French ‘Sinatra’ Charles Aznavour, who called attention to Armenian genocide, has died

Photo of Charles Aznavour by Hugo van Gelderen / Anefo

If you’ve never listened to Charles Aznavour’s voice, you’re missing something lovely. Aznavour, widely described by media as the “French Frank Sinatra” died in southeastern France on October 1. Aznavour, whose given name was Shahnour Varinag Aznavourian, was 94 years old. The performer was wildly popular for his love songs, but he also penned the song “Ils Sont Tombes”, anglicized as “They Fell”, about the Armenian genocide. 

Aznavour was a remarkable artist. The Daily Mail and other media said he sold more than 180 million records. He began to perform on stage as a child, and for 80 years he continued to perform. The newspaper said Aznavour married three times and is survived by five children and his wife Ulla.

Variety Magazine said:

“Aznavour sold more than 180 million records and appeared in more than 60 films. Bob Dylan considered Aznavour, sometimes referred to as a Gallic Frank Sinatra, to be “one of the greatest live performers” he’d ever seen. CNN named him Entertainer of the Century in 1998, and he received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame last year.”

Although he was French, Aznavour’s ancestry was Armenian. His parents fled their homeland as the Ottoman Empire failed and rulers sought to eliminate Christians from the Muslim-majority empire. The most brutal persecutions occurred after the “Young Turks” overthrew the sultan, promising reform. Armenians’ hopes were short-lived; the persecution became worse. The Young Turks viewed Armenians as a threat to their country’s security.

Aznavour did much to inform the public about the Armenian genocide, including co-writing “They Fell.” A video at YouTube features the song and includes a translation as well as riveting photographs of the mass killings and the exodus of Armenians from their homeland.

Most world leaders, including US presidents from both major political parties, have refused to acknowledge the Armenian genocide although scholars have estimated that at least one and one-half million died and another million were deported. No reparations or apologies have come from leaders in the countries where the genocide occurred.

Aznavour’s political activism was in tandem with his near-unrivaled popularity as a pop star. Already there is talk of naming a street in France after him, and France 24 news live-blogged information as news of his death became public.

Aznavour toured in the United States, and a number of US pop stars in various genres have performed his works. Although Western media have significantly covered his death, most have avoided providing information about his passion to educate the world about the Armenian Genocide. The performer’s Aznavour Foundation supports humanitarian causes.

Aznavour’s song “She” was a hit, and became one of his most well-known pop songs about love.

(Kay B. Day/Oct. 2, 2018)

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