Tours Travel

Gurdjieff’s cheek

“I don’t pretend to understand George Ivanovich,” said Mrs. Ouspensky. “For me it is X”. It was January 1924 and her husband had just left Gurdjieff. His departure, with the additional warning to his students to forbid them to see or speak about Mr. Gurdjieff, raised the perennial question by then: who was Gurdjieff? Many people have tried to answer that question, but in many ways it is still, and will continue to be, X. The reason has to do with scale. Attempts to see him invariably lower him to the level of inquiry as well as the inquirer. In fact, more is known about Gurdjieff than any of the other seminal spirit figures, but beyond a certain point, one continues to be questioned. Madame Ouspensky said: “It is useless for us to try to know him”, and although in the essential sense it is true, it is useful to keep going back to what we know about Gurdjieff’s life, because his life was a living demonstration. of someone who incarnated and lived the teaching. In doing so, focusing on the facts and applying our reason to the point where intuition speaks, uplifting glimpses arise here and there.

The usual focus is on what an individual does, not what he doesn’t do. This is normally overlooked, not as a consequence of a conscious decision, but because the focus itself is not considered deep enough. To know what is left out, we must first know what is put on; but we focus and become so entangled with that that the question of what has been left out, what has been denied, never appears.

Greek and Armenian ancestors

A noteworthy example is the Gurdjieff heritage. It is well known that his father was Greek, his mother Armenian. We know that his family suffered at the hands of the Turks and Kurds, but in none of his writings does he criticize them. Nor does he express personal pain over the murder of his father. Nor does he speak of the genocide of the Armenians, his mother’s people. Only when Gurdjieff tells us about the “skeletons” that arrived at his doorstep in Essentuki in July 1918 does he give us an idea of ​​what he felt. In February 1918 he had sent his family to Alexandropol to come to Essentuki to escape the imminent Turkish invasion. His mother, his brother Dimitri and his wife, his younger sister Sophie Ivanovna, and her fiancé Georgilibovitch Kapanadze came, but Gurdjieff’s older sister, Anna Ivanovna Anastasieff, had stayed in Alexandropol with her father, who refused to flee.

That May, with the advance of the Turks, she, her husband Feodor, and six young children fled, along with twenty-two other relatives, losing their home and homeland, and, cold and hungry, walked barefoot through winding mountains. In mid-July, looking like skeletons, they reached Essentuki, bringing the news of the murder of Gurdieff’s father by the Turks. Said Gurdjieff, “The enemy, stronger and better armed than his own troops, will inevitably ruthlessly and indiscriminately slaughter not only men, but women, the elderly and children, as was the order of things there.”

Gurdjieff’s only reference to this persecution is in the “Armenian” chapter of Encounters with notable men. “The Aisors suffered greatly in the last war, having been a pawn in the hands of Russia and England, with the result that half of them perished from the vengeance of the Kurds and Persians …” In this chapter he also talks about the invasion and earthquake destruction of Ani, the ancient Armenian city of churches, and then makes a curious statement, that this is the only time it has, or will take, “officially recognized information on earth.”

If we look at the ordinary information, one fact stands out: after centuries of enduring persecutions and killings by the Turks, the Armenians suffered two horrific genocides, the first in 1895 and again in 1915-16, under an official government annihilation policy. Turkish. On April 24, 1915, during World War I, the Armenian Holocaust began. At that time, more than 1.5 million Armenians, 750,000 Assyrians, and 400,000 Greeks had lost their lives.

We know that shortly after the genocide of 1915-16, from March to July 1917, Gurdjieff stayed with his family in Alexandropol and then went to Essentuki. The events of the Russian Revolution worsened, in August 1919 Gurdjieff left his family in Essentuki and embarked on the dangerous journey of leading his students between the Red and White armies and then over the bandit-infested Caucasus mountains. Arriving in Sochi, they took a boat to Poti and then went overland to Tbilisi, where they arrived in January 1920. That Easter, Dimitri in Tbilisi to say that his mother, sisters and families had survived a harsh winter with famine and fever. typhoid. In June, with the Red Army conquering the areas north of the Caucasus and threatening to take Georgia, northern Armenia, and Azerbaijan, Gurdjieff set out for Constantinople, arriving there in early July. Meanwhile, with her mother and her family in Essentuki, Anna and her family returned to Armenia. In November 1920, when the Turks invaded Armenia once again, Anna and all members of her family were killed, except for a son, Valentin, one of 30 people who escaped out of 400 villagers.

No Haven in Turkey

In Constantinople, the Greeks were accepted only marginally, the Armenians not at all. Only five years earlier, most of the city’s Armenians had been sent to concentration camps to die or were taken to the desert where they were beaten to death. With what Gurdjieff called the “mockery” of the “young Turks” (Kemal Attaturk and other young military officers and reformers bent on making Turkey a secular state) becoming more virulent, he says that since the situation began to “have an odor In particular, I decided, without waiting for the various delights that would surely unfold in relation to these wisdoms, to go out with my people as quickly as possible, with whole skin. ” Leaving for Europe in August 1921, the following year he was able to establish the Institute in France and take his mother and the rest of his family to safety.

Years later, when living in France, Gurdjieff said that the Armenians were “a wonderful people of great antiquity. They had not allowed their country to be invaded by Western civilization. They had kept their old ways, particularly the roots of their language, which it was full of old sayings, old ways of the past, and this kept his people clean and unspoiled by the slime of the West. ” Family was important to Gurdjieff and he understood the objective meaning of war and destruction. No more than alluding to the immense suffering endured by the Armenian people, and the personal suffering that he and his family endured, Gurdjieff never vilified the Turks. In the true Christian sense, he turned the other cheek. Of this said in Looking of the miraculous:

Suppose a man decides according to the Gospels to turn his left cheek if someone hits him on the right cheek. But an “I” decides this in the mind or in the emotional center. One “me” knows it, one “me” remembers it, the others don’t. Let’s imagine that it actually happens, that someone hits this man. Do you think the left cheek will come back? Never. You won’t even have time to think about it. Either he will hit the face of the man who hit him, or he will start calling a policeman, or he will just go on the run. His moving center will react in the usual way, or as it has been taught to react, before man realizes what he is doing.

Prolonged instruction, prolonged training, is necessary in order to turn the cheek, and if this training is mechanical, again it is worthless because in this case it means that a man will turn his cheek because he cannot do anything else.

Gurdjieff turned the other cheek often in life. As he said many times, “The outside plays a role, the inside never.”

This can be seen at the time of Gurdjieff’s death. When Attaturk and the Young Turks came to power in 1923, they immediately forbade men to wear the traditional fez, women, the veil. Although outwardly wearing Western clothing, Gurdjieff remained traditional. In 1949, dying of cancer, Gurdjieff was transported on a stretcher from his apartment to the American Hospital. He was sitting, smoking a cigarette, and on his head he wore a red fez.


1. I don’t pretend. JG Bennett, Witness, P. 158.

2. Skeletons GI Gurdjieff, Meetings with notable men, P. 278.

3. The enemy. Ibid., P. 278.

4. After centuries. Robert D. Kaplan, Heading east to Tartary (New York: Random House, 2000); Christopher J. Walker, Armenia: the survival of a nation. rev 2nd ed (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1990).

5. Take of. Meetings, P. 88.

6. Have a particular smell. Ibid., P. 283.

7. A wonderful town. Cecil Lewis, All My Yesteryears: An Autobiography (Rockport, Maine: Element, 1993), pp. 174-76.

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