Forget Me Not

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.

Turkish Delights and Armenian Plights

By Avo John Kambourian (Guest Contributor)

Throughout my childhood I knew, quite extensively, about my Armenian heritage. My understanding of culture came from observing my family members. My parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins were like the lens of a camera through which I saw and experienced the world.

My parents met in Los Angeles after fleeing during the civil war in Beirut. Similarly, their grandparents had no choice but to flee from their homes in historic Armenia; places like Ourfa and Marash in present day Eastern Turkey. Whether it was enduring the horrific days of the genocide, struggling in the Middle East, or immigrating to the United States, each generation faced its own unique set of challenges but never failed to preserve our ancient culture. Knowing about these struggles made me cherish this rich culture that had been passed down from generation to generation.

But there were moments in my childhood that left me confused. Occasionally, I would hear my parents play Turkish songs or notice my grandparents transfixed by the compelling drama of a Turkish soap opera. This was a stark contrast to what I had been taught growing up: to consciously refrain myself from enjoying anything Turkish (because of Turkey’s lack of acknowledgment that there was a genocide), with the exception of Turkish delights, because no one with taste buds can avoid enjoying these. This duality struck me in an odd way.

In 2009, during my second year of college, I watched a concert film called Dave Chappelles Block Party, directed by Michel Gondry. This was a film about a block party in Brooklyn, NYC, hosted by world famous comedian Dave Chappelle.

Chappelle had musical guests on his sketch comedy show, which helped spread the word about artists like Kanye West, Mos Def, The Roots, Common, Jill Scott, and Erykah Badu, pretty early on in their careers.

So when I watched the film, two things happened. First, I became transfixed by the way live music was being shown in the film. It was unlike anything I’d ever seen before, and I got very much into photographing shows and concerts solely because of it. Second, I started listening to some of the artists, primarily Brooklyn based artist Mos Def because I felt so aligned with his words about life, humanity, and injustice.

Saying that Most Def’s album The Ecstatic blew me away is an understatement. That album helped define a lot of my core political beliefs. What drew me to that album was Def’s interesting mix of diverse beats and sounds paired with his dark poetic lyrics.

Here’s his single off that album, called Supermagic, with a short intro by Malcolm X.

The song was somewhat of a revelation for me. It sounded so familiar, yet was like nothing I had ever heard before. After a quick search online I found out that Mos Def had actually sampled a Turkish song.

Why would he open his album with THIS song? Why? I was appalled, but I was also curious. When I looked up the translation for the lyrics I remember being very skeptical about what they might be. I was thinking it was probably about something I couldn’t relate to, but boy was I wrong.

I found out that the original song, Ince Ince, which means flaked in Turkish, is a song from the Turkish psychedelic folk artist Selda Bagcan. She is widely regarded in Turkey as a prominent left-wing folk singer.

To me she’s like a fusion of Janice Joplin and Jimi Hendrix. And I was amazed to read about such a prominent leftist figure in Turkey. I couldn’t stop listening to her music, and I couldn’t help but feel like a kid with a box of Turkish Delights.

The song, as it turns out, is about the mistreated minorities of Turkey, the people that were flaked by their government. In the second verse, Bagcan even calls out her government by saying:

Why isn’t Ourfa like your Istanbul?*
Poor Marash, dry Ourfa, what about Diyarbakır?
We’re doomed, we’re dead, a drop of water
Come now sir, please

It was like the song was calling out to me since the beginning. The mentioning of Marash and Ourfa, my ancestral villages, really struck a chord with me. Suddenly it all made sense, I understood why Mos Def had chosen to use this song to open his album and why Selda’s music resonated with me, even before I knew what the lyrics meant.

Here is Ince Ince in its entirety:

To me this song is about a region of the world still affected by its past, an oppressive government that continues to marginalize a vast majority of its population.

When we talk about Turkey, it’s important for us to remember that we’re talking about a country built on the spilt blood of our ancestors. But we shouldn’t forget about the many other minorities who are still being oppressed in that country today.

What I realized is that we, Armenians and Turks, aren’t all that different. I believe it’s vital for us to find a commonality between ourselves and our so-called enemies, not in acts of forgiveness, but in order to seek a common understanding. Although cultural identity may be established during the first few years of one’s life, I think any good work of art has the power to open eyes and connect people of all backgrounds; whether it be music, writing, or film, as long as it’s done with respect for telling a common story, something we can all relate to.

Avo John Kambourian is a filmmaker from Sherman Oaks, California. He holds a degree in Communication from UC San Diego, and claims to be really good behind the grill. His favorite films are Back to the Future, Godfather II, and Boogie Nights. Hes currently working on a documentary series called Echoes of Survival, which follows a diverse group of Armenian artists in the United States, whose works are directly influenced by their Armenian identity.