By Nora Armani
Charles Aznavour, Shahnour Vaghinak Aznavourian, is no more. An era has come to an end. A great man has died, one who was the author of thousands of poems turned into songs that portrayed every single universal nuance of the human emotion of love. He was 100 percent French, he was 100 percent Armenian, he was 100 percent universal. He was bigger than life, and yes, he was 300 percent a man. He was above any national boundaries, because his sense of national belonging was not determined by geography or any historic limitations, but defined by the boundless limitless love that he sang of throughout his lifetime.
His songs were all about this love for his fellow human beings, about their qualities, but more importantly about their shortcomings and their flaws, that he depicted lovingly. He sang of all the outcasts, all the downtrodden, he sang of marginality, he sang of fulfillment in love, and also of unrequited love; he sang of poverty and made it sound romantic. He mocked the bourgeois values that trade love for social standing. He sang of a father’s love for his daughter, of a husband’s love for his wife despite her “letting herself go.” He sang of the non-hearing, he sang of impossible love of a teacher for his student, of his love for Paris, France and its traditions, the French language and its differences with English. He sang of all the women in his life, and in other peoples’ lives. He sang of love for art, for creation, for sexual preferences, gender roles. He sang of yesterday, today and even tomorrow, and he sang for his beloved Armenia and his Armenian people.
Yesterday, when I was young, his songs were the constant soundtrack of my dreams, of my loves and my aspirations. And even now, as I write these lines, his songs parade through my mind on a loop, bringing a smile to my face, joy to my heart, enriching me with a philosophical outlook but also leaving me with a bittersweet sadness because he is no longer with us.
I am honored to have met him several times. The first of these encounters was back in Cairo in 1978 during his concert tour of Cairo and Alexandria. We were newlyweds with my then-husband Gerald Papasian, and we rushed to purchase tickets for his concert at the Gezira Club as soon as we heard he was coming. We were the first ones in front of the box office, so early that it had not opened yet. Later, we had the opportunity to meet him in person, and even perform his poems for him, in French, in English and in Armenian.
We had many opportunities to see him perform in concerts and years later when we moved to the US, we met him again socially, this time in Los Angeles, where he used to come often as he had a house there. With his sister Aida, brother-in-law Georges Garvarentz and a few other friends, we passed many intimate evenings and spoke of art, of performance, of love, of Armenians. He was our inspiration and our role model throughout these years and numerous encounters.