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Stamp Out Corruption, U.S. Rock Star Tells Armenians


By Anna Saghabalian
The lead singer of System of a Down, the world’s most famous ethnic Armenian rock band, has added his voice to long-standing calls for the eradication of widespread government corruption in Armenia, singling it out as the most serious obstacle to the country’s development.

In an interview with RFE/RL, Serj Tankian said bribery and other corrupt practices are the reason why many fellow Diasporans in the United States and elsewhere in the world avoid large-scale investments in their historical homeland.

“Corruption must be stamped out in the country,” the U.S. rock star of Armenian descent said from Los Angeles. “Like the Jews, Armenians have quite a strong Diaspora which is always ready to help the homeland. But every time Diaspora Armenians work with businessmen in Armenia they encounter many difficulties because of corruption, mafia and various problems with the government. Things must be more open because the country needs investments.”

“The most important thing is that we return to the roots which the Armenian people had before the Soviet times,” he added in fluent Armenian. “That means we must put an end to political corruption, the corrupt system and think about our people.”

The comments revealed a new message in the political discourse of the California-based band better known for its advocacy of international recognition of the 1915 Armenian Genocide and other, more global causes. A vocal critic of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, Tankian teamed up with other American rock musicians in 2002 to form Axis of Justice, a group fighting against corruption and standing up for workers' rights.

System of a Down’s commitment to genocide recognition found a new outlet in a benefit show which the progressive-metal quartet staged in a sold-out Los Angeles hall on April 24, the day of the annual remembrance of some 1.5 million Armenians slaughtered in Ottoman Turkey. The Souls Benefit concert aimed to raise U.S. rock fans’ awareness of the tragedy. Proceeds from the concert have been donated to the Armenian National Committee of America and other Diaspora groups which have been lobbying the U.S. Congress to officially recognize mass killings as genocide.

Tankian described the show as a big success. “Not only the concert but media coverage of it have had a quite powerful impact,” he said. “We have raised the issue of genocide recognition from the day of the band’s creation [in 1995].”

Tankian revealed that he is aware of the political crisis in Armenia, saying he hopes it will be sorted out by “democratic and political means.” “I think it’s very important for people to stand up for their rights,” he said in an apparent reference to the recent anti-government demonstrations in Yerevan.

Tankian said he visited Armenia on a private trip two year ago and would like to go there again with System’s three other ethnic Armenian members. “We would like to come and we would like to throw a very good concert and maybe even record a live DVD album. But we have not yet planned the details and it is still not clear when,” he said, adding that “one or two years” is the most realistic time frame.

In the meantime, System will work on its new album which is due be released by the end of this year. Its new hits, according to Tankian, will maintain the band's trademark blend of traditional Armenian tunes and modern rhythms. “Armenian music is part of our identity,” the singer said. “We don’t need to spend time on a particular kind of music because whatever we do, Armenian music will be in it.”
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