Music of Armenia commemorated 99th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide

99 Pomegranates

London, 28 April 2014 | Fulya Burke for Music of Armenia

An evening of music and friendship. 

Music of Armenia, in association with SOAS Armenian Society, hosted an event called "99 Pomegranates"; an evening of Armenian music and culture dedicated to the 99th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. Performed by Armenian, Kurdish and Turkish artists, the event also celebrated life, music, art and friendship. The host of the event, Nouritza Matossian, a writer and the director of the Armenian Institute in London, said that this is an evening that Hrant Dink, the late assassinated Armenian-Turkish journalist would have wished for. Hasmik Movsisian, the event's organiser and the Executive Director of Music of Armenia, closed the evening with calls for friendship, love and respect especially among the nations which were affected by the April 1915 massacre.

The well received event included a dance piece by Alexandre Kharibian, which was performed by Lusine Hakobyan, live music performances by Suna Alan and Awaz Group, Olcay Bayir, and two poem recitals by Natalie Manoukian and Anna Delaney.

Inspired by her grandmother's life, who survived the death march in 1915, and the idea of "what would you take with you if you knew you would never go back?", the costume designer, Alexandra Kharibian's heart-wrenching dance piece "The Walk to Ras Al Ain" depicted the death march to the Syrian desert. Based on traditional Armenian costume, an eye-catching red velvet dress, embroidered and decorated with Armenian symbols and plaited black hair, symbolised the Armenian life and roots in villages before it was wiped out. Soon after, this beautiful dress was packed into a bundle for the portrayal of the journey under a scorching sun. Developed with the Armenian movements and hand gestures, Kharibian's piece was performed by Lucine Hakobyan. Barefoot and hunched, teetering under her load, grief-stricken Hakobyan laid various sizes and colours of T-shirts every few steps, gently stroking them before moving on, representing the people she left behind in the desert.

Traditional Armenian and Kurdish folk songs were performed by London based singer Suna Alan and her band "Awaz Group" consisting of Kurdish and Turkish musicians, who were followed by singer Olcay Bayir and her accompanists. Acclaimed Armenian-American writer William Saroyan's poem "The Armenian and The Armenian" was recited by a hip hop artist Natalie Manoukian ('Miss Trouble MC). Another poem called "We are few but we are called Armenians" by Paruyr Sevak, who is considered one of the greatest Armenian poets of the 20th century, was read by Anna Delaney. At the end of the programme, in memory of the late Armenian-Turkish journalist Hrant Dink, his favourite song Sari Gyalin was sung by Suna Alan, the vocalist of Awaz Group.

Wearing a Syrian coat for the event, the host Nouritza Matossian said: "The Armenian editor Hrant Dink encouraged us to make friends with our neighbours; with Kurds, Armenians, Alevis, Turks and this is exactly the sort of evening that we should be having over and over again. Making it even bigger."

The founder and the executive director of Music of Armenia, Hasmik Movsisian, mentioned that the idea of organising "99 Pomegranates" came about when she heard of "Yerkaran", a few months ago. A new CD of Armenian, Turkish and Kurdish folk music preserved by Armenian composer Komitas. "The CD was released in Turkey by a Turkish record label. After a thorough research, I found out that it was not initiated by Armenian musicians but by Turkish and Kurdish musicians. When I spoke to a few of the musicians involved in the project, to my surprise, I discovered that Komitas was not only an important figure in Armenian music but also the Turkish and Kurdish musical legacies. The musicians spoke of him and his work with the highest respect, which is why I decided to include Turkish and Kurdish musicians in my next project. Since April 24 was approaching fast, I decided to organise a concert to commemorate the 99th anniversary of the Genocide but I also wanted to celebrate the music, the culture and mainly to underline the friendship among the three nations and so '99 Pomegranates' was born. The name of the concert came about when I saw a beautiful photo of a woman sitting on a chair in a red dress, holding pomegranates. Immediately, I contacting the author of the photograph (Mike Pavlovsky who lives in Russia) who kindly allowed us to use the photo as the poster of the event. The name '99 Pomegranates' is symbolic, referring to each year of the anniversary of the Armenian Genocide."

Movsisian said that everyone she contacted had positive remarks about the idea. "I first contacted Turkish and Kurdish musicians in London and without an exception, they all agreed to perform at the concert. I am proud to say that it is probably one of very few concerts where the three nations have come together to commemorate this historic event. The event was not 'political' but it celebrated life and friendship. Everybody had positive and encouraging comments and a big number of the performers and the attendees were Turkish or Kurdish."

Calling for friendship and love Hasmik Movsisian emphasised the significance of music and art. "Life continues and it is very important that we are able to move forward in a positive light, while preserving and respecting the past and our cultural heritage."