“As a filmmaker raised in Nagorno-Karabakh I have listened to stories of hardships endured by my family and villagers, and of their struggles into dealing with such a devastating inter-ethnic conflict.” So says Jivan Avetisyan, a prolific 35 year-old Armenian director with a solid documentary background, who was born in this mountainous landlocked separatist region in the Southwestern tip of Armenia bordering with Azerbaijan and totaling a mere 4400 square km. He even had to do his mandatory military service there, in the province’s Defense Army from 1999 to 2001.
It is not surprising that he decided to make it the setting of The Last Inhabitant, his eighth feature film. An adaptation of Tsovinar Khatchatryan eponymous novel, a writer who happens to also be an official at the Republic of Armenia Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs where she serves as the Chief Specialist for the head office. To better help understand the intricate complexities of what the filmmaker is alluding too, he offers a brief historical background of the situation he knows first hand. “From 1987 to 1990, prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union, the most critical inter- ethnic conflict, and one of the most violent, took place, the Armenian-Azerbaijani clashes in the region of Nagorno-Karabakh. A mass deportation of Armenians from Azerbaijan, URSS, was conducted, including some from the village of Gyurjevan.”
It is 1988 and Abgar is the only Armenian of Christian faith left in the aforementioned village, now devastated and in near ruins, after everyone else has been deported. Because of his skills as a stonemason, he is assigned to help build a mosque by the Azeri occupants. He also has to take care of his daughter Yurga, traumatized after witnessing her husband’s murder. As the situation deteriorates around them with increasing enemy danger and lack of food, they find solace in their memories of an idealized past, when peace and happiness still prevailed. The last resort for those who have not much to hope for. With its often elegiac and poetic approach the film is able to achieve a touching portrait of survival and at the same time humanizing the protagonists and their fate, how tragic it may be…
The 35 year old director hopes that The Last Inhabitant will be seen as “a strong message that we need each other regardless of race, culture and religion in order to survive and preserve our racial identity. This film is about people who have appeared in a hell after they have lost their paradise, people who are saved by love, virtue and self-sacrifice.”
As clashes are happening to this day in that region, this is a message surely to resonate deeply for the Armenian community. But also for all the victims of ethnic cleansing over the world.