System of A Down’s Wake Up The Souls Tour in Yerevan
The Armenian diaspora was bound together for a fleeting moment on April 23 at the System of a Down concert in Yerevan. Constantly perpetuating a feeling of being everywhere and nowhere, the diaspora came together for a free concert in Republic Square, in which there’s nothing like the energy of a diasporan community coming together in their homeland to commemorate their shared history of triumph while celebrating a brighter future.
From the setlist selection to the two part video displayed, every sliver of System of a Down’s first ever concert in Armenia oozed with perpetual rawness of emotion and expression. Their purpose, as descendants of Armenian genocide survivors, was to raise awareness of the massacres and deportations that killed approximately 1.5 million Armenians in 1915, which inevitably dispersed their people across the globe.
Like a true master of dialog, Serj Tankian’s words really hit home when he said:
“Part of it is bringing attention to the fact that genocides are still happening, whether you use the word ‘genocide,’ ‘holocaust’ or ‘humanitarian catastrophe,'” frontman of the American rock band System of a Down explained, “none of that is changing. We want to be part of that change. We want the recognition of the first genocide of the 20th century to be a renewal of confidence that humanity can stop killing itself.”
These simple yet powerful words fanned the flames of social justice, and then continued to burn down all hatred and fear.
According to Tankian, “timing or the challenge of investment in infrastructure” prevented SOAD concerts in the past. That all changed, however, when the band closed its Wake Up the Souls Tour with a free show in Republic Square, in their homeland’s capital city, which was live streamed and broadcast around the world.
So what did the concert do for the people of Armenia?
It pooled together a somewhat eclectic crowd, mainly from the Armenian diaspora, in which they had the opportunity to recognize their roots and reflect on their shared painful history. To collectively forgive but not forget. To recognize that genocides happen to others. To understand that the new generation of Turks should not be held fully accountable for their former government’s atrocious mistakes. To view this issue from a bird’s eye view while not forgetting the pain and suffering that their ancestors experienced. Simple yet powerful, this message resonated in the crowd.
A chilling video of church bells ringing around the world in honor of the victims of the Armenian genocide 100 years ago commenced the show. It was displayed on two screens along side the stage. SOAD truly mastered the craft of filling every crevice with opportunities to express and create awareness.
Powerful yet simply said.
Inducing an intrinsic dark nostalgia with a dash of realism, the first video went on to explain the background of the genocide, “Turkey emerged stronger for the crime, building great alliances with America,” which needless to say was an awkward moment for my American friends and I, however I appreciated it when they spoke about the American and Turkish youths wanting their government’s to recognize the genocide.
In fact, today there are 43 states that have, by legislation or proclamation, recognized the Armenian Genocide.
At the same time, their message was very much diplomatic, speaking about “a peaceful global movement that’s working to end the worldwide cycle of genocide and build a better future for Armenians and Turks.”
The video ended on a soulful message.
Their lyrics harmoniously aligned with their message:
“Still you feed us lies from the tablecloth…”
“They despise you hypnotize you”
At one point Takian yelled out to the crowd, “This is not a rock and roll show! This is revenge!” Power. Simple. Brilliant. People coming together and demanding justice was an act of revenge.
Opening with “Holy Mountains,” from their album Hynotize, it began to pour. It was teaming in the most poetic way possible. Think of a diasporan coming together under such tragic circumstances, SOAD pouring their heart and souls out, thick black clouds above, harsh raindrops in between and wet cement below. Cathartic, intense, it felt like mother nature was feeling their shared pain too.
The show was split into two parts, commencing with another video speaking about the 1939 invasion of Poland, citing Adolf Hitler’s statement concerning the final solution for the Jews of Europe when he said: “Who now remembers the Armenians?”
Hitler, who was inspired by the example of openly committing mass murder with impunity, later on became an architect of a new genocide, better known today as the Holocaust.
Like a string of pearls, this statement strung the meaning of this concert together; however unlike pearls, it wasn’t as pleasant.
They also spoke about the cycle of genocides that continue to this day, namely Cambodia and Rawanda, and went on to point out that the world just stands by and watches.
And the video continues: “Today a century later, Turkey obstructs justice.”
According to Rolling Stone, Dolmayan said he would love to see Turkey acknowledge the genocide in his lifetime. “It would be a very healing thing for us,” he said. “We’ve had to carry this weight around for our entire lives. Our parents carried it for their entire lives, and our grandparents carried it. It would relieve that weight…and I think in a lot of ways it would relieve the weight off the people of Turkey’s shoulders as well. Coming to terms with something that you’ve run away from for so long is important for your healing process.”
Noteworthy highlights of part two was when System of a Down sang “che ganas” to the crowd, which means “don’t go” in Armenian and when Chop Suey was tastefully played. Takian also spoke about how the Armenians scattered around the world after the genocide, mentioning Hollywood in particular, where the band was born.
The next day it was still raining. I walked to the genocide memorial, a tradition every year in Armenia to commemorate the genocide. System of a Down’s nostalgic, cathartic, powerful message was still resonating with each raindrop.
And as I walked to the memorial I thought of the answer to Hitler’s question, “Who now remembers the Armenians?”
We do. We remember the Armenians.
System of A Down, Wake Up The Souls Tour
Republic Square, Yerevan, Armenia
April 23rd, 2015