The following article[1] explores the potential and constraints of rabiz music and its subculture to challenge ethnic boundaries hardened by decades of ongoing conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan by resonating the voices of the disappeared, in this case Azerbaijanis, in the public sphere of present-day Armenia.

I will argue that often improvised nature of these music performances and the environment spontaneously formed through it may and actually does – at least temporarily – circumvent established boundaries of the ‘national’ self and the ‘hostile’ other. In this context, I will highlight particularly the role of rabiz musicians like Hayk Ghevondyan in engaging in multi-lingual performances with non-Armenian musicians, in particular Azerbaijanis and Yezidis, as well as mugham-singing, a tradition shared and fostered by Azerbaijanis and other predominantly Muslim populations in the region.

Rabiz music, while enjoying large popularity among the often transnationally linked and mobile precarious working class made up of Armenian truck-drivers, petty traders, and migrant workers, it is viewed with suspicion and disdain by large parts of Armenia’s intelligentsia, who see in it a degenerated ‘low culture’ allegedly corrupted by non-Armenian influences from its Muslim neighbors. I will conclude with a brief discussion on how the sociolect of the rabiz subculture retains words shared with Azerbaijanis across the border and thus stands a silent remainder of a once shared past.

Keywords: Armenia, Azerbaijan, conflict, music and subculture, silenced memory


“After silence that what comes closest to expressing the inexpressible is music.”
– Aldous Huxley

Young males in their 20s and 30s, shaved close and dressed in black with a short military haircut smoking slim cigarettes behind the black tinted windows of their white SUVs with their pot belly occasionally protruding over the belt line. From their cars, ideally equipped with a high-end stereo system, emanates the deafening and earsplitting sound of a high-pitched vocal accompanied by synthesized instruments and up-beat percussions. It is the sound of a music phenomenon frenetically loved by its audience, strongly disdained by its opponents, yet tacitly enjoyed by the majority on family celebrations all across Armenia – rabiz music. Rabiz is commonly employed to describe “modern Armenian dance music, usually fast paced and laden with upbeat tempos”[2]. Hereby, in similarity to chalga music in Bulgaria, many of the songs are originally taken from the Middle East but refurnished with new lyrics in Armenian. As the common usage of the often pejoratively employed term ‘rabiz’ is highly subjective and controversial, virtually any “artist performing within the full spectrum of current Armenian pop can subjectively be considered rabiz depending on the tastes of the listener”[3]. For instance, in spite of sharing a similar style of music, musicians like Tata Simonyan and Aram Asatryan enjoy high popularity also among substantial parts of the establishment, with the first being elevated to the ranks of the ashugh and the latter revered as an “honorable artist” (“vastakavor artist” in Armenian). Meanwhile, other prominent representatives of rabiz music such as Tatul Avoyan, Vle Khaloyan, or Vardanik Eghiazaryan are considered the product of a degenerated ‘low culture’ (“nizkaya kultura” in Russian[4] ).

This compounds the attempts to pigeonhole rabiz according to strict musical criteria and prompts a discussion on rabiz as a wider socio-political phenomenon. While originally describing a style of music, rabiz is now employed by the country’s self-acclaimed intelligentsia as a catch-all phrase to describe uneducated segments of society, oligarchic networks of corrupt businessmen, the nouveau riche with their ostentatious architecture marked by shiny surfaces, darkened glass and polished stone tiles or simply – ignorance and tastelessness. Rabiz music, while enjoying large popularity among the often transnationally linked and mobile precarious working class made up of Armenian truck-drivers, petty traders and migrant workers (pejoratively referred to in the post-Soviet context as “gastarbayter”– a Russian borrowing from the German word “´Gastarbeiter”, meaning “guest worker” or “temporary migrant worker”), it is viewed with suspicion and disdain by large parts of the Armenia’s self-acclaimed intelligentsia, who see in it a degenerated ‘low culture’ (“nizkaya kultura” in Russian) allegedly corrupted by non-Armenian influences from its Muslim neighbors.

As a result of this prevailing negative opinion, in spite of the recognition that rabiz as a mass phenomenon “has affected Armenia’s cultural as well as social norms” neither the genre nor its subculture has received much attention in current academia. While the few existing studies by Abrahamian & Pikichian – the undisputed pioneers in this field of research – or Bretèque & Stoichita have greatly contributed to our understanding on its origins, its socio-political rooting as well as its apparent commonalities with emergent music genres in other post-Socialist contexts (manele in Romania), existing research draws an overtly pessimistic picture of the subculture as it overlooks or fails to appreciate the potentiality rooted in its transnational and border-crossing nature.[5] In my following essay, I will seek to shift this paradigm and explore this intrinsic potentiality of rabiz music with regard to challenging prevalent ethnic boundaries hardened by decades of ongoing conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. In this context, I will explore the possibilities and constraints of rabiz music and its subculture to echo the voices of those disappeared, in this case Azerbaijanis, bringing their culture back to the public sphere of present-day Armenia. I will argue that in particular improvised forms of rabiz music performance and the environment spontaneously formed through it may and actually does – at least temporarily – circumvent established boundaries of the ‘national’ self (Armenian) and the ‘hostile’ other (Azerbaijani). In this context, I will highlight particularly the role of rabiz musicians like Hayk Ghevondyan in engaging in multi-lingual performances with non-Armenian musicians, including Azerbaijanis, as well as mugham-singing, a tradition shared and fostered by Azerbaijanis across the border.

Rabiz between Soviet Russian thieves and Caucasian troubadours

The ongoing debate on the etymological origin of the notion ‘rabiz’ aptly reflects, for what it’s worth, its ambivalence as a style of music rooted both in the wider Soviet-Russian tradition of blatnyak and the comparably older local tradition of Caucasian troubadours, the so-called ashugh (lit. “lovelorn”) music. While the cultural anthropologist Levon Abrahamian suggests that the word rabiz originates from an abbreviation of a name given to a Soviet-Russian institution created in the 1930s, the rabotniki iskusstva (in Russian, meaning “workers of art”), authors like Bretèque and Stoichita raise the possibility of a more ‘Eastern’ origin, seeing in it an enclitic compound of the Arabic term rab ‘aziz (“beloved god”).[6] Undoubtly, rabiz music shares its socio-cultural environment as well as many characteristic features with the Soviet-Russian tradition of blatnyak (“criminal songs”), a music subgenre characterized by often romanticized depictions of criminal subculture and the urban underworld, the so-called mir vorov (in Russian, meaning “world of the thieves”). In fact, often the boundary between blatnyak and rabiz becomes blurred as can be seen at the example of the famous dolya vorovskaya (in Russian, meaning “the fate of the thieves”), a crime ballad famous throughout the whole Caucasus. Whether sung in Russian like the original version from the 1970s by the Baku-born Soviet-Armenian singer Boka (Boris Davidyan) or furnished with new lyrics in Armenian, the song constitutes a centerpiece in the live repertoire of virtually every rabiz singer.[7] The transnational nature of this ‘crime ballad’ – which has been reinterpreted in Georgian and Azerbaijani, too – is maybe reflected best in a video recording from 2013 showing the rabiz singer Artur Amiryan performing the song together with his Azerbaijani fellow singer Adik Ruvinov at a restaurant in Israel.[8] Thus, one could argue that rabiz can be understood beyond the narrow confines of the national Armenian context as a regional, possibly ‘Caucasian’ expression of the wider phenomenon of blatnyak and as such shares significant characteristic features both with regard to its music styles and audience with similar music cultures in Georgia, Azerbaijan, or Chechenia.

Yet distinct differences between blatnyak and rabiz do prevail. While the Russian blatnyak is characterized by explicit and often abusive language as well as lyrics that openly glorify violence and crime, expletives are virtually absent from rabiz music as the lyrical content centers strongly around interpersonal and universal topics such as love, separation, and death. Thus content-wise, one might make the unorthodox argument that rabiz stands indeed more in the tradition of early ashugh ballads from the 17th and 18th century such as I nnjmaned arkayakan zartir, nazeli (in Armenian, meaning “wake up from your royal sleep, my graceful”, by Paghtasar Dpir), Hachan dagh lalasin dushar baghlara (in Armeno-Turkic, meaning “when the mountain tulips fall into the gardens”, by Sayat-Nova) or Verastanay gozalnern, Gurjastanay khatunnern (in Armenian, meaning “the beautiful ladies of the Georgian lands”, by Naghash Hovnat).[9] The tradition of the Armenian ashugh, which is historically rooted in the wider Turkic tradition of the ashik, can be traced back to the 16th century and gradually – as in the case of the Georgian mgosani – superseded its predecessor, the Armenian gusan minstrel, by the 18th century.[10] The historical ashugh accompanied his semi-improvised songs with a long necked lute (baghlama) or bowed string instrument (kamanche). During the performance, the polyglot ashugh may switch between multiple languages such as Armenian, Azerbaijani, Georgian, or Persian as reflected in the song Tamam ashkhar ptut ega (in Armeno-Turkic meaning “I travelled the whole world”) where the famous troubadour Sayat-Nova (1712-1795) sings “your face, I will say it in Persian, resembles the sun and the moon” (in Armeno-Turkic “eresyd arsevar asim, nyman e shams u ghamarin”).[11] As we will see later, code switching between Armenian, Russian, Kurdish, and Azerbaijani should also emerge to us as a characteristic feature of rabiz live performances and – in the case of Hayk Ghevondyan’s interpretations – a strong resemblance to the rhapsodic mugham common in Azerbaijan.[12] While baghlama and kamanche are increasingly being replaced by the sound of an electronic keyboard, ashugh ballads such as Askharhums imn tun is (in Armenian, meaning “in this world you are mine”) or Kani vor janim (in Armenian, meaning “because you my darling”) do still enjoy high popularity among today’s rabiz singers and are frequently sung during their performances while rabiz singers such as Aram Asatryan enjoy the title of modern-day ashugh.[13]

Rabiz as a performative pathway across lingual boundaries and military borders

In Bretèque & Stoichita’s essay “Music of the New Times: Romanian Manele and Armenian Rabiz as Icons of Post-Communist Changes”, they conclude with the claim that rabiz had “cheered up Armenian soldiers during the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict”[14]. Indeed, it would be too short-sighted and overoptimistic to see – solely based on its culturally diverse rooting – in the subculture a mere vehicle of border-crossing understanding. We may at this point remember the cheerful tunes of war-time turbo-folk songs in Serbia paired with lyrics calling upon the river Drina to “take hundreds of your Mujahideens” or the cynical question “do Brčko and Bjelina hurt you?” (both sites of Serbian massacres). It is a true observation that instead of fostering a multilingual and transnational culture, also some examples from the music genre of rabiz may serve as a mouthpiece to voice nationalistic sentiment and perpetuate an exclusivist notion of national identity. For instance, in the song Janim Gharabagh (in Armenian, meaning “my dear Gharabagh”), the rabiz singer Aram Asatryan recounts the victory of the Armenian forces in the Nagorno-Karabakh war, stating that Karabakh “suffered but won, suffered but stayed Armenian”[15] while Vardanik Eghiazaryan in his famous dancing Araraty mer lerrna (in Armenian, meaning “Ararat is our mountain”) calls to mind that the “crime is the Turks’ burden”.

Further examples include canticles to Armenian freedom fighters from the 19th century such as Tatul Avoyan’s tribute to Andranik Ozanian or the war songs of Mayis Karoyan, member of the Kurmanji-speaking Yezidi community.[16] The style of the latter strongly diverges from other rabiz singers in the way he explicitly uses a language of military warfare, national sacrifice, and struggle for the homeland.[17] Listeners familiar with leftist protest music in Turkey, however, will easily recognize in songs like Tsavali a strong familiarity in terms of style, rhythm, and arrangement with those of the Turkish-Kurdish singer Ahmet Kaya.[18] This must not come as a surprise given Karoyan’s native proficiency in Kurmanji Kurdish and would explain the stronger articulated political undertones when compared to many of his Armenian colleagues. Yet, in stark contrast to comparable music genres from the Balkans such as turbo-folk, which has been exploited massively by Serbian nationalists for the purpose of war-time mobilization, the influence of militarism on rabiz music has remained marginal in contrast to its ideologically more charged opponents – the zhoghovrdakan (in Armenian, meaning “folkloric”) or azgayin (in Armenian, meaning “national”) music.

What makes rabiz music indeed of particular interest from a socio-political perspective is that prevailing ethnic and lingual boundaries can be – at least temporarily – overcome in the very act of musical performance. In improvised jam sessions prominent rabiz artists such as Tatul Avoyan and the Armenian-Yezidi Vle Khaloyan or the Azerbaijan-born Armenian Mingichauri Samo (Samvel Avanesyan) and Spitakci Hayko (Hayk Ghevondyan) blend together traditional as well as popular music in different languages such as Armenian, Azerbaijani, and Kurdish.[19] In the case of the first, Vle Khaloyan in an improvised performance with Tatul Avoyan blends into the Armenian song a quatrain from the Kurmanji-Kurdish song Şêrîna min were ba min (meaning “come next to me, my beloved”) which is famous among both Sunni-Muslim Kurds in Turkey and Yezidis in Armenia alike. The Kurdish original goes back most likely to the deceased Kurdish musician Hozan Şiyar who from the 1980s onwards became increasingly active in the Kurdish movement in Turkey to whom he lent his voice.[20]n the case of the latter, the Mingəçevir-born Armenian Samvel Avanesyan together with the prominent rabiz singer Hayk Ghevondyan improvises during the music performance in Azerbaijani, ending his part with the life-affirming and positive credo that “the exuberant amusement was the main enjoyment of this world” (in Azerbaijani “dünyanın ləzzəti keyiftedir”).

What both examples have in common is that they show how the otherwise rigidly-established lingual boundary between the Armenian language, on the one side, and the languages of socially-marginalized (Kurdish-speaking Yezidis) or even perceived-as-hostile (Azerbaijanis) groups, on the other side, can be overcome – at least for the time of the performance – and integrated into a culturally multi-layered piece of improvised art. As mentioned above, it is noteworthy to underline that rabiz singers such as Hayk Ghevondyan rank among one of the few artists in the music landscape of present-day Armenia who are actually known to continue engaging in music performances with musicians of Azerbaijani ethnic origin since the outbreak of the (ongoing) Nagorno-Karabakh conflict thirty years ago in 1988. In 2012, for instance, a video showing Hayk Ghevondyan performing the famous song Haydi söyle by the Turkish-Kurdish artist Ibrahim Tatlıses with the ethnic Azerbaijani Nasib Ceferov at a barbecue party sparked hot debates among nationalists in both Armenia and Azerbaijan.[21]

In this context, it is important to remember that in face of ongoing military escalation along the Armenian-Azerbaijani border, singing publicly in what is commonly perceived as the language of the enemy is a politically highly sensitive and tabooed issue. Consequently, those who challenge this prevailing lingual boundary by appropriating the language of the ‘hostile other’ face the risk of discretization, at best, and life threats at worst. For instance, in 2015 the Azerbaijani guitarist Rəmiş (Rafiq Hüseynov) fell victim to a far-reaching smear campaign in Azerbaijani media and social networks after a video was published that showed him code switching from Azerbaijani to Armenian while preforming the song Tut ağacı (in Azerbaijani, meaning “mulberry tree”).[22]

Ironically, Rəmiş who found himself facing charges of treason had himself lost his native town of Gülablı (region of Akn/Ağdam) as a result of the Nagorno-Karabakh war. On the other side of the border, Abrahamian and Pikichian note that while the Azerbaijani equivalent of “r’abiz was popular primarily in the rural areas bordering Azerbaijan” where “many truck drivers were said to have welded their radio dials to the spot where they picked up the Baku radio programs”, this situation changed with the outbreak of the war when music of ‘the hostile other’ was “considered politically incorrect”.[23] This attitude of ‘closing ranks’ with those pursuing the national cause is reflected most recently also in Hayk Ghevondyan’s tribute to the Armenian army.[24] In the song Parq hayots banakin (in Armenian, meaning “glory to the Armenian army”), written and published in the wake of the latest border escalations in April 2016, his usual musical style reminiscent of Azerbaijani mugham is replaced by a march rhythm and lyrics that disparage Azerbaijanis and reaffirm the claim that “Artsakh [Karabakh] and Shushi [Shusha] belong to Armenians” (in Armenian “vor Artsakhy u Shushin hayeri hoghn a”).

In both cases, we see that in the context of an ongoing conflict, incorporating the culture of ‘the hostile other’ into one’s own artistic works is a delicate matter and those who do so face the risk of being publicly discredited for committing ‘unpatriotic acts harmful to the moral integrity of the nation’. This precarious state would also explain why one of the most ardent supporters of mugham singing in Armenia, Hayk Ghevondyan became at the same time one of the first to join the ranks of musicians that would sing for the military struggle in Nagorno-Karabakh.[25] Yet, as soon as tensions eased again Hayk Ghevondyan would return to his usual style of singing and brought out together with the Armenian-American rapper Super Sako the love ballad Mi gna (in Armenian, meaning “don’t go”) in August of the same year.[26] Most surprisingly – and, surely contrary to the expectations of the artist – the song became not only a hit among the Armenian communities but went viral throughout Turkey with countless Turkish citizens from widely diverging strata of society sharing videos showing themselves in high spirits singing in Armenian and dancing to the song.[27]

This shows again the actual potential of rabiz music: to bridge through artistic representations across boundaries hermetically sealed in the officially sanctioned public discourse, or what Selvin calls with regard to the Bulgarian phenomenon of chalga music and its Turkish ramifications the “inter-connectedness as an expression of cultural belonging”[28]. In this regard, performances of rabiz music may form a liminal space – or in line with Mikhail Bakhtin – a ‘carnivalesque’ state where both the musicians and their audience can experiment with alternative forms of cultural belonging and self-identification that go beyond of what is regarded as usually acceptable in the general public discourse. Simultaneously, performances in the realm of popular music do themselves contribute significantly in shaping the narratives that are to rule the public discourse of tomorrow or with the words of Jacque Attali, they “make[s] audible the new world that will gradually become visible”[29].

Rabiz as a subculture and the voices from the qucha

So far, my essay has focused exclusively on how the ‘disappeared other’ and its cultural ramifications are represented in musical works ascribed to the subculture of rabiz. Thirty years after what appears now in retrospect as almost ‘prophetic’ writings of Abrahamian and Pikichian on “rabiz and variance in the urban social hierarchy” (1987), we bear witness to the fact that rabiz music did indeed transcend the realm of a “narrowly specialized musicological phenomenon” to “easily and flexibly grow into an entire subculture”[30]. In accordance with this, we note that subcultures distinguish themselves often by a distinct sociolect shared by all its members that serves as an identity-marker as it consolidates on a lingual level the boundary between those belonging to a specific subculture (in-group) and those excluded (out-group). As Bretèque and Stoichita observes, the sociolect wide-spread among members of the rabiz subculture draws upon the legacy of Armenia’s near (Soviet Russian) and distant (Islamic Persian) imperial past given the high number of loan words from Russian, Persian, and Turkic languages.[31] For the topic subject to this essay, particularly commonalities with Turkic languages such as Azerbaijani are of special interest.[32] Interestingly, while virtually absent in the ‘purified’ official language, the Armenian sociolect is surfeit with words either borrowed from or shared with the language spoken by Azerbaijanis today (see more detailed appendix below). For instance, Islamic terms such as qurban, helal or haram are used in analogy to Azerbaijani or in more ‘secularized’ expressions like mer tgherqin halal a (in Armenian, meaning “our guys are deserving [praise or reward for merit]”) or haram eq anum eli (in Armenian, meaning “you are spoiling [the enjoyment of something]”). In some cases, words acquire new meanings such as the Azerbaijani word for street, küçə which appears to us in the sociolect as the term for one’s native neighborhood (qucha) or the Islamic notion for the day of the last judgement, kiyamət which has come to mean extremely cold weather (ghiamet). In other cases, whole expressions are shared such as isan chi mnacel and insan qalmamış (“there is no human left”) or ghurbanet linem and sənə qurban olum (an expression of affection or lit. “I’ll sacrifice myself for you”), respectively for Armenian and Azerbaijani. Based on these illustrative examples, one might argue that the multi-facetted lingual variety of this few researched sociolect stands against the ‘ethnical exclusiveness’ of the official language as a remainder – both silent and vocal – of a not so distant past when Armenians and Azerbaijanis still coexisted and, in some cases, cohabitated to both sides of a now fiercely contested border.


The following essay explored the potential and constraints of the rabiz music and its subculture to challenge hardened ethnic boundaries by resonating the voices of those disappeared, in this case Azerbaijanis, bringing their culture back to the public sphere of present-day Armenia. In this regard, I argued that in particular the improvised forms of rabiz music performance and the environment spontaneously formed through it may and actually does – at least temporarily – circumvent established boundaries of the ‘national’ self and the ‘hostile’ other. In line with Abrahamyan and Pikichian’s definition of rabiz music as a “blend of several musical traditions”[33], I explored how this genre bridges across the musical traditions of “Armenian” ashugh and “Azerbaijani” mugham singers. Beyond this, I have also shown that rabiz – when looked at from a socio-spatial perspective – appears to us not only in the form of a controversial music genre but more important as a room of border-crossing encounters where musicians like Hayk Ghevondyan engage in multi-lingual performances with non-Armenian musicians, including ethnic Azerbaijanis. The latter is particularly note-worthy and exceptional in light of a day-to-day reality of hermetically sealed physical borders and a highly militarized public discourse geared towards a mutual invisiblization of the ‘disappeared other’ and its cultural legacy. Transcending the realm of mere musical representations, I want to finally turn to rabiz not only as a music genre, but instead as the socio-cultural manifestation of a distinct urban working-class subculture. In line with this, I want to conclude with an exploration into the sociolect of the rabiz subculture with regard to verbal remainders of the ‘disappeared other’. In this context, we can identify many words and phrases shared with Azerbaijanis across the border which are retained through this sociolect and thus remain within the Armenian public space as lingual traces of a once shared past.

Finally, no treatment of the topic of rabiz would be complete without mention of Arsen Petrosov, one of the genre’s most colorful and well-known figures. Born 1977 into an Armenian family living in the city of Tashkent in the Uzbek SSR, Petrosov gained popularity as a singer throughout the Caucasus and Central Asia after moving with his family to the United States shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union.[34]Today we can encounter easily songs like Kayfuem (in Russian, meaning roughly “we’ll paint the town red”) on wedding parties and New Year celebrations across a wide geography ranging from Baku to distant Bishkek.[35] In his song Vecher nastupil v Baku  (in Russian, meaning “night fell upon Baku”) he reminisces about a night out again in a city that has never regained its former cosmopolitan character. For those who visit Baku today it must be difficult to imagine that less than 30 years ago, the city at the Caspian shores had been a highly diverse, multi-ethnic cosmopolis where Armenians, Azerbaijanis, Mountain Jews, Russians, and other communities formed a vibrant urban environment unparalleled throughout the Caucasus. In this context, Bretèque and Stoichita’s critical remark that rabiz resembles a “utopian playground populated by characters ranging from ‘fictional’ to ‘real’” [36] appears to us in an entire new light as it brings to mind the power of music to open up – through the act of artistic performance – imaginary spaces populated not only by those physically present, but also by all those forcibly disappeared. While this of course does not directly materialize in the same manner in the actual space it still paves the way for recognizing the presence of the disappeared in the imaginary space and by doing so, tacitly, the potentiality of the other to be again part of one’s own physical space in the future:

vo dvorakh i na mekhle / vsyo kak budto by vo sne

aksakaly v nardy byut / v armudy stakanakh chay pyut

et kak kayfu zhivut vse / kogda vso tak khorosho,

zavtra snovo budet tak / tak vse zdes zhivut nishtya


through the courtyards and in Mekhla[37] / everything is as if in a dream

old men playing backgammon / drinking tea from pear-shaped glasses

what joy is it to live like this / when everything is that good

tomorrow it will be like this again / so that may everyone live here well

Appendix: words shared with Azerbaijani-Turkish in the ‘rabiz sociolect’ and wider colloquial language of present-day Armenia

The following appendix is not extensive but constitutes only a pioneering attempt at showing the significant lingual influence of Azerbaijani-Turkic and Persian loanwords on the colloquial jargon especially but not exclusively common among the urban working-class in present-day Armenia.

Arm. colloquial                                   Example sentence                             Az. equivalent

adat[38]      “pahi haykakan adatnery” =  preserve Armenian traditions   adət = traditions

aziz                                                                                                                               əziz = beloved

baghcha                                                                                                                     bağça = garden

bajanagh                                                             baçana =  brother-in-law from the bride’s side

chana        “chanen tultsnel” =  to talk a lot (lit. to loosen the jaw)             çənə = chin, jaw

changyal                                                                                                                        çəngəl = fork

dost                                                                                                                       dost = close friend

dushman “azgi dushman dartsrin” = they made s.o. the national enemy  düşmən = enemy

duz                                                                                                                          düz = correct, right

ghazan                                                                                                                                 kazan = pot

ghurban  “ghurbanet linem” =  an expression of affection or lit.                 qurban = sacrifice                                                                      “I’ll sacrifice myself for you”

gyada                                                                                                                        gədə = boy servant

ghismat                                                                                                             kismet = luck, destiny

ghiyamat  used in Armenian to denote “very cold weather”  kiyamət = day of last judgement

gyoz       “gyoz dnel” = to peep                                                                                            göz = eye

gyozal   “vay mama jan, gyozal yerk a” = oh my, what a beautiful song      gözəl = beautiful

ghumarbaz                                                                                                        qumarbaz = gambler

gyulla     “nezashto texy gyullel en” = they killed him without reason               güllə = bullet

hal                                                                                                                                 hal = situation

halal            “mer tgherqin halal a” =                                                            halal = allowed acc.                          our guys are deserving [of praise or reward for merit]                    to Islamic law

haram    “haram eq anum eli” =                                                          haram = forbidden acc.                           you are spoiling [the enjoyment of something]                              to Islamic law

harif       “es harif mard a” = this is naïve person                                       herif = bloke, man

hayat       used in Armenian to denote “(court)yard”                                          həyət = court

hayvan                                                                                                                   heyvan = animal

isan       “es marde isan che” = he is not a human                                           insan = human

kachal                                                                                                                             keçəl = bald

kele kele                                                                                                                  gəlmək = come

khiar                                                                                                                    xiyar = cucumber

kor                                                                                                                                  kor = blind

kyalla                                                                                                                            kəllə = skull

kyandrbaz                                                                                                     kələkbaz = trickster

kyarr                                                                                                                              kar = deaf

kyar          used in Armenian to denote “profit”                              kâr = work (in Turkish)

mayla                                                                                                               məhəllə = district

nafaz     “nafazis vra nstatsir” = you are pushy                                            nəfəs = breath                                                (lit. “you sit on my breath”)

namus   “es mardy namus chuni” = this man has no honor                    namus = honor

qucha    “ari mer qucha” = come over to our neighborhood                        küçə = street

qyalam                                                                                                             kələm = cabbage

rad          “rad eghi!” = get lost!                                                                       red = rejection

sagh salamat                                                                          sağ salamat = safe and sound

tava                                                                                                                        tava = skillet

topal                                                                                                                topal = crippled

vakht                                                                                                                       vaxt = time

yakhshy                                                                                                               yaxşı = good

yemish                                                                                                              yemiş = melon

zibil      “na zibil havakogh a” = he is a hoarder                                        zibil = garbage


[1] My work would not have been possible without the dedicated help of Tatevik Asryan, who supported me with her valuable insights and fruitful criticism throughout the work of this essay.

[2] “The Rabiz Phenomenon”, hetq.am, 2006/03/06. Hyperlink: http://hetq.am/eng/news/10063/the-rabiz-phenomenon.html/.

[3] Idem.

[4] Some of those who would classify rabiz music as low culture are part of the Russian-speaking elite or intelligentsia and would use the Russian-language equivalent of ‘low culture’.

[5] Abrahamian, Levon and Pikichian, Hripsime. “The Path of R‘abiz,” in: Armenian Identity in a Changing World, Levon Abrahamian. Costa Mesa, CA: Mazda Publishers, 2006, pp. 97-108 and de la Bretèque, Estelle Amy and Stoichita, Victor Alexandre. “Music of the New Times: Romanian Manele and Armenian Rabiz as Icons of Post-Communist Changes,” in The Balkans and Caucasus: Parallel Processes on the Opposite Sides of the Black Sea, ed. by Ivan Biliarsky, Ovidiu Cristea, Anca Oroveanu (Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2012), pp. 321-335.

[6] Abrahamian & Pikichian. “The Path of R‘abiz,” p. 97; de la Bretèque & Stoichita. “Music of the New Times: Romanian Manele and Armenian Rabiz as Icons of Post-Communist Changes,” p. 327.

[7] Performance of “Dolya Vorovskaya” (in Russian) by Hayk Ghevondyan. Hyperlink: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XzdTpwstj-M; for an Armenian cover of the song, see Tatul Avoyan. Hyperlink: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hC_b92xaEdw. For the background on the original artist, see “Davidyan Boris Arkadyevich”, biographical entry at the database of kino-teatr.ru. Hyperlink: http://www.kino-teatr.ru/kino/acter/m/sov/45265/bio/ (in Russian).

[8] Performance of “Dolya Vorovskaya” by Artur Amiryan and Adik Ruvinov. Hyperlink: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KUt0jEPdHIk (in Russian).

[9] Recording of “I nnjmaned arkayakan zartir, nazeli” by an unknown singer. Hyperlink: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eXiMmvXjTHg (in Armenian); text of “Hachan dagh lalasin dushar baghlara”. Hyperlink: http://www.sayat-nova.am/t11.html (in Armeno-Turkic); Dowsett, Charles. Sayatʻ-Nova: An 18th-century Troubadour: a Biographical and Literary Study (Leuven: Peeters Publishers, 1997), p. 77.

[10] “Gosan”, entry in the Encyclopedia Islamica. Hyperlink: http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/gosan; Boyce, Mary. “The Parthian ‘Gōsān’ and Iranian Minstrel Tradition,” in Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, No. 1/2 (Apr., 1957, pp. 10-45), p.15.

[11] Text of “Tamam ashkhar ptut ega”. Hyperlink: http://www.sayat-nova.am/h26.html (in Armeno-Turkic).

[12]  Performance of “Tamam ashkhar ptut ega” by Hayk Ghevondyan. Hyperlink: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AFOZFzdAfDk (in Armenian).

[13]  Performance of “Ashkharhums imn tun is” (in Armenian) and “Kani vor janim” by Hayk Ghevondyan. Hyperlink(s): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8nDQDkmtJU4 (in Armenian), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MZp1uUA99LE (in Armenian).

[14]  Bretèque and Stoichita. “Music of the New Times: Romanian Manele and Armenian Rabiz as Icons of Post-Communist Changes,” p. 332.

[15]  Recording of “Janim Gharabagh” (in Armenian, meaning “My Dear Karabakh”) by Aram Asatryan. Hyperlink: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2muPo7I6U60 (in Armenian).

[16] Recording of “Parq Hayots Banakin” (in Armenian, meaning “Glory to the Armenian Army”) by Hayk Ghevondyan and “Andranik Heros” (in Armenian, meaning “Andranik, the Hero” by Tatul Avoyan. Hyperlink(s): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gMnFQ_Adb5E.

[17] Recording of “Khabar” (in Armenian, meaning “News”) by Mayis Karoyan. Hyperlink: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oAELjOUjXFY (in Armenian).

[18] Recording of “Tsavali” (in Armenian, meaning “Painful”) by Mayis Karoyan. Hyperlink: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WDUEztcexWs (in Armenian).

[19] Performance in Yezdiki-Kurdish and Armenian by Tatul Avoyan and Vle Khaloyan. Hyperlink: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RQ4bXaVEhyg; and performance in Azerbaijani-Turkish and Armenian by Hayk Ghevondyan and Samvel Avanesyan. Hyperlink: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g_cnZAUGd30.

[20] “Hozan Şiyar”, entry in the Kurdish version of Wikipedia. Hyperlink: https://ku.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hozan_%C5%9Eiyar (in Kurdish).

[21]  Performance in Armenian and Turkish by Hayk Ghevondyan and Nasib Ceferov. Hyperlink: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3WeiwCl-Jgk; “Spitakci Hayko, Azeri Nasib”, broadcasted on ArTv Azdarar, 15 December 2012. Hyperlink: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dTTdafCwIxI (in Armenian).

[22]  “Rəmiş toyda erməni dilində oxudu,” Milli.az, 2015/01/05. Hyperlink: http://news.milli.az/showbiz/317206.html (in Azerbaijani).

[23] Abrahamian & Pichikan. “The Path of R‘abiz,” p. 101.

[24]  Recording of “Parq hayots banakin”. Hyperlink: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gMnFQ_Adb5E.

[25] See e.g. also songs that profess solidarity with the struggle in Nagorno-Karabakh in the absence of an explicit militarized language by the internationally highly-acclaimed US-Armenian artist Serj Tankian, member of the alternative-metal band System of a Down. Hyperlink: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ttfk0QinrQk.

[26] Recording of “Mi gna” by Hayk Ghevondyan and Super Sako. Hyperlink: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MM_Uenkbh9s.

[27]  See e.g. the Youtube video “Armyanskiy Mi gna xit v Turtsii” (in Russian, meaning “Armenian Mi Gna is a Hit in Turkey”. Hyperlink: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ICR27S2QmGg.

[28] Selvin, Erdem. “Forming a Contentious Post-Communist Identity along Bulgarian Folk,” unpublished paper retrieved from academia.edu.

[29] Attali, Jacques. Noise: The Political Economy of Music. Translated by Brian Massumi. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1985, p. 11.

[30] Abrahamian, Levon and Pikichian, Hripsime. “Zametki po etnografii sovremennogo goroda,” [Notes on the Ethnography of a Modern City] in: Etnicheskie gruppiy v gorodax evropeiskoi chasti SSSR [Ethnic Groups in the Cities of the European Part of the USSR].  Moscow: Moskovskiy Filial Geograficheskogo Obshchestva SSSR [Moscow Branch of the Geographical Society of the USSR], 1987, p. 144-145.

[31] Bretèque and Stoichita. “Music of the New Times: Romanian Manele and Armenian Rabiz as Icons of Post-Communist Changes,” p. 327.

[32] I owe my gratitude to Tatevik Asryan for sharing with me her insights on Armenian street slang.

[33] Abrahamian & Pikichian. “The Path of R‘abiz,” p. 100.

[34] For a short biography, see “Arsen Petrosov”, shansoninfo.ru. Hyperlink: http://www.shansoninfo.ru/i/01/arsen-petrosov.html (in Russian).

[35]Performance of a compilation including the song “Kayfuem” in Kürdəmir, Azerbaijan. Hyperlink: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G_Hut1iDfzs (in Russian and Azerbaijani).

[36] Bretèque and Stoichita. “Music of the New Times: Romanian Manele and Armenian Rabiz as Icons of Post-Communist Changes,” p. 333.

[37] Name referring to the district of Baku (formerly) populated by Mountain Jews.

[38] To make the essay accessible to a non-Armenian audience, Armenian slang expressions are written in the Latin script, followed by a translation.

*  The cover photo of this piece is a painting of Sedrak Velikogodniy, taken from barev.today.