Şahan Arzruni, an İstanbul-born and world-famous Armenian pianist, will give a concert in Van province shortly preceding a Sept. 19 religious ceremony to be held in a 10th century Armenian church.
Arzruni graduated from the İstanbul Municipal Conservatory, where he studied piano, and moved to New York in 1964 to study at the Juilliard School of Music on a scholarship from the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation. The artist contacted the Turkish Consulate General in New York and expressed a desire to give a concert in Van, stated the Turkish Foreign Ministry.
The ministry then communicated his proposal to the Van Governor’s Office, Yüzüncü Yıl University in Van and the Armenian Patriarchate in İstanbul in order to secure their support in making arrangements for the concert. According to a statement from the Foreign Ministry, the concert will take place at Van’s Yüzüncü Yıl University on Sept. 18, a day before the religious service is to be held in the church on Akdamar Island in Lake Van.
On July 17, the Armenian Church of the Holy Cross, which has been converted into a state museum, became a symbol of the tortuous reconciliation process between Armenia and Turkey, as the government prepares to open the site on Sept. 19 for a one-day religious service that could become an annual event.
The church reopened in 2007 as a museum, following a $1.5 million renovation project by the Turkish government. Despite church officials’ pleas, they were not allowed to place a cross on top the church. However, Munir Karaloğlu, the governor of Van province, said a cross will be placed on the dome before the Mass and will remain there.
Church officials say the holy site in Akdamar, built between A.D. 915 and A.D. 921, has been appropriated by the Turkish state because the government considers it a public building, and the expression of religious belief are not tolerated in public spaces under Turkey’s strict secular Constitution. Often criticized in the West for its treatment of Christian minorities, Ankara has encouraged having Mass in the church in an attempt to prove their commitment to tolerance.
At the concert, Arzruni will interpret songs from renowned Turkish composers such Yüksel Koptagel, Ferid Anlar and Adnan Saygun, as well as Armenian composers such as Komitas Vardapet, Hovhaness and Srvantsdyans. Arzruni will be joined by baritone Kevork Tavityan and violinist Sevil Ulucan.
The concert will also feature a musical film titled “Akdamar,” produced by Arzruni and inspired by Armenian composer and pianist Sirvart Karamanuk’s works. Karamanuk, who is also from İstanbul, died in 2008.
Arzruni explained that since his family’s roots go back to Akdamar, he has an emotional connection to the region. He has continuously investigated the musical roots of his Armenian heritage and researches traditional Armenian music. He also has recorded a three-disc anthology of Armenian piano music and co-produced an eight-disc set of instrumental and vocal Armenian music.
In 2003, Arzruni was appointed Armenia’s Ministry of Culture representative for music in the Armenian diaspora. He also regularly delivers papers and organizes symposia for such institutions as Harvard University, Columbia University and the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor.
Arzruni is the author of several books and a regular contributor of articles to academic journals. He has also written for various editions of “The Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians” and the “Dictionary of the Middle Ages.”