is so widespread amongst Armenians.
    May Sarkis Hatspanian Rest in Peace, and may his example serve as a wake-up call to all Armenians that it is about time to start loving one another before it is too late. ‘Yekur sirem, gna merir” (“Let me love you, then you may die”). This should be our motto from now on.
    Thank you,
    nora

  4. avatar HARRY MARDIROSSIAN // January 22, 2018 at 4:09 pm // Reply

    You have hit the nail on it’s head Raffi. This is not the first, nor will be the last case of denial of recognition of our national heroes at service for our nation building in all walks of life. In conclusion, I would suggest a minute revision to your proposal ” Ari sirem, vor chemernes “

  5. “Our numerous pleas for some financial assistance from heads of Armenian organizations, influential or politically active Armenians in France or Europe unfortunately fell on deaf ears.”
    I don’t know which organizations/people Mr. Bedrosyan is referring to in his article but I am quite shocked. There is quite a large Armenian community in and around Lyon, as well as throughout a few other major French cities and many ordinary people ready to help other fellow Armenians if sollicited. If what you describe in your article is indeed what happened to Sarkis Hatspanian while he was fighting cancer, it is extremely sad and deeply disturbing. Thank you for your interesting article.

    • avatar diasporan // January 24, 2018 at 2:55 am //

      It happens more often than you think. I was shocked when I tried to raise funds for Syrian Armenians a few years ago. It was a good opportunity I presented to AGBU and a well-known volunteer organization. I was already on their mailing lists and they never responded to me, not even a cordial decline. To this day they continue to solicit about anything and everything, even trying to get me to vote for democratic candidates in my state.

  6. It is sad that a hero is left to his hard destiny .U are hero to Armenians that love Armenia. Hoge tetev ka vrat haytoog.u are gods hero .

  7. “Yegour sirem kezi HIMA, verche kna merir” this is what we have to learn. Armenians in general are very good people but…depending who’s TAIL you have followed and following now, it can make a big difference. It is a choice. So, which one are going to choose to follow? “kna merir, yegout sirem” or ” yegour sirem kezi HIMA, yev verche kna merrir”. Make that choice now.

  8. The passing of this brave soul should teach us Armenians a lesson to wake up and be more compassionate, United and proactive toward noble causes including the people who fought and those who continue to fight for our identity. Our strength and solidarity as Armenians GLOBALLY is unrealised. We can prevent and provide so there will be no need to plead and ask. I feel deep remorse that we failed this Hero.

    Աստուած հոգին լուսաւորէ

  9. avatar Ataoglu Sevan // January 23, 2018 at 5:06 am // Reply

    Ես համացայն չեմ որովհետեւ ականատես եղաց եմ եւ Հրանդ Տինքի հետ կիսելով Ակօս ի այդ անմորանալի օրերը որպես լրագրող եւ հետեւելով Հացպանեան Սարգիս՛ին, նրանք միշտ ունեցեր են սիրահարներ, կողմնակիցներ, եղբայրներ եւ քոյրեր իրենձ կողքին: Եկեք հարգենք այդ անցայն բազմութիւնը: Ես կրկին հոնարվում եմ նրանց առջեւ ովքեր զօրավիք կանքնաց են ոչ միայն Տինք ի եւ Հացպանեանի պայքարին: Պայքար դեպի վերջ: Սիրով՝

  10. Ays khorakire ABOUSH PAN e, Politices e aysbes e aysorva ishkhanavornerou khoumpe portsoumen yergir varel irent ounetsats garoghoutyamp ou tjshpakhdapar arjeknerov, ayn antsere vor portsoumen arkelq ellan megousatsnoumen gam arjekazrgoum ov al ella, ays orerin, ashkharh aysbes che? mege chsav Sarkisin tu hayrenasear ches. irents khoumpen chear ou barabes andesetsin micheav mah, tsavaly er, gartseam ashkhar aravel te nvaz atbeas e “gam hedes es gam temes”voch knayi voch yegouri harts che ays. “shad khosoghi kloukhe tsag glla” yete ir khosqe gam mdahokoutyune lseli ouzoumear vor ella bedk e kdnear mi oujegh tim, ou ashkhadeal. barperapar TV archeav yellelov khnatadelov ouzoumear pan pokheal?

  11. This is such terrible and shocking news. I am so saddened to learn about his passing. I can’t believe he is no longer with us. This is a terrible loss. I learned about Sarkis Hatspanian from many of his YouTube video clips and I was amazed at his knowledge, depth in subject matter and his fierce dedication to his people and homeland. Watching and listening to his lectures on various topics and issues I came to admire him. I really thought he was special and one in a million. His lectures on Armenian and Turkish topics were captivating and very informative. He spoke with such depth, fluency and command of any subject matter that the more you heard him speak the more you wanted to hear him speak. I learned quite a lot from his lectures and question and answer sessions. It is a shame that he did not get the help that he needed and when he needed it the most. Shame on all those influential Armenian organizations that did not extend a helping hand to save the life of this selfless and dedicated Armenian patriot. They should all be truly ashamed of themselves. After all that I learned about him, from his life to his character to his vast knowledge and his unconditional love for his homeland, I can say without a doubt that he was the true definition of an Armenian patriot. He was a hero to the Armenian nation. Աստված հոգին լուսավորի.

  12. Sarkis.was good.100% Armenian I’m so sorry we lost him.

  13. avatar Audrey Kalajian // January 23, 2018 at 10:34 am // Reply

    Thank you for this article. Was there a campaign for his medical treatment ever brought to the people v. organizations? I have no doubt many people both in Armenia and the diaspora would have contributed had they known. I know many people including myself who for years have donated and helped soldiers. One friend in particular not only donates but was responsible for taking care of their medical treatment on her own dime for many years throughout the war and after. I am wondering did Raffi Bedrosian or anyone write an article in the Weekly when he was going through these difficulties? or on Facebook? If you did, then I must have missed it. A young woman from Armenia who is staying with me told me recently about a great physiatrist in Yerevan who treats soldiers for free. If she sees them not walking properly on the streets, she tells them to come to her office and she can help treat them, and she does it for free for all soldiers.

  14. Being a soldier or war hero does not make one infallible. Being a soldier or war hero does not qualify one for being a good political leader, or even knowing what’s good for the nation. Being a soldier or war hero does not give one the privilege to plot against his state or threaten his officials, regardles of what the officials in question are being accused of. In fact, prominent soldiers or war heros can be, and often times are, a serious problem during times of peace. We see this all around the world.

    Just like Zhirayr Sefilyan, Sargis Hatsbanyan was just another brave soul with good intentions who allowed his Armenian traits – emotions, arrogance and political ignorance – to guide him. That’s more-or-less why he was put into jail. And that is why Sefilyan remains in jail. Regardless of what soldiers like Sargis Hatsbanyan did during Artsakh’s war of independence, when soldiers threatent the state, the state has no choice but to act.

    A soldier’s natural place is in the military – not politics. Men like Hatsbanyan and Sefilyan should have remained in military if they really wanted to help the Armenian nation. By getting into the dirty world of politics they forever tainted themsevles. They have no one but themselves to blame.

    When Diasporan Armenians know next-to-nothing about Armenia, it’s understood. They do after all happily live in the Diaspora. But, somehow, Diasporan Armenians also seem to know next-to-nothing about the nations they live. It’s truly strange.

    So, please stop your nonsense. The saying “Gna merir, yekur sirem” is in no way an Armenian thing. Non-Armenians may not have that saying but it does not mean they don’t practice it. It’s human nature to at times ignore and even see men like Sargis Hatsbanyan as threats when they are alive but turn them into heros when they are dead. This happens all over the world. There are two such prominent figures in the American experiance: General George Patton and General Douglas MacArthur. Both were disliked and feared by their state when they were alive, both were turned into legendary war heros by their state when they died.

    I guess all I am asking from Armenians is a little wisdom and objectivity. In other words, people, please grow up.

    • After reading your remarks one can safely say that it is not that people need to grow up but that the likes of you need a major reality check. You claim the duty of a soldier is to be a soldier to serve his nation and stay out of politics. Well, if that’s true then why are many Armenian government officials, former soldiers, commanders and war veterans themselves, in politics today and not only making crucial decisions for the future of the nation but are also in charge of the country? People who today, in many ways, are responsible for people’s miseries, sufferings and misfortunes. Doesn’t your logic apply to them as well or is it just the Diaspora Armenians that you have problem with? Your complaints are obviously and ignorantly misplaced. It seems to me you prefer and are giving your seal of approval to many crooked Armenian government officials who are nothing more than puppets and slaves to their Russian masters while rejecting and putting down real Armenian patriots under the false pretense of they “not knowing” anything about Armenia. Even if we, for the sake of argument, entertain the remote possibility that they are not experts in Armenian politics, isn’t that because the criminal and anti-Armenian Soviets, through seven decades of occupation, turned their known Armenia into something unfamiliar to them? Need I remind you that the first Armenian government, post Turkish occupation and genocide, was of today’s Diaspora Armenians in 1918?

      You say the Diaspora Armenians know next to nothing about Armenia and that they after all are leading happy lives in the Diaspora. Are you for real? Today there are more Diaspora Armenians from Armenia in the United States alone than the more traditional Armenian Diaspora that has formed over the last many decades because of the 1915 events and because they were more or less forced to leave and uprooted from all the unstable countries where they were born and raised. You seem to give a pass to many of the current and crooked Armenian government officials, once again who themselves were former soldiers and military men, while these very same officials and their policies are the very reason why today we have yet another Armenian Diaspora from Armenia itself.

      The remarks that you made about Sefilyan and Hatspanian, that their emotions, arrogance and political ignorance, were some of the reasons why they were put in prison is ridiculous. These people spoke out what was truly in people’s hearts but they were scapegoated and put in jail because they were vocal, felt and considered as threats to the corrupt officials in charge and from Diaspora. These patriots lived and continue to live humble penniless lives, like many common people, while those in power you seem to defend have full pockets, detached from the lives of those they rule and govern, and who enriched themselves from the miseries of those whose honor and well-beings these patriots defended at the risk of losing their freedoms and being incarcerated. These patriots were even denied Armenian citizenship in their ancestral homeland! Wake up and smell the coffee, as they say.

    • @ Ararat
      I fully embrace NorSerunt views and I can confidently say from what you wrote that you have a very little understanding of Armenian politics and regional geopolitics, your comment is particularly illustrative of most diaspora political illiteracy and ignorance about what reality of Armenian and regional situation. But this is not your fault, since there is very little objective and reliable analytical information sources when it comes to Armenia. Things are unfortunately much more nuanced than “good opposition and bad government” and “he was a war hero so he knows better”.

      I bet you know nothing about the past of Sefilyan, in Lebanon and in Armenia, appart the fact that he was a hero of liberation war. I bet you never heard a discourse of Alec Yenikomchian or any member of the founding parliament, and you have no idea about who is financing them. People like them would have never been accepted in any normal regular army due to severe pathological tendency of violence and armed actions. Their pathology doesn’t allow them to think a future for Armenia that wouldn’t imply a lot of innocent blood, an armed revolution and massive purges Soviet style. Their program for Armenia is close to nothingness. Turn poor people rich and make the Armenian society more equalitarian, Im sure we all want that. But without a clear program on how to achieve that, this is simply populism and demagogy. And here we touch the main problem of Armenia : not the government, not the corruption, but the opposition and specially the ones like Sefilyan. We have the most stupid, populist and empty minded opposition in the world, they are comforting the power into immobilism and in-box thinking instead of challenging them with ideas and ambitious programs that wouldn’t be just a list of empty wishes.

      As far as Hatsapanian is concerned, I met him a couple of times. He was an interesting character but in no circumstances I would have entrusted him the future of Armenia. I deeply respect him though for his long time activism and his role the liberation war, I was very saddened by this news and hope he will rest at the Yeraplur along heroes of his kind. Asdvadz hokin lusavoré.

  15. It’s not just an Armenian attitude – I’m reminded of the words of Nick Drake’s Fruit Tree: “Safe in your place deep beneath the earth, That’s when they’ll know what you were really worth”. But the after-death accolades by “leaders” thing might be a particularly Armenian aspect to it. For an extreme example, remember Aurora Mardiganian, living forgotten, dying unnoticed, buried in a pauper’s grave, all her possessions thrown away. Now there are stamps and books and foundations in her name.

  16. avatar vart adjemian // January 24, 2018 at 3:39 pm // Reply

    This is sad, disappointing and distressing.
    Shame on us if the allegation made by the writer is true.
    I personally do not recall any appeals or fundraising requests from any of the organizations supporting Artsakh or our military in the US.
    It is imperative that the writer specifically identify on whose “deaf ears” his pleas fell. A broad accusation is unproductive and unconstructive.
    It is also demeaning to those who generously support our military In Armenia and Artshak.
    Vart Adjemian

  17. “Gna merir, yekur sirem.”

    Yete menq aveli shat ser uneinq depi mer hayrenakitsner@, mi gutse shat aveli qich hay kmerner.

    • Hardly would an Armenian compose such a line. It shows that the author is either not well-versed in the Armenian language or is not Armenian. In Armenian, the correct phrase would look like this: “Yete menq aveli mets ser unenainq mer hayrenakitsneri handep (kam nkatmamb), migutse aveli poqr tvov hayer kmahanain”.

    • avatar Yerevanian // February 8, 2018 at 6:42 pm //

      A non-Armenian is in no position to tell an Armenian what he can compose or not compose. Anyway, that particular sentence which someone translated for you from English to Armenian (“If we had more love towards our compatriots, then maybe a smaller number of Armenians would die.”) is not what I was trying to write up above.

      Translated from Armenian to English, this is what I wrote: “If we had much more love towards our compatriots, then maybe much fewer Armenians would die.”

    • avatar Yerevanian // February 11, 2018 at 2:36 pm //

      “Hardly would an Armenian compose such a line.”

      Well, by composing such a line, you are once again exhibiting the enormous lack of knowledge you have in regard to the Armenian people. There are over eight million Armenians on this planet; therefore, exactly how is it possible for you to know what each one of these Armenians is composing?

      Did your Armenian language translator actually tell you that there is only one correct way in speaking Armenian? If he/she did, then he/she is obviously full of crap. There happens to be many different styles in speaking Armenian. There’s the style of Armenian spoken by the hayastantsis (and even in Armenia, there are several different styles of Armenian spoken by the natives). There’s the style of Armenian spoken by the artsakhtsis. There’s the style of Armenian spoken by the javakhktsis. There’s the style of Armenian spoken by the libananahays. There’s the style of Armenian spoken by the parskahays. There’s the style of Armenian spoken by the siriahays. There’s the style of Armenian spoken by the bolsahays. There’s the style of Armenian spoken by the hamshentsis. Therefore, there is no “one” correct way of speaking Armenian.

  18. The author of this article says: «He passed away disappointed and dejected by the apathy of his fellow Armenians.» This is totally wrong. Just before he died, he was with members of “Organization of Istanbul Armenians”, there wasn’t any disappointment in him. He had hopes that many more Hrant Dinks will be born. He was loved by many.

  19. avatar vart adjemian // January 27, 2018 at 1:30 pm // Reply

    Very disheartening.
    The comments are disturbing. Divisive,negative and not true; contradictory to the soul and spirit of all Armenians.
    There has been, and continues to be, moral and financial support to the various organizations supporting our troops in Armenian and Artsakh.
    Let’s be positive and try to do more, please.
    Vart Adjemian

  20. avatar Zorzal Colorado // January 31, 2018 at 3:19 pm // Reply

    “Gna merir, yekur sirem”. I’ve heard that saying from my father many (so many) years ago. I was born in Argentina, so he translated it to “Argentinian” Spanish as: “Andá morite, vení que te quiero”, something like “Go die, then come back, I love you”. Now, perhaps late, I’m learning Armenian and watching what is going on in Armenia.

    • avatar Yerevanian // February 13, 2018 at 7:41 pm //

      Mi angam yeghel em Argentina u shat havanetsi. Buenos Airesn anchap geghetsik, guynavor qaghaq e (Parizi nman). Amen gisher kgnayi akumb aghjikneri het parelu, isk heto el kveradarnayinq hyuranots vor eli pareinq. Argentinatsiner@ hajogh tpavorutyun toghetsin indz vra yev iroq hacheli zhamanak ei antskatsrel Argentinayum. Hastat kuzei ayntegh veradarnal mot apagayum.

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