Achieving Peace Through Music: Commemorating the Victims of Khojaly

“Khojaly kids will never grow up.” The opening line of the poem by Azerbaijani poet Yusif Savalan and set to music by composer Haskell Small in the “Lullaby for Peace,” captured the essential message of the morning concert held at the Arts Club of Washington.
The young lives of Khojaly cut short by war were remembered in the world premiere performance of “A Lullaby of Peace,” organized by the Washington International Piano Arts Council to honor not only the Khojaly women and children who lost their lives in 1992 in the civilian massacre by Armenian forces, but all the civilians who too often are the victims of war. A “Lullaby for Peace” by Haskell Small was commissioned by Chateau Gardecki, Chairperson and Founder of WIPAC. Shara McCallum translated the poem.
Mme. Gardecki greeted the audience at the Arts Club, “Welcome to the wonderful world of Music, the Language of Peace.” She extended her appreciation to Azerbaijani Ambassador, H.E. Elin Suleymanov and Mrs. Lala Suleymanov for receiving the co-sponsors of the event Dr. Shahla Naghiyeva, from the Azerbaijan University of Languages and Sonmaz Mashal CRPU of Baku, and Sheila Switzer, director of the Associates of the American Foreign Service Worldwide, as well as WIPAC supporters at the Embassy the previous day.
The Arts Club event was made possible by a gift from Dr. and Mrs. Leslie Fenton.
In his introductory remarks, the Ambassador of Azerbaijan, HE Elin Suleymanov commented that in war, there are losers on both sides and “If people don’t talk to each other, people don’t have a conversation, what we know about each other will be defined by bad things. For the sake of future generations, we have to think about peace.”
Chateau Gardecki echoed these words, “Music transcends all! The world is full of good people with common goals, and this universal hope can achieve peace through music.”
Haskell Small, noted pianist, composer and Chair of the Piano Department at the Washington Conservatory of Music, opened the concert with his own composition entitled “Silent Prayer.” In the beautiful dirge and meditative piece, pianist Small was joined by clarinetist Cheryl Hill, who created a haunting effect with her off-stage performance of the distant sounding clarinet.
Small chose a more animated second piece by Alan Hovhaness, “Macedonian Mountain Dance,” followed by Arvo Part’s “Fur Alina,” demonstrating the artist’s pianistic interpretive skills.
The musical commemoration for children affected by war continued with pianist Small and Soprano Laura Choi Stuart performing “La Courte Paille,” a song cycle by Francis Poulenc. The lyrics of the songs taken from poems by Belgian Poet Maurice Careme spoke of children’s yearning for peace. Stuart read from one of the poems, “La Lune d’Avril” addressing an important topic of nuclear disarmament from the eyes of children. “Please give me these dreams while I sleep…dream of a place where they have destroyed all the guns…. we have a right to demand Peace.” Ms. Stuart’s emotional and passionate musical delivery was enhanced by the velvety texture of her voice.
Mr. Small addressed the audience, “The idea of the Lullaby as a concept somehow doesn’t seem fitting with war… My conception when I wrote the piece “was that there are two meanings to the word ‘Lullaby,’ one is a mother comforting her baby putting her to sleep…. The other meaning is a little more subtle. We are at the mercy of our politicians who ‘lull’ us into thinking of how grand it is to make war.” Small added, “War is a product of us being suddenly persuaded to do something that in our hearts we know is wrong.”
Mr. Small’s compositional style echoes the minimalist school of composers. Parting from tradition, these composers sought to create a new musical language by composing with fewer notes and giving silent episodes in a piece a chance to emerge, creating a deep emotional effect. Small’s work “A Lullaby of Peace” exposed a somber beauty and deeply moving quality enhanced by the voice of lyric Soprano Stuart and clarinetist Sheryl Hill.
The narrator, Irving Benavides, gave expression to the young children of Khojali as he read the poem in a rich baritone voice. Born in El Salvador he understood the effect of war as he himself fled his country during turbulent times.
Small’s inclusion in the program of the work by the Armenian-American composer Alan Hovhaness may have been an eloquent symbolic statement demonstrating that music transcends political issues and brings people together from a humanistic point of view. Music affirms what the United Nations has defined as a “Culture of Peace,” giving hope that a “Khojaly” can never happen again.
WIPAC is to be commended for its initiative in promoting cultural diplomacy. The century old conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia continues today as a peace agreement is not on the horizon and clashes even erupted between the two countries as late as 2016 when lives were lost on both sides.
Can a concert resolve such disputes? Perhaps not. However, it can help create a dialogue between people who otherwise would not have known of the conflict and of the tragic loss of civilian life in Khojaly. As Chateau Gardecki stated, WIPAC’s mission is to promote international friendship and understanding among nations. “We wanted [the program] to be forward looking even as we pay tribute to a tragic event of the past.”
Shahla Naghiyeva captured the moment with these words about the children, “We want them to smile, to never have tears in their eyes. May there always be sunshine, may there always be blue sky, may they live under the clear sky.”

Dedicated to the Azerbaijani children massacred by Armenian armed forces, February 25-26, 1992
Khojaly’s kids will never grow up.
Their dreams lay buried in their eyes.
Those who survived will go on,
the spirit of terror now in them.

What had these innocents done?
Was their charge having been born?
As their cries rose up, did God hear their calls?
And who among us will be found guilty?

Mothers and children slaughtered—
while we remained mute in our witness.
Innocence once more destroyed—
and the world keeps its silence.

Khojaly’s kids will never grow up,
their dreams forever buried in their eyes.
Those who survived will go on,
but the danger of terror is now in them.

Yusif Savalan
Bakı, February 01, 2017

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