Two thousand miles across the breadth of Turkey from Bulgaria and neighboring Greece lies the small country of Armenia. Small now, but it used to be larger. I marveled, a few years ago in my Christmas letter, about the desperation that drove people to travel half that far, from Syria across Turkey toward Bulgaria and Greece as refugees, fleeing war and destruction.
When I first came to Bulgaria to work, and was living with a host family during training, I met someone in the weekly market who was from Armenia. I remarked to my host mother, Krasimira, that I didn’t know there were Armenians in Bulgaria. I learned two new words in her response: Armentcité sa vsiakadé. “The Armenians are everywhere.” She told me they had been chased out of their land, and many killed, during the time of the Ottoman Empire — though she called it, as all Bulgarians did from their historical viewpoint, the Turkish Slavery. Memories are long in that part of the world.
[Bulgaria] was throbbing with history, alternately a source of fierce pride and worn-out, tired, hopeless resignation. “Five hundred years under Turkish slavery” was something every Bulgarian would tell you about, even though it ended in 1878. It was as if it had gone on until yesterday, and until that moment had been a personal burden in everyday life. The fifty years under Soviet control were another burden, with old memories still haunting the land.
Now, up to date, I’ve been in rehearsals for a show. I’m singing in the chorus of a musical. It’s a dramatic musical, not the fluffy kind that comes to mind from my youth when musicals were things like Gene Kelly Singin’ in the Rain, or South Pacific with its Happy Talk and Nothin’ Like a Dame, and oh, Wouldn’t it Be Loverly. Everything loverly, just loverly. A Spoonful of Sugar! That too. Aww, Edelweiss. Songs so sweet and loverly they brought tears to people’s eyes. This one, the one I’m involved with, is a drama, or rather a dramatic musical. It brings tears too. It tells why “the Armenians are everywhere.”
The lyrics, by Emmy® Award winning composer Denise Gentilini and singer-songwriter Lisa Nemzo, pull no punches. Part of the story happens in a refugee camp in Greece after forced marches through Turkey, some through the Syrian desert, some by overcrowded boats across the Black Sea or the Mediterranean. Imagine, refugees overwhelming Greece as a choke point, and spreading all over the world.
I mentioned the theme of the show to someone, and met a blank look. Genocide? Armenia? No, never heard about it. You mean genocide, like the Holocaust? Yes, like that. Genocide, the deliberate attempt to exterminate a defined group. From genus (Gr.) race or kind + cida, cidium (L.) killing. It’s a made-up word, a linguistic bastard forced together by an academic to describe what happened to the Jews. The word was exemplified, before it was invented, by what happened to the Armenians. In 1915 the world stood by with eyes averted, and let it happen. In 1939, on deciding he could get away with invading Poland and systematically killing its citizens without mercy, Adolph Hitler cited a precedent: “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?” No one would remember. He counted on it.
The performance in Denver is one night only, this Friday, April 29 2016. It is a significant piece of work, compelling, eye-opening, musically awe-inspiring. With much more to it than the grim underpinnings I’ve already told you, it’s a love story and a triumph of the spirit of those who survived. Tickets are $55 and $75 plus a service fee. Buy tickets here. Tell me you bought a ticket after reading this and I’ll pay your service fee. The next stop for the show is the big city — the production is heading to LA to go for the big time.
Someone has to remember.