A Piano from the Sky: NKR village enjoys rare arts school

A Piano from the Sky: NKR village enjoys rare arts school

From a village choir to a country-wide recognized collective

Three years ago Karabakhi journalist Susanna Balayan had an idea to found an arts school in the Togh village of the Hadrut region. It took her a long time to find sponsors, but at first she found only enthusiasts like herself and managed to open. Recently a concert and exhibition of its students’ works took place at Stepanakert Youth and Culture Palace.

Balayan’s name became known to everyone in Karabakh in 1989, when she decided to found a choir, which would sing Armenian songs, in Togh- a village populated by Armenians and Azeries. She went to Togh from Stepanakert as a volunteer to teach Russian language and literature. In a hostile surrounding, under OMON’s (Special Purpose Police Squad) aim, under neighbors’ close watch, she brought together Armenian children and taught them songs even their parents didn’t know. In Karabakh, which had lived as a part Azerbaijan for 70 years, nobody sang Armenian songs, preferring Russian and Italian ones.

The choir’s repertoire included Komitas, Armenian sharakans (church chants). There was only one problem- the village didn’t have a piano. It might seem a simple thing to do- bring one from Stepanakert, but at that time Tog was in a blockade, all the roads were closed, the only communication means were helicopters. So be it. Susanna decided to bring a piano by helicopter. Those who witnessed that scene will never forget it- the piano tied to a helicopter was slowly landing onto a small area. The first song was played right there.

The choir was forced to close 1994, the same year when it was named as the best choir in Karabakh. It was then that children of Togh for the first time left their blockaded village where they had only seen war and a piano descending from the sky.

For many years Balayan carried the plan to found an arts school in Togh. Because, as she says, children there are special. They are more than simply talented, they are so eager to absorb culture, arts, beauty.

But everything, as always, comes down to finances. She came to an agreement with the Togh school, which allocated a few classrooms in their half-ruined school building. A descendant of that village, now the Chairman of Standing Committee on Defense of RA Parliament, General Artur Aghabekyan supported the renovation of the classrooms and financed the purchase of instruments. But, most importantly, she was able to find associates who agreed to go to the village twice a week, ignoring winter cold and snow, slush, and summer heat, to teach arts.

The school, which currently has 50 students from Togh and neighboring Mets Tagher, has two departments: music and fine arts. Since September 1 the school will have a new choreographic department as well. “I guess I’ll have to be in the village all the time. But I have another job in Stepanakert. I love journalism, but this school is my brainchild. And it’s very hard for me to choose between the two,” Susanna- an Azat Artsakh newspaper reporter- told ArmeniaNow.

During the past years the school operated on charity funds. Only recently the government of Karabakh made a decision to turn the school into a state financed one.

“Twice a week I take my children to school in Togh,” said a resident of Mets Tagher Levon Hayrapetyan. “It is very difficult to familiarize children with arts in Karabakh villages. And we are simply lucky to have such a school.”