Saturday, August 21, 2010

Jora Grigoryan lives in a village of Aparan. His grandfather, Grigor, taught Komitas six songs, when Komitas came to his village in 1913.

“My ancestors came from Moush in 1829. When they came to Aparan, there was no population at all. The villages were in ruin. When they say somebody is native Aparantsi, they’re wrong. They all have roots in Moush, Khnus, Bulanukh, and different villages from the Plains of Moush. Sure, I tell people I’m Aparantsi. But my dreams are of Moush. My heart is there...

“In May of 1918, the Turks came from the north, and tried to come through Aparan, on their way to Yerevan. But they were turned back, so they tried to pass Aparan on the slopes of Aragats, just above our village. My grandfather’s generation made sure they didn’t make it. And in Soviet times no Turk ever lived in Aparan, even though Turks were all over Armenia.

“Over 250 of our boys died during the war of liberation in Karabagh. That’s a huge number for a few villages. All were volunteers. One was my son. That’s his picture on the wall behind you.”

Jora began singing a version of “Sona Yar” different from the well known version. “I learned this version from my mother, who was an encyclopedia of folk songs. She learned it from her parents, who learned from theirs...all the way back to 1829 and before, from our ancestors in Moush. Once the Turks claimed the song was theirs. I proved to them they were wrong, and they’ve been silent since then.

“My songs...actually, they’re not my songs, they’re my peoples’ songs...but they’re songs I’ve learned, collected, arranged, and written down. I don’t mind teaching these songs to others, but I do mind when they say they found the songs in this or that village, or from some book, and don’t at least mention my name. The pop stars are good at doing this, which isn’t a surprise, as they’re trying to make a name for themselves...I don’t want money, as they’re not my songs. Just a little common courtesy...”

I asked Jora about the song “Gulo,” which Hasmik has sung and recorded. He said that the song is also known as “Gulizar’s Lament,” Gulo being short for Gulizar, and that it is a song of Moush. Hasmik asked Jora about “Garun Batsver,” which we knew as a folk song from Moush.

“I wrote that song,” he said. “I woke up one day and wrote ‘Garun Batsver.’ Maybe some day when I’m forgotten it will be considered a folk song.”

Note: Due to upcoming personal and professional changes, Yerevan Journal will be taking an extended break, starting again in the future as circumstances permit. Not that I haven’t enjoyed my communication, so to speak, with Armenians and non-Armenians around the world, which I have, but life’s dictates require bringing at least a temporary end to the journal.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Two members of the ancient Laz nation visited us recently, and made remarks that may interest readers.

Walking through the Vernisage, the male said, “I notice something you might not notice. It comes from the difference of having a nation or not, or having a nation that is insecure, and has to invent things in order to feel important. For instance, I see in Armenia a secure people, who knows they are ancient, who are sure of themselves. This is good, but can do damage too. Your neighbors, the Georgians, Turks, and Azeris, are spending fortunes to prove to the world, scientifically, that they are old nations, with architecture, music, culture...while you Armenians think you don’t have to prove anything, so are doing very little. The world sees what your neighbors are doing, publishing, about their supposed ancient cultures, so they believe what they are reading...”

At our home, while watching one of the several music competitions, in which Armenian youth were singing folk and ashoughagan songs, the female visitor began laughing.

“What are they trying to prove? Don’t they have teachers? They aren’t singing like Armenians, but like Turks, Moslems. Why are they doing this?”

We told them the story of how someone with a music school is forming a youth folk ensemble, and trying to find a singer, so far without success. It happens that this person has been sending young boys and girls to our home for tryouts, to see if we could find someone to sing in his new group. I watch as Hasmik listens and advises these youth, who seem to me almost hopeless. Each comes from one of the ashoughagan schools in Yerevan, and each sings in a strange, nasal style, often twisting their mouths to the side for some unknown reason.

The parents, thinking their sons and daughters sing wonderfully, call us later, complaining that we’re interfering with their children’s future by not suggesting they are good enough for the new group. “He doesn’t sing nasal,” one parent said. “What do you mean, he twists his mouth,” another said.

A director of one of the ashoughagan school called our home, after his student wasn’t accepted into the new ensemble.

“You should have made it good for the boy,” he said. “You should have said he was good enough for the ensemble.”

After telling him the boy sang nasally, and didn’t know any folk songs, just unknown ashoughagan songs, inappropriate for youth, the caller simply said, “You are working against us. Who do you think you are?”

Related, a professional singer, born and trained in Yerevan, and working in recent years in Russia, returned to Yerevan with the hope of working in music here.

“I was shocked at how things have changed here,” she said. “People who were laughed at in the past, who can’t sing at all, are now teaching at the Conservatory. Remember our friend who wanted to be in Akunk in the past, and he couldn’t sing or dance? I found out he has a folk dance group now and gives lessons. And someone told me that an actor who can’t sing at all teaches vocal at the theatrical institute. And what’s this about our (folk musician) friend who is musically illiterate, whom we laughed at in our student days at the Conservatory, and now he has his own ensemble...what’s going on here?”

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Gohar Gasparyan had a concert in Turkey, in Istanbul, after which a high government official stated:

“You sing so well. But your eyes are very sad. Why is that?”

Gasparyan answered: “You, especially, should know the answer to that question.”

Friday, August 6, 2010

As a film crew from Echmiadzin’s Shoghakat television interviewed Hasmik for an upcoming series about folk music, and occasional phone calls were received from a youth ensemble director asking for advice about which youth to accept as singer for his group, an interesting call from Public Radio came, asking Hasmik’s opinion about what singer/songwriter/bard Rubik Hakhverdyan had said in an interview in Istanbul. According to the caller, Hakhverdyan had said that Armenians have no folk music of their own, that what is performed in Armenia has roots in Anatolia, the music originally created in Istanbul. As Hakhverdyan recently sold some of his songs to Turks, some think he said such things to please his sponsors, as, basically, his knowledge about folk music is considered quite minimal.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Today Armenians said farewell to their beloved friend, opera singer Arax Davtian. At the Komitas Chamber Hall, hundreds gathered to pay final respect to Arax as her voice resonated in the hall, with recordings of Schubert, Verdi, Komitas (“Havoun, Havoun”), sharakans, and Armenian lullabies being played. Pianist Svetlana Navasartian played classical pieces in memory of her cousin.

I remembered Arax telling Hasmik she regretted not learning Armenian folk songs, and wanted to include some in future repertoires. She recorded and sang Ganachian’s arrangement of “Koon Yeghir Balas” and, later, “Agna Oror,” which Komitas had transcribed. Both recordings were miraculous, as was "Havoun, Havoun."

Arax sang on the most famous stages of the world, with the world’s most famous orchestras and conductors, but never forgot her homeland, and lived in a simple apartment with her sister. Arax was loved by the people because she was one of the people. She spoke her mind. She had problems with the current government in Armenia, and sided with the Opposition, hoping things could change for the better.

Arax was an honest person, and a good friend. She was the best living Armenian opera singer. Today, we bade her farewell.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Hogihangist for Arax Davtian will be held today at St. Hovhannes Church (Yerevan) at 4:30 in the afternoon.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Opera singer Arax Davtian passed away today in Moscow. Armenia has lost a great singer and a great person.

Arax had the title People’s Artist of Armenia and was very well known in Europe and the Soviet Union. Recently, she taught at the Moscow Conservatory of Music, after leaving a similar position in Yerevan. She was, it is safe to say, Armenia’s best soprano.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

This is a video clip of Sargis Davtyan playing zurna and duduk, appearing on Shant TV’s duduk competition after having been removed from the competitive part of the show the week before. The listener can decide if Davtyan’s removal was just.

Commenting in front of the audience that had gathered, Davtyan said he knew that if the winner would be chosen by how many SMSs he received, that he didn’t have a chance, but that he was the real winner of the competition, and that if any of the other contestants thought he was the better duduk player, that they could play side by side and see who was best. This comment, naturally, was edited out of what was shown to television viewers.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

A legal expert commented on the recent international ruling stating it was legal for Kosovo to declare independence (thus self-determination winning over territorial integrity), and the decision’s possible implications concerning Karabagh: “In normal circumstances, this would open the door for the world to recognize Karabagh’s independence. But we have to remember the reaction in the West when Kosovo first declared independence, and Armenians saying that this would help Karabagh to receive international recognition. Their reaction was the predictable ‘Kosovo is a different situation, a different reality, from Karabagh, there is no connection between the two, etc.’ Well, the West is no doubt preparing a similar response to Armenians’ demands now. Do you really think the West is going to forget Baku’s oil and strategic location (concerning the US and its military interests)? Armenians are again making demands, after the latest Kosovo rulings, but it’s all a show. Those in the know realize this.”

About the fiasco concerning the opening of foreign language schools in Armenia, the expert had this to say: “I still regret I had a Russian education. Sure, I speak Armenian well, but I think, dream in Russian. The brain is wired for Armenian, and you mix it up with Russian.

“And the schools, without trying, will become elite schools. They’ll be well funded, very well funded. Regular Armenian schools will become second rate, not that they’re in good shape now.

“In normal countries, people make sure their own citizens, even those visiting or studying from other countries, master the language of the country. No one else does this, open foreign language schools. Let everyone learn Armenian, in Armenian schools, then later let them learn as many languages as they want.

“I think this is part of the plan, which we all know exists, of outside powers trying to ruin Armenian culture. By lessening the importance of the Armenian language, not to mention the promotion of sects by outside sources, well, what can I say, things don’t look good.”

Friday, July 23, 2010

Anduni (Without Home)
Song of the Emigrant
Sung by Hayrik Mouradian

Transcribed by Komitas
Hayrik sings version from Shatakh (Moks)

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

A Yerevan State University professor told how he gave a low grade, at the end of the semester, to a female student.

“Mark me just a little higher,” the girl said, “and all will be well. I’ll pass the course, and that’s what counts.”

“I can’t,” the professor said, “because you did substandard work, that is, when you did anything at all.”

Phone calls to the professor started, from persons in high places, demanding a higher grade. The professor, who like others needs his job, gave in.

Another professor told about how year-end examinations are sold, prior to test time, and at a high price. “Everyone knows it, including the parliamentarians who talk about fighting corruption. I don’t hear them talking about this, do you?”

A plumber, on leaving our house, said, out of the blue, that he doesn’t blame anyone for leaving the country. I asked him why, as he, for instance, earns a good living.

“Injustice,” he said.

Injustice reaches all walks of life, as far even as duduk competitions. As Yerevan is small, secrets aren’t well kept, and it became clear long ago that the winner of Shant TV’s competition had been decided at the beginning of the competition, and the various jury members were scoring the participants accordingly.

Today, Sargis Davtyan was removed from the competition, leaving three contestants. In the following video clip, please pay special attention to the second part, in which Davtyan plays “Sassna Hover.” His talent is evident. His removal, in normal circumstances, would be baffling.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

A 30-year-old Hayastantsi Dashnak expressed his feelings about the current situation in Armenia, both political and economic:

“Armenia’s future is foggy. Unfortunately, I can’t really see it existing in 50 years. ‘Sons of prostitutes’ are running things now. If you want to do business in Armenia, you have to work with them, otherwise, you don’t do business. Those that stay in Armenia change accordingly, if they want to make it, live normally. Those that don’t ‘adjust’ stay poor, and join the 40% of our population which is barely making it.

“Mediocrities in culture, science, and education are running things. You, personally, see it in culture. I was watching ‘Yerg, yergots’ on Public Television last night. Mediocrities (and worse) were singing (ruining) well known songs from the past, and name people, as a sort of jury, were praising them. And on Public Television’s second station, rabiz was flowing like a river, men dressed as women, girls looking like prostitutes were dancing, if you can call it that. If our so-called leaders wanted to, they could put a stop to all this. But they love it, no doubt.

“It’s nice being here tonight. I like to visit with people, but most locals stay home, as they can’t afford the 1,000 dram for a bottle of wine or flowers people take when they visit or go to see their friends. Rich people visit, but only with each other, and who needs their ‘where do you work, business, cars’ conversation.

“There is talk about war. But is Armenia ready? Is the mood there? Is the army strong enough? I don’t think a war will start, though, as even if the big powers decide who should win and who should lose, Azeris know there’s a chance they’d lose, which would mean the loss of their oil/money. If it does start, though, the Dashnaks are ready to go. Even though many of us are disgusted with the way things are going now in our country, we know that if we don’t fight, we’ll lose everything.

“If I had met Hillary Clinton when she was here, I would have told her this: Too much has happened between Armenians and Turks, and for too long. I can’t forgive them for killing my ancestors, and they hate us. We can’t live together. It won’t stop until one or the other of us is out of the picture.

“I personally won’t go to Turkey, as I’m afraid of what I might do if a Turk rubs me the wrong way. And I won’t go to the church service at Aghtamar, this September, which is just a show. I can picture all the Diaspora Armenians going there, eating darekh fish from Lake Van, celebrating at the restaurants on the shore of Van. These are the same Armenians who ‘love Massis from a distance.’ Or, they come to Armenia, and open restaurants and bars. Let them open factories and put people back to work. Or come and fight if there’s a war. Then, I’ll respect our brothers and sisters from the Diaspora.

“And our friends the Karabaghtsis. They have been worse for Armenia than the Tatar-Mongols. The Karabaghtsis got along well with the Azeris before the war; doesn’t that mean something? I’ll leave that conclusion up to you.”

Thursday, July 15, 2010

A call from a resident of Yerevan’s Charbakh district revealed a sad event that took place near Moscow on Vardavar, this past Sunday. Several Armenians living in Moscow went out of town to a picnic area to celebrate Vardavar. During the course of the day’s events, someone who had been drinking apparently said something that a middle-aged Charbakh-born male didn’t take kindly to, the Charbakhtsi telling the person, in so many words, to “mind his manners.” Telling the Charbakhtsi he had no business telling him what he could or couldn’t say, he picked up a skewer and stabbed the Charbakhtsi, killing him.

Our caller went on to say how shocked he was, that even though Armenians are a hot-blooded people, such a violent act would never have happened during Soviet times, as people’s lives were better, more balanced, and that the people involved in Sunday’s violence were likely Hayastantsis struggling to make it in Russia...and that if such a violent act had occurred in Soviet times, it would have been committed by hot-blooded youth, not middle-aged persons, as was the case on Sunday.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Komitas: “Yerkinkn Ampel e” (The sky is covered with clouds). Sung by Aleksan Harutyunyan. From Karot II (Face Music, Switzerland).

Clouds cover the sky
The earth is open
My love is asleep
Her face is open.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

A wealthy Diaspora Armenian was funding the construction of a new church in Armenia. He insisted that his name be carved in a prominent place on a khachkar near the entry of the church. The architect of the new church refused, saying this was against Armenian Church architectural tradition. The wealthy Armenian, and Armenian Church clergy, were in shock that someone had the nerve to stand up to this wealthy Armenian.

The khachkar won’t bear the name of the church’s sponsor.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Words of a Diaspora Armenian:

“Strange that Diaspora Armenians talk so poorly about Hayastantsis, that they’re clannish, stole money and aid after the earthquake, and have other various bad traits. I know personally that $5,000,000 collected in the Diaspora and meant for earthquake relief never even reached Armenia. The money ended up in a Swiss bank account. And to say that Hayastantsis don’t let foreign-born Armenians do business in Armenia. Or if they do, they run them out once they are successful. This might be true. But Armenians everywhere are like that. If a Dashnak moves to a certain country, for instance, he’ll only do business with Dashnaks. If a Hunchak appears on the scene, it’s the same thing, he’ll do business with Hunchaks, but not with Dashnaks, not that the Dashnaks would do business with him anyway.

“They say there are 5-6 million Armenians in the Diaspora. In reality, there are no more than 10,000. What I mean is this: most Armenians are good at talking, but it’s all hot air. The 10,000 do all the work, and often nobody knows who they are.

“And I’m embarrassed about the recent writer’s conference in Armenia, where the government paid all that money to bring writers to Armenia, all expenses paid, hotels, everything. Did any of them say they could come on their own expense, that the money could be used to improve life for orphans or old people? Not one of them. And then they give awards to “approved” writers and translators, whom everyone, including the writers, know are worthless. Did anyone speak up? Of course not. They all want to be invited again, to live it up, eat their barbecue, and talk their heads off.

“This is why, in my belief, Armenia and Armenians are in the state their in. There’s no unity. Yet, we’re still here. Remember Darius I, who wrote the names of the countries he had subjugated, in 600 BC, the first time the name ‘Armenia’ appeared in history. All the other countries he wrote are long gone, from small countries to large.”

When asked about the recent visit by Hillary Clinton and the Karabagh negotiations, he replied simply with the now widespread opinion that a short war is being planned, in which Armenia will lose the liberated territories, to where the current leaders can’t say they gave it away by a simple signature.

“Their names will go down as the greatest traitors in our entire history. But what good will that do...they’ll run and hide with their billions, while the nation, if it continues to exist, will be a shell, nothing, overrun with Turks and Azeris. Then let them try to collect money from the Diaspora for this or that project...”

Monday, July 5, 2010

While making purchases of fruit and vegetables at a neighborhood market, a friend and his son, quietly agitated, gave their opinions about Hillary Clinton’s trip to Armenia and the proposed surrendering of the liberated territories. “Serge is a patriot,” the son said. “He won’t give up anything.“

The father, noticeably irritated, responded: “Apparently you don’t know how our government runs. Clinton is coming, just to remind our leaders what they have to give up to have peace. She’ll remind them that the Russians and Europeans want Armenia to give up the territories, and whatever else follows. Nothing will be signed while she's here, though. But one day soon we’ll hear Serge say, ‘We have no choice; if we want to have peace, and not lose more of our sons, we have to agree to what they say.’ Then, the fireworks will start. War will break out. If there’s a danger of losing the territories, our boys will go and fight. And if left alone, we’ll win.

“But the big powers, especially Russia, can control the outcome. Our side, our leaders, will know in advance that the purpose, and result, of the war will be losing the territories. That way, they think, no one will blame Serge, that at least Armenians fought for the lands. The fact remains that those who go and fight will all be sacrificed, and this will be known ahead of time.

“I hope I’m wrong. But the big powers control everything; in time you’ll see I’m right.”

Saturday, July 3, 2010

While driving past the presidential palace on Baghramyan, we saw a noisy protest taking place in front of the presidential palace. Raised banners spoke of Karabagh and the liberated territories, the protest being against the proposed surrender of the territories in return for some kind of security and unknown future status for Karabagh. The protest was likely timed around the upcoming visit of Hillary Clinton, who will undoubtedly push the so-called peace plan, called “positive” by the ruling party.

Our taxi driver couldn’t contain himself. “See this,” he said, hitting his leg, the sound of wood reaching our ears. “I have a wooden leg because of injuries fighting in Karabagh. I went, and several of my friends went. I am Aparantsi. We did what we had to do to save our country.

“Now, we are ridiculed by our own government, which is run by the same people we saved. And now they say they’re ready to hand back the territories. And let Turks back in Karabagh. They’re spitting on all we did. The US is sending Clinton to convince our leaders, who only do what they’re told anyway.

“They’ve divided our country up between a few oligarchs, who own our mountains, the shores of Sevan, downtown Yerevan, everything. If somebody is building something in Yerevan, you can be sure it’s one or the other oligarch. What kind of country is this? What kind of future does it have?

“I hope they agree to give back the territories. That way there will be a revolt, a revolution, otherwise we’re stuck with these traitors, who care nothing about the nation. Nothing.”

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Thoughts of a fedayee-turned-businessman: “I fully expect Serge and the Armenian government to agree to giving back the territories, keeping only Lachin, Turks coming back to Karabagh to live, everything else. Presidents from countries like the USA, Russia, and France wouldn’t make such a statement if it wasn’t going to come true. But the Armenian people won’t give the territories back. There will be a revolt. Serge knows this, but he’s powerless.

“Interestingly, life was better under Kocharian. True, there was injustice, bribery...but there was movement, action, people were working, there was direction. Now, it’s ‘we take everything, no matter what, nobody can stop us.’”

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Due to cultural projects in Armenia and Europe, Yerevan Journal will take a short break, resuming on July 1.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Aleksan Harutyunyan sings “Garun Batsver,” an emigrant song of Moush. From Karot Ensemble Vol. I, Face Music, Switzerland.

Spring has opened, the snows are melting;
I have tied the laces of my stockings,
We will go to our beautiful country.
We left our land at the edge of the sea;
Our homes alone, without a keeper.
There the wolves and wild beasts
Have placed their nests.
Come, we will go to our beautiful country.

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.”

Friday, April 30, 2010

Recent reports in several Armenian news services told of Georgians destroying an old Armenian church (or converting it into a Georgian church) in Akhaltsikhe, a town in an Armenian region of southern Georgia, located not far from the border with Turkey.

A film director told me today that he thought it was the St. Nshan church, which the locals call Vardanants. Although it could be a different church, as this article says the name of the church is St. Khach, the point remains that the Georgians are again destroying an Armenian church.

The director told about his trip to Akhaltsikhe last year, and what he saw. “One thing the Georgians do is remove the altar of Armenian churches, and then say they’re Georgian churches, as Georgians don’t have altars in their churches. But what I heard when I was in Akhaltsikhe was amazing. The Georgians asked an old woman who was cleaning around an Armenian church, ‘Who is paying you to do this? You shouldn’t be here, this isn’t an Armenian church’ to which the woman said that she wasn’t being paid, that God had told her to do it. Later that day, I saw a group of Georgians standing around the Armenian church. They asked why I, an Armenian, was interested in a Georgian church. I told them it was an Armenian church, and pointed at the Armenian script on the wall.

“What did they answer? That the script wasn’t Armenian, but ‘old Georgian.’ I think they’re taking lessons from the Azeris on how to change history.”

Such distortion of history isn’t new for the Georgians. In Soviet times, an Armenian university student was touring through Georgia with several non-Armenian students. Approaching an Armenian church, the guide pointed at the Armenian script on the wall, then said it was “an unknown, ancient language, which no one has been able to understand.” The Armenian, now a well known physicist, told us, “I started to read the Armenian script, putting the guide into shock. She hurried us away from the church, talking like a nervous crow as she walked…”

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

A program on “R” television featured photographs, music, and information and opinions about Komitas by various experts from the Conservatory and Academy of Science in Yerevan. Interesting was the opinion that Komitas didn’t collect the well known song “Antuni” but may well have written the song. Also, it was revealed that Komitas was actually able to work and create until 1919, four years after the start of the Genocide, and before he apparently lost his sanity. It is known, for instance, that Komitas wrote the children’s song “Hayr Mer,” in which children ask God to protect their parents, after 1915.

Also spoken about was Komitas’ ill treatment by much of the clergy of the time.

In the words of Komitas:

“...The flock, without a shepherd, has gone astray and is perplexed. Invisible and irresistible torrents flow violently in the deep of our persecuted and deplorable life. Thoughtless hunters have surrounded and netted simple-minded fish. The atmosphere emits poison, and there is no remedy against it. Destruction, horror, and unruly oppression on the one side and indifference, xenomania, and muddy hearts on the other! Everyone wears his office as a garment, to hide the nakedness of his mind from naive eyes. Our body is rotten, our soul is polluted, and our life is dead...Where is our wise Khorenatsi? Let him emerge from under the bloody ground and lament over this unripe people’s heart and soul, mind and actions. Our ancestors held their offices devotedly, whereas we plunder their legacy greedily.

                              My heart has collapased.”

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.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Tashir 2010: Traditional Armenian lullabies of Moush, Sassoun, Akn, and Shatakh. Award received for “Enchanting Voice of Armenia.”

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

While Armenian Genocide Institute director Haik Demoyan was giving a speech about Cultural Genocide during “Armenia Year in Slovenia” events in Ljubljana, Slovenia, a Turk confronted Demoyan after he told about Turks converting Armenian churches into mosques.

“But Christians turn mosques into churches,” the Turk announced.

“Give me an example,” Demoyan said.

"They did it in Hungary," the Turk replied.

It turned out that the Hungarians did in fact convert a mosque into a church, in an area of Hungary where the Turks had left 400 years earlier. The crescent, however, had been left in place, as opposed to the Turkish practice of removing the cross from the top of Armenian churches, whether converted into mosques or not.

“Give me another example of Christians converting a mosque into a church...anywhere in the world,” Demoyan said.

“I don’t have to,” the Turk answered.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Greeting Hasmik at Zvartnots airport, on her return from Moscow and the Tashir awards show, we exchanged hellos and congratulations with other participants, as we moved along with our suitcases, musical instruments, and the like. Participants praised the professionalism of those working at the concert, along with the nice hotel and lavish food and treatment in general.

Later, I found out that those musicals instruments, and even voices, weren’t really needed at the concert.

At such concerts, singers often take recordings of their ensembles, back-up musicians, and the like. Then, during the concert, they sing live, with the recording playing in the background. Such wasn’t the case at the Tashir awards.

Rehearsing, it became clear that the orchestra that was to accompany most singers didn’t in fact play. Microphones weren’t even set up to make things look real.

Those in charge of the sound equipment were amazed when Hasmik said she was going to sing live. “You can’t do that,” they said, “nobody is going to sing live.” After Hasmik insisted, they agreed, saying that at least if only one person sang, they wouldn’t have to readjust the microphones, monitors, etc.

The other singers, startled that Hasmik was going to sing live, began making excuses as to why they were using recordings. “You can’t trust the equipment, microphones, anything can happen,” they insisted.

“The sound and stage people are excellent here, you have nothing to worry about,” Hasmik replied, adding that people came to the concert and paid a normal price to hear people sing, not to hear recordings. She was basically met with silence.

Monday, April 19, 2010

This year, at the annual Tashir Armenian Music Awards, held on April 18 in Moscow, Hasmik Harutyunyan was officially recognized as “Enchanting Voice of Armenia.”

Gorani: A folk song of Moush. From the Shoghaken Ensemble concert at Theatre De La Ville in Paris, France, February 2006.

Friday, April 16, 2010

An old Vanetsi pointed at the large rug hanging on their living room wall.

“My grandmother brought this from Van, in 1915,” he said. “They came here on foot, traveling with Russian soldiers. Somehow, I don’t know how, she brought this rug with her.”

I looked back and forth at the man and the colorful, hand woven rug, which was laden with deep red colors and designed with dragon-like symbols.

“My grandmother wove this rug, as well as several others that were left behind. In the end, she was making bullets, helping the men defend the Armenian Quarter in Van. My grandparents on my father’s side were also Vanetsi, and were in Van when the massacres started. Some made it, some didn’t.”

In Yerevan, the man lives the life of a Vanetsi, and still speaks the dialect, mixed with the dialect of Yerevan. Small statues, vases, and other artifacts from Van are lined up along the wall and on shelves.

“Starting in 1972, I traveled to Nakhichevan, usually twice a year,” he continued. “My wife has roots there. We went all over, including Agulis. You should have seen the church there, St. Tovmas. What a structure. On the inside walls, there were paintings by Hovnantan. No more, though, as the Turks destroyed the church. Everybody knows about the khachkar destruction in Old Julfa, but losing St. Tovmas was terrible too.

“You know, I never liked Turks, even when they were our so-called friends in Soviet times. In Nakhichevan, their true colors came out in the late 1980s, when they sent people from Baku to run the government. Before that, we got along with the leadership there, but the people they sent…there was no way. Our last trip there was a good lesson for us. When we got near Agulis, locals told us we were in danger, so we went to a remote village on a hill and hid for 10 days, then went back to Yerevan. Slowly, the few remaining Armenians left Nakhichevan. I had seen villages that were 100% Armenian slowly turn Turkish. It was sad. Now, no Armenians remain.”

About today’s Armenia, he had this to say: “After all our ancestors went through, the massacres, everything…and we’ve come to this? The Turks are still out to get us, to finish us off, no matter what they say. And another thing…before 1915, it was the ‘Armenian Question.’ Now it’s ‘Genocide recognition.’ It’s all a big game. Europe and the others sat back and watched in 1915, and they’d do the same again. The US and Europe care about one thing: business. In this case, Azeri oil and gas, and the Turkish army bases. Nobody cares about Armenia. As soon as Armenians realize this, the better off they’ll be.”

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Our friend Jora Grigoryan singing a “khaghik,” with Hasmik and Theatre Zar (Poland) dancing the Ververi.

Aparan, February, 2010.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

In 1903 and 1913, Komitas went to Aragadz village, near Aparan, as he heard someone was there who knew folk songs of Moush. He went with Benik Vartapet, from the Echmiadzin brotherhood. On the slopes of Mt. Aragadz, not far from the village, a rock where Komitas sat and worked is called “The Master’s Rock.”

Today on “R” television a special reportage featured Jora Grigoryan, grandson of Grigor Grigoryan, who taught Komitas six songs during the 10 days Komitas spent in Aragadz, the songs including the well known “Alagyaz.”

Grigoryan, who had a folk song and dance ensemble in Soviet times, told about how his research and recording of the songs passed down by his grandfather, all the while showing pictures of the old generation of his family.

During the interview, Grigoryan said he hoped these songs would some day be sung, and not stay in archives, or on paper. He said he doesn’t mind giving songs to today’s singers, asking them not for money but only to mention the source. “They never do,” he said. “They take the songs, arrange them to their liking, and make their money. I never hear from them unless they want another song.”

Privately, in a meeting two months ago, Grigoryan told us the names of several who had done so. All are “living well,” to put it mildly, at least in part from songs taken from people like Jora.

Friday, April 9, 2010

A student at the Komitas Conservatory told about a recent examination by a vocal teacher. It happens that the teacher is a pop star (and one taken seriously by no one).

“I couldn’t believe it,” the student said. “The student taking the exam sang two lines, both off key. And the teacher said, ‘fine, you pass...’

“We’ve come to this?” the student said. “Doesn’t anyone care? Everyone here knows what’s going on, but they stay silent, or they’ll be out of a job...”

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.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Less than enjoyable news the day after Easter revealed that in the Armenian Apostolic Church in the Bangladesh district of Yerevan sect members have taken to preaching inside the church itself. According to the church’s priest, in the past, a simple warning that the police were going to be called had the sect members on their way. Now, he said, they have no fear of the police or anyone else.

As an angry relative put it, “In Russia, such nonsense doesn’t happen. These sects have all been declared as extremism, and their members aren’t allowed to preach anywhere, much less in churches. They don’t care what Europe says, or the US for that matter. Why don’t our Parliament members enact laws like this? I suppose for the same reason they allow, or are part of, the moral decay in the country, starting with what’s being shown and promoted on television. What Genocide recognition? What Protocols? The Diaspora should wake up and protest what’s going on here. What’s going to be left of Armenia, even if the US and others recognize the Genocide? This isn’t the Armenia we used to know...people should recognize that.”
Reactions from two neighbors after watching a re-run of Armenian boxing champion Arthur Abraham’s recent match in which he was disqualified for punching his opponent after the opponent had slipped to his knees:

“I don’t believe what I saw. I used to respect Abraham, root for him. He’s an embarrassment. And he says he didn’t know his opponent was on his knees. At least if he said he got carried away, lost control...”

“He could have killed him. It was obvious the man was on his knees. Abraham was desperate because he was losing. A disgrace. A scandal. I started to wonder about Abraham when he chose a crazy rabiz song as his theme song. Now this.”

Thursday, April 1, 2010

An intelligent university-age female was nearly in tears as she told how she had been given a low score on her entrance exam, simply because she hadn’t paid the “required” price for the top score. “Now I understand,” she said, “why my adviser told me to get my higher education in Europe.”

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Interesting how many Armenians have become slaves to the low level pop culture permeating our lives and airwaves, and who thus respect their own folk culture less than foreigners do. The latest reminder was a Syria-born Armenian who called and asked, “If we cover all expenses to get Shoghaken to Syria, including hotels and meals, will Shoghaken need to be paid?”

The same person wouldn’t dare ask an Armenian pop star the same question.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

They say there are two Armenias, Yerevan and the rest of the country. The same can be said about the people of Armenia...the normal, traditional Armenian and the new breed promoted on television and slowly seemingly becoming the norm. The latter I saw at the National Music Award show on Friday, with men/boys wandering the halls and behind the stage, men with strange hairstyles and blank expressions, at times making one wonder if they were men or women. The women, to put it mildly, weren’t the kind one would want to marry.

My faith in Armenians was somewhat restored the next evening, at a wedding held in Yerevan. A friend decided to have a traditional Armenian wedding for her daughter...thus the preparations began at our house, with Hasmik preparing a Tree of Life, along with purchases of apples, grapes, pomegranates, wheat, and wheat seed.

The wedding was, unfortunately, unusual for Yerevan these days. There were no stars invited to lip synch for $1,000-$3,000 (why Armenians have sunk to this, I don’t know), no professional actor was hired as toastmaster (a cousin of the bride, who naturally knew the family well, served quite well as toastmaster), only traditional Armenian dances were danced (no Baku-style dancing), and a segment of a traditional Armenian wedding was performed by Hasmik and Aleksan, aided by Shoghaken kanonist Karine Hovhannisyan.

After the wedding, a cousin of the bride came up to me and said that, due to the good, traditional atmosphere, his 82-year-old father had gotten on the dance floor and danced for the first time in 20 years. Also, after midnight, and as guests were leaving, several youth commented to Hasmik that they’ve never been to such a wonderful wedding, and began asking her about the meaning of the Tree of Life, the green and red ribbons, the traditional dancing...

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Concerning the Armenian National Music Awards held in Yerevan on Friday night: As one of last year’s winners, in the “Best Folk Album” division, Shoghaken was invited to perform at this year’s award show. Interesting developments then occurred, one being word that another contestant in the same division had called the Culture Ministry and protested that Shoghaken had been given the award, and that he therefore wouldn’t be submitting anything again. Also, a day before the show, a higher-up called and said we were ruining things by asking for microphones for all the musicians, saying, “How about setting a microphone in between two musicians,” to which we answered that that wouldn’t work, as the sound of two instruments in one microphone would ruin things for us and the listener alike. We aren’t sure if it was perchance that several of the microphones didn’t work, or worked off-and-on, when Shoghaken was performing during the awards.

The show began with the singing of “Mer Hayrenik.” Along with others, I was shocked to see at least 20 of the “stars” taking turns singing verses of the song…one worse than the next, if I must say. When we asked someone from the Culture Ministry why they allowed such nonsense, he answered, “Jimi Hendrix did it with the American National Anthem, why not this?” To which we answered, “How can you compare these supposed singers with Jimi Hendrix and what he did?”

Comments about the awards show from Hayastantsis of all ages:

“A disgrace.”

“This should be called the ‘anti-national’ awards show. What’s happening in Armenia?”

“Why do people watch this show? Why do they do this to themselves?”

“This is our end.”

“I went home, turned on the television, and heard this braying…”

“Why be surprised? This is Public Television!”

“I’d say the show was good humor, except that it showed the world our most untalented, rabiz layer!”

Friday, March 26, 2010

A farmer friend from Massis, a patriot in the true sense of the word, and who fought in Karabagh with a contingent from Ararat, angrily told his thoughts about developments concerning the Protocols and the Armenian president’s recent statements in Syria:

“Our nation is asleep. If it stays sleeping much longer, it’ll be dead. We’re not the same nation we were 50 years ago, or 500 years ago. Just look at people’s reaction, or lack of it, about what the president said, that for security and ‘self-determination,’ whatever that means in this case, he’s ready to give up all the liberated territories, Kelbajar included, and just keep Lachin. This is suicide.

“And, according to the current wording in the Madrid agreements, Azeris will be back living in Karabagh. Armenia agrees with this. Are they crazy?”

“Where are the protesters now? They were out by the thousands when the Protocols were going to be signed. In Armenia, and in the Diaspora. Now, with a few patriotic words from the president and others, people have gone to sleep. If they don’t wake up soon, it’s going to be too late. If fighting starts again, we’ll destroy them. But we might not even have the chance to fight…our government might give it all back, and we’ll be sitting here with Turks and Azeris as our neighbors.”

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Hasmik Harutyunyan singing “Msho Geghen” (A Village of Moush). From Shoghaken’s concert at the Cleveland Art Museum in February, 2008.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

A barber was in a mood best described as concerned. “Business isn’t so good,“ he said. “I’m not sure if it’s because of the financial crisis, or because of all the new barber shops and beauty salons in town. Maybe it’s both. In any event, things aren’t going very well.

“Also, people are afraid to spend money, to get new businesses started. All the talk about what’s happening with Turkey and Azerbaijan creates a feeling of instability. If they open the border with Turkey, for example, parts of our economy could improve, and other parts suffer, especially agriculture. But the Azeris could use border opening as an excuse to start a war. They might just decide to start a war, or they might be following Turkey’s orders. Either way, it’s dangerous.

“If a war starts, whether we win or lose, we’ll again lose some of our best boys. You know, even though I agree with what Diaspora Armenians are saying now, about the Protocols and Turkey in general, I don’t like the fact that they talk so brave but won’t lift a finger if fighting starts. Oh, sure, they’ll send money and buy weapons, but they won’t come and fight. Again, Hayastantsis will bear the burden. In all the Karabagh war, not more than 100-150 came from the Diaspora. Let them come and fight if they’re talking so brave. If the Azeris knew that 10,000 Armenians were coming from abroad to fight, instead of 100, they’d think twice about restarting the war.

“And another thing. Diaspora Armenians talk about our culture, and saving our culture. And whom do they invite to perform in Diaspora communities? Except for rare cases, they invite Armenia’s big name pop stars, so they can fill their halls and stadiums easily. And then they talk about culture?”

Speaking of culture, and the differences between the Diaspora and the homeland, I offer this video, taken in Armenia, and I must say, this kind of real folk culture is something to be found only in the homeland.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Even though greeted by a strong snowstorm and what turned out to be Slovenia’s last day of winter, the weather settled down as the Shoghaken Ensemble rehearsed and prepared for a concert at Cankarjev dom, a cultural organization in Ljubljana that arranges cultural programs for the government of Slovenia, and which this year is presenting the culture of Armenia. On March 12, Shoghaken performed a concert of Armenian folk song and dance, resulting in what locals said was a rarely seen, if ever, standing ovation in Slovenia.

In the two-part concert, Shoghaken followed the Sharakan ensemble, billed as an ensemble presenting “ancient Armenian music,” thus, their preceding Shoghaken at the event. A pre-concert discussion unfolded among ensemble members about how Sharakan’s music from the Middle Ages, combined with ashoughagan songs and even new songs written by the group’s director, played older music than Shoghaken — Sharakan’s arguments not helped by the fact they sang a new patriotic song or two, along with their sometimes strange mixture of songs.

During our days there, along with Hasmik’s folk song and dance workshops, Shoghaken enjoyed the sights of Ljubljana, also meeting with a few of the Armenians living in Slovenia. Unfortunately, one was a fellow who got himself “invited” to the country, after which he obtained legal status and remained in the country. Another man, a hard-working type, said he had come from Poland, but was so embarrassed by what Armenians were doing there, that he left and came to Slovenia. Apparently Armenians from Armenia were going to Poland and paying local girls (or men, depending) to get married, then receiving citizenship and staying in the country, often afterward not leading exemplary lives. It got to the point, he said, that the Polish government stopped accepting such marriages, insisting these couples go to Armenia and get married before applying for residence in Poland, stopping many from this practice as they had illegally left Armenia and couldn't return to the country to get married. Many, he said, were actually deported from Poland.

Monday, March 8, 2010

As part of the Armenia Year in Slovenia, the Shoghaken Ensemble will be presenting Armenian folk music at a concert in Ljubljana on March 12, after which Hasmik will conduct a 2-day workshop of Armenian folk song and dance. Yerevan Journal will resume on March 18.

Following is a segment from the Shoghaken Ensemble concert in Yerevan on Sept. 4, 2009.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Before the birthday anniversary concert for Zori Balayan, I had a few words with a photographer friend whom I hadn’t seen in a couple of years. Knowing he takes pictures at public events, concerts, and rallies, I asked him if he had been to the gathering on March 1, commemorating those who died two years ago on that date.

“I was there,” he said. “There were at least 5,000, maybe as many as 10,000. The usual. The authorities closed the roads to the provinces again, fearing large crowds. They know their only real challenge is Ter Petrosyan. But what they did on March 1, two years ago, can’t be forgiven. Never in Armenian history have Armenians fired on and killed Armenians, like they did that day. It turned the people against the Karabagh-led government, and put a fear in people, and sadness, that Armenians could kill Armenians this way.

“I also fear what might happen if the war starts again. Why? For one thing, the decision will be made by Russia and the US as to the outcome of the war, who wins, how far they advance, everything. But what scares me is whether or not Armenia can take another war. Our population is small, and with losses in war, and some leaving the country, as always happens, our country’s future would be in doubt. I think this is the ultimate plan of many, and it even looks like some of our own people are helping this plan along.

“And Obama? Some are happy that he said the word ‘Mets Yeghern’ in the past. So what? And Armenians are calling it a victory just because the committee voted to send the resolution to Congress? So they can say no again? Why are Armenians so concerned about what Obama says, and not with the Protocols, which are more dangerous than people realize.”

The photographer, hearing the concert was about to begin, darted off towards a spot where he could do his work. I watched and listened as Bishop Barkev Martirosyan, Defense Minister Seyran Ohanyan, Sos Sargsyan, and others gave short speeches, and several groups and individuals entertained with singing or dancing. Hasmik surprised the audience, especially the Karabaghtsis, by singing a lullaby from Karabagh, as well as lullabies from Moush and Van.

Interesting was the presence of lip synching, which I thought had been banned in state-owned halls, first by a group of young singers from the Yergi Petakan Tadron. In this case, perhaps it was good that they didn’t actually sing, as even their studio-mastered recording fell short of anything even close to normal. But when Ruben Matevosyan, not young but not of the age where his voice should have failed, lip synched to “Zartir Lao,” one wondered why someone with his voice would take this approach.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Hasmik Harutyunyan singing “Im Murad,” a folk song from Van. From the Shoghaken Ensemble concert in Yerevan on Sept. 4, 2009.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Aleksan Harutyunyan performing “Haiko,” an Armenian folk song from Sassoun. From the Shoghaken Ensemble concert on September 4, 2009, in Yerevan.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Armenia’s patriotic unions are suddenly appearing on the scene, talking about defending the liberated territories in case of attack, etc., while word has it that Armenian males under 40 aren’t being allowed, or with difficulty, to leave the country by way of Zvartnots airport. Is war in the air? As an in-law put it, if war breaks out, Armenians will again rise to the occasion, but, “will it be like before, with hundreds, maybe thousands, of Haystantsis volunteering to fight? The Karabaghtsis in charge here are making that difficult. For example, soon, later this spring, someone from the Karabaghtsi elite is opening a new taxi service, with at least 1,000 vehicles, and will be working at a price of 60 drams per kilometer (current price, 100 dram), which will in effect put all other taxi services out of business. They want everything, from the Internet to taxi services, what next?”

Friday, February 26, 2010

Komitas’ letter to the Catholicos of all Armenians, Mattheos II, on September 5, 1909:

“I have been a monk of the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin for twenty years. I entered this institution to serve it. During those twenty years I was not allowed to do what I can, for I saw only traps and injustice. My nerves are on edge, and I can see no way to stand this any longer. I need rest but cannot find it and I desire for honest work, which is hindered. I try to close my ears not to hear, to shut my eyes not to see, to bind my legs not to be tempted, to control my emotions not to become angry, but since I am human, I fail. My conscience dies, my energy cools, my life wanes, and only perplexity remains in my soul and heart. If Your Holiness wishes not to lose but find me, I beg you in tears to release me from the monastic order of Holy Etchmiadzin and appoint as solitary of the Sevan monastery. I have lost twenty years; let me at least use the rest of my life to write down quietly the results of my studies and thus render a more important service to the long-suffering Armenian church and scholarship.”

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

“My ancestors came from a village just seven kilometers from the town of Moush,” the Aparantsi said. “They came to Eastern Armenia, to Aparan, in 1829, following the war between Russia and Turkey. My father, and my grandfather, never saw Moush. But every night I dream about Moush, and the Plains of Moush.

“Any Armenian who lives away from the homeland is lost. They might find their Mercedes, their money, but they’re lost.

“I don’t mind when pop singers sing pop music. But when they ruin folk music, it’s a crime. I’ve given old folk songs to pop singers who pretend to sing folk. I shouldn’t have. They ruin the songs. They never say where they found the songs. I gave a song of Moush to the Maratouk group, and they changed ‘Moush’ to ‘Sassoun.’ I asked them why, twice, and they said they hadn’t done this. They knew they had. I gave a song to someone from Tovmas Poghosyan’s Sayat Nova group. The singer said she had gone to villages and searched for the song. What search? I gave her the song.

“My grandfather taught Komitas six songs. And now, two generations later, these songs are being ruined by today’s pop singers. In Soviet times, when they were supposedly ruining our culture, there were folk groups all over the country. Real folk groups. Not like the State Dance Ensemble and others with their choreographed folk music. Today, you can count real folk groups and singers on one hand. If you’re lucky.”

Sunday, February 21, 2010

A Yerevan State University professor told me yesterday she asked an American Protestant minister if he could read a text for an educational CD she was producing. “He said he’d help, that I should come to his church service on Sunday, and after the service, we’d talk. I told him I was busy, but could meet on Tuesday. Hearing this, he refused to help.”

Today, while enjoying some peace and quiet at home, someone knocked on our door, and after mistaking the women outside for people I knew, I opened the door. Two Bible-toting women, with strange and forced smiles, asked if we knew about the Bible. After a few seconds, we sent them on their way, telling them they shouldn’t be selling their souls for a sack of flour, their smiles turning into scowls as they walked towards the neighbor’s door.

An hour later, while getting some apples out of our storage, the neighbor opened her door, smiling as if she had just won the lottery.

“You should have heard what I told those women,” she said. “I let them in, then, as they talked, I went and got them each a glass of water. Then I told them about a passage in the Old Testament that says one cannot be poisoned if he’s spreading the Word of God. I tried handing them each a glass of water, and they got up and nearly ran out of our house.”

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Inside the village mayor’s office in Vardablur, near Stepanavan, the old man told about Komitas:

“Komitas was in Echmiadzin when he was told that there was someone in Vardablur who sang a different version of horovel. He came to our village and asked to meet the man. The villagers took him to meet Rushan. Komitas asked him to sing the horovel. Rushan said, ‘how can I sing a horovel without a plow?’ So they found a plow. Then Rushan said, ‘how can I sing if there is no ox to pull the plow?’ So they found an ox.”

Pointing out the window, to the east, he continued. “They went to that field, on the slopes of the mountain. There, in that spot, Rushan sang what people now call Lorva Horovel.”

The old man then sang part of the horovel, after which he sang Shogher Jan, Hov Arek, and other songs collected by Komitas.

“Rushan was my grandfather’s brother,” the old man said. “Their parents came from Karabagh. I think they were originally from Moush, but I’m not sure. In my opinion, the Lorva Horovel either came from Karabagh or Moush.”

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

For some reason, the government appointed a Karabaghtsi woman as provincial governor of Shirak. A government agency reported that in the first year of her service the woman had stolen 278,600,000 dram. Her reaction to this accusation was, “True, I did it, but I had reasons, subjective and objective…”

Monday, February 15, 2010

A conference is planned this upcoming April at the Genocide Institute in Yerevan, concentrating on cultural genocide, in this case the destruction of Armenian monuments by the Turks, Azeris, and Georgians. As a neighbor put it, “This is all true, what the Turks and others are doing, but why not tell the truth about what’s going on in Armenia? Haven’t people seen the condition of Hovhannavank, Sanahin, Kobayr, Goshavank, Odzoun, and countless others? These monasteries and churches are suffering a slow death due to our neglect. It took an Arab Sheik to pay for the restoration of Haghardzin. Where are our rich, and what are they doing? Building lavish restaurants and casinos, not to mention nightclubs.

“The rich should be building factories, not these ridiculous restaurants and hotels. Pictures what would happen to Armenia if 3,000 rich Diaspora Armenians, or rich Hayastantsis, for that matter, all built factories? Even small factories...we don’t need General Motors, just normal factories. Our people would go to work, and our country would blossom.”

Friday, February 12, 2010

Reaction from two Hayastantsis about the Armenian president’s speech in London, and his tough talk concerning Karabagh:

“Serge gave a good speech, and said all the right things. It would be great if he were serious. But who believes he has the power to make decisions of war and peace and whether Karabagh will be independent or not? I think he talked tough for two reasons: The first is that he was in London collecting money. The second was strictly for public consumption, to convince Diaspora Armenians, and Hayastantsis, that he really cares about Karabagh and the Armenian nation. In the end, he’ll agree to giving back the territories, and will agree to having Azeris back living in Karabagh, which will mean the end of Karabagh, if not now, later, and eventually the end of Armenia.”

A Dashnak said, “Of course, the president said some good things. If he’s serious, though, we’ll be going to war with Azerbaijan, probably this year, as Azerbaijan will never agree to Karabagh being independent. My friends and I are ready to go, if the war starts. For one thing, if we give up the territories, mainly Kelbajar, can you picture how long a border we’d have to defend? We can’t give up these territories just for that reason. Of course,” he continued, “if Serge was only giving a nice speech, and nothing more…”

I asked him to continue.

“If that’s the case, there’s nothing we can do. It will mean the end of Armenia. If he agrees to giving Karabagh some temporary status, and allows Azeris back to live in Karabagh, like they’re talking about doing, we’ll lose Karabagh, then, later, Armenia…”

Thursday, February 11, 2010

While at work in someone’s home, an electrician received a strong jolt of electricity, sending him flying to the floor. Afterward, he got up by himself, and said he felt fine. The next day, at work, he said he didn’t feel well, poorly enough to where he went to the hospital.

The next day, he died. Hospital officials announced that he died of swine flu. Yet, the electrician never had so much as a high temperature. Suspecting, and apparently rightly so, bad care at the hospital, thus the announcement of death due to swine flu to cover up the doctors’ bad care, the electrician’s family is suing the hospital. The court case will no doubt prove to be quite interesting.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

A historian associated with the Academy of Sciences history institute told about his research in ancient Armenian history:

“Right now, I’m arranging to have a book written by an Austrian historian translated into Armenian and Russian. The Soviets didn’t allow its translation, as the author proved that European church architecture had its foundation in Armenian church architecture. The Soviets didn’t want to give the Armenians that much credit.

“Did you know that British encyclopedias, up until recent years, stated that England was first inhabited by people from the Armenian Highlands? Slowly, this reference was removed. Politics, no doubt...

“Some say that Karabagh Armenians are nothing more than Caucasian Albanians. Not true. The territory of Karabagh was always included in early Armenian kingdoms. Sometimes Albania was included, sometimes not. Perhaps some Albanians Armenianized, true, but Karabaghtsis are Armenian, proved by all the purely Armenian monuments, dating back to the fifth century and earlier. To say that today’s Azeris have Albanian roots is ridiculous, though, as Tatars and the like, before they were called Azeris, appeared in the area after traveling from their home in Central Asia, centuries after Caucasian Albania had vanished from the scene.

“And the old theory that the Soviets went by, and some other historians, Armenians included, that Armenians aren’t native to the Armenian Highlands, is a thing of the past. Foreign historians believe that today’s Armenians are native to the area, and didn’t migrate from the West, appearing only after the fall of Urartu. Urartu was Armenian, and its inhabitants...Armenians.

“The Armenians of the past spread culture...architecture, sculpture, music...around the world.”

Then, the historian’s mood changed, due to a (typical) low grade serial appearing on Public Television’s first channel.

“I never wonder about the roots of the Armenians of the past, even the ancient past. I only wonder if today’s Armenians have any tie, culturally, to their ancestors. Look at what they’re doing here. I don’t know where they find such low class if they’re actors. I supppose they exist, because here they are. And yesterday the president’s commission members started discussing Armenian-produced serials, saying how wonderful it is that we can watch serials in Armenian, and how the serials are high class productions. If Public Television and ‘Armenia’ television continue their anti-Armenian programming, they could slowly ruin not only our culture, but our people. Nowhere in the world are the people of a nation subjected to such trash on a full-time basis...”

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Aleksan Harutyunyan’s performance of “Aygeban” (by Shirin) at the Shoghaken Ensemble concert in Yerevan. Mugham solos by Vardan Baghdasaryan, on kamancha, and Gevorg Dabaghyan, on duduk.

Friday, February 5, 2010

The Shoghaken Ensemble playing “Angin Yars” (by Shahen) and the Armenian dance “Tamzara” at their concert in Yerevan on Sept. 4, 2009. Included in the piece are examples of the Armenian mugham, on kamancha, kanon, duduk, ud, and shvi.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Hasmik’s performance of lullabies of Mush and Akn, at the Sept. 4 Shoghaken Ensemble concert in Yerevan. The lullaby from Mush is “Taroni Oror,” and the one from Akn (region of Kharberd) is “Oror Jojk Em Kapel,” the latter transcribed by Mihran Toumajan, student of Komitas. Gevorg Dabaghyan on duduk; Karine Hovhannisyan on kanon.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

“The only thing left of our culture in Armenia is our language. And that is slowly being destroyed, with low level street language being promoted on our main television stations, and the lack of education of those running our government. Funny that Public Television has given a linguist a show in which he tells and shows people the mistakes they’re making, then, that same station’s own talk show hosts, news journalists, and of course the serials they produce all use uneducated street language, making the same mistakes the linguist is trying to correct.

“Right now, I can say the offices of president and catholicos are vacant. If the president doesn’t care about our culture, for one thing, or giving up Western Armenia, by way of agreeing to the illegal border with Turkey, how can we call him president?”

These were the words of what I can safely call an intellectual, a computer expert with three children, who is unfortunately considering moving his family from Armenia.

“Think about it,” he said. “Our government, our leaders, don’t appreciate science, our youth, nothing of the sort. They talk about granting money to help our university students continue their education in Europe. But they only give part of the amount needed to live and study there. Do you know who ends up going? Sons and daughters of the rich. The average Armenian has to turn down the money, as they have no way to pay the remaining amount needed to live and study in Europe. So the rich, who can make up the difference, accept the money and send their children to Europe. Kids like mine end up left out, and unfortunately disillusioned.”

He sat and shook his head, and said, “It’s not a good decision to take one’s family and leave Armenia, then again, it’s not a good decision to stay here...”

After our visit, and on our way to the bus stop, we came across a small bakery, and went in to buy some bread. It turned out to be a Georgian bakery. When we asked the miserable, conceited Georgian how much the bread cost, and he answered in Russian, we said we didn’t need bread, and left.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Ordinary Genocide. Baku, January 1990 from 517design on Vimeo.

This new documentary, about the January 1990 massacre of Armenians in Baku, was produced by the Armenian government. The film was shown on Armenian television and given to foreign embassies located in Yerevan.