A story of a forgotten song: from Central Asia to Armenia; from Armenia to Turkey

In the 1980s Sergey Vardanyan – a young and enthusiastic journalist, a Research Fellow at the Institute of Archeology and Ethnography (National Academy of Sciences of Armenia), a well-known Armenologist – heads to Central Asia in the search for lost Hamshenis or so-called Hemshinli (Islamized Hamshen Armenians) – a nation that keeps the memory of the thousand-year Armenian history and culture.

This was a great adventure for a young man who was burning with curiosity and desire to find something unknown, to put together the heritage of ancestors left for this small community, to gather things they keep in their minds, even though they were so naïve that did not realize the value of their heritage and memories.

Hamshenis had never lived in Central Asia. They were exiled there by Stalin in Soviet times since were perceived as «undesirable groups». The Kazakh village Chirkino, where Sergey Vardanyan arrived, was inhabited by Armenians from Adjara.

Being so different from the local population in their appearance, they were trying not to stand out much hence were getting dressed just like Central Asian people. Despite such conditions, the Hamshenis have managed to keep up alive not only their traditions but also their ancient Armenian dialect.

During his visit to several houses and talks with different people, Sergey Vardanyan was asking them specific questions and collected unique words used by the Hamshenis. He was also interested in songs and chastushkas (folk songs with high beat frequency) which were passed on by word of mouth. For the first time in history, the verbal folk art of Central Asia has been documented, and this is thanks to Sergey Vardanyan.

Hamshen women were singing old chastushkas and quatrains by memory. Some of them are well-known and remembered: Ayshe, Khanime, Khatije. Their songs were recorded by Sergey Vardanyan and became popular then…

In 2008 the «Vova» (a group singing Hamshenis’ songs) accompanied by Aysenur Kolivar – a Turkish singer from Hamshen known for her unique and delicate style of singing – arrived in Yerevan from Istanbul. Having heard the Kazakh Hamshenis’ records at Sergey Vardanyan’s place, Aysenur was so impressed that asked him to send her the words of the songs in Latin characters.

She combined several quatrains: «Չէքէտէս խադփուլիա» (Cheketes Khadpulia – I have a motley jacket), «Նօրահարս էլլիմ» (Norhars Ellim – I’ll be a bride soon) and quatrains from Artvin, Turkey. To the tune, heard in the records, she creates one cohesive piece of music and performs it on thousands of stages all over the world.

We should also commend the musicians of Aysenur for such a beautiful instrumental play of the songs. The song «Նօրահարս էլլիմ» (Norhars Ellim – I’ll be a bride soon) performed by her clear and tender voice will soon become a successful, famous, and favorite song of the audience. As Aysenur mentioned many people were asking her to sing it at the concerts.

Singer’s new album is scheduled for release in 2012 in Turkey where this song with three other ones, written in the Hamshen Armenian dialect, will be included. In 2014 in the framework of the musical project «Tsovic Tsov» the song will be performed in the State Kremlin Palace, on the main Russian stage.

So a couple of random sung chastushkas in a forgotten Kazakh village have become a breath of fresh air due to the enthusiasm of two men who were not indifferent to their origin. In another case, they might be lost and forgotten forever. In one of his interviews, Sergey Vardanyan mentions: «I wonder what would be the Kazakh Hamshenis’ first reaction to the unpredictable popularity of their songs».

Sources: Newspaper Dzayn Hamshenakan (Voice of Hamshen);

Sergey Vardanyan, editor-in-chief; interview records.

Eleonora Sargsyan armat.im

Ayşenur Kolivar – Norhars Ellim (Gelin Olayım) Live @Cardiff Womex

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