ANKARA (Combined Sources)–The Ankara Radio Polyphonic Choir has performed a composition by the famous Armenian composer and ethnomusicologist, Gomidas Vartabed, the Turkish Hurriyet reported on Thursday.
The piece, “Gali Yerg” (Harvest Wind), was performed in Armenian under the direction of Istanbul-based Armenian conductor Hagop Mamigonyan. The choir will sing it again at an Armenian church in Istanbul
Gomidas Vartabed (Soghomon Soghomonian) was an Armenian priest, composer, ethnomusicologist and luminary of the Ottoman Empire and is considered to be the founder of Armenian modern classical music.
Born in 1869 in Kutahya, he endured the Armenian Genocide and was arrested on April 24, 1915 along with 100s of other leaders of the Armenian community. Gomidas was the first non-European to be admitted to the International Music Society and traveled through Europe and the Middle East giving lectures and performances to raise awareness of Armenian music. Gomidas Vartabed died in Paris France in 1935 in a psychiatric hospital and his ashes were sent to Yerevan, where street names and statues of him preserve his memory.
The choir, affiliated with the state-owned Turkish Radio and Television Corporation (TRT), performed the work as part of a larger 40th anniversary celebration for TRT in which 40 Turkish and foreign conductors were invited to lead the choir in separate concerts, performing songs of their choosing.
“When I told them on the phone that I wanted to perform an Armenian work, there was silence for a few seconds on the other end of the line, but my request was accepted,” Mamigonyan was quoted by Hurriyet as saying.
The youngest of the 40 composers, Mamigonyan is the chief conductor of the 40-person polyphonic Surp Lusavoric Armenian Choir in Istanbul, which has been performing in Istanbul for 80 years.
Recordings of the concert will be available in the coming months. In another historic first, the Ankara Radio Polyphonic Choir will also perform the same composition in the Holy Trinity Armenian Church in Istanbul’s Beyoglu district.
Mamigonyan said he had doubts until he started working with the choir and was worried that the TRT administration would retreat at the last minute. But he was eventually allowed to perform the piece, achieving a first in modern Turkish history.
In previous years, performing Armenian songs had been banned on TRT television channels and radio stations, despite the rich contributions to Turkish music made by Armenians over the centuries.
“Unfortunately, many of the traditions and accomplishments by Armenians and other ethnic groups in the Ottoman Empire have been trivialized or obfuscated from collective Turkish historical memory,” Antranig Kzirian, a noted musician and oud composer told Asbarez on Friday.
Kzirian explained this phenomenon as part of a “parallel process” perpetuated both by Turkey’s “reluctance to acknowledge that non-Turkish cultures contributed greatly to Anatolian culture; and externally,” as well as by “the diasporan-Armenian community’s taboo
in discussing issues related to the Armenian Genocide.”
“It remains regrettable that, within an artistic and cultural framework, Armenian losses in the Genocide also indirectly resulted in the collective amnesia of Armenian composers living during the Ottoman Empire,” he added. “This incalculable cultural cost has presented a
sadly incomplete tapestry of the rich mosaic and diversity of Armenian artistic expression.”
Composers and luminaries of the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries such as Baba Hampartsoum Limondjian, Udi Hrant Kenkulian and Kemani Tatyos Ekserciyan and several other Armenian composers contributed greatly to the Armenian nation’s achievements, Kzirian said.
“Limondjian’s creation of a notation system for classical music, for example, was used in the Ottoman Empire for hundreds of years and it remains in use today in the Armenian Apostolic Church,” he added.
Kzirian said he hoped that Armenian communities can “rediscover parts of our great cultural and musical tradition.” But this would only be possible, he noted, through acknowledgement and a growing openness of the historical reality of the Armenian Genocide in Turkey and abroad.