By Ruzanna Khachatrian
The government shelved on Thursday its controversial plans to change Armenia’s national anthem after facing strong resistance from the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), a member of the ruling coalition.
A draft law approved by ministers would keep the existing “Mer Hayrenik” (Our Fatherland) anthem in force for at least one more year. The bill will be put before parliament next month.
“Mer Hayrenik” was the official anthem of a short-lived independent Armenian republic that was founded and governed by Dashnaktsutyun from 1918-1920. It was for decades banned by the Soviet authorities before being reinstated by Armenia’s first post-Communist government in 1990. Some Armenian music composers and artists have long disliked the song’s uncomplicated theme, calling for the adoption of a more solemn tune.
Earlier this year the government formed an ad hoc commission made up of prominent intellectuals, artists and government officials and tasked with organizing a contest for a new anthem. The commission headed by Culture Minister Hasmik Poghosian short-listed last August five out of 85 songs submitted by local composers, calling a public debate on the issue.
The short-list included Soviet Armenia’s former anthem with altered lyrics that no longer glorify Soviet rule and the Communist Party. The commission selected its music, written by the late prominent composer Aram Khachaturian, as the winner of the contest but rejected the lyrics, urging local authors to submit better words for the tune.
The government found the partial solution unacceptable after strong objections voiced by Dashnaktsutyun. Leaders of the nationalist party and some opposition politicians have opposed any change of the anthem. They were particularly incensed by the selection of the Soviet-era song which some observers believe was engineered by President Robert Kocharian.
“We will strive to make sure that our fellow lawmakers correctly assess the situation and prevent the adoption of any other anthem,” Vahan Hovannisian, a Dashnaktsutyun leader and deputy parliament speaker, said on Monday. “An anthem to the tune of which people were taken to Siberia is unacceptable.”
Prime Minister Andranik Markarian also questioned the wisdom of restoring the Soviet-era anthem as he spoke to journalists on Wednesday. “We must have an anthem acceptable to all of us,” he said. “The music [by Khachaturian] is fine, but as long as there are no suitable words I will associate it with the old text.”