Yerevan Journal – May 2005

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Those with nationalistic feelings are happy that when reporting area weather, province by province, and city by city, ArmNews reports conditions in Javakhk, Kelbajar, and now also in Van, Kars, Ardahan, Nakhichevan, and elsewhere in the Armenian homeland. Yet there are others who fight these national feelings, as a major newspaper which refused to print an interview where Hasmik spoke about Armenian folk music and the activities of the Shoghaken Ensemble. The reporter who took the interview said that her editor didn’t want to propagandize (say anything that may help) real Armenian folk music, and that he wanted stories about pop stars that people see on television every day, especially those with rich, well known boyfriends. Strange that even the Turks are smart enough to sing Armenian folk songs, including the songs of Komitas, merely changing the words to Turkish and then claiming the songs as their own, while many of the Armenian pop stars are trying their best to sing like Westerners or at the least like their Moslem neighbors. In any event, there are those here who recognize what is happening, as the television station Yerkir Media, where Hasmik will soon be hosting a show, likely for a children’s audience, about Armenian folk music. More inspiration today came from a chance meeting with Dr. Arman Kirakosyan, until recently Armenia’s ambassador in Washington, D.C., and newly appointed vice minister of foreign affairs. With Shoghaken, I first met Dr. Kirakosyan in Washington at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in 2002. His father, the late historian Dr. John Kirakosyan, was a close friend of Hayrik Mouradian, and was named, back in Soviet times, an enemy of the Turkish state, for his openness and knowledge when talking or writing about the Armenian Genocide.

Hayrik Mouradian’s birthday, the 100th anniversary of his birth, passed today with more preparation for a special evening of remembrance to be held this Thursday evening. Yesterday, Hasmik and I went to Yerkir Media, where Hasmik helped a reporter prepare a short presentation about Hayrik and his life, including segments from the Internews-produced Ayp, Ben, Gim film, and photographs. Hasmik was also filmed, telling how she remembered Hayrik and the importance he placed on traditional folk music. “You will see the bad,” Hayrik said. “But stay good, and moral. You will see cowards, but stay brave. Above all, stay Armenian.” From Yerkir Media, we went to National Radio, where Hasmik was again interviewed about Hayrik and his life and work. This morning, after watching the “reportage” about Hayrik, we went to the Naregatsi Cultural Center to meet Seta, widow of Monte Melkonian, to plan an evening dedicated to Hayrik. We were happy to hear that the center has started classes where professional kamancha and tar players are teaching young students for free. It happened that when Seta and others at the center found out there were no tar students and only one or two kamancha students at the Komitas Conservatory, they decided to remedy the problem by giving free lessons. From the center, we visited a friend at the Matenadaran and then walked to the city center. On the way, in what was becoming a heavy rain, we met a woman from Byurakan standing on the sidewalk selling tulips picked in the forests by Byurakan. After buying two bundles of the tulips, we were gifted some lilacs. All the while a beggar was standing with a longing, hungry stare as I paid the woman, leading us to give the now-drenched man something to ease his worries.

Since Hasmik was to be mistress of ceremonies at the celebration of the 100th birthday of Hayrik Mouradian, we arrived early at the Komitas Chamber Hall for last-minute preparations for the gala event. While members of several traditional ensembles began rehearsing and stage workers tested the speakers and microphones, I spoke with Karen Smbatyan, a painter who was a close friend of Hayrik. He told me there were plans for a presentation of his work in New Jersey, where he had visited at least once in recent years. He said that he knew of several talented painters from Armenia who had moved to the U.S. with hopes of finally having their art appreciated, the result being the opposite, with little or no success and a complete lack of appreciation or understanding of their art. Smbatyan continued by saying the painters didn’t understand that when they left Armenia, they would lose the energy artists derive from, simply, “the land, the air” of Armenia . . . then, close to seven p.m., people began entering the concert hall, taking their places in seating both downstairs and upstairs, afterwards close to 200 standing along walls or in the lobby area to take part in the celebration. The evening began with a film of Hayrik talking about his life and Armenian music and singing songs he personally had saved from extinction following the Genocide, songs such as “Im Khordik Yar” and “Bari Luso Astgh Yerevats,” which Hayrik explained was written by Khrimian Hayrik at Varakavank, near Lake Van in Western Armenia. After the film, speakers and traditional ensembles remembered Hayrik in word and song, the audience often joining those performing on stage. A great moment was when members of the “Zartonk” ensemble, led personally by Hayrik, appeared on stage, a little older but with the same enthusiasm as in Hayrik’s days, and sang the love song “Vartanush.” As Hasmik told the audience, Hayrik learned “Vartanush” from Varbed Vahan, a close friend of Hayrik who also had roots in Van. Applause filled the hall when it was announced that Vahan’s widow and son were in the audience. Other participating ensembles were Agoonk, founded by Hayrik’s daughter Maro, Shoghaken, Sassoun, Karin, and Maratuk, where a patriotic song about Sassoun, backed by “gopalov” dhol, had the audience ready to retake Sassoun . . . as the official part of the evening drew to a conclusion, Hasmik invited 96-year-old Vannetsi Varazdat Harutyunyan to the podium, where the sculptor and patriot told about his birthplace in Aygestan, Van, before performing an amazing version of “Dle Yaman,” amazing both due to his age and his feel for the song. Then, in the lobby area of the hall, dhols and zurnas began their call, with ensemble members and guests dancing the Mayroke and Ververi, concluding with the famous dance of unity, Yarkhooshta, where it seemed fortunate the walls didn’t collapse from the noise and energy alike. Afterwards, ensemble members and organizers gathered for special toasts and more songs, remembering the man who had literally saved much of Armenia’s rich legacy of folk music from extinction.

A sad part concerning the celebration for Hayrik’s 100th birthday is that, besides a lesser television station and a brief visit from National Television, there was no representation from the several television stations to film the gathering for television news programs, partly due to the obsession with pop culture in Armenia and the likely orders coming from unknown sources to supress Armenian folk culture, especially folk music. After the celebration, I talked with an old man working at the Chamber Hall, who said he was from Davit Bek village in Zangezur, in the region of Kapan. “The old name is Kapan, not ‘Ghapan’ as the Soviets called it,” he explained. He went on to say the people from Syunik, known in folk culture as Zangezur, are true warriors, and fought the Turks and others for centuries until the days of Garegin Nzhdeh, who literally saved Zangezur from falling into the hands of the Azeris. “Things will get better in Armenia,” he said. “Did you see the energy here tonight?” The next night, Hasmik and Alina Pehlivanian, musicologist from the Komitas Conservatory, were guests on Artur Bakhhtamyan’s “Aklorakanch,” where they discussed the importance of what Hayrik Mouradian had done to save Armenian folk music, told stories of his life and their many meetings with Hayrik, and sang songs Hayrik had taught them. Professor Pehlivanian presented a new DVD, produced by Internews Armenia, about Hayrik’s life. Today, after a busy day of house-hunting and a funeral in Nork at a church known as “Armenak’s church” for Armenak Armenakyan, one of the parliamentarians killed in the 1999 massacre, and who had the church built just before his death, we attended a piano concert by Svetlana Navasartyan at the National Gallery of Art in the city center. Navasartyan played classical pieces for an admiring audience for nearly two hours, when standing ovations brought her back for an amazing version of the folk dance “Uzundara,” followed by “Sabre Dance.” “Uzundara,” which I had heard played with folk instruments such as kamancha and duduk, was masterfully played by Navasartyan, who showed a complete understanding of the intricacies of the dance. She played “Sabre Dance” with such speed and control that she had the audience in shock. Leaving, we learned that the great bass singer Barsegh Tumanyan was to have a concert later this month, leading us and several others to buy tickets for a concert sure to sell out.

Today both Russian and Armenian television showed various events celebrating the end of World War II and, in Armenia, the liberation of Shushi. “Yerevan” television showed films of volunteers from around the world fighting in Karabagh, especially in Shushi, while “Armenia” had interviews with Karabagh natives who had fought for their homeland, most losing the greater part of their families during the war. One woman, who had become an invalid, told how she lost her husband, brothers, and parents, crying as she told how she gave everything to save Karabagh, saying that due to injuries, she couldn’t even have children, her greatest wish in life. On the subject of Armenia’s participation in WW II, I was told that somehow, just twenty-five years after the Genocide, Armenia was able to give some 400,000 soldiers to the war effort, losing over 200,000. Coordinated with an interview with actor Shahoom Ghazaryan, Hin Oreri Yergu was shown, a film portraying Armenia’s entry into the war and the agony families went through on learning of the losses of their sons. In one scene, Ghazaryan returned from the war, only to find his son begging for bread, then chasing him through the streets, threatening to beat him with a cane. Scolded for treating his son like that, he stopped, then, as they tearfully embraced, I noticed the tears of those in the room, unable to watch the scene with anything approaching indifference. A similar scene had Mher Mkrtchyan, the town postman, delivering only the letters saying whichever son was returning from the war, but not delivering the letters known as “sev tooght,” the letters notifying families of their sons’ deaths. When a woman asked Mkrtchyan if there was a letter from her son, the actor broke into tears, meaning he had a “sev tooght” he hadn’t given to the woman. Later, he sat in the street, crying, somewhat out of his mind, eating the death warrants. It is said that before filming this scene, Mkrtchyan stayed in a room for three days, to completely enter into the role, which was to become one of the saddest scenes possibly in the history of film.

An acquaintance asked me if I didn’t have any regrets about leaving the so-called good life in the U.S., what with all the difficulties of living in Armenia. I told her that my only regret was not coming here sooner. I said that even though I understood why many have left here, due to the economic conditions, etc., many had also left because of what they had mistakenly pictured the U.S. to be, while also assuming they would remain, without a doubt, good Armenians. All this aside, there are Armenians like the farm worker I met in Armavir yesterday, a simple man who, standing in the heat waiting for irrigation water to reach him, pointed at the jagged rock in the distance and said, “That’s in Turkey, across from Bagaran. I hope it’s not in Turkey for long. My ancestors are from Basen, in Western Armenia. I want very much to see Basen.” Television news showed a contingent of Yerevan Armenians in Slovakia, delivering an amazing khachkar, carved by an Abarantsi sculptor. The khachkar wasn’t like many of the newly carved, simple khachkars one sees in cemeteries or in front of new churches, and was so much like those made centuries ago that customs people and others didn’t believe it hadn’t been carved in the past.

Our conversation with a taxi driver reminded me of my first trip to Armenia in 1982 when it seemed every taxi driver I met either recited Charents or Shiraz and read poetry and Armenian history in their spare time. A few minutes after sitting in the cab, the driver asked if I was related to William Saroyan, and was happy to hear that I was not only related, but knew the great writer. Then, as Hasmik and I talked about the evening’s festivities, which included a concert by Shoghaken and the showing of Ayp, Ben, Gim, a twenty-minute film about Hayrik Mouradian, the driver said “Ayp, Ben, Gim, I know that film, and I love the music of Hayrik Mouradian. Hayrik’s ‘Andouni’ is always in my mind. So is the music of Vagharshak Sahakyan, Chara Dalyan, and Armenak Shahmuradyan. We used to hear this music on radio in Armenia. Now, I can’t turn the radio on. The singers, the ‘stars,’ won’t let anybody good sing. It’s terrible.” We told him about how the audience listened eagerly to Shoghaken, who was performing for the first time in Yerevan at the Naregatsi Cultural Center, operated by Monte Melkonian’s widow, Seda. Shoghaken began the concert with the serene “Shatakhi Tsernapar,” a melody from Hayrik Mouradian’s birthplace of Shatakh, and followed with solo numbers by vocalists Hasmik Harutyunyan and Aleksan Harutyunyan, and dudukist Gevorg Dabaghyan. The enthusiastic audience of about 150 rose to their feet as Hasmik and Aleksan sang “Lelum Lele” and danced the Mayroke to conclude the program. Afterwards, Hasmik and I went with opera singer Arax Davityan and Karine Khotikyan of the Culture Ministry to drink tea and discuss the situation of culture in Armenia, including the poor treatment of Ohan Turyan, whom the president refused to meet in spite of several requests by the great conductor. Davityan, possibly the best Armenian-born opera singer of today, was especially fascinated with the lullaby “Oror Jojk Em Kabel,” which Hasmik had sung during the concert, saying she would like to perform the song at her upcoming autumn concert in Yerevan.

An evening of poetry recitation at the “Pokr Talij” on Republic Square proved interesting not only because of the younger generation continuing the art of “asmoonk” but the number of listeners dressed in traditional Armenian costume. Besides Lucik Aguletsi and another Nakhichevan-born Armenian, a young male painter was dressed in garb with Western Armenian flavor, leading me to feel almost uncomfortable dressed in Western attire. . . . In Yerevan, a new book is said to have appeared, written by now Interpol-fugitive Vano Siradeghyan, where Siradeghyan purportedly writes less than complimentary opinions about Armenia’s president. Now, Siradeghyan is believed to be living in the Oktemberyan region of Armenia, whereas before he was said to be somewhere in Tavoush. Talk in Armenia also centers about the huge number of Armenians, possible as many as 200,000, who plan to form a huge circle around Mt. Aragadz on May 28, Independence Day, and most likely dance the Kochari, the famous dance of unity originating in the Taron region of Western Armenia. Participants are to be assigned to certain areas, to make sure the entire mountain is encircled with dancers. Each dancer will be wearing a hat with material which will be visible from satellite. A joke spreading through the homeland is that the European Union wants to prohibit the event, with the fear that if it takes place, that next year Armenians will dance around Mt. Ararat.

As rain clouds gathered over Yerevan, Mt. Ararat shone in an unusually bright sun, with the snowy peaks leading down to green slopes which seemed to reach the outskirts of the city itself. A pity — that close, yet in the hands of the Turks. Yet, towards the end of the Karabagh war, Azeri Turks were digging trenches at the entrances of Baku, as, without interference from the Russians or U.S., Armenians were ready to take Baku. As an angry friend said today, the Turks should be on their knees thanking us for not taking Baku, instead of brazenly demanding not only the liberated territories, but Karabagh itself and even Shushi. Time will tell. As the day developed, I went to the city center to edit a CD-rom about the life and work of composer Aram Khachatryan. I was under the impression Khachatryan was born in Nakhichevan, but it happens that his parents were from Nakhichevan, and the composer from Tbilisi. As I worked, I learned that Khachatryan gave much credit for his successful compositions to his foundation in Armenian folk music, which he heard continuously from his mother and from his surroundings in the Armenian neighborhood in Tbilisi, where he said everyone sang, men, women, young, old, street vendors, everybody. This, he said, made it natural for his writing the scores for the movies Pepo and Zangezur, and for classical pieces such as “Dance of the Rose Maidens” from Gayane Ballet. Once, needing inspiration for a certain composition, he spent six months in Armenia, where he traveled the countryside and became friends with famous poets and singers, who were at his home almost daily, reciting their poetry and singing folk songs. A large and unfortunate difference from the pop stars of today who, in spite of the help of sound engineers, synthesizers, musicians, and video material, fail to capture the flavor of the Armenian folk song, just as they fail to understand that time is needed to learn and understand the ancient folk art of Armenia.

Today I made my first visit to the villages of Mayakovsky, named after the Russian poet, and Kotayk, both located in the province of Kotayk. Spring has begun in the area, with wheat fields and meadows a lush green, and wild flowers now in full bloom. A farmer in Kotayk showed us his new flour mill and his wheat fields, saying he wanted to plant cherry and apricot orchards but that the banks seem to be working against the farmers, making his work all the more difficult. Yet, he said, he would definitely find a way to plant the orchards, and have a covered area to sit and eat, drink, and enjoy the nature of Kotayk. We’re young, he said, but we can grow with the trees, and when we and the trees are old, we can enjoy each other. . . . Back in Yerevan, tonight’s concert featured bass singer and Yerevan-native Barsegh Tumanyan, a noted singer on the European stage during the past couple decades. In the first part of the program, Tumanyan’s voice echoed through the hall in the National Gallery, as he sang classic opera arias, the singer and crowd definitely enjoying each other’s presence. After a short intermission, however, Tumanyan sang several songs in English, where he was somewhat out of his element, not reaching the peaks and notes he did singing Verdi and other masters. As the presentation ended, Tumanyan sang “Andouni,” seemingly out of form for the classic song, leading some to ask if the singer had actually rehearsed the song. But even though the world-class singer may not have displayed his former grandeur, it was good to hear him in person.

Our two-day business trip led us into some of Armenia’s most spectacular nature, starting in Spitak and continuing in Stepanavan and Tashir before entering Tavoush and the region of Shamshadin. Passing Ichevan, rain turned into a dense fog, forcing us to creep along both newly-paved roads and bumpy dirt roads, finally reaching Tovuz, a village in the heart of Shamshadin. At a friend’s house, we talked about our trip there and our work in Shamshadin, bringing wheat seed to farmers in this important border region. He told us the importance of our work, saying Tovuz had suffered, as many Armenian rural areas, from Armenia’s weak economic situation, with 800 households in the village but only 1,000 residents. Tovuz, he explained, is a Persian word meaning peacock, with Shamashadin meaning “land of sun,” also in Persian. Around midnight, we were treated to a meal of “shushan,” homemade bread, potatoes, beets, cucumbers, and khaghoghi arak, after which our host’s wife offered fresh hot milk and madzoon. After a few hours of sleep, we woke up to clouds and sunshine and the calls of roosters. Outside the house, we were shown where grad missiles had destroyed homes during the Karabagh war, where Azeris, with tank and cannon fire, had made life both miserable and dangerous for Tovuz residents. After breakfast, we drove through this lush mountain area to Aygepar, where we met with a wheat farmer and checked his fields of wheat and barley. From a vineyard, he pointed in the direction of Chinari and Movses villages, located directly on the border with Azerbaijan. He told of Khoranashat monastery, built in the days of the Khachen princes of Karabagh, in the twelfth century, saying the monastery is in excellent condition but in a dangerous spot where sniper fire still occurs. Back at his home, he smiled and said the fields we were checking still receive occasional sniper fire, as do other villages along the border. He went on to tell that during the war, the Azeris would finish harvesting their wheat, which ripened just before the Armenians’ wheat, and begin attacking Armenia with tank and sniper fire, making wheat harvests a life-or-death matter. Twice, he said, the Azeris crossed the border, but both times villagers from Aygepar, Movses, Chinari, and other villages repelled the incursions. We also learned the reason for the name “Paravakar,” another border village of Shamshadin. Years ago, how long is unclear, an old Armenian woman stood on a high rocky cliff overlooking the village and called out that Turks were entering and attacking Armenia, upon which a Turk pushed the unfortunate woman off the rock to her death. After talking about the condition of the year’s wheat crop and the enthusiasm of farmers who finally had good wheat seed to plant, we got up to leave for Yerevan when the farmer’s wife brough out a meal of khashlama and potatoes, along with salads and bread, leading us to delay our departure, the men toasting each other for their hard work and sincerity in their work, all this in an area forgotten by the Armenian government, an area where many people, in spite of their love for their native Shamashadin, are forced to leave to Russia and elsewhere, putting the region in a precarious situation should war again break out. As a Shamshadin native put it, Shamshadin is the “key to Armenia.”

Although attention is focused on the May 28 dance around Mt. Aragadz, with thousands of participants celebrating the 1600th anniversary of Mesrop Mashtots’ invention of the Mesropian alphabet, talk on the streets looks north to Georgia, more precisely, the Armenian-populated region of Javakhk. With the Georgians demanding the Russians pull their military bases out of the country, which includes both Batumi and Akhalkalak, in Javakhk, Armenians here are wondering about the future of their bretheren in Georgia, whose existence could be in jeopardy if the Russians actually remove their base from the region. The Georgian government doesn’t accept the Russians’ plan of a withdrawal lasting up to four years, leading to imminent talks between the two countries, likely beginning this week. All this opens the possibility of war breaking out in Javakhk, a war which could have unpredictable results for the entire Caucasus, the situation now even more uncertain with the U.S. stating their desire to help democracy flourish in the region, and their apparent disapproval of Azerbaijan’s president. In Armenia, people are somewhat anticipating a rose revolution of their own, with President Kocharian and his government not expected to last until the next election. Yet, for some it is business as usual, as the Central Bank has stated their intention of closing the exchange shops, leaving that business up to banks and hotels, and some major supermarkets, bringing that business closer into the hands of the Bank.

Last week in Shamshadin a villager told me about an elderly neighbor who had had her power disconnected, due to being a month late making payment. Yet, no one in government was likely punished for not paying this woman, and others, their pensions, over a period of four or five months. Even putting aside the human element, strategically speaking a government should do what it can, by giving various discounts, or other methods, to make life easier in border regions, especially, in this case, when these same villagers were responsible for keeping the Azeris at bay during the Karabagh war. On the other hand, there are those in government and church circles we sometimes know little about, such as Bishop Mesrob Ashjian, whose work in Armenia, and in Western Armenia, served as an example of what one individual can accomplish when working selflessly for his nation. The bishop, who died last year, was honored today in the village of Mughni, where, often with his own funds, he undertook the building of a culture center and the beautification of the St. Gevorg village church. The event, arranged by the Hamazkayin center in Yerevan, began with a church service and continued at the Mughni middle school, which was renamed after Bishop Ashjian. Well known writers, politicians, and actors, such as Sos Sargsyan, were present. As history professor Ashot Melkonyan spoke in the open-air ceremony, five fighter-jets roared overhead, almost symbolic for the work Ashjian had accomplished after moving to Armenia. At the reception, we were reminded of Ashjian’s work in Western Armenia, where the bishop paid Kurdish villagers to maintain several Armenian churches in the region of Taron, where Ashjian’s ancestors were from. On the personal side of things, a discussion with Professor Melkonyan led to the solving of a family debate about the location of Jgrashen, where the Mshetsi side of my family lived before emigrating to the U.S. It happens that Jgrashen is one of twelve districts of the town of Moush, and not one of the 500 villages of the Plains of Moush. Now, it remains to be seen if the family home can be located. . . .

A bright sun and clear sky left no trace of the surprise storms which passed through Yerevan last night, the second a devastating hailstorm close to midnight that probably laid havoc to Anastasavan’s apricot and mulberry crops. Yesterday, ethnomusicologist Aroosiak Sahakyan continued her conversation with Hasmik on Sahakyan’s weekly show on National Radio, the subject centering on the preservation of Armenia folk music. Sahakyan lamented that in spite of the ample number of books and recordings available to the public, not to mention singers, dancers, and others, few if any take advantage of these national treasures. Sad, she commented, that Hasmik, one of the few bearers of this music, isn’t as well known as the pop stars who try to perform folk songs, often not understanding the meaning and, often, the lyrics of the songs. After Hasmik told about her not being able to attend the Komitas Conservatory due to money issues, a caller complained that many talented youth are currently being turned away from the Conservatory for the same reason, leading to a surprise call by singer and People’s Artist Ophelia Hampartsumyan, who said she was glad Hasmik hadn’t attended the Conservatory, that her voice may not have remained so pure, then complimenting Hasmik on her modesty and professionalism. A call from dudukist Gevorg Dabaghyan concluded the show, time not permitting several other callers happy to hear they weren’t alone in their concern about the direction Armenian music is being taken.

Today, May 28, is a great day for Armenians, the declaration of the independence of the first Armenian republic of 1918, established after miraculous victories in Sardarapat and Aparan. Yet, questions still remain about why General Andranik, in Lori during the battles, failed to participate. Some think he was angry with the Dashnak party, who apparently disagreed with Andranik’s desire to retake Erzurum. Whatever the reason, after just two and a half years, Armenia ceased to exist as an independent republic, tragically losing any ports or sea access to the Turks and Georgians, who continue their anti-Armenian politics to this day. Yesterday evening, at the concert featuring soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian, I was surprised that Armenians, who at times seem to lack any semblance of pride, had invited a mediocre-at-best Georgian baritone as lead soloist in The Barber of Seville. In spite of his unfortunate presence, Bayrakdarian’s excellent singing made the concert quite worthwhile. Other pleasant surprises were Yerevan-born baritone Robert Virabian and soprano Lusine Azarian. The next morning, as some 200,000 Armenians traveled to Mt. Aragadz to participate in the dance of unity, National Television showed two well-funded and spectacular music festivals featuring music that had nothing at all to do with anything Armenian, the shows unfortunately being shown to Armenians in seventy countries, many of whom must wonder what has happened to culture here. Luckily, Yerevan Armenians had the opportunity to watch Yerkir Media’s special progamming, featuring histories and actual footage from 1918 battles in Kars, Bash-Aparan, and Vanadzor, and other stations showing the classic movies Davit Bek and Zangezur.

Television news had several great shots of the dance around Mt. Aragadz, where some 200,000 to 300,000 Armenians formed a line around the mountain, from near Saghmosavan to Ashtarak, to Talin and then Artik, located on the west side of the mountain. Hundreds, maybe thousands, spent the night before the dance along the dance route, singing and dancing around fires, while the day of the dance had such huge numbers of people that the line at times became five or six rows deep. In one case, the dancer was one of the Armenian soldiers who danced the Kochari in Berlin, celebrating the Soviet takeover of the city in World War II. Another was a woman who said her feelings were hurt by her husband going off with friends to have fun in Byurakan, and, after she said to the television audience she would join the dancers and have a good time, started singing “Dashnak Dro.” In spite of some understandable organizational problems, like some being served khashlama or harisa while only bread and water reached others, the day is one our neighbors to the west are sure to have noticed. Other recent activities in Yerevan included the piano concert by Serouj Kradjian, husband of soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian. Playing the music of Rachmaninoff, Kradjian at times displayed such speed that conductor Topchyan had a hard time keeping pace with the music. Kradjian left no doubt about being quite the virtuostic pianist. Today, at a government building in the city center, Raffi Hovhannisyan was officially named president of the new political party named simply “Inheritance.” After Hasmik and Aleksan led everyone singing “Mer Hayrenik,” several political leaders were introduced, most members of the opposition, including Aram Sargsyan, Stepan Demirchyan, and Shavarsh Kocharyan. Applause seemed most hardy for Sargsyan, whose sharp delivery seemed to signify that, in spite of efforts by the ruling party in Yerevan to discredit the opposition, the population hadn’t been affected and remained hopeful for a change in the political scene in Armenia. Hovhannisyan’s energetic acceptance speech left no doubt about his complete dedication for the future of his homeland. On National Television news, after an abbreviated mention of the event, ample time was found to tell viewers about the upcoming concerts of pop star Andre, apparently more important to the future of Armenia than the founding of an important political party.
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