Charles Aznavour wouldn’t forget about his Armenian roots and would always defend the country of his parents which had been devastated by the 1915 genocide.
In 1924, had the nurse of a Paris clinic written down the name Shahnur, he would never be named Charles. His parents – Armenians who had fled from the consequences of the Lausanne peace treaty as a result of which Armenia became a Turkish province – were in Paris, waiting for a visa for the United States when Aznavour’s mother became pregnant. His grandfather had a restaurant in Paris. Ultimately, his family would never leave Paris and its fifth arrondissement.
The singer who died in the 94th year of his life has always been faithful to his Armenian roots. At home, his parents Misha and Knar were nostalgic for their homeland. In their restaurant “Caucasus” on rue de la Huchette, they have received emigrants from Central Europe. It is hard to renounce one’s roots. Aznavour has absorbed this cultural diversity.
In 1975, Aznavour together with Georges Harvarents wrote the song “Ils sont tombés” – a song dedicated to the victims of the Genocide. The song was recorded in April in London 60 years after the arrest of the Armenian intelligentsia in Constantinople.
“My entire family on my mother’s side, except her grandmother, was killed. More precisely, it disappeared. I can’t say that they were killed, I don’t know for sure. They just disappeared,” the singer said several years ago.
The earthquake that destroyed the entire north of Armenia had to happen for the general public to realize the devotion of the chansonnier to the homeland of his parents. On December 7, 1988, the town of Spitak was completely destroyed. About 30,000 people died, one and a half million people became homeless.
The chansonnier created the “Aznavour for Armenia” committee to raise funds and support restoration works in the town. He visited Armenia and in several days wrote the song “Pour toi Arménie”. “Your springs will bloom, your happy days will be reborn. After winter, after hell, the tree of life will rise. For you, Armenia,” the song says.
88 artists responded to his call. At this time, his records were being successfully sold, and the small record with the humanitarian song raised several million francs. “Pour toi Arménie” lead the Top 50 Best Songs for ten weeks, as well as for 28 weeks was among the 50 best-selling songs of the time.
In 1995, Aznavour was appointed Honorary Ambassador of Armenia to UNESCO. In 2004, at the age of 80, he received the title of National Hero of Armenia – the highest honorary title in the former Soviet Republic.
6 months after becoming a citizen of Armenia in 2008, Aznavour was appointed Ambassador of Armenia to Switzerland and Permanent Representative of the country at the UN headquarters.
In 2011, Aznavour was beside Nicolas Sarkozy during his state visit to Armenia. In 2015, he accompanied Francois Hollande on his visit to the centenary commemoration events of the Armenian Genocide in Yerevan. On April 24, 2016, Aznavour was also in the front row next to George Clooney.
Even today, one of the central squares of the capital bears his name. In Gyumri – in the second city of Armenia, 60% of which was destroyed during the 1988 earthquake – a statue was erected to the most famous Armenian in the world.
“This is a huge loss for the Armenian people, for the French people. This is a universal loss,” said Prime Minister of Armenia Nikol Pashinyan after Aznavour’s passing.
Julie Cloris, Le Parisien