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Mаry Mamyan

A Life Devoted to the Arts: 86 Year-Old Souren Still Oversees the Museum He Founded

86 year-old Souren Abovyan assures me that his ‘kamancha’ (bowed string instrument) not only plays beautifully but ‘speaks’. And because the ‘naughty’ instrument is ‘upset’, Souren says the instrument will only speak to its master.

Souren Abovyan has difficulty telling me what his profession is; his range of interests is so diverse.

But neighbors know him as the founder of the history museum in the Tavoush village of Koghb. Now, due to medical reasons, he can’t get to the museum that frequently. Instead, Souren telephones the museum daily to check up on things.

When he does make it to the museum, Souren always brings some artifact – an old photo or manuscript - to add to the collection.

Visitors lucky enough to make it to the museum when Souren is there get to hear the master play on the instrument he calls ‘Harout’, in a nod to the Armenian bard Sayat-Nova. The instrument was gifted to Souren by Armenia’s People’s Artist Artem Mejinyan at a music competition.

Souren confesses that after all these years he still doesn’t play the kemancha that well. He played the zourna (traditional wind instrument) and clarinet continuously at village weddings and funerals.

A 1957 music competition is etched in Souren’s memory. It was for soloists and in attendance was the master doudouk (traditional wind instrument) player Jivan Gasparyan. When it was his turn to display his talents, Souren played eight stringed instruments back to back.

When he was done the famous musician Tatoul Altounyan came on stage and exclaimed, “Het boy, what are you doing?” Souren says, with a hint of pride, that he responded, “I finished playing all my instruments. If there are others, bring them and I’ll play.”

Souren has also dabbled in painting and sculpture; the arts in general. Several khachkars (stone crosses) in his village are his work.

When he started the history museum, Souren went around to all the residents and instructed them to dig out whatever old items they had lying around. And the villagers are still bringing items to the museum, so much so that there isn’t space to display them all.

“My entire idea is to be of service to the village, to add something to it, to make the museum a little better,” Souren says.

Along with founding the museum, Souren sat down and wrote the history of this native village Koghb. Right now he’s working on the second volume. He knows all the places, figures and events by heart.

“I am proud to hail from Koghb. Travel the world and you won’t find such a beautiful gorge like the one we have here,” Souren beams.

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