Duduk: Trauma and Dream

“Who is nowadays still talking about the extermination of the Armenians?” Not until June 2016 did the German Bundestag (Federal Parliament) categorise the massacres of Armenians, which were committed by the former Ottoman Empire, as a genocide – roughly one hundred years later. In order to express the emotional turmoil of the Armenian people and the their will to survive, Erkoreka transfers the tension between melody and drone to a single solo instrument.

Not until June 2016 did the German Bundestag (Federal Parliament) categorise the massacres of Armenians which were committed by the former Ottoman Empire as a genocide – roughly one hundred years after the events and even thirty years after the European Parliament had denominated it as such. The Armenia resolution greatly puts the German-Turkish relations to the test, since, until today, the Turkish government’s official version is a different one: According to them, the expulsion, persecution and murder of Armenians were not planned and the mass deaths during the resettlement treks as well as the committed massacres were not intended by the Ottoman government.

The Armenian Holocaust was one of the first systematic genocides in the 20th century. In 1914, the Ottoman Empire, under the influence of the nationalist Young Turks, enters the First World War to fight alongside the German Empire and Austria-Hungary. After significant military losses in the first year of the war, the Turkish nationalists soon accused the country’s Christian minorities, first and foremost the Armenians, of supporting the enemy. After Armenian rebels had gained control of the city of Van with the help of Russian troops in April 1915, the government propaganda utilised this incident to put all Armenians under general suspicion and to accuse them of treason.


Detail des Chatschkar von Gyumri. Ein tradioneller armenischer Gedächtsnisstein. Quelle: wikimedia.de


During this time, the vision of a homogeneous Turkish population develops into concrete plans to conduct an organised extermination of entire parts of the minorities. It starts with arresting the Armenian elite in Constantinople: in April 1915, hundreds of intellectuals, clerics, doctors, publishers, journalists, lawyers or teachers are arrested in raids and deported to concentration camps. Shortly afterwards, the mass deportations of the entire Armenian population from their ancestral homes to the Syrian and Mesopotamian desert began. In the course of weeks of marches and massacres of civilians, according to different estimates, between 300.000 and 1,5 million people died.


The duduk, the Armenian short oboe, is one of the Armenian music tradition’s most important instruments. It is always accompanied by a bass note over which melodies and melismata unfold. In Duduk I-b, Erkoreka transfers the tension between the drone and the melody to a single solo instrument: after the two antipoles are introduced in the almost meditative first minutes, they start interacting in the most diverse ways, whilst the illusion of two voices is repeatedly created, until they descend together at the end of the piece.



Erkoreka himself does not explicitly connect his music with these happenings but leaves space for interpretation; in the preface he says: “At the same time, this polarization between drone and melody, carried to the extremes, wills to experiment with the material in a way to reflect an equally extreme emotional background: The trauma stemming from a yearning for a lost homeland along with a sense of survival against all odds which characterize the Armenian psyche.”


The events which the Armenians themselves refer to as “Aghet” (“Catastrophe”), preview several narratives of the Holocaust that was to begin roughly thirty years later. One of the country’s cultural elites was intentionally targeted: in 1914, there were still nine newspapers that were published in Armenian and 13 in Turkish, even though only 10% of the population were Armenian. Armenians established the modern theater as well as the opera in the empire and wrote the first Ottoman novels. Yet, there was talk of a “contamination” of the society. The governor of the Diyarbakır Province, a physician, calls the Armenians a mass of “detrimental microbes that [had] infested the fatherland’s body”. Lastly, partisans put the following words in Adolf Hitler’s mouth in his secret speech which he gave in front of all three military branches: “Genghis Khan was responsible for the deaths of millions of women and children […] [.] Who is nowadays still talking about the extermination of the Armenians?”