August 20, 2007
ARMENIAN BALLAD: AN UNEXPECTED OUTCOME OF AN UNEXPECTED VISIT
By Levon Lachikyan
Translated by Marina Bazayeva
This tale originated last year when Dr. and Mrs. Raffy and Vicki Shoghag Hovanessian arrived in Armenia from Chicago to become better acquainted with the Fund for Armenian Relief (FAR) programs. They also wished to identify a children's music school for their cousin who wanted to donate money raised in memory of her late husband. So they left for Gyumri, the second largest city of Republic of Armenia. Among other benevolent projects, they visited the FAR-sponsored Azad Shishian Octet Music School, the educational institution still operating in makeshift containers remaining in the disaster borne city of Gyumri.
The Octet Music School functions out of temporary tin shelters dating from the 1988 earthquake, lacks insulation, heating as well as an indoor lavatory system. In spite of these circumstances, the FAR-sponsored school with 200 pupils, who often come from large and underprivileged families who cannot afford to pay their kids' tuition, continues to produce dedicated, talented musicians.
The contrast between their school environment and the beautiful music is unbelievable. Yet, the students play Komitas as easily as Khatchadourian, Mozart as well as Hayden. They are trained in a wide variety of musical styles, from Armenian folk to classical to jazz to modern.
A concert was presented in honor of the American guests. When it was over, Mrs. Hovanessian stroked a little violinist's hair and asked for her name, but the latter timidly dropped her eyes and stood still. The teachers revealed that Ani (that was the girl's name) had a congenital cleft palate, consequently her only way of communication was in written form. No, there is one more way: her big, glowing and clever eyes.
On their way back to Yerevan, this couple, who is well-known for their benevolence in Armenia and in the Diaspora, was thinking of helping the 11- year- old violinist. Prior to leaving for the U.S., they asked Dr. Gevorg Yaghjyan, an eminent plastic surgeon in Yerevan, to look into little Ani's condition and correct it through plastic surgery.
Ani and her mother, father, two sisters and a brother live in Pokr (Small) Sariar, a little Armenian village perched on the highlands, situated 25 miles away from Gyumri. It is almost heroism to get there from the city since the rocky and puddled impassable road requires hands-on practice from the driver and steady nerves from the passenger.
In the summer it is cool and damp, and in the winter snowy, which blocks the only road that connects the village with the rest of the world. Even in summers, there are no buses available, so it is hard to imagine that the young girl and her mother conquer that road to reach Gyumri's Octet School of Music four times a week.
It turned out that Ani's mother, Zaruhi Ghazaryan also studied in that same school - the Octet Music School. Later on she continued her education in the strings department of the Yerevan College of Music named after Romanos Melikyan. `When Ani was born with that deficiency (the cleft palate) and I imagined her crestfallen future,' her mother recalls. `I decided to enroll her in a music school so that she obtains a profession and earns her daily bread. However, now when I witness her success, I want her to become a good musician.'
Yes, definitely, every parent wants to see his/her dreams fulfilled through their kids. This young girl, as says the school principal Mr. Haroutyun Asatryan, possesses absolute talent and even difficult pieces of music come easy to her, be it Paganini, Sarasateh or Aram Khachatryan. The evidence is in the numerous certificates and diplomas that Ani has been awarded in Metropolitan and Republican contests and Olympiads.
Seeing Ani's rural shabby house, it is hard to imagine that it is possible to master the instruments' queen, the violin, in such poor conditions. Listening to her performance, one understands how much musicality and feelings have been gifted by nature to this fragile human being. One understands and wonders, grasps and becomes enraptured.
Ani's father Andranik hardly manages to meet his large family's numerous needs. He owns a cow and a small plot outside the village. Both parents and the children live, sleep and eat in a two-room ramshackle house next to the cattle-shed. Manure is the only smell both inside the home and outside. However, listening to Ani's performance one forgets about various smells any other disturbing circumstances. The classical and national music, and the violin sounds take the listener away from this world, refining the body and soul, charging with optimism and positive energy.
That energy was more than positive during their unexpected visit. The persistent efforts of Dr. and Mrs. Hovanessian produced results. This year they were informed by Dr. Yaghjyan that a group of Italian specialized plastic surgeons arrived in Yerevan on a medical mercy mission. He arranged for little Ani's surgery to correct the cleft palate be one of the first operations to be performed by them. Thus, only few days after their arrival from Italy in early July, the Italian surgeon Fabio Massimo Abenavoli operated on the girl, placing an artificial palate into her mouth's cavity.
Mrs. Zaruhi was extremely ecstatic as her daughter started to articulate at last in her mother tongue. Though the girl has weakened because of the operation (she is not allowed to eat coarse foods for two post-operation months), her look became more meaningful and a smile appeared on her pale face. Now, through speech therapy, she has to polish her speech.
Ani Khachatryan is currently enrolled in Pokr Sariar's secondary school's 5th grade and Gyumri's Octet Music School's 4th grade. Who knows in the future, on what international stages she might perform and what parts of the world would enjoy listening to the Armenian ballad sounds years later. Meanwhile, Ani is learning to communicate in an understandable language with that world.
This is a vivid example of what human care and spirit of compassion and perseverance can do. Humane persons and humanitarian organizations change the destiny of an individual in particular, as well as, the Nation and Country in general.
E-mail photo is available upon request.
PHOTO CAPTION: Ani Khachatryan, who studies at the FAR-sponsored Azad Shishian Octet Music School in Gyumri, plays beautiful music on the violin. After meeting Ani in 2006, Dr. and Mrs. Raffi and Vicki Shoghag Hovanessian changed her life forever by arranging for a surgery to correct Ani's congenital cleft palate through FAR.