by Gregory Page-Hovelian
My father was the Armenian pop singer Krikor Hovelian. Before his sudden departure from the world's scene, he told me,
“Son you must make the trip to your homeland of Armenia. In the great city of Yerevan, the music of Charles Aznavour and Khachaturian is played each night over loud speakers as colorful fountains dance together with the people. Be around your people on the buses and at the outdoor markets and visit your aunt Marie and cousin Nora while you are there.”
My Aunt Marie was married to the great Armenian artist Hagop Hagopian, and herself is an accomplished painter who recently exhibited her works at… the National Museum of Armenia. I was told that upon entering Armenia the Customs Agents when stamping your passport say “Welcome Home”. I was slightly disappointed when I didn’t receive that blessing. Leaving the airport I had this romantic impulse to fall to my knees and kiss the ground, but upon seeing the cold concrete I changed my mind and blew a silent kiss into the air instead. My cousins from Australia had met me in Paris so we could fly to Yerevan together. We were met by an army of cab drivers eager to drive us into the city, I was approached by a beggar who asked for money. As I fumbled for some change the taxi driver said “No, don’t give him any”. The late-night rainy drive into the center of Yerevan was long as I stared out the window & tried to grasp the fact that I had followed my Fathers advice and that I could feel his joy inside of as if my heart was going to burst. My hotel room was on the eleventh floor lying on my bed I couldn’t sleep and eagerly awaited the Sun to rise so I could begin this journey. At the crack of dawn, I walked out onto the balcony, and there in the distant is what I assumed was Mount Ararat. I must admit it wasn’t as enormous as I imagined so when i turned to walk to the other side of the balcony, I let out an audible gasp upon seeing the real Mount Arrant in front me with its noble summit in the clouds. After breakfast we were picked up by a tour guide and his driver in a small white van. My head was spinning in circles trying to not miss a single site while being driven to Echmiadzin which is Christian Church #1 Strolling into the sunlight towards this magnificent ancient monument walking towards me was a group of High Priests and clergymen. They looked very important in their black robes and long grey beards. They were slowly and walking talking with a tall man who was bald wearing jeans and an off-white sport coat. As we got closer to each other I could not believe my eyes and immediately recognized the tall man as actor John Malkovich. As we passed each other I calmly said “Hi John" as if I knew him. He polity nodded and walked past me. I was standing at one of the worlds holiest sites that just said Hi to one of my favorite actors WOW!!! I immediately texted my friend Jason Mraz back in America telling him where I am and who I just bumped into. His quick reply was, “Of course this happens to you, you lead a magical existence.”
I had no clue that what was going to happen next would be the most magical moment of my life.
The bumpy drive and smell of exhaust made me car sick so I was glad when we reached our next destination which was a 4th century monastery called Gerhard which is built into the rocks of a mountain. On the slow walk up to the Church our tour guide pointed to large cave high up on the cliff where Saint Gregory the Illuminator gave music lessons. I thought of all the times when I was a kid growing up in London how I complained to me mum about the long drive each week to my music lessons, at least I didn’t have to scale a cliff to learn how to play guitar. I wandered around the site alone for a while and saw some people walking up the stone stairs into a large cave. I followed them into a pitch-black cavern. I stood with my back against the stone as two women and two men stood in the center with tiny lights glowing over their music books and began to sing accapella Armenian hymns. It was the most beautiful music I had heard in this life it was pure haunting harmony. I felt a feeling it would be impossible to described in clumsy words. I was activated I felt brand new and ancient at the same time. When they were finished singing, they existed the cave and everyone followed. I stayed behind to standing in puddle of tears and had a conversation with my father's ghost. I thanked him for encouraging me to be here. We embraced and he told me to walk out of this cave and begin to live like you have never lived before. As I walked outside, I saw my cousin buying the singers CD they were selling at the entrance. George said "You were in there? Thats amazing I could not see you and prayed that you were here listening.” On the drive down the mountain I was quiet, reflective and not ready to leave that heavenly place . The tour guide told us he was taking us a famous donut shop in the heart of Yerevan. Me and my cousin George stood in line to place our order I felt the eyes of young boy staring at me and smiling so I smiled back. Then he walked straight over to me and extended his tiny hand to shake mine and as our hands met, he said in perfect English
“I know you are Armenian.” It was all I could do to hold back the tears that instantly welled up behind my eyes and I knew that was “The Welcome Home” blessing I had just received.