The War Caught up with us Too

Mariet Simonyan

“The war caught up with us too” is the first line of William Saroyan’s story The War. We all, my students and me too, appeared on the hottest spot of the war with our new perceptions of life and death, worrying about our brother, father and son who are on the front line.

Real education can’t be out of life. Life cannot flow in its own way, and education can’t go in a way that is independent of life, out of life, unrelated to life. Real education is life itself, with its war and peace.

The 9th graders are having their lessons in the online mode. The 9th grader Vahan is usually active during online lessons but he has ceased to respond since the beginning of the war. I can see that he is online but he doesn’t speak, doesn’t answer the questions. It seems to me that his microphone is out of order. But he doesn’t write as well. There aren’t any completed assignments on his blog pages. What’s happened to this boy? He participated in online lessons with so much love! He was the first to connect, and we used to talk till the lesson began. Connected to the online lessons and, at the same time being silent, Vahan spent the whole war period. And suddenly, after the ceasefire was established, I encounter Vahan’s note on the Facebook: “At 01:45 today, Father returned from the war. He defended the border of Artsakh for 43 days. I would very much like he came home in the way he did in 2016. Unfortunately, we have what we have.” That was it. The mystery was revealed. Today he is the same Vahan inspired by online lessons. I wouldn’t say he is eager to learn, but active, sociable, and lively. And how many such Vahans there are! A teacher’s hard task is not to overlook them.       

We are discussing two stories by William Saroyan: The War and War was Declared.

First we speak about the story War was Declared. The barber is a typical Saroyan character who calls everybody a fool and sends them out of the barber’s shop if they speak about the beginning of the war.

We are discussing this Saroyan character of the barber.  Arteni Janikyan, a 9th grader, writes: “He was right, he wasn’t insane, he wasn’t stupid, he just looked at everything differently. He understood and realized that if people’s reaction to the idea of “war” was negative, if their worldview changed, and when everybody excluded the idea of war from their minds, wars would stop once and for all.”

Karine Gomtsyan writes: “Today nobody accepts cannibalism. It is a phenomenon that has been rejected for a long time. If all the people in this world exclude the war, it won’t exist either.”

The learners are discussing. I am also speaking. We all enjoy equal rights to express our opinions during discussion. I, of course, participate in the discussion in another way by asking questions. I am organizing the discussion rather than expressing opinions. I am trying not to express my opinion in order not to restrain the students. Whether you like it or not, most learners unconditionally accept your opinion.

The story is stunning, and the barber’s character is unexpected. Not everybody agrees about Saroyan’s approach to creating this kind of image.

Shushan writes: “I can’t say that I completely agree about the idea of the story because I think that there is something illogical in the idea, like in many of Saroyan’s works. But I like it very much because the idea presented in this way, impresses a person and remains in him/her in a peculiar way.”

It is not important for me that there are learners who do not agree with Saroyan. Let them listen to Saroyan, let them understand Saroyan’s viewpoint, let them think about it. The living and life-giving seed of Saroyan worldview has been sown. In one student, it will grow and sprout, in the other it will wither without sprouting. How can you know the final result in each student? They have already heard the war rejecting viewpoint, the viewpoint of the genious writer Saroyan. That’s important.

“Remember one thing! There is no war,” says Saroyan’s hero, the barber. Saroyan tells his hero that he is an outstanding man.

The next short story to be discussed is William Saroyan’s The War. The discussion is online again. This is a present-day topic, unfortunately, too close to the ninth grader who hasn’t yet emerged from the nightmare of war.

The period of World War II is described in the story. Some American boys are taking revenge on a German friend as an enemy considering him to be a symbol of fascism. The learners immediately draw parallels with our days. What would they do if they had an Azerbaijani or Turkish peer among them? 

“Turks are wild beasts”, a voice is heard from the other side of the Internet. It is Davit who was in Izmir Space Camp with a group of his schoolmates a year ago and spent 2-3 days in Istanbul during that travel.

“Davit, you have been to Turkey. Were Turks savages and beasts, impolite and hostile?”

“No, they weren’t. They were very good. I made friends with Turkish boys there”, Davit’s voice is heard.

“Dear Davit, where are those savage Turks if they are not in Turkey?”

There is silence on the Internet. Davit is silent.

“I have got some Azerbaijani friends,” says Mane ..

Karine Gomtsyan says: “Is Armenian-Azerbaijani coexistence possible now, Ms Mariet? They both have lost close relations.”

The teenagers are thinking, discussing, debating …

We are having a literature lesson. These are hard times. Our Saroyan has come to support us with his different perspective.   


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