System of a Down, whose members are all of Armenian descent, will commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide later this month with their first-ever concert in the country. It's an event – along with an international Wake Up the Souls tour that kicks off Monday in Los Angeles – that means so much to them that drummer John Dolmayan prioritizes it above making new music.
"This is something that transcends the music," he said Wednesday on a media conference call. "This is more important than a next System of a Down album. This is something that is far-reaching and even bigger than the Armenian genocide itself....We want to help prevent what happened to the Armenians happening to other people."
Dolmayan echoed the sentiments of frontman Serj Tankian, who told Rolling Stone earlier this year that there was an "openness" to work on new music. "We do want to get together after the tour and talk about writing," Dolmayan said.
The purpose of the teleconference was to raise awareness around the genocide's anniversary, since Turkey – whose Ottoman regime executed around 1.5 million Armenians around 1915 – continues to deny the incident. Dolmayan and Tankian, who also participated in the call, underscored how much it meant to them to encourage Turkey to acknowledge the event. "[The genocide] is still with us," the singer said. "The denial is a spit in the face of that every year."
"It stays with you," Dolmayan said. "It's still with me today, because of the stories that we did hear [from our families]."
The band's first-ever gig in the country of their ancestors will take place in capital city Yerevan's Republic Square on April 23rd, and it has planned special components to the concert to honor their countrymen. "We have two songs that are about the genocide," Tankian said. "One, from our first release, called 'P.L.U.C.K.' and the other from one of our latest albums, [2005's] Mezmerize, called 'Holy Mountains.' The set will actually start with 'Holy Mountains,' and then we have a small video presentation, and 'P.L.U.C.K.' will go into that."
The singer described the video presentations as a three-part animated video explaining what happened during the time of the genocide, how it led to other holocausts throughout the last century and how it continues to impact people today.
The concert itself – which the band is documenting and hopes to post online – will be free, an important aspect of the event. "Armenia is not a wealthy nation," Dolmayan said. "A lot of people, if we were to charge even a nominal fee, would not be able to pay the ticket price....We didn't want to make a profit off the show. The show has a greater meaning for us. Sometimes you do things not for profit, and this is one of those times."
Dolmayan said he would love to see Turkey acknowledge the genocide in his lifetime. "It would be a very healing thing for us," he said. "We've had to carry this weight around for our entire lives. Our parents carried it for their entire lives, and our grandparents carried it. It would relieve that weight...and I think in a lot of ways it would relieve the weight off the people of Turkey's shoulders as well. Coming to terms with something that you've run away from for so long is important for your healing process."
In his previous interview with Rolling Stone, Tankian said that the band's Turkish fans have come to their defense when the country's press attempted to smear them. "They wrote to the editors of those newspapers who were planting this misinformation, this disinformation, and fought for us," the singer said. "Our jaws dropped. Here we have fans in Turkey that are protecting System of a Down. No society is unipolar."