By Aram Arkun
WATERTOWN — Actor and director Gerald Papasian screened a video recording of the opera buffa “Gariné” on March 6 at the newly renovated Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU) center in Watertown and afterwards spoke about the research and support necessary to allow such jewels of Armenian heritage to be studied and made accessible. The event, cosponsored by the Amaras Art Alliance, the AGBU New England District Chapter, and the Tekeyan Cultural Association, included a dinner intermission.
The video of “Gariné,” a musical Papasian directed in France based on Dikran Tchouhadjian’s “Leblebiji Horhor Agha,” was an entertaining musical which, despite a relatively restricted budget, held its own and more compared to professional Parisian productions. Papasian in his talk spoke about the oblivion to which Armenian cultural and intellectual works have been condemned in the Western world. Without translation into English, French or other Western languages, they cannot be directly accessed despite their great value. Performance, of course, would be the next step ideally for theatrical and musical works.
The fate of Tchouhadjian’s works is a telling example. His “Arshak II,” the first Armenian and, for that matter, the first Eastern, opera, has been awaiting an authentic professional production for about 150 years, while just in the last year new more complete versions of “Leblebiji Horhor Agha” were discovered in a large French company’s archive. It was left to Papasian to pay for a copy of Tchouhadjian’s papers as an individual, but he still needs funds to scan more than 2,000 pages of scores and musical notations.
Armenians, said Papasian, are like shopkeepers who have nothing displayed in their store window and cry that nobody is coming into their store. Yet they have valuable items in the back of the store.
Papasian pointed out that Armenians have all kinds of organizations raising money for causes, including very important ones like aid to Armenia or building churches and schools, but there is no organization that specializes in supporting cultural and artistic work, and the performing arts in particular. Aside from the cost of research, musical productions like that of “Gariné” are quite expensive, and can run into hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Making world-class works of Armenian art, drama, music and literature accessible to the world is important for maintaining Armenian identity in the diaspora. It allows a legitimate pride in Armenian culture, which in turn makes the Armenian identity attractive. Papasian declared that after the performance of the “Anoush” opera in Michigan, many Armenian-American musicians came out from the woodworks and expressed an interest in learning more about Armenian music. Many non-Armenians also become interested and learn more on their own to promote Armenian culture.
It also sometimes leads to unexpected results. Somehow, for example, people think about the Armenian Genocide after coming into contact with Armenian cultural productions that have no direct connection with this tragic event. A local French mayor without prompting after a performance of “Gariné” remarked in public that this joyful entertainment was created and presented by a people that suffered genocide in 1915. A Turkish theater owner in England invited Papasian to present a performance in London on the occasion of the Genocide centennial.