Ruben Hakhverdyan: "These are times out of synch"
An interview with the popular Armenian song writer and performer Why hasn't a "spiritual" Armenia taken shape? We must not forget that not much time has past from the battle of Sardarabad in 1918 till today. I believe that we have recently come to realize that "Sardarabad" continues. Let me start at the core of the matter. What we have today is a continuation of the Soviet period, it is not against the Soviet experience. We are still thinking using old standards. Where does the term "mijotsarum" (event) derive from and what does it mean? It's a Soviet holdover and 90% of the lexicon used by the Minister of Culture and the other government officials are comprised of such terminology. These petrified words that should have been tossed out a long time ago, but we hold on to them. I have always believed that our "spiritual" Armenia existed in the 19th and 20th centuries, right up until the start of the Genocide because the bulk of our intelligentsia was based in Western Armenia. It seemed that there was the fertile land where the brabion flower would blossom after Siamanto and Roupen Sevag. All our misfortunes stem from our greatest national misfortune that occurred in the early 20th century. There was such a spiritual Armenia at the beginning of the 20th century but they wiped it away. The second manifestation was in the 1920's, but that too was cut down. The third occurred in 1937, but that too was razed. When we use the term "intellectual", I do not mean someone who can use a knife and fork, but rather "homo sapiens", a national elite. Today, there is no such national elite. What we have are certain individuals, personalities, but this is no basis on which to develop. There is another paradox. Our nation gives birth to heroes at the most crucial times. This, perhaps, is common with all people. At these times, poets sing their words accompanied by the guitar. It is a popular medium that best expresses our concerns. There has come a time when people no longer read book. Singing is one of the mediums used to preserve the Armenian language. Now they want to open Russian schools; the greatest display of groveling before Russia, our inimical brother. Yes, this reminds one of the Russian polygon. They have their bases and will turn the gas on and off when they wish, or raise the price. These are times that are quite out of synch with what is needed. Our language is losing out to the influence of TV, a powerful medium when it comes to consolidating a language. But in Armenia, these shows are hosted by people who cannot speak Armenian. They might use Armenian words but the language they speak might as well be that used by the Eskimos. This is the fault of Russian schools. I have friends who, after graduating from Russian schools, would write songs using Armenian but the syntax would be in Russian. I would have to edit their songs. We have sold everything, nothing remains. So now must we sell off our language as well? Our greatest treasure and layer of defense is our language, not a landscape painting of Masis. Tragically, today we have no national leaders in politics today; what we have our businessmen. From the first president on down to the last, they come with their ladle to feed. They make sure to line their pockets and take care of their relatives and close friends as well. Then they sit back in their easy chair and see themselves as the president of this country. But he's no president, because rather than serving his nation, he places the nation at his beck and call; to serve his needs and the needs of those like him. So, can we now say that a spiritual Armenia doesn't exist because there is no nation of Armenia? Levon Nersisyan told me that I shouldn't go searching for "a spiritual Armenia when there is no Armenian nation". Yes, he put it quite succinctly. There is nothing to add. How do we resolve the situation? The most horrible thing that is now taking place is that Armenia's rural residents, the villagers, are leaving the land. Our young generation, people with something to say and contribute, are in the midst of an internal migration. Ask any of them and they will tell you that they would prefer to live in America or France; anywhere but here. It reminds one of Griboyedov's satirical work "Woe of Wit", 'Get out, get out of Moscow!'. Is this a product of our mentality? Armenia's Republican Party, now in power, is a conformist party. It has devalued everything. If you ask them, they will say they are a unifying, centralizing party. They cite the Armenian activist Nzhdeh but have not read his writings. OK, but I asked about how we might extricate ourselves from this situation. An exit is also an entrance. You must first exit to see that you have entered the wrong door. We say that you have entered the wrong door, but they are even leading us down a certain path. Then they say that they are correct. If you recall, all our leaders, starting with Levon Ter-Petrosyan till now, have never apologized for their mistakes. They have never stated that they made terrible errors, starting with environmental issues and ending with the ecology of language, of culture; they destroyed it. It reminds one of Pushkin's "Three Date Trees". They came to drink water from the spring, spat in the water, and continued on their journey. The children of our leaders, who have grown rich off the people's money, are leaving Armenia and now have houses abroad. Their kids ask, 'what are we doing here in Armenia? We have the chance to live in a country that is already developed.' So they go and become fourth-class citizens in there new home. Because a foreigner always remains as foreigner in a foreign land. Why do continue to sing in this country? I am like a machine that hasn't yet broken down. Are you saying that this environment is fertile ground for you? No. If if was fertile ground, I'd be writing more songs. A song isn't just about rebellion. It is first a means at language preservation; a means to show love for the nation and the language. Why do people like your songs? I couldn't say. And why don't they like you? Who knows. You should ask them, not me. Maybe because I am right, because I am free and they are not. Do you find it easy to speak during a concert? The genre makes it easy. Name a subject and I've talked about it during a concert. It's a type of urban song, not some operatic aria. I feel that I've been wasting away my life for so long. I mean, what am I singing for? I probably could have sucked-up to the powers that be and would have had many friends in all three Armenian governments. But you have good relations with members of the government; no? Yes, they like me. They like to be caressed. It offers them pleasure. Afterwards, though, what happens is that they stop liking you. I just keep my distance. I know not to get too close. They try to approach me but they know that I'm not that animal that they can tame. I will never be tamed. I should add that during the elections you start to become active. I always defend the weaker side. For example, the ARF requested that I write a song. I did, with a caveat. That they don't change the words. The song was downloaded into many cell phones during the election campaign. What I mean is that all our singers make appearances during the campaign, including Ruben Hakhverdyan. Sure, but on the other side. What's the difference. They still spin you like a top. Aren't you being used? If I am standing shoulder to shoulder with Hrant Khachatryan, it's the same. He won't be elected and I know it. But why are the people so captivated; do they want to lose? Recently Vahan Hovhannisyan (ARF MP), said 'you know, you really say much that is correct.' How can you have either much or less correct. I don't understand. It's either black or white. When they say to back off a bit, don't cross the line, that too is a Soviet holdover. Who decides where the line should be drawn? They ask me why I criticized this or that person, don't we get along? In other words, if someone tortures the Armenian language when they speak it, I shouldn't tell the person that he or she doesn't know how to speak Armenian and shouldn't have been given TV air time? Is that right? Let's get real here. A national leader is one who puts aside his or her personal interests and becomes a dedicated servant of the nation. What we have today know nothing about dedication or serviece. Photo by Gagik Shamshyan