Armenian Language Corner

When Singing, Keep Thinking

The patriotic song popularly known by its first two words, “Harach Nahadag,” is one of the most popular among us, perhaps the equivalent to “America the Beautiful.” Its martial sounds have turned it into the official anthem of Homenetmen, but the song is also interpreted in many other occasions, and it has also been used as official song in various Armenian schools of the Diaspora.

The story of the song remains to be researched. We do not know when the lyrics and the music were written. The lyrics, entitled “Gamavoragan kaylerk” (Կամաւորական քայլերգ / March of the Volunteers) belong to poet Kevork Garvarentz (1892-1946), who was the father of composer Georges Garvarentz (1932-1993), Charles Aznavour’s brother-in-law and author of the music for a hundred of his songs. The music is from one of Gomidas Vartabed’s “five disciples,” Parsegh Ganachian (1885-1967), who also arranged the music for the Armenian national anthem “Mer Hairenik” and wrote the music of the Lebanese national anthem.

When songs are learned by heart and few care to think about the meaning of what they sing, little but significant distortions happen. This is the case of “Harach Nahadag,” for instance. Whoever knows Armenian will agree that the lyrics are not your standard share of “kitchen Armenian,” but they are written with a deep sense of language and poetical technique. Some of those distortions may go unnoticed, because the outcome still has a reasonable meaning, but others may border on the ridiculous. Here are the cases:

1) Vets taroo anmorr vrezhi zurahner (Վեց դարու անմոռ վրէժի զրահներ “Armors of six centuries of unforgettable revenge”)

People sing anmar (անմար), which means “unquenchable.” It is true that revenge may be both unforgettable and unquenchable, but you should ask yourself whether both words mean the same. Can you change Nat King Cole’s song “Unforgettable” and turn it into… “Unquenchable”? (Imagine the first lines: “Unquenchable, / that’s what you are,/ unquenchable, though near or far.”)

2) Gadarn hayreni lerants herrakooyn / Yertank gotoghel troshagn yerrakooyn (Կատարն հայրենի լերանց հեռագոյն / Երթանք կոթողել դրօշակն եռագոյն “Let’s go and plant the tricolor flag / On the peak of the farthest homeland mountains”)

Under the influence of yerrakooyn (եռագոյն “tricolor”) in the second line, people also sing yerrakooyn in the first. The actual word is herrakooyn, from herroo (հեռու “far”), meaning “farthest” (kooyn here has nothing to do with kooyn “color”). If you use mistakenly yerrakooyn, the result is the meaningless line “On the peak of the tricolor homeland mountains.” Can you tell which Armenian mountain has three colors and which colors are those?

3) Vadin sev arioon mer hoghn vorrokets / Darakir hayn ir gyankuh norokets (Վատին սեւ արիւն մեր հողն ոռոգեց / Տարագիր հայն իր կեանքը նորոգեց “The black blood of the evil watered our soil / The exiled Armenian renewed his life”)

This is similar to case 2. Under the influence of norokets (նորոգեց “renewed”) in the second line, people also sing norokets in the first. (Of course, the different spelling of r in vorrokets/ոռոգեց and norokets/նորոգեց remains unnoticed.) Can you seriously imagine that the “black blood of the evil” (meaning: the enemy) could renew the Armenian land? Yes, you can, if you are not thinking about the actual meaning of what you sing.