For almost 10 years, I have said that we will never know who Kemany Minas was, since the name Minas is common and “kemany” simply means “great violinist." I said that there was no way to find such a person.
Well, I was wrong.
Harout Arakelian and Harry Kezelian have located a group of documents that clearly show a great many details of his life.
He was born in Arabkir, Harput (present-day Arapgir, Malatya, Turkey) on June 15, 1862. Kezelian points out that he used two names, neither of them his exact birthname. The first, Minas J. Kousanian is derived from the Armenian for “troubadour,” kousan. The other, Minas K. Jeremy is apparently an Anglicization of his family name. He arrived in New York City on October 20, 1895 and moved to Massachusetts around November 2 of that year. His wife Zanazan (maiden name Ajemian) was also born in Harput around 1858. Their son Harry was born September 22, 1889 and played violin.
When Minas was naturalized on December 1, 1906, he was living in Malden, MA and was a rubber worker (as were both of his witnesses), likely at the Boston Rubber Shoe Company, founded by Marquis Mills Converse. (He was also a member of the Masonic Lodge in Malden.)
He first recorded at the December 5, 1916 sessions for the Victor Records sessions of Karekin Proodian, where he made six sides an accompanist and a further half-dozens as a soloist. In November 1917, he and the oudist Garabet Merjanian and an unknown kanun player collaboratively recorded a total of 24 sides over several sessions for Columbia, of which we present here 14 sides.
He died, aged 58, in June 3, 1918, about six months after he made these recordings of pernicious anemia.
His son died of tuberculosis June 23, 1920.
Another son, Karekin, born in 1897 died in 1898.
Commercial Turkish language recording in the U.S. only began in 1912 and by about 1919, both major companies – Victor and Columbia – had ceased recording Turkish-language material. Minas’ powerful recording of “Eghin Havasi,” the ballad of the September 15, 1896 massacre of Armenians in the village of Egin (present-day Kemaliye) near the Euphrates by the Ottoman military, was certainly an especially good-seller, having gone through several pressings and staying in print for more than a decade. The tragedy it memorializes included the burning of two thirds of the Armenian homes in that town and the deaths of 1,500 people.
The village of Egin was 52 kilometers from where Minas was raised; the massacre took place less than a year after he arrived in the U.S.
These performances, recorded acoustically six years before the invention of microphones, have not been given definitive restoration. Our hope is that the performances may be heard fully without undue distraction by defects in the original discs.
They are presented here simply in the order in which they were recorded.