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.”