The Republic of Artsakh, or the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, is a closed territory, completely surrounded by Azerbaijan. A narrow street, called the Lachin Corridor, currently under the control and supervision of the Russian peacekeepers, links it with Armenia.
Although Artsakh is a de facto independent state from Azerbaijan and sovereign, which controls and governs a territory and a population, its sovereignty is not recognized by any member state of the United Nations. Since the ancient times, this territory has been continuously subject to invasions and overwhelming.
Persians, Mongols, Ottomans, Russians. The end of the 19th century has seen attacks and abuses by the Turks. Then Soviets, under Joseph Stalin, were those who divided the lands giving Artsakh to the Azerbaijani Soviet state.
In 1988, after many trials, such as in 1965 and in 1977, Artsakh liberated itself from Azerbaijan which soon after massacred thousands of Armenians in Baku and wherever they were.
In 1991 Arsakh declared independence. A few days later Azerbaijan also gained its independence, and attacked Artsakh. Between 1991 and 1994 there were war and devastation. There were mutual ethnic atrocities. Thousands of people were killed and over one million people were forced to leave their homes. The Armenians of Artsakh tried to resist in every way until the fighting seemed to have ended.
The Republic of Artsakh tried to reach recognition as a democracy. State schools and universities were built and it was emerging for its thriving tourism. It was its time of rebirth.
That piece of land is embraced by green mountains rich in flora, fauna and rich in metals. It is a fantastic location that looks like something out of a fairytale. It resembles that middle earth told by Tolkien in The Lord of the Rings, where life flows simple and harmonious enhanced by the colors and the smells of nature.
Unfortunately, too many times it has been betrayed and wounded by the iron and fire of those who reveal themselves to be highly inhumane. And sadly, this is happening again.
During the last 30 years Azerbaijan has strengthened its army and acquired new generation weapons. In 2020 it began its attack by bombing Armenian churches, monuments, children’s hospitals, birth centers, schools. Once again, many Armenians had to leave their homes. The boys had to leave to fight and die because their army is weaker than that of Azerbaijan which, in this war, availed itself of the help of Turkey and Syria. Furthermore, Azerbaijan demanded that the designation “Nagorno-Karabakh” no longer be used. This suggests their will to cancel the cultural heritage of the Armenians who have always populated that territory.
The Western world, in these last couple of years, has no eyes and ears except for the covid virus. And no one thinks that a flu can be cured but a bomb throw at you with a drone will surely kill you. No, no one, in the Western world, has thought about it and no one talks about people dying in Artsakh. And nobody cares if, more often than not, the money we deposit in banks supports wars against our own people. As head of Artsakh’s Department for Preservation of Cultural and Spiritual Values, Garegin Hambardzumyan said: “The world needs to know the truth.”
Even today, few people tell what is really happening in those lands. There are many interests involved, and because of business, Armenians are forced to endure atrocities sometimes even worse than those done to the Jews in the time of the Nazis.
Just as the United States has a two-state country that it shares with Israel, Turkey also appears to be a two-state country with Azerbaijan and it has never stopped reducing Armenian lands and trying to erase their legacy.
Regarding this, Pope Francis does not pronounce himself, the international organization and the other countries, despite the mediations and the terms of the ceasefire are not respected, instead of acting concretely, they remain passive, and carry out merely representative functions just to “save their image “. The weight is therefore all on the shoulders of the Armenians who live in that area and of those who fight on the border. There is a man who carries the weight on himself as far as abroad. He does this to raise awareness and make known the truth to those who ignore what is happening. His name is Jivan Avetisyan.
Jivan Avetisyan was born in Gyumri and grew up in Stepanakert, the capital of the Republic of Artsakh.
He is creator of 20 documentaries, short films and three feature films. He is a film director and came to Los Angeles to present Gate to Heaven, screening in Glendale at the AMC theater until November 10th.
Jivan grew up living incredible situations. He experienced the constant state of war since his childhood.
Contrary to the new generation, especially the young people who live here, he didn’t have any opportunity to enjoy life during his childhood. He had to help his parents to collect everything that was necessary for the family, for life, to survive.
Today he tells his children about the old Artsakh that now no longer exists. He tells about it because they haven’t seen it, they lost it. Hopefully, as he wishes, this will be temporary.
Meanwhile, from awful events such as war and its aftermath, Jivan creates films that are masterpieces through which, with the poetry that distinguishes him, he recounts the conscience of man, the morality that is often lost, the sense of humanity and inhumanity. And so he also tells about the sense of belonging to an ancient culture and about the pride of a people who, despite everything, resist and come forward with their heads held high.
In Gate to Heaven the war is only the background of the story, which is about a German photo journalist, who returns to Artsakh in 2016 to cover the 4 days of war. The German guy falls in love with an opera singer, the daughter of a missing photo journalist who was his friend and whom he abandoned in captivity during the fall of the village of Talish in 1992.
It is the conscience of man to be the protagonist, and you can see it in his reactions, in hindsight, in ethics, in feelings such as love, friendship, melancholy and feelings of guilt. Finally there is a catharsis, even if the most romantic will not catch a happy ending.
Gate to Heaven is not an American movie. Even some other of his previous films are not. In fact, they tell about real people, about real heroes who, before fighting for the freedom and the independence of their land, they must fight for survival and dignity. I will only mention the most recent films he made.
Tevanik is about the war in the 90ies. It is a “three-dimensional” work of art, which unfolds through different points of view. It is a “terrene” film that all young people should watch.
The Last Inhabitant is about the war in 1998, with the evocative music of Serj Tankian, it is an intense, film, in which what you don’t see hurts more than what you actually see. Tevanik and The Last Inhabitant are definitely less light than Gate to Heaven. They both have had many nominations and won several awards and both are heartbreaking, but less heartbreaking than reality.
Generally people who experience war want to forget it. They might choose to do a job that is far away from war and bad memories. Jivan chose to do a job that keeps those sad memories constantly alive. Through his movies he is able to break the silence, to share, with the whole world, the truth of what the war is. During the interview, with his poetry, he manages to transform every answer into a scene from a film.
I.P. – You grow up in the Republic of Artsakh. How would you describe your childhood? –
J.A. – If you look at what I had to go through when I was a child you would be devastated because it was devastation. I have lived an unbelievable sad childhood. When I was a kid there wasn’t hot food, not hot water. There was nothing. It was during the war. There weren’t even the basic medicines needed. Not even something for the flu. It was a very sad situation. But I took the positive side of it. –
I.P. – How did you experience the fall of Soviet Union when you were a teenager? –
J.A. – In 1991 I was 10 years old. I remember when the Soviets forced us to come out of Artsakh. Everyone said that the war was starting. Actually it was already started. The feeling that I, my family and everybody in the streets had was the feeling that the whole planet was being dissolved, distroyed. And the only way we could keep ourselves safe was being united each other and struggle. I remember all the Soviets soldiers were imposing force on the peaceful demonstrators in Stepanakert. I remember how Soviets displayed people from Shahumyan. And I remember my dad telling me that he had seen thousand and thousand families, people on the streets. And he brought few families to our place to stay with us. They had left Shahunyan and came to the capital, Stepanakert. God knows what was happening with them! They stayed to our place for a month or two. Then they left and I don’t know where they are now. Not only our family did this. Other families in Stepanakert also brought people in their houses to help. Those who couldn’t accommodate people in their houses were preparing food and taking it to people on the street. That was a situation in which we all became one. Some people left to Russia or United States. That situation changed our character, our existence, our chemicals. At that time we realized that the world is not our friend (for world I mean governments). And it is only us, as people, who need to decide things for ourselves. We need to keep in touch with each other. I remember in our house and in the street the elders talking each other. Their words are stacking in my head. One of them is “We have to endure!”. Like in the movie Tevanik the commander keeps yelling that we have to stick together, that we have to endure by sustaining one another. –
I.P. – You said that some Armenians left to Russia or United States. Why you stayed in Armenia and didn’t escape? –
J.A. – There are a lot of people like me and I am the worst of all of them. I know a lot of brave people that are now in Stepanakert. I have lost 3 classmates in this war, in 2021. I lost a relative and a friend from military service, and friends from the neighbor. Some of my friends are now in Stepanakert. They are heroes. When I say that they reply: “You are the hero because you are talking about Artsakh through your films to the whole world”. Instead I believe that they are the real heroes because they are in Stapanakert and if they weren’t there I couldn’t tell the story. I currently live in Yerevan but my parents are in Stapanakert. My kids every Summer go to my mom’s in Stapanakert. There is an important thing to do. I need to change the world! If I don’t change the world who is going to change it? –
I.P. – What is the perception of people of Yerevan about what is happening in Artsakh? –
J.A. – People from Yerevan are very sensitive. When I say people from Yerevan I mean the common persons from Yerevan who wakes up in the morning to change the world. They are very sensitive, heart warming and heart felt. When I say Yerevan, I say Armenia and Armenia has sacrificed 4000 people, soldiers. What is happening now is almost like this: you are sacrificing your child and you cry. When you do that your cry is not being heard so other kids can survive. And I believe that mothers with their fingers would take out the eyes of the enemy. I am saying it in a very artistic way! It is typically what is happening in Armenia now. I think that what is happening in Artsakh right now is that they have started a new war because the Armenian needs has been not satisfied. That would take us to any war. The Armenian site has been silenced and not satisfied with what is going on. It looks like this is a glass cup and the planet it’ s a tree that is growing in this glass. Sooner or later the glass will broke because the tree is growing into that, because we have put that tree into the glass. We know and we are silent. The biggest guilt is the silence. –
I.P. – In Gate to Heaven Robert becomes a photographer out of fear. How about you? Why you chose to do a job that keeps the war memories always alive? –
J.A. – Because I am afraid that the war continues. I realized that it is so cathastrophic that I need to do something about that. I need to help to avoid it. I have to tell the story about the war and talk about how people are silent. I judge them for their silence. If you are paying taxes and your taxes, money, are going to Azerbajian you are guilty. When the congress decides that they need to help Azerbajian that means that the people are guilty. American citizen are guilty. Everybody in their category, not necessarily if they pay taxes, but if they are silent they are still guilty. I would like to ask the American public about the bombs. Where is the difference? The same bombs on the heads of Armenian in Stepanakert or just fall in Ukraine o in Kiev. One is firing by the Russians and one is fireing by Azerbajian. They are the same bombs, coming at the head of the same persons. Why everybody is talking about Ukraine but no one is talking about Artsakh. They are not smaller or bigger they are just the same bombs. –
I.P. – What prompted you to choose cinema as an art form to tell about the war? –
J.A. – I have questions for you and for your readers. Do you know what a wonderful feeling is when nature is blooming and you smell that freshness? …And the beautiful temperature and the smell of the grass and flowers? Do you know how beautiful is when you look at the sunrise and there are mountains and mountains between you and the sun? Do you know how hard it is when you remember people who does no longer exist in your life? That makes me think about making a movie about all of this. –
I.P. – When you work on a movie are you like Michael Movisyan, the journalist in Gate to Heaven, who reseaches, investigates and finally puts together the pieces of the puzzle? –
J.A. – In every movie that I make I achieve something and there is something about me. Michael Movisyan character is very close to me. I usually try to see things that others don’t see. I try to remember things that others might forget. In all my 3 movies there is my character. It has not necessarily be in one person. I could be in many different characters. You look at the planet with your eyes. And you try to create the movie through yourself. You are the person that puts all together. –
I.P. – In 2014 you created Fish eye Art Cultural Foundation which collaborates with the National Cinema Center of Armenia and the Lithuanian Artbox Production House. The mission of “Fisheye Art” Cultural Foundation is to create cultural projects (films) that are based on universal human values. Being clear that these values are not the same for everyone in the world, I ask you what do you mean by “universal human values”? –
J.A. – Even if I would stay alone on this planet I would not allow the human being getting such a low level of morality. War brings human being to the bottom. It eliminates human being not only physically but also psychologically. What happened in 2020 from the Azeri site is that they bombarded children hospitals, city hospitals. They not allowed Armenians to have weapons. They physically eliminated Armenians. The Military Trophies Museum in Baku, displays injured Armenian soldiers, chained captives, and exaggerated caricatures of Armenian soldiers. Even if you kill you have to respect your enemy. You have to keep you in a way that the other person respect you as a human. Aliyev is not only killing human being but he is eliminating Christians and churches in Azarbajian. Destroying the Armenian Heritage is a crime of the planet. I wish my enemy was like Saladin who I respect because even your enemy has to be a person of value. What does it mean to kill a men of 80 years old, a grandfather? What does it men to have an eye on 1500 hundred year old Armenian monastery? I am fighting against this. I don’t want human being to lose humanity, consciousness, morality. The last things that keeps us as humans is morality. My father used to say “Human’ morality should not being eaten as a food.”-
In 2007, his film “The Dawn is Peaceful in Artsakh” participated to the Ischia International Film Festival and it was a success.
He wishes to go soon visit the beautiful Napoli and maybe to screen his movies also there and all around Italy so that everyone can understand what has been happening in his homeland for years and how beautiful the life of Artsakh is. It is a place of heavenly beauty.
Jivan is currently working to realize other film projects. One of these is Revival which is about a woman’s secret that leads the three destinies to intertwine. A young robotics student living in France decides to find out the truth about his father’s wartime death in Artsakh.
His French girlfriend proposes to be reunited with his estranged father in Iceland. A French professor, descendant of a Holocaust survivor, claims his Jewish roots in Israel and is looking for the meaning of life. Along the way, the hardships they face force them to make sacrifices that bring them closer to their true identities.
There is great excitement and everyone is excited about the release of this film. A fundraising is underway.
You can DONATE too and make your contribution to art and Jivan Avetisyan this amazing work.
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Many thanks to Stepan Partamian for being a lovely interpreter of Armenian language.