From left, Charles Azanvour, Nora Armani and Gerald Papasian

May his Legacy Continue to Inspire Us and Shape Future Generations

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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.

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But one memorable encounter happened in New York, at the Meridien Hotel, when he was on tour at Radio City Music Hall. Gerald Papasian and myself had performed “Sojourn at Ararat,” our award-winning staple show in its French translation in Montreal following the successes of its English version internationally, and wanted to tackle the challenge of taking it to France. We asked Aznavour’s advice and he immediately connected us with an agent, Philippe Ouzounian, son of playwright Jean-Jacques Varoujan who readily took on the show. This became our stepping stone into France, via Avignon, then Paris, and the positive reviews establishing our presence in France. He was generous with his mentorship and that meant a lot to us at the time. He had not seen us perform then, but trusted us because of our enthusiasm and our desire to tell our story. That enthusiasm probably reminded him of his youth and his own journey.

Once we were established in France, we had the honor to perform it for him as well, and indeed it was a rare honor to be seen in actual performance rather than on a mere social encounter or a photo opportunity. The years went by, and every time Charles Aznavour would see us separately he would inquire about the other, even though we were no longer together. He would remember the circumstances of our meetings, the details of our conversations, and would inquire about matters that we had ourselves long forgotten. He was a great Man in the real sense.

How is it possible to imagine a world without Charles Aznavour, without his infinite wisdom, talent, inspiration and generosity?

His resilience, his hard work, even his stubbornness for never giving up when pursuing a dream, have been huge inspirations for us. His caring for his health and well-being was done only to preserve the God-given receptacle, his body, where God had stored all these songs. There were many more waiting to be sung, to be sent out into the Universe with a universal message of love, tolerance and sublime human values.

He was a great actor, and managed during his career to squeeze in some 60 films in which he played unique characters that only he could portray with such memorable truth.

What a prolific career! And, unlike some who would only do these for their own glory and self-satisfaction, Aznavour gave generously back. He gave to Armenia, specifically after the earthquake in 1988, and continues to give until even after his death.

He was rightfully proclaimed cultural ambassador and peace politician, a title that he proudly carried and put to good use. There was a Charles Aznavour; when will come such another?

And this morning, in the early hours, as I watched live on TV France 24 the national homage that France gave him at Les Invalides, in the presence of four presidents, two prime ministers, many dignitaries, ambassadors, ministers and members of his beloved family, I was filled with pride as an artist, as an Armenian, as a Parisian, but most of all as human being.

Charles Aznavour, Shahnour Vaghinak Aznavourian, is no more. He left us orphaned, and with his departure the flame of our dreams, our aspirations, our hopes has been dimmed. Our flag is flying at half-mast. But the love he instilled in us is overflowing from our hearts and its warmth will continue to brighten our paths and will guide us in our artistic and human endeavors.

As President Macron said this morning in his words of homage to our great poet-singer, “Poets Never Die!” Charles Aznavour will be with us as long as we live and love!

May you Rest In Peace dear Charles Aznavour and may your legacy continue to inspire us and inspire future generations.

(Nora Armani is an award-winning actor, writer, performer and film curator. She performs internationally on stage and on screen in many languages, and holds an M.Sc. in Sociology from the London School of Economics. Nora is currently based in New York and is the Founder and Artistic Director of SR Socially Relevant Film Festival NY.)

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