Prof. Mher Navoyan

Komitas Celebrated in Berlin and Halle


By Armenuhi Drost-Abarjan

BERLIN — The Mesrob Armenian Studies Center at the Martin Luther University in Halle-Wittenberg celebrated its 20th anniversary in the academic year 2018-2019 with three international conferences, an exhibition on Levon I (see and two concerts. The festivities concluded in October with an academic conference on “Komitas and his Legacy” on the occasion of the 150th birthday of the Armenian musicologist and composer, a symbolic figure for German-Armenian relations.

The international conference-festival titled “Komitas and his Legacy” on October 8-10 drew 50 guests and speakers from the US, Canada, Armenia, Russia, Ukraine, Croatia, France and Italy. It was a cooperative effort of the Komitas Museum-Institute in Yerevan (Dr. Nikolay Kostandyan/ Prof. Mher Navoyan), the Humboldt University in Berlin (Prof. Sebastian Klotz) and the State Library in Berlin (Meliné Pehlivanian) and took place in Berlin and in Halle (Prof. Klaus Neumann/ Prof. Armenuhi Drost-Abgarjan) from October 8 to 10.  In the banquet halls of the Humboldt University and the Halle University, high level representatives from the political, cultural and scientific communities in Germany and Armenia participated.

Armenia’s Ambassador to Germany Ashot Smbatyan and the priest of the Armenian Community in Germany Rev. Yeghishe Avetisyan opened the festive event by laying a wreath at the memorial plaque for Komitas at his alma mater in Berlin.

The aim of the conference was to take a new look at Komitas’s life work, by shedding light on those areas in which his work was innovative, including field research, musical ethnology, folk music, medieval church music, the art of composition and liturgy. In the course of the event, aspects of Armenian music were also considered in the context of other musical traditions. The proceedings of the conference will appear in an anthology in Yerevan.

Dr. Nikolay Kostandyan

The program included the official opening of a traveling exhibition on Komitas, at the State Library in Berlin. A concert featuring works by Komitas was sponsored by the German Federal Minister of Foreign Affairs Heiko Maas and the Foreign Minister of the Republic of Armenia Zohrab Mnatsakanyan. Prominent artists who performed were Hasmik Papyan (Vienna), Sergei Khachatryan (Eschborn), Hayk Sukiasyan (Madrid) and the Berlin vocal ensemble under the direction of Prof. Kristian Commichau (Potsdam).

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Historian Claude Mutafian (Paris) and psychologist Dr. Rita Soulahian-Kuyumjian (Montreal) chaired a round table discussion on the theme of “Art in Times of Repression.” They considered various hypotheses regarding Komitas’s “silencing” (loss of speech) as well as the therapeutic treatments available to him; a survivor of the Genocide, the artist and scientist suffered a mental breakdown and, for twenty years of his life, was no longer able or willing to exert his creative capacities.

The conference proceedings in Halle (where Komitas’s teacher Prof. Oskar Fleischer had earned his doctorate) took place on October 9, in an emergency situation due to a terrorist attack against the Jewish synagogue in the city that day. Although complex organizational measures were required to guarantee the security of the international guests, among them the Armenian Minister for Education, Science, Culture and Sports Arayik Harutyunyan, the conference and the final concert in the Händel House, with works by Komitass and his contemporaries, went smoothly and were very successful. Particularly impressive was the performance of the famous Komitas interpreter Prof. Ruben Dalibaltayan (Zagreb), whose musical fireworks were a worthy tribute to the celebrated Armenian composer.

In her welcoming address, Prof. Valentina Calzolari (Geneva), President of the International Association for Armenian Studies (AIEA), said:

“From abroad, I would like to express my heartiest greetings to all participants of this conference, some of whom have travelled from afar, as well as the organizers. I am convinced that this conference, with its modest title, “Komitas and his Legacy,” will lend a new interdisciplinary perspective to many aspects of Komitas’s life and activity, by locating his rich, multifaceted work in its historical and cultural context, and by highlighting his links to Europe and especially Germany, as well as the Ottoman Empire…

“Since 1998 the Mesrop Center has developed into a privileged place for study of Armenian literature and history, especially literature and religious history in relation to other communities in eastern Christendom. I would like to express my hearty congratulations to Prof. Drost-Abgarjan for this important development that she has secured for the center for the years to come. As the only center for Armenian studies in Germany, the Mesrop Armenian Studies Center plays key role in the field of Armenology. I wish the Center a long life, many further activities and international cooperative efforts, in addition to those it has already abundantly nurtured.

“The International Association for Armenian Studies, which I have the honor to chair, expresses special thanks to Prof. Drost-Abgarjan and her team for the organization of the next AIEA general conference, which will take place next year, September 2020 in Halle.”

People: Komitas

(This text was kindly made available by the author, who is the director of the Mesrob Armenian Studies Center at the Martin Luther University in Halle-Wittenberg. A series of reports on the activities of the Center, including the item on the new center in Poland, will appear in the upcoming issue of the ADK (Armenische-Deutsche-Korrespondenz), the journal of the German-Armenian Society. The free translation from the original German is by Muriel Mirak-Weissbach.)


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