Komitas Vartabed, 152 years old

Armenian musician, composer, choirmaster, and priest Komitas Vartabed was born 152 years ago today in 1869 in Kütahya. He is still remembered with great respect.

Vartabed, who lost his parents at a young age, was raised by his grandmother and relatives. At the age of 12, he was sent to the Armenian Church of Etchmiadzin, Armenia, to receive an education. The young Komitas took part in the church choir and sang hymns in Armenian. Because he could only speak Turkish – it was forbidden to speak Armenian in Kütahya – he could not understand the Armenian hymns he sang during his early time there. After completing his religious education in Etchmiadzin, he received the rank of “Vartabed” in 1895. Because of his interest in music Vartabed continued to take part in the church choir.

Later, he went to Germany to receive a full musical education and introduced Armenian music there. Komitas returned to Etchmiadzin in September 1899 and continued composing and producing music. He became the first artist to tour the villages of Anatolia and record ethnic folk melodies in musical notes. He lectured in many parts of the world and wrote articles and compositions. Only 1,200 of Komitas’ more than 4,000 compilations have survived.

Komitas contributed to the production, education, and promotion of Armenian music. He also established and directed a 300-member choir in Istanbul.

April 24, 1915, and the silencing of Komitas

Komitas Vartabed was among the Armenian intellectuals arrested on April 24, 1915. He was sent into exile with the other detainees. It is not exactly known how Vartabed’s release came about or who the mediators for his release were, but he was able to return to Istanbul on May 15.

After his return, he lost his mental balance due to his experiences in exile and went through a big change. He was first treated at a hospital in Istanbul for a few years, but taken to France to receive further treatment in 1919. For the last 18 years of his life, Komitas completely stopped talking to people. He died in a psychiatric hospital in Paris Villejuif on October 22, 1935.

Vartabed, whose body was brought to Soviet Armenia in 1936 and buried with a great ceremony in Yerevan. He is still remembered with great respect.

Originally published in Turkish on September 26, 2021, by @gazetesabro