Hetq sits down for a candid interview with musician, songwriter and performer Arto Tunçboyacıyan about Armenia, its present problems and future possibilities.
Arto, what’s your take on the situation on Armenia today? Do you follow the latest developments in the country?
If things continue like this, I do not hold out much hope. I have hope within me, but I have no intention of fighting dirty like they do; of putting my gun in my pocket, go out and kill, and then sit and eat pasta. Such ideas remain fantasy. The most dangerous thing is a hungry man without hope.
The authorities of this country must be cleverer than the people. For what does it mean to be clever? Cleverness doesn’t mean deceiving people. Thos who deceive will wind up deceiving themselves. Only the Taliban and Armenians will be left following this approach, because all the people have a contract to go to Mars and live. I see no logic about the people governing us. It’s as if all they want to do is fill their pockets. But they should know that it will all turn into garbage. Money is like poisoned honey. If you don’t use it correctly, it will kill you one day.
On TV, on a million occasions, I’ve told the government to collect one dollar from every Armenian. For example, they organized the recent Nune Yesayan concert in Yerevan. Zero-zero-zero. They spent all that money, around $150,000. They tricked the people and used play-back tracks. No one was actually singing.
What has Nune Yesayan done for the arts during her life so that she should do something now with that space??
For years, I tried to establish a space for talented kids in Armenia, to help give them a push. But the tricked me and took my house. But I still back the idea. They can’t get ahead by killing me. There was no progress. On the contrary, they hindered us and gave Nune Yesayan a space. What does this mean? What has Nune Yesayan done for the arts during her life so that she should do something now with that space?
Things can’t continue like this. Why did they levy taxes from people like Cafesjian? He gave his whole life and millions for Armenia.
Where can young talent thrive in Armenia? It’s enough already. 22 years have passed. It’s a disgrace. We’ve had three presidents. There’s no space left in their asses to put money.
The Conservatory doesn’t teach you music, but teaches you how to perform in another format. The director of the Conservatory once asked me, “What have you accomplished in your life? Do you have a diploma?” What can I tell that person? Collect all your diplomas and let’s see what you can play. Yes, I ride a bike, but that doesn’t mean I can become an airplane pilot.
For this reason, giving Nune Yesayan such an opportunity is the same as letting me teach Armenian. But one day, you won’t hear me say, I became president, so now I will teach Armenian. It’s disgraceful. The time has come. I must ask them to think intelligently a bit and to not make war with this people. It will turn out bad for them. Let them quietly go away.
I want to see a new generation with its own sound.
Arto, what have we lost during 22 years of independence?
You see what I see. It’s a shame. Sure, there are more cars now. But is that progress? Look at their faces, their clothes, their homes. But this nation…
I take pride and feel happiness that I am serving the people. There is nothing greater for me than a person who is happy. Money and toilet paper is the same thing for me. It’s unfortunate that we have become slaves of money. When avarice and lies unite, there is nothing more dangerous. That’s why I say that a hungry man without hope is capable of doing everything.
People are leaving the country…
But why should they leave? If they want to launder money, let them do it intelligently. I’ve been coming to Armenia for the past 15 years. They are dumping asphalt on the same roads. Hey guys, do it right the first time so that you can pave other roads. At least the city will improve. Go ahead and launder money, but not so stupidly.
When people see something wrong, they emigrate. They tricked Europe for all this time and now they are going to the Russians. Do we have that trait in us? Of kissing someone’s ass? What does this mean?
What does the name Armenia mean? The country of Armenians. I am also an Armenian. From time to time, you hear someone make a stupid comment like, “Who are these people (diaspora Armenians) who have come from the outside? What have they done for the country?” OK, but you have destroyed this place. We, at least, want to help a bit. Leave us alone and see what we can do in this country.
Do you see the threat of us losing this country?
Absolutely. I was always careful so that the Turks and others wouldn’t hear about what’s happening here. But we have now reached a danger point. If I die, it will be for these young people, not for the powerful. Why can’t they unite with me? Because they are all in the same shit. I won’t turn into shit. I won’t open another’s ass nor will I allow another to open mine.
You didn’t speak so bitterly and insulted in the past. What happened?
Because they made me this way. They seized the house I built with my money. We have an evil side. We kill and then make the killers heroes.
Do you really believe that the Azerbaijanis killed Monte Melkonian? I don’t believe it for a second. They hit anyone who is loved by the people. The people in power make the problems and then put on a show as if they are solving them.
Here, in this café, 7 out of 10 people know me. But I don’t even have a room to live here. (More than 10 years ago Arto purchased land in the Martuni village of Zolakar on which to build a house. He claims some powerful people demanded money so that he could build it. Arto says he handed over $17,000 and that his friend, Narekatsi Art Institute President Nareg Hartunian, gave another $6-7,000. He says they were both deceived.)
I’m disgusted already. When I come here I have to pay rent here and there, for hotels. Am I the only stupid one here, that I destroyed my family, I left and came here? I separated from my wife, left my kids and grandchild behind.
I joined up with the Voice of Armenia TV program. But what happened? They destroyed that too. They played games.
So, where are we headed?
Nowhere. We remain in the garbage. Can a bike rider ever become a pilot? That’s how we are today. There are many talented Armenians throughout the world, but why should they come here? To fill the pockets of these guys with faces like cows?
A hundred times from the stage I have said that they can drive me from here, but at least help the people living here. There are musicians who dream of going to Glendale, to at least play at a wedding and live comfortably. Do you know who these musicians are? They can represent the general concept of our nation. I have always said that we must turn this country into a center for artists and our nation into the sun of humanity.
Arto, do you see a glimmer of hope?
What I am saying is that these people in power can’t do anything. If they really want to help our nation, they should quietly pack their bags and go to Mars, from where it’s impossible to return. Otherwise there will be a war. They turned religion into a business, God into a business.
Is it possible that you won’t want to come back to Armenia?
What have I been doing for 15 years? Do you think another stupid person like me will be found? We go to America and play and the audiences are flabbergasted. They are proud of us. But others boast about going to Glendale to play and come back saying, “We went to America”. Who are they kidding? Have you ever seen one of the greats, Mariah Carey, for example, saying “Let me make another Armenian CD.” But we Armenians, how we love to make another.
What is there to be proud of? Sure there was the Ararat team of the 70s. This and that. But man, are you dumb or what? That was 40 years ago.
Hasn’t our government appreciated you during the past 15 years?
Forget me, just let the people be happy…Get rid of me, I’ll leave in a second.
The villager, a person with a pure soul, they are degrading them. And they use that pureness for their dirty aims. They claim they have been elected. Are you kidding? We are kidding ourselves.
Do you think the Americans don’t understand? We are of two faces today. For the past 4-5 years we have been talking to the Europeans and Americans, and at the last second, we make a u-turn to the Russians. There are words I can use here, but...
I did the Voice of Armenia program. It was Ok for the first year, bravo. But can’t we think of things to do ourselves? Are the Dutch the smart ones? What are all these guys (musicians) studying for? Because they have brains of cauliflower? If they had such brains it would be easy.
I stand beside the individual who does good for our nation, for humanity, and who doesn’t damage our environment.
Photo: by rockpaperscissors