Cairo’s Arax Choir commemorates Aram Khachaturian

On Saturday 16 March, the Armenian Community in Egypt gathered at the Nubarian Armenian School in Heliopolis to listen to the Arax Choir conducted by Mihran Ghazelian. The event commemorated the 110th anniversary of the Armenian composer Aram Khachaturian (1903-1978), Ahram Online reports.

The concert by the Arax Choir included a few of the original choral works by Khachaturian based on folkloric songs, while other songs were based on by Khachaturian’s music, with lyrics written by Mihran Ghazelian, the choir’s conductor and artistic director. The evening also included short dance numbers to Khachaturian’s music and a documentary film about the composer.

Operating under the Armenian Prelacy of Cairo, the Arax Choir goes back to the 1990s. However, back then, the choir had a different name, Zavartnots, and was conducted by David Zalyan, who was succeeded by conductor Hrant Aghajanian, a music and arts teacher, one of the important mediators of Armenian culture in Egypt. Finally, in 2003, Mihran Ghazelian became the choir’s conductor and artistic director, changing its name to Arax. Under Ghazelian’s management, Arax expanded to include over 30 amateur singers, including four voices, men and women.

Since becoming Arax, the choir has given a number of concerts in Cairo and Alexandria. In 2009, its performance at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina was received with acclaim. On several occasions, the choir took part in the Egyptian Churches religious songs festival organised by the Coptic Church.

Last summer, for the first time, Arax travelled abroad to participate in the choral works festival organised in Yerevan, Armenia. Arax also takes active part in the Armenian community’s commemoration events, such as the Armenian Genocide in April each year, the anniversary of creation of the Armenian alphabet, along with commemorations of important national battles and victories. The choir also performs on the anniversaries of renowned Armenian composers, among many other historically and culturally important dates. In total, over the past decade, Arax gave 35 music performances.

The Arax performance took place under the auspices of Bishop Ashod Mnatsaganian, primate of the Armenian Apostolic Church in Egypt. 

According to estimates, today the Armenian minority in Egypt does not exceed 6,000 people living in Cairo and Alexandria. Most of them have Egyptian nationality yet not all of them have Armenian nationality. Nevertheless they are characterised by strong unity and a cherishing of Armenian tradition, culture and language, something that was particularly obvious in an event by Arax Choir.

The past decades were marked by many prominent figures from the Armenian community in Egypt. Nubar Pasha (1825-1899), the son of an Armenian merchant, was an Egyptian politician and the first Prime Minister of Egypt. A particularly strong impact by the Armenian community was in the arts scene. Georges Kazazian is a well-known composer and oud player; Anna Boghiguian is a painter living between Cairo, India and Europe; Chant Avedissian exhibits his work around the world, along with other famous painters such as Ashod Zorian and Yertvart Yaghjian. Alexander Saroukhan (1898 – 1977) was one of the most renowned cartoonists and caricaturists in the Arab World; Anoushka is a singer and actress. Musicians Hagop Sandaldijian, (1931-1990) and Garbis Aprikian are also well known, but Nelly (Artin Kalfaya) is one among many star actresses and singers who also include Mimi Gamal and Lebleba.

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