The compulsive eagerness with which many Armenians “break the heads” of others (same as gluxd kjardem) at least verbally is a cultural legacy, which I would rather refer to as self-mockery, not honest or aware enough to acknowledge itself. Seven years of foreign influence took me to the conceptual threshold leading to misinterpretation of verbal structures locals and the Armenians of the Diaspora use.
As irony would have it, I experienced the physical power of the phrase above way before I would comprehend its meaning. After being beaten by a group of Russian guys from my neighborhood at the age of 6 because of my ethnicity, my grandfather took responsibility of my upbringing.
The good thing is that it made me feel important since the first toast when he would drink was always to me. The bad thing is that the toast sounded like this, “If anyone ever says something you don’t like, whether an offense or a bitter word, hit them so hard that they break their heads and end up in a hospital.”
I was taking it seriously and would understand it directly. But who wouldn’t, especially if your grandfather drinks three times a day and you are exposed to a persistent repetition of a didactic instruction? At some point, he got to realize that too much of in-vain restatement might be tiresome for a kid: he started pouring 20 grams of vodka for me every evening.
Now, I don’t want you to get the wrong impression of him. Vodka was part of his discipline. He was once told by a doctor that a little bit of vodka every morning is good for the heart. That was something he would totally love to believe, but his self-control was beyond his love for vodka: he was consuming no more than 50 grams daily. As for me, he would always ask before pouring. Well, I had my own self-discipline that didn’t yield to his own; I would always agree. For me, drinking was making me feel older, and in my mind, if I was old enough to drink, then I was strong enough to give back to the Russian squad.
Grandpa had a strong fright and suspicion that after that incident, I would start to feel ashamed of my national background. And I can’t claim the opposite. At that point in my raw consciousness, I did; I stopped speaking Armenian.
Back to the toast, it took me a couple of months to adopt the thinking that all the Armenians living outside their country needed to break heads at some point to survive- in other words, pure self-protection. But when we moved to Armenia, the first question I had was, why would local Armenians break each other’s heads? When I finally understood why I decided to test it out on my classmate, and I had a good reason for that.
Tigran, who was twice my height, was making fun of a girl with darker skin in the classroom during the break, which then turned into an impressive demonstration of his vernacular vocabulary beautified by a vast range of curse words. I looked around; no other guy was reacting. Just as my grandfather, I decided to take the initiative of Tigran’s upbringing. At least, that’s how I used to think. Although my actions lacked solid judgment, I envy my confidence at the age of 12, first, because I decided to beat a guy, second, I had to study with that same guy for three more years, third, his friends were around and a single slap from them would launch me to the other side of the room and fourth, I thought I could teach him something. Instead, I was taught a lesson.
The fresh news of my footprint on Tigran’s shirt spread faster than I would get home. I was scolded by my mother. My grandfather was mysteriously silent, and I was as scared to ask his opinion about my perceived heroism as I was after the incident in Russia. Towards evening, I was called to the table and poured not the regular 20 but 50 grams. As a response to my question as to why I was getting more than usual, my grandpa blushed. This was a moment of honesty for him.
“If anyone ever says something you don’t like, whether an offense or a bitter word, hit them twice as hard as you did today,” he said.
His glance was telling more than his words eroding the possibility of my personal naivety and misunderstanding. His wet eyes were mirroring the unending depth of his own benign and inner pride, not for my “deed,” but for who I was growing into. I came to realize that there are ways of protection other than head-breaking, such as empowering toasts on a daily basis. I was confused; a strange, new principle was intruding on my value system. I was maturing with a single glance. I was maturing with 50 grams of vodka.