Music and the Armenian Diaspora: Searching for Home in Exile

Music and the Armenian Diaspora: Searching for Home in Exile

Music and the Armenian Diaspora: Searching for Home in Exile

Music and the Armenian Diaspora: Searching for Home in Exile

Synopsis

Survivors of the Armenian genocide of 1915 and their descendants have used music to adjust to a life in exile and counter fears of obscurity. In this nuanced and richly detailed study, Sylvia Angelique Alajaji shows how the boundaries of Armenian music and identity have been continually redrawn: from the identification of folk music with an emergent Armenian nationalism under Ottoman rule to the early postgenocide diaspora community of Armenian musicians in New York, a more self-consciously nationalist musical tradition that emerged in Armenian communities in Lebanon, and more recent clashes over music and politics in California. Alajaji offers a critical look at the complex and multilayered forces that shape identity within communities in exile, demonstrating that music is deeply enmeshed in these processes. Multimedia components available online include video and audio recordings to accompany each case study.

Excerpt

What is Armenian music? This question forms the core, the very heart, of this book. Although not always asked explicitly, it is a question asked earnestly. Through an exploration of the ways in which that question is answered in five different “snapshots” from the Armenian diaspora (a diaspora that formed largely after the pogroms and forced dispersions that occurred in the Ottoman Empire in 1915), this book attempts to show the complex ways in which a people defines itself through time and place. Moving through the Ottoman Empire in the years just preceding the massacres to three locations to which the survivors eventually arrived—New York, California, and Lebanon—each snapshot demonstrates how music has been used to situate Armenian diasporic communities in relation to their conceptions of “home,” wherever that might be, and their relationships to the past and present. the answers are indeed many, and the urgency I sensed in the many conversations I had and listened to made it clear that embedded in each answer was a meditation, a reflection, on just what it was to be Armenian. Each answer demonstrates that Armenian identity is not something formed in a vacuum, frozen in time, but something that forms out of a complex relationship to the past and to the present, to past homes and present homes—complex relationships that vary within and across the various diasporic communities that formed after 1915.

The snapshots chosen are by no means meant to be exhaustive or to imply that these were the only places and the only genres of musical . . .

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