Vagrant Journalism

Published pieces from the past, the present and of the potential future.

3 May 2004: Benefit Concert Souls 2004 Raises Awareness

Posted by Christina on February 28, 2009

systemThis piece was clearly very close to my heart and I think I wouldn’t have been able to have it come out the way it did (or even have it come out at all) had it not been an issue I identified with. I was able to gain direct access to System of a Down frontman Serj Tankian and conduct a personal interview that shed some light on this very important event. For the first time, a world-renown group of Armenians were taking it upon themselves to let their fans and the entire world know exactly what made them who they are. By focusing on the Armenian Genocide and holding a benefit concert for the cause of awareness, they let a lot of people know exactly what it meant to be an Armenian living in today’s world.

New University Newspaper: Benefit Concert Souls 2004 Raises Awareness

Benefit Concert Souls 2004 Raises Awareness
by Christina Nersesian
Volume 37, Issue 26 | May 03 2004

System of a Down took the legendary Greek Theatre in Los Angeles on April 24, and made the entire place like their own home. It was as if the band threw this huge event and each band member invited all of their friends, cousins and their friends, parents’ friends and pretty much the entire society living in the diasporas of Southern California.

The members of System of a Down – vocalist and front man Serj Tankian, guitarist Daron Malakian, bassist Shavo Odadjian and drummer John Dolmayan, all of Armenian descent – lost family during the Armenian Genocide. The band’s Souls 2004 Benefit Concert was set for April 24, Genocide Commemoration Day, for a reason.

‘The purpose of Souls 2004 is to further raise awareness of the Armenian Genocide committed by the Ottoman Empire (present-day Turkey) in 1915, and help facilitate its formal recognition as a genocide by the federal government,’ Tankian said.

Joining System of a Down that day was Saul Williams, Bad Acid Trip, and Zach Hill, all of whom had donated their time for the event. Along with those performers several organizations the International Association of Genocide Scholars, Facing History and Ourselves, the Center for Prevention of Genocide, Zoryan Institute, the Genocide Project, and the Armenian National Committed of America who support the efforts of System of a Down were present with booths outside the venue. These organizations were the beneficiaries for the funds raised from the concert, Souls 2004.

‘[The name given to the concert], Souls 2004, is obvious,’ Tankian explained. ‘It refers to the souls that have passed due to the genocide, and the concert was done on their behalf.’

The cozy setting of the Greek Theatre seems the ideal place for concerts. Even back in the nosebleeds where most have to bring binoculars to catch a glimpse of the band playing, the setting of the Greek is one where even those are seats close enough to the action. Saturday’s concert was sold out within the first day of ticket sales. This disappointed some unable to get tickets but there lies reason in everything System of a Down does.

‘We could have sold out the Staples Center,’ Tankian said, ‘but decided on a more elegant, intimate venue for this benefit show. We haven’t played [Los Angeles] in a while and have lots of fans excited to see another show.’

The fans were very excited-most of all their Armenian fans, especially since the purpose of the show was to spark awareness about a cause very personal to their entire culture and ignored for so long.

‘My decision to attend the concert was two-fold,’ explained Ararat Oganesyan, president of the Armenian Student Association at UCI, who had also attended the show. ‘Initially I wanted to attend a System concert, solely for my appreciation of their music, but when I was informed on their Genocide Commemoration benefit, I was excited because with a powerful day such as April 24, there was no doubt in my mind that it would be a special evening.’

Before System of a Down actually went on stage, they showed an ABC special recorded in 1999 by Peter Jennings about the Armenian Genocide. The crowd showed a positive response, yet it is always hard to pick out the negative feedback in a setting like Saturday’s. System of a Down did have a lot of energy geared towards the presentation of the Armenian culture, yet did their presentation include enough about their views on the Genocide? Was it sufficient enough for the fans who know about the Genocide to really feel their cause presented to the people?

‘I felt that they could have done a little more to present their own views on the Armenian Genocide,’ Oganesyan explained, ‘because the audience, especially the ones who are ignorant on the topic would have listened to their every word, but some people I’m sure were turned off when they saw the special program on the projectors. But other then that I believe they did an awesome job.’

The concert was not meant to be a culture shock to those who were not Armenian, but it did raise the awareness in some about this old culture with values and history just like any other.

Souls 2004 brought out the young and the old. Some of the younger kids had their parents with them. Some of the older kids brought their parents with them as well, and sat them through that hard rock show just because of its purpose. Although the average parent would not approve of the way System of a Down runs their concerts, most parents there were too enthralled by the meaning and purpose of it all to care.

To them, the parents who believe this current generation of Armenians is going downhill with remembering and keeping their culture, this concert proved them wrong. System of a Down, representatives of that generation which parents fear will lose and forget their past, showed what it was to remember. This crowd clearly demonstrated that they will not forget.

‘I never expected the show to be as good as it was,’ Oganesyan said. ‘It was absolutely amazing. I took my friend Aramik’s Armenian flag and throughout the concert I was waving it and on one instance I got really brave and began running up and around the isles waving it.’

But why a concert? The issue of the Armenian Genocide has been burning in the hearts of Armenians for close to a hundred years now. One would think there are other ways to recognize the Genocide.

Perhaps all those methods have been exhausted by now. With the fresh faces of System of a Down integrating both their Armenian culture and the American culture of the 20th century into their style, they were able to come up with a better way to commemorate by having a concert to bring together their fans and show them the history of the Armenian culture’s struggle.

System of a Down has been the high voice for the Armenian community in reaching out to the government for the cause of recognizing and accepting the Genocide. Although they are not a political action committee, the Genocide is a very personal cause for the band and their families so they work towards the recognition of those atrocities. This makes them sympathetic to other Genocides as well. And perhaps they utilize their worldwide recognition to approach government.

‘We’ve done lots of interviews talking about the denial of the genocide and the genocide itself,’ Tankian said, ‘and have participated in a grass roots initiative to send out up to 100,000 postcards to the Speaker of the House and Senate Majority Leader to press them to introduce legislation to recommit the U.S. Congress to the Genocide convention which includes all modern 20th century genocides.’

Most benefit concerts take place to help a contemporary cause. This is where proceeds go and show that money has physically helped the group and benefited their cause for need. The System of a Down concert did more than take profits and send them off to the needed organizations. They inspired the need to help in others, and made even the ignorant aware of what they needed to do.


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