Sunday, April 25, 2010

Where I sat at the table, a window revealed mostly clouds. I realized that the peak of Mt. Ararat towered above the clouds.

I remembered the previous week in Yerevan, including Hasmik’s appearance in Moscow, and yesterday evening’s (April 24) concert in Yerevan, dedicated to the victims of the Armenian Genocide. A good concert, featuring mostly state-sponsored choirs, the Komitas Quartet, and, notably for me, Anna Mayilyan’s “Chinar es” and Hasmik’s “Butanya Krunk,” transcribed by Komitas’ student, Mihran Toumajan.

During the day, April 24, I watched various Genocide-related programs, but was most taken by the well known Oliver Stone movie, “Midnight Express,” wishing all the time the Armenians would produce such a film, protested by the Turks to the point that it wasn’t shown on American television for years.

As the evening cleared, Mt. Ararat opened in all its glory. Several old friends talked about the previous week’s concerts, culture in Armenia, the Genocide, and life in Armenia. A Sassountsi, from a village of Talin, told his story:

“I am a villager. I live in Yerevan, but I can’t get used to life here. I’ve taught at a local school, raised my children, and lived a normal life, but I have to move back to the village. There’s too much history to leave, and I can live a normal life there.”

I asked him about his roots.

“My mother’s side is from Bulanukh, in the Plains of Moush. I don’t remember the name of the village. My father’s side is from Sassoun. They’re from Petar village, which is on the top of a mountain, inaccessible from three sides. They resisted the Turks till the end, then most of them were killed. Several famous fedayee are from our village. One of them, Mkho, fought his way to Eastern Armenia, and was with General Andranik’s army, in Zangezour. Most of the group was from Sassoun and Moush. Once General Andranik said something that Mkho took as an insult. ‘You can’t talk to me like that,’ Mkho told Andranik, and he raised his sword towards Andranik. The others told Mkho he was crazy, that this was General Andranik...but you know how we Sassountsis are...a little crazy...

“My grandfather told me how he and other Sassountsis arrived at Katnaghpyur, in Talin. Turks lived there. They fought them at an old fortress there, in the hills, and chased them away. The Turks ended up in Amasia, in the northeast of Armenia. They stayed there until the war started.”

The evening continued in typical Armenian style, with the only conversation being part of toasts.

“I want to toast those Armenians who have stayed true to their nation, in song and dance, and in how they live in general. For example, I respect the Shamshadin Armenians. Go there, and you will notice they are all blue-eyed and blond haired. Why? They never allowed a Turk to enter Shamshadin. Just like the Aparantsis. If a Turk entered Shamshadin at night, he was dead in the morning.”

After promising to invite us to his home when the upcoming cherry crop was ready, we slowly said our farewells and parted for the night.

At home, a concert on Armenian Public Television reminded of our reality: a pop star, singing an arranged and synthesized version of a folk song, was praised by Conservatory professors, a bit strange as the singer had graduated from the Conservatory after refusing to sing a sharakan, as was required, arranging for her well-placed friends to remove the requirement for her graduation. Another singer, singing Sayat Nova’s “Nazani,” confused the lyrics several times, singing “kapov” instead of “chapov” amongst other mistakes. Not surprisingly, she too was praised, by those wishing to ensure their place in the current culture scene in Armenia.

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