Nzhdeh Lives: Despite early criticism, film becomes success with audiences

PanArmenian Media Group company’s film “Garegin Nzhdeh”, dedicated to the 21st anniversary of the Armenian army, tells the story of national hero, General Garegin Nzhdeh, his life and military path.

The film premiered at Moscow Cinema on January 27 and 28, but social networks and media have been discussing it for the past two weeks. The most criticized part is a fragment (misjudged from the trailer) where the actor embodying Nzhdeh, Artashes Alexanyan, fiercely responds “I am Garegin Nzhdeh”. A number of mocking videos were made and placed on Youtube, which gave food for talks also to Azeri media.

“Only after watching the film one can be entitled to criticism or praise. But it’s a trailer. It is used for advertising purposes, it is unacceptable to take that one sentence and make a big deal out of it. I see it as betrayal and desecration. Azerbaijan proclaims a murderer as national hero, and we, like traitors, defame our prophet,” Alexanyan told ArmeniaNow. “And by the way, the audience stood up and applauded after both shows, which speaks about their good impressions of the film.”

Film director Hrach Keshishyan says the film is a story of boundless love for homeland, heroism, betrayal and disappointments, and also of unbreakable will, endless faith and dreams.

“My soul has two fulcrums – God and motherland,” the great general’s words sound in the movie.

Young Nzhdeh part is played by actor Shant Hovhannisyan, while Alexanyan portrays older Nzhdeh.

“It’s not an easy task to create a character. The challenge is to be able to put yourself in his shoes, get into his skin, know his blood type, his ways and moves, his daily conduct, habits… I am honored to have been trusted this role,” says Alexanyan.

The time setting of the film is the years of the First Armenian Republic. Warfare fragments show how without any foreign assistance, relying only on the native mountains and the power of spirit, people of Syunik (southern province of modern Armenia) won their victory under Nzhdeh’s leadership.

During the Soviet years speaking about the greatest heroes of any USSR member nation was forbidden, as Soviet authorities were trying to erase them from public memory. The film authors state that only 70-80 years later it became possible to tell the stories of Armenia’s national heroes.

The film depicts how due to Nzhdeh’s rebellious, daring spirit, inflexible will and bravery Syunik avoided sharing Nakhijevan’s and Nagorno Karabakh’s fate. With active hostilities he neutralized the treaty signed in 1920 between Armenia and Soviet Russia, by which three major regions of Armenia – Nakhijevan, Nagorno Karabakh and Syunik – were to be passed over to Azerbaijan with a status of autonomous regions.

“Geographically, Syunik is the spine of our motherland, without which Armenia cannot exist,” Nzhdeh tells his soldiers in the film.

Part of the three-hour movie was shot in Sofia, where Nzhdeh lived after leaving Armenia. In 1944 Soviet troops entered Bulgaria, and shortly after Nzhdeh was taken under arrest, giving up a chance to flee to Vienna.

“I have more serious reasons to stay … I am bound to life only to an extent I still feel it as my duty to serve Armenia”, he says prior to his arrest.

He was transferred to Bucharest, from there to Moscow and put to prison in Lyubyanka. In 1946, he was sent to Yerevan, where he was sentenced to 25 years of confinement.

He spent the years between 1948-1952 in Vladimir prison, then until the summer of 1953 in a secret prison in Yerevan. Nzhdeh's transfer to Yerevan prison was related to an attempt to mediate between the Dashnaks and the Soviet leaders to create a collaborative atmosphere between the two sides. After long negotiations with the state security service of Soviet Armenia, Nzhdeh and (Minister of Internal Affairs) Devejian prepared a letter in Yerevan prison (1953) addressed to the ARF leader Simon Vratsian, calling on him for co-operation with the Soviets regarding the issue of the Armenian struggle against Turkey. However, the communist leaders in Moscow refused to send the letter and it only remained a latent document.

The final part of the movie is more emotional, when Nzhdeh is allowed to meet his grandchild he had never met. The stoic general collapses when he takes his granddaughter into his embrace. With equal warmth he takes a handfull of soil of his motherland and takes it to Vladimir prison, where he dies in 1955.

Only decades after his death, in 1992 the prosecution of the third Republic of Armenia, Nzhdeh was justified, something he never needed.

Many on social networks shared their impressions after watching the film:

“All the clamor, slander, criticism, mocking that followed the release of the trailer and before the screening of the film now seem ridiculous. At least sometimes, let us trust ourselves, believe in us and in our ability to create something good and valuable…” wrote Republican MP Margarit Yesayan in her Facebook page.

Blog-writer Tigran Kocharyan said there are many gaps and a lot of questions to director Keshishyan.

“Many fragments lack profoundness, at some historical moments Nzhdeh’s character is not fully disclosed, his ideology could have been presented better… But, all that aside, the film is a success. And I, who had been rather skeptical about it, applauded in the end,” he wrote in his blog.

The film budget was $7 million and was financed by Valex mining company and Zangezur copper-molybdenum plant. The production took nine months.