I normally don’t have any heroes, but tonight, I have a new hero. Even if it is just for one night—he is a hero worthy of my ideal for making it clear: what life, true life is about. Courage, altruism, being motioned by life. To live because Life asks you to—and not because of what “you” want out of life.
His name is Levon Yotnakhparian, a tailor who saved a race from extinction during the Armenian Genocide in the early 1900s. There’s a new, small documentary about him called CROWS OF THE DESERT. It’s based on his memoirs.
The film includes rare footage of events that took place during the ethnic cleansing of Armenians throughout the Middle East. Most of us have heard only of The Holocaust…but the Armenian Genocide was actually the first genocide in the 20th century. If you look at the complete title of the film, it includes the words a “Hero’s Journey…” This is what makes the story so compelling…that it only takes one person to make a difference.
You may ask, what is the purpose of watching such atrocities? Firstly, we don’t learn about this in our history books. But when the material is done right: it deepens your love for humanity. If humanity is missing from your life, then this is the film to watch. And after you watch this, you can break bread with all people.
The film is a hard watch. Extremely disturbing but also with its darkness is tremendous light. More light than you could ever imagine.
Levon was the Gandhi of his time—but without much political fanfare. He was just a man trying to survive and escape death…and he escaped it in ways you can’t even imagine. We’re talking about marching 400 miles across the Syrian desert by foot—and this is only one of his trips.
Even after he found refuge, he continued to make those trips again, and again to gather up Armenian survivors who were sent on death marches across unforgiving deserts without food or water. He was determined to keep going back on these impossible journeys to gather survivors.
It’s hard to imagine that one person can have such a major impact on an entire race. After Levon got protection from the Arabs, he continued to scour the country to retrieve orphans that were either sold or saved by the Arabs. Although it was heartbreaking that some of these children would end up losing their family twice (first during the genocide, then second, taken away from their new parents), Levon felt that it was important the children be reunited with Armenian culture, so that they could remember who they are. It was this mission that made it possible for Levon to save what was left of the Armenian race.
From a spiritual perspective, this kind of heroism pierces the heart. It sheds light on many things: that in the comforts of our environment, our Soul and Mind sort of fall asleep. And this sleepiness dulls our full awareness that, just like Levon, many of us have an enormous capacity to do tremendous good in this world, yet we are held back by a single thread.
A thread. Not a gun to our head. Not an army out to pillage us. Not a time bomb. A thread. And this thread is nothing more than a symbol of the minuscule power we allow ourselves to be held together by while denying our strengths with one too many excuses.
I mean, if this guy survived several roundtrip Syrian desert treks without nothing but the stars for a compass, face torture along the way, and continually competed with Death to save his people—I can’t imagine what unimaginable things we can do if the spirit within us awaken us to this type of urgency…this type of desperation and ultimately, the ability to sacrifice our life—literally, for something more important than ourselves—more important than our small little world, our small little “big” problems, our small little inconveniences, our small little insecurities, our small little mental blocks, our small little states of self-pity, our small little pettiness, and our small little selfishness.
What inspires me is this attitude. “Fuck it, I’ll die for it.”
You know. This is how I wanna live life. I want to do something worth dying for. That’s inspiring.