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...”