A musical survivor from the genocide no-one dares to mention

A musical survivor from the genocide no-one dares to mention


norman lebrecht

July 20, 2014

I came across a lovely piece in a rural newspaper about a conductor, Vartan Melkonian, who works with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

Vartan grew up in Beirut, Lebanon, as a street kid, the orphaned child of refugees who escaped genocide – the planned destruction of their race by a ruthless empire. He spent the first eight years of his life in a refugee camp, the next few years on the streets.

I had never sat on a chair, I had never been into someone’s house. I didn’t know how to tie shoe laces,’ he relates. People take moments of pleasure by looking at the sunset. For us, for me, it was the worst time of the day, there was nowhere to go. I had to find any alcove to sleep in.’

Vartan somehow hauled himself out of destitution, found a place to live, studied music, became a conductor and now gives lectures for the United Nations on the lives of street children.

Vartan Melkonian


That Vartan is alive at all is a minor miracle. His family fled their homes in Armenia in 1915 after Turkey launched a calculated massacre of its Armenian citizens. To this day, no-one knows how many died. Turkey, to this day, denies the holocaust took place.

Yet its present prime minister has the Islamist effrontery of accusing Israel of committing crimes ‘worse than Hitler.’

Forget about Erdogan, he’s not worth a wasted brain cell. Forget the other Islamist anti-semites. Think about the Armenians.

Next year, 2015, is the centenary of their genocide. Time to make sure the world knows what happened. Read Franz Werfel, The 40 Days of Musa Dagh’.  Do what you can to bring Turkey to justice before the court of world opinion.

I’m thinking of changing my surname for the year to Lebrechtian in solidarity with the oppressed Armenians. Anyone care to join?

Read Vartan’s interview here.


  • Nurhan Arman says:

    Thanks for this Mr. Lebrecht. I will look forward more than ever to reading Lebrechtian articles in 2015.

    And here is Saroyan:

    “I should like to see any power of the world destroy this race, this small tribe of unimportant people, whose wars have all been fought and lost, whose structures have crumbled, literature is unread, music is unheard, and prayers are no more answered. Go ahead, destroy Armenia . See if you can do it. Send them into the desert without bread or water. Burn their homes and churches. Then see if they will not laugh, sing and pray again. For when two of them meet anywhere in the world, see if they will not create a New Armenia.” ― William Saroyan

  • Reinhold Martin says:

    I will adopt and seriously realise Norman’s idea of changing my surname for the year 2015 in comemorating the widespread displaced 1915 genocide of the Armenians.

  • Andrey says:

    My good friends, armenian musicians Vardan Mamikonian, and conductor Ruben Gazarian (both based now in Germany) are very active by this project:
    which is dedicated to 1915 genocide of the Armenian. There are many great concerts , which already took place, and which ware coming. Have a look!

  • Gerhard says:

    You report: “Vartan grew up in Beirut, Lebanon, as a street kid, the orphaned child of refugees who escaped genocide”. The genocide to which you are referring happened in 1915. How old is this man?

  • Steve says:

    It says he was the orphaned child of parents who escaped the genocide so he could have been born 20-30 years after the genocide. Seems he has no direct connection to it.

  • Jeff Ritter says:

    The article is designed to make Erdogan look bad (he does a good job on his own). That does not justify Israel’s killings, however.