El centenario

Recogida en el viejo barrio armenio-judío, la pequeña iglesia armenia está hasta los topes esta mañana. Mucha más gente que en una misa dominical normal. La región del sur de Georgia, habitada por armenios, no se vio afectada por el genocidio de 1915, pero muchos sobrevivientes de las masacres del Imperio Otomano llegaron huyendo hasta aquí. Sus descendientes hoy conmemoran, junto con los armenios dispersos por todo el mundo, que hace cien años, el 24 de abril de 1915, doscientos cincuenta líderes armenios fueron arrestados en Constantinopla, dándose inicio así a la persecución y expulsión de los varios millones de personas que componían la fuerte población armenia del Imperio Otomano.

Una niña de doce o trece años se me acerca con sus enormes ojos oscuros, diciéndome en un florido inglés: «Quisiera preguntarle, caballero, ¿qué piensan en Europa sobre lo que nos pasó? ¿Hay alguien que reconozca que hubo un genocidio armenio?» «Por supuesto, en Europa casi todo el mundo lo reconoce». «Gracias, muchas gracias, caballero», dice con admiración.

El anciano sacerdote habla largamente, con calma. Sólo entiendo frases sueltas del sermón, recitado en el dialecto armenio de Akhaltsikhe: los nombres de los países, las naciones, las personas y, de manera recurrente, metz yeghern, «el gran crimen», como designan los armenios al genocidio. La gente escucha atentamente, asintiendo con la cabeza. «¿De qué hablaba?», pregunto al final de la misa. «Que no hay que olvidar lo que pasó, pero que debemos superarlo y no odiar a los descendientes de los que nos hicieron esto».

Misa en la iglesia armenia de Akhaltsikhe

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The hundredth year

Hiding in the old Armenian-Jewish neighborhood, the little Armenian church was packed this morning. There are many more people than on a regular Sunday Mass. The southern region of Georgia, inhabited by Armenians, was not hit by the Genocide of 1915, but many survivors of the massacres in the Ottoman Empire fled here. Their descendants today commemorate, together with the Armenians scattered all over the world, that a hundred years ago, on 24 April 1915, 250 Armenian leaders were arrested in Constantinople, and thus began the extermination and expulsion of the several million strong Armenian population of the Ottoman Empire.

A twelve or thirteen year old girl comes to me, with huge dark eyes, calling me in very ornate English: “I want to ask you, Sir, what they think in Europe about what happened to us? Is there anyone who recognizes that there was an Armenian genocide?” “Of course, in Europe almost everyone recognizes it.” “Thank you very, very much, Sir,” she says in awe.

The old priest speaks long, calmly. I understand only snippets of the sermon, recited in the Armenian dialect of Akhaltsikhe: the names of countries, nations, persons, and the recurrent term metz yeghern, “the great crime”, as the Armenians call the Genocide. People are watching intently, nodding. “What did he talk about?” I ask at the end of the mass. “That we must not forget what happened, but we must rise above it, and must not hate the descendants of those who did this to us.”

Mass at the Armenian church of Akhaltsikhe

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For St. George’s Day / Celebració de Sant Jordi

Last night, before St. George’s icon in the 11th-c. royal monastery of Nikortsminda. According to the ancient Georgian tradition, St. George defeated not the dragon, but Emperor Diocletian.

Anit, davant la icona del reial monestir de Nikortsminda, del segle XI. Segons l'antiga tradició georgiana, Sant Jordi va vèncer no al drac, sinó a l'emperador Dioclecià.

აღდგომასა შენსა (Aghgdomasa shensa) Thy resurrection. The monks of the monastery and singer school of Zarzma / Els monjos del monestir i l'escolania de Zarzma

Vineyards next to the monastery of Nikortsminda, in the Khvanchkara wine region, yesterday afternoon
Vinyes al costat del monestir de Nikortsminda, a la regió vinícola de Khvanchkara, ahir al capvespre


The Old Lion Publisher of Lviv has been in the market for a few years, and published some wonderful children’s books with the characteristic beautiful, surrealistic illustrations of contemporary Lviv books. The first one, which we will soon present, is about Lemberg’s heraldic animal, who gave its name to the publisher, the old lion, who receives exotic visitors in his loft, and while we accompany their way from the railway station to Lemberg’s main square, we also get to know the city’s enchanting small streets and houses.

The Old Lion also publishes other books related to Lemberg and to the Ukraine. Last year was published the picture book – which we will also present – that explains the Maidan to the children, with illustrations based on old Rusyn motifs. And this year the book that tells what is war, and how to counter it.

In 2015 the book received the special prize of the Bologna Ragazzi Award, and on this occasion the publisher interviewed the two authors, Romana Romanyshyn and Andrij Lesiv.

The war, as our previous post shows, is actual again in the Ukraine now, a hundred years after the great war that destroyed Galicia. However, acording to the authors, the book is not only about this war.

“We have many book ideas, that are constantly noted on this paper on the wall here, marking their priority by underlining, highlighting and with exclamatin marks. The theme of war has never been included on this paper. We heard about the war only from our grandparents, or from the news about other countries. All these horrors were far away, and seemed to never reach here. But things have changed in the Ukraine. Other kinds of priorities have emerged, we had to rethink the values. Suddenly, all the stories told by witnesses about other wars, have become reality in our own country. This book on the war naturally reflects the events happening now. But this book is not only about our war in the Ukraine, it contains no data or geographical reference to it. All is based on simple symbols, like light and darkness, flowers and weeds, thin paper and sharp metal. The language of symbols is a clear and universal language, independent of geography.”

The War that changed Rondo

The city called Rondo was special. The air was clean and transparent, as if it were of the finest light. And its inhabitants were also all special and fragile. They grew flowers, tended gardens and parks, built fantastic houses, talked with the birds and plants, loved to sing, draw and write poetry. And they were happy to live in Rondo. But the city was most loved by three friends: Darko, Zirka and Fabian. Everyone knew them in Rondo.

Danko’s body was thin and translucent, and bright as a candle. His heart shone the brightest. He often rambled the streets of the city on his penny-farthing, humming the melodies of his favorite movies. A basket hung on the handlebar, with a thick atlas in it, which contained the old engravings of plants, flowers and trees.

Mozart: Rondo alla turca. Fiona Vilnite’s transcript for string quartet

Fabian was a descendant of ancient treasure hunters, with sharp sense of smell and sight. He was so light, that even the slightest breeze could have lifted and taken him far away, had he not had a silver medal with a letter “F” in his neck. The medal was heavy and solid, and Fabian never took it off his neck, he was so stuck to the land and to Rondo.

Zvirka could fly. He soared high in the sky, and could even perform complex aerobatics. He flew high on his paper wings, and he wrote on them his travel sketches and notes. Because he loved to travel more than anything else.

Rondo was famous for its beautiful flowers. On the main square was the city’s pride and treasure, the greenhouse. Here they collected the rarest flowers and plants from the most remote corners of the planet. But what was most surprising: these flowers could sing.

They often staged concerts in the greenhouse, which always featured Mozart’s Rondo. They came together from every corner of the city to enjoy this incredible spectacle. And every morning, when the sun rose, the flowers sang the anthem of the city, proudly lifting up their heads into the light.

Danko cycled every morning before sunrise to the greenhouse, because he loved to start the day by singing. Together with the flowers. He understood the flowersr better than anyone else. He took care so they felt well, and always had enough water and light. He carefully studied the atlas with the Latin names, because he wanted to know, which flower what needs the most.

After lunch, Danko often met Fabian in the corner café, where they discussed the latest news. Then they went to see Zvirka. Although they were never sure whether they find him at home, because Zvirka often flew to distant voyages, and he was not seen for several days in the city.

This day was just like any other in Rondo. The inhabitants of the town rushed after their jobs. Danko was going to his friend, because he knew that Zvirka had just come back from a journey, and he brought lots of new stories and pictures with him. The sun was shining, the birds and flowers singing. Everything was like always…

Suddenly everything was quiet. The news swept through the town:


The inhabitants of Rondo did not know, who the War is. It came out of nowhere, black and terrible. Roaring and gnashing crept towards the city, leaving behind ruins, chaos and darkness. Everything it touched fell into an impenetrable darkness. But the most terrible was that it sowed black flowers, dry and thorny weeds, which had no smell and no sound. They instantly sprang out of the earth, and grew into a thick jungle, which hid the sun. And in the lack of light, the fragile and defenseless flowers of Rondo began to fade and wither. They had no more force to raise their heads towards the light. And worst of all, they did not sing any more.

Danko, Zirka and Fabian, though fragile, were brave. They went out against the War. First they wanted to speak to it, asking it to go away. But the War ignored them, stubbornly going further, and launched its terrible machinery into attack. It threw fiery sparks and sharp stones everywhere.

One of the stones hit Danko on the chest, just above the heart, and a huge crack arose on his body. The sparks reached Zirka, and burned through his paper wings. And a black flower grew out in front of Fabian, piercing his leg.

The War did not spare anyone.

Then the three friends tried to talk to War in its language. Zirka and Fabian collected the stones and nails flying over the city, and threw them back. But this did not stop the War. Danko thought that the War could be stopped if they made better its heart. But in vain, because the War had no heart.

The three friends watched in despair as the War was destroying their fragile world. The inhabitants of the city disappeared one after another. There was less and less hope that the War would ever leave. The once bright and bustling streets became empty. And there was less and less light.

It went on day after day. The War steadily advanced, spreading black flowers everywhere, and the three friends tried to defend the city as they could.

Danko continued to go to the greenhouse, whose windows were darkened, and where the few surviving flowers stood languidly and silently in the corner.

On one occasion, when darkness was already so thick, that Danko could barely find his way, he tried to save at least these last flowers with the light of his penny-farthing. He put it on a stand, directed its lamp on the flowers, and began to pedal.

As soon as the light fell on the flowers, they recovered, and their pale color became vivid. Danko pedaled more and more quickly. The light grew greater and greater. Then Danko started to sing the anthem of the city, which had not been heard for long in Rodno. As he arrived at the end of the first stanza, one of the flowers lifted its head, and sang wwith him. And then the second and the third. Then a dozen of them sang the anthem in choir.

And Danko understood: the War was terrified, because a dozen flowers kept on singing, in spite of everything, because even the thinnest beam of light weakened the darkness. So, to stop the War, the whole community has to build the great machinery of Light, which dispels darkness and saves the singing flowers!

The three friends immediately went to work. The other inhabitants of the city also come one after the other to help them, and the main square of Rondo became a bustling ant’s nest. All united in a common cause, they worked as well as they could. The city worked like a single coordinated clockwork.

Zirka carried out reconnaissance flights, and drew on his wings the location of the enemy camp, and the peered data. Fabian, as the best treasure hunter, collected parts to the light machine in construction. Danko acquired a large book on mechanics, and directed from it the construction of the machine.

When the machine was ready, they all took their places, and began to pedal on command. Hundreds of pedals, thousands of wheels started to spin at a rate – and the machine was launched. Light flooded the streets. Danko, Zvirka, Fabian and all the inhabitants of the city sang the anthem of Rondo together with the flowers.

Mozart: Rondo alla turca. Guitar transcription by Charlie Parra del Riego

The War stopped short, then it slowly began to dissipate in the light emitted by the machine. The stronger the light, the louder the anthem, the quicker the War disappeared, and together with it, the darkness and the thorny black flowers as well.

Rondo sang the anthem until the last black flower disappeared, and the last remnant of the darkness was dispelled.

It was a victory!

In place of the black flowers, red poppies grew out of the earth. Before the War, poppies of many colors grew in Rondo, pink, yellow, violet, purple, white, but not a single red one. Now, however, all the poppies were only red.

However, unfortunately, not everything could be restored. The cracks remained on Dankoʻs transparent body and heart, as well as the burn marks on Zirka’s wings, and Fabian was limping with his pierced leg.

The inhabitants of the city also became different. Everyone had sad memories about the War, which changed Rondo. And the city was covered with the multitude of the red poppies growing all over.*

(* Since 1914, the red poppy has been the symbol of the falle in the war.)

Mozart: Rondo alla turca. The original piano piece, performed by Daniel Barenboim

Pascua en el cementerio

La Pascua en Lemberg no es sólo una fiesta para los vivos, también para los muertos. Al igual que en otras regiones ortodoxas, es ahora cuando las familias visitan las tumbas de sus seres queridos, rezan juntos y van luego a comer las viandas que fueron bendecidas el día anterior.

El cementerio Łyczakowski es el más antiguo de los que conserva Lemberg. Inaugurado en 1788, después de que José II cerrara las zonas de entierro en el interior de las murallas, se lo considera panteón polaco. Aquí descansa un gran número de artistas, científicos y aristócratas polacos, y los caídos en los levantamientos de 1830-1831 y 1863. Y, en la esquina sur-este del cementerio, en una parcela aparte, los «aguiluchos», que defendieron a la solitaria Lwów contra el ejército ucraniano independiente durante la guerra civil ucraniano-polaca de 1918-1920, mientras el ejército polaco, comandado por Pilsudski, hacía retroceder al Ejército Rojo de Budenny y de Stalin desde Varsovia. En el cementerio de los héroes, construido en 1924, los nombres de los muchachos y  muchachas se pueden leer sobre las cruces blancas dispuestas en largas filas. Ninguno de ellos tenía más de veinte años. Nadie viene aquí por Pascua, pero las flores frescas y las banderas polacas atestiguan la presencia de visitas constantes.

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Tras la expulsión de los polacos de Lwów en 1945, el cementerio de los héroes también comenzó a decaer. Los monumentos fueron derribados y la mayoría de tumbas destruidas con tanques. Sólo en 2005, después del decidido apoyo de Polonia a la «Revolución Naranja» ucraniana, se dio permiso al gobierno polaco para restaurar la necrópolis. Mientras tanto, los ucranianos también habían establecido su propio cementerio de los héroes en las inmediaciones del polaco. En su punto más alto está el Arcángel San Miguel sobre una columna, con la espada desenvainada, y en el cementerio los cenotafios o las tumbas reales de los miembros del ejército ucraniano independiente de 1918, la división ucraniana de las SS de Galizia, el ejército nacional de Bandera, se alinean con los partisanos ucranianos que lucharon hasta 1955 contra los invasores soviéticos, unos al lado de otros. Todo el año tienen coronas de flores, no sólo de sus familiares, sino también del ejército ucraniano, de scouts o de asociaciones patrióticas.

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El año pasado una nueva, tercera, parcela fue inaugurada en el cementerio de los héroes, que ahora es la parte de mayor crecimiento del cementerio Łyczakowski. Aquí enterraron a los jóvenes soldados caídos en defensa de las fronteras orientales del país. Las coronas están aún frescas en la mayoría de tumbas. El domingo de Pascua hay visitantes en casi todos los sepulcros, familiares, amigos, muchos uniformes militares; algunos se acercan a dos o tres tumbas. Ya está superado el primer golpe, mecánicamente y sin lágrimas llevan a cabo los rituales de la visita. No hablan, ni tampoco comen, sólo colocan sobre la tumba, sacándola de la cesta de Pascua que llevan consigo, una rebanada de pan pascual, huevos cortados por la mitad, un bizcocho en forma de cordero.

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Easter in the cemetery

Easter in Lemberg is not only the feast of the living, but also of the dead. As in other Orthodox regions, at this time the families visit the tombs of their loved ones, they pray together and eat the food blessed in the previous day.

The Łyczakowski cemetery is the oldest preserved cemetery of Lemberg. Opened in 1788, after Joseph II closed the burial grounds within the city walls, it has been considered a Polish pantheon. Here lies a large number of Polish artists, scientists and aristocrats, and the martyrs of the 1830-1831 and 1863 uprisings. And, in the south-east corner of the cemetery, in a separate plot, the “eaglets”, who defended the lonely Lwów against the independent Ukrainian army during the Ukrainian-Polish civil war of 1918-1920, while the Polish army, led by Piłsudski, beat back Budenny’s and Stalin’s Red Army from Warsaw. In the heroes’ cemetery, built in 1924, the names of boys and girls can be read on the white crosses which stand in long rows. None of them were older than twenty. Nobody comes here at Easter, but the fresh flowers and the Polish flags testify to the fact of frequent visitors.

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After the expulsion of the Poles from Lwów in 1945, the heroes’ cemetery also started to decay. The monuments were torn down, and most of the graves were destroyed with tanks. Only in 2005, after the firm support of Poland for the Ukrainian “Orange Revolution”, did the Polish government receive permission to restore the necropolis. In the meantime, the Ukrainians also set up their own heroes’ cemetery in the immediate vicinity of the Polish one. At its highest point, the Archangel Michael stands at the top of a tall column, sword drawn, and in the cemetery the monuments and the real or symbolic graves of the independent Ukrainian army of 1918, the Ukrainian SS division Galichina, the national army of Bandera, and the Ukrainian partisans fighting up until 1955 against the Soviet invaders, line up next to each other. They are wreathed throughout the year, not only by family members, but also by the Ukrainian army, scouts, and patriotic associations.

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Last year a third, new, plot was opened in the heroes’ cemetery, which is now the fastest growing part of the Łyczakowski cemetery. They bury here the young soldiers fallen in defense of the country’s eastern borders. The wreaths are still fresh on most of the graves. On Easter Sunday there are visitors at almost every grave, family, friends, many in military uniform, with some even visiting two or three graves. They are already over the first shock, they perform mechanically and with dry eyes the rituals of grave visiting. They do not speak, they do not even eat, they only place on the grave, from the Easter basket brought with them, a loaf of Easter bread, eggs cut in half, a lamb-shaped cake.

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