An interesting conversation about folk culture in Armenia started in the recording studio today as we looked over a new book I had received about the massacres in Armenian Cilicia in 1909 at the hands of the Turks.
“I hate Turks,” the folk musician said. “There’s no other way I can put it. And opening the border, while they still deny the Genocide, is a big mistake. As long as they deny the Genocide, it’s just more proof that they’re the same Turk.
“But, in all fairness, let’s compare Armenians and Turks in another way. See this dhol?” The musician picked up the two wooden kopal and started striking the dhol. “This is the way to hit the dhol,” he said. “Ever seen how the Turks do this? And ever watch the Armenians pitifully play the kopalov dhol? We treat the dhol like we treat our folk music in general. One big ‘oh, well.’ When I watch the Turks on television, I receive satisfaction, and when I see our people doing folk music, or imitating it, as I should say, I get sad.”
As the folk musician talked, I remembered the evening before, when we attended an evening presentation about Komitas’ unfinished version of Anoush opera, in which a musicologist talked and sang and two singers, male and female, sang parts of the opera, both Tigranyan’s version and Komitas’. The musicologist, for some reason, was trying to make Komitas into a native of Lori, I suppose because we were at the Hovhannes Tumanyan home-museum, and the singers were mediocre, especially the Middle-East-born Armenian who was obviously in Armenia because he couldn’t make a go of it in his home country as a singer, him and similar singers another reason folk music has weakened in Armenia.
“The folk music culture in Armenia is one of the most corrupt fields in the country, with people with no idea what folk music is running the show, promoting restaurant singers as folk singers, and the like. But I have to tell you this. A friend who lives on a major boulevard in Yerevan said that one of the oligarchs, who is building additional floors on old apartment buildings in Central Yerevan, asked to buy their apartment, which is located on a top floor of one of these buildings. They said no, that it was their family home. To punish them, the oligarch made sure that their son, who had won a top prize in a science competition, didn’t receive the top prize, but only second or third. They’re lucky they only refused the offer to buy the house, as if they had protested publicly, the oligarch would have had them evicted, one way or the other. This is the atmosphere here now, what a pity. And they talk about fighting corruption?”