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Armenian Commemorative Concert aims to preserve culture 100 years after genocide

Joe Zeytoonian plays the oud, an eleven-stringed lute, which he will also play during the Armenian Commemorative Concert.
Joe Zeytoonian plays the oud, an eleven-stringed lute, which he will also play during the Armenian Commemorative Concert. Richard Musolino

Douglas Kalajian’s father was 3 when his mother was killed during the Armenian Genocide. Now, 100 years later, Kalajian will share stories about his family’s experience, accompanied by performers Myriam Eli, Alique Mazmanian, Reza Filsoofi and Joe Zeytoonian.

When Kalajian was 8, a professor on TV started talking about the Armenian Genocide. His father broke down.

“I asked my mother, ‘Why is daddy crying?’ She said it was ‘because the Turks killed his mother.’ Until that moment, I had no idea. And from that moment, I wanted to know the rest of the story,” Kalajian said.

Kalajian discovered that it was a difficult topic to discuss; his mother discouraged his search, telling him never to ask his father about it “because it made [his father] too sad.”

He kept searching for answers, though, and documented his search in his novel, Stories My Father Never Finished Telling Me. Kalajian will read from his book during the event and will take questions from the audience.

The story of loss and silence isn’t rare for Armenians. Throughout the genocide, an estimated 800,000 to 1.5 million lives were lost.

Major facets of Armenian culture also were lost in the wake of the genocide. In an effort to preserve this culture, Arts at St. Johns and Harmonic Motion will host an Armenian Commemorative Concert to observe the 100th anniversary of the genocide.

Zeytoonian and his wife Eli were approached by Arts at St. Johns to put together the concert. Zeytoonian will play the oud (a traditional Armenian instrument) and his wife will dance and play percussion instruments.

When musicians play these songs, they’re preserving this culture. It’s a gift not only to me, but to the whole world.

Douglas Kalajian, author

“When musicians play these songs, they’re preserving this culture. It’s a gift not only to me, but to the whole world,” said Kalajian.

Zeytoonian also was deeply impacted by the genocide; both sides of his family were devastated. His grandfather was killed when his grandmother was eight months pregnant with his father. He decided to convey the loss his family felt through his music.

“Armenian music has a particular nostalgia in its sound. My sound is a combination of that and the Anatolian roots of my parents who were driven from their homes in Maras, Turkey,” Zeytoonian said.

The performances will consist of songs, dances and narratives. The aim is to inform people who may not have even been alive during the genocide.

“As with most heavy issues, simple awareness is crucial. In her book, A Problem from Hell, Samantha Power, ambassador to the United Nations, points out that the Armenian Genocide was the first of the 20th century. With muted reaction from familiar nation states, Hitler’s boldness became manifested just 30 years later,” Zeytoonian said.

The concert is called Hye Doun, which means Armenian home. It is part of the Arts at St. Johns 2015-2016 season theme, “Places We Call Home.”

An earlier version of this article misspelled the last name of performer Joe Zeytoonian.

If you go

▪ What: Hye Doun

▪ Where: Arts at St. Johns, 4760 Pine Tree Dr.

▪ When: 7 p.m., Nov. 7

▪ Cost: VIP tickets $30; general admission $20; students and seniors $15; military and family and children under 10 are free.

▪ More information: Contact Carol Hoffman-Guzman at 305-613-2325 or artsatstjohns@bellsouth.net.

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