Vartan Gregorian, left, with Charles Aznavour

From Aznavour to Yerevan with Love

289
0

NEW YORK — Two Diasporan Armenian powerhouses came together on Monday, August 28, at the headquarters of the Carnegie Corporation of New York, to announce the creation of a new and unique museum halfway around the world.

Legendary singer Charles Aznavour announced the creation of his eponymous Interactive Museum and Cultural Center in Yerevan, with the help of Vartan Gregorian, the indefatigable president of the Carnegie Corporation.

Gregorian joked that “Charles Aznavour is 73, but he claims to be 93” so that people would treat him better. He also thanked the 60 or so guests assembled, “who have defied every rule of New York” by being present in the city in late August as well as “every Armenian rule” by arriving even before the noon start time of the luncheon, contrary to a reputed predilection for lateness.

The museum will be a center for all things Aznavour — his music, life and ambitions, loves and family. He has recorded his life story so that those going through the exhibits can hear him tell his story.

But it is not only that.

From left, Vartan Gregorian, Charles Azanvour, and his son, Nicholas

According to the brochure, the Charles Aznavour Interactive Museum “will use multi-media technologies such as computer animation and augmented reality to walk you through the realization of a dream and inspire you to be more than you thought you could be. By taking you through the experience of one man and his music, the museum will show you what is possible if you allow love and your dreams to guide you.”

Get the Mirror in your inbox:

Kristina Sarkisyan, CEO of the Aznavour Foundation in Armenia, recalled how she and her family had been helped by Aznavour’s charitable efforts in Armenia in the wake of the earthquake.

“We didn’t have electricity or hot water” and the two hours of electricity every day were because of him, she recalled.

One slide projected showed his achievements in his ancestors’’ land. The statistics are amazing: 96,000 families helped from distribution of food or clothing, 86,6000 meals, 1,000 tons of medicine, 1,200 prostheses, 1.3 million people with electricity, 300 houses, one retirement home and 30 kilometers of drinking water and irrigation pipelines, among many others.

In gratitude for all his contributions, the government gifted him a large building at the top of the Cascade, in the heart of Yerevan.

It is this very building that Aznavour is now giving back to the country, as the Charles Aznavour Interactive Museum and Cultural Center.

Aznavour was accompanied by his son, Nicholas. He spoke with passion about his hopes for the museum.

“I want the youth to have the possibility of dreaming. The diaspora and Armenia must unite their efforts to make Armenian culture vibrant,” he said. There are so many outstanding Armenian musicians around the world, he said, including Georges Garvarentz and Michel Legrand, to name but two. It is time, he said, for Armenia to showcase these talents, “and not just chess.”

By crosspollination, the countries of both gain, he said.

“[The] arts play a great role in the history of Armenia,” Gregorian agreed.

Aznavour concurred, cautioning that “many great cultures have disappeared. It can happen to Armenia.”

Gregorian recalled his early life as a student in the US and how Aznavour mattered to him back then, too. “Whenever I felt depressed in college, I would listen to Edith Piaf and Charles Aznavour. When you sang,” he said, turning to Aznavour, “I felt, ‘my God, I’m liberated. I felt ‘Life is yours and they are with you.’”

He rattled off Aznavour’s statistics. He has written more than 800 songs and recorded more than 1,200, in eight languages. He has sold more than 180 million records. And as Gregorian said, while apologizing to the two archbishops in the room, he is a “French pop deity.” In addition, he is Armenia’s permanent ambassador to Switzerland as well as its representative to the United Nations in Geneva.

Gregorian stressed that Armenians need to focus on building Armenia. “We have built the rest of the world, but not Armenia.” And those communities either die or the buildings and lands are confiscated. He rattled off examples of communities in Istanbul, Jerusalem, New Julfa, Georgia, Ethiopia, Egypt, Syria, communities where once Armenians were numerous and prosperous, but which are now a shadow of their former selves.

Rachel Onanian Nadjarian, who is helping with the project, explained that the museum is not yet open but that it is in the process of gathering the material. Already, she explained, Aznavour has recorded the story of his life so that visitors can listen to his lifestory in his voice as they tour the museum.

In addition, the museum offers space for French language, cinematography and editing classes as well as a recording studio.

She added that the museum is “beautiful,” adding that like “everything that surrounds Charles, it is nothing less than filled with happiness.”

Aznavour was in the US for the unveiling of his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on August 24.

He added, “I am very proud to be Armenian and to be French too,” and noted, “a man who forgets his roots is not a man.”

Present for the luncheon were a host of representatives from the French and Dutch consulates as well as Armenian-American and French guests.

For information about the museum, visit www.aznavourfoundation.org.