The Yatagan Syndrome

Please see the first publication here

The book in three languages can be acquired here.


“What are you thinking about now?”

“I’m thinking about my work now,” said the patient.

“What about now?” Mikael asked, after making a note in his pad, his eyes once again fixed on the logophile indicators.

“Now, I’m thinking that if I were an artist, I would paint the pattern of those branches behind the window.”

Mikael nodded contentedly. The logophile was working flawlessly. Each of the patient’s thoughts was showing up on screen as a distinct pattern and if the patient mentioned that he had the same thought, the pattern would repeat – not identically, but enough to understand that the same thought was being expressed.

“Tell me your thoughts now, please,” Mikael said.

“I’m thinking about Nvard now. We’ve been married for twenty years already – I don’t know why, but when I think of her, affection still fills my heart.”

On screen, matching the patient’s words, a symbol of two yellow and red pear-like shapes appeared, their stems joined together. Mikael already knew from his previous questions that this was the symbol for the patient’s wife, Nvard, and it would come up as soon as he thought of her.

“You may get dressed,” Mikael got up and abruptly switched off the logophile.

“Doctor, did that help clarify anything?”

“About your bouts of crying? Don’t worry about it, that is simply an age-related reaction. As men grow older, they become more sentimental. Don’t let it embarrass you.”

Mikael took off his rubber gloves, rolled them up and handed them to the young assistant for him to dispose of in the trash can, after which he left the clinic.

At the cafeteria Mikael was drinking cherry juice, when Yatagan Osmanci[1] walked in.

“Here you go,” said Yatagan, throwing a paper with colorful graphs on the table, “She definitely has a tempeme[2] of the left cerebrum.”


“Yes. What about her husband? Did you examine him?”

“I did not find anything,” Mikael said pensively, looking at the parade of colorful symbols facing him, “A tempeme is not that serious.”

 “No, it’s not,” said Yatagan, “I prescribed her some encephalophen.[3]

There were symbols of all shapes and colors on the graphs strewn on the table. They were like the stammering drawings of a child or the paintings of an ingenious, but unknown, abstractionist. Red seas, green skies, strange three-headed creatures…

Suddenly, Mikael nearly dropped his glass of cherry juice. His hand trembled and some of the juice spilled on the table.

“Careful,” said Yatagan, barely managing to move the graphs away in time.

Mikael did not respond. He was looking at one of the images - a symbol of two yellow and red pear-like shapes, their stems joined together. Mikael leafed through the sheaf of papers. Around 10 pages later, the image repeated. He looked at the time stamped in the bottom right corner of the sheet – ten thirty-two and forty seconds. In the morning.

Mikael jumped up and ran to his clinic. Yatagan stared after him in surprise, seeing him tear down the corridor, cutting between pairs of nurses along the way.

In his clinic, he switched the logophile on and pressed the “print” button. He did not need to do it – he already knew what he was going to see.

At ten thirty-two and forty seconds Mikael’s patient had seen the same image that the second logophile in Yatagan’s clinic had produced when it was examining Nvard, the patient’s wife. A few seconds later, the patient had told Mikael that he had been thinking about his wife.


Doctor Mikael Petrosyan was forty years old when he finally completed all his internships and residencies (the last one being at Washington Public Hospital) and became one of only seven doctors in the world to be specialized in Neonatal Pathologic Encephalogos[4]. This was a congenital disease that occurred in 0.03% of the human population and earlier led to sudden death at the age of twenty seven. A number of important discoveries had been made in the USA in this area. Scientists had come to understand that an operation in the brain no later than three weeks after birth can cure the disease. Even a new piece of equipment, called a logophile, had been invented in order to diagnose the disease by registering the protocognitive activities whirling in newborns’ heads.

There were logophiles in many hospitals but very few neurosurgeons specialized in the encephalogos operation, because it was a very complicated surgical procedure. It had to be conducted immediately after the disease was diagnosed, and confirming a diagnosis was only possible two weeks after the baby’s birth.

Mikael had already been operating in an airplane for a few years, having completed his residency. The surgical equipment was expensive and not available in many hospitals. As soon as the diagnosis was confirmed, he would fly in with a special medical airplane to the city where the child was located. The patient would be brought to the plane and Mikael would operate on the spot. Mikael liked his work. “Scalpel,” he would say in an imposing voice to the experienced male nurse and hold out the palm of his rubber gloved hand, without looking in the latter’s direction. And the experienced nurse would not hesitate in putting the microscopic laser scalpel in his hand.

Mikael had already conducted tens of such operations and was preparing to move to a more regular schedule. He had received offers from various hospitals to become their professor, and now he had to decide which one to choose. There were seven hospitals in the world that had a medical airplane containing the equipment for encephalogos surgery. Mikael was leaning towards Cleveland.

But it had already been around twenty five years that he had been studying and working very hard, without taking more than four consecutive days off at any given point. He was considering whether it was worth travelling somewhere, like Timbuktu, and letting himself relax for at least a couple of weeks before getting back to work.

It was during these thoughts that he got a phone call from his uncle Gevorg in Yerevan.

Uncle Gevorg was always planning things and taking various actions, although this did not usually bring him any success or material security. He quickly got to the reason for his phone call.

It turned out that a Diaspora Armenian had donated two logophiles to a hospital in Yerevan. But there were no specialists who could work the machines. Uncle Gevorg was suggesting that Mikael could come to Armenia for at least a couple of weeks to train people to use the logophile. The Diaspora philanthropist would cover Mikael’s travel costs, but Mikael had to agree to work for free. This would be his contribution towards the development of his country. Gevorg said that there was a Turkish specialist, Yatagan Osmanci, also from the US, who had already agreed to come, but it would be good for Mikael to be there as well.

Uncle Gevorg did not know that Mikael was also a logophile specialist. But he did have a general understanding of Mikael’s area of specialization and had thought of speaking to him on this topic. Just in case. And it had indeed been a brilliant idea on his part.

Mikael agreed, surprising even himself. Of course, he knew deep down that along with his thoughts of going to Timbuktu or Goa, the idea of finally visiting Yerevan had also briefly sparked in his mind, but it would never have been acknowledged—much less transformed into action—if not for Uncle Gevorg’s phone call, a happy coincidence.

Mikael had agreed, although he would have to work with a man whose name was Yatagan.[5] Mikael had been hearing about that talented and passionate young man for a long time.

They met in Yerevan. Yatagan turned out to be a very pleasant man. He immediately said that he acknowledged his ancestors’ guilt in the genocide and that he had been thus named because his parents, having lived in Adana, wanted to protect him from any aggression on the part of the locals, because they were newcomers themselves[6]. According to Yatagan, his forefathers consisted of immigrants from an unknown place on the outskirts of the Ottoman Empire. And he was certain that his grandmother had not been a Turk – she had hidden her true identity right up to the end of her life. “It is very likely that she was an Armenian,” Yatagan said with a sad smile. “She would never tell us, no matter how much we asked, and then she died.”

Mikael did not pay much attention to these words – having an Armenian grandmother had become fashionable of sorts among the Turks. Some were saying so because it was a fad, some felt that it was a polite thing to say, or simply wanted to please the Armenians or even the international community.


In Yerevan, it turned out that there were hardly any children with encephalogos. The logophile remained largely unused. The airplane with surgical equipment that the Diaspora philanthropist had rented—he had been paying an enormous sum for every day it spent in Armenia —left the country and flew back to the USA. Mikael decided to stay—as he had promised Uncle Gevorg and himself—for exactly two weeks. He tended to stick to a decision once he made it.

At the end of the first week, Mikael and Yatagan decided that when the logophile was free, it could also be used to examine the brains of adults in order to see the images associated with their thoughts, which could be very useful for the treatment of neuroses and other neuropsychological diseases. Additionally, by asking the patients questions, one could even build a sort of “alphabet” or “script”—though not a very detailed one—to predict the images the logophile would use to express specific thoughts.

They began to train young Armenian physicians in using the logophile and although Mikael did not welcome his “idleness”—that is, the fact that there were no new diagnoses of encephalogos—he considered their innovation to treat adults very important. And the number of adults who needed treatment was immense. When Nvard and her husband had both come in with symptoms, Yatagan and Mikael had decided to speed up the examination by running the logophile sessions in parallel, because both devices had been free at that time.


Nvard and her husband had expressed the same image through the logophile—and had therefore had the same thought—in parallel, at the same moment, five times within half an hour, thinking about each other. In four cases, there was a time difference of one or two seconds, and in one case—the one that Mikael had first noticed—the times matched perfectly down to one-tenth of a second.           

Baffled, Mikael looked at the graphs when Yatagan walked in.

“What is going on?”

“A strange coincidence.”

Mikael showed him the graphs.

“Yes,” Yatagan said, “This is the moment when Nvard hanım[7] was talking about her husband.”

Yatagan called in his assistant, just to be sure. He did not speak Armenian, so it was his assistant’s job to ask questions and translate the responses. The assistant confirmed everything.

“They have been living together for a long time,” Mikael said with a crooked smile, “They are now thinking in parallel.”

“Perhaps, perhaps…” Yatagan said thoughtfully, “We need to check.”

“Check what?”

“Everything. Will it happen again with them? Is the equipment working well? Maybe there was a short circuit somewhere. If not, we need to check if this phenomenon occurs with other patients as well.”

“What are you saying?” Mikael said, “How can this coincidence repeat itself?”

“What coincidence? This is a pure case of parallel thinking,” said Yatagan, “Don’t you understand that? Open your eyes. Get excited. Such cases occur once in a hundred years. We have to start an expansive study right now.”

“I have to return to the States in four days,” Mikael said.

“The States?” Yatagan exclaimed. “Are you crazy? We need to check this. We need to invite pairs of people who know each other and agree to being examined by the logophile in parallel, and then check their graphs. We must try to understand the etiology of the phenomenon and its occurrence - is it a generalized pattern related to the entire cortex or only to some neuron clusters?  We must make them think about each other and compare them to control cases, where this occurs spontaneously. We must study married couples, sisters, brothers, sister and brother together, parents and children, friends, Facebook friends and even people who are unacquainted but have only heard of each other. We have to study people of different ages… different ethnic backgrounds… We must run experiments with the logophiles placed at varying distances from each other in order to see if there are any changes…”

In the evening, while sitting with Uncle Gevorg at Café Central, Mikael told him about this strange incident. After talking it over with Uncle Gevorg, he decided to extend his stay in Armenia.


Two weeks went by. There was no shortage of visitors. Based on a request by Mikael and Yatagan, doctors would recommend the brain test free of charge to patients coming in for regular checkups. Most of them were quite interested in trying this novelty and being examined by doctors of international renown.

The examinations produced phenomenal results. With only minor deviations, a large number of people who knew each other produced the same effect seen in Mrs. Nvard and her husband – when one of them thought of the other, the latter would think of the former as well. Sixty five percent of those studied showed this effect clearly. It did not matter how close the couple was—although when two people were closer to each other the effect was more pronounced—it occurred even in people who were simply acquaintances.

“The Nobel Prize is ours!” Yatagan shouted as he paced with large steps from one end of clinic to the other, between experiments. “Great job, you wonderful piece of machinery!” he affectionately caressed the shining curve of the logophile.

“Wait,” Mikael said, “we have at least twenty cases where there has been absolutely no parallelism in thinking.”

“But we have more than a hundred and fifty cases where it has occurred.”

Indeed. Twenty couples had not displayed the phenomenon of parallel thinking. They had been especially recruited from a base of foreigners – Americans, the French, Belgians, Kazakhs… And none of them featured the phenomenon. It had occurred only in a Russian couple…

“Perhaps it is purely an Armenian phenomenon?” Yatagan’s assistant asked with a quivering voice.

“What are you saying?” Mikael was angry. “You and your Armenianness again… Don’t we have enough charlatans on the street claiming the existence of an Armenian gene, an Armenian this, an Armenian that… Now you want us to become charlatans as well?”

“Naturally, I would believe with pleasure that this is an Armenian phenomenon, and I would name it the Armenian syndrome. After all, if there is an Armenian Disease,[8] why can’t there be an Armenian neuropsychological phenomenon?” Yatagan said diplomatically. “But we did also examine Yezidis, Assyrians, Jews and even a Russian couple – the phenomenon occurred in all of them.

“Perhaps it is related to synapses and protoplasmic fibers? Could it be hormonal in nature?” the assistant was thinking out loud when Mikael interrupted him.

“Armenianness…” Mikael said thoughtfully. “What does that even mean? It is an unclear term. Is blood the deciding factor? Or is it a decision that someone takes – one decides to be Armenian. Suppose there are two groups at the core of a nation – the “purebloods” and the “volunteers.” The fringes of the nation consist of the “mixed bloods” and the “undecided” or the “uninterested.” What if an undecided person is of pure blood… Would that make him an Armenian? Or if a pureblood is uninterested… We do not measure who has how much Armenian blood. But our grandmothers… Oh, our grandmothers… They were so secretive and curious…”

“My grandmother was a pure-blooded Armenian,” the assistant protested.

“Maybe we should be collecting data on the parental backgrounds of the people we study, even their grandparents,” Mikael said, ignoring the assistant.

“That’s all we need now,” Yatagan said, “Where do we get the time? And then again, why? Why focus on that feature? What would it tell us? Maybe we should focus on eye color as a deciding feature. That sounds more probable… After all, science tells us that the color of one’s eye is related to one’s personality, and so to one’s thinking… both inwardly, and outwardly, projecting to the other person…”

“Excuse me,” said the nurse, popping in from the corridor, “the next couple is ready.”

“Let’s go, let’s go,” Yatagan muttered and, whistling the leblebi[9] vendor’s song,[10] walked towards his clinic.

His assistant followed.

A pleasant woman, clearly of Slavic descent, walked in to Mikael’s clinic.

“Hello. Lie down, please,” Mikael said in Russian.

The lady obediently lay down. Mikael placed metal rings on her temples, ankles and wrists. He switched on the logophile.

“What are you thinking about now?”

It was a boring half hour. The woman answered easily and with pleasure. The logophile drew ingenious images. Mikael was in a bad mood. His hand itched and twitched, feeling for the absent scalpel. He was afraid of losing his license because of this long interval without encephalogos operations.

Mikael allowed his assistant to conduct a large part of the work. He looked out the window, submerged in the yellowing leaves on the trees. Being close to someone was a contributing factor - that much was clear. But why is the phenomenon so marked in many cases, blurred in others and completely absent in some? What other explanation could there be? Let’s say the phenomenon is notable in cases of proximity combined with one other factor. Then the phenomenon is absent if that other factor is not present, or it is not remarkable, if that other factor is expressed weakly… But how can the factor express weakly… could it perhaps be present in one person and absent in another?


“Don’t think now…”

“I can’t not think, doctor. I could when I was young, but I have long lost that ability…”

“Try not to think, to the extent that you can… hold any thoughts… a little longer… a little longer... all right, think. Now think with this part.”

“Do you feel any pain when you think with this part?”

He was not happy because he felt that Yatagan was not allowing him to think as much as he wanted and as much as was needed to understand the phenomenon. Yatagan liked to go to the theater or to a concert in the evenings. He attended all the performances in Yerevan—even though they were in Armenian—and gained a lot of pleasure in doing so. In America, Mikael had almost never gone to the theater or a concert. Now, he was forced to accompany his colleague so that the latter would not be left alone. And he considered himself lucky that Yatagan would not ask him to translate the performances. Well, he could read some of them in his own language – most of them were classics like Hamlet, Othello and so on. After the performance, they would walk the streets of Yerevan and talk about the genre of tragedy. Yatagan would be active and energetic following the rakı he had consumed at the theater cafeteria during the intermission, while Mikael—who did not drink—would be pensive and irritable. As a result, Mikael would not sleep well and felt that he had trouble concentrating.

“We have finished,” said the assistant.

“Thank you,” said Mikael, “Do you live here?”

“Yes,” the woman replied with pleasure. “My husband works here as a journalist. I really like Armenia. Of course, there are difficulties, it is not the same as it was in Soviet times, when we were all together…”

Mikael recalled the faded years of his Soviet childhood as he remembered them. There was no meat.  His father thought that meat was a mandatory part of his diet. And he really liked to eat meat. So his father would go and stand in line all night, so that he could buy meat in the morning. In winter times, to avoid freezing, the people in line would take turns during the night. Those whose turn it was would keep warm by lighting a fire in front of the shop, as if in preparation for Trndez.[11]

“Was everything that good in Soviet times?” Mikael asked.

“Oh, of course,” the woman replied, “I remember how my father would take us to a dacha in Barvikha, and you could find anything you wanted in the village shop there – from ice-cream to black caviar… And the prices, oh, the prices… My grandfather—this was back when we lived in Novosibirsk, I was little—he worked in the security apparatus, and would bring back all kinds of things when he came back from business trips – furs, and even, sometimes, gold, which he would simply stumble upon somewhere, you know? Walking around in Siberia, overseeing the criminals kept there, he would happen upon it, scattered through the forest.”

Mikael recalled his previous Russian patient, who also told stories about his grandfather, who had been killed by firing squad in nineteen thirty seven, during Stalin’s purges. Mikael had liked that patient for this reason and they had quickly established a rapport.

This woman’s grandfather was a vertukhay,[12] while that man’s was a zek,[13]” Mikael thought.

“Who have you come with?” Mikael asked.

“My girlfriend. She is with your handsome colleague. She prefers swarthy southerners like him, her father had served in Georgia in the Soviet army. I prefer intellectuals like you,” she said coquettishly.

“Goodbye, I wish you the best,” Mikael said politely.

When he checked with Yatagan later, there were no matches in this case. None in taste either.

The following day, he overcame his doubts and called the woman.

“Hello? Oh, is that you?” the woman said. “Yes? Would you like to ask me out on a date?”

“Sorry, do you know Mr. Orlov?”

Orlov was the man whose grandfather had faced the firing squad.

“Of course,” the woman replied, “he is a cameraman, works with my husband from time to time.”

“Would you be willing to be part of the experiment again, this time with him?”

“Yes,” the woman said, a bit dryly, “I can’t say that I like him very much. But for your sake, and for the sake of science in Armenia – yes.”

The next day, the woman and Orlov were once again examined by the logophile - at the same time, on this occasion. The effect existed, but it was very weak. So the same person can show the effect in some cases, but not in others. So the deciding factor is not an individual… or perhaps the individual as well… there were too many variables in this equation…

A factor, a factor,” Mikael kept thinking, “weak in one case, strong in another, absent in some. Fathers and daughters match… Mothers and sons…

“Is it a gender-specific factor?” he suddenly exclaimed out loud, then looked around nervously. The g-word was banned in Armenia[14] through an order by Putin, just as the word “genocide” was prohibited in Turkey. Uncle Gevorg had warned Mikael about this as soon as he had gotten off the plane. One had to respect local customs, Mikael knew that well.

Fortunately, the clinic was empty at that moment. Mikael’s assistant had stepped out into the corridor to take a call on his mobile, because his boss from the National Security Service had called.

Mikael felt that he was missing something. When his assistant returned, they began to look at the images together. “Look, this appears to be a rainbow-colored scalpel,” said Mikael. “This is a relatively weak match, but not the weakest we have seen. This one here is the weakest - it looks like a small metallic scalpel…” 

“And it is the same here,” said the assistant, looking at the parallel image.

“They are all always the same,” said Mikael, “If they are there, if they repeat each other, then they are the same.”

“But this one here is obviously a good match,” said the assistant, “This isn’t just a scalpel, this is a whole… azure yatagan.” The assistant giggled embarrassedly. “But let us not tell our Turkish colleague about this.”

At that moment, an angry Yatagan walked in. The blood had rushed to his head, it seemed. It looked like he had finished his work and immediately gulped down some rakı.

“How many more?” he asked, “You said that we should examine another hundred people and I agreed. But we have examined another three hundred… We should publish this, how can you not see that? There is no shortage of logophiles, others have them too. As soon as word gets out, they will beat us to it…”

“Do as you wish, brother,” Mikael said. “If you think that it is time, go ahead and publish.”

“What do you mean? What about you?”

“I am still not convinced…”

“I will not publish without you.”

“All right, you can put me down as an author as well. But your name must be first.”

“Why? You discovered the effect, after all.”

“But we would never have studied it, if not for you.”

“But do you understand what this means? People can telepathically communicate with each other… except that they don’t know about this and nobody has studied this, until now… When I think about you, in sixty five percent of cases, that means that you are thinking about me too… This is a new stage in human history… The possibilities…”

“Where will you publish? Jahrbuch für Psychoanalytische?”

“No, are you serious? We would need to wait too long to publish there. Let us write a letter to Nature.”

“You write it, I’ll add my signature.”

“What should we name the effect? The Armenian Syndrome?”

“Let’s give it a simpler name,” Mikael said, “Nvard’s Syndrome.”

“We can’t do that,” Yatagan said, “The poor woman does not know about any of this, she would misunderstand. What is this?” Yatagan asked, looking at the images.

“These are the images from the Russian woman and her acquaintance, remember?”

“I remember,” Yatagan said, “This was the second time that acquaintance is being examined. You had examined him the first time.”

“Yes,” Mikael said.

“And his Armenian friend had been with me on that occasion,” Yatagan said, “The old man turned out to be a great person. He spoke Turkish, can you imagine that? I asked him how he knew the language. He said that his grandfather had taught him. His grandfather was from Turkey, it turned out. He had then lived in Lebanon, immigrated to Armenia and… was exiled to Siberia. But he had returned from there and even managed to teach his grandson a little Turkish.”

“Another zek,” Mikael said.

“What is a zek?”

Hech.[15] It’s a long story.”

“We use the word hech too,” Yatagan said. “You get everything from us.”

Yet another hech,” Mikael thought to himself.

“What are you thinking?” Yatagan asked.

“That there is a lot of hech in this world,” Mikael replied automatically and immediately. He had created that rule—that when you are asked “what are you thinking?” you need to reply immediately—while working with patients on the logophile.

“I wonder what the image of hech would look like,” Yatagan said thoughtfully, “I imagine it as a black and branched stain, with gold and red shimmering spots in it. Let’s try it. Let’s both hook ourselves up to the logophile. Let’s see what each of us thinks of hech.”

“Get serious,” Mikael said, “You have some imagination! You drink too much.”

They ended up without a suitable name for the discovery. The letter, which was published five days later on the Nature website called it the Parallel Thinking Syndrome. It bore both their signatures. But Mikael had insisted that Yatagan’s name be first, because he was a guest in Armenia. Some scientists then tried to call it the Osmanci-Petrosyan Syndrome, but that name did not stick. It was The Economist that gave it a name which spread throughout the English-speaking world – the Yatagan Syndrome. “If this discovery is confirmed,” The Economist wrote, “It could be one of mankind’s greatest leaps, after landing on the moon.”

The article caused anger among the Armenians. They felt that Mikael’s role in the collaborative effort had been diminished in the article. “Yatagan defeated Mikael just as yoghurt beat matzun,[16]” the Armenian daily Aravot wrote.


A year passed. It did not bring the collaborators any success. Mikael sat in his office at the Cleveland Hospital, looking at the bags and boxes stacked in the corner. He had been fired through a decision by the US Research Ethics Committee which had found that he had subjected people to psychological experiments without their prior knowledge and consent, and that he had used medical equipment for ends other than their intended purposes, thus committing a major violation in medical ethics.

Indeed, how could I have let that happen?” Mikael thought. “Poor Nvard and her husband did not know what we were looking at, when we were using them in experiments. Neither did Orlov and that Russian woman. None of those hundreds of people knew. Maybe if they had known, that information could have been useful to them. Maybe it could have saved their lives at some point. Why would Yatagan care? He’s a Turk, he is probably genetically coded to manipulate his patients, to advance science through the blade of a yatagan.  But how could I have neglected that side of things?” Mikael had started his musings about Yatagan as a joke, and then realized that the same prejudiced thought must have been running through the head of the average Armenian who had read the news about the investigation against them. He was surprised at the prejudice that had awoken within him – had he spent too much time in Yerevan?

Nevertheless, he did not consider using the logophile for other purposes to be a mistake, and thought those charges against him to simply be an expression of scientific bureaucracy. The logophile was personal property and belonged to that Armenian philanthropist. Its usage did not have any negative consequences and there was no reason not to use it for another beneficial purpose, for the treatment of others, albeit experimental, if there were no children with encephalogos around at the time.

When the investigation of the Committee had first begun, the hospital had demoted Mikael and reduced his salary. Mikael had been forced to give up the house he had bought on mortgage near Cleveland, because he could no longer make the monthly payments. He moved his things to the office which the hospital had provided him before the investigation had ended. He would spend his nights there. They no longer allowed him to use a logophile. They did not trust him with surgery either. Six surgical planes soared in the skies above the United States, transporting six other surgeons here and there to save children’s lives, but Mikael had been deprived of his license, and the airplane that had been at his disposal was now turning to rust at the Cleveland airport, at a daily cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars to the hospital.

Yatagan, who had earlier been working at the University of Missouri, had packed his things and returned to his native Turkey, where one of the numerous universities had welcomed him with open arms. Mikael knew that he too could return to Armenia—he had even gained citizenship—but what would he do there?

He had been granted citizenship in the days when the letter had been published by Nature. Yatagan’s assistant had been a member of the ruling party. At the next party session, he had been unable to resist and, during a break, had told the Minister of Education and Science about the unique experiments they were conducting. The Minister—always jumping at a chance to please the President—had whispered it in the latter’s ear as they walked together to the exit, causing the envy of others close to him. The President had enthusiastically summoned Mikael and organized an official ceremony during which he handed him an Armenian passport, which Mikael had not refused. The President had then started to invite Mikael to various official events, and even to some weddings. Mikael tired quickly of such proceedings, however, and had barely managed to refuse the invitations without offending the President by citing the need to keep working on his discovery. Compared to spending time with the President, he even preferred going to the theater with Yatagan in the evenings and discussing classic works like Hamlet and Coriolanus.

The President needed Mikael so that he could tell the world that an Armenian had published a letter in Nature—with a Turk, no less, albeit of American origin—because the President was looking for opportunities to revive the Turkish-Armenian negotiations that had died a long time ago. He also wanted to show the Diaspora philanthropist who had donated the logophile that they had put it to unique use, so that he could once again ask for money and donations for Armenia from that Diaspora Armenian. Alas, the Mikael-Yatagan story had not convinced or caused joy to the philanthropist, who had discovered that, apart from the two logophiles, everything else that he had donated to Armenia had disappeared. He had refused to support Armenia any further and gone to California, demanding also the return of his logophiles and bequeathing his whole estate to the battle against Ebola.

That had meant that there was no longer a budget or a purpose to keep Mikael and Yatagan in Armenia. They had returned to the United States.

After the letter in Nature, they wrote a larger and more detailed article. But the noise that their work had made did not help their cause.

A number of scientists in various parts of the world ran experiments that were either unsuccessful or inconclusive. At the International Association of Cerebrologists, Mikael’s presentation was struck a severe blow by professors Burlyayev, Bernstein, Kamenev and Mandelstam who were joined by the elderly Armenak Harutyunyan, the Armenian creator of the logophile’s Soviet prototype. Professor Bernstein was particularly eloquent as he mocked Mikael and Yatagan for using a writing pad while taking down notes during their study. “You have failed to back your clinical findings with a clear etiology or pathogenesis – we don’t even know if this is a somatic condition”, he said. “But what is clear is that in the age of the logophile you still take notes on a writing pad!”

Professor Armenak Harutyunyan added with sarcasm, “Did you use ink? Or perhaps you used a goose feather quill, dipping it in an ink bottle? That would have been more classic.”

“But, seriously,” the professor continued, “What happens if, say, I think of three people at once? Are they all also definitely thinking of me? Simultaneously?”

The committee members had guffawed loudly. Even Mikael had been unable to suppress a crooked smile.

“Is that how you would cut into the children during surgery?” the professor continued. “Did you dip your scalpel in ink as well?”

More laughter. “He does not need a scalpel, he has a yatagan of his own,” a female doctor exclaimed from her seat. The committee, happy with the unfolding drama, joined in. “I knew straightaway that something was profoundly not right here,” the editor-in-chief of Nature said. “In Japan, scientists such as you commit hara-kiri right away, if they have a drop of integrity left in them. And they say you already have a yatagan, so…”

But Mikael did not want to commit hara-kiri and his Yatagan was far away.

After the session, Mikael had approached Professor Harutyunyan and said, in a quivering voice, “Professor, I wanted to thank you for your principled approach… I learned a lot today…”

“Son,” the professor had said in a fatherly manner, thumping his shoulder, “Science is not science fiction. Enough with trumpeting our Armenianness. This is no Trndez or zurna[17] show. Do you understand where you are? Do you understand that it is people like you who end up humiliating our tortured republic? But, never mind. You are still young, let this be a lesson to you.”

“I… yes… of course I understand… but… of course, this is not science fiction, Trndez or a zurna show, it is not Armenianness… I was saying the same thing,” Mikael had stammered but the professor had already walked on without listening so that he could grab the arm of Nobel Laureate Steven Bruni, with whom he had earlier agreed to lunch at Chik-fil-A, taking advantage of the opportunity they had had to meet.

The Simultaneous Thinking experiments by Doctor Ekklharst’s team in Norway had not produced results. Absolutely no results had been found in Italy either. Nor in Greece. There were some results in Spain, but they were insufficient. There was very little in the US as well, there were only a few cases in the South. One case was registered in a remote Native American reservation called Osceola. In Israel, it was true, a doctor who had moved there from Rostov had registered a number of cases of the Yatagan Syndrome, both among Jews and Palestinians. But it turned out that he had forged the medical degree he had supposedly received in the Soviet Union, and he was fired and eventually arrested.

Azerbaijan began a propaganda campaign against Mikael and Yatagan, accusing them of the latest attempt in claiming a major discovery by the Armenians. The Azerbaijani pro-government media reminded everyone of the Armenicum[18] story and insisted that the Armenians, as always, were swindlers, while Yatagan was a traitor to his blood and was either a hidden Armenian or a treasonous Turk who had sold himself to the enemy. Yatagan was persecuted in Turkey as well, but the university which hosted him managed to resist these protests because its Rector had been a classmate of the President of the country.

In Russia, nationalists began a movement in support of Yatagan and Mikael, saying that they were up against the latest Judeo-Masonic conspiracy that aimed to eliminate a great new discovery. Popular publicist Yulia Romanova joined their ranks. This left a very bad impression on the international media. The Economist published a second article half a year after they had written the first one. They claimed that Putin had invited both scientists to live and work in the Donbass[19] region because the Yatagan Syndrome allegedly only occurred in Russian colonies or unrecognized criminal republics. The photograph below the article showed Yatagan arm-in-arm with Depardieu.[20] The article was titled “Another Comedian Might Join Putin’s Cast of Puppets.” The surviving liberals in Russia attacked our heroes and it was they who raised the question of whether the two researchers had any ethical right to use the equipment for other purposes and keep the patients in the dark about the real objective of their work. The American research and academia establishment could no longer avoid this issue and was forced to launch a serious investigation into our heroes’ work, finally condemning them to scientific ostracism.

…Mikael did not like recalling all this. He walked up to the boxes that were stacked in the corner of his office and opened the one closest to him. There were old notes inside and some books, among which he spotted his grandfather’s diary. Uncle Gevorg had given it to Mikael asking him to digitize and publish it in the US, if he could. He did not have the money to do it in Armenia. Of course, Mikael had not had the time to get that done. In general, Mikael did not have a fondness for the past, memories and so on. He picked up the aged, century-old notebook and began to leaf through it. He had read it once, a long time ago, identifying with difficulty the sentences that his grandfather had written in Western Armenian.

His grandfather had been part of the resistance struggle at Hajin.[21] Mikael opened the middle section of the diary. His grandfather, in whose honor Mikael had been named, was writing about how he was lying hungry and thirsty in a trench dug up in the upper quarter in Hajin, when he suddenly began thinking of his mother. He had then looked back to see his mother approaching. An enemy’s bullet had whizzed past him at that moment – he would have been struck by it had he not looked back. He thought that she was a ghost or illusion that had come to save his life, but then realized that it was really his mother, who was bringing her son something to eat. Grandfather Mikael had grown angry and shouted at his mother, asking her why she had come… Then he had hugged her. His mother had cried, left the food and gone, returning home. They never saw each other again… “Fire,” Mikael’s grandfather had ordered in a powerful voice to his few remaining fellow soldiers, never looking back.

Mikael did not particularly like these kinds of memories. Sweet, pure, senseless, touching, weepy, sketchy, inexplicable, like a river of congealing blood, like the black scar from a Cesarean section… He had first read those memoirs years ago, when he was ten years old and still living in Yerevan… He did not understand them. Why, for example, had they not run away from home – Grandfather Mikael’s mother, father, younger brother, sister? Why, when they first escaped from Hajin, did they return there in 1918? Didn’t they know that they would be massacred? After his disjointed narration of the resistance of Hajin and their defeat, why did his grandfather dedicate the rest of his diary to writing about his pointless conversations with a few other Western Armenian old men in the open-air cafés of Yerevan?

He did not write about his life in the Soviet Union, about his work, not even about the fact that his wife, Mikael’s grandmother, got cancer and then miraculously recovered, later giving birth to Mikael’s mother… Mikael recalled the bare abdomen of his deceased grandmother, covered from side to side with a black, crescent-shaped C-section scar, as if caused by a yatagan. At the age of nine, he had asked Uncle Gevorg, who usually took on the role of funeral organizer for the members of his extended family. “I’m going to be a doctor, right? My grandfather told me to become one.” He had convinced his uncle to take him to the morgue and show him the body. “Why is the scar so big? Was the scalpel thick? Did the doctor make a big incision?” “This is where your mother emerged from,” Uncle Gevorg had said, rubbing his pointy moustache, “And, by extension, you as well, my boy. There was a doctor who did that. So that you could come to be. There are incidents sometimes, when you really need a doctor. It wasn’t the scalpel that was thick, it was the operation that was complicated.”

A tragedy ends in tragedy. Romeo and Juliet¸ Hamlet… His grandfather’s life story had begun in tragedy… What do you call the upside-down genre when the story begins in tragedy? It is almost a comedy of sorts… Jeering…

Oh grandpa, grandpa… If you wanted to write, why didn’t you write in a way that would help us understand? Mikael was little when his grandfather had died and did not get the chance to ask him for at least a verbal answer to his questions. It was his grandfather who had said, “Become a doctor. Both regular people and rulers, in any regime, will always need a doctor.” His grandfather was the reason he had kept studying up to the age of forty. Thus, in a way, his grandfather was the reason he had ended up in this situation. So, in Mikael’s case, it looked like there was no need for a doctor after all. It turns out that, in some cases, people don’t need a doctor.  But it could have been different… Anything could have happened. When they had just started getting information that only a few cases of their syndrome had been confirmed and that most studies were unable to support the discovery, Yatagan had said, “But does it matter that there are only a few cases? That does not make it any less of a miracle… a miracle… People, it turns out—even if it is only some people, just a few of them—can mentally connect with each other and they don’t know that they can do that…”

His mobile phone rang. It was Yatagan. Mikael was surprised. They had not spoken in a few months. There was nothing left to talk about, after the fiasco of the Yatagan Syndrome had played out. Perhaps they were avoiding each other, even unaware of this as they were doing it… It is difficult to go up against the whole scientific community, to remain unsubdued as you face its anger and taunts.

“Hello, Mikael,” Yatagan said. “There is a protest in the streets again. Our youth are demanding the recognition of your April 24.”[22]

Even with people now protesting in Turkey for recognition, Yatagan was still looking over his shoulder. He avoided using the term “genocide,” especially on the phone, although he would freely pronounce that word in other circumstances.

“Something crazy just crossed my mind. I thought I would share it with you, you’ll like it,” Yatagan continued. “In most works of tragedy, there is life at first, then tragedy… like in Romeo and Juliet. But you Armenians first had tragedy – where is your life going now? What do you call the genre of an upside-down tragedy? The characters live happily ever after at the end of fairy tales… Three apples fall from the sky – this is how your fairy tales end, as do ours. The rest does not matter. But the tale of you Armenians begins with that – with April 24. Isn’t that interesting?”

Yatagan kept babbling like this, he was warmed up again, he had probably drunk some rakı, but Mikael kept staring into an open box in the dark corner of his office, the flood of thoughts filling his mind, making him dizzy.

A factor that both of them possess - Jews and Palestinians. Or, one of them has it, while the other doesn’t – a zek or a vertukhay. Or neither of them have it - the whole of the US except for rare cases such as those Native American women from the Osceola reservation.” And the dark office slowly lit up before his eyes.

“You say your grandmother never revealed who she was ethnically?” he interrupted Yatagan.

His voice had changed. It was that same imposing voice, with which he would command the experienced nurse on the surgical plane – “scalpel.” But that voice grew gravelly at the very next moment.

“The scalpel is too thick, Yatagan,” Mikael sighed deeply into the phone, in a barely audible voice.

Gevorg Ter-Gabrielyan

December 2014

Translated from the Armenian by Nazareth Seferian

The Armenian-language original is published here

The Russian-language translation is published here 

[1]The correct Turkish spelling of this name is Yatağan Osmançi. However, for the convenience of the English reader, we have avoided the use of foreign letters in the spelling.

[2] A light fictional illness

[3] A fictional medicine

[4] A fictional pathology

[5] A type of short saber used by the Ottomans and referred to symbolically as the instrument of the Armenian Genocide.

[6]It is a common ancient tradition in many cultures to name the child so that his/her name reverts the family destiny. For instance, girls could receive male names if too many girls were born in one family, with a hope that the trend would change. In the same vein, threatening words were used as human names to add to the security of the child and the family. Hence 'Yatagan'.

[7] A polite reference to a woman in Turkish.

[8] Familial Mediterranean Fever is often locally referred to by this name in Armenia.

[9] A snack made from roasted chickpeas, popular in Turkey and some other Middle Eastern countries.

[10] A song from a famous operetta by great Armenian composer Tigran Chukhajyan, the first opera writer in Ottoman Empire.

[11] A holiday the Armenian Church celebrates in February, originally pagan in origin. It involves lighting a bonfire, over which newly married or engaged couples jump for good luck.

[12] A Russian derogatory term for a guard in the Gulag camps.

[13] A Russian derogatory term for a prisoner in the Gulag camps.

[14] This is a literary exaggeration stemming from the fact that, in 2014, the Armenian population began to mistakenly associate the word  ‘gender’ with all things existing in the West that they subjectively consider “bad,” including LGBT issues etc. The popular hatred towards this term was being cultivated and used by retrograde forces in propaganda against the West, and was being capitalized upon by pro-Russian forces as well.

[15] A word used equally in Armenian and Turkish to mean “nothing.”

[16] Yoghurt was popularized in the United States by Armenian immigrants Sarkis and Rose Colombosian, who called their product matzoun, using its Armenian name. But the name soon changed to yoghurt, which comes from the Turkish word for the product, because the latter was the common language of the many Middle Eastern ethnic groups that consumed the item at the time.

[17] A shrill trumpet-like instrument, popular at Armenian weddings and celebrations.

[18] In 1998, Armenian researchers claimed to have developed an effective cure for HIV infection, which they called Armenicum. It caused great interest in government and business circles in Armenia, but eventually did not produce any consistent results, with the buzz dying down within a couple of years.

[19] Another term for the Donets Basin, the territory where there was conflict in 2014-15 between the Ukrainian Government and Russian speakers, with the former claiming that Russian President Vladimir Putin covertly supported the latter.

[20] A reference to French actor Gerard Depardieu, who moved to Russia (allegedly to avoid the higher taxes in Europe) and was awarded Russian citizenship by President Putin in 2013.

[21] During the period of the Armenian Genocide in the early 20th century, some Armenian communities, like the ancient town of Hajin, had fought back against the regular and irregular forces that the Ottoman leadership had sent to massacre them.

[22] April 24 is Genocide Memorial Day in Armenia and an occasion for various states and international players to express their recognition of the Armenian Genocide. It is historically the day when tens of Armenian intellectuals were arrested and killed in Constantinople, which was one of the first steps in the Ottoman’s genocidal plan.

23:59 July 02, 2015