A proposal to revert the country’s national anthem back to the Soviet one has hit a wrong note among many Armenians who wonder whether it should be among the first priorities taken up by the new parliament.
Alen Simonyan, the deputy speaker of the National Assembly, on January 25 floated the idea of changing the country’s current national anthem. He posted on Facebook a link to the Soviet-era anthem – written by beloved composer Aram Khachatryan – saying, “This is a powerful anthem that meets all the requirements.” Ara Gevorgyan, a well known composer, commented on Simonyan’s post in support: “It is a great hymn and we look forward to the decision to restore it.”
Simonyan subsequently created a Facebook poll to measure public sentiment. As of the time this piece was posted, more than 6,500 people had voted, two-thirds of them in favor of change. For his part, Minister of Diaspora Babken Ter-Grigoryan said he would survey members of Armenian communities around the world regarding the potential change.
The current anthem was first adopted in 1918 during the short-lived Armenian Republic, but it was then abandoned under the Soviet Union. The Khachatryan anthem was introduced in 1944 and was used until the collapse of the Soviet Union, when independent Armenia reverted back to the 1918 piece. But the current anthem has remained unpopular among many Armenians, mainly for aesthetic reasons. (Readers can hear both versions below, first the current one and then the former – and possibly future – one.)
Armenia’s new parliament was seated only three weeks ago, with a dominant majority held by the My Step alliance of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan. Simonyan’s proposal was widely discussed in Armenia, with many wondering if the anthem really should be such a high priority for the leadership.
“We have so many urgent issues now, and the change of hymn is not among them,” ethnographer Svetlana Poghosyan said in an interview with news site aysor.am. “It is not an urgent issue. We have more serious challenges.”
Simonyan even raised the issue of changing Armenia’s flag, currently a simple tricolor, by adding a cross. He later clarified that he was joking, but online wags nevertheless offered other suggestions, including a flag with Simonyan’s face on it or one with kitschy pictures of Jesus.
The political satire website ArmComedy posted a story suggesting that Simonyan also proposed changing the location of the capital. “Let's be honest with ourselves, Yerevan is one of our favorite, historic cities, but it is associated with the former authorities,” the fake Simonyan is reported to have said. “Discussions of the national anthem and the new capital will enter the agenda of the National Assembly ahead of reforming the tax code, creating favorable conditions for investment, and other secondary issues,” the story concluded.
The last time the issue of the anthem was taken up was in 2006, though it ultimately wasn’t changed. "During 2006 and 2007, the authorities of that time didn’t like the anthem either; we fought then and we will fight now,” said Gegham Manukyan, a member of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, at a January 29 event marking the 100th anniversary of the death of the founder of the first republic, Aram Manukyan. “Today he [Simonyan] dares to say in parliament that the anthem needs to change because it doesn’t move him. They are trying to change the symbols of our nation just to suit their tastes.”
In spite of Simonyan’s personal advocacy, there is no formal agenda in parliament to change the anthem, the head of the My Step faction in parliament, Lilit Makunts, told journalists. But Simonyan suggested to journalists on February 5 that he was looking at other options, such as a public referendum.
Ani Mejlumyan is a reporter based in Yerevan. Sign up for Eurasianet's free weekly newsletter.