Charles Azanvour in Armenia

30 years ago, Charles Aznavour for Armenia


By Jean Eckian

PARIS — That day, Wednesday, December 7, 1988, it was 11:41 in Armenia (8:41 in France – and December 6: 23:41 in Los Angeles), when a terrible roar sprang from the bowels of the earth on the surface of the cities of Gyumri (Leninakan), Spitak and Kirovakan (Vanadzor), announcing of the deadliest earthquake ever known in Armenia; 25,000 victims, nearly 20,000 wounded, thousands of orphans, entire cities to rebuild.

Aznavour and Georges Garvarentz

In Los Angeles, Georges Garvarentz was still in the studio, attentive to the recording of a film score, he knows nothing of the catastrophe that has just struck Armenia, but Aïda, his wife, heard the terrible news in a televised flash. Upset, she decides not to tell him anything so as not to disturb him in his work. It is the next day, aboard the flight Los Angeles-Paris, that he will learn from the mouth of the sister of Charles Aznavour, what the ancestral land had just undergone. Now, Georges Garvarentz, the famous composer of many successes of the French song, already thought to write a piece of music. He first wanted to see Aznavour who agreed to write the lyrics. The result was the song Ils Sont Tombés (They fell).

Lévon Sayan, Aznavour’s manager, got on a plane to Paris from New York on December 7, 1988. After landing in Paris, Sayan heard the news that an earthquake measuring 6.9 on the Richter scale had just hit Armenia.

In Paris, for Charles Aznavour, it was just stupor.

Everything happened very fast. Lévon Sayan rushed to the phone. At the other end of the line, Charles Aznavour. Ideas fuse. Should we organize a concert? Create an association? An association was created, named “Aznavour for Armenia.” To create it, Sayan got help from Armenian friends, including Nora and Daniel Artinian, Alain Barsikian, Dominique Adjian, and his wife Anne-Marie Sayan.

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On their return to France, Georges and Aïda Garvarentz then found Charles Aznavour. They worked all night to write what would become For you Armenia (Pour toi Arménie).

The French media heavily covered the event. Charles Aznavour was solicited from all sides. He announced the creation of the association “Aznavour pour l’Arménie.” The next day Sayan’s office was full of parcels, checks and offers of help.

At the same time, the idea of appealing to French artists made its way. “For you Armenia” was one of France’s answers to the appeal for help launched by the Armenian friend.

To contact the artists a team was formed around Sayan: Gérard Melet (artistic director at Trema Records) Katia (Katia promotion), the Raffi brothers and Patrick Shart and this writer, Jean Eckian. No refusals were recorded. Only impossibilities of professional order.

Meanwhile, in Gyumri and Spitak, the toll was growing day by day.

French artists participating in Pour Toi Armenie fundraiser

For 9 long hours, Charles Aznavour and Georges Garvarentz taught the artists the song while Henri Verneuil (Achod Malakian) was preparing the filming of the video. Then the miracle happened. This group of artists who have nothing in common except to belong to the families of song, film and television, in styles sometimes different from that of Charles Aznavour, offered the best of themselves when singing the word “Hayastan.”

No doubt, that day, Mount Ararat produced a snowflake shaped like a tear.

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