Gunaysu: My Silent Sister
Posted by Ayse Gunaysu on January 2, 2013

The setting is a small, beautiful, historical city in the south of
Poland, Wroclaw. It's night-time on the 11th of November 2012. The St.
Anthony of Padua Church is full. People are listening to a small
chorus singing Armenian liturgical songs. On my left I hear Talin
singing along under her breath to songs she has known since her
childhood, very softly and so low that I can hardly differentiate it
from the chorus's singing, an unearthly sound filling the air. Looking
at the small group of singers, I see faces radiating an inner light
that adds something very special to the lighting of the church itself.
Faces of young people from South Africa, Denmark, Spain, Poland, and
other nations, singing Armenian hymns. With them is that very unusual
family of Aram and Virgina Kerovpyan, with their two daughters and
son, who have all dedicated themselves to Armenian traditional
monophonic and modal singing; and Baron Nisan Calgiciyan, a master
singer from the Armenian Holy Trinity Church in Istanbul, and his
students Murat Iclinalca and Altug Yilmaz, also from Istanbul, a music
researcher who for the past two years has been working with the
Kerovpyan family. Listening to them is an unusual, yet very
exceptional experience that makes one wish they could continue

A scene from the St. Anthony of Padua Church, Wroclaw, Poland. People
from South Africa, Denmark, Spain, Poland, and other nations, sing
Armenian hymns with Aram and Virginia Kerovpyan, and Baron Nishan
The concert is the last event in the Grotowski Institute's two-day
exchange called `My Silent Sister,' the 2012 edition of the
VoicEncounters project, organized by the institute's theater group
Teatr ZAR, a multinational group formed by the apprentices of the
Grotowski Institute, and founded and directed by Jaroslaw Fret. Since
2011 they have been working on a new performance project called
`Armine, Sister,' which explores Armenian culture and history. During
expeditions to Istanbul, Western Armenia, Yerevan, and Jerusalem, ZAR
members have met with singers, choir leaders, musicians, and
researchers. `My Silent Sister' is meant to set the ground for the
upcoming spring 2013 event, which, they say, will have as its core the
heritage of Armenia and its diaspora.

My two-day Wroclaw visit was like a dream. I found myself with a group
of young people, both Polish and from other parts of the world, at the
Institute and the Teatr ZAR who were different - and I mean belonging to
a different human species. They truly care about others, devote time
to understand, feel, and reach others, want to really know what others
at the other end of the world have gone through, and are still going
through. And this has given all of them, without exception, a
different aura, a sort of hard-to-describe transparency, a face full
of meaning and understanding.

The event also included film screenings, of Serge Avedikian's `The
Barking Island' and Suzanne Khardalian's `I Hate Dogs,' `Back to
Ararat,' and the unforgettable `Grandma's Tattoos.' There was also a
workshop called `Modal Singing: A Journey with Sounds' with Aram and
Virginia Kerovpyan; a presentation of the film project `Winds of
Armine: Expedition to Anatolia' by Nathalie Rossetti and Turi
Finochiaro (an exceptional couple, full of warmth and sensitive
energy); and the exhibition `Images from Anatolia' by Magdelena Madra,
a heartrending collection of photographs of the remains of Armenian
churches, monasteries, cemeteries, and the like.

On 10th of November, historian Ara Sarafian from the Gomidas
Institute, London, gave a presentation titled, `A History of Genocide:
Memory, Continuity, and Defiance,' accompanied by maps strikingly
demonstrating the scale of destruction. His paper deals with the
ongoing official Turkish denial of the Armenian Genocide, using the
1916 British Parliamentary Blue Book as an example. During the talk,
he pointed out the offensive nature of this denial process, wherein
Turkish state institutions and their supporters (in this case the
Turkish Parliament and its supporting institutions) have actively
sought to assert the claim that the British fabricated the Armenian
Genocide thesis during World War I, and that the British should
apologize for their offense. `Although it was a ludicrous assertion,
as has been shown over and over again, the Turkish effort showed the
belligerency of official Turkey in denying the genocide of Armenians,
both in Turkey and abroad,' he said.

The same day, I was a panelist, along with Talin Suciyan from the
University of Munich, with Ara Sarafian as the moderator, on a panel
at the institute titled, `Witnessing After Witnessing: A History of

Suciyan drew a vivid, warmly personal, yet highly representative
picture of an Armenian child growing up in an environment of
denialism. `Whether it is a cemetery, or public garden of Ukraine
[built on a destructed Armenian cemetery], or the house of Dadyans, or
the shanty houses in the place of their house, or the house of my
cousin, or the occupied house of my grandparents in that little suburb
of Istanbul, or the roads that people like my grandfather, constructed
anywhere in Turkey [during their compulsory additional military
service, in effect a forced labor campaign designed in 1941
exclusively for non-Muslims], or the public space where people were
banned to talk in our mother tongue, there is one thing which is in
common: the toil, the labor, the houses, the cemetery, the district,
the language, our very existence, is a matter of obscurity,' she said.

The whole thing - the performances, the presentations, the generosity of
the institute, the warm-heartedness, kindness, and close-to-heart
approach of the people of the institute; the Polish people of Wroclaw
who, although naturally not familiar with the Armenian Genocide or the
state of affairs in Turkey, filled the room in any event - was all
unbelievably moving, enriching, and encouraging. The generosity of the
institute, first and foremost by Director Jaroslaw Fret, then dear
Ditte, Magda, Nini, Dan, Tornek, Maite (who took care of us that cold
night, brought us - Talin and I - hot soup and made us feel as if we had
met a sister we were unaware of until then), and all the others whose
names I cannot remember, was a blessing. Simply knowing them, having
the mere knowledge of their existence and their heartfelt efforts,
make me feel safer in this unsafe world, and have strengthened my
belief in what I do, as well.

For the full text of Gunaysu's talk during the aforementioned panel
discussion, click here.