Kevork Hadjian, an Armenian-Lebanese opera singer, has died while fighting on the Nagorno-Karabakh frontline. He was 49.
Reports of his death first began circulating on social media on Wednesday, October 7. However, it is believed that Hadjian was killed in battle the day before.
Hadjian was a member of a regiment of volunteers led by the Armenian Revolutionary Federation – an Armenian nationalist and socialist political party that is also active in Syria and Lebanon. The platoon had been fighting alongside the Artsakh Defence Corps and managed to overrun Azerbaijani positions on the Varangatagh (Lulasaz) height shortly after Hadjian was killed.
Who was Kevork Hadjian?
Born in Anjar, in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, in 1971, Hadjian’s musical prowess was evident from an early age.
“He would sing the songs of Sayat Nova when he was just a few years old,” Nancy Hajian, a cousin of Hadjian says, referencing the 18th-century Armenian poet and musician. “The entire family was known for their powerful singing. Even his brother and three sisters have remarkable voices.”
Hadjian attended Anjar’s Harach and Calouste Gulbenkian Primary School before being accepted at the Holy Sea of Cilicia’s Zarehian Seminary in Antelias, a town to the north of Beirut.
“He would sing sometimes between classes,” Father Aram Deyirmendjian, the parish priest of the Armenian Church in Dubai and the Northern Emirates, says. “We grew up in the same neighbourhood in Anjar and then studied together in Antelias. We often spoke about music, even up to his final days.”
After graduating from the seminary in 1992, Hadjian enrolled at Parsegh Ganatchian Music School in Beirut. It was his induction into formal music training and the young Hadjian seemed eager to hone his musical sensibilities, actively taking part in choral groups across Lebanon, including the Shnorhali Choir and the Faiha Choir in Tripoli.
Hadjian also began training the choir of his old primary school, leading them to win a choral competition at the Parsegh Ganatchian Music School in 1993.
Hadjian’s musical activities were side-lined when he moved to Kuwait in 1994 with his wife, Frida, and his only child, Tatul. There, he began work as the executive secretary in the local Armenian community and church. He also taught music at the Kuwaiti Armenian High School in Kuwait.
“He was actively involved in community events in Kuwait,” Ani Sarkisian, a former student of Hadjian, says. “All the students held him in high regard. We looked up to him. It was clear that he loved his nation.”
Sarkisian says that Hadjian also founded a choir group in the local Armenian community. “He trained and led the group for years. He was quite passionate about it,” Sarkisian says.
In 2004, Hadjian and his family moved to Armenia and it is then that he began seriously pursuing a career in music.
“It was always evident that he had a good voice. But it wasn’t until he moved to Armenia where his voice truly blossomed,” Deyirmendjian says.
Hadjian enrolled at the Komitas State Conservatory in 2005, studying under the esteemed Armenian opera singer, Parsegh Toumanian. After graduating in 2009, Hadjian’s musical career skyrocketed. He began performing at his unique operatic iterations of Armenian patriotic songs across Europe, the Americas and the Middle East. In 2011, he travelled to Italy to take part in an international competition of opera singers, where he finished in the top ten and received a merit award.
“He was most famous for his patriotic songs,” Deyirmendjian says. “But he sang hymns wonderfully as well.”
In 2016, Hadjian performed in Sharjah in an event that commemorated Armenian Independence Day. Hajian, who lives in Sharjah, says it was the first time she saw her relative in more than two decades.
“He left Anjar when I was a little girl,” she says. “So I didn’t see him again until the event in 2016. I had to introduce myself. He hugged me with all his strength. That’s all I keep thinking about after hearing of his death. I’ll never forget that moment.”
During his visit to the UAE, Hadjian also sang as part of the choir Saint Gregory the Illuminator Church. "For the last few years, he had been singing more patriotic songs. So when he sang at the church in Sharjah, it was a bit like a return to his old days," Deyirmendjian says.
Fighting on the frontlines
Hadjian's first experience in active combat came during the four-day Nagorno–Karabakh War in 2016. It was his experience during this conflict that, Hajian says, led to his deployment at the frontlines less than two weeks ago.
"We knew he had volunteered after seeing a few Facebook posts about it," Hajian says. "Then, last week, we got word that he was injured. But the news was ambiguous," Hajian says. "Relatives and friends in Anjar gathered at his mother's house, waiting for the news. And we knew it was going to be bad."
Hajian adds that her relative always spoke of the 'mardigs' (warriors) who fought for Nagorno-Karabakh's right to self-determination.
“He died as a mardig fighting for the Armenians in Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh),” Hajian says. “Of course we’re proud of that, but we are still mourning him greatly.”
The opera singer's death comes as Armenia and Azerbaijan, with Russia's mediation, agree to a ceasefire from noon on Saturday, October 10, following two weeks of heavy fighting that marked the worst outbreak of hostilities in the separatist region in a quarter-century.