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.