Arax Mansourian: “We exist…”

On May 4, Japanese pianist Takahiro Akiba will give a concert at Komitas Chamber Music Hall. The concert is called “In the Land of Komitas” and will include a guest performance by well-known Armenian opera singer, Soprano Arax Mansourian.

This will be the second opportunity for Armenians and foreigners to enjoy the performances by the beloved singer, and Hayern Aysor’s readers have the opportunity to “listen” to the interview with Arax Mansourian.

Arax Mansourian: I was in Armenia in October, but I didn’t think I would be in Armenia in April. As we were getting closer and closer to the Centennial of the Armenian Genocide, I kept feeling more and more guilt inside. I thought to myself-if I couldn’t be in Armenia on April 24th, I would have committed the greatest sin against my parents and the 1.5 million martyrs, for that matter. I immediately bought my ticket and reached Yerevan on the morning of April 23. I attended the Canonization ceremony, and I got emotional right then and there. It was an unforgettable evening. Everything was well organized and was very touching.

During the Canonization ceremony, I had a feeling that all of our martyrs were now saints, and that my grandparents, my maternal aunt and uncle and everyone else were saints. I felt like I was in peace and started thinking that they were no longer suffering and that they had overcome all that.

The next day, I was invited to sing at Tsitsernakaberd Armenian Genocide Memorial Complex, and I obviously accepted the invitation. It was extremely cold, but I didn’t think about that at that moment. When I saw Charles Aznavour, as well as the Presidents of Armenia, Russia, France, Cyprus and Serbia and other officials sitting in front of me, I felt that it was a great honor for me to perform Armenian psalm songs a cappella for them.

Hayern Aysor: Mrs. Mansourian, like many people, you also have your story of the Armenian Genocide.

Arax Mansourian: Of course, like many Armenians, especially Armenians abroad, I also have my story. My father, Yeghia Mansourian from Tigranakert, and my mother, Anna Pamboukyan from Marash, undergo the sufferings in Deir ez-Zor and find themselves at one of the American orphanages in Syria. Years later, they meet each other and start a family. They have four children, including Tigran, Mher, Sona and me. We are living, and now we are “joined” by our children and grandchildren. We exist, and the witness of all of this is Ararat. This is my story.

Hayern Aysor: Mrs. Mansourian, how was your family impacted by the Armenian Genocide?

A. M. It’s the imprint of patriotism, if I could say that. My mother was very patriotic. If anyone left Armenia, she would feel pain, even when I had to leave for Australia. My mother would tutor me in English and would constantly ask me if I was going to return. I would tell her ‘yes, Mom, I will come’. She would go on to ask if I wasn’t lying to her, and I would tell her I was going to return and wouldn’t leave her alone.

I had a contract with the Sydney Opera Theater. I thought I could go, sing and return, but fate is very amazing. I was going to visit Armenia in January 1994, but my mother passed away in September 1993. It was as if she passed away and “helped” me come and stay here as a performer, not as a refugee. To this day, I live in Australia temporarily. Mary-Jean (member of Genealogy group-ed.) and I were talking about this a short while ago. She told me I had to come to Armenia because everyone here loves me.

I also love everyone here. I know I have to return, and I always say this during my interviews. Sometimes it seems to me that day will never come, but I must come back. There are simply some problems, and I’m waiting. I work, have students, and my husband, Hakob has a job there. He also wants to come to Armenia, but he has never lived in Armenia. He visited twice and fell in love with Armenia, but he has to live in the country. I know what it means to live in Armenia. This is mine, and I know all the good and bad sides. I say we have to go to Armenia every day.

I’m turning 70 next year (I’m not ashamed of saying this), and I have to make a final decision. This is not only my dream, but my children’s dream as well. They want me to come here, have my corner and be with them.

I got carried away…My mother would tell me that she and the rest of the children at the orphanage had a mother. She would tell me how the mother’s father was killed. The mother was three years old when she and her mother and siblings started migrating. On the road, the mother would show a metal door and say ‘the Turks burned your father behind this door’. That had a huge impact on my mother and she would remember it often. I’ll never forget that either.

I never heard anything about my father. Perhaps Tigran did because he was the elder, and he and my father were closer together. They were friends. My father passed away at the age of 46.

I don’t remember much about my father. The only thing I remember is that he was very patriotic. We couldn’t even say the Armenian word ‘ha’ (yeah) at home.

We had Turkic-speaking friends. They were two sisters from Adana. One day, my father comes home and finds them listening to Turkish music on the radio. I remember how angry my father got. He used swear words, hit his hand on the wall, screamed at them and told them to turn it off. They got into a dispute with my father, and I cried of fear. All that impacted me so much that I always feel hatred whenever I hear about Turks.

We were born and raised in an Armenian environment and were provided with an Armenian upbringing. We always had to speak pure Armenian at home, and now my children do the same. It is thanks to my parents that my children, Shushan and Mariam speak pure Armenian.

Hayern Aysor: What is the greatest legacy that your parents left you?

A. M. I might be repeating myself, but it’s patriotism and my voice. I inherited it from my father. As my brother often says, Arax inherited our father’s voice. My father had a beautiful voice. He was a photographer. We had a dark room at our house where he would work and always sing. He sang so beautifully. It sounded so Armenian.

Hayern Aysor: Which Armenian song would he often sing?

A. M. Oh, I remember, it was “Du Anmegh Es, Ko Achern En Meghavor”. He would also sing folk songs and the songs of Komitas.

I would always be with my father. Wherever we went, my hand was always in his pocket. He loved me a lot. Perhaps it was because I was the youngest. When we would meet with his friends from Musaler, they would say ‘Yeghia, sing something for us’. He would look at me and say ‘wait here, I’ll be back’, and he would start singing.

I was 13 when my father passed away.

Hayern Aysor: Didn’t he ever hear you sing?

A. M.: Only once.

I would sing at home when nobody was there. I would come home from school, play the discs of Gohar Gasparyan and Joan Sutherland and sing along loudly.

We had received an apartment in Ajapnyak and were going to host guests at our house. I sang an Armenian folk song. My father was surprised. I remember the look on his face to this day. I immediately told him that I wanted to become a singer. He looked at me and said, ‘you will, my daughter, you will’. This was his blessing.

Hayern Aysor: Did you mother sing?

A. M.: Yes, my mother had a sweet voice. My mother raised my children. I was a student when Shushan was born. When Mariam was born, I was singing at the Opera. My mother would sing the lullaby that Tigran had composed. It was so beautiful. When she sang it to Shushan and Mariam, they both cried. She sang so softly that it touched their hearts.

I would always hear my mother’s voice before going to the theater. Whenever I would tell her I’m leaving, she would say, ‘May God be with you’. This was my blessing before every concert or performance. When I would give a concert on TV, I would immediately call her and ask her how it was, and she would say, ‘good job, my girl’.

The year was 1993. I had brought her a blessed branch on Palm Sunday (Tsaghkazard). One of the television channels had broadcasted my performance of the song “Oor Es, Mair Im”. When I called her and asked if she had heard it, she told me that I had done a good job and that I had made her cry. Do you know how appreciated I felt? (gets emotional-ed.). That was the last time I saw her. She “went” a couple of months later. That’s why my new album, which features spiritual songs, is dedicated to the memory of my parents.

Hayern Aysor: Mrs. Mansourian, you are also on a different mission in Armenia.

A. M.: Last year, I performed in Japan at the invitation of RA Ambassador to Japan Hrant Poghosyan and pianist Takahiro Akiba. I don’t mean to be immodest, but he’s in love with my performances of Komitas’s songs. He had heard it on the Internet and we hadn’t known each other until then. When we met, I realized that he was a talented musician and loved Armenia. He is the grand prize winner at a competition devoted to Komitas.

The concert was a great success. The main performances were devoted to Komitas. After the concert, Takahiro, who knew about the Centennial of the Armenian Genocide, asked me what I was going to do in Armenia. I told him that I would love for him to sing. I talked to Shushan. After a while, Shushan called me and said she had talked to Minister of Diaspora Hranush Hakobyan and that the minister had promised to help Takahiro give a concert in Yerevan. On May 4, at the invitation of dear Minister Hranush Hakobyan and with the help of Shushan, Takahiro Akiba will give a concert at the Komitas Chamber Music Hall.

When Takahiro found out about this, he asked me to sing as well and told me which songs to sing. He was trying to convince me. You know, I teach now and am focused in that direction. I think one has to either sing or teach. For me, it’s very important to not just sing, but interpret the song correctly. I’m very meticulous, almost like a perfectionist.

Hayern Aysor: Have you decided what you’re going to sing?

A. M.: I’m thinking of a couple of songs. I’ll probably perform the songs “Kancheh Krunk”, “Maron A Kayneh”, “Mani Asem” and perhaps Kanachyan’s “Lullaby” (Oror).

Hayern Aysor: Mrs. Mansourian, I know you are very proud of your students. You suggested that one of them, Mary-Jean (Mary-Jean was present during the interview-ed.), who is one of the members of the Genealogy group to be representing Armenia at the Eurovision Song Contest, be nominated.

A. M. I’m very proud to see her participating in the Eurovision Song Contest. I wish her and the group success.

She’s a very talented singer. I worked with her for three years. She has won competitions. She sings on stage and plays the flute.

I’m certain that I made the right choice. I’m proud of her and wish her success.

Mary-Jean O’Doherty was also attending the interview, and we asked her a couple of questions as well.

Hayern Aysor: Mary-Jean, who is Arax Mansourian for you?

A. M. She is my diva and my mother in music. Basically, she’s everything for me. The members of Geneaology group really want to see her at our rehearsals. They want her to give master classes and help us perform in harmony and perfectly so that the intonation is correct.

Hayern Aysor: What are your impressions of Armenia?

Mary-Jean O’Doherty: I’m very proud to be in Armenia. I’m the first member of my family to have had the opportunity. Thanks to my mother, who graduated from the Melkonian School of Cyprus, I knew a lot about Armenia’s history and culture. My mother loved Armenian music. She loved Kanachyan’s “Lullaby” (Oror) and especially Arax Mansourian’s interpretations of the song. When I was little, she would often sing Armenian songs for me. It’s all in my veins. I feel it entirely.

My mother was born in Greece. My grandfather’s parents were from Zmurnia. During the Armenian Genocide, he lost his parents and swam to Greece. When he started speaking in French on a French ship, some people asked him if he was from France, to which my grandfather said he was Armenian.

Today, I’m more than proud and nervous. I’m proud my teacher is a singer like Arax Mansourian, and I’m nervous to be in Armenia…

Interview by Lusine Abrahamyan

 

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