Armenag Shah-Mouradian

DETROIT — The region of Cilicia occupies a unique place in the history of the Armenians, which began after the incursions of the Turks in Asia Minor in the 11th century and the exile of the Armenian nobility. From the time that Baron Roupen I gained a foothold in the mountains near Hadjin in 1080, the area was to become a second homeland for the Armenian people up until the Armenian Genocide of 1915.

Thousands of Armenians and even the Catholicos had followed the exiled nobles to the area, and even after the Kingdom fell in 1375 and the Catholicosate returned to Echmiadzin in 1441, Cilicia remained home to a vibrant Armenian community. Its chief bishop retained his status of Catholicos as well, though subordinate to Echmiadzin. In literature, poetry, and song, the Armenian people extolled Cilicia second only to the homeland of Armenia itself. It is no wonder that during the war, so many Armenian young men signed up to fight the Turks as “gamavors” under French leadership in the specially created Armenian Legion, as the Allies promised them a homeland in Cilicia through the intercession of Boghos Nubar, head of the AGBU. Though the Allied and Armenian troops arrived in 1918 and ADL leader Mihran Damadian attempted to declare Cilicia’s independence on August 5, 1920, the French ceded Cilicia to the Kemalist Turks in late 1921 and evacuated their troops on January 4, 1922, forcing the Armenians into a second exile.

One of the earliest songs referencing the Armenians in Cilicia is the Lamentation of Levon. I will here paraphrase the remarks of Puzant Yeghiayan on this song, in his book, History of the Armenians of Adana.

“It is known from the history of the Armenians of Cilicia, that the Mamluk Sultan of Egypt, Baybars al-Bunduqdarr, receiving aid from the Crusaders’ Emperor Frederick II [actually, Frederick’s son King Manfred of Sicily] against the attacks of the unified Armeno-Tatar front, conquered Syria and Cilicia in a counter-attack, and in one fateful blow, Toros, son of King Hetoum I of Cilicia, fell in battle, while his other son Levon was taken to Egypt as a slave in 1266.

It was only four years later that Levon, being freed, would come and sit on the Cilician Throne as Levon III [King Leo II of Armenian Cilicia, ruled 1270-1289].

This little ballad, which repeats the well-known episode from the epic Sassountsi Tavit of Msra Melik playing with the ball, is perhaps a remnant of a Cilician epic similar to Sassountsi Tavit, or, even a prototype of Sassountsi Tavit.”

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The song begins with Avagh, uzLeonn asem, vor Dajgats toorn ungel keri. The following is based mostly on the translation of the song printed in Father Leo Alishan’s (Mekhitarist) book of Armenian Popular Songs (1867), with some modernization and additions based on the version in Yeghiayan’s book.

On Levon, son of Hetoum I

I say alas, for Levon, who has fallen

Into slavery at the court of the Muslims

My light, my light, and Holy Virgin!

The Holy Cross be helper to Levon and everyone!

The Sultan has come into the courtyard

He plays with his golden globe

My light, my light, and Holy Virgin!

The Holy Cross be helper to Levon and everyone!


He played and gave it to Levon:

“Take, play, and give it to your papa.”

My light, my light, and Holy Virgin!

The Holy Cross be helper to Levon and everyone!


Levon said to the Sultan

“You play, the playing befits you,

I and my papa are your slaves”

My light, my light, and Holy Virgin!

The Holy Cross be helper to Levon and everyone!


“Leo, if you become a Moslem,

I will make you king”

My light, my light, and Holy Virgin!

The Holy Cross be helper to Levon and everyone!


Leo sitting in the fortress

With a handkerchief to his eyes wept:

“You caravan which goes to Sis,

Take the news to my papa!”


When his father heard it

He collected many troops of horsemen;

He went against the Sultan,

And made many rivers of blood flow.


He took his son Levon,

And obtained the desire of his heart.

My light, my light, my light, and Holy Virgin!

The Holy Cross be helper to Levon and everyone!


At the time of the Kingdom of Cilicia, the art of Armenian Church music and writing of sharagans reached its peak, especially by the pen of St. Nersess Shnorhali. After the fall of Cilicia, the sharagan repertoire was closed. Therefore, it should be no surprise to anyone that Cilicia being as it were a kingdom wedged between the Byzantine, Arab, Turkish, and Crusader states and empires, the Armenian church music which was perfected there should show similar melodic characteristics to the music of those cultures. However, we are not going to analyze the sharagans written in Cilicia other than to say that Nersess Shnorhali at this time composed the famous Arevakal service, today commonly used in Armenian Apostolic Churches on the Sunday mornings of Lent, to minister to those Armenians who continued to worship the sun and were called Arevortik, by comparing Christ to the sun.


Skipping forward to the modern period, we should note that Cilicia (Giligia as it is pronounced in Western Armenian) was seen as a second homeland for Armenians. Though the equivalent of Cilicia in terms of Turkish provinces was the Vilayet of Adana, including the cities of Adana, Tarsus, Deort Yol, and Sis, and Hadjin; the Armenians of Zeitun, Marash, Aintab, Musa Dagh and Kessab also considered themselves part of Cilicia though Musa Dagh and Kessab were geographically and historically speaking suburbs of Antioch, in ancient times the capital of Syria. Zeitun and Hadjin, as well as Tomarza just to the north in Cappadocia, were independent or semi-independent Armenian city-states, ruled by their own princes descended from Cilician nobility. Zeitun in particular guarded its autonomy closely, including their right to bear arms, and rose up against the Ottoman government in the famous rebellion of 1862.

The most famous song to be written about Cilicia was undoubtedly Nahabed Rousinian’s immortal Giligia (“Yerpvor Patzvin Turnern Houso” – When The Doors Of Hope Are Opened). Rousinian was born in 1819 in Efkere, a village of Gesaria and moved to Constantinople with his family at a young age. While Gesaria was technically a part of Cappadocia, judging from Rousinian’s song, he, and probably many other Western Armenian intellectuals, saw Cilicia as his homeland. He describes it as “the land which gave me life.” It is to be noted that while in modern times the inhabitants of the cities of Cilicia (Adana, Aintab, Marash) were entirely Turkish-speaking Armenians, and an extremely difficult Armenian dialect was spoken in the villages such as Hadjin, Zeitoun, Musa Dagh and Kessab, at the same time, a more standard form of Armenian had been spoken in Cilicia during the period of the medieval Kingdom and in that period had been the place where some of the attributes of Western Armenian are first seen to emerge, such as the consonantal differences from Eastern Armenian. But, it was probably Cilicia’s political history, ancient and modern, as well as its economic importance in the late Ottoman Empire (people from other provinces would often go to Adana to make their fortune, as a sort of alternative to migrating to Constantinople) and its natural beauty that drew the fascination of Armenians from Constantinople and across the Empire.

Nahabed Rousinian

Rousinian was a noted modernizer in the Armenian community, who with Krikor Odian and others conceived and drew up the Armenian National Constitution of 1860 (adopted in 1863), which democratized the functioning of the Armenian Millet (Nation), that is, the Apostolic Church in its function as a political institution under Ottoman law. He was also a promoter of the use of modern Armenian (ashkharhapar) as opposed to the Classical Armenian (krapar). After the Mount Lebanon Civil War of 1860, he, along with other Armenians, was sent by the Ottoman government to restore peace. After this trip, he wrote the poem “Giligia,” which was based on the French poem and song “Ma Normandie” (My Normandy) by Frederic Berat. While it is clear the lyrics are based on Berat’s poem, Rousinian made a truly inspired adaptation to the Armenian – inspired because of its clarity and ease of understanding as well as inspiring lyrics, despite the use of Classical Armenian forms here and there. Yeghiayan in his Adana book demonstrates how good Rousinian’s work really was by placing side by side his familiar version with another, inferior adaptation of “Ma Normandie” that was made by renowned poet Mgrdich Beshigtashlian.

The music of the song Giligia, while loosely based on the original, is also moving and was composed by Kapriel Yeranian of Constantinople, possibly the first to introduce Western compositional techniques into the Armenian community.

Yeranian published the periodicals Oriental Lyre (1857-1858) and Armenian Lyre (1861-1862) in which he printed for the first time Armenian songs in Western notation. His students included Nigoghayos Tashjian, notable for being the official compiler of what became the standard versions of most Armenian church melodies, as well as Dikran Choukhajian, notable as the first to write an Armenian opera (“Arshag II”) as well as the first to write Turkish operas (some of which, such as “Leblebiji” were later translated into Armenian). Yeranian was also the author of the patriotic song Hayastan, Yergir Trakhdavayr which has been considered by scholars the one of the very few serious contenders should the Armenian national anthem ever be changed from Mer Hayrenik. Since Yeranian died in 1862, the song Giligia must have been composed between 1860 and 1862, making it one of the earliest Armenian patriotic songs, along with others by Yeranian.

Tenor Armenag Shah-Mouradian, a protégé of Gomidas Vartabed, soloist of the Paris Grand Opera, and the most famous Armenian classical performer of his time, lived in New York from 1914 to 1930 and recorded a well-known version of Giligia in New York in 1918 for Columbia Records. (

The following English translation of the song Giligia was made by Nina E. Rice, an American who taught at the missionary-run Anatolia College in Marsovan before the Genocide:

When doors of hope are open wide

And dreary winter flees away,

Our beauteous Armenia

Beams forth in glad and smiling day;

When swallows to their nests return

And trees put on their leaves so bright

I yearn for my home, Cilicia,

The land where first I saw the light.


There comes to each a time of life

When all our hopes are gone at last

The poor soul longs and strives no more

And dwells alone upon the past

Then, when my breaking harp, unstrung,

Shall sing to hope a last good-night

I’ll go to sleep in Cilicia

The land where first I saw the light.

We conclude our discussion of Yerpvor Patzvin (Giligia) with the words of noted musicologist and one of the five disciples of Gomidas, Mihran Toumajan: “This is the song which, like a magnet, has pulled to itself and does pull and bring near all the ancestral emotions and dreams of the Armenian, giving an imprint to them, which is invisible, but exists and comes like a vision rolling down from the ages…”

Smpad Piurad

The next song to be mentioned is a rather rare one in the Armenian repertoire, but was actually written in Giligia. The song Aykoon Aykoon, Im Khtsgin Mod (At Dawn, At Dawn, Near My Little Room) was, according to M. Toumajan, extremely popular in Cilicia between 1900 and 1915, but he does not know who the composer was, stating it was attributed to various famous poets. Puzant Yeghiayan in his work informs us that this song was sung often by Bishop Yeghishe Garoyan in Antelias in the 1930s and 40s, and that Bishop Yeghishe had stated that it was written by his classmate from the seminary in Sis, Mihran Isbirian. Isbirian, an Armenian-speaker born in Sepastia in 1873, had spent 6 years in the seminary, travelled throughout Cilicia and Syria, and become a teacher of the Armenian and French languages in his hometown before being murdered in 1915. Evidently he had written Aykoon Aykoon while in the seminary and the reference to “Khtsig” as a small room, also means a hermit’s or monk’s cell. Musicologist Toumajan believed that it was based on an “older, sharagan-style melody.” The lyrics of Aykoon Aykoon, translated, follow:

At dawn, at dawn,

Near my little room

With a bright smile, until the morning

Sings my nightingale of Sis:

Giligia, Giligia, Giligia


Spring comes, the flowers blossom

In the fields, in the bosom of the valley

But my little nightingale still laments:

Giligia, Giligia, Giligia


Roses open in deep red color

Again my mourning messenger

Doesn’t change his sad cry:

Giligia, Giligia, Giligia


Akh, the red petals of that rose

Were painted with the blood of ancestors

And those dewdrops are tears,

Giligia, Giligia, Giligia


Be silent, nightingale, don’t sing anymore

Don’t renew our old pains

Be silent, your voice opens wounds

Giligia, Giligia, Giligia

Unfortunately it is difficult to find a recording of this song. An Anatolian-style version was recorded in the US in 1928 by Gesaratsi singer Garabet Merjanian. However, possibly because the nightingale has a “bright smile,” Merjanian seems to interpret the song in a more happy, patriotic march-like style. However, it is also possible to sing the song in a sad way, as we hear in modern Armenia-based singer Lilit Pipoyan’s arrangement. (

This brings us to the next and perhaps most famous song about Cilicia – Adanayi Voghpuh (the Lamentation of Adana). This piece, written by Smpad Piurad (Smpad Der Ghazarian) is a direct reference and response to the Adana Massacre of 1909.

Piurad was born in Zeitoun in 1862, and educated in his hometown, as well as Jarankavorats in Jerusalem and the Sorbonne. He returned to Zeitoun where he became the superintendent of schools. However, after he and his wife were jailed and tortured during the 1890s, they went into exile, returning to Constantinople after the Revolution of 1908 when he became a Member of Parliament. During this period he participated in many political struggles and wrote numerous books. He was one of those rounded up and murdered on April 24, 1915.

As most Armenians are well aware, after the proclamation of the Ottoman Constitution in 1908, the Young Turks (CUP – Committee of Union and Progress) took control of the Ottoman Empire, with the “bloody” Sultan Abdul Hamid reduced to a mere figurehead. Armenian political organizations and parties were supportive of this effort which was supposed to bring democracy and civil rights to Turkey. But in 1909, a counter-revolution by monarchists led to an outbreak of massacres in Adana and throughout the Cilicia region, leaving about 30,000 dead and half the city torched.

While the ADL and other parties opposed further cooperation with the CUP (the ADL in fact aligned itself with the new, pro-Western “Freedom and Accord” party that was briefly active until Talat and his clique took compete power over the government in 1913), the ARF continued their cooperation with the majority CUP party who held almost all parliament seats, until the CUP itself instigated their genocidal policies in 1915. Nevertheless, leading ARF members such as poet Siamanto, living in Boston at the time, decried the violence of 1909, as did all Armenians. Siamanto published his Garmir Lourer Paregames (Bloody News From My Friend) which included his horrific poem “the Dance,” remembered for its outburst, “Oh human justice, I spit in your face!”

Siamanto’s poem along with Smpad Piurad’s Adanayi Yerkuh (the Song of Adana, as it was originally titled), and other works formed the literary section of Hagop Terzian’s Giligyo Aghede (The Holocaust of Cilicia), published in Constantinople in 1912 (seemingly a brief high point of Armenian freedom) documenting the atrocities that had taken place only a few years earlier. Smpad Piurad’s song is described as coming from something called Hayoon Yerkaran (The Armenians’ Songbook) but I was unable to find this original work. The lyrics to this extremely moving song, as written in Terzian’s book, I have translated below:

The Song of Adana

The pitiless carnage, let the Armenians weep

Splendid Adana has turned into a desert

The fire and the sword, the mob and plunder

The house of Roupen, akh, they turned to ruins


Bright sun, don’t give your light anymore

But bind a necklace of mourning around your light

A simoom from the south passed through our country

It dried up and withered every tree and flower


A moment hadn’t passed, and the poor Armenians

Fell beneath the sword and the terrible mob

Churches and schools were lost in the flames

Thousands of Armenians died unsparingly


The unfeeling, lawless evil left orphaned

The child from its mother, the bride from her groom

The shameless Jevad, the vile Adil

Ate and were satisfied by the blood of the Armenian


Alas! Wealthy Adana is empty

All of Cilicia has turned to ashes

Only sweet Hadjin lived

Why wasn’t rocky Zeitoun moved?


For three days and nights from within the fire

The enemy’s sword and bomb, from outside

Erased the Armenian from the face of the earth

Blood flowed from our clear rivers

As seen in the song, Jevad (Cevad) Bey, the Vali of Adana Province, and Adil Bey, a representative of the Ministry of the Interior from Constantinople, were held responsible by the songwriter for the events of 1909. Adil Bey became notorious among Armenians for a telegram he had sent to Jevad with orders from the central government stating that “The financial institutions along with foreign buildings should be protected and peace should be preserved.” Armenian political leaders, especially Member of Parliament Krikor Zohrab, openly argued in the Ottoman Parliament that “preserve peace” or “restore order” was code in the language of the old regime for “massacre the Armenians.” The song’s reference to Hadjin recognizes that all-Armenian town’s successful self-defense during the massacre, while the reference to Zeitoun, seems to be a criticism or question by the Zeitoun native that his hometown, known for its uprisings and armed citizenry, should have perhaps been able to oppose the massacres more vigorously. “Adanayi Voghpuh” to this day is sung in commemoration of what happened in 1909 and indeed the total loss of Armenian existence in Anatolia in 1915.

In addition to Smpad Piurad’s song, Terzian’s documentary book also includes a poem written in Turkish about the massacre – “Adananin Destani” (The Ballad of Adana) by Adana native Levon Ebeyan, otherwise known as Asık Ihsani. This was no surprise, as the Armenians of Adana were mostly Turkish-speaking. A song in the language they understood was obviously considered appropriate in a book about the suffering they had endured. Although “Adananin Destani” is no longer well known, another Turkish song about the incident written by Ebeyan is, to some degree. As previously stated, a number of Turks (many of them innocent) and Armenians were hanged in the aftermath of the massacre as scapegoats. The most infamous of these executions was that of “Kasab” (Butcher) Misak – a butcher by trade and not as a nickname – who was considered completely innocent, and in fact had not even tried to resist, but had hid in the local church with the women and children. Nevertheless, Misak was hanged for the alleged crime of killing 25 Turks. Misak was himself apparently an ashough (minstrel) and sang his last words as he was going up to the gallows, blaming his death as a punishment for not having actually fought back. Levon Ebeyan also wrote a song about Kasab Misak, which was so widespread that it was even sung by the Turkish-speaking Cappadocian Greeks to the north. A recording of it made in the late 1940s by Cappadocian Greek singer Theodoros Demirtzoglou (born in Nigde) ended up being a big seller in the Armenian-American community. The refrain of the song translates:

What kind of fate is this, Kasab Misak?

Can anyone stand this situation?

You were hanged like an innocent lamb

Can the one who sees it, believe it?

The fact that a Greek singer was the only person to have preserved this song, shows that the Greeks, as fellow Christians and victims of Genocide themselves, were aware of what was happening to the Armenians and sympathized with them. The song also shows the hypocrisy of the Turkish government which tried to cover up the fact that Cevad Bey, the Vali of Adana, was implicated in the massacres, by having innocent people hanged.

Since we have reached the subject of Turkish songs, it would be unfair not to mention that Adana and the rest of Cilicia was the home of numerous Armenian musicians who played instruments such as the oud, violin, clarinet, saz (damboura), and kanon, and sang songs in Turkish. Many were connected to Adana such as Aman Adanalim, Djanim Adanalim and there were the famous Aintab songs Halvaji Halva and Alli Da Yemenim. In addition, the “chifte telli” was extremely popular as a solo dance. Aside from this “kef time” music, there were also the many Ottoman classical “sharkis” that had often been written by Armenian composers. In regard to that style of music, Kevork Chakmakjian of Larnaca stated the following: “Hadji Manoog Agha had a nice voice; he sang choice numbers of Turkish poetry authored by Armenian ashoughs, and we listened, hungry for it. Sometimes he explained and interpreted the meaning of difficult words, so we could understand. All the destans and semahs that he sang were full of moral lessons. Those poems charmed us and we marveled at their beauty. Many times he gave the biography of the composers, also.

“I loved the compositions of those Armenian ashoughs so much, that I had copied some 60 of them in my notebook, which I kept with care like a little book, but alas, that my notebook filled with those choice poems became fuel for the fire during the Massacre of Adana, April 14, 1909.”

One of the Armenian musicians/ashoughs of Adana was Oudi Movses Hagopian, who later moved to Syria and then repatriated to Soviet Armenia – where Stalin promptly sent him to Siberia on alleged charges of being an ARF member and/or having worked for the French. After Stalin’s death, Oudi Movses was released and returned to Yerevan where he performed for the Turkish-speaking repatriate community or “akhbars.” At the time of the deportation in 1915, Oudi Movses wrote a long poem in Turkish about the experience, and he did it again in 1920 when the French began to renege on their promise of a free Cilicia. His poem expresses frustration with France and fear of the Kemalists, and wonders where the Armenians will go now.

As most readers know, a similar Anatolian style of music was popular in the US, but was sung as often in Armenian as it was in Turkish, considering most of the immigrants to the US were from Armenian-speaking regions such as Kharpert, Sepastia, and Dikranagerd. Such an approach was also taken in Cilicia during the French occupation – some musicians who knew Armenian decided to translate the lyrics of the songs composed by Armenians in Turkish into Armenian so that they would be suitable for the new nation that the Armenians were trying to build in Cilicia. This effort seems to have been just as short-lived as French-Armenian Cilicia itself. Instead what happened, according to Dr. Vahe Tachjian, was that musicians in the coffeehouses would sing both Turkish songs and Armenian ones, usually patriotic. Patrons were angered that the “sacred” Armenian patriotic songs were sung before or after Turkish tunes, and fights broke out over the issue. The French put a stop to it by banning Armenian songs from the coffeehouses!

One song which seems to have emanated from this era, and is still popular in the US “kef music” circles, is Gamavor Zinvor, first recorded in 1924-25 by singer Karekin Proodian with Udi Edward Bashian and violinist Harry Hasekian (a native of Marash). Although it is actually unclear from the text of the song whether the Cilician or Caucasus “gamavors” (Armenian volunteer fighters) are referenced, there seems to be a consensus that it is about Cilicia and the Armenians that fought under the French. Many of these fighters were recruited from the United States, where thousands of single young men had been immigrating for the prior 35 years. Several kef songs were written about the gamavors, including Gamavor A Im Yares (My Love Is A Gamavor) and Ararayi Zinvor (Soldier of Arara – a battle in which the French Armenian legion distinguished themselves), both of which were written in the popular “zeybek” rhythm. This Anatolian solo dance was a mark of male virility and highly popular among Armenian immigrants, but often considered a “Turkish” dance and certainly never had Armenian words. In an era largely before the Greek version (zeibekiko) was popular, it seems that giving this dance lyrics about the Armenian fighters was both thematically appropriate and killed two birds with one stone.

Despite these valuable rarities, Gamavor Zinvor remains the most famous of this group of kef songs, while the others are known only to a handful of collectors. It is unknown whether the song was written by Proodian himself, his close collaborator and master songwriter Hovsep Shamlian, or an unknown source perhaps in occupied Cilicia or elsewhere in Anatolia or the Middle East. The only clue that could be found was a reference in a book on Amasia that the song was “sung by the survivors after the armistice,” which could include any of the above possibilities. The lyrics, in the voice of a young girl who is in love with an Armenian soldier, translate as follows:

You are a volunteer soldier

You are a balm for my wounds

Every night I dream of you

You are a piece of my heart

I want to be, I want to be,

I want to be your turtledove

I only have one wish to ask of God

That I be your fiancée

You walk like a soldier

Your stance like an officer

You cannot find a girl

Who would love you like me

I want to be, I want to be,

I want to be your turtledove

In church, with a white veil

I want to be standing next to you


Armenian-American Vahan Boyajian, born in Hussenig, Kharpert, was one of these Gamavor Zinvors. Arriving in America as a boy and living with his older sister in Providence, he signed up for the French Armenian Legion after the Genocide started. After serving in Palestine and Cilicia, he returned to America in 1920, settling in New Jersey. His short-lived recording career as a singer included both Turkish kef songs and Kharpert folk songs in Armenian – but his most well-known recording was Der Zor, the ballad sung by the Armenian deportees in Turkish during Armenian Genocide itself. Though most survivors of Der Zor seem to have known this song, it seems likely that it was either composed by women from Cilicia, or just that it was composed in Turkish because those from Cilicia as well as Kayseri and Yozgat didn’t understand Armenian. There are numerous verses to this song, which has been studied in depth by Verjine Svazlian in Armenia. The lyrics of Boyajian’s version are as follows:

In the deserts of Der Zor, there are many wounded

Don’t come, doctor, don’t come, there is no hope

Aside from the one God, we have nobody

Armenians going because of their nation


In the deserts of Der Zor, I fainted and remained

My money ran out, I had to sell my child

Mother, I truly can’t take any more of this

Armenians going because of their nation


I woke up in the morning and the sun was shining

The [mercenary] Chechens were sitting oiling their Martins [Martini-Henry rifles]

In the deserts of Der Zor, blood was flowing

Armenians going because of their nation

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