Tuesday, April 30, 2013

In Memory of the Armenian Genocide of 1915

click on the above link to hear "Derzor Dasdanaaci" by Vahan Boyajian

First a couple notes, yes I know I'm almost a week late on this, but what can I say. Second, I actually own this same record but when I tried to upload it to Soundcloud it kept coming out extremely soft even though it was playing loud and clear on my iTunes. So that's why we have a link today instead of an embedded track.

Derzor Dasdaanaci means something like "the ballad singer of Derzor" or "one who sings a ballad about Derzor." A destan is a type of Turkish song that I am roughly translating as ballad. And the c is pronounced as a "j" here according to modern Turkish spelling. This song is more commonly known as "Derzor Cheollerinde" (Derzor Çöllerinde) meaning "in the deserts of Derzor." Derzor or Der Zor is the Armenian name for Deir ez-Zor, a city in present day Syria. During the Armenian Genocide of 1915, it was the main destination of the deportations ("death marches") of the Armenians from their homes by the Ottoman Turkish forces. When the Armenians arrived in the desert outside Der Zor, they were killed. Even though it is actually the name of a city in Syria, to most Armenians the words "Der Zor" has no other meaning than "the killing fields."

This song, sung in Turkish, describes the conditions in Der Zor during the genocide. It was apparently composed by those who were on the death march. Dr. Verjine Svazlian has done much research on this and other songs related to the Genocide, all sung in Turkish. A summary of her research can be found here: http://www.cilicia.com/armo_geno-songs.html

The first verse of Boyajian's version goes like this (in phonetic spelling):

Der Zor cheollerinde yarali chokdir - In the deserts of Der Zor there are many wounded
Gelme doktor, gelme, charesi yokdir - Don't come doctor, don't come, there is no remedy
Bir Allahdan gayri hech kimsem yokdir - Aside from the One God I have no one at all
Millet ughurina giden Ermeni - Armenians who go (i.e. march, are deported) for the sake of the Millet

He also ends every verse with that last line. Millet is a special word used in Ottoman Turkish often translated "nation," which in our modern parlance would be translated "ethnic group." The Ottoman Empire had 4 main Millets, the Islamic Millet, the Greek Millet, the Armenian Millet, and the Jewish Millet, in addition to the smaller millets such as the Assyrians or the Protestants. Each ethnic group was self-ruling in internal matters like education, marriage and divorce, and inheritance law. The head of each ethnic group was their religious patriarch, who was directly answerable to the Sultan. Of course in the case of the Muslims, the Sultan himself was basically their patriarch (as the Caliph). So in other words, the Armenians were being deported and killed because of their ethnicity.

Other versions of the song have "Dininin ughurina giden Ermeni" (Armenians who go for the sake of their religion), or "Armenians who die for....."

Vahan Boyajian was an Armenian singer who recorded as far as I can tell, almost exclusively in Turkish. He was an immigrant to the US and recorded here in the 1920s for Columbia as well as his own record label "Bilbil" (Nightingale) as seen in the above video. Here he is accompanied by the typical violin and oud duo.

My great-grandmother Vartanoush narrowly escaped being sent to Der Zor by paying a large bribe to the Turkish gendarmes while the caravan was near the city of Rakka in present day Syria. She and her family crossed the river into Rakka where they lived for a time, before her family all died, she was adopted by Bedouin Arabs, and after the war, sent to an orphanage in Aleppo and subsequently brought to the United States in 1921 to be the bride of my great grandfather Onneg Kezelian. Grandma Vartanoush's sister-in-law Sirvart was not so lucky, however. After being taken to Der Zor, the group she was with was slaughtered. She was cut across the back with a sword and she fell, they thought she died but later someone came and found her and another woman still alive, she was taken away and eventually came to America where she remarried my great-grandfather's cousin - but she had the scar of the sword mark in her back the rest of her life. I could go on and tell about my other great-grandparents that were in the massacres but I'll leave it at that so as to not drag out this post. This post is in memory of all those who died in 1915, and to all those who survived. Asdvadz hokineruh lousavoreh/may God enlighten their souls.

PS here is another version of the song, sung a capella by Vartan Shahpazian from Kharpert, living in Fresno in 1939 http://memory.loc.gov/afc/afccc/audio/a426/a4266b2.wav

It is also interesting to note the similarity of this melody to Gyozals Khrov Eh by Kusan Shahen

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Who Are These Guys?

I've had some requests for more pictures on the blog so here's an interesting one I have come across. These gentlemen are apparently the "Ardziv" Band of Philadelphia. The picture was accompanied by an advertisement for 2 of their records, "Lai-Lai Sofigus" and "Khunchouyki Yerk" along with the lyrics to the songs. (Khunchouyki Yerk is the well known Wine Song or Seghann Eh Arad; Sofig was the second part of the opening number on John Berberian's "Echoes of Armenia" album with Onnik Dinkjian and Armen Babamian on vocals). I have no idea who the guys in this band are, and would welcome any information about them. The picture was cut out of an old Armenian newspaper, I'm guessing from the 1950s based on other clippings found with it. This picture shows a typical Armenian band of the 20s-40s, almost certainly of the immigrant generation. Oud, violin, and drum was a very popular combination in that era. The plucked and sustained sounds of the oud and violin respectively, complement each other, and the drum of course gives the beat. The fact that the oud and violin are both fretless and can play any note also adds to the versatility of this combo.

Since I haven't before, let me also explain the title picture that appears at the top of the blog. This was found in a book on Yerzinga published in Yerevan, but the picture is of a Yerzengatsi picnic in Detroit! As you can tell the picture shows one man playing the oud and another the tambourine while a woman and man dance, and a crowd looks on. (The man dancing with the woman is at the far right). If anyone knows who any of the people are in that picture I would welcome that information as well. The picture is I believe from the 1930s but I am not sure.

For those unfamiliar with Armenian culture the style of dance they are doing is called "tak bar" which is usually a couples dance with a man and a woman, facing each other with arms at shoulder length and forward, sometimes snapping fingers. This is the second most common type of Armenian folk dance, after the line or circle dances where a large group lines up linked by pinkies and dances that way. The Armenian youth today refer "tak bar" in English as "freestyle". As you can see from her face it seems the woman is really feeling the music.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Ode To The Gamavors

Karekin Proodian - Gamavor Zinvor by Harry Kezelian

Hello everyone, the hiatus is over and "Kef Time U.S.A." is officially back in action.

Today's recording, "Gamavor Zinvor" is in 10/8 time and is sung in Armenian by Karekin Proodian with oud and violin accompaniment. (The oud is possibly played by Mr. Proodian himself). This was originally recorded in the 1920's on M.G. Parsekian Records and later in the 20's pressed by Pharos Records, who seem to have bought out MGP (both were independent Armenian record labels). Note the nice taksim intro on the oud.

The lyrics are as follows:

Gamavor zinvor too yes - You are a volunteer (gamavor) soldier
Verkis palasan too yes - You are balm for my wounds
Amen kisher kez g'erazem - Every night I dream of you
Srdis hadoruh too yes - You are a piece of my heart

Yes ullam, yes ullam, hop! - I want to be, I want to be (hop!)*
Koo dadragut yes ullam - I want to be your turtledove
Asdoodzmen meg moorad g'oozem - I want one wish from God
Hureshdagut yes ullam (2nd time: nushanadzut yes ullam) - That I should be your angel (2nd time: that I should be your fiancee)

Guh kales zinvori bes - You walk like a soldier
Getsvadzkut usbayi bes - Your stance like an officer
Ches garogh kudnel aghchig muh - You cannot find a girl
Vor kez sire indzi bes - Who would love you like me

Yes ullam, yes ullam, hop! - I want to be, I want to be, (hop)*
Koo dadragut yes ullam - I want to be your turtledove
Yegeghetsin jermag koghkov - In church, in a white veil
Kovut ganknadz yes ullam - I want to be standing next to you

*Hop or Hopa is an Armenian exclamation similar to the Greek "Opa"

Although gamavor simply means "volunteer" in Armenian, it also has a specific historical connotation. The Gamavors were members of the "Armenian Legion" which fought under French command against the Turks during World War I. The recruits were made up mostly of the Armenian Genocide survivors of Musa Dagh, then living in refugee camps in Port Said, Egypt, and Armenian immigrants living in the US. Musa Dagh was a mountain with 6 Armenian villages just north of Antioch. When the Turkish Army came to deport the Armenians there, the Armenians had engaged in armed resistance and held out until they were rescued by a French battleship. The Armenian Legion fought notably in the Battle of Arara in Palestine and then, with other French forces, moved north into Cilicia, which they occupied while the exiled Armenians returned and declared independence. After a couple years, the new Kemalist Turkish army drove the French out and the (native) Armenians with them. This song is in tribute to those brave soldiers. It was later made popular by Mike Sarkissian - more information about Sarkissian and his version of the song is found on Prof. Leon Janikian's site, The Archive of Armenian Music in America. The song has proved popular and was recorded by John Berberian in '66 (instrumental only), the Vosbikian Band with the late Joe Vosbikian on vocals in  '97, and by Khatchig Jingirian in 2009 (in a 6/8 meter). The beginning of this youtube video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-tTBF201BIU also features the song played by John Tarpinian and Souren Baronian, in a style similar to John Berberian's '66 version - on which Souren played.