In December 2012, Mediamax launched a special project “Modern history”. The first part told about 4 concerts of Ian Gillan in Yerevan back in 1990.
Today, we are going to tell you about how the American singer of Armenian decent Cher, Cherilyn Sarkisian, suddenly arrived in Yerevan 20 years ago, in 1993.
To attend the Brit Awards or to go to Armenia?
This is what the reporter of British The Independent Zoe Heller wrote about Cher’s visit to Armenia on May 9, 1993.
Cher wasn't sure what sent her to stricken Armenia, land of her fathers, to hand out love and toys. But she was looking for a way to change her life, and this seemed a good place to start.
It is midnight in Yerevan, the capital of Armenia. In the star suite of the New Armenia Hotel, Cher is sitting on a small nylon sofa, considering the possible motivations for having come on a two-day 'humanitarian mission' to the land of her forefathers. It is 28 April.
Photo: Mkhitar Khachatryan.
For a long time, people had been saying that since her father was Armenian, she ought to consider doing something for the Armenian cause. She'd been unconvinced. 'I thought, 'What can I do?' I was kind of annoyed. And anyway I thought, 'I'm American.' I didn't meet my father till I was 11 and we didn't get on that great. I thought, 'I feel American, not Armenian.' '
Then she was struck by an inexplicable impulse. 'They'd been asking me and asking me to go to the Brit Awards and I woke up one morning and I called my manager and I said 'Bumper, when are those awards?' And he said, 'Tomorrow night, doll.' And I said, 'Well, let's go to them.' And then on the way over I said, 'Bumper, you know, I don't think I want to go to England at all - I think I want to go to Armenia. I think I'm on my way to Armenia.' '
When they got to England in February, they presented themselves to the Armenian ambassador to Britain, Armen Sarkissian. And we talked and then we realised we needed a way over and we were put in touch with the United Armenian Fund.'
At the moment, of course, the exact nature of the 'something else' is a little unclear. 'I don't know why I've come here,' she says. 'I just know that I wanted to come. And I'm not sure what's going to happen with the trip or what it's for really, or any of that stuff. I'm doing this like I do everything - ass-backwards - I just figured that something will happen and I'll get it as it goes along . . .'
Mushegh Hovsepyan, Deputy Head of Yerevan State University Faculty of Radio and TV Journalism
These were “dark and cold” years. The TV reported that Cher was going to visit Armenia, although the notion of a “TV set” was somewhat relative in those times. There was no electricity and people were deprived of the possibility of watching TV. So, I learned about her visit and her forthcoming address at the YSU already at the University.
The meeting was held in the central building of the University on the 5th floor. The meeting was organized at the highest level. Cher was accompanied by security guards, journalists and photographers. It was very cold in the hall, but it was full. Our guest also felt cold but she managed to create a very warm and friendly atmosphere. The Rector of the Yerevan State University welcomed her. The meeting lasted for about an hour.
Cher welcomed everyone in Armenian language and said some other words in Armenian. She sounded very natural.
She said she felt herself a real Armenian; she spoke about her father and her surname. She said that Armenia was her historical motherland. She spoke freely and her words were frank and sharp, which was very strange for us.
She also touched upon the Karabakh issue. She said it was part of our motherland, these were our lands and everything should be done to return them. She openly criticized everyone, the international community, and urged upon the Armenians to be strong. She also said that we shouldn’t allow Turkey that had committed Genocide to try to destroy our nation again.
When she learned that there was a Conservatory in Yerevan, Cher expressed regret that she couldn’t visit it because of a heavy schedule. Following the meeting she said she would visit her historical motherland again.
Twenty years have passed since that meeting. It’s strange for me that Cher did not continue her mission. If I hadn’t been at the meeting then I would have thought that it was another PR-action. But it was not: she simply came to help her countrymen.
Electricity and hot water especially for Cher
“Armenia” Hotel, like the whole country back in 1993, received electricity only for several hours a day. But in connection with Cher’s visit, electricity and hot water was supplied to “Armenia” hotel a little bit more than usually.
Her personal cook arrived with her and cooked meals for Cher in the hotel kitchen.
Cher lived in the de-luxe suite 541 (today 521). She brought Barbie dolls with her and gave them to the children of hotel employees.
The suite in “Armenia” Hotel where Cher lived during her visit.
Photographer Mkhitar Khachatryan
I worked in “Armenpress” back then and spent two days with the singer.
The phone of our agency did not stop ringing those days. They called even from Australia, everyone wanted to have Cher’s photographs.
Many famous people, stars and political figures used to visit Armenia in those years, but I don’t remember even a case when the interest would have been as great as in the case with Cher.
Cher acted like a real star. She knew how to work with the photographs and operators. There were 4 personal photographs in her delegation.
My first meeting with the singer took place on the Republic Square. She left the hotel to have a walk around the square. I took only one film and thought that was enough. But my film ended on the way from the hotel to the National Gallery. Each her gesture and movement were worthy of taking pictures of. In the courtyard of the National Gallery, she climbed to Lenin’s demolished monument and started posing.
The next day, I had to cover her visit to Echmiadzin. They organized an excursion for her but the meeting with the Catholicos of All Armenians did not take place.
Cher in Echmiadzin.
Photo: Mkhitar Khachatryan.
After visiting Echmiadzin, Cher was supposed to meet with the Armenian President Levon Ter-Petrosyan. However, when we returned to Yerevan, we were informed that she was not feeling well, and the meeting would be postponed. I'm sure it's just been her whim. Perhaps she wanted to show that she could postpone a meeting even with the first person of the country. As I remember, the meeting with the President took place on the last day of the visit.
I remember very well Cher’s visit to one of the orphanages of Yerevan. She gave the children the gifts she had brought with, even tried the lunch which was served to children. This was also a gesture for the photographers.
Ruben Kerobyan: “I bought white carnations for Cher”
Within the framework of her visit, Cher expressed the desire to visit one of the socially vulnerable families of Yerevan. Our family was registered in the Ministry of Social Affairs. My wife and I were jobless then and we had 5 kids.
Cher in Ruben Kerobyan’s apartment.
Photo from Ruben Kerobyan’s archive.
Cherilyn Sarkisian had one condition: the children should be excellent pupils. Initially two families have been selected, but the final choice fell on our family.
My wife had prepared a lemon pie, and I bought five white carnations. I remember that she did not take the flowers, but she tasted the cake.
My wife and the children spoke English. Cherilyn wondered how we imagined our future and asked about our children's education.
At the beginning of the meeting she was depressed and felt uneasy, because she had been at a nursing home before coming to my place. I remember that we did not have electricity that day.
A whole bus “Icarus” came with her: photographers, camera crew, journalists, and security guards. Our yard was overcrowded. My mother-in-law liked Cher very much and she even said: “She is like an angel.”
“I have always hated you, Barbie,” Cher told one of dolls
Extracts from the article “In a Broken Land” by Susan Cheever, People Magazine:
I don't know why I came here, says Cher. It is a late April afternoon, and she is standing before a group of 1,000 students at Yerevan University, deep in the ravaged heart of the former Soviet republic of Armenia. No one in the unheated, dank assembly hall seems to know why she is there either. They remember Cher from the not so long ago days when they had television and batteries and something other than candles by which to read the newspapers at night. And so to them she is an intriguing apparition, a sudden shaft of light slanting in from the West, even if her message is not full of hope.
Most Americans have no idea you are here, she tells them, in her characteristic let's-cut-the-b.s. fashion. Now, suddenly, she seems to grasp her mission. The most important thing I can do, she continues, is take a picture back to America so they can see what it's like.
She arrived in Yerevan -- once a prosperous capital city and now a ragged shadow of its former self -- on a sunny, 50 degreesF Wednesday. She flew to Armenia under the auspices of the United Armenian Fund, a nonprofit relief organization, on a rickety DC-8 cargo plane. With her came 45 tons of medical supplies, books, printing equipment, candy and toys -- including Glitter Beach Barbie dolls. Then, at the airport, she and her companions -- including her old pal and assistant Paulette Betts and true love turned best friend Rob Camilletti, 28 -- boarded an ancient bus crammed with an international group of reporters and photographers who had vied for the chance to join her. I want to bring a face to the name Armenian, she had said. Her itinerary included an orphanage, a typical Armenian household and -- because she is, after all, Cher -- a brief stop for Diet Pepsi with the president of the country, Levon Ter-Petrosyan.
… "I think I kind of lost my way," she said one night in Armenia, speaking from the darkness of a hotel room that would have to wait another day for its allotted hour or so of daily electricity. "I've sold my soul in a way. What I've done is nothing to be ashamed of, but I just don't want to be a businesswoman who docs infomercials anymore. It doesn't feel good."
It's strange what does. During her brief but emotionally charged tour of Armenia, Cher did her makeup by the light of a sputtering candle, hid her unwashed bangs under a velvet cap and a striped headscarf, huddled for warmth each night under ratty blankets -- then woke up refreshed and ready for more.
Each day in that land of poverty and chaos brought serendipitous surprises. For example, Cher probably never thought she would want to see the inside of an orphanage again. She had spent some six months in one when she was about 2 and her mother, a single parent, was too sick to take care of her. But Cher's visit to the warm but shabby Mangadoon home near Yerevan brought smiles instead of traumatic memories. Cher sat cross-legged on the floor in her leather overalls while two dozen children of preschool age recited the Lord's Prayer for her and sang the Armenian national anthem. She rewarded each child with a hug and a Barbie, a gift that left many of the Mangadoon residents, who had never had a new toy before, speechless. I always hated you, Barbie, Cher said to one of the dolls. I always thought you were a blond bimbo, but now I see that you have your uses.
Story by: Ekaterina Poghosyan, Siranush Eghiazaryan, Aram Araratyan, Eleonora Araratyan, Lilit Khachatryan, Ara Tadevosyan.