Conductor Constantine Orbelian

An Open Letter to Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan

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By Sona Hamalian

Mr. Prime Minister,

This is one letter I wish I never had to write. Yet now I know I must, because passive resignation and complacency should no longer be requirements for those of us who call Armenia home, and because I know, without an iota of doubt, that your political wisdom and sense of fairness remain beyond reproach.

As you know only too well, Yerevan in recent days experienced a minor convulsion, in the wake of acting Minister of Culture Nazeni Gharibyan’s peremptory dismissal of Constantine Orbelian from his position as General Director of the Yerevan Opera House. I suspect the core reason this development did not sit too well with the people of Yerevan was that the person who was being ordered to vacate his position was not some nasty oligarch, or a corrupt government official, or a longtime tax evader, but a man who has almost single-handedly brought about the revival of one of our most beloved national treasures, the Yerevan Opera House.

Already some months prior to Gharibyan’s Soviet-style stroke of the pen dismissing Orbelian, and in view of former Minister of Culture Lilit Makunts’ smear campaign unleashed against the Maestro, I had been having a sneaky suspicion that the effects of the marvelous jolt of last year’s Velvet Revolution had started to wear off, that the new Armenia which you, Mr. Prime Minister, had helped emerge, was perhaps just too good to be true.

I was wrong. I don’t think I’ve ever been happier for being wrong about something. When highly-intelligent, well-informed, and fair-minded people — first dozens, then hundreds of them — expressed outrage, hit the streets of Yerevan to make their protest heard, or signed the petition calling for an immediate reversal of Gharibyan’s action, my faith in the fundamental decency of the Armenian people was at once restored.

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Yet I don’t have to tell you that popular protest is only half the story in the process of engendering meaningful and actual change. The historic events of April and May 2018 showed us, once more, that change germinates in the hearts and minds of a people, but must become systemic in order to be lasting.

Perhaps it bears repeating here that, in the short few years since his appointment, Constantine Orbelian has helped make the Armenian musical arts a dazzling presence on the global stage — by promoting the continued artistic excellence of the Yerevan Opera House, by mounting innovative new productions, and by taking the Opera overseas, to unprecedented popular and critical acclaim. I think it also bears repeating that Maestro Orbelian has achieved these strides by often personally financing the large-scale, and considerably costly, endeavors of a modern opera house.

Let me conclude by reprising the theme of change. Mr. Prime Minister, I think we must never cease to remind ourselves that even a single instance of nepotism is one too many; that even one instance of parochialism at the administrative level, even one instance of abuse of power or conspiracy, is enough to taint the otherwise spotless stature and reputation of a government dedicated to the cause of reform. We’re either the society that deserves to be the heir of Armenia’s Velvet Revolution or we’re not. We can’t be something in between.

Your Excellency, I call on you to reinstate Maestro Orbelian as Artistic and General Director of the Yerevan Opera House. In the wake of the events that have gripped Yerevan in recent days, I know you will do everything in your power to help safeguard the absolute highest standards of justice and fairness within our homeland. We are all counting on you to do the right thing.

(Sona Hamalian is an activist and an observer with a background in public relations. In Afghanistan in 2010, trained 22 NGOs in public relations and fundraising before going to Saudi Arabia to work as an Ethics and Compliance Officer for SAS Systems Engineering. Eventually she returned to Armenia to work public relations and fundraising for various organizations.)

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