Shant Danielian: “What brought me here was the love for the homeland, not the threat of war”

When Syrian-Armenian Shant Danielian came to the homeland for the first time, he had the feeling that he had been living here for many years. It was that familiarity with, love for and devotion to Armenia that brought him to the homeland in 2013. During an interview with Hayern Aysor, Shant, who is a violinist, talked about music, the future of Armenia and about how he will shape his future in the homeland.

Hayern Aysor: Shant, they say Armenians living far away from the homeland always suffer from nostalgia that words can’t describe. When did that longing bring you to Armenia for the first time?

Shant Danielian: My family conveyed the idea of the homeland when I was a kid. I loved and missed the homeland. The other Syrian-Armenian children and I grew up with that idea, that is, to fight, stand united and see a powerful Armenia. So, when I came to the homeland for the first time, it wasn’t strange to me. I had learned the history and had loved the homeland for years.

I first visited Armenia in 2010 to give concerts at the invitation of Director of the Nansen Foundation Felix Bakhchinyan. We were received very well, and I felt that I had been living here for years. I thought I had seen everything and that nothing was strange to me. After the concert tour, I returned to Aleppo.

Hayern Aysor: So, you came to Armenia as an Armenian musician. How long have you been playing the violin? What made you love music?

S. D.: I was born to a musical family. My mother sings, my maternal aunts are pianists, and my maternal uncle plays the accordion. But my grandfather wanted me to play the violin the most. So, one day, we went to a music store where my grandfather purchased a violin for me and took me to the Barsegh Kanachyan Music School. I went on to graduate from Aleppo State Conservatory. I would play for two Armenian ensembles. So, I have been playing the violin since I was 5.

Hayern Aysor: Shant, you visited Armenia for another concert tour. When you returned, had the war in Syria already broken out?

S. D.: The war broke out in March 2011, and it was referred to as the Arab Spring. It wasn’t spring, but hell. Everything was unexpected since Syria is one of the few countries where people of different nationalities were living in peace. I would like to say that there had never been any tension between faiths and nations before. Each of us would follow ours, stay true to our language and identity, but respect and accept the others at the same time.

However, everything collapsed. On February 10, 2012, two bombs exploded in Aleppo, killing the first Armenian, who was my classmate. In that difficult situation, I received another invitation to perform in Armenia. It was a great joy for me to be in the homeland for 15 days.

Hayern Aysor: Your next visit to Armenia was a long one. You have been here ever since. Did it take you a long time to think about moving to Armenia?

S. D.: My father was working in the United Arab Emirates. My mother and I left for the UAE to celebrate the New Year with him. When we were leaving Aleppo, we couldn’t even imagine that we wouldn’t return to our birthplace. The roads took us to Sharjah where we lived for seven months and moved to Armenia. It was my desire, and I can surely say that what brought me here first was the love for the homeland, not the threat of war.

Hayern Aysor: Shant, I assume that music remained a part of your daily routine. Please tell us a little about your daily routine. What do you do?

S. D.: Yes, I still play music. I collaborate with the friends I would collaborate with in Aleppo. There is a lot of work for a musician. We mainly take orders. The taste of music of the people of Armenia is quite appreciable. It is not in vain that Europeans come to Armenia to receive an education. Armenian jazz is flourishing.

Besides music, I also design industrial devices on the computer. This industry is underdeveloped here. I really want to see the label “Made in Armenia” in different places. When Armenian masters of Aleppo would sell their items, they would mark the state of Syria as the place where the item was produced. Armenia also needs to create adequate conditions for local and Diaspora Armenian producers to be interested in creating products that can be presentable as an Armenian brand around the world.

Hayern Aysor: Shant, you talked about the musical environment in Armenia. How was it like in Aleppo?

S. D.: In Aleppo, there was a city music folklore that had been around for many years. It was very powerful and symbolized high taste, and the locals had developed musical skills. We have always preserved Armenian national music in Aleppo.

Hayern Aysor: How would the locals describe the Armenians?

S. D.: Armenians stood out with their diligence, sincerity and the respect that they enjoyed. However, for instance, the Armenians from Aintab always stood out with dexterity. My ancestors were also from Aintab, and I inherited that dexterity from them. My friends often recall that when they see how I can find a way out of hopeless situations.

Generally speaking, Diaspora Armenians are more flexible in terms of adapting to a new environment since they have had a problem with adapting to a foreign environment and learning a foreign language and have overcome the difficulty. Now when I hear the words “it’s impossible” or “I can’t”, I am amazed because I have always been certain that anything is possible.

Hayern Aysor: Shant, what do you think of the youth of Armenia today?

S. D.: The youth are hard-working and have quite a lot of intellectual potential, but they need to love the homeland. I came with the love for the homeland because I knew that if I didn’t love the homeland, I wouldn’t work effectively here. They need to aspire to stay here more. When people ask me when I am going to leave the country, I tell them I am not going to leave. Let them fight for their homeland! I was recently on the borderline and witnessed the shootings from the Armenian and Azerbaijani sides. The war continues. In this case, I don’t know why people are leaving.

Hayern Aysor: Shant, do you feel the breath of Aleppo when you walk on the streets of Yerevan today?

S. D.: Yes, to a certain extent. Many Syrian-Armenians are trying to adapt, but the market is quite small. Armenia needs to be open to the world. Let’s try to accept the international experience and take what is good as well. When a plant is cut from the soil and moved to another environment, it needs time to adapt.

For decades, our ancestors struggled in Syria to achieve what we had inherited there. Now we also need time to settle in Armenia. We need to start with ourselves and become more law-abiding, but the laws also need to be reformed. There is quite a lot of room for improvement.

Hayern Aysor: Shant, what is your advice to all Syrian-Armenians who have settled in Armenia?

S. D.: “They shouldn’t rush to leave. They should be certain that their children will live better than them, just like they lived better than their ancestors in Syria. I know about the difficulties well, but one can achieve good results in Armenia by making certain sacrifices.

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