Lebanese General Security Pulls Eileen Khatchadourian’s Zartir Vortyag from the Airwaves
Popular music and controversy are part of the same fabric that fashions the world of entertainment; they seem to go hand-in-hand. Witness the origins of Punk and Madonna’s track record with controversy and uber-consumerism. As the Grunge Rockers did in the 90s and rappers continued over the past ten years, the most recent sensationalism comes courtesy of Lady Gaga. However, one wouldn’t imagine that an Armenian music video of the popular folk song “Zartir Vortyag” would be banned in Lebanon – a country built by and home to the descendants of Armenian Genocide survivors.
Lebanese-Armenian performer Eileen Khatchadourian and her team produced the music video in time for the 95th Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. However, the Lebanese government raised concerns that the music video calling for a Genocide Era uprising would be offensive to Turkishness and Turkish diplomats in Lebanon.
Asbarez’s Paul Chaderjian interviewed Eileen, who was featured in this newspaper and on Horizon TV during her visit to the US last December. Eileen was in Southern California to attend the 10th annual Armenian Music Awards, where her new album Midan – which features the now-controversial folk song – won the “Best Rock Album” award.
Paul Chaderjian: Why is your music video of Zartir Vortyag being banned?
Eileen Khatchadourian: The video was banned, because Lebanese officials are afraid of offending the Turkish Ambassador to Lebanon. They are afraid that Turkish-Lebanese relations will be affected with this video.
P.C.: A majority of our readers know the song Zartir Vortyag, which is a call for people to rise up and fight oppression. Describe the visual content of the video. What does it show, and what does it say?
E.K.: The content of the video is very simple. It’s me, sometimes wearing a suit and sometimes wearing a dress. The background is a white wall, and there are graphics that quote William Saroyan.
P.C.: How did this ban come about?
E.K.: In Lebanon, you have to get permission from the Lebanese General Security to air your music video or anything visual. It’s only after their approval that you can air your recording.
P.C.: What did the General Security say about your video?
E.K.: They asked me what does the song say. I explained that a mother is calling upon her son to go and fight the enemy. They asked me, who is the enemy? I said the whole world knows what happened to the Armenians under Ottoman rule, especially the Lebanese, because Lebanon has recognized the Armenian Genocide. I said that the enemy in the song is Turkey, but I clearly specified that in this song, the name “Turkey” or “Ottoman Empire” is not mentioned. So the enemy could be anyone. It could be the Persian Empire or whatever you think.
When they said that the video would offend Turkey and that “Turkey might think you are attacking them,” I was shocked. I said that as a country, Lebanon has recognized the Armenian Genocide for a long time. I said, How can you tell me something like this? I am Lebanese. I am a Lebanese citizen. You think Turkey might be offended by a historic Armenian song, while you allow other singers to appear on TV half-naked. This does not concern you? You are not concerned with how it affect the kids, but you are concerned that Turkey will think Armenians are planning an uprising? Anyway, they had no reaction, of course. They said that the video was not allowed to air on television stations that are broadcast by antenna (terrestrial stations). They said the video could only air on satellite stations like OTV, MTV, and the terrestrial station of Future TV, but only on April 24.
P.C.: Is the video available on the Internet for our readers to see? What is the website address?
P.C.: Is your music video airing elsewhere, perhaps in Armenia, Europe or the US?
E.K.: I contacted the people I know in Armenia and a few television stations. I mentioned precisely that this music video was banned for Lebanese television stations, and that TV stations in Armenia, an Armenian country, should air it. It’s been five days, and to be honest, there was no reaction. They are remaining silent, and it’s a shame! None of the people I have asked to air the video on Armenian TV have even shared the post on their Facebook wall. A lot of Lebanese people are sharing the video via Facebook, but only one person in Armenia might help me. I am sending him the tape of the music video. I am also working on getting the video to Europe.
P.C.: What recourse is there? Are you planning to appeal to anyone to reverse the ban in Lebanon?
E.K.: I appealed to all the Armenian political parties, because this should not remain silent. There is a huge protest on Facebook, and the ban has been written about in L’Orient-Le Jour, the French daily newspaper in Lebanon. It was written about in Aztag (Asbarez’ sister publication in Beirut) and the Ararad newspapers. Lebanese Parliament member Hagop Pakradounian, who represents the ARF party, asked me for the General Security directive that says the video can only be aired on Future TV on the 24th of April. Mr. Pakradounian wants to show the paperwork to the Lebanese President.
P.C.: What has the ban done to your heart and mind? Is it empowering you to fight harder for Genocide recognition?
E.K.: Oh, yes. It is empowering me to fight and to never stop fighting. But I can’t fight against this alone. Armenians have to support me. They should not accept what happened with a music video that does not even mention the Genocide. If our government that has recognized the Genocide can ban a music video, what else will they ban? Censorship can start with my music video, but then what? What else will they ban not to offend the Turkish Embassy? We can’t remain silent about this, and the support of the people is also giving me more power to fight. Zartir Vortyag.
P.C.: Thank You.