French composer joins campaign to protect rights of refugees, IDPs

By: Sara Rajabova

French composer Pierre Thilloy has joined the “Many Happy Returns” campaign to protect the rights of more than one million refugees and internally displaced persons who have fallen victim to the Armenian-Azerbaijani Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

In 2012, The European Azerbaijan Society (TEAS) assigned Pierre to write a tone poem to commemorate the lives of the 613 victims of the Khojaly Massacre – the biggest loss of lives during the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, Azertag state news agency reported.

The result was Khojaly 613, which received its world premiere during the TEAS Khojaly Commemoration Concert in Paris in 2013 and London premiere a few days later. This evocative piece featured the sound of the balaban, a traditional Azerbaijani wind instrument.

In 1992, the town of Khojaly, the second largest town in the Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan, came under intense fire from the towns of Khankendi and Askeran which had been occupied earlier by the Armenian armed forces.

During the massacre, 613 civilians -mostly women and children- were killed, and a total of 1,000 people were disabled. Eight families were exterminated, 25 children lost both parents, and 130 children lost one of their parents. Moreover, 1,275 innocent people were taken hostage -the fate of 150 of them remains unknown. Civilians were shot at close range, scalped, and burned alive. Some had their eyes gouged out and others were beheaded.

In his descriptive notes, Pierre wrote: “The Khojaly Massacre ranks amongst one of the most vivid and nightmarish visions in the collective memory of the Azerbaijani people, stemming from the dark, insidious Nagorno-Karabakh conflict that continues to harm the entire population.” This powerful piece was subsequently shortlisted for the prestigious Victoires de la Musique Classique award.

Since that time, Pierre has made a chamber arrangement, designed for performance by standard instrumentation anywhere in the world, and this was premiered at this year’s Khojaly Commemoration Concert in Paris, again being heard in London.

In 2013, Pierre founded and organized the inaugural Festival de Syam, held in a chateau in Eastern France. The first edition combined Azerbaijani classical music with that of western composers. Many of the 30 concerts in the recent 2014 festival, sponsored by the Heydar Aliyev Foundation, featured or comprised Azerbaijani mugham, jazz-mugham and classical works, with Azerbaijani and western musicians performing alongside each other. Pierre is dedicated to raising awareness of Azerbaijan’s rich musical heritage, and to harnessing the emotional power of its music to increase understanding of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and its ongoing human impact.

Pierre has a longstanding connection with Azerbaijan. He first visited the country in 2001, and was Musician-in-Residence at the French Embassy in Baku from 2003-2005. These experiences were subsequently chronicled in a documentary entitled Pierre Thilloy, la Montagne de Feu, broadcast on the France 2 and Mezzo channels. He has regularly returned to the country since 2008, and has immersed himself in the history, culture and music of the country – both mugham and classical – much of which originates from the Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan that has been under illegal Armenian occupation for the past 20 years.

Pierre has made the following statement on the ‘Many Happy Returns’ (MHR) campaign, aimed at highlighting the plight of the 875,000 Azerbaijani refugees and IDPs who are unable to return home.

“I am a frequent visitor to Azerbaijan, and Azerbaijan is in my heart. I believe in reconciliation between peoples, and I composed Khojaly 613, an orchestral fantasy, to remember the men and women who died. I support MHR in its awareness campaign,” he said.

The title of the MHR campaign is based on the English birthday greeting ‘Many Happy Returns’ which, in this case, also refers to the wish of the Azerbaijani IDPs and refugees to return to their rightful homeland. The website features photos of IDPs in just three of the camps spread across the 76 regions of Azerbaijan, taken by the renowned German photographer Philipp Rathmer.

Despite a ceasefire between Azerbaijan and Armenia and four UN Security Council resolutions calling on the withdrawal of Armenian armed forces from the occupied lands, the refugees have not yet managed to return their homes.