Sing Along. Or Not.: Debate still the loudest tune in selection of anthem

Since announcing competition a few months ago for a new Republic of Armenia anthem the 25-member contest commission has received 83 submissions from noted composers and unknown artists.

Last week the five pieces short-listed for further consideration were submitted for public judgment.

Art authorities and politicians became as animated and uncompromising in the discussion as in politics.

The commission itself was not without incident. Davit Hovhannes, a writer and commission member, felt insulted and withdrew from the body. The Supreme Body of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) in Armenia stated on September 1 it was suspending the activities of its member in the commission.

In defense of the current anthem, ARF submitted a draft law on “The Anthem of RA” recommending to keep “Our Fatherland” as the anthem.

“How can we choose the RA anthem using the same logic as at Eurovision or Pop Idol contests? This is not a contest for the best song, it should be formed during a certain period of time,” says Member of the National Assembly Spartak Seyranyan (ARF). “ ‘Our Fatherland’ has passed through wars, aspiring soldiers to heroism at the battles of Sardarapat and Van.”

No statements in defense of the current anthem had been made before the commission was formed. Even more, there were many who insisted on replacing it with the anthem of Soviet Armenia (in May some 37 art experts and representatives of intelligentsia appealed to the President to restore the anthem by Aram Khachaturian). (“New Tune for New Times”)

Only one commission member, Paruyr Hayrikyan, Chairman of the National Self-Determination Union, supported keeping the current hymn.

“The anthem should not be a matter of ambitious political speculations. Kocharyan dislikes the anthem the Armenian All-National Movement has adopted, but it’s not theirs,” says Hairikyan. “This anthem has a history; we have won and celebrated our victories with it.”

Selecting a new anthem became a matter of other speculations, besides political.

Hovhannes said he left the commission because of an atmosphere of injustice.

“Two of the five options short-listed for the second tour are criminal. I couldn’t work in those conditions,” says Hovhannes, referring by “criminal” to the lyrics for Khachaturian’s anthem, written by Arsen Soghomonyan.

He believes it was chosen because Soghomonyan is the Ministry of Culture’s Head of Youth Strategy Department.

The second “criminal” piece belongs to Ararat B (pseudonym) for Yerznkyan’s music.

Hovhannes is confident the man behind pseudonym Ararat B is Razmik Davoyan, a writer and President’s former advisor, who was a member of the commission and had no right to participate in the contest.

“For three months I had been asking who was behind that Ararat B, so when his lyrics were short-listed it became extremely important for me to identify the author. But my questions remained unanswered, so I slammed the door and left,” says the writer.

ArmeniaNow made numerous attempts to get comments on the matter from Razmik Davoyan. Each time, he hung up the phone after hearing the question.

Composer Robert Amirkhanyan is also discontent with the contest. He believes it was a mere formality, since there had been ideas of restoring Khachaturian’s anthem even before the competition.

“This was not a contest, but a show,” says Amirkhanyan, the Chairman of Armenia’s Union of Composers. “It was a mistake to adopt this four-bar terrible thing 15 years ago. Another big mistake will be to adopt the Soviet one now.”

“Khachaturian was renowned not for the anthem, but for pieces like ballets ‘Spartak’ (‘Spartacus’) or ‘Gayane’. His anthem met the requirements of social realism, but it’s not fit for today’s Armenia,” says Amirkhanyan, insisting there are many people now who promote Khachaturian’s option on purpose to hinder other authors.

Doctor of Arts Henrik Hovhannisyan believes an anthem cannot be chosen in a short period of time.

“Even the desire to have an anthem by the Day of Independence (September 21) is not a reason to make a decision so quickly. And we can’t adopt Khachaturian’s anthem. No matter how great or talented his music is, it will bring back our political past,” insists Hovhannisyan.

To engage the society into the discussions, for the last two weeks the Ministry of Culture and Youth Issues has been accepting written comments from citizens on five anthem options.

“We get 4-5 letters per day. I think the citizens are not very active as opposed to the media,” says Gayane Durgaryan, the Ministry of Culture’s Head of Public Relations Department.