I have a good friend who is Palestinian. He is a very talented musician, plays several instruments very well and has a deep understanding of music of the Arab world and other cultures in the Middle East. We are in the same orchestra along with 40 other musicians, perform three concerts a year and practice eight times for each concert.
I have a number of ouds. One that I favor most these days I purchased most recently during the pandemic. It is a carbon fiber, solid black oud made in Israel. Because of the color and material, many of my musician friends consider it unconventional. They also are not particularly fond of the sound. Me? I love the color and the durability of the carbon fiber. I also think the sound is deep and rich. This oud fits my style of play.
With the brutal attack by Hamas on Israel on October 7 and the even more brutal response in Gaza, my friend has been very despondent, and for good reason. The Armenians lost Artsakh on September 28, a mere nine days before the Hamas attack, after a horrible siege by Azerbaijan. Armenians, myself included, have been increasingly despondent since the 2020 war with Azerbaijan.
At a rehearsal in November, I was tuning my oud before practice. My friend was walking by and said, “I see you brought the enemy’s oud.” I was not sure what to say. In that instant I understood his pain, but it amplified my pain of the total lack of interest in the three-year plight of Armenians leading to the fall of Artsakh. All I could think to say was, “You know the maker of this oud was an Israeli aerospace engineer named Meir Yaakov Efergen. He stopped making weapons to make instruments.”
In that instant I understood his pain, but it amplified my pain of the total lack of interest in the three-year plight of Armenians leading to the fall of Artsakh.
I understand the feelings of my friend. He could not believe or accept what was happening to his people in Gaza. He felt helpless. All he could do was post on social media, protest and participate in concerts to raise money for aid. It is exactly how I have felt for three years regarding Artsakh.
A few weeks later, I was still thinking about this exchange with my friend; the enemy’s oud indeed. As a result, I left the carbon fiber oud at home and used a very traditional, classic instrument made by arguably the most famous oud maker, Emaniolis, who was a Greek living in Istanbul at the turn of the 20th century. At another rehearsal, I asked my friend, “Do you recall calling my carbon fiber oud ‘the enemy’s oud?’” He didn’t, and I understood, given the swirl of emotions the war on Gaza has caused for so many people. I went on to say, “You went to Istanbul and had an oud made to your exact specifications by the most talented living maker in Istanbul. I have never called your instrument ‘the enemy’s oud.’”
This all made me reflect on a quote from the great troubadour Aram Tigran (1934-2009) that was going through my head: “If I come to the world again, I will melt all of the tanks, rifles and weapons, and make sazes, cümbüşes and zurnas.” I would love to see that happen.