Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The issue of using another’s recordings and work (stealing) has reached new levels in Armenia. By chance, we came across another of Shant television’s music competitions, which have become good business for them . . . the “Folk Singer” and “Superstar” competitions, for which concerts in Yerevan and Los Angeles have been organized, and now another competition, tonight’s show featuring children’s folk songs. The female announcer, whom we know, introduced each song and the singers of each, after which we heard all the songs from the Hayrik Mouradian Children’s Folk Song and Dance group’s CD, arranged (synthesized) by a local musician/arranger, with the melodies and singing a copy of the music from the CD. A group of “experts” judged the singers (as they do for all of Shant’s competitions). After the show, a call to the female host revealed something interesting, that when planning for this folk program, she requested that Aleksan and Hasmik Harutyunyan, being they had produced the CD (music) they were going to use, be amongst those who judge the singers, and help make sure the singing was done correctly in the first place. At the committee meeting, the person in charge of these competitions refused, saying Aleksan isn’t well known (in spite of appearing at Carnegie Hall and Theatre De La Ville with Shoghaken, as well as singing with Hovhannes Chekijian’s choir, the Kohar Ensemble, Hay Folk, etc.) and that Hasmik would require the singers to sing correctly, not merely announcing how wonderful someone sang (as their so-called experts do), saying at the end, “Hasmik Harutyunyan won’t step foot here.”

Saturday, September 27, 2008

A small business owner took the morning off from work to help Hasmik cook up a batch of eggplant caviar, pronounced here as “khaviar.” The main ingredient is eggplant, but tomatoes and green and red peppers are also used, as well as various spices. Yesterday they had bought two huge bags of eggplants and separate bags of peppers, all for less than 3,000 dram.

At around ten-thirty, as the eggplant was cooking away in our large pan, which is usually used to make khash, the familiar old blue-and-white bus from Aparan arrived down below, leading us to take a break and join the crowd of locals buying village eggs, milk, potatoes, madzoon, pipert (what we used to call cheese weed in Fresno), and aveluk. To round things out, we took pictures of our friends from Aparan before resuming our work upstairs.

Later, we took a short coffee and fruit break, and talked about happenings in Yerevan. The business owner, angry about today’s rally for one of Levon Ter Petrosyan’s people for district mayor, said, “If any of Levon’s crowd makes it into government, we’re finished. I don’t know anybody who likes Serge, but at least we know just how bad he is . . . we know his limits. There is even hope he helps clean up corruption here. We saw Levon and his followers and what they did when they were in power, and believe me, it was far worse than now. The only thing that would destroy what hope I have is if Kocharian became prime minister. Which reminds me of the latest joke. A Hayastantsi, a Karabaghtsi, and an Azerbaijantsi ran into a golden fish, who promised them it would grant their first wish. The Azerbaijantsi naturally said, ‘Kill all Armenians.’ The Armenian gave his wish: ‘Kill all Azerbaijantsis.’ When the fish asked the Karabaghtsi what he wanted, he asked the fish this: ‘Are you really going to grant their wishes?’ to which the fish replied positively. ‘Then fine,’ the Karabaghtsi said. ‘Just give me a cup of coffee. You’ve taken care of everything.’ I don’t know what to say, except there’s some truth in this joke. During the war, Hayastantsis and Karabaghtsis got along well, fought together. After all, Karabagh has also given great heroes in the past . . . Nikol Tuman, Aram Manukian, General Pirumyan. I have to think there are outside powers trying to tear us apart, by creating such rifts, by sending sects into Armenia, etc. Our battle is a hard one.”

Thursday, September 25, 2008

“I’m worried about what’s happening in Armenia,” the academician said. “I listened to culture and language expert Henrik Hovhannisyan speak on the new culture station, which is part of National Television. Hovhannisyan lamented the way the Armenian language is used in Armenia today, and gave several examples of common mistakes made, not only by every day people but by those in government and announcers on television and radio. Yet, when Hovhannisyan was done, I switched to the main National Television station, and a new, Armenian-made serial, complete with street jargon and mafia-style language was on, as if mocking what Hovhannisyan had just said. These serials are something, as now not only are most stations showing the usual serials from South America, with their ‘who’s with whom’ and ‘who’s child is it’ themes, the Armenian serials, done by National Television, Armenia, Shant, and others, are all Armenian mafia-style, with the kind of language Hovhannisyan and many others abhor. And National Television has the ‘Odar Khagher’ show, which before had actors, or regular people, I’m not sure, acting out problems supposedly foreign to Armenians, yet not explaining that they were foreign. Now, the show has advanced to something just shy of the American shows where people argue and then supposedly beat each other while the audience cheers them on. I suppose that’s the next step, the beatings. Now, Channel Five, part of the Armenia station, which is seemingly doing what it can to destroy Armenian culture, announced that they’re going to broadcast ‘Keeping up with the Kardashians.’ And the common Armenian, who like anybody around the world, turns into what he sees on television. Maybe we should be watching television from Turkey, instead of the new culture station…last night I saw a group of young folk musicians singing ‘Hoy Nar,’ with Turkish lyrics following the hoy nar, then the famous ‘Garun e, sirun e,’ and a song with the exact melody of a patriotic song about the fedayee Arabo. Why shouldn’t they sing these songs, if what we’re promoting is singers who, just a few years ago, would have been beaten for acting like street walkers?”

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Today on Yerkir Media television, singer Rubik Hakhverdyan commented on Armenian Independence Day and what has been accomplished in the years since independence was declared. He said the Yerevan of Tamanyan no longer exists, that not one of the new structures (meaning mainly the new apartment buildings scattered all over central Yerevan and elsewhere) has the beauty of those buildings constructed before independence. Hakhverdyan especially complained about what has happened with the Armenian language, saying that the Soviets, in spite of whatever faults they may have had, maintained the Armenian language at a high level. “You on television,” he said, “don’t speak good Armenian. You put accents on your words like they do in England or the US, like you’re trying to show how Western you are or something similar, I don’t know what.”

Hakhverdyan went on to talk about the low level of culture produced since independence, forcing those with real talent, especially folk artists, into the background or completely out of the country, then continued by mentioning the recent announcements of “vastakavor artist” (meritorious artist).

“I’d like to have seen Harout Pampoukjian get this award, even though he doesn’t live in Armenia,” he said. “But I know many here who are worthy, but don’t have the right connections. This is sad.”

I am reminded of when, a couple of months ago, a friend at the culture ministry phoned Hasmik and asked her to prepare a document stating all the work she had done for Armenian culture, about the folklore CDs she had performed for and produced, her presenting of Armenian folk music around the world, her founding and directing the Hayrik Mouradyan Children’s Ensemble, then saying that she thought that with this resume that Hasmik would without doubt earn the “vastakavor artist” calling. Hasmik told her friend that she wouldn’t receive the calling, due to not having the right connections and other reasons, but she would apply, just to show her friend that such a thing was impossible in the current cultural atmosphere. When announcements were made, Hasmik’s name wasn’t amongst the “winners.”

Thinking of Hasmik’s earlier prediction, I remembered a concert several years ago when a quite mediocre actor who is at minimum a “vastakavor artist,” and likely possesses the higher “jhoghovrdakan artist” title, told Hasmik before the concert, “You are not going to sing tonight” — this because his daughter was trying to establish herself as a singer, and was going to sing a number or two that night. Such is the current state of culture in Armenia, when someone like actor Khoren Aprahamyan, whose acting abilities were far above and beyond the usual mediocrities here, was denied the directorship of the Sundukian Theater troupe, Aprahamyan then moving to Los Angeles and eventually dying an early death at around age sixty.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

A surprise visit from an old friend resulted in remembering past meetings, talking about how younger family members are doing, and about the political situation in the country:

“My brother fought in Karabagh, under Seifilian’s command. He says Seifilian was a good commander and very dedicated to his nation. Now, fifteen years later, his type isn’t needed or wanted here. When I think about how the presidential election went, then the March 1 events, and now with whom they’re talking about for speaker of parliament and who might be elevated to prime minister, I wonder if all is lost. I wake up at night and think about all this. I see history repeating itself, with the Turks and Russians deciding Armenia’s fate, as they did early last century, when they gave Nakhichevan and Karabagh to the Turks, not long after the Armenians, for some reason, gave up Kars without a fight. Picture this. Gul comes to Armenia. Afterwards, he says the Armenians are ready to give up Karabagh, the territories, who knows what else. Then, Serge says he agrees to a commission to study the Genocide. All this, and no one in the ruling coalition says a thing. Not the Dashnaks, nobody. The Dashnaks organized a few protests when Gul was here, but are saying nothing about giving up Karabagh, only that we should be opening the border with Turkey . . . something most patriotic Armenians here don’t want. It’s clear, if Russia agrees with Turkey for a solution to the Armenian question, Karabagh, or whatever, our government will agree. No one from the ruling coalition will dare open their mouth. Even Levon isn’t for this. But I don’t trust him either. I used to think he answered to the West, but now I think he’s a spy for the Russians. Either way, he hates Armenians, I’m convinced of that. I was at the opposition rally last week. On one hand, it was good to see the large crowd there, some 50,000. And I’ll probably go to the next rally, on the 26th. But those who think Levon will fight for Armenia are misled. What a choice, Levon or Serge. . . .”

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

It happened that the cousin from Byurakan whom I wrote about at the end of the previous entry suffered a stroke around two hours after I left his home. Finding this out, we went to the Republican Hospital, located on Margaryan Street in Ajapnyak. Several family members who were gathered outside his room told us he had hit his head as he fell while suffering the stroke. Being in intensive care, and in a light coma, we weren’t able to see our friend and cousin.

Saying a temporary goodbye, Hasmik and I went to a hotel in the city center to meet several actor/singers from Poland, who were interested in old, traditional music, preferably from pagan times. “In Poland,” one of the young actors said, “Our traditional music is lost. Gone. It’s the same in all of Europe. If there’s a folk festival there, all Europeans can do is put on a costume and sing something that might sound like their old music. Here, in Armenia, you’re lucky that your traditional music is alive. I find it sad, though, that apparently none of the youth here seem to care about their old culture, that only older generations are doing anything. If this continues, your traditional music will end up like ours, in archives, museums, or worse, completely lost.”

After making arrangements for a hopeful trip to Poland, we parted ways and left for the opposition rally (hanrahavak) near the Matenadaran. Crowds were thick, similar to the rally I attended a few months back. I watched and listened to people shouting cheers for Levon Ter Petrosyan and calls for Serge Sargsyan to resign. A Karabagh war veteran I had seen recently repeated his story about having gone to Martuni, in Karabagh, and seeing four modern Italian tractors in one area, all funded by telethon money. “Couldn’t they have sent one or two of those to Armenia, maybe to Sissian, where people are living terribly?” he again lamented. “If war breaks out again, I’ll go and fight, but it sure won’t be for our leaders from Karabagh. They have to go. I’ll never forget what happened on March 1. And, this has become the norm. Haven’t you heard about the elections for district mayor in Yerevan? The same things were going on. Nobody but those in Serge’s party, or Prosperous Armenia, had a chance. As to Levon, I don’t hold a high opinion of him, but we need him, or anybody, to throw these guys out.”

After a short time at the rally, and feeling a little weak while finally succumbing to the strange, cold-related virus sweeping Yerevan, we grabbed a taxi and went home.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Without doubt the most talked about subject in Yerevan, and elsewhere, is the visit of Turkish president Gul to Yerevan and statements that followed about the beginning of a new friendship and possible opening of the Armenian-Turkish border, and about Armenia being ready to withdraw from Azeri land. This conversation also ruled in nearby Byurakan, where I traveled for Khachverats (Exaltation of the Holy Cross) commemorations. Walking through the now-deserted garden area of the house we were visiting, a local in his fifties stated, “The weak always suffer. We do the will of Moscow, now of Turkey. Don’t Armenians have a memory? Don”t they know what would happen if the border was open? Turks would take over Armenia without firing a shot. Turkish businessmen would open factories in Armenia, and bring Turks to work in them. It’s only been 15-20 years since we cleaned Armenia of Turks, during the Karabagh war. And now this? We want to invite them back? They’ll fill our country, swallow us up. And, with an open border, more of our people will go there to work. I can’t say what might happen to our culture, or what’s left of it. The work Komitas, Hayrik Mouradian, and others have done will all be wasted.”

Another Byurakantsi, known for his opposing views on such matters, said he had just returned from Trebizond on business. “The best people on earth are the Turks,” he said. “I would much rather do business with a Turk than an Armenian. Didn’t you hear how Djemal’s (member of Young Turk triumvirate) grandson, I think it was, went into shock when he viewed the displays at the Genocide Museum? I think there’s hope with the Turks.”

Later, having dinner inside the large living room, I was reminded of the issue of sects and how they’ve made inroads into this picturesque mountain village. A woman with a strange sort of twisted, peaceful, and falsely contented look on her face came in the room and began talking in an unnaturally soft voice. After several minutes of being thoroughly disgusted, I left the room and walked with a relative to his home near the old church in the center of the village. Near his home, we ate grapes and pears, the latter, according to locals, is the original pear, with no breeding whatsoever, and almost no tie to the modern pear. A few yards from his home is a holy place, a small, stone structure with an altar and an ancient, simple khachkar. When I asked him how old this holy place was, he smiled and said, “Shat hin.” This I knew — I asked only in anticipation of his colorful reaction. He then told of a cousin whose funeral we had both attended about three months ago in Aparan. “My cousin died of fright,” he said. "“At his mechanic shop in Moscow, a little over a year ago, criminals came in and mowed everybody down with machine guns. My cousin was working under a car, below ground, and wasn’t noticed by the criminals, so he wasn’t killed like the others. Soon after this event, he began having trouble with nerves, trouble swallowing, that sort of thing. Nobody could help him. He would have been better off it he had been killed alongside his workers, who were both Armenian and Russian.”

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Upon returning to Yerevan, I learned of an earlier-published article, written about world-class bass singer Barsegh Tumanyan (left), in which conductor Edward Topjian accused Tumanyan of selling out, as Tumanyan had apparently sided with protesters, and not the government, concerning the March 1 events in Yerevan. This continued the naming of those opposing the current rulers as being unpatriotic, or worse, as put by one of Armenia’s better known pop singers, who said, “Those who were beaten or killed on March 1 shouldn’t have been out protesting . . . they deserve what they got.”

Continuing on the Tumanyan-Topjian issue, a concert was to be held celebrating Tumanyan’s fiftieth birthday, but Topjian persuaded his orchestra to not participate in the concert, which now will not take place. Later, when the culture ministry asked Tumanyan to sing for celebrations for the 100th birthday of His Holiness Vazgen I, Tumanyan refused, undoubtedly remembering the culture ministry’s earlier silence concerning Topjian’s actions. “Suddenly,” a prominent figure in culture stated, “Tumanyan became worthy of singing, no doubt because there were going to be a lot of foreign guests at the concerts/celebrations for Vazgen I.”

I was reminded of when the ministry asked Shoghaken to take part in Armenian culture days in Belarus, and when asked why they weren’t taking any of their state-sponsored groups there, they answered, “What, and end up being a laughing stock?”