By Dr. Kay Mouradian
I first heard about Ayline Amirayan’s talent from her voice coach Charles Gevoian whose tenor voice is well known here in Southern California. When Gevoian told me Ayline would perform her first original song Forget Me Not for the 100thcommemoration at Montebello’s Armenian Genocide Memorial last April, I made a special effort to be there. When Gevoian opened the program with the finest rendition I have ever heard of The Star Spangled Banner, I knew the entire program would be filled with quality. I was not disappointed.
The Montebello Genocide Memorial opened in April 1968 and is the oldest memorial in the United States dedicated to Armenian Genocide victims. A yearly outdoor memorial service held every April attracts members of the Armenian community from all over the California southland and a capacity crowd of more than 500 attended the 1915 Centennial event on April 23rd.
Two well-known Armenian bands, the Element Band and the Greg Hosharian Band, along with solo vocalist Ayline Amirayan, helped elevate the somber energy. As I listened to Ayline, who was accompanied by pianist Greg Hosharian, violinist Garik Terzian and percussionist George Bilezikjian, I wondered why I previously had not heard of her.
Amirayan opened with three Armenian songs and her obvious love for Armenian music resonated throughout the audience and affected me deeply. I, an Armenian American born in Boston, do not speak or understand our Armenian language, and I realize how much of my heritage I have lost.
When I interviewed Ayline Amirayan she told me why she chose the Armenian songs she sang for the Centennial. Her first song “Kani Vur Djan” by Sayat Nova was meant to remind the audience that Sayat Nova’s music lives on and still influences the poetic artistry of the Armenian people.
Her second song “ Yeraz Im Yergir Hyernik” written by Yerevan’s songwriter and musician Robert Amirkhanyan is about the love for Armenia. With today’s talented musicians such as Amirkhanyan, Amirayan understands the preservation, authenticity and beauty of Sayat Nova affecting Armenian music a hundred years later.
Her next song was “Hye Herosneri Yerke”. “I wanted to thank the heroes ofArmenia and honor those brave soldiers who have fought for the Armenian cause,” she said.
Amirayan prepared the audience for her closing song, Forget Me Not. “It was extremely important for me to write Forget Me Not in English”, she said. “As Armenians we know our story. For 100 years we’ve heard horrific stories through the eyes of our parents and grand parents. But I wanted the lyrics to be in English so non-Armenians would understand and feel why the title is “Forget Me Not!”
When I listened to her latest rendition of Forget Me Not, the melody and lyrics kept playing over and over in my head, which suggests to me that this is a song that will be remembered. I wanted to know and asked her about her creative process.
“The melancholy melody came to me easily as I pictured my ancestors,” Amirayan said. “The lyrics spoke to me through the forget me not flower, and I sang the song as if I were the flower itself. My voice reflects the flower’s black circle with the dark aftermath, the purple colors stretch toward unity and the yellow heart of the flower speaks to my vision of hope and my love for creativity.”
The day after the Montebello event Amirayan joined 160,000 Armenians in the April 24th 6 mile Marching to Justice walk in Los Angeles from Little Armenia in Hollywood to the Turkish consulate in Westward. “We have a beautiful culture,” she told me and added, “the strength and determination of the march says we are all here, we hear the voices of our ancestors and as I walked uphill and looked back it was as if I saw thousands of our ancestors marching out of Turkeytoward Dier el Zor. But, we were marching not to death. We were marching toward life.
“We are still here and free,” she continued. “Not marching to death but marching to freedom. How could an Armenian not be proud? We are unique. Hearing stories like my grandfather, who at age six, while hidden in the barn, witnessed Turkish soldiers decapitate his three older brothers. We are the voices of those children who survived because of their strength. Had my grandfather been killed I wouldn’t be here today.”
The story how Amirayan’s grandfather survived is every Armenian’s story. It has taken 100 years for the world to recognize the depth of our Armenian loss in 1915 and Amirayan’s first songwriting experience gives our community a musical rendition of our tragedy. Forget Me Not needs to be in every Armenian home to acknowledge those who never returned.
Who knows how many beyond our community will be affected listening to the haunting melody and even just the first verse? “My black eye weeps a suffering tear, Painful dark memories of 100 years. My heart wilts, my soul is denied, I cry out for truth for those who died.”
Dr. Kay Mouradian is an educator, filmmaker, and author of My Mother’s Voice, a book depicting her mother’s story as a victim and survivor of the Armenian Genocide. She also wrote, narrated, and co-produced My Mother’s Voice, a documentary based on her book. She holds a doctorate in education from Nova Southeastern University and holds degrees from Boston University and UCLA.