So Charles Aznavour, our much beloved chansonnier and Armenian goodwill ambassador to the world, participated at the opening ceremonies of the newly restored Rabat fortress complex in Akhaltska on August 16.
Many Armenians advised him not to take part, but the singer went and gave a concert anyway. After all, his father was born in Akhaltska and he received a personal invitation from Saakashvili.
Those Armenian circles who advised him to gracefully bow out point to the fact that even though the mosque, synagogue and orthodox Christian church at the site were renovated, the Georgian authorities overlooked the Armenian Catholic Church that stands in ruin.
And because Turkey also donated a portion of the renovation funds, certain Armenians declared that Aznavour shouldn’t participate in the opening of a cultural complex that openly rejects a regional Armenian presence.
No one can deny that the Armenian Catholic Church can fall as the next victim of Georgian state policy of assimilation and seizure of the cultural inheritance of minorities, especially the Armenians. This isn’t the first case or the last.
But Aznavour isn’t to blame.
Renovations to Rabat began back in 2007. Alarms were being raised as early as 2010 that demolition work was being carried out in the immediate vicinity of the Armenian Catholic Church that has inscriptions dating to then12th century.
To verify these reports, the RA Ministry of Culture even dispatched the Director of the Scientific Research Center for Cultural Inheritance. He went and confirmed that the church was in real danger.
Afterwards, the lid was shut on this issue. The matter wasn’t even brought up for discussion when Catholicos Garegin II paid a six day pontifical visit to Georgia, even though renovation work was going on at the time. The Armenian side basically displayed inaction regarding the fate of the church.
For Aznavour to have refused to participate, given this attitude of the Armenian government and Church, wouldn’t have been the wisest of choices. How could he have justified his bowing out under such circumstances? Aznavour couldn’t have shouldered the burden personally when Armenia’s government shed itself of such responsibility.
Despite the methods employed by Georgia to renovate that historical-cultural site, it perfectly symbolizes tolerance and mutual understanding as evidenced by the fact that the spiritual values of the three religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – coexist side by side.
Had Aznavour refused to participate in the opening of a memorial site with such meaning, it couldn’t have been viewed as a manifestation of narrow nationalism; something which Aznavour has always been distanced himself from. On the contrary, even if we view his action from the same nationalist prism, by his presence and concert, Aznavour was simply confirming that the region, with its ethnic structure and its historical architectural profile, has historically been Armenian. In reality, this isn’t the issue.
Rabat is a truly wonderful business venture; both from the perspective of preserving and serving up Georgian cultural values and developing the tourist trade on top. Even if the project contains aggressive cultural elements, Georgia is carrying it out with a finely crafted technology and very delicately; by aligning the beneficial with the pleasant and the necessary. This is something that Armenia has never been able to do.
Aznavour can’t be blamed that in Armenia there isn’t the desire or the ability to carry out such extensive projects. The singer is not guilty because we can’t even preserve that which we have, and are only adept at building places to fill our stomachs. The little we have worthy of preserving has been swallowed up with a network of infrastructure that is crass and laughable. We are so provincial at times that we make “Evro” renovations to our cultural sites, and have turned them into garbage dumps, both inside and out.
Aznavour isn’t to blame that Rabat is located in neigh boring Georgia, where his father’s roots are from. Rabat painfully reminds us that noting on such a scale has been done in Armenia during that past twenty years. And we constantly point out that tourism is a leading sector of the Armenian economy. Who are we kidding?
The only achievement we can look to with some sense of pride is the aerial cable car at Tatev; but it only operates six months out of the year.
Those who criticize Aznavour have nothing to say about all this. They are trying to turn him into a scapegoat for all the inadequacies and faults of the nation at large. These people want to conveniently rid themselves of accountability and find blame with others; not themselves.
But the, it’s always been easier to find fault in others and not within oneself.
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