The Suni Project: Music Preservation

Grikor Mirzaian Suni (1876-1939)

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Zinch Oo Zinch

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More about this song and the song words

“Zinch oo Zinch” (What oh What)
Mythological Folksong
arranged by Armenian composer Grikor Mirzaian Suni (1876-1939)

Explanation by Ferdinand Kaimakamian, Suni’s musicology student,
Corona, New York, April, 2002

Free translation from the Armenian of this polyphonic composition by ethnomusicologist, arranger, composer, conductor, teacher, and political activist Grikor Mirzaian Suni


The Words

What oh what shall I give to the swimmer, who was brave;
I’ll give my shirt to the swimmer, who was handsome.
[She asked]
[He] neither took nor liked/agreed,
Wouldn’t get her hair clasp from the sea.

In the lush vineyard, making a happy noise,
Beautiful quail makes her nest. [They describe her, make fun of her]
From the weight of her hair clasp, the string broke and fell into the sea.
My necklace, I will give if he digs it out of the sea. [she begs again]

I am an Armenian swimmer;
I refuse to bring out her hair clasp from the sea.
Lush vineyard, happy noise, beautiful quail made her nest
Hair weight, clasp broke, fell into the sea

Sweetheart I have, I have an apple from which a bite is taken,
A sweetheart I have, all around covered by silver leaf,
Sweetheart I have, my brother wanted, I didn’t give,
Sweetheart I have, I said it’s bitten from my sweetheart.


The Story which happened over 2000 years ago (119 BC)

According to traditional history, some 119 years before Christ, Armenians had a very handsome and physically powerful king called Ara Geghetsik, (Ara the beautiful/ handsome). Neighboring empire Assyria’s King Ninos was killed by his empress SEMIRAMIS who had vast designs to rule the Assyrian Empire and aggrandize to include Armenia.

Enpress Semiramis invites King Ara and his queen Nvart to Nineveh to establish an alliance with Armenia. When king and queen of Armenia arrive at the palace of Empress Semiramis-upon seeing the handsomeness and robust masculine appearance of King Ara, the empress falls in love violently.

The empress proposes marriage; Ara refuses, adding that he already is married to Nvart, and loves his wife. Empress Semiramis says to Ara that if he marries her, “You will be emperor of Armenia and Assyria.” Ara refuses all offers.

After a couple of days, Semiramis invites King Ara hunting wild animals, but secretly she tells her generals or very close officers not to kill Ara, but to wound him. During hunting, the wound Ara receives is more serious than expected. All efforts, medicines fail. The empress brings wound-licking dogs – which was the only method to heal wounds.

King Ara dies, and the body of King Ara is taken back to Armenia. Entire nation of Armenia mourns the loss of their brave king, and Armenians become revengeful.

Empress Semiramis had fallen in love so violently that she cannot forget King Ara, and to relive the memory of King Ara, she visits Armenia and selects the shore of Sea of Van – or Lake Van, near the city of Van, Historic Armenia, because of its very salty water, called Sea of Van.

Now the story starts of how Zinch oo Zinch came to be.

The empress learns that King Ara used to swim in the Sea of Van. She puts off her valuable jewels, robes, necklaces, anything an empress can wear precious, having on only her light dress, and enters the sea to swim.

Armenian brave swimmers who were hiding behind the dark shade of the woods come out, gather all her jewels and clothing to dump into the sea.

And the empress begs the swimmers, saying “Zinch oo Zinch dam loghvorjoon” meaning, “What oh what shall I give to you the swimmers to get you to bring back my robes, garments, and jewels, (teh khana tsam telni tsoven) to bring out my hair’s jewelry from the sea”.

The conversation goes on maybe half an hour because the poetry of this event in the form of dialogue, goes one full page in print in the history of Armenia. The empress, who is almost naked, promises everything so long as she can come out to get dressed.

But no hope-Armenian swimmers refuse and make fun of her condition.

Finally the Empress promises herself to the mercy of the swimmers. The Armenian swimmers feel victorious that an empress agreed to give herself. The swimmers are overjoyed and start dancing. This is the “Yar oonim, yar oonim (Sweetheart I have)” overjoyed, finale part of the song.

This story is traditional, which survived for 2200 years, and reached us through Grikor Mirzaian Suni, Manoug Apeghian, Hrachia Ajaria, and your storyteller Ferdinand Kaimakamian.

Afternote: Suni won an award for this song’s early version called “Swimmers”. This is a story of resistance to oppression, one of Grikor Suni’s chosen themes. In this composition, he combines his musical and expressive prowess with his active political nature.

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