#RespectHarout. Harout Pamboukjian, The People’s Artist

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Illustration by Sako Chahinian

Illustration by Sako Chahinian

BY JOSEPH KAZAZIAN

Unity, strength and tolerance were the pillars Armenia’s “Velvet Revolution.” The common thread was echoed all over the world, as we witnessed what is likely to be one of the few instances of a successful, bloodless, and legal exchange of power. Hundreds of thousands in Armenia marched with open hands to oppose a corrupt regime, and won by respecting one another. In light of the positive political developments in Armenia, the Armenian-American community of Los Angeles gathered to celebrate our collective victory, in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Armenia. The victory party was organized at Glendale City Hall.

What was to be an unprecedented event for our community, where no one person or entity was to take credit, we unfortunately witnessed a very ugly, disrespectful and vile chain of events. Luckily, only the few of us backstage and even fewer in the front rows witnessed such vulgarity. Yes, one of our greatest moments as a nation was tarnished by egotistical forces. This directly stood in opposition to what the “Velvet Revolution” was all about: peace, love, non-violence, and unity. Here, it became about reprisals, associating people with the regime, and shaming people who had only one job to do that night: entertain.

The evening started without a hitch. There had been arrangements for close to twenty performers and speakers to take the stage to show their love and passion for our victorious community. Thereafter, “artists” began to show up unannounced, as the ultimate PR stunt for most of them. However, one person was requested and resoundingly agreed to come. Harout Pamboukjian was the universally agreed upon artist to close out the evening. That became a problem for a fringe group of people who made it chaotic for everyone working on these Stand with Armenia events in Los Angeles since the movement began in Armenia. What we then witnessed was a heart-wrenching, sorry display of self-serving defiance.

Harout, as he was finishing his song, was visibly shaken up. Behind the scenes, people attempted to yank the microphone, lower the volume, shut off the lights, and engage in hostile behavior. As this was going on backstage, people turned their backs as he was singing. Children coaxed by self-serving adults jumped on stage to obstruct Harout and block the audience from seeing him.

Harout made a brief statement in Armenian. “Are you finished? We are all here to perform and party. Please leave this area.” He then left the stage. I found out later that he was so distraught, he was inconsolable. People were running backstage and asking why he was so emotional.

The crux of the issue is as follows. Harout Pamboukjian sang at the Republican Party of Armenia’s rally in Yerevan. He then bowed to the audience members, which included then President Serzh Sargsyan. Some in our community took that to mean that he was bowing to the regime, because the president had honored him. What people don’t know was that when Harout was recognized as an “Honored Artist of the Republic of Armenia,” he remarked “I don’t need this piece of paper [from Serzh Sargsyan] to know that I am loved by the people.”

If you don’t know Harout, he practically bows to everyone. He bows to two-year-old kids on their Christening day. He kisses and hugs anyone who shows him an ounce of respect. He takes selfies with teens as he is singing. He jumps into the audience and dances with whomever is willing to do so. Every year, he travels to the most remote parts of the diaspora, from Australia and Sweden, to France, Canada, Lebanon, and Syria. His uniting abilities and God-given talent has received universal acclaim in communities across the world. Simply put, no other artist has been so entrenched and so active in Armenian life.

Harout Pamboukjian left Soviet Armenia for political reasons, and, after a brief stop in Lebanon, made his way to the United States. When Harout arrived in Lebanon, the bloody civil war, which lasted for nearly twenty years, was in its infancy. Some of us die-hard Harout fans have the original cassettes, records, and 8-tracks of his performances in Lebanon for the Armenian community. The twang of his golden guitar strings still echoes through Armenian households all over the world, even 40 years later.

When this 300,000 strong Armenian community of Los Angeles was established on the narrow streets of Hollywood in the 1970s and 80s, Harout was among its first residents and entertainers. He sang at weddings, baptisms, and birthdays, not to mention the fact that he held a number of free concerts for Armenian organizations. He made each fleeting moment of our community memorable and truly immortal. The 1980s were the golden era of Harout’s vast contributions to Armenian music. He took traditional Armenian songs and modernized them for an entire generation. Many, many artists began to emulate his style. He was the first Armenian Rock star, who inspired the likes of System of a Down.

In Soviet Armenia, Harout’s records were considered contraband. Singing about our revolutionaries from past generations, and his overt passion in longing for Armenia’s freedom was dangerous to the Soviets. Nevertheless, the people still listened to and loved his music. As the sun waned on the soviet empire, and perestroika began to open the eyes of the people, Harout’s songs were finally becoming accessible. Then, an unthinkable chain of events occurred.

1988 was a painful, yet inspiring, year for the Armenian nation. The Artsakh liberation movement had just began. Thousands of Armenians fled Azerbaijan, because the authorities in Baku were organizing pogroms against the Armenians. A devastating earthquake also rocked the cities of Northern Armenia, killing 25,000 people and leaving hundreds of thousands without shelter. In the midst of all of this, Harout picked up his equipment and flew across the world, to a country still under Soviet rule, and brought new hope to an entire generation. He left fourteen years before in sorrow, only to come back and inspire.

Thereafter, he played back to back sold out shows, both at Hrazdan and Hamalir Stadiums, two of Armenia’s largest public venues. Thousands of Armenians were in attendance each time. Every penny of the proceeds went to Armenians who were suffering. It is a little known fact that he even left all of his and his band mates’ instruments and equipment behind in Armenia; thousands of dollars’ worth of equipment, which is still used today. Many musicians I know today, who are considered big names in our community, later used them to perform.

Harout still continues to perform and entertain today, in his late sixties. He still performs at weddings and at community events. He even performed a sold-out show in Armenia, well after any controversy surrounding him came to light.

Harout was Harout when he was fleeing Soviet Armenia because of his political beliefs. Harout was Harout when Levon Ter-Petrosyan was President. Harout was Harout when Robert Kocharyan was President. Harout was Harout when Serzh was President. Harout is Harout now that Nikol Pashinyan is Prime Minister. For the millions of Armenians around the world, Harout will always be Harout. Harout Pamboukjian is in fact the People’s Artist.

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15 Comments

  1. Victor said:

    Frankly, I’m not a Harout Pamboukjian fan, but to show any form of disrespect towards him is disgusting! How soon we forget the good a person has done for his people, whether in Armenia or in the Diaspora? But, then again, it won’t surprise me to see the same crowd (that was gathered at the Glendale City Hall plaza) turn its back to Pashinyan if he does/says anything they do not like or may not agree with. Immature crowd mentality with knee-jerk reaction!!

  2. Vicken derderian said:

    Harut is truly all of Armenian Peoples artist ..His philosophy , Ideals Dedication & Generosity to Armenia & All Armenians is 100% … All diaspora unconditionally Supports Respects & Loves him as one of the top echelon “All Armenian ” Artist ..the few idiots who disrespected him that night are Clueless Ignorant “Armenian Trash ” and yes unfortunately we do have a few .These “Barab Dagars” who use & hide behind their children ..must be cowards or drunk..
    The security people should have quickly escorted these individuals out & the bouncers should have thought these Hooligans a good lesson about RESPECT……these Idiots should be identified I am sure we have plenty of vedeos their names published & they must apologize to HAROT asap..

  3. Ovsamna Kadian said:

    In Montreal a 4yo boy on the stage & an 80yo in the audience 3am don’t want to leave the party HP is singing. No other place on earth is as rewarding as being where HAROUT IS PERFORMING, be it on the AH cruise ship or at the ACC in Vancouver, the audience wants more… Self serving defiant people please educate yourselves. Tx.

  4. makrui. kassabian said:

    Is shameless too as that armenians due too a loved artists from so many years he came too entretein the people and give so much and same people are so narrow mainded he is an artists shamfull amot shaat amot

  5. Lara said:

    Well said. I’m glad I came across this news online. Harout is a wonderful, respected and respectful man. People act out in fear and when they don’t understand things. It’s a shame that respect and love were absent while he performed. We mustn’t forget about humanity. I hope Harout will always be reminded about what a great Armenian he is, as well as how influential he has been and continues to be in the Armenian community.

  6. Marine Hovsepyan said:

    Harout Pamboukchyan is a really great singer and devoted Armenian. We are sincerely thankful to him

  7. Andy said:

    Joseph, people are responsible for their actions. His remark about the “Honored Artist of the Republic of Armenia” should have been “I don’t need this honor from the corrupt regime that destroys my country” and not the self-serving comment he made.
    When you sing for the thieves and criminals, you are honoring them. Period.
    Nicol Pashinyan can’t force Armenians to honor someone who acted dishonorably. He can say there is no more hatred. It’s his wish. He can only express his desire and people will act according to what they think is fair. And its fair to not to honor artists that bow to anyone, including the animals who torture your country. On another point, there is so much hatred in your story against hatred…

  8. aziz said:

    Harout gave us hope to continue the struggle,so F any body disrespect him.

  9. Norik baboorian C said:

    A few days ago, I wrote a support piece with HARUT’s video , posted it on almost twenty different Armenian sites , unfortunately, fb took it down as a spam . I’m heartbroken to think that Armenians could be so small minded to notify the fb about my piece being a spam, especially when we have just won the struggle for free speech in Armenia.

  10. Norin said:

    I think when you count yourself as a “people’s artist”, then you also have a moral obligation to maintain a certain dignity and integrity AS a “people’s artist.” Harout despite being invited by the Republican Party should have gracefully bowed out as a “people’s artist” and not even consider providing entertainment for a vile group of scum bags known to have as a political entity caused nothing but poverty, corruption, and injustice for thousands of Armenians living in Armenia for the past 20 years.

    I don’t care how aloof he is painted, he knew better than to suck up to officials at a event attended mostly by Republican Party members. If Adolf Hitler had a event with lots of Nazis in attendance I don’t think a “people’s singer” would have anything to do at such an event. Sorry, Harout will NOT get a pass, the ARF will not get a pass for aligning with Serjik merely 1 month before recent historic change of regime, and this pathetic apologist article will not get a pass.

  11. Hagop (Jack) Dakessian said:

    Harout was facing Armenians, not Turks. Armenian oligarchs are political adversaries, not our enemies. It is beneficial to our homeland to eliminate their political power; but remember, they are Armenians, like you and I. Bowing to them as a courtesy during some recital is no reason to generate all that ballyhoo.
    Harout was, is and will remain one of our most treasured musical performers!

    • Norin said:

      His musical legacy I respect as well as his cultural contributions. But again, I ask this question, WHY even attend such an event? The Republican Party developed a neferious reputation for a long time, clearly if any Armenian is up for a positive change for Armenia, being associated with those thugs would not be a great PR stunt. The Nazis were fellow Germans too, is that a good enough excuse for an entertainer to entertain them? Also, I sincerely hope Oligarish behavior like we have seen come out of the Republican camp will simply not be excused on the pathetic premise of them “being fellow Armenians and not Turks”. MANY entertainers kept silent during the early stages of protests while their fellow Armenians walked and bled on the streets, then when the tide turned many of these entertainers such as SIRUSHO, that fat pig Shoushan Petrosyan, Nazeni Hovanisyan, Sofi Mxeyan, and many others kept silent until Nikol was the clear winner then suddenly they remembered their civic duty as entertainers amongst the people. Thankfully Harout was not one of them but he has his own mistake to atone for, and yes, ALL OF these entertainers should remember. It’s THE PEOPLE that put them on stage, and when they forget their civic duties towards fellow struggling Armenians fighting for the destiny of our nation, then the people will yank them off stage by the scruff of their necks. It’s sad that Harout was made an example of, but no more passes for the two faced in the Armenian nation/Diapora. Want to write an article about someone worthy? Write one about Hayko the comedian who walked every mile alongside Nikol when there were only 100 people surrounding him.

  12. Ararat said:

    Once again the Armenian emotions take over their logic. Harout Pamboukjian is a singer and an entertainer not a political activist. He’s been singing and entertaining the Armenian communities around the world since the 1970s. His work has also played an important role in keeping the Armenian spirit and nationalism alive in Armenian Diasporas around the world. He is a real patriot who is true to his heritage. The very reason this genuine patriot ended up in the states, was exiled more like it, was because he could not practice his craft and raise awareness and patriotism in his birthplace in Armenia and was forced out by his own Soviet Armenian government. The disrespect shown to him by a bunch of self-righteous and overreacting juveniles is inexcusable!

  13. Hrant Apovian said:

    Harout is a national treasure and a true patriot!
    He has been a role model for our youth.
    He has been a revolutionary in his own way.
    We love you Harout

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