Serj Tankian looking to set up music festival in Armenia

A year after Armenians launched a generous new peace prize, the frontman of rockers System of a Down sees more to come in the country — including perhaps a music festival.

Serj Tankian, singer of the chart-topping California hard rock band, composed a theme song for the Aurora Prize, which was inaugurated a year ago in the Armenian capital Yerevan.

The award, backed by Hollywood A-lister George Clooney, is presented on behalf of Armenians who survived the 1915 Armenian Genocide.

The second edition of the award was presented on May 28 to Tom Catena, the sole doctor in Sudan’s conflict-ravaged Nuba Mountains who has cared for thousands of people, treating everything from war injuries to measles.

Catena, an American and Catholic missionary, will receive $100,000 plus an additional $1 million which will feed charities of his choice.

Tankian, who congratulated Catena in a video appearance at the ceremony as the band prepared for a European tour, said the Aurora Prize showed gratitude to those who helped survivors.

“Any group of people that have suffered immensely, whether it’s genocide or any other type of human-created catastrophe, should embody compassion and an understanding of that pain better than anyone else,” Tankian told AFP.

The Lebanese-born Tankian, whose grandparents survived with help from a Turkish mayor and an American missionary orphanage, said that too often, people fail to draw lessons from their ancestors’ pain.

“I find it really disheartening that there are people who have suffered immensely, or whose grandparents have suffered immensely, and yet their position in life has been unequivocally egotistical and myopic in terms of how they see their lives and how they spend their money,” he said.

Tankian said he wanted to do more in Armenia and was in the early stages of looking to set up a music festival.

The singer voiced hope that Armenia, rarely a destination for Western artists, could be integrated into the European summer festival circuit with touring bands carrying on to the Caucasus country.

“I’ve always dreamed of setting up an international music festival in Armenia,” he said.

“As much as I have tried to do political work and social work,” he said, “I would also like to carve out time to do art work, music work.”

For the centennial in 2015, System of a Down played its first-ever concert in Armenia. Tankian said he felt overcome with a sense of history, seeing young people and remembering his grandparents. He viewed his band as “part of that catalyst between old and new.”

“It felt like our whole career was built to play that one show in some ways,” he said.

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