Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Diaspora And Deep Art

Armenian family during the 1915 Genocide                                                                 

I don't claim to be a historian, nor do I claim to be a cultural anthropolgist of any sort. All I know is what touches my heart, and that is all i can write, that which comes from....my heart.

After attending a very important conference this past weekend, on the Armenian genocide and grassroots projects (sponsored by the ANCA), I could not help but examine my own emotional ties to my roots and history, as well as compare the plight of my own people to those of the gypsy/flamenco culture. As I sat listening to one panelist after another discuss social consciousness related to genocide recognition and human rights efforts, I began to have my own internal dialogue, secretly discussing the similarities between the passionate art of gypsy/flamenco and my own cultural heritage. I came up with three major points of comparison that resonated deeply in my heart.
First:  both the gypsy/flamenco and the Armenian cultures are living, thriving groups that exist in their native lands while having created a diaspora that continues to expand in the global community. Granted, gypsy/flamenco families as a whole did not disperse and recreate communities in foreign countries much like the Armenian people did. And yes, flamenco culture did not create entire diasporan communities centralized around churches and schools.  However for those who are familiar with flamenco understand that those small but significant flamenco 'communities' pretty much come into existence every time 2 or more flamencos came together.  It brings to mind the famous quote by William Saroyan which ends with, "For when two of them meet anywhere in the world, see if they will not create a New Armenia".  Pretty neat quote. One of my favorites. I always felt that flamencos draw that kind of intense human connection between themselves much like the Armenians. They connect deeply through their humor, their sorrow, their passion and vigor for life.  After all, we have dealt with very similar social issues and a historical past based on injustice. You get the point.

Gypsy (Romani) youngsters in the Holocaust

Second:  Just as the Armenians were persecuted and marginalized within their own native land, so were the gypsies. True, the holocaust-era gypsies fall more into this category in terms of plans to exterminate a whole race, i.e. genocide.  But one can argue that the 300 years during which Spanish gypsies were subject to discrimination, persecution and social inequalities, is relative to the way that Armenians were treated during the Ottoman Empire (and in present day Turkey).  Flamenco as an artistic cultural form was born out of this very persecution. So was, respectively, a large part of Armenian art and music, and cultural expression. Some say even the unexplained melancholy in Armenians is a direct characteristic resulted from the suffering of our own grandfathers.
Spanish gypsies singing during a wedding                                                                          

Which brings me to the third and final major point of comparison:  Lamentation as a common component in the songs and music of these cultures. Here is where the heart knows and understands more than the mind. Of course both groups have songs of joy. After all, when you survive and thrive, there are also periods of rejoice. However, the deep songs or 'cante jondo', dominates a large part of the flamenco world. These are songs that discuss the darker side of humanity, social injustice, lost love, etc. These were oral traditions, passed down by generations of gypsy families. Similarly, a lot of poignant poetry, music, and art reflects the lamentation in Armenian culture.  However, when listening to the authentic music of both groups, there are distinct tones and keys that can be heard, never really quite the "C Major" key, that Western music is so familiar with.

So, there you go. A small discussion of culture, from a big, wild heart!

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