Sunday, December 13, 2009

“I’d be proud if I could say I had roots in Gandzak,” the artist said. “But I was just born there; my roots are in Kars and in Karabagh. My great-grandfather escaped from Kars during the 1896 massacres by Abdul Hamid. He went to Astrakhan, in Russia, but said, ‘I need Armenian soil to grow my wine grapes, and make wine,’ so he moved his family to Gandzak. His wine became famous and was drunk all over Europe, and even won a grand prize at an international festival.” He thought a minute and said, “I hate Lenin more than Stalin. I blame Lenin for giving away important parts of the Armenian homeland to the Turks and their Azeri cousins. Gandzak, for example, is Armenian, and always was. And they gave it to Azerbaijan.”

The gathering had begun solemnly, as it was the “tari” for a friend’s sister, who had died of heart failure one year ago. Slowly, everyone relaxed and began telling stories about their friend, and how much they missed her; others talked about politics or told about their ancestry, as the Gandzak-born Armenian. As several present were artists and musicians (opera singer Arax Davityan, pianist Svetlana Navasartyan, Hasmik, her cousin, baritone Karen Mirzoyan, and others), the talk turned to music and the latest happenings in the local music scene.

“Haven’t you heard,” a woman close to the Culture Ministry said, “the musicians of the National Chamber Orchestra filed complaints against Aram Gharabekian, who as a result is no longer conducting the orchestra. It looks like they’re putting an end to the current orchestra, paying the members a month’s salary, and then starting the orchestra again, maybe with the same members, maybe with new members. That part isn’t clear. They say the new conductor will be the current conductor of the Conservatory’s youth symphony. His father, who doesn’t even live in Armenia, pretty much runs the Culture Ministry, and culture in general in Armenia. They say the decision came from the new conductor’s father, not a surprise...”

Continuing, the woman said, “This isn’t the way it was in the past, in Soviet times. True, there was favoritism and the like. But I remember the story my husband’s uncle told. His father was the great actor, Hrachya Nersisyan. He said that Hrachya was delighted when he met William Saroyan. You can see it in the picture of their meeting, which we fortunately have. In those days, great artists talked up other great artists, were proud when another Armenian was well known in the art world. This isn’t the case today. Mediocrities rule. Great artists are belittled, often driven out of the country. Humanity is a thing of the past in the culture world in Armenia. What happened to Gharabekian wouldn’t have happened in the past. At least not this way.”

Pictures on the restaurant wall were impressive: Yosuf Karsh, Sergey Paradjanov, William Saroyan, Hrachya Nersisyan, Aksel Bakunts...the most noteworthy, perhaps, was a picture of Komitas smiling, probably the only such picture.

Svetlana Navasartyan sat at the piano and played a classical piece. The day ended well, a nice tribute to our friend.

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