The Armenian National Committee of Orange County (ANC-OC) held an event April 2–featuring an evening of music and poetry dedicated to the 91st commemoration of the Armenian genocide. The event was about more than remembering the tragic events of 1915–it was also a celebration of the survival of the Armenian people and the nation of Armenia. Over 500 attended the event–called "The Nation That Would not Die."
The program began with a moment of silence for the victims of the Genocide and a video presentation of a modern version of "Hayr Mer" (Lord’s Prayer)–followed immediately by tenor Andranik Movsisyan’s rendition of "Tsayn Mu Hunchets," a traditional Armenian patriotic song.
ANC-OC member Lucy Der-Yeghiaian welcomed the guests by giving a brief synopsis of the Ottoman Empire’s plan to erase the collective existence of the Armenian Nation from its homeland and that the evening’s event was to remember by celebrating survival. She went on to say that–"Tonight you will experience the descendants of those survivors–as they express through the venue of their art the genocide that lies within each of them; their expression of survival."
Next on stage was Gor Mkhitarian–a rising star in Armenian folk music. Gor is the embodiment of the modern Armenian folk artist who creates a compelling and distinct sound by mixing of rock–folk–and traditional Armenian music. Accompanied by his acoustic guitar he dazzled the audience with his melodic voice and beautiful lyrics. The substance and texture of his work revealed spirituality–nationalism–and social commentary.
Aram Kouyoumdjian then performed an excerpt from his original monologue titled "Protest." This moving performance has been shown in most major cities throughout California and at the Finborough Theatre in London. The monologue begins with a group protesting the Turkish denial of the Armenian genocide in front of the Turkish Consulate. As the story evolves–the narrator begins to drift away from the scenes and events at the consulate and finds himself in the Syrian deserts face to face with the Armenian Goddess Anahid. As the vision unfolds we are reminded of not only the suffering of those hundreds of thousands and what the survivors had to endure–but also of the responsibility we all bear in seeing that the lives of those lost are not forgotten.
The video presentation that followed highlighted the atrocities committed by the Turks against the Armenia’s. Image after image of tortured souls was seared into the minds of the audience. And then the pictures changed. No longer were the faces on the screen those of the victims of the Genocide–but the Armenian generals and fedayees that fought off the invading Ottoman Army in 1918 to secure Armenia’s independence. The crowd roared and applauded as each image of the leaders and fedayees played on the screen.
Levon Bedrossian–took the stage next and dedicated his performance to the memory of his grandfather–Stepan Haitayan. Levon explained how his grandfather was forced to hide under the bodies of the dead in order to survive. The emotion of that tragic event was not lost on Levon–as he recited his poem–"Echoes of Genocide" with a great deal of passion. Levon’s poem had won first prize at UCLA and was published in the Daily Bruin.
Narek Pogosyan and Rafik Oganyan of the contemporary rock band Slow Motion Reign performed next–each playing acoustic guitar with Narek on vocals. Their musical compositions were complex and multifaceted–their songs beautifully filled with texture and depth. They will be releasing a highly anticipated CD this June.
The next video presentation was dedicated to the brave men and women–also known as the Armenian fedayees–who defended the provinces against the Turkish plan of extermination. The images from the video showed those who fought to defend the Armenian population and eventually created the first Republic–and those who struggled to lead the devastated country that had suffered so much at the hands of the Turks.
The video was followed by members of the Orange County Aghpur Serop Badanees and students of the Ari Guiragos Minassian School. The group performed "Verkerov Li" in what was one of the most moving performances of the evening. The song they had selected to perform was difficult and the students did an excellent job in their rendition.
Next up was Yeva Adalyan–originally from Yerevan and a graduate of the acting and theatre arts department of Pasadena City College. A graphic designer by day who also has her own line of hand-made jewelry–Yeva is also an amazing poet. Inspired by those around her–she writes about people and their beautiful idiosyncrasies. Yeva selected three of her original poems to perform–which were innovative and thought provoking.
The final video presentation of the evening was dedicated to the historic Armenian homeland known as Western Armenia–which is comprised of six Vilayets that were lost after the Genocide; Erzerum–Van–Bitlis–Kharpert–Sepastia–and Diyarbekir. The images from each of the six provinces were both beautiful and heart-breaking–because they provided tangible proof of the lives lost in the Genocide and the beautiful lands of historic Armenia.
The video was followed by a few words from Ara Malazian–on behalf of the ANC-OC. In his speech–Ara briefly outlined the Turkish goal of creating a Pan-Turkic state and how the Armenia’s stood in the way of that goal. The remainder of his speech focused instead on the progress that has been made over the past several years on many fronts thanks to the efforts of Armenia’s worldwide and the efforts of the Armenian National Committee; the Independent Republic of Armenia–the formation of the autonomous region of Karabagh–the recognition of the Armenian genocide in Europe and several US States. Ara also focused on how we need to build on the Anti-American stance of Turkey to persuade the United States that Turkey is not its true ally–and continue the campaign to gain recognition of the Armenian genocide–as a step to creating a free–independent–and truly united Armenia.
Knowledge–originally from the United Kingdom–documented as England’s first rapper in Black Echoes magazine in 1980 and one of the top slam poets in Los Angeles–performed two poems that he had written about the Armenian genocide. The first poem began with Adolf Hitler’s famous quote "Who today remembers the Genocide of the Armenia’s" and was a moving description of the suffering of those who lived through and died in the Genocide. The second poem was powerful and intense as it described the journey of Soghomon Tehlirian from innocent child to victim of the Genocide to avenger against Talaat Pasha as one of the chief organizers of the Armenian genocide. Knowledge was accompanied on guitar by his friend–Robert.
Viken Yakoubian took the stage next. For the first time in over 15 years–guests had an opportunity to be inspired by his unique artistic sound and his mastery of the piano. He opened with his infamous rendition of "Blowing in the Wind." His collection of songs were a composition of music and lyric–inspired by nationalistic themes with an underlying tone of self-exploration and reflection.
The final musical performer of the evening was the famed Armenian singer Karnig Sarkissian. Karnig dedicated his first song to the lives and lands lost in Western Armenia. He commented on how we may sometimes forget the beauty of that which was lost and why it is important that we not give up on our goals of returning once again. Karnig dedicated another one of his songs to the younger members of the audience. In a very moving scene during that performance the youth in the audience rose to their feet–standing on their chairs and joined Karnig.
The evening ended with Karnig Sarkissian and Viken Yakoubian joining together to sing the popular "Prison Song" which was a huge hit in the Armenian community in the 1980s–as well as in Orange County on April 2–2006.