Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Arriving at the Aram Khachatryan Concert Hall for Shoghaken’s performance at the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) conference, we were greeted by a demonstration being held on and below the steps leading into the hall. Protesters were holding posters with pictures of those they claim to be political prisoners, held in Armenian prisons since the March clashes with police in 2008. Male protesters included several dressed in prison uniforms with pictures representing the political prisoners. A row of women, likely mothers of those killed during the 2008 clashes, held pictures of the victims.

Inside the hall, conference attendees from all over the world discussed human rights in Armenia, thus the demonstration. Demonstrators were further angered by the fact that the Armenian president refused to speak at the conference. The Armenian human rights defender also refused, saying he couldn’t stand up there and lie, so there was no point in him speaking. The honor was given to Gagik Harutyunyan, head of the Constitutional Court. Nothing definite was said on his part.

Towards the conclusion of the first round of speeches, Shoghaken performed, with Aleksan Harutyunyan singing a horovel, Hasmik a lullaby, Karine Hovhannisyan performing her version of Shalakho, followed by the ensemble singing and playing Bingol and Angin Yars/Tamzara, with interludes of the Armenian mugham on duduk, kamancha, blul, and kanon.

The reception by the guests was positive, not to mention many Armenians present singing along with Bingol and dancing to the Tamzara.

Watching the group, I was reminded of the remarks of two of the biggest stars of Soviet times, singers of ashoughagan and Soviet-style music. One, on hearing that Shoghaken had received visas to travel to the US, said, “What has Shoghaken become, that they’ve gotten US visas, and I was turned down?” with the other, during Shoghaken’s recent performance during the Armenian Music Awards in Yerevan, was overheard talking on and on about Shoghaken’s shortcomings. Strange, with all their fame and fortune, that they still shudder when someone as good or better steps in the picture.

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