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Music | ‘Vazgen the Urartian’ brings sounds of the Armenian Highlands to cyberspace

June 11, 2020

Music

By Lilly Torosyan

465 views

Music | ‘Vazgen the Urartian’ brings sounds of the Armenian Highlands to cyberspace

Twenty-two-year-old Vazgen Barsegian has undergone quite the odyssey. Born in the bygone Armenian capital of Van (now located within the Republic of Turkey), now living in Glendale, Calif. (the unofficial capital of the Armenian diaspora), Vazgen’s passion and pursuits have led him to the internet, where he dishes up videos, tutorials, and performances on Armenian music, history, and all things Armenian for a wider audience. His YouTube channel, Vazgen the Urartian, offers up some sweet instructional content on traditional Armenian instruments. Check it out!

Artist's name Vazgen Barsegian
Occupation

Professional educator; Musician

City/Country Glendale, Calif. (Originally from Van, Western Armenia)
About the writer
  • Identifies as “Vazgen the Urartian” or “Vazgen the Armenian”
  • A history major with intentions of becoming an environmental lawyer
  • Former ANCA Western Region intern and volunteer for its Hye Votes initiative
  • Plays 13 traditional Armenian instruments, including the kamancha, oud, saz, kemenche, kanon, duduk, zurna, tar, santur, parkapzuk, and daff
     

Wrapped in a taraz-print headband, a young man sits stoically behind a carpet-covered table, sprawling with a saz, a kamancha, and other traditional Armenian instruments. The image, resembling a still-life Armenian painting, is the typical setting for Vazgen Barsegian’s YouTube videos. His channel, called “Vazgen the Urartian,” aims to promote Armenian culture and history, particularly through music. 

The 22-year-old Glendaletsi (resident of Glendale, Calif.) plays over a dozen musical instruments (at the time of this writing, that number stands at 13!). His latest videos, called “The Tar-Kamancha Initiative,” were born out of the COVID-19 pandemic. The ongoing series instructs viewers on the tar and the kamancha, two instruments ubiquitous in Armenian folk music. In addition to his YouTube channel, Vazgen runs a website, which includes a blog and an upcoming “Armenian Highlands Initiative,” and performs at various Armenian functions throughout the LA-area. In short, Vazgen the Urartian may as well be Vazgen the Ubiquitous.

It may also seem sound that such a passionate young Armenian would have been produced and molded out of the Americana facades of Glendale. As the future home of the Armenian American Museum and nearly 40 percent of its residents identifying as Armenian, there is little doubt as to how Glendale became the unofficial capital of the Armenian Diaspora.

But Vazgen’s story began far from the Glendale hills and in the Armenian Highlands. Born and raised in Van—now located within Turkish borders, but once the heartland of the historical Armenian homeland and the site of the pre- (or proto-, depending on who you ask) Urartian civilization—it becomes clear that the moniker, “Vazgen the Urartian,” is not just a romantic homage to a lost past, but an identity that is intensely personal and alive, in the present tense.

“The Turkish government recently opened a humongous interactive museum in the city of Van dedicated to the ancient Urartians/Urartian archaeological finds in Western Armenia and even created a website claiming Urartu as Turkish,” Vazgen recently explained to h-pem. The backdrop for incorporating the Urartian aspect on his website was “to liberate ancient Armenian history.”

As Vazgen told the ANCA-Western Region, for whom he has interned, “Living in a community which allows me to express my ethnic and cultural identity is a blessing. Coming from a community which did not enable me that freedom has taught me to appreciate the freedom I have now, and to express my ethnic and cultural identity.” 

From the website to his advocacy work, that freedom and expression has taken on many forms of involvement in Armenian community life. Upon starting a cultural youth group at his local Hamazkayin chapter, Vazgen learned about our platform. He told us: “There, I discovered the amazing work h-pem does to bring to light the various talents of our unique youth. I decided that it’s the perfect platform to share what I do with the broader Armenian community.” 

We are excited to see what else this talented multi-instrumentalist Urartian has in store for us.

Check out some of his videos below!
 

Video

  • "Armenian Saz"

    (Video: Vazgen the Urartian)

  • "Armenian Oud"

    (Video: Vazgen the Urartian)

  • "Hamshen Armenian music"

    (Video: Vazgen the Urartian)

  • "Broyi Broyi"

    (Video: Vazgen the Urartian)

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