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Wake Up: Serj Tankian From System of a Down's Artful Message To Kiwis On Genocide


From Newshub

Serj Tankian is a rock star, activist, artist and a master of turning his own stream of consciousness into profound political messages.

He's best known as the lead singer of legendary metal band System of a Down - a musical outfit whose deft fluctuation between haunting melodies and jovial cacophony has been selling out shows internationally for over two decades.

Today however, he's a salt-of-the-earth artist, showing his latest exhibition Teetering On The Edge at The Vivian gallery in Matakana, not far from where he lives with his family.

"I was an activist before becoming a musician, before becoming a composer," he says.

"So for me, one of the most amazing vehicles of the arts, is to be able to bring that truth out about things, and also spread awareness." 

Throughout his various art forms over the years, there's a persistent focus on the Armenian genocide that began on April 24, 1915, the day before the Anzacs landed at Galipoli.


Tankian's grandparents were survivors of the atrocities that saw a campaign of mass killings conducted against 1.5 million Armenian subjects of the Ottoman Empire. It's become a theme that informs and influences much of his work.

Wake up: Serj Tankian from System of a Down's artful message to Kiwis on genocide

"For me, the issue of the genocide is important, because as a young Armenian-American in the US, it was my awakening as an activist.

"It made me feel like 'if there's this issue that's pending, that's being used as political capital in well-known democracies, then how many issues are there that are being swept under the carpet because of economic or political reasons?'".

A Hitler quote punctuated by a blood spatter, a violin stabbed with its own bow - just two of Tankian's visceral commentaries on the dark side of humanity, each set to spine-tingling musical compositions by the artist.

It's a stark juxtaposition, viewing these confronting works in the serenity of the Matakana countryside, but it makes perfect sense considering how Tankian feels about Aotearoa.

"It's the best place on the planet," he says.

"The first day I was in the middle of the city in Auckland, I just felt extremely comfortable like I'd never felt anywhere else."

Despite having an "intuitive feeling of belonging" to New Zealand, our government's stance on the genocide that cut Tankian's family tree short with unspeakable cruelty poses a problem for him.

We recognise the Jewish Holocaust of WWII, as well as the genocides in Rwanda, Bosnia and East Timor, but the genocide of the Armenian people during WWI continues to go ignored. 

"A lot of New Zealand soldiers during WW1 helped victims of the genocide, helped refugees, it's in our archives in New Zealand," Tankian says.

"I think it's important that New Zealand act with courage.

"Just say: 'This is the truth of history, the majority of nations around the world have recognised the Armenian genocide, the Vatican has, Germany has.'

"I don't think that we should deal with anyone's threats.

"We should look at history with courage and honesty and deal with it accordingly."

Serj Tankian's Teetering On The Edge is showing at The Vivian gallery in Matakana until March 17.