The 'Armenian question'; Yet another pressure point in the East-West struggle?
''Grounk'' is the name of the song. When the music starts, a visitor can feel the hall grow heavy with emotion.Skip to next paragraph
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For this is the ''Call of the Motherland,'' known to 5.7 million Armenians scattered about the world. The song of longing memorializes a history that few Armenians care to forget. Almost all have heard the story of the deaths by forced marches and execution of an estimated 600,000 to 1 million Armenians in Turkey during World War I.
''Crane,'' goes the song, ''what news do you bring of the homeland?''
''Bringing back the news'' is exactly what is happening in this ethnic, heavily blue-collar city just outside Boston. But the ''motherland'' that has sent forth the singers and instrumentalists who are playing in Watertown's St. James Armenian Church Cultural and Youth Center is not the independent nation some have long dreamed of. It is the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic, firmly seated within the Soviet Union. Still, tonight's performance touches symbolically almost every aspect of what was once called ''the Armenian question.''
The stylish tuxedos and dazzling gowns of these Soviet Armenian performers seem far from the long-gone Armenian village life of which they sing.
Peopled partly by those who fled north from Turkey, Soviet Armenia now has a population of some 3.2 million. Another 1 million Armenians live in other parts of the USSR. There are another 1.5 million elsewhere, including the half million in the United States and thousands in France, Egypt, and Iran.
Watching intently from below is the two-dozen-strong Soviet Armenian delegation of musicians, academicians, architects, and government officials, who have also visited Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, New York, and Boston. Theirs is just one of a number of such delegations in recent years.
As several hundred Armenian Americans listen intently, tonight's music buries the ''cold war'' with a cultural unity laced with memories of the past.
All this seems distant from the gunfire of youthful Armenian militants who have made more than 60 attacks on Turkish diplomats in Western Europe and the US since 1973. In May the Turkish honorary consul in Cambridge, Mass., was assassinated in nearby Somerville.
Many of the half-million Armenian Americans say they disapprove of the violence. But they add they understand the frustrations behind it. Some Armenians agree with the suggestion of a spokesman for the Turkish Embassy in Washington, that these young terrorists, apparently based in Beirut, have been influenced by the tactics of the extreme wing of the Palestine Liberation Organization.
Just as important is the position Soviet Armenian officials take toward terrorism. Comments they make after the performance this evening suggest Moscow is cautiously encouraging Armenian nationalism both to win the sympathies of American and Soviet Armenians - and to manipulate a pressure point on one of its antagonists, Turkey, a member of NATO.
Before World War I there were an estimated 2 million Armenian peasants and merchants in areas of the Ottoman Empire (later to become Turkey) bordering Czarist Russia. Survivors of the killings, who live in the Soviet Union, the United States, France, Egypt, Iran, and other parts of the Mideast, have passed on to their children and grandchildren tales of Turkish brutality. But some Armenian children have also heard their parents tell of kindness by other Turks who refused to take part in the killings.