Saturday, May 29, 2010

May 28, 2010, Armenian Independence Day, the first Republic of Armenia, (1918-1921).

Hasmik’s performance of “Gulo” a folk song from Moush. Performed in the dialect of Moush. From the “love song” genre of Armenian folk music.

During ceremonies today at the President’s residence, Hasmik Harutyunyan was awarded the title, “Meritorious Artist of Armenia.”

Thursday, May 27, 2010

For the second time in recent days, I was able to attend a classical music concert, this time of the world famous Borodin String Quartet. I especially wanted to go to the concert to hear Ruben Aharonian, as I knew of his fame but hadn’t heard his playing in person.

To say the least, I wasn’t let down. The quartet was excellent, of very high quality, and Aharonian was superb. Listening, I realized the reason for Aharonian’s international fame.

As first violinist, he obviously led the group, whose members weren’t only expert musicians but played as one. At the end of the concert, those attending simply wouldn’t leave, leading to an encore of music by Tchaikovsky, whose music was included in the concert program, as was that of Borodin and Shostakovitch.

Leaving, I realized the important legacy being left in the classical field by those born in Armenia from 1945 to 1955: opera singers Arax Davityan, Barsegh Toumanyan, Gegham Grigoryan, as well as pianist Svetlana Navasartyan and tonight’s Ruben Aharonian...all world-class talents, able to equal or surpass the best in the world. Most of these artists either live and work outside of Armenia, or live in Armenia and work elsewhere, unless invited to occasionally perform in the homeland.

Why, I wonder, do the wealthy Armenians of the world generally not support these national treasures, but instead bring mediocrities to Armenia from who knows where, the result being the current level of classical music (opera, symphony) in Armenia.

Monday, May 24, 2010

As 95 years have passed since the self-defense of Van took place, in 1915, two of the three “Van-Vaspurakan” organizations in Armenia held commemoration concerts this weekend. Sad, the fact that the Vanetsis can’t get together and have one, strong group, instead of three, but that’s a subject for another time.

One of the organizations, which was founded by the famous architect and expert of the City of Ani, Varazdat Harutyunyan (born in Van, and lived until age 96), held a concert Saturday afternoon at the Arno Babajanyan Concert Hall (known here as the “Pokr Tahlij”). One of the most interesting of the speakers was a middle-aged Vanetsi man who, unannounced, walked up onto the stage and, after saying a few words about the importance of unity, sang a patriotic song of Van, and sang it better than any professional I had ever heard.

The folk music part of the concert featured blulist Norayr Kartashyan, “playing Hovivi Kanch,” duduk player Araik Bakhtikyan, playing “Havoun, Havoun,” and Hasmik’s song about Khrimian Hayrik, “Hayrik, Hayrik,” after which she told about her singing the song with Varazdat Harutyunyan and another famous Vanetsi, poetess Silva Kaputikyan, one day at the Avetik Issahakyan Home-Museum.

After the concert, and in the office downstairs, we met with the administrator and an agent who had just been to a folk festival in Istanbul.

“I had no idea,” he said, “that each of the 80 or 90 provinces in Turkey has a first-rate folk song and dance ensemble. Many of them were at the festival. One was better than the next. Not only were they dressed in authentic folk costumes, but they sang and danced very well. They meant business. I asked myself why Armenia doesn’t have such groups. Oh, true, they did in Soviet times...Agunk, Naro, Kantegh, Maratouk, and others... but there’s a difference between now and then. In Soviet times, we had a government. Now, we don’t. This kind of culture has to be backed and promoted by the state. Here, for reasons I won’t talk about, they promote every kind of culture except for folk. And another thing. The Turks don’t dance to synthesized folk music. They only use folk instruments. When the one visiting Armenian group appeared, and started to dance something closer to a folk ballet than the real thing, and to synthesized, recorded folk music, I hid my face...”

Saturday, May 22, 2010

To follow up on the story of the souvenir shop at the Matenadaran, we were told by a higher up in the legal system, who knows the case well, and who is known for his impartiality, that the connecting of the case to political reasons (which is what the shop administrators tried to do), and people out to get them, is completely false. “The money was stolen, plain and simple,” the official said. “If you have hopes of getting your money back, you need to hire an attorney, as what they’ve presented to the court gives you about a 10% chance of being paid for what they sold.”

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Armenia’s premiere kanon player, Karine Hovhannisyan, performing “Shalakho” with the Shoghaken Ensemble. February 2008 in Cleveland, Ohio.

Monday, May 17, 2010

The saga of the (now closed) souvenir shop at the Matenadaran continues. For nearly two years, the shop has been closed. In 2008, the shop was operating, but not paying artists whose various items were for sale, saying that due to an ongoing suit by the government tax department against the shop’s operator, the money was under lock and key. But the shop continued to sell the artists’ merchandise. None of the artists questioned the operator or workers, figuring that being under the umbrella of the Matenadaran, all would be well. No contracts were signed, as trust ruled. I was one of those with merchandise being sold there.

Today those with claims against the souvenir shop met at a courtroom in Zeytun, as a date and time had been given to appear in court. An attorney associated with the case said that there wasn’t a free courtroom, and passed out papers to fill in so he could present them to the judge. Odd, people thought, that a time and date were given, but no courtroom was available. Or so we were told.

The attorney then said that the case was written so that the five individuals with the largest claims would be receiving money, with the future of the others’ claims still uncertain.

It happens that those with the largest claims are the shop workers and administrators, who supposedly didn’t receive their salaries for several months, and a relative of the shop operator.

As one of the artists involved said, “This gives us a good lesson. Don’t work without a contract. Don’t trust anybody, no matter who they are, and how good their name supposedly is.”

Any developments will be reported here.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Yesterday evening we had the fortune of attending a concert at the Art Gallery, presented by pianist and People’s Artist Svetlana Navasartyan. The crowd was awed, as is always the case, as Navasartyan’s expertise is beyond description. Presented were works by Mozart, Chopin, and Bach. At the end, standing ovations brought on two encores and seemingly endless bouquets of flowers, given by the Prime Minister and First Lady amongst others.

Interesting were the comments of a political activist friend during breaks in the concert:

“Heritage was supposed to have their yearly convention, but delayed it for the second or third time. And the Dashnaks...they’ve lost all respect here, and are starting to lose respect in the Diaspora. They were supposedly getting tough when they demanded Edward Nalbandyan’s resignation, for signing the Protocols. They didn’t have the nerve to demand the President’s resignation, but after all, they drank from the same cup for years, and don’t want to disturb anything, so they demanded Nalbandyan’s resignation instead. I’m surprised they didn’t demand Nalbandyan’s driver’s resignation too...

“I’ve joined the Armenian National Congress. They’re our only hope. I know Levon has made mistakes, but we need him now, to clean out the crew in charge, before it’s too late.”

To my question as to how Levon proposed taking power, he replied, “You mean how can we take power. And, the time is close, closer than people think!”

After the concert, and after running through a heavy rainstorm and flooded streets, we sat at a friend’s house, drinking tea and drying off. Someone involved in one of Yerevan’s leading choirs was also there, and talked about a recent trip to Europe:

“The day we got there, we were treated to something quite enjoyable, and depressing, in a way I’ll tell now. Several locals, dressed in traditional costume, began singing and dancing their folk music. They were excellent. And they weren’t professional musicians...they were doctors, teachers, electricians. I and the others were depressed because we know how far basic Armenians have gone from their folk music, and how hard it would be in Armenia to find people to do what these Europeans were doing.

“They were singing their folk music, and doing it well. What do we hear in Armenia? Our real folk singers are hidden, barely seen. We are presented rabiz and pop. See this cigarette box? It says ‘smoking is harmful to your health.’ They should do the same with our pop singers, and write, ‘Azerbaijani music presented in Armenian words.’

“But the situation in Armenia is nothing new. Look at how Komitas was treated. First of all, he didn’t lose his mind after 1915. He just went silent. He wrote several excellent songs. Does someone crazy do this? There wasn’t even a diagnosis, but they still say he was crazy. They had been trying for years to keep him silent.

“Who was trying? For one, the Armenian Church leaders of the time. Once, the famous Mantashov gave Komitas a piano. One day the piano was gone, and when Komitas asked where it was, church people said it was property of the Armenian Church, that it was in a basement, and would stay there.

“Another time, when Komitas was preparing to have a concert in Etchmiadzin, an order came from the Catholicos stating ‘If you go through with this concert, you will be cursed by the Church.’ After further attempts to stop the concert, it finally took place.

“Now we know why Komitas wrote the letters he did, stating for one thing how he needed to leave Etchmiadzin to save his sanity.”

Monday, May 10, 2010

A heated exchange between a Karabaghtsi and a Yerevantsi:

“If someone from near the Mayr Hayastan monument was shooting grad missiles into Yerevan, Yerevantsis would all escape, not like the Armenians of Stepanakert, who stayed until the end,” the Karabaghtsi boasted.

“In all respect to those Karabaghtsis who fought to defend their homeland, let’s get serious. First, Stepanakert’s Armenians had no chance of getting out in those times. You don’t know if they would have stayed or not. And to say Yerevantsis would flee if someone was shooting missiles at them...who was it that protested by the hundreds of thousands for Karabagh’s independence, and who was it that volunteered by the hundreds, even thousands, to go and defend Karabagh? It was Yerevantsis, along with hundreds from Ararat, Armavair, Talin, Aparan. You should talk about what the Karabaghtsi presidents have done to Armenia, not who would have escaped from where.”

Saturday, May 8, 2010

In Hasmik’s words:

“I was with the Akunk Ensemble in Milan, giving a concert, when it was announced that Armenians had liberated Shushi. It was being broadcast on CNN and BBC,which we didn’t understand, but everything was plain to see. They showed the wounded being taken to hospitals, amongst them several friends.

“The concert lasted all night, until we gave out at around 5 am.

“Several days later, back in Yerevan, we gave all the money we had made in Milan to buy food for our wounded friends. Those were crazy times.

“I went to Karabagh several times during the war. Once, with Aleksan, Harut Panosian, and one or two others from Akunk, we gave a concert in Martuni, in the culture building there. Several Akunk members didn’t come, so a villager played dhol, Aleksan played accordion, and I played guitar and sang. In the heat of the war, most musicians were afraid to come to Karabagh. None of the ‘stars’ of the time came. Now, they’re all singing patriotic songs and shouting ‘Karabagh, Karabagh.’ Such is life.

“I remember a concert in Stepanakert. I remember the grads falling. We were giving a concert in a building with the lights off, for safety. Once a helicopter flew overhead, circling our general area, and we all went silent. Luckily, nothing happened.”

Friday, May 7, 2010

Segment from a traditional Armenian wedding; performed by Hasmik and Aleksan Harutyunyan and the Shoghaken Ensemble in Yerevan, 2005.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

A Yerevantsi was fishing in Lake Yerevan, by the American Embassy, when he caught a golden fish. He asked the fish if he could have three wishes, but the fish answered that he could only have one.

The Yerevantsi’s wish was, “Please take at least half of the Karabaghtsis who have settled in Yerevan and send them back to Karabagh.”

The fish answered, in a Karabaghtsi accent, “No way!”

* * *

A fisherman caught a golden fish, and asked the fish to grant his wish. “Please re-create Armenia from sea to sea, as in the time of Tigran the Great,” he said.

“That’s too hard,” the fish answered. “Give me an easier wish.”

“Here’s a picture of my daughter, who is at home, unmarried. My wish is for you to find her a husband.”

Looking at the picture, the fish replied, “I'll grant your first wish...”

Monday, May 3, 2010

Standing in the courtyard of an old apartment building, under umbrellas, due to the wettest spring in decades, an old friend talked about Armenia and its future. Several hundred men and women were gathering to bid farewell to a friend’s mother who had died two days before. With them, we waited for the woman’s family to descend from their apartment, with their beloved mother.

“I don’t like to think about Armenia’s future,” he said. “Everything is in chaos here. The world’s financial problems don’t affect things much here, since we never had an economy. Western companies are leaving here, due to the ridiculous customs laws, for one thing. Normal countries want their technologies sector to improve, even flourish, and we put such crazy laws out there that it is impossible to do business here, not to mention it’s so expensive to buy a computer here, because of customs laws that are choking the country.”

My friend is an educated, good, concerned citizen of Armenia. I have yet to meet such a person who isn’t worried sick about Armenia’s current condition, as well as its future.

He continued:

“The Karabagh movement didn’t do us any good. Nothing against Karabagh or Karabaghtsis, but those that took over in Armenia have ruined any hope the country had. Culture, everything. I believe...I know that there is a conspiracy here to destroy the Armenian character, everything we stood for in the past. And constantly showing serials is one way they’re doing it. The way they talk, with their thick necks, trying their best to imitate Brando...

“There is no state mentality’s turned into a free-for-all. I hate to say it, but we need somebody like Stalin. I know he was a criminal. But he had a state mentality...there was a country, a functioning country. And all the best buildings were built in his rule...

“But current Russia likes to keep us weak, so we’ll do what it wants. It owns everything here. In spite of all the new, lavish construction going on, we’re pitiful, as a country.

“I could move to Russia or Europe or the US but there are things in those places I can’t accept. Yet, when I think of my kids growing up and what they’ll face here, I go crazy.”