A Labor of Love in “Vision of Death”: RFE/RL gives account of Charents’ last years

A Labor of Love in “Vision of Death”: RFE/RL gives account of Charents’ last years

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) Armenian Service has made a film titled “The Vision of Death” dedicated to the memory of prominent Armenian writer Yeghishe Charents, focusing on the last period of his life, when he fell victim to Joseph Stalin’s repressions.

The hour-long art film, based on the recollections of the great poet’s wife Izabella Charents, premiered last week at Moscow cinema in Yerevan. It depicts a time-period during the Soviet years when people were afraid to speak out, have a personal opinion; years of tyranny, terror and Stalin’s self-glorification. Stalin’s repressions sent thousands of ordinary Armenian citizens, as well as writers, publishers, journalists, and theater directors to prisons, labor camps, or executioners – simply for holding the “wrong” political or philosophical views.

“The Vision of Death” is the brainchild of RFE/RL Armenian Service director Harry Tamrazian, who is also the producer and director of the film.

“I believe that, unjustly, Charents’s complete life story had not been told and presented to the public; there were dark pages. With the collapse of the Soviet Union it was long due, yet for some reason those dark pages were not opened. That’s the main point of making this film,” Tamrazian told ArmeniaNow.

The script writer is RFE/RL Armenian Service reporter Gayane Danielyan, who says that through the terrifying story of Charents’s family tragedy the film is an attempt to once again say no to Stalin’s Great Purge.

“I believe that many people will relate to the story which is representative of their family past. The life of the greatest among our genius minds was terminated at the age of 40. Who knows how much more Charents could have said,” says Danielyan.

The film has a voice, and it’s impressive, speaking about the Stalin tyranny which denied the right of existence to strong and talented individuals, among them Charents.

“…He could clearly sense that the worst was about to happen. Over the previous two years the circle around him kept tightening. He was completely alone, only Khanjyan and Isahakyan were still visiting him. I recall the evening when Khanjyan paid his last visit with us,” tells Izabella in the film, with references to Aghasi Khanjyan, First Secretary of the Communist Party of Armenia, who among others fell victim to Stalin purges, and Avetik Isahakyan, a prominent poet, writer, academician and public activist.

Khanjyan tells Charents that he is leaving for Tbilisi as summoned by Lavrentiy Beria (chief of the Soviet security and secret police apparatus, NKVD, under Stalin) and is not sure whether he would ever come back. He warns Charents to “say little, because the walls now have ears too”.

Khanjyan never returned from Tbilisi. In 1936 he was killed in his office by Beria, but his death was covered up as suicide. Charents did not believe the suicide tale and shocked by this news wrote his “Dofin Nairakan” collection of sonnets in memory of Khanjyan (1901-1936).

Izabella confesses that Charents felt looming death and wrote his poem “The Vision of Death”. The Stalin regime could never forgive him his “Book of the Road” collection of poems, especially the poem “Commandment” where by acrostic of second letters in each line he has an encrypted message: “Oh, Armenian people, your only salvation is in your collective force.”

Charents was accused of anti-revolutionary activities, named an enemy of the people, and sent to prison. The writer denying these accusations, said: “I am a poet loved by my people.”

On one of her husband’s shirts sent from prison Izabella found a note written with a red chemical pencil, where he was asking her to trust all of his writings only to a family friend, artist Regina Ghazaryan.

“Regina buried his works in one of her relative’s yard, and only 17 years later when it was allowed to talk about Charents, she unearthed the scripts, otherwise the Central Committee would have destroyed them all,” she says.

A month later (after she got the note from prison) Izabella, too, was convicted as the wife of an enemy of the people. Their daughters Anahit and Arpine were orphaned.

Charents died in Yerevan prison in 1937, he was posthumously exonerated in 1955, two years after Stalin’s death. Izabella Charents was exonerated and released in 1967. Two years later she was given an apartment in Yerevan, where she lived for a month and died of terminal disease.

The main cast is Ara Harutyunyan, who has embodied Charents, Narine Grigoryan as Izabella, and Tigran Matsakyan as an interrogator. The RFE/RL staff reporters filled a number of minor roles.

Cameraman Levon Grigoryan says “The Vision of Death” is a film that has become possible purely due to enthusiasm

“It’s good when there is no budget, the main motivator is enthusiasm, which yields great results. It was astonishing how reporters performed as professional actors. I am ready to support such projects at any time for free. I feel proud to have accomplished it,” says Grigoryan.

Producer Tamrazian says the production of this movie was an act of heroism both financially and creatively. He is not afraid of expert critics, and says: “I am from a family of high profile literary critics and can tell bad criticism from a good one. My father, Hrant Tamrazian was a professional literary critic. What matters most to me is people’s response, if they watch, applaud, feel touched and emotional, then the film is a success.”

Reporter Danielyan says with regret that 75 years after the great writer’s death, even during independence, neither the National Film Center, nor Hayfilm, nor TV companies have tried to produce such a movie.

“The fact is, I am convinced that the lives of our best writers would become wonderful movies. Today nobody is forbidden to shoot films about the terrors of Stalin repressions, and we want that gap to be filled. We believe that this film will become exemplary, and that true cinema figures will follow and will make good films about our geniuses,” she says.

According to Tamrazian, new films are to come.

The film posted on RFE/RL website (http://www.azatutyun.am/media/video/24799461.html) on November 29 has since had 10,000 views, and 2,000 more times it has been viewed on Youtube.