System of a Down's Wake Up The Souls tour kicked off this week with a sold out show at Los Angeles' Forum Arena. The Grammy-winning alternative rock band, whose members are all of Armenian descent, have organized a tour coinciding with the centennial anniversary of the Armenian genocide in an effort to raise awareness of the oft forgotten events in their country of origin.
The band has always been committed to the widespread recognition of the tragedy that occurred in 1915 when Ottoman Turks began arresting and executing 1.5 million Armenians. Present day Turkey still refuses to recognize the events as genocide - instead calling it "casualties of war." This distinction, in the eyes of System of a Down and many human rights advocates, belittles the human depravity that the signifier ‘genocide’ brings to light. They say a culture of denial like this only leads to mistakes of this nature in the future.
As drummer John Dolmayan in a recent Rolling Stone article about the concert series:
"This is something that transcends the music. This is more important than a next System of a Down album. This is something that is far-reaching and even bigger than the Armenian genocide itself....We want to help prevent what happened to the Armenians happening to other people."
As I sorted through the media coverage of the event, however, I was struck by the repetitive nature of each article and the notable lack of substantial information about the genocide itself. Rolling Stone, Newsweek, and Billboard all waited until their articles' 4th, 6th, and 7th paragraphs respectively to mention the alarming statistics of the event, their headlines each eerily uniform.
The press did a good job in reporting the logistics of the tour but markedly lacked the bottom line: the most important aspect of the shows is the recognition of this oft forgotten historical travesty.
I’m not casting aspersions because each article that I read expanded my knowledge of the details surrounding the event and they were all, truly, journalistically sound. But I couldn’t help but think: isn’t it obvious that the death of 1.5 million innocents trumps a new album? Isn’t that what the band is and has been saying since “P.L.U.C.K”, the track from their self-titled debut LP in which front man Serj Tankian sings: “Elimination Why, / Die Walk Down / A whole race Genocide / Taken away all of our pride,”?
This tune, along with ‘Holy Mountains’ [from 2005’s Mezmerize] both deal with the issue of genocide and will both be played at the tour’s final show in Terevan’s Republic Square in Armenia. This performance will be on April 23rd, the day before Armenia’s commemoration of the genocide. The event marks the band’s first ever performance in the country and will be free to attend. Armenia is not a wealthy nation and charging for tickets, the band believes, would limit attendance and defer the intent of the performance:
"The show has a greater meaning for us. Sometimes you do things not for profit, and this is one of those times," Dolmayan explains.
You can discover that relevant information as well as an informative statement from the band members themselves here. Furthermore, you can learn about the band's longtime mission by watching a short YouTube clip posted by Serj Tankian back in 2009:
The reasoning behind this tour is to honor the lives lost in the Armenian genocide and not belittle the tragedy by refusing this acknowledgement. So now that you know that the Wake Up The Souls tour is happening, I urge you to do just that.