The question was never if Serj Tankian would be an activist — it was how.
The System of a Down frontman aspired to be a lawyer before having an epiphany in his college years about the power of music to inspire change through the law. As the grandson of victims of the Armenian genocide, politics were always a part of Tankian's life and family history; they became an inextricable aspect of his art.
In his new film, Truth To Power, Tankian explores the impact music can have on politics, specifically how System of a Down amplified the voices of the leaders of the 2018 peaceful revolution in Armenia.
"You know, I was an activist before becoming an artist," Tankian tells Q104.3 New York's Shelli Sonstein. "So, for me, the storyline of the film is basically that of an activist through the arts, and seeing an activist at a young age who had a very small voice, not a projected voice ... and through the success of the band and music had a larger voice and an impact. We can see the results of that impact, both positive and negative, throughout the film."
System of a Down performed in Armenia for the first time in 2015, marking 100 years since the Armenian genocide. The revelatory outdoor concert in Yerevan, Armenia, was attended by at least 50,000 people and broadcast over the Internet to millions worldwide.
Among the fans in attendance that night was Nikol Pashinyan, Armenia's current Prime Minister, who sparked a major protest movement in the country in 2018 when he set off on his 'My Step' walk for change across the country.
Pashinyan's protest snowballed during his two-week trek from Gyumri to Yerevan. By the time he reached the capital city, he was flanked by thousands of supporters. After weeks of tension in Yerevan, Pashinyan negotiated the resignation of Putin-aligned Prime Minister Serzh Sargsyan and secured his own election to the office, moving Armenia to a more progressive form of democratic government.
"[I] got to Armenia a the tail-end of the revolution," Tankian recalled. "It was just incredible. You see it in the film, the faces of elation after the revolution."
But as Tankian notes, his film doesn't have an especially happy ending in light of the recent aggressions by Turkey and Azerbaijan agains the Armenian People.
"They started a very peaceful revolution, but got hammered with a very unpeaceful, extremely horrible war two-and-a-half years later," he continued. "So the country's really, really in a very grieving, difficult time right now. So it's interesting to talk about the revolution in a positive light, and yet we're here in a very negative light in the current state of Armenia."
System of a Down released new music last November after a 15-year drought in order to call attention to the September 2020 attacks against Armenians in the Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan. The band has been donating all proceeds raised to the Armenia Fund to provide relief to the victims. As of early-December, the band had raised $1 million in their effort.
Watch the trailer for Truth To Power above!
Watch the full conversation between Shelli and Serj via the player at the top of this page.
Photo: Getty Images