Twenty years of Insomnia

documentary film (58 min.)
in production from 9/2007 till 9/2008
postproduction between 10-11/2008
world film premiere by December 7th 2008
Story developed by: Libuše Rudinská
Sound recordist and audio control engineer : Michal Janoušek
Script, photography and directing: Libuše Rudinská
Editing: Miloš Málek

Story and description:

Documentary film is focused on the present life of the habitants of the city of Gyumri who live with painful memory of devastating earthquake of which they occured involuntary witnesses, participants and victims as well.

Natela Sarksyan at her family tomb

7th of December 2008 it is turning 20 years since an Armenian city Leninakan (now Gyumri) was devastated by earthqueake which caused more then 100 thousand of dead people and more then 500 thousand people lost their homes. Subsequently the Soviet Union split-up and after the war in Nagorno-Karabagh, Armenia appeared in total economical isolation which caused immense humanitarian crisis that persisted till middle 90s. Gorbatchov´s plans from 1989 to recover infrastructure of the affected area turned into a mere vision for coming period.

In 2007 about four thousand people affected by earthquake still live in jerry buildings without drinking source and power supply. In such conditions new generation of Armenians was born and grew up.

Emerging film is a report of situation in the country or more precisely of situation in the city almost twenty years later.

Film is focused first and foremost on presentation of confronting views of those who survived and buried their relatives and those who lack the first-hand experience with the catastrophe, the youth. The film displays a view of experience that changed people´s lives. We will see how witnesses come to terms with reality. How the circumstances along with social situation of the country have impact on lives of youth.

Since 2001 USAID organization has been working on a project of reconstruction. Up till now they have built hundreds of houses and thousands of new apartments for people affected by earthquake. Most of the people who lived in provisional buildings had already moved in, while some of them are still wainting to be accommodated. However the construction works were interrupted for inexplicit period.

Provisional building

Surp Amenaprkich church on the main square of the city

One of many affected houses

Houses built after 1988

For the film four characters were selected with their family members. All of them faced the similar experience with loss of their relatives and house destruction. The difference is the action from the outside and potential of each individual. We can experience the difference between life in provisional building and in the newly built apartment or to see a story of a man who did not loose close relatives but who is facing and exodus of his wife and daughter to the USA.


Film is focused on personal point of view of each family member who contradict one another. We will try to see the deepness of their experince and how they reflect it together with historical context of Armenia, and how important part in their lives is played by religion. We can learn if they view themselves as a sacrified nation, how they perceive the situation and if it has any impact on their religious view, what gives them the strenght to survive in adversity and how it is reflected in their lives.

The main character of the film is a 61 years old director of French school Martin Pashayan.


He almost died during eartquake while he was teaching students who lost their lives at the very same moment. He survived but presently he realised that he lost the whole family. In that tragical moment wife, daughter and son met unexpectly at home which led into tragical consequence as the 8 th floor high


apartment building fel down and concrete panels piled up like a sandwich. Pashayan appeared completely lonely and homeless. In the very first moment he wanted to committ suicide which he hasn´t admit until today. Finally he could not only overcome his terrible fate because of the help of his close friends and thanks to cooperation with organization „Medecines sans frontiéres“ he managed to start a new family and even more he could reestablish the French school in Gyumri. Nowadays the school prospers very well and is supported by powerful people of French cultural life such as for example Charles Aznavour.

As a compesation for his tragical losses he received a soviet car „Zhiguli“ which he keeps using until today.

The topic of the story is a question how succesfully Martin Pashayan came to term with his old trauma.

We observe the point of view of his ex-wife Valeria Grabska. Even though she experienced the same catastrophe she has big difficulties to react empathicly on the situation of her former husband. Disability to understand dark moods of his mind is obvious from her comments. Pashayan, who always act politely in public ocassionally loses control of himself and drinks for several days while he remembers his departeds.


His teenage descendants reflect father´s grief and explain how it touches them personally. They also express their ambitions and goals connected to a departure to France and to a return back to Armenia.

Pashayan´s story is confrontated and connected to the personal story of 48 years old spouses

Natela and Kago Sarksyans,


whose ancient stone house fell into ruins during earthquake. They lost two sons and five close family members and simirlarly as most of the habitants of the city they lost their work during following economical crisis. They fell into fatal financial crisis.
They also tried to establish a new family. We learn from the film how they are doing, what they think and how they seek the power to continue. We can see Kago who suffers from insomnia because he thinks about his dead sons at nights and during the days he spends his time watching pigeons who bring peace to his tortured psyche.



We can see optimistic Natela who is accepting her faith with dignity and without bitterness while and she has no idea how to change her life and go on. Her story is also an excurse into hierarchy and a system of interpersonal relations in Armenia.


We ask their two sons: Aram (25) and Levon (16) each of whom were born in different conditions. The older Aram was born 6 years before earthquake and younger Levon two years after to fill a gap remaining after two brothers who lost their lives.

Looks like easier was a fate of Kago´s brother Samvel Sarksyan (50)


who lost his wife during earthquake and his apartment fell apart. He appeared alone with his two little sons Karen (6) who either almost died and Hayk (5) who got lost and almost adopted by another family and finally found couple weeks later. Samvel shortly after married a woman who proved to be an excelent mother for his sons. Soon after the family received a new built apartment and moved in. In the same residential area Samvel operates a little shoe repair shop and it looks like he is doing very well. The same as him his sons are very well established in their work. The older Karen (26) is leading masonry and Hayk (24) works as a speaker for the local radio Shant.



From the family story we learn the reality about new Samvel´s happiness. We look in the personal stories of both sons and we observe the difference between their attitudes.

Ljuda Bilbilidi
Works as a night editor of local Radio Shant where she play rock evergreens and she is concidered as one of the best DJ s in the city. She is Armenia with greek roots. Ljuda grew up alone with her mother who suffered from communist regime because of her origin.
Ljuda herself was never pretty woman and she always suffered from luck of interest from men while she became very famos in the city after she won the cycling race and became a champion of the country in 1974.

During earthquake she was seriously wounded on her face and her left hand was injured as well. She never overcame her trauma and as result of her physical and psychological situation she isolated herself into her imagination and privacy.
She suffers from terrible insomnia since those days till this time and she continues to live her life in loneliness. Ljud did find her sence of life in meditations and picking herbs. Her work in the privat radio station is the only safety she has in her life. It is also a way of communication with the world while she is hidden from the eyes of her listeners.
Her story is unflattering mirror to the conservative thoughts of the city habitants and to their prejudices which still persist.

Another story is life experience of an intellectual theatre director Artashes Arakelyan (51),


former Nagorno-Karabagh offensive leader who personally did not suffer from bereavement of his relatives, nor his house was damaged but he was confrontated with decision of his wife to leave the country together with their daughter for the USA. He was facing a decision to follow the family and leave the country or to stay and according to Armenian tradition to take care of his parents. He stayed but we do not know if he regrets or not. Now he lives alone with his mother in an ancient Armenian house and he is finding a stream of his energy in theatre, mainly in work with young students. He also suffers from insomnia while bottle of vodka is the only company for him. His brother who lives in Germany helps to make easier his and his mother´s matterial difficulties by regular transfer of an appropriation.



We realize during the film what is the reason of never-ending melancholy and pathetism.
Even though Arakelyan looks desparate he is enlighting the film by his mood in confrontation with other characters of the film.

Due to his clear intelect, world knowledge and emotional distance he can easily grasp some of hot problems of the region where he lives. He can also discuss a question of religion which is constantly presented in his mind.

Besides that there is a space for natural element. Nature is mercifully covering old debris by seedings and new grass. The space is now open to a new life of plants and animals and we may think that time is peacefully going to oblivion.