Armenian performers find appreciation, dialogue with Turk audiences
23 July 2004

Art Over Obstacles: Armenian performers find appreciation and dialogue with
Turkish audiences

By Gayane Abrahamyan
ArmeniaNow arts reporter

While diplomacy seems at a stalemate in relations between Turkey and
Armenia, exchange of culture shows more signs of reaching

Last month, the 12-member Armenian Navy Band returned from Turkey
after a successful tour. Earlier in the spring, the Sundukyan National
Academic Theater performed there. And at about the same time, dudukist
Jivan Gasparyan toured Turkey.

The Sundukyan Theater had success in Turkey.

“Artists have recently made serious steps in Armenian-Turkish
relations and probably we can obtain successes there where diplomats
fail,” says Sundukyan art director Vahe Shahverdyan.

Over his long career, Gasparyan has seen some softening of cultural
borders. During Soviet times, he was invited to play in Turkey with a
Russian ensemble. But the only way he could get a visa is if he
changed his surname. Of course he refused.

But in 2000, he finally got the chance to play there on the invitation
of Swiss harpist Andreas Vollenweider.

“When I got off the plane I was alone in a foreign and, significantly,
in the country of my ‘enemy’. I had never been so excited,” Gasparyan
recalls. “Suddenly I saw a Turk with big piece of paper with
‘Gasparyan’ written on it approaching me. They took my passport for
putting entry visa on it. In two minutes they returned and without
even a customs check I left the territory of the airport. Outside the
airport a limousine was waiting for me. Then I was taken to luxurious
five-star hotel.”

The duduk player was surprised with the special attention he received,
including a standing ovation.

“My performance was a part of Vollenweider’s concert program and
before announcing the names of artists audience didn’t know who
performed except Vollenweider at the concert. When my name was
announced silence fell in the concert hall for a moment and suddenly
the audience burst into applause,” says Gasparyan, still excited by
the moment.

Arto: “Citizen of the planet”

His concert with Vollenweider led to four solo tours and several
recordings in Turkey.

This spring’s concerts included conversations between the audience and
the artist, including sensitive political topics.

Turkish media highlighted Gasparyan’s responses: “We artists don’t
want to be involved in politics. We make efforts to strengthen
relations between nations with the help of our art. There is no nation
to wish a war and I’m glad that with my music I contribute to
establishment of kind and good relations.”

On the eve of his concert, Gasparyan attended the concert of Turkish
singer Sezen Agsu. When Agsu saw Gasparyan sitting in the hall she
left the stage and hugged him. Then standing on the stage she said: “A
perfect musician is now in this hall. I’ve been listening to his works
for 20 years and every time I’ve been touched with them.”

The Sundukyan Theater felt similar appreciation during two tours this
year, including participation in the Festival of Black Sea Countries,
in Trabzon.

People’s Artist Lorents Arushanyan says the festival was a serious
test for them, during which they managed to overcome years of
barriers. “Of course, even if they carried us in their arms we would
never forget our judgment, our ancestors’ judgment, but with such
cultural cooperation we in some measure will probably contribute to a
solution of political problems,” he says.

The spring visit was the third time the Armenian Navy Band has played

It’s founder, Arto Tunchboyajyan was born in Turkey, but maintains a
universal attitude concerning nationality, often expressed in ANB

I am a citizen of the planet earth and with my art I’m finding ways of
trust towards everyone despite their nationality. Of course, it
doesn’t mean I forget about history. I know better than anyone about
our bitter days,” Tunchboyajyan says.

Gasparyan: “I had never been so excited.”

Saxophonist David Nalchajyan says art is very strong and powerful
tool. And in the case of ANB, it is complemented with comments by
Tunchboyajyan about regional relations that sometimes are

“Our concerts are very free. Often they are full of conversations and
during concerts Arto has dialogues with Turkish audience and tells
about their defects and other things,” says Nalchajyan.

Nalchajyan says some people walked out of the hall. “But young people
have free approaches and even they ask about Armenian questions. They
simply don’ t know anything as they were told a completely different
story and that is what should be changed.”

Political analyst Slavik Minasyan regards such Armenian-Turkish
cultural developments to be diplomatic progress, which can contribute
to friendship without violating national dignity and without burying
history in oblivion. But, he recalls that, although Armenian artists
have been received in Turkey, there has been no reciprocation. In
fact, even a Turkish film was banned from “Private Look”, an
international festival here two years ago.

Many people criticize artists for going to Turkey. But these people
wear Turkish clothes and use different goods of Turkish production,”
he says. “Why shouldn’t we import our art. Let them see that despite
that their ancestors committed genocide, Armenians continues to live.”