U.S. Rock Band System of a Down to Commemorate Armenian Genocide

System of a Down
System Of A Down perform at the MTV Europe Music Awards 2005 at Lisbon's Atlantic Pavilion November 3, 2005. The band won the best alternative award. Jose Manuel Ribeiro/REUTERS

The Grammy-award winning band System of a Down officially launched their Wake Up the Souls tour which will commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide during a press conference yesterday afternoon.

It is the first time the Los Angeles-based band, whose members are all Armenian Americans and who are all the children of survivors of the genocide, will have played in the country.The tour kicks off in Los Angeles on April 6 and will include stops in the UK, Germany, France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Russia before a final free show in Yerevan’s Republic Square in Armenia.

The tour is timely as Armenians will commemorate the beginning of the genocide on April 24. On that date, Turkish soldiers began to round up and execute Armenians as part of efforts to ‘Turkify’ the region.The band will perform two songs specifically about the genocide, P.L.U.C.K and Holy Mountains.

“It is a big honour for us to play in Armenia in the 100th anniversary year of the genocide,” said Serj Tankian, lead singer of the band. “Genocide is a disease that keeps on occurring today. For us as Armenian Americans, and as band members who have had family members perish in this tragedy, it is important to bring attention to this cause,” he continued.

Tankian and the band’s drummer John Dolmayan were joined by congressman Adam Schiff,  Turkish academic and professor of history at Clark University Taner Akçam, as well as Aram Hamparian, the executive director of the Armenian National Committee of America, who all called on the Turkish government and the Obama administration to officially recognise the genocide during the press conference.

Around 1.5 million Armenians were killed in what many international scholars and governments consider to be a genocide in 1915. To date, Turkey has maintained that the atrocities were not premeditated but rather the result of a messy war.

The band members said they had been told “horrific stories” about the genocide by family members. Dolmayan spoke of how his uncle grew up in an orphanage in Greece as a result of his parents being murdered. “It stays with you,” he said. “It’s with me today. We have both heard horrific stories, and denial is a spit in the face of that every year.”

Despite a strong fan base in Turkey, the band revealed they have had difficulties securing tour dates there. “There is a growing civil movement within Turkey and we have a lot of friends there fighting beside us for recognition of the genocide, some of our fans there have even defended the band against libel claims from the Turkish press. We were originally planning to play in Turkey, but were told we would need permission from the Turkish government, but it took a while and at that point we had to move ahead.”

Professor Taner Akçam spoke of the need for Turkey to recognise the genocide. “Recognising the genocide is not a necessity because of fundamental moral concern, but because it undermines security in the Middle East more broadly,” he said. “The past is the present in the Middle East. What else has to happen for us to realise these simple truths?”

Since their debut in 1998, System Of A Down has released five studio albums, sold over 31 million copies worldwide and won a Grammy.