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Charles Aznavour to the East of his Eden

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09.10.2018

Upon his passing at the glorious age of 94, Charles Aznavour, the iconic Armenian French singer and actor, has been praised with a myriad of perfectly just accolades and yet one curious cliche - that he was "the French Frank Sinatra".

"Charles Aznavour, the 'Frank Sinatra of France,' dies aged 94."

The title of the obituary at the Guardian was pretty much typical of almost everything else published on the occasion in US and European press. The suspicious praise points to a larger issue of how we know and how we remember undoubtedly one of the greatest singer and songwriters of our time.

Assimilating a legendary French singer into the persona of an equally emblematic American singer is perhaps obvious if we map the world in a westerly direction that continues to corroborate the myth of "the West" on both sides of the Atlantic as a coherent metaphor of cultural identity.

There is, however, a different world that Charles Aznavour, as the child of Armenian immigrant parents, symbolises that at a time of rising French (and European) racist xenophobia is very important to recall and keep in mind.

The world I have in mind does not mind placing Charles Aznavour next to Frank Sinatra or any other American singer - it is perfectly fine - but the world they have in mind when they do so has hardly heard of the names of Viguen Derderian or Abdel Halim Hafez.

How about if we were to say: the French Viguen Derderian, or the Armenian Abdel Halim Hafez had died at 94? Would either of such references make any sense anywhere in the world? Yes, no, maybe and why not?

Alexis Petridis of the Guardian made an excellent point in his obituary that while "in the UK at least, Charles Aznavour ... is largely embedded in the popular imagination as a light entertainment phenomenon ... Aznavour wrote about rape, depression and, in 1972's Comme Ils Disent, he conjured up a sympathetic portrait of a drag queen in an era when French music........

© Al Jazeera