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Listening to Armenia - On the Banks of the Debed River with Sayat Nova and the Young

“Speak but one word, to say thou art Sayat Nova’s love” cries the last stanza of a love poem from the famous Armenian troubadour’s precious oeuvre of lyric poetry and songs. But how to choose that one word? How to tell him our culture’s love for him only grows stronger more than two centuries later?

Five days into the FAR Young Professionals trip, we stood at the grassy hillside of Haghpat monastery squinting across a 5 kilometer gorge on the right bank of the Debed River to glimpse Sanahin from a distance. Here, on this gleaming sunny Sunday we were witness to the passage of this extraordinary man’s life—born in Sanahin village only to die a few kilometers away at the hands of invading Persians in the Haghpat monastery.

But, oh, what a 5 kilometers to traverse – a journey that he would begin as a village weaver, that he would continue as a diplomat in the royal courts of Georgia, that he’d again embark upon as a heartbroken lover left to sing the music of his soul across all the Caucasus, and that he’d end, martyred, as a devout monk back in his beloved birth land.

That one word eludes us, so we express it in passing down the tradition of his song from one generation to the next. In Armenia, we name schools and streets after him. The acclaimed eponymous US dance group lauds his name with each performance, revering his art through technical prowess and graceful expression.

Sayat Nova, he is our “King of Songs” (the translation of this Persian name). He is, to borrow his own priceless words, “a golden cup, with water filled of immortality.” He stands out for us, forever, expressing Armenian culture through music and through the words of love, as if the sounds of his own kamancheh still rang, bowed across his knee, high up in the snowy peaks of the Caucasus.

Check out the charming and intimate sound of this old LP recording of Sayat Nova’s “Kani Vor Janim” backed by a traditional Armenian folk orchestra by clicking here.

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