Thus Spoke Stepan

Stepan Partamian not only has been hosting a live television show for eight years but he has also organized numerous other cultural events, such as Garni music records production and most recently the concert in Haywood Bowl which was dedicated to Armenian music. But he is mostly noted for his activities in live shows, namely the Bari Louys. The program begins by depicting a sun barrowed from Armenian cave paintings, then accompanied with a tranquil music the title Bari Luys appears on the screen with two optional spellings, perhaps done in order for the massage to be comprehended accurately. Customarily, the massage is not the greetings of the morning limited by day and night, but it is the indication of light of wisdom.

In the last months, refuge to the television box I have had the opportunity to follow the shows almost regularly; to witness once again the tension among the Armenian communities in Los Angeles. Basically, it is the matter of old and new Diasporas, but during this eight years Stepan Partamian by the threat of hanging the phone and lashing expressions have succeeded to decrease the tension and establish principles, or  game rules, acceptable for all sides.

The reviewed topics are divers: this concert, that performance, April 24, opposition unaware of the end, gambling grandparents, mixed marriages. In short, social, cultural, and political subjects that concerns the Armenian society, which gets diverted and reaches far places after unwise comments made by one or two callers. The host allows these deviations and as a result, the show becomes more liberal and interesting. However, the identity, in this case perhaps the differentiability remains the main issue.

Additionally, there is a big misunderstanding on the language and dialects. As much as the Armenian language benefits from host’s preventing and demanding position not to use foreign vocabulary, to the same extend it diminishes by mixed usage of the Eastern and Western Armenian, which is already regarded as customary truth. It is useful of course, instead of saying merci[1] to say shnorhagaloutyoun[2], as much the pronunciation of the latter to sound like an endless train. Likewise, it is necessary instead of jan, adat, ghadr, broblem[3], and a series of many other foreign words to use the Armenian equivalent. Yet, the mixture of Armenian languages, if it can be described that way, more or less does not have the same effect as the usage of foreign vocabulary, or is there a perspective of new combined language that as a last resort can be named Los Angelesian’s Armenian? The caller who was speaking fluent Western Armenian, to avoid being misunderstood, halfway switched to unskillful Eastern Armenian, or the Eastern Armenian guy, as a good will and closeness suddenly started babbling in a fake Western Armenian, yet, neither being misunderstood nor closeness are lingual matters.

It was said that the main topic of the show is the identity, it can be expanded to say existential identity, that becomes evident by Stepan Partamian’s fiery announcements, which involuntary reminds us  Nietzsche’s at one time problematic, then famous, now almost forgotten “Thus Spoke Zarathustra”, where, incidentally the prologue too is associated to the sun. Zarathustra bored of his ten years of solitude comes out from his cave, and refers to the grate star:

You grate star, what would your happiness be had you not those for whom you shine? For ten years you have climbed to may cave: you would have tired of your light and of the journey had it not been for me and my eagle and my serpent. But we waited for you every morning, took your overflow from you, and blessed you for it. Behold, I am weary of my wisdom, like a bee that has gathered too much honey: I need hands outstretched to receive it. I would give away and distribute, until the wise among men find joy once in their folly, and the poor in their riches.[4]

Other than the symbolic similarity of the sun in the opening, in the television program during the evaluation of different topics emerge many mental similarities, such as when a group of callers find the idea of building new churches necessity, it evokes the argument and anger of the host, as I recollect, “You fools! Comprehend! There is no God, you are the God, what purpose will it serve to waste that much money?” And this is similar to the book’s next passage where Zarathustra goes to the forest and meets the old saint who by escaping men and refuging God was living there. After some conversations when Zarathustra leaves the woods and becomes alone, he wonders, “Could it be possible? This old saint in the forest has not yet heard anything of this, that God is dead!”[5]

So, it appears that without man the sun and universe are meaningless – the expression good morning that often the host addresses the viewers with is the same as the proverb: a nod is good as a wink to a blind horse, which in this case is a word of encouragement that the viewers are not to be the holder of the phenomenon but to be the meaning giver of them – then the host announces ‘God is dead’ or ‘There is no God.’. The first statement is more convincing than the second, because in order to deny something, you first have to prove it, and the proof and the denial are present in the first statement. Anyhow, if there is no God, man is obligated to accept extra responsibilities, for that extra, Zarathustra offers the overman, and Stepan offers the progressive Armenian. One is leaned towards humanitarian perspective while the other towards nationalistic. Man in order to become an overman, according to Zarathustra must go into himself, must go under, like a glass must be filled first and then emptied, like sun must rise and set, he must be accompanied to the slithering serpent beneath and soaring eagle above, and the Armenian, in order to become progressive, according to Stepan Partamian, must be realistic, must free himself from superstition, must keep step with the time, and must use the economical and technological possibilities that was provided by 21st century.

In another show, as some would say, the talk was going about Diaspora and Armenia, of course, if some of the callers let it go that way. They called and asked about free housings, they called and gave comments about the host’s appearance, they called and using shameless expressions tried to be funny, in short, after a long time of detouring, eventually the talk found its course and the conversation resumed. However, since the topic was concerning many groups of the society, the conflicts were inevitable. The Armenian of Armenia ridiculed the Iranian-Armenian way of speaking, the Lebanese-Armenian criticized the xenophilism of the Armenian of Armenia, the American-Armenian somehow arrogant, gave advices in English to be calm, then came the turn of each group’s heavy artillery of well speaking representatives. It seemed that the reason for their call was not to discuss the topic, but to prove through their ‘fluent’ language skills, how four hundred years in exile they kept their Armenian language and culture alive. The other caller, “I am a teacher of Armenian language and litera…” By this time, the host’s cup of patient full to the brim, he shouted, “Who cares who you are! What I offered for discussion, yet you are talking about what! Understand, all of us are from Armenia.” Freely and generously this right of citizenship pledge to the Armenians of Diaspora, made the colony’s communities equal to the former citizens of the Armenian state, who in the womb of native culture burned, instead of being cooked. And the former citizens, unhappy of this equality raised the very famous expression; Vonts te? Mite gareli e?[6] Therefore, the host as a fact brought up the land’s topic; the one that lost and the one that found, the old and new, the one that rejects and the one that integrates.

This is the moment that Zarathustra approaches the first city by leaving the forest,  where a tightrope performance was being organized. He spoke about overman and earth in front of an awaiting crowd.

You have made your way from worm to man, and much in you is still worm. / Behold, I teach you the overman. The overman is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the overman shall be the meaning of the earth! I beseech you, my brothers, remain faithful to the earth, and do not believe those who speak to you of otherworldly hopes![7]

Position is still the same, remaining fateful to the land and earth. However, Zarathustra yet not finished his speech, someone shouted, “We have heard enough about the tightrope walker; now let us see him too!”[8] People laughed at Zarathustra as they laughed at Stepan Partamian when he announced, in October, he will move to homeland forever, back to the roots.

Of course, Stepan Partamian realized long ago that parallel to the progressive Armenians there are a large quantity of unwise Armenians, and often he speaks about them, as Zarathustra speaks about man who instead of listening about higher man, or overman, prefers to listen about the last man. And the last man or unwise Armenian is the man that calls in the airtime and instead of speaking, oh shock, brays like an ass or cocks like a rooster, thinking it is sunrise and that is the way to react. The last man is the man who defends the Christianity and in the verge of losing the argument, concludes, “Go fuck yourself!”

Opponents of not necessarily Stepan Partamian’s, but the advance ideas or unconventional thoughts, however much pretend themselves to be literate, soon becomes apparent from the first words or even the communications style as to what their true nature is.

As a matter of fact, on this small region, Armenians gathered from different countries are so pretentious; each one considers himself above the other, each one thinks of himself as more progressive and a better Armenian, while in reality, they are all exiles neither able to preserve their values nor create new ones. Unfortunately, beginning from individuals to unions, from Schools to organizations, for fear of loss, they rotate the orienting arrow to the conservation, to the extent, that develops a conservative society unable to progress.

It is fascinating though, everything is not conservable, the only thing that can be conserved is what has reached its final place and, that is the cemetery or museum. When the language is still being spoken and the Armenian is dancing and singing, perhaps more than others, the idea of preserving the language or Armenians means wishing an immature demise. Conservation and progression are two contradictory and conflicting poles. Progress requires change, addendum, and if it changed and developed, it means it didn’t conserve, but was transformed. Therefore, by not conserving it can be conserved, meaning, conserving is not the only and necessarily the right way of conservation while progress is the guarantee of the preservation. Preserving the language or improving it? Preserving the Armenian or helping him to progress? The first ones are marking time, the second ones are ambulating, and this is what Stepan Partamian suggest when he speaks about progressive Armenian.

In “Thus Spoke Zarathustra” a book for all and none, after the prologue that has ten parts, in four chapters are presented eighty maxims. Most of the maxims in a way correspond to the revealed ideas and occurrences during the television show. He who fallows the show already knows that the host, perhaps one should say the messenger of new ideas, during the last eight years has gained loyal friends as well as pledged foes.  The viewer knows the host, for avoiding generalization had divided the viewers to two groups; those who sit on the right side of the television set and those who on the left. Righties, I think, are the progressive Armenians who can be counted on the fingers of one hand, and the lefties are the majority of unwise Armenians. And his fiery worlds usually are addressed not to the all, but to those, who sit on the left side. Of course, you should not forget the ‘donkey’ who by his participation is an inseparable part of the show.

This image, involuntarily resembles the “Conversation with the Kings” in the last chapter of the book, where Zarathustra on his way meets two kings and a donkey. One of the kings called king on the right, and the other, king on the left. It becomes evident that they are on their way to find the higher man. When they meet Zarathustra they say.

With the sword of this word you cut through our hearts’ thickest darkness. You have discovered our distress, for behold, we are on our way to find the higher man – the man who is higher than we, though we are kings. To him we are leading this ass.[9]

Often when some of the viewers complain to the host to take action to prevent the unnecessary involvement of the ass, he patiently explains, “It’s all right, let him call, it is not nice to reject him, it will take time for him to become a man, he is Armenian, isn’t he?” And such talks. This approach is the same as to lead the ass to the higher man.  In the second part of the maxim the king on the right says,

O Zarathustra , how well we did to go forth to see you! For your enemies showed us your image in their mirror: there you had the mocking grimace of a devil, so that we were afraid of you. But what we could do? Again and again you pierced our ears and hearts with your maxims. So we said at last: what difference does it make how he looks?[10]

The viewers also will remember the suggestion of the host being addressed to the foes, that they see his image in their own mirror. Or the phenomenon, that some called and said as if the kids, perhaps the adult themselves, are afraid in case it is not the body but only the head of the host is visible.

This similarity continues parallel till Zarathustra on his way meets other chosen men too, and as higher man, invites all of them to his cave, but after a short absence when he comes back, he sees the two kings, the retired pope, the wicked magician, the voluntary beggar, the wonderer and shadow, the old soothsayer, the conscientious in spirit, and the ugliest man, all together worshiping the ass.

Of course, the television show with its unique cave paintings resembles the cave in the book, the same platform, where all are invited to evaluate ideas, but, is it possible that this airtime guest also in the end like the assumed higher men evolves in the same provocation? This is the question. The answer is unknown and remains to be seen. However, last time when I turned the television on, thus spoke Stepan, “The brain of Armenian is rusted, not a drop of honey,[11] but a drop of oil is needed to make it work.”


Gourgen Arzoumanian

Translated from Armenian

[1] Thank you; in French.

[2] Thank you; in Armenian.

[3] Dear; Persian, custom; Arabic, value; Arabic, problem; distorted English.

[4] Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Nietzsche, translated by Walter Kaufmann, Penguin Books, 1966, pp. 9-10.

[5] Ibid, p. 12.

[6] How so? Is it Possible? In Armenian.

[7] Thus Spoke, Nietzsche, pp. 12-13.

[8] Ibid, p. 14.

[9] Ibid, p. 246.

[10] Ibid, p. 247.

[11] Reference to Hovhannes Toumanian’s  famous tale, where the cat and dog, the owners of the pets, the neighborhoods, the cities, the country, finally the whole world involves in a war for a drop of honey.