The Music of the Highlands

Fedayees dancing before battle


Yelek Hayer, yelek Hayer paykari. Yelek vor mer goyutsiunn’ chu khavari…” (Get up Armenians, Stand up Armenians and resist. Stand up so your existence isn’t diminished.)

It’s the annual Armenian Independence Day celebration at the Orange County Center. The hall vibrates with Karnig Sarkissian’s voice, golden lyrics string to each melody, and emotions ricochet off ceilings and walls as the hall becomes a sentimental powerhouse. Ionic bonds form between each person, creating an unparalleled harmony and oneness. The proud majestically wave their tri-colors in the air, singing and cheering to years of struggle, invincibility, and victory. I am moved by the unifying centripetal force that tugs at the strings of my homesick heart.

The revolutionary song embraces and releases emotion. The Lost Homeland. War. Pain. History. Victory. Heroes. Heroic deaths. Our soldiers would sing these songs before battle and engage in a war dance called yarkhushta, which can be described as two lions hitting each other. Singing and dancing before battle would not only provide comfort and encouragement to Armenian soldiers, and an aching desire to free the soil on which they stomped upon, but also generate a passionate unity among comrades. Singing and dancing to this music gave our soldiers a moral advantage during the Artsakh liberation war. Although scarce in numbers and weaponry, the high morale of the soldiers was symbolized through songs, portraying the vitality of their will to free Artsakh at any cost. Even with the recurring problems in the region songs such as Zartnir Lao, an old song from Mush, are still sung by volunteers and soldiers before battle.

The symbolism behind revolutionary music is powerful, as is the conceptualized reality. Such sentiments evoke unity, such as the formation of aid organizations in the diaspora, where we build a framework for the betterment of Armenia and to honor and complete the work of others, such as Garegin Njdeh, Hrant Dink, and Monte Melkonian. We say, “If they can do it, we can surely do it.” Some collect money for new projects, volunteer, develop new ideas, begin new civil society initiatives, and repatriate.

The patriotic/revolutionary song is a direct link between the diaspora and the homeland. For many nostalgic Armenians, this music gives way for artistic expression and visualization. While singing about the liberation of Shushi, one can envision and feel victory. When singing about historic Armenia, feelings of loss emerge. But, are the strong emotions felt through these songs just momentary sparks of patriotism? The music of the mountains can spark emotions, but the passionate, and devoted ones can materialize these emotions into reality, creating innovative resources for the betterment of our homeland.

Our Cause cannot survive without remembrance, recognition, and celebration of the events and people that have impacted the future of Armenia. If it were not for the revolutionary movements of the late 19th-20th century, there would be no artistic, musical drive in contemporary liberation movements. Njdeh’s Tseghakron, literally meaning nation-religion, was an Armenian youth movement that later became the Armenian Youth Federation in 1933. Khrimian Hayrig taught us that we are frequently disregarded as a nation and given a plastic ladle instead of iron to grab our share of “harissa.” Monte was a true revolutionary that gave up much to liberate historic Artsakh. There are songs written and sung about heroes like Njdeh, Hayrig, and Monte, but do the people singing these songs today reflect the characteristics and motives of these heroes or have the lessons they taught us drifted into the cluster of forgotten history?


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