EDITORIAL: Armenian Culture

Armenians all over the world are a People very committed to the preservation of their identity. Visiting many Armenian households even in the far reaches of the UK, Armenian is usually the main language spoken, pictures of religious and national icons line the walls and there seems to be an endless supply of madzoon in the fridges. Culture is not just the drumming and dancing of Africa, or the ballet and opera of Europe. Culture is the holding of values and traditions, of language and history; all the while being proud of one’s heritage. However, for many in the Diaspora, these foundations of traditions are cracking as a direct link to the Armenian homeland and culture fades. How can we act to preserve our culture? My answer is music.

What makes music such an invaluable vessel is its ability to provoke emotions, unify people and remain an almost indestructible medium. It is also accessible to all ages; who doesn’t want to listen to a bit of Tata, Harout Pamboukjian or Paul Baghdadlian?

There are three applications of music which can be used to preserve identity. The first is the use of inherently Armenian songs to maintain the Armenian language and remember national heroes who fought to protect our identity, such as the Armenian azadamardig (fedayees). Such songs sung around campfires at Homenetmen camps are testament to arousing a sense of belonging, they preserve the identity and, as was proclaimed in the November issue, are a “mechanism through which we form, invoke and rekindle pride within one another”. These are the songs which our ancestors wrote and sang – just knowing this brings about a stronger connection to our past, our heritage and our identity.

The second is that music that can be used as a means to publicise political messages. The genocide of 1915 has become such a big part of the actions of Armenians that it has become embedded in the Armenian culture much like the Shoah for the Jews. Upon meeting any Armenian the Genocide is always a topic which is raised, and so through music aimed at remembering the lost, we maintain a connection to our Armenian ancestors and are able to spread the message of the injustice of genocide denial. System of Down utilises this aspect especially well in songs such as ‘Holy Mountains’ and ‘P.L.U.C.K’.

And what is the final and most important use of music to preserve identity? The use of traditional Anatolian/Middle Eastern instruments such as the oud, the doumbek/darbuka and duduk. The use of such instruments would intrinsically bring a strong link to our forefathers who played the same songs on the same instruments.  The seven member band Viza epitomises this application: having five Armenian members, the band blends traditional eastern melodies with modern rock to maintain cultural influences and promote the Armenian identity. The band also uses all three of the traditional instruments mentioned above in an effective fusion, allowing the evolution of the Armenian culture in the Diaspora.

There is a very important point that must not be forgotten. Preserving culture does not necessarily mean forcing it to stay the same. The former can entail the meshing of the old and the new, just as Viza have done. By adapting one’s heritage to the modern day the culture evolves and becomes stronger with the new generations. Cultures perish when they are forced to remain the same; they stagnate and fall into myth. It only takes one generation to make this happen, and we won’t be responsible for that.

— Raphael Gregorian

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