Bishop Gregory (hgr) wrote,
Bishop Gregory

James Russell o Карене

публикую с разрешения автора (текст рассылался им самим по общим знакомым).

Karen Nikitich Yuzbashian, 1927-2009.

       In the Fall of 1982, in the golden Armenian autumn when the air is
sweet and cool and all is touched with rose and sun and tastes of the
ripe fruit of the harvest on the plain of Ararat, a charming scholar
whose Russian sounded like a good 19th century classic and whose
Armenian was Isahakyan’s and Tumayan’s, this scholar with a smile like
the golden autumn, gave a lecture in the halls of the Matenadaran, the
temple of manuscripts facing the snow masses of Ararat floating in the
air above Erevan, and after his enchanting text, on the merchants’
secret argot called Rshtuni lezu, we began to talk as though we had
always known each other. Those were days of repression but also of
ease and wealth. Armenian scholarly books were printed in fine
editions, there was food and coffee, you could have a long late
breakfast and walk to the Matenadaran and spend the day in good
conversation with your friends. The butcher’s bill for the militarized
economy and the static social mess in the Soviet Union had not come in
just yet; and the doddering dictator passed inane laws. I had just
bought an armload of books when one of these laws cackled over the
radio: no books to leave the USSR. (I got them out anyway: Soviet law
was mostly a joke except when breaking an enemy.) Karen Nikitich
Yuzbashian, the scholar, and I, the younger guest, stood outside the
Matenadaran and I said, Ya eto prosto ne poimu, “I just don’t
understand it.” About the law. And he, with a sweeping gesture taking
in the Land of the Soviets, A ostal’noye vy ponimaete? “And the rest
of it you DO understand?”

       Thus was born our friendship, and when this native of the Caucasian
cosmopolis of the fabulous and scary 1930’s Tiflis and son of the
Karabagh Armenians before that became a member of the Karabagh
Committee to liberate the Armenians in the Azeri enclave, and was
elected to the fledgling Armenian parliament, and as the crazy winds
of freedom, chaos, resurrected history, swept the country and blew
down statues and drowned out propaganda, in those epic times Karen
came to New York and Nina Garsoian declared me his guide while she
assembled the karasun tel, the forty-layer fish pie, and the roast
lamb, and the army of red wine bottles for her massive Easter party
that night, and we tramped happily around Manhattan and got back a
little late to be scolded like two mischievous boys, and we traded
smiles, because Nina was the grande dame of the Russian, French, and
American Armenologists and by late that night when the pompous
official guests were gone and the core of our lot were crammed into
her small study with its books and antiques and heavy old wooden
furniture, les artistes chez eux as she called us, and we basked in
that, there would be tiny glasses of very cold vodka.

       Columbia University’s Middle East department expelled its dirty Jew.
A petition from many Soviet scholars was to no avail. My life in New
York, the city of my birth, ended. I went to work in a colder and
unfriendlier place; and as the years of exile in the ice and dirty
stares of New England, the intellectual frigidity and provincialism,
the horrible weather and dismal light, the evil personal isolation
gradually tore apart what was left of my life, yearly trips to St.
Petersburg became my only link to authentic culture and human warmth.
I stayed often at Karen’s apartment on Orbeli Street; and as he
reclined on his chaise longue we had long and intricate conversations
about Russian and Armenian literature and politics. Roundabout
midnight Karen would rouse me from my reading: James jan, k’entres?
“Dear James, will you have supper?” and we’d sit down in the tiny
kitchen for a snack and a glass of vodka. Karen was thin as a rail. I
write these lines in a bed in Jerusalem, Israel, where I am recovering
very slowly from a terrible motorcycle crash. Gradually I am restoring
the muscles of my shattered leg; but when the poor thing was first
released from its casts and bandages and stared in horror at its
matchstick proportions it reminded me of Karen’s skeletal limbs. He
used to look up from his meals and tell me he had the zapasnoi appetit
blokadnika, “the reserve appetite of a Leningrad blockade survivor”.

       Karen was not just a warm friend, not just a captivating scholar, not
just a fascinating Russian Armenian intellectual. He was also the
center of a large circle of friends that began in Petersburg and
radiated outward across the planet. His goodness warmed more people
than he knew. That warm heart has ceased to beat here on earth, and
this is a colder place for it. Karen believed always in the essential
affinities of Jews and Armenians. After all, he grew up in the Soviet
Union, not the Middle East. He was entirely free of the anti-Semitic,
hyper-nationalist virus that has disfigured Armenian life and
scholarship in recent years; and despite his venerable stature and
imposing credentials, the yellow press in Erevan attacked him. His
friendship with foreigners was a mark against him. “James,” he used to
tell me, “Our enemies have everything on their side… except the
truth.” Karen visited Israel and liked this country. In the last
couple of years he was far too weak to travel; so my hope of his
visiting the home here I hope to have will be one more item for the
days of the coming of the Messiah, I guess.

       Dear Karen, may the earth, as Russians say, rest as lightly as a
feather over your earthly remains. And for all of us left behind,
ubitye gorem— slain by grief— God grant us strength to live out our
lives in the light of his bright memory and be granted the consolation
of being reunited with his enfranchised soul in the regions of the
truth beyond space and time.

       Barukh Dayan ha’Emet. Blessed is the one true Judge.

  • Post a new comment


    default userpic

    Your reply will be screened

    Your IP address will be recorded 

    When you submit the form an invisible reCAPTCHA check will be performed.
    You must follow the Privacy Policy and Google Terms of use.