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  • Writer's pictureLeo Torosian

A Case for Keeping Armenia's Anthem Unchanged

Updated: Feb 20

Armenia's anthem is fundamentally Armenian, and is intertwined with the nation's complex path towards statehood



In a rant on his Telegram social media channel, Speaker of Armenia's National Assembly, Alen Simonyan claimed that “Mer Hairenik,” Armenia’s national anthem, is “foreign” and has no connection “with our state and Armenian music,” calling for a replacement anthem that is “Armenian.”


Political opposition was quick to remind Simonyan that the words to “Mer Hairenik” were written by Mikael Nalbandian and the score was arranged by the famous Armenian composer, Barsegh Ganachian. The song was adopted as Armenia’s National Anthem during the 1918 republic, with an iteration being approved in 1991 as the anthem for the present-day Armenian Republic.


However, few have yet pointed out that "Mer Hairenik" was the anthem of a revolution before becoming a state symbol. It became independent Armenia's anthem plainly because many of the same revolutionaries, for which this poem held great significance, were leaders of the short-lived Republic. "Mer Hairenik" was the anthem of those who revolted against imperial aggression, savagery and humiliation, who defied all odds and created a state. The history of "Mer Hairenik" begins not in 1918, but in the late 19th century. The traces of the Armenian anthem, which inspired the masses, can be found on a panoply of Armenian artifacts.



The flag pictured above was raised during the 1897 Khanasor Expedition. The flag was sent by a certain "Vrej" to the ARF Central Committee and was photographed in 1901 alongside other banners. On the left side, it reads "Liberty or Death"( Ազատութիւն կամ Մահ). On the right part, it reads, "Long Live Revolution" (Կեցցէ Յեղափոխութիւն). The sash wrapped around the eagle reads "Here is a flag for you my brother..." (Ահա Եղբայր քեզ մի դրօշ) which happens to be the first line of the second stanza of "Mer Hairenik". It is also a clever use of a polysemy, a phrase with multiple meanings, as it reminds the reader of the anthem but also bestows the flag to the reader.





The flag pictured above is Nikol Duman’s banner, again featuring Nalbandian’s poem. It was given to Duman by the Dashnak (A.R.F.) women of the city of Shushi, in Artsakh, as a gift, which he accepted at the request of his group. Although this picture is undated and the current location of the banner is unknown, it shows that the anthem was also popular on the Caucasian side of Armenia. In this banner's left and right corners, the fourth and second stanza's are embroidered. Duman led operations in Van, Erzrum Yerevan, Baku and Trabzon. Duman committed suicide in 1914 as he felt he could not participate in ongoing military operations due to his worsening tuberculosis.




The 1907 flag pictured above belonged to the Armenian Revolutionary Federation’s (A.R.F.) Sarhad detachment, which participated in the Constitutional Revolution of  Iran. Nalbandian's enigmatic poem, this time the fourth stanza, is again embroidered: "Death is the same everywhere / A man dies but once / Blessed is the one that dies / For the freedom of his nation."ԱՄԵՆ ՏԵՂ ՄԱՀԸ ՄԻ Է, ՄԱՐԴ ՄԻ ԱՆԳԱՄ ՊԻՏ ՄԵՌՆԷ. ԲԱՅՑ ԵՐԱՆԻ, ՈՐ ԻՒՐ *ԶԳԻ, ԱԶԱՏՈՒԹԵԱՆ ԿԶՈՀՎԻ". It is unclear what became of the Sarhad detachment.




The flags pictured above, which belonged to the groups of Andranik Ozanian and Ohan Ohanian (Pokhig), also contain the fourth stanza from Nalbandian's poem. The striking similarities between both flags is so blatant that they could very well be the same banner. However, without deeper analysis, it remains challenging to definitively determine their exact origin. The photographs were dated 1900 and 1904, respectively; therefore, this opens the door for both groups using the same flag or two similar flags made by the same seamstress. Contrary to Andranik, who survived the revolution and  later became a General in the Russian army, Pokhig and his group were ambushed and decimated during combat, shortly after their group photograph was taken.


Ignorance [of Armenian History] is Certainly Not Bliss


Ultimately, Armenia's national anthem, "Mer Hairenik," holds profound historical significance, intricately woven into the nation's complex journey towards survival and statehood. Despite recent debates questioning its origin and relevance, it is essential to recognize that the anthem played a pivotal role in Armenia's revolutionary movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It remains a powerful symbol of resilience, freedom, and the collective spirit of the Armenian people. Understanding and preserving such historical memories are crucial, as they provide valuable lessons for the present and future. Historical knowledge enables societies to draw upon past experiences, helping them navigate contemporary challenges and avoid repeating mistakes. In this way, the anthem continues to be a vital thread connecting Armenia's past with its present challenges, serving as a reminder of the enduring importance of collective struggle and the pursuit of freedom.


 

Sources:

ARF Archives, Watertown MA

Hayk Demoyan, Haykakan Azgayin Khorhrdanshanner: Zinanshanner, Droshner, Pargevner - Armenian National Symbols: Coat of Arms, Flags, Medals

Sako Kassabian, Facebook


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