Interview With Hasmik Harutyunyan

Welcome to Turkey, Hasmik. We would like to make an interview about the influence of Armenian musicians on the music of Turkey. We can talk about the musical and cultural exchange, as well. But if you wish, let us start from you and your music life.

Okey, let’s start. First, I should tell about myself. I am Hasmik Harutyunyan. I was born in Yerevan. My roots are coming from western Armenia, as we call historic Armenia. My grandparents were from Mush. I grew up with them. My whole life is about Mush and our living style at home was pure traditional –food, traditional days, everything we celebrate was in the same way which they were doing in Mush. I grew up with this culture of singing and dancing. The genocide survivors, my grandmother and grandfather, they lost their whole family but somehow they survived. My grandmother lost her first husband and a child. It was very painful for them and for all the genocide survivors to talk about it. They were scared. In Stalin times, a lot of genocide survivors, the intellectuals were sent to Siberia by Stalin.

So, I grew up with this music but I never thought that I was going to be a singer. I was studying in Physics and Maths school and I got my university education in the same department. My older brother and older sister joined a folk assembly which was held by a genocide survivor. He was ten years old when genocide happened. He survived and someday he in Soviet Armenia decided to sing about genocide and to sing all the songs which were created in western Armenia. His roots were from Vaspurakan region. He was from Shatak, the region near the Lake of Van. He went to school in Van. From his music teacher, mother and grandmother he learnt a lot of songs. He started to sing the songs, teach and pass on the culture. One day, I met that person and it changed my cultural journey, changed my life. I thought it would be much better if I attended a music college to train my voice as an opera singer.

How old were you then?

That was right after high school. I was training my voice to be an opera singer but I decided this was the best way. These are the best songs to sing so I changed my style from opera style singing to the folk. I think I did a very good thing, I am very thankful to the man who became my teacher. His name is Hayrik Mouradian. He and his generation and my grandparents, they were continuing Gomidas’s work. You know, Gomidas was a priest and a composer, very intelligent person. He collected thousand of Armenian folk songs and melodies.  All of this heritage would be lost without him, without his work. Also, he tried to find the key to the old Armenian notation system, the Khaz. Manuscripts of thousands of folk melodies and songs are in the Museum of Matenadaran. However, nobody could read them because we lost the key in Khaz.

If we go back, my teacher Hayrik Mouradian told me that the best thing to do is passing on the culture to the next generation. So I founded a dance and song ensemble for the kids.

When did you decide to become a singer?

Honestly, I never thought that I was going be singer and would perform this culture to the world. But whenever I sing, I feel so lucky and so thankful because that is my dedication. It is my appreciation to these people who lost everything but who knew how important it was to keep the culture. Because if you lost your country there is always someday to take it back but if you lose your culture, you lose it forever. That’s way the best thing they did was passing the culture.

Anytime I sing the songs of historic Armenia for my students, my people, the non-Armenians, actually I tell the story of my people. Now on the bridge between generations, it is my part to pass on this culture. And the best way to pass on this folk culture is singing lullabies.

Yes, we know that your lullaby repertoire is enormous.

I have collected so many different lullabies from different regions of historic Armenia and I sing them. Because on the bridge of generations, one side is the mother and the other side is child. That is the shortest and the best way to pass the language, belief and culture. Scientists discovered that children, even unborn children, they can listen and keep what goes in their blood and the genetic memory. That is how you can keep the genetic memory alive. They come to this world with everything you gave it to them just by your voice, even your breath. That is why I sing lullabies.

I believe that music has a power. I believe that power can wake people up. That is what happened when the genocide survivors that generation, started to sing these songs. A whole people, especially students, they woke up. They could finally ask their parents or grandparents what happened. So, I think the world is going to be much nicer. But, my goal is to make that day earlier as I can because I love to see that when I am alive.

So, what do you think about today? You have come to Turkey and what kinds of reactions did you get from Turkish people? What are your observations? What should be done next?

I am so happy now because I don’t see that aggression or bad look when I come to Turkey. I think, it is time for new generation to know honestly what happened honestly and to look at the history,. If you know history honestly, there should be some justice. The justice should happen as sooner as possible, so we can make this world better. It’s like something heavy on Turkish people’s shoulders. But how long can you hold it? It is time to throw it away. It’s time to understand and ask about the fact.

What could be the role of musicians in the process of facing the truth?

I don’t know what music or musician can do about this. We can just sleep with good heart, relaxed, without being scared. I don’t know how to explain my feelings to you. But this year, it is the hundredth year, it’s enough. It’s enough to lie to the people. Because we had the same times, nobody could talk about it. When I went to elementary school, I didn’t know there were some families and genocide survivors. When I talked to my friends, I understood that each family had a pain and we hold that pain for hundred years. While my grandmother was dying, she said to my father “Please take me to the home, to Mush.” and my father said “I can’t, I can’t do that, there is a border, I can’t do that, don’t ask me that. How I am going to leave you after you die?” That is so painful. Your parent is asking you to take and bury her in homeland and you can’t do that. Then she said, “What is border for the dead person?” Because dead person’s spirit fly and there is no border for that person. I couldn’t understand their pain before. In 2001, I went to Mush and then I understood why they were crying so much to see Mush. She said Armenia was not the country to live for us, the country to live was Mush. They were always singing, crying and talking about Mush as if it was heaven. Then, I took a soil from Mush and I put that on their graves in Armenia to give them rest.

What can you say about for the children, grandchildren of the genocide survivors; I mean, your generation?

Nothing can give us to my generation rest. Because all should know what happened. Because, now, in this time, 21st century, there are, somewhere in the world, genocides happening now, too and what can we do? Still it is amazing. I cannot understand how that can happen. How can thousands of people are just killed, for what? Because, what is their fault? We should take our own responsibility, our own part of this. Because whole world was quite when this genocide was happening. They were frozen, quiet. Maybe somehow they could stop this, stop the terror going crazy in the world. Because they take their own part as quiet, now it’s time to wake up. Finally you can smile looking to my eyes. When your country recognizes, simple people, they can make some change. You can breathe differently. When the government say “Let us talk about this”…. So it’s time to wake up, for people, for governments. Any other questions?

Originally, you are from Mush, but you were born in Yerevan. Maybe we can talk about the differences between the traditional music of East and West Armenia.

We can talk about a beautiful culture thanks to these genocide survivors. They, as I said, they lost everything but they kept the culture. We have so much rich heritage and people now live in same regions. Kurds, Turks, whoever lives now in my people’s houses. I was there, I saw the houses. They were built hundred years ago; it is still the same with Armenian. Nice, big houses, such nice gardens, such nice houses. Everything is connected with culture. In my house, we eat the same food, which my grandparents were eating in Mush. In addition, I do not know, I grew up with... If I try to compare the culture, it was created in Eastern Armenia. A lot of Soviet influence in the culture, which was created in Soviet times. However, we have these nice two languages: Eastern Armenian and Western Armenian. Armenians around the world after the genocide, everywhere they built churches, schools and they kept the language. In anywhere they stayed longer than one month, they built churches. Besides the churches, they built schools and they kept the language. Eastern and Western. Besides these two, let us say, official Armenian languages; we have hundreds of dialects. Even now, in Southern Armenia, the dialect people speak cannot be understood in Northern Armenia. It is a little bit funny but it makes the music very rich. Because the music comes from the language, how your language sounds. Yesterday we were talking about the same music. How can a Turkish musician improvise a melody and how can the same melody be improvised by Armenian musician, right? Improvisation is the logic and in anything you do, there is no way you think out of your language. You think with your language. Of course, your thinking is different from mine, because I think in Armenian. Language is song. Anybody in Armenia sings from their nose, we call that ‘’Oh this is Turkish singing style’’. This is not bad. Because your language sounds from here (the nose). If I close my nose, it is impossible to speak Turkish. Nevertheless, I am very proud of Istanbul Armenians. I can tell you the names of who were founders of classical Turkish music. You know that, you are musicians, you cannot refuse that. So many things Armenian musicians did for Turkish culture. Somebody told me in a Turkish radio that there are countless pieces of Armenian composers recorded in Istanbul. We sometimes talk about cultural exchange. Of course nations live together, who are neighbors. Influence is not a bad thing. It is normal, it is natural. Because I remember, in my house, my family was eating different food from the genocide survivors who lived in Egypt. Then, in 1947-48, many Armenians moved to Soviet Armenia. They were eating different food. It is the culture, part of the culture, right? And we started to learn from them how to make baklava. We have famous styles of making baklava too but it is completely different.. Then we started to eat olives. We had no idea about olives. When my father was going to the neighbor’s house for the New Year, he brought içli köftes. Therefore, you eat what your neighbors are eating. Therefore, that is part of the culture. It is shortly impossible to be uninfluenced by something. When I was young, I was imitating European stars, singing songs, trying to dance. That is normal for the start for whoever makes first steps in something. Like painters. They go to Louvre, France, Italy to study but that does not mean they try to paint Mona Lisa. That is the start.

If we go back, Armenians spread cultural heritage everywhere. It’s not only in Turkey. Anywhere they live, they created, they built, and they had big influence on local culture. There is a very good joke about Armenians. In the hotels, they say, they do not give Armenians rooms more than for a week, because the next week they are starting to renovate, build it their own way. So anywhere we go, we don’t feel like we are immigrants. However, unfortunately, it would be so nice to live in your ancestors’, let’s say, home. Like my husband, he is one of genocide survivors' grandsons too. Sometimes we are thinking, "Why don't we buy a house in Mush and live a part of the year in Mush and part of the year live in Yerevan?" That is how you can feel more connected with your roots. It is the same for me. So it is like my grandparents. They never liked Soviet Armenia. But they were very successful. If you look at from this side, it looks like everything was perfect in their lives, but it wasn't. Nothing could make them happy, nothing... In their dreams every night, they were in their homeland. Isn't that funny? We should be lucky to have that strong, deep feeling about something. We should appreciate anything that we have now because sometimes we live but we don't appreciate whatever we have. When you lose it, then you understand that it was very important in your life. When you have it, you don’t pay enough attention. That is the same thing with people. I do not think Turkey got some benefits besides Armenians' bank accounts, houses or lands. Culturally they lost many things. They put their own people under a burden of hundreds of years of back. The responsibility should be taken. It's enough. It's enough to lie, it's enough to live with that lie. Let us look forward, right? What do you think?

Yes, we have to face the truth.

Yes, why not? Why are they scared? You can open many closed doors in your life if you throw away that pain, that mistake. I wish you and I can see that day. So, but for now, let us just sing together, and wish about something that we can make this world better.