The little place was called Markneukirchen in Germany, on the border with the Czech Republic. In the 17th century, some Protestants who were being persecuted in Bohemia had fled and came to this tiny village where they would settle down.
Among them were those with skills of making violins and brass instruments… For the next four centuries, this tiny village would be producing these musical instruments – according to the information on Wikipedia, in 1900, 80 percent of all violins and brass musical instruments were being produced in Markneukirchen, Germany.
The young Vahan Bedelian, son of Haroutioun and Rebecca Bedelian from Adana had put an order to produce a violin for himself, a copy of Joseph Guarnerius violins to this town. Vahan Bedelian got this violin from Markneukirchen, delivered to him in Adana in 1913.
This violin would accompany him throughout his life, would save him and his family’s lives. It was like a magical violin and he would keep it and play it and tell the story of this magical violin to his grandchildren… He would teach his violin lessons with this violin…
In 1909 when troubles began in Adana, Vahan Bedelian and his family would flee to Cyprus, would settle in Larnaka, and would stay for 15 months. Bedelian would go to the Larnaka American Academy and when things seemed to settle down, in 1911 they would return to their home in Adana, Turkey.
But things would continue to brew and in 1913 the First World War would begin… In 1915 the Armenian population of Adana and Cilicia, in general, would be deported to Der Zor, Syria – Syria was still part of the Ottoman Empire and on their way there, the Bedelian family would stop at Aleppo…
There, one of Vahan Bedelian’s friends would arrange a job as a music and violin teacher for him at the Aleppo School of Art… Bedelian’s grandson Vahan Aynedjian, tells me the story of what happened in Aleppo:
During the deportations of the Armenian population of Cilicia, my grandfather’s family, which came from Adana, was deported to Syria, which was then, part of the Ottoman Empire.
They arrived in Aleppo and since my grandfather, Vahan Bedelian was a music and violin teacher, a friend of his, Mr. Akoyan, who had arrived earlier than him, had arranged a job for him at the Aleppo School of Art, as a music and violin teacher.
With this job, Vahan Bedelian managed, after considerable difficulty, to obtain a permit from the Chief of Police of Aleppo (Police Mudur), to stay in Aleppo with his whole family, which was comprised of 11 members.
There was a luxurious hotel in Aleppo, the Baron Hotel (which still operates), owned by two wealthy Armenian brothers, Onnig and Krikor Mazloumian, built-in 1909, where all the government officials and rich merchants used to stay.
There was a Pasha, Shukru Pasha, who stayed at the hotel on his way from Constantinople to Der-El-Zor, where he had been appointed as the next Governor.
The owners of the hotel had the idea of organizing a reception for the Pasha, intending to entertain him, so that he would have a good impression about the Armenians and their culture, and that he would treat them accordingly when he took charge as Governor of Der-El-Zor.
They had the idea of inviting Vahan Bedelian to play the violin during the reception. He played with so much sensitivity, the “A la Turka” pieces, that the Pasha was moved and he asked that Bedelian would come near him.
He asked: “Who is this young man”, and when he found out that he was a young Armenian refugee from Adana, he immediately proposed that he would take him with him to Der-El-Zor, to teach this art there.
As soon as Bedelian’s friends heard this, they said that this is not possible as he had a job in the local Art School and that the local community needed him. Another friend realized that if Bedelian left, all the members of his family would have to leave Aleppo with him, as they were staying there with the permit obtained by him.
Fortunately, they managed to convince the Pasha to leave Bedelian in Aleppo, thus he and his family stayed there until the end of the First World War in 1918 and returned to Adana when French forces were stationed in Cilicia.
Meanwhile, all others who left Aleppo towards the Syrian Desert, in the direction of Der-El-Zor, became victims of killings and death from hunger and diseases. That violin has made a very long journey.
It started from Germany, where it was specially manufactured for Vahan Bedelian in 1913. That makes that violin, 100 years old this year. It was then imported to Adana and traveled with him during the deportation to Aleppo and after the end of the First World War, it returned to Adana and stayed there for 3 years until 1921, when they decided to flee to Cyprus and has since been in Cyprus.
In 1976, he gave the violin to me as a gift. I was 15 years old then. He said to me: “This violin saved my life and also the lives of our family members. If it was not for this violin, we would have all been deported to Der-El-Zor and only God knows where we would now be.
Because I knew how to play the violin, I got a job in the Art School of Aleppo and remained there until the end of the war. The hands of the Pasha, who was going to Der-El-Zor as Governor, have touched this violin.
I want you to keep it, play on it and make sure that you hand it down from generation to generation, making sure that you tell them this story… I have this violin now… Vahan Bedelian would teach music and particularly violin in Cyprus for more than half a century to Turkish Cypriots, Greek Cypriots, Armenian Cypriots, and all others.
He would teach at four different schools, would set up bands and orchestras that would play on different occasions… He would have students of all ethnicities and would believe that music would bring people closer…
His grandson Vahan Bedelian describes him so well: My grandfather Vahan Bedelian was a very patient person… He was a workaholic. He was a very religious person. He was a very kind and gentle person.
He was a person with principles… He believed in music… He believed that music made people more human, it would make them approach life differently. Even if people were enemies, he believed that they would be able to communicate in the language of music.
This was his philosophy and he would tell this philosophy to Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots… Music tells people what other people think… You can bring people together through music…
Even if they don’t speak a common language, music brings them together… Music can be their common language and this can happen in Cyprus he used to say and always he gave music lessons in Cyprus to Turkish Cypriots, Greek Cypriots, Armenians, and to people from all other ethnic groups…`
According to his grandson Vahan Aynedjian, a normal day for Vahan Bedelian would start at 05.30 in the morning… He would get up and make gymnastics, in front of the open windows of his bedroom.
Then he would go out to his garden, look at his flowers… He loved roses and he would pick a rose and put it on the breakfast table so he would enjoy the rose while having his breakfast.
His first students for private violin lessons would start coming at 06.30 in the morning! At 07.00 he would go to the school he was teaching but it was not one school – he was teaching at the Armenian Elementary School and Melkonian and he would share his time amongst these two.
On some days with his bicycle, he would ride to go to the Turkish Cypriot Lyceum and to the English School to teach, his violin under his arm… His mornings would flow like this, sharing his time among four schools.
He would have lunch between 1.30-2.00 and then chorus and orchestra practices would begin – there were three other music schools where he taught as well as the private lessons in his house…
He would continue until 6 or 7 at night… He took very good care of his health and he never smoked and never took alcoholic drinks… He would continue to work and give violin lessons until the age of 93! He would die at the age of 96 and would be buried in the Armenian Cemetery on the Green Line…
Bedelian did not belong to one community but belonged to all so what a coincidence that he would rest eternally in a space on the buffer zone… He had wonderful students from all communities, my brother was amongst his students of violin and my dream is to have some of his Turkish Cypriot, Greek Cypriot, Armenian Cypriot students to give a concert together to commemorate him…
Perhaps in this concert, Vahan Aynedjian, the grandson of Vahan Bedelian who has the magical violin now, can also play with that violin that his grandfather gave him as a gift… This year, the violin is exactly 100 years old…
So perhaps, with those interested in commemorating this great master of music Vahan Bedelian who has given so much to all Cypriots for more than half a century, we can work towards a day of commemoration for all the communities of Cyprus – as he had suggested, perhaps music can bring us all together to create a better understanding on this little, tormented island…
(*) Article published in POLITIS newspaper on the 22nd of December, 2013 Sunday.