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AFP: On Armenian Genocide centennial, US rockers hope music raises pressure

One hundred years after the mass killings of Armenians, US band System of a Down is taking the fight for remembrance beyond politicians to the world’s music fans, according to AFP.

The Los Angeles-area hard rockers, who have sold more than 40 million albums since the mid-1990s, are of Armenian descent and are preparing a European tour to culminate in a public concert on April 23 in Yerevan, the band’s first performance in Armenia.

System of a Down’s goal is one for which Armenians have campaigned for decades — with limited success — for the world to recognize the killings of some 1.5 million people in 1915 in the waning days of the Ottoman Empire as a genocide.

Turkey, born of the ashes of the Ottoman Empire, has vehemently denied a systematic effort to wipe out Armenians.

Turkey puts the death toll at 500,000 and pins the blame on the chaos of World War I and starvation.

“We don’t have the lobbying power that the Turkish government has. We only have the stories of our surviving family members,” drummer John Dolmayan told AFP.

“That is why after 100 years — or 150, or 200 years — the truth is going to come out,” he said.

Band members acknowledged many concert-goers are foremost drawn to the music but said they were heartened by the number of fans who learned about 1915 through System of a Down.

“We do the best we can not to be preachy,” Dolmayan said. “You can’t make people listen to you, you can’t make them agree with you, but you can provide them with a source of information that they can take and explore.”

Vocalist Serj Tankian said that the tour — dubbed “Wake Up the Souls” — also had a broader purpose of raising awareness of how major human rights abuses remain rampant 100 years later.

He pointed to the killings of Yazidis, Christians and other minorities by the Islamic State movement — including in parts of Syria that witnessed bloodshed in 1915.

“It’s very ironic that bodies are being buried right over the bones of our ancestors in the same desert,” Tankian said.

The United Nations adopted the Genocide Convention after World War II, but Tankian noted that there was still “no executable agreement among major powers that if a genocide occurs, all bets are off and we should stop dealing with that country.”

System of a Down said that the free concert in Yerevan’s Republic Square would be band’s longest-ever, with a set of 32 songs.

The band members said that they hoped some Turkish fans would come, stressing that their grievances lay with the Turkish government rather than people.

For the European tour, which includes sold-out arena shows in Britain, France and Germany, System of a Down plans a three-part video montage that, in part, will ask whether the cautious reaction to killings of Armenians emboldened Nazi Germany to order the Holocaust.

System of a Down has not released an album in a decade and had not been planning to tour, but the centennial is deeply personal for the musicians.

Dolmayan, who was born in Lebanon, recalled learning at an early age about how his great-grandfather was killed.

“I used to get very angry. Now that I understand all the politics, my anger has disappeared and a sick, disgusting feeling replaced it,” he said.

Tankian, whose grandparents were survivors, said that the cause turned him into an all-round activist. System of a Down has previously spoken out against the Iraq war and for environmental protection.

“In the United States — a democracy, where I grew up — I said, hang on, why is the government shying away from the genocide word? How many other genocides are being put aside because of politics or political capital?”

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