Several years ago, two French researchers arrived in Armenia. They visited the Mesrop Mashtots Institute of Ancient Manuscripts (Matenadaran) and asked for the Kurdish works of Armenian composer Komitas. The employees of the museum weren’t able to provide them with any data on such works. Then, the researchers visited the Yeghishe Charents Museum of Literature and Art with the same request.
The chief scientist of the musical fund of the museum, musicologist Marine Musheghyan had to explain to her French colleagues and provide evidence that there are no such works in neither Armenian archives nor anywhere else.
Musheghyan herself shared this story. She remarks that false information about the works of Komitas is flying around in scientific circles and has been featured in several scientific publications.
The first person to mention that Komitas has been at some point engaged in the research and processing of Kurdish music was his biograph, philologist, and poet Toros Azatyan. His book “Vardapet Komitas” was published in 1931, where Azatyan writes that after graduating from the Berlin Conservatory in 1899, Komitas wrote a thesis on Kurdish music. This fact was warmly welcomed in the multinational Soviet Union, facilitating its spread. Other biographs of Komitas as well as musicologists from all over the world shortly began to cite the thesis.
By the way, several decades before the book of Azatyan was published, Komitas had written an autobiography, in which there is no single word about Kurdish music.
During the creation of the film “Gutanerg” in 2013, director-documentalist Gagik Harutyunyan was studying the literary and musical heritage of Komitas. While he had learned about the special relationship between Komitas and Kurdish music from different sources, he wasn’t able to confirm its validity. He then decided to address musicologist Marine Musheghyan.
“I started to search after Gagik Harutyunyan addressed me. Firstly, I began to investigate which themes touched and interested Komitas in 1896 – 1899. If he had been working on Kurdish music, there would be at least some mention of it in the accounts of those years. I didn’t find anything,” recounts Musheghyan.
Musheghyan didn’t stop at Armenian archives and sent an official request to Berlin. She received an answer stating that there aren’t mentions of such works in Berlin’s register.
Musheghyan was certain that evidence of Kurdish works of Komitas is groundless. The results of her lengthy search and studies were featured in the documentary “After-fact: the past determines the present” by Gagik Harutyunyan.
Nonetheless, the distortions of the activity of Komitas exist even today. Harutyunyan remarks that one of the recently published books features a photo of Komitas with one Usub Bek, an alleged Kurdish childhood friend of the composer. Harutyunyan argues that the photo has been extensively edited. The widespread information about Komitas’ Kurdish friend isn’t based on any facts.
“That book is now sold on the market, is featured in the library of the Pedagogical Institute, and the library of the academy,” says Harutyunyan.
Musheghyan also adds that the false facts from the life of Komitas are not only published but also taught in the Komitas Yerevan State Conservatory.
Marine Musheghyan says that Komitas had been collecting Kurdish folk music, but he had never processed them.
“Being an ethnographer, Komitas not only examined but even performed Kurdish songs, but only to compare the Armenian and Eastern cultures,” says Musheghyan.
In his turn, Harutyunyan adds that many Kurdish songs examined by Komitas had been sung by Armenians.
“We know that there is a lot of Armenians who departed from their roots and now speak Kurdish. Even the Armenian epos ‘David of Sasun’ has been translated to Kurdish, but it still remains Armenian,” says Harutyunyan.
Musheghyan and Harutyunyan admit that the new views of Komitas’ life are hard to swallow for the Armenian scientific and musical circles. The evidence that has been regarded as a truth over a century is now firmly planted in the minds of experts. Breaking those stereotypes is difficult but perfectly possible.