At times in Armenia, one is given a stark reminder that not only we are far, distance-wise, from the West, but just as far concerning culture. Today’s trip to Byurakan was such a reminder. The occasion was a sad one, as Hasmik’s fifty-two-year-old first cousin, Jivan, was laid to rest, passing away after suffering a stroke some three weeks ago. I remembered being at his house during St. Khach, and his lamenting how we hadn’t bought a house close to his, saying he would have watched over the house if we were gone from the village, and what good neighbors we would have been.
Reaching Byurakan, Hasmik, a sister, and I walked down one of the main, winding streets to the home where the funeral was to take place. On the way, we passed St. Hovhannes church, entering the oldest part of the village, almost overgrown with walnut and other fruit trees and vines. At the family house, men were sitting on benches under the trees and most of the women were in the living room, where the open casket was set on a table, lamenting their dear father, brother, relative, and friend, in the quite vocal way practiced in this part of the world. Soon, two duduk players and a man with a dap showed up outside, took their places on three chairs, and began what is known in the village and area as Bayati, or, more completely, Bayati Shiraz, a form of mugham in which the singer carries on a conversation with the deceased, asking why he doesn’t answer, why he left his family, and whatever comes to the singer’s mind.
Up to this point, most of the wailing, or lamenting, was done by the women. Then, the casket was brought outside and placed on a table with a carpet on it, with the family men now joining the lamenting women.
After a few minutes had passed, the casket was taken to a nearby waiting van and placed in the back, with the two back doors left open. The long procession to the cemetery then began, with most of the men walking behind the van all the way to the cemetery, with two lanes of cars following behind.
Near the entrance of the cemetery, the casket was put on a large, flat rock, where the women bade farewell to Jivan. Since according to custom women don’t go to the actual gravesite, they started heading back to the village, with the men walking alongside the casket all the way to the edge of the cemetery to the gravesite.
Again, the duduk players and singer began their mugham. After lowering the casket and filling it with soil, several wreaths and bouquets were spread over the fresh dirt. In the distance, to the east, I saw the village of Agarak and the city of Ashtarak. To the west, at the end of a ravine, the dark-stoned Tegher Monastery loomed over the landscape.
An elder relative spoke: “Jivan left us at a young age. In his entire life, he never said anything to hurt anybody. No one can say he ever did anything bad to anybody. He never asked anybody for anything. Our village lost one of its best sons.”