Armenian Reporter – 7/28/2007 – arts and culture section

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July 28, 2007 — From the Arts & Culture section

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1. One-man show by artist Richard Tashjian
2. Taline is coming to Beantown
3. Pepo at NYC, not NYU
4. Hedison to star in "Love Letter"
5. Mamoulian festival in September
6. Women’s creative nonfiction reading in Yerevan

7. In her own words: Knock at the Door writer discovers that she is
not alone (by Margaret Ajemian Ahnert)

8. Music: Eve Beglarian: From bad girl bar bands to Disney Hall (by
Sara Anjargolian)

9. Strings: The two faces of violinist Sergey Khachatryan (by Florence Avakian)

10. Festival: A taste of pomegranate (by Adrineh Gregorian)
* Sampling art in Little Armenia

11. Justice: All power to the people! (by Tania Ketenjian)
* Hrag Yedalian’s film The People’s Advocate tells the story of one of
the most important activists and attorneys of the 1960s

12. Poetry matters: Gregory Djanikian’s new book carries the weight of
history while it celebrates the present (by Lory Bedikian)

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1. One-man show by artist Richard Tashjian

Like thousands of other artists, Richard Tashjian arrived in Santa Fe
as a tourist and found he couldn’t leave. Since he moved to the area
in 1998, Tashjian has made the red cliffs and brilliant skies of the
Southwest his subject. "Every day I look up and see the clouds," he
says. "Everyday it amazes and inspires me."

An artist for more than 70 years, Tashjian was born and raised in
Massachusetts. He had a highly successful career in commercial art in
the Boston area until he took early retirement to paint and operate a
gallery and studio in Watertown, Mass.

Tashjian’s show at the University of New Mexico at Los Alamos from
now until August 30 is called "Mesas, Canyons, Landscapes: A
Celebration of Painting." The one-man show at the University’s Student
Center contains more than 30 paintings, all of the Southwest.
Tashjian’s bold colors and firm lines bring a vibrancy to his
landscape painting that makes familiar scenes something highly
individual in his hands.

"The area around Santa Fe reminds me of Armenia," Tashjian said.
"The pink of the adobes reminds me of the pink stone used in buildings
in Armenia."


2. Taline is coming to Beantown

Kids and kids-at-heart, listen up! Popular children’s singer Taline
(Arts section cover May 5, 2007) and her friends are coming to
Watertown, Mass. Their "Armenian Children’s Concert" will take place
on Sunday, October 14, at the Arsenal Center for the Arts in
Watertown. If you’re up for a treat, tickets go on sale on August 15
through Taline’s online store.


3. Pepo at NYC, not NYU

On August 9 Christopher Atamian will screen Pepo, the first Armenian
feature sound film.The screening will not take place at NYU, as
mentioned here last week, but less than a mile north of Washington
Square Park, at the LGBT Community Center. The event begins at 7:00
P.M. The LGBT Community Center is located at 208 West 13th Street,
Room 410. Admission is $10.

4. Hedison to star in "Love Letter"

Veteran actor David Hedison (Heditsian) will be be performing in the
Shadow Lawn Stage presentation of A.R. Gurney’s "Love Letter,"
co-starring Nancy Dussault (TV’s "Too Close for Comfort" star and
first morning anchor of "Good Morning America") at Monmouth
University’s Pollak Theatre, in West Long Branch, N.J. Hedison has
made hundreds of appearances on stage, TV, and film, and his resume
includes "The Young and the Restless," "Another World," "The Colbys,"
"Wonder Woman," and the Bond films Live and Let Die and License to
Kill. "Love Letter" will be staged from Friday, August 3, to Sunday,
August 5.



5. Mamoulian festival in September

New York City’s Film Forum will present 12 days of films from one of
cinema’s great innovators, Rouben Mamoulian. The filmmaker is credited
with introducing camera movement and sound to the features he
directed, including his first Applause in 1929. Mamoulian also
directed the first three-strip technicolor film Becky Sharp in 1935.
The Mamoulian festival takes place from Friday, September 7, to
Tuesday, September 18, at the Film Forum, 209 West Houston Street,
between 6th Avenue and Varick (7th Ave).


6. Women’s creative nonfiction reading in Yerevan

Eight women from Armenia and the diaspora were scheduled to read
creative nonfiction they developed as participants in an eight-week
writing workshop led by Armenian-American writer Nancy Agabian at the
Women’s Resource Center in Yerevan. The reading was slated for July

The writers range from journalists to experimental novelists to
young poets. During the workshop, they read women’s literature in
translation, addressing such themes as the inheritance of trauma,
memories of war, feelings about the body, and Armenian family
dynamics. The pieces will be published in a volume titled
Matnashoonch. Excerpts are available online.


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7. In her own words: Knock at the Door writer discovers that she is not alone

by Margaret Ajemian Ahnert

Writing is a solo journey but as a writer I know I am never completely alone.

Recently on book tour, I read a passage from my book about a Turkish
neighbor vowing to hone and sharpen his knives so that when the order
comes for him to kill the Armenian family living next door to him,
they will feel no pain. He promised this as an act of kindness to an
old friend.

Suddenly a woman in the audience stood up and said loudly, "That was
my mother’s neighbor." I was amazed by her statement. In my book I
relate this as a story told to my mother and her family by her brother
who was a soldier in the Turkish army as he tried to persuade them to
leave before the killing began because he knew the orders would be
coming soon.

"Thank you Margaret for writing this book," another in the audience
remarked. "Your writing confirms the stories my grandmother told me
growing up."

Up until that moment I had never realized the closeness of the
reader to the writer. I always felt isolated as I wrote in solitude
but this book tour has brought me close to my reading public. When
someone says, "Why that could have been my grandmother," it is then
that I feel the joy of writing.

The warmth and admiration of new Armenian friends warms my heart. On
July 4 I sat in my hotel room alone staring at San Francisco Bay and
the mountains beyond. I thought of my mother Ester and the long road
she traveled to me and my father; to my children, her grandchildren a
whole life.

I realize I share this journey with my readers. I am not alone. The
reader is with me. I read somewhere that fear and courage are like
lightening and thunder they both start out at the same time, but fear
travels faster and arrives sooner. If we just wait a moment, the
requisite courage will be along shortly.

I am encouraged by the kind reviews of my work, the tearful woman in
the audience who remembers her grandmother’s story through mine. I am
encouraged by the words of my grandchildren, "Wow, Grammy,
Greatgrandmom was so amazing."

I smile and I believe Ester is smiling too!

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8. Music: Eve Beglarian: From bad girl bar bands to Disney Hall

by Sara Anjargolian

The Los Angeles Times describes her music as "an eclectic and
wide-open series of enticements." The Village Voice labeled her "one
of new music’s truly free spirits," and the New York Times hailed her
as a "remarkable experimentalist".

But type "Eve Beglarian" into your search engine and you will also
come across reviews describing the composer, performer and audio
producer as a "wacky, raunchy, in-your-face artist" with a "bad-girl
sassiness" or "an Uptowner with a Princeton-Columbia education, who
jumped ship and began composing pieces her professors couldn’t

Indeed, Eve Beglarian’s music has certainly run the gamut — having
been performed in the most mainstream concert halls and theaters as
well as in smoky clubs and nameless back alley lofts. Her most recent
composition, "Sang" (Stone in Persian), premiered at none other than
the Walt Disney Concert Hall this past June.

The work was the first in a planned series of commissions for the
Los Angeles Master Chorale’s LA is the World program, in which a
particular cultural background is honored in works for chorus. With
her selection of a Persian fable at the center of the work, Beglarian
linked Persian musicians with western singers to create a work
compatible with both traditions. Supporting the vocalists, sometimes
as accompanists, sometimes in the lead, were two L.A.-based musicians
— Manoochehr Sadeghi playing the santur, a 72-string hammered
dulcimer, and Pejman Hadadi on percussion, notably several sizes of
daf, a frame drum, and the tombak, a goblet-shaped drum.

Drawing initially on a parable from the 10th century Persian epic
Shahnameh, the Book of Kings, for inspiration, Beglarian also wove in
Hebrew and Greek biblical texts — creating a piece which illuminates
the shared roots of the Persian, Hebrew, and Greek (and by extension
Islamic, Jewish, and Christian) cultures and their intertwined
histories, which go back as far as the Zoroastrian era and perhaps
even farther.

Shahnameh is an enormous poetic opus written by the Persian poet
Ferdowsi around 1000 C.E. and is the epic of the Persian-speaking
world. The Shahnameh tells the mythical and historical past of Iran
from the creation of the world through the Islamic conquest of Iran in
the 7th century. The book is among UNESCO’s list of cultural heritage

The story within Shahnameh that serves as the foundation for
Beglarian’s composition tells the tale of a group of questing men who
have climbed a dark mountain littered with thousands of stones and
encounter a voice which tells them that both taking and leaving the
burdensome stones would cause them regret. Some of the men choose to
descend the mountain without the stones, while others choose to carry
some of the heavy stones to the bottom of the mountain. The stones
turn out to be jewels and both groups of men do indeed regret their
decision — the men without stones regret not having collected them,
and the men with stones regret that they had not collected more.

Into her telling of the Shahnameh story, Beglarian also threads
biblical themes, specifically the story of God’s promise to the
Persian King Cyrus in Isaiah 45, and other biblical references to the
transformation of stones to jewels, of dust to gold (in Hebrew and
Septuagint Greek).

Under Sadeghi’s and Hadadi’s guidance, Beglarian spent the better
part of the last year studying and listening to traditional Persian
music. Yet, despite Beglarian’s studies and her family roots (her
father grew up in Tehran), she insists that she did not attempt to
write a "Persian" piece, which she believes would have been a
ridiculous undertaking for an American. "My goal was to embody the
story in sound as vividly as I can," Beglarian explains in her program
notes, "so that even if you don’t understand a word of the text, the
narrative has an impact."

Indeed, when Hadadi opened the piece with a nuanced drum solo, one
could easily imagine the sluggish march of a weather beaten group of
men ascending the steep mountain. And as the soft choral voices built
up to join the drum, and the vibrant santur soulfully chimed in, the
flavor and richness of the Persian fable came to life in both
vibration and imagination.

Although Beglarian grew up in a musical family, it did not occur to
her that she might want to become a musician until her college years.
Her father, the late Grant Beglarian, was a composer of chamber music
in a style grounded in Bartok and Stravinsky. His music has been
performed by the Philadelphia Orchestra and the symphonies of Detroit,
Seattle, and Dallas, to name a few. Dr. Beglarian also served as the
dean of the School of Performing Arts at the University of Southern
California (1969-82), director of MENC’s Contemporary Music Project
(1965-69), and President and CEO of the National Foundation for
Advancement in the Arts (1981-91).

During her childhood, which she spent in Los Angeles, the
well-defined boundaries of what constituted music-making, namely the
tradition of classical-music performance and virtuosity, did not
interest Beglarian. She felt that she had no way of applying the
totality of her interests within that framework. Nonetheless,
Beglarian did start out with piano lessons at age four or five, and
switched to the cello at eleven, but didn’t really feel that she had
the sensibility to become a musician. And what did Beglarian choose as
her freshman major at Princeton? Pre-med of course. After all, what
else would a young Armenian-American applying to college choose? At
the time, she wanted to do research on neurology and the chemistry of
the brain.

Perhaps Beglarian would have become a cello-playing neurologist had
she not left for college without her record player. "I was waiting
until fall break to go up to Boston to get advice from a friend about
what stereo system to buy," she explained in a 2002 interview with the
music journal 21st Century Music, "so I hadn’t brought a record player
with me, so I couldn’t listen to music for a month. I thought I would
lose my mind. It was then that I realized that if music was that
central to my life, I was going to have to find some way of doing
music as my profession."

Beglarian began her formal education in music at Princeton and later
at Columbia where she studied conducting and composing. After
graduating from Columbia with a master’s degree, she became president
of the League — International Society for Contemporary Music — an
academic circle which did not welcome Beglarian’s post-minimalism and
vernacular sources with open arms. She later worked as a producer with
CRI, a music label, and put out over 50 records in the span of two
years — recording the work of artists including Milton Babbitt, Lou
Karchin, and Bernard Rands.

In 1989, Beglarian moved to New York’s West Village and joined Que
(pronounced "kay") — a bar band complete with a band leader named
Rico. She played gigs every Saturday night for months as the band’s
keyboardist. "And it taught me how to perform," she explained,
"because if you can have any kind of charisma as the keyboard player
in a bar band then you’ve learned how to do something. So I did it
really late: most people do that when they are 17 or in their 20s and
I was 30." (Excerpt from 2002 interview with 21st Century Music).

Fast forward twenty years and Eve Beglarian’s music has been
commissioned and widely performed by the Los Angeles Master Chorale,
the Bang on a Can All-Stars, the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln
Center, the California EAR Unit, the Orchestra of St. Luke’s, Relche,
the Paul Dresher Ensemble, Sequitur, and the American Composers
Orchestra, among many others.

Her work in music theater includes music for Mabou Mines’
Obie-winning Dollhouse, Animal Magnetism, Ecco Porco, and Choephorai
directed by Lee Breuer; the collaboration Hildegurls’ Ordo Virtutum,
directed by Grethe Barrett Holby, which premiered at the Lincoln
Center Festival; Forgiveness, a collaboration with Chen Shi-Zheng and
Noh master Akira Matsui; and the China National Beijing Opera
Theater’s production of The Bacchae, also directed by Chen Shi-Zheng.

She has collaborated with a number of choreographers, including
Victoria Marks, Ann Carlson, Susan Marshall, and Robert La Fosse.

Beglarian’s current projects include FeedForward, a dance-theater
collaboration with choreographer David Neumann, scored for multiple
trombones, premiering at Dance Theater Workshop in October of 2007;
The Man in the Black Suit, an opera based on Stephen King’s story,
with co-librettist and director Grethe Barrett Holby; and A Book of
Days, a long-term project of 365 multimedia pieces for live
performance as well as Internet delivery.

Beglarian recently began studying and composing music inspired by
her Armenian heritage. In 2006, she wrote, "I am writing to you from a
far-off country" a 40-minute cello piece which incorporates
traditional Armenian melodies and was performed with a visual-video
component, poetry, spoken text, and vocals. The work was the result of
an intimate collaboration between Beglarian, cellist Maya Beiser and
visual artist Shirin Neshat. The project represented not only an
artistic partnership but also a union of three different Middle
Eastern cultures and the three major monotheistic religions: Eve being
Christian Armenian, Maya being Jewish Israeli, and Shirin being Muslim
Iranian. "I am writing to you from a far-off country" premiered at
Carnegie’s Zankel Hall in March 2006, and Koch International Classics
released the recording on Maya Beiser’s "Almost Human" album, which is
available for purchase on Amazon.

A second of Beglarian’s Armenian-inspired pieces premiered this past
March at Carnegie’s Weill Recital Hall. The composition, "I Will Not
Be Sad in This World," was featured as part of a recital entitled "The
Flute Book for the Twenty-First Century." Composed for alto flute and
pre-recorded tape, it was premiered by New Zealander Marya Martin. The
piece was based on 18th-century Armenian ashugh Sayat Nova’s
"Ashkharhums akh chim kashi."

When considering Eve Beglarian’s impressive body of work, perhaps
her own words best describe her approach: "I want to do interesting
things, and a lot of things are interesting. And if something shows up
that’s interesting I want to throw myself into that. . . . I’m trying
to express what’s important to me, and my belief is that if I do that
really well and really powerfully, it’s likely to speak to others as
well. . . . And that’s my only hope as an artist. The minute you’re
concerned with making something successful you are doomed to failure.
And the same is true about cutting edge. Cutting edge is a subset of
that. The minute you’re concerned about making something cutting edge
you’re going to make something stupid, as far as I’m concerned. You
don’t have the right relation — to put it in Buddhist terms — to
your goal, so you’re never going to achieve it." (excerpt from 2002
interview with 21st Century Music).

Indeed, whether she is performing bad-girl sassy tunes with a bar
band in the West Village or taking a bow to the tune of roaring
applause at the Walt Disney Concert Hall, Eve Beglarian has certainly
achieved "it".

Recordings of Eve Beglarian’s music are available on Koch, New
World, Canteloupe, CRI Emergency Music, OO Discs, Accurate Distortion,
Atavistic, and Kill Rock Stars. Her newest CD, a recording of "From A
Far-Off Country", was just released on Koch Records.


* * *

Sara Anjargolian is a Los Angeles-based photographer, writer, and
sometimes an attorney. In her spare time, she likes to photograph and
write about interesting people. If you are an interesting person, drop
her a line at

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9. Strings: The two faces of violinist Sergey Khachatryan

by Florence Avakian

NEW YORK — "He is a powerful, appealing player who can produce a
stunning effect when he lands on the right side of the line," wrote
New York Times music critic Allan Kozinn about the Zankel Hall concert
of violinist virtuoso Sergey Khachatryan last spring. This would have
been praise enough for a performer who has graced the world’s music
stages for decades; but in this case, the tribute was accorded to a
thin, lean, tousle-haired 22-year-old who has already been accorded
thunderous standing ovations in sold out concert halls across the

In an exclusive interview with this writer a few hours before the
concert, the young virtuoso expressed his "anxiety" about the
evening’s performance that also included his pianist sister Lucine. "I
am a little nervous, but it’s not fear. It’s not even anxiety. It is
interest," he said revealing the emotions he most always feels before
going on stage. "Anxiety comes when I am very prepared, have many
ideas to transform to the public, and wonder whether I will succeed in
the performance. The stage is a different world than home."

Home for the first eight years of his life was Yerevan, Armenia,
where Khachatryan was born in 1985 to parents Vladimir and Irina
Khachatryan, both professional pianists. Starting his musical
education at age six, he studied piano with Professor Peter Haigazian
at the Sayat Nova School for one year, recalling the experience as
"wonderful. I learned the basics from him."

With the Armenian economy in dire straits, he left for Germany with
his family in 1993 to study violin "With too many pianists at home and
my older sister as well studying the piano, my parents decided that I
should study the violin. I understood what is important from my
parents." He gives great credit to Professor Josef Rissin, at the
Karlsruhe Musik Academy, and his father for "making me a violinist."

For Sergey, "it doesn’t matter whether it is the piano or the violin
so long as I can express my emotions and mentality, and speak through
the music," he comments with age-old wisdom. "However, the violin is
very special, especially the sound and what you can do with it."
Presently, he lives in Frankfurt, Germany, and visits Professor Rissin
for consultation.

Sergey plays the coveted Stradivarius, which he received after
winning the first prize at the prestigious Queen Elizabeth
Competition, the greatest of the violin competitions in the world. The
1708 "Huggins" Stradivarius is on loan to him from the Nippon Music
Foundation until the next competition in 2009, when the instrument
will be presented to the next winner.

* Youngest-ever first-prize winner

But what catapulted him to fame was winning the first prize in the
VIII International Jean Sibelius Competition in Helsinki, Finland, the
youngest ever to win this exalted honor. Since then, he has played to
cheering audiences and critics in New York’s Carnegie Hall and Lincoln
Center, and in the famed concert halls of London, Paris, Zurich,
Milan, Salzburg, Helsinki, Tokyo, Korea, among others.

"When I first started studying, I loved to perform before the
public. Now, it’s more about the music." He practices three, four
hours every day. "It’s like a sport. You have to keep your form. For a
violinist, how the hands and fingers work is important. Fingers are
muscles. They get stiffer as you get older," relates the gifted
musician whose busy schedule includes 50 concerts a year."

He says that he tries to go every year "to my people in Yerevan. My
success in Europe, America and the Far East is not enough. I have to
give some of it to the people in Armenia. I am a very patriotic
person. I love Armenia. We have wonderful composers — Khatchaturian,
Babajanian. I always try to present their music. It comes from my
heart. It is my duty."

However, he is critical of present-day Armenia which he notes is not
the Armenia he knew during his youth. "The Armenia which my parents
gave me was a country of great culture. My parents always told me
stories of the great musicians during the Soviet time. Today, culture
in Armenia is suffering. It is a time of business and money."

Besides the Armenian composers, Sergey is also drawn to Beethoven,
and especially Shostakovich whose music was a "mirror of his time. I
love the darker side of music," he explains, adding that his taste in
music comes from his father. "If you want to know the mentality of
Shostakovich, Beethoven, Cesar Franck, listen to their music."

* Crucial to be with the music

But Sergey has always had his own ideas about music. "It may sound
arrogant but I never had the impulse to be like another violinist. I
never try to compare myself to others. When playing a concert, I don’t
feel the public. I am only living through the violin and with the
music. Sometimes when you have a great public, it gives you a very
positive energy, and makes it special. But I don’t feel the audience
when I play," he repeats for emphasis. "For me, it is not the most
important thing. It is crucial for me to be with the music."

He considers himself to be two people — "one who is living in the
music, and the second who is the normal Sergey." The second Sergey
loves to tune cars, is crazy about speed, plays table tennis, writes
rap music, and loves to dance." If he wasn’t a violinist, he adds he
would definitely do break dancing, but the possibility of injuring his
hands stops him. He also loves taking photos of the different cloud
formations in the sky, especially during sunrise and sunset.

What does success mean for him? "There is a danger in thinking you
are successful because it can ruin you," he responds thoughtfully. "If
things are not wonderful about the violin, then it’s my mistake.
You’re dead if you consider that you’re really good. That means that
you have stopped learning, and there is no improvement."

And what of the future. "I will continue giving concerts. I have
already achieved the level and class that I want. Now I want to grow
up, to have time to refill emotionally" he says reflectively. "We can
never achieve a hundred percent. We will never arrive at perfection.
The finish is not interesting, but the journey in getting there is
important. That is why musicians have to live for their music," which
he says is what keeps him going. "It definitely keeps me alive," he
says with emphasis.

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10. Festival: A taste of pomegranate

* Sampling art in Little Armenia

by Adrineh Gregorian

HOLLYWOOD, Calif. — On July 21 Little Armenia became the setting for
a unique event where art, food, and diversity were celebrated by
Armenians and non-Armenians alike. The Armenian Center for the Arts in
association with L.A. Commons, L.A. City Council member Eric Garcetti,
UCLA, and the Rose & Alex Pilibos Armenian School organized this
unprecedented event as a part of the series, "Trekking Los Angeles:
Local Adventures in a Global City," and to promote the future Armenian
Center for the Arts.

Kicking off the afternoon festivities was an "art walk," led by Lory
Tatoulian and Armen Toumaian, where over 70 participants gathered at
Rose & Alex Pilibos Armenian School to begin their trek exploring the
hidden treasures Little Armenia has to offer. The walk featured young
artists exhibiting their works in unconventional settings such as
pastry shops and bakeries. Restaurants and retail shops in the
neighborhood of Little Armenia served as makeshift galleries
showcasing the talents of painters, photographers, and graphic
artists, including Arpine Aleksanyan, Sophia Gasparian, Hoorik
Issakhanian, Yvette Khalafian, Oshin Rostomian, and Terenig Topjian.

Those participating in the walking tours came from various ethnic
communities including Filipino, Japanese, Hispanic, Korean, Indian,
and Armenian. The groups in essence were a mirror of Los Angeles’
diverse population. Participants were impressed by the artwork and got
a first-rate lesson on Little Armenia and the Armenian people.

Ginger Takahashi, a Japanese-American, had no idea how rich the
history of Armenians in America was. She enjoys walking through the
city because it offers the chance to "open your eyes and see things
you would normally miss." The artwork especially opened her eyes to
the Armenian-American experience, something that was new to her.

The tours returned back to the Pilibos campus where booths featured
Armenian art, books, and food and tours of the school’s
architecturally striking Ark Library were offered.

* Oshagan’s Los Angeles

Ara Oshagan’s visually arresting "Armenians in Los Angeles"
photography series was also on exhibit. Oshagan’s series embodied the
complexities of diasporan communities, allowing the viewer a small
glimpse into what seems like a secret world. After almost four years
of observing and studying the community and its fringes, Oshagan noted
that, "Most immigrant communities share many commonalities, making
such events even more so important. Events like this remind us that
we’re more similar than different."

Among the highlights of the afternoon was the unveiling of a public
art project called "Opening Eyes" by Gregory Beylerian in
collaboration with students from the Pilibos school. The oversized
piece, measuring seven feet by seven feet, marks their collective
reflection of the Little Armenia community that surrounds them. The
students of Pilbos who do not have a formal art background created a
multidimensional, multilayered piece that promoted messages of peace,
coexistence, and tradition. Beylerian noted that, "As they set out to
create art they realized a common ground, their mission: to celebrate
diversity and open the eyes of Armenians and all the people of the
world through the work of art that we celebrate together." The piece
is about "self expression and to not be afraid of free form."

* Finding oneself

The experience of working with the students revealed a message:
"Transforming conciseness for the better." Beylerian goes on to say
that, "Working with these students I have once again found youth in
myself." The group of students shared the mutual admiration. One of
the young artists, Nicole Antonian said that their "mission was based
on bringing peace and opening eyes." She points out that, "We are all
the same in different ways, hopefully we can hold hands, open eyes and
come together." The experience also gave the students a chance get
closer to one another. "It’s funny what a piece of art can do, it can
change your mind pretty easily. Greg taught us that even the smallest
mistake can be something really beautiful."

Other festivities included a performance by members of the Nayiri
Dance Ensemble and a concert by the incomparable John Bilezikjian
Band, where Armenians and non-Armenians danced to traditional music
well into the afternoon. The day culminated with a performance of
Sojourn at Ararat, at the nearby Fountain Theater.

Aram Kouyoumdjian from the Armenian Center for the Arts summed up
the purpose of the event best when he said, "This day is truly a
demonstration that art can be represented and celebrated anywhere.
This is what makes Los Angeles so unique — celebrating diversity by
tasting our culture through art, food, and music."

"A Taste of Pomegranate" was ultimately a one-of-a-kind opportunity
for Armenians to rediscover their community and non-Armenians to learn
about their neighbors.

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11. Justice: All power to the people!

* Hrag Yedalian’s film The People’s Advocate tells the story of one of
the most important activists and attorneys of the 1960s

by Tania Ketenjian

When filmmaker Hrag Yedalian first began his studies at the University
of California, Berkeley, he knew he was interested in politics. Even
before he arrived at university, he had immersed himself in various
movements in Los Angeles, his hometown.

"In high school, I was heavily active in the Armenian Youth
Federation. I was active in all aspects of it. I did some writing for
the organization. They have a publication called Haytoog. I was active
with that. I was active in the Central Educational Committee. I was
active with the La Crescenta Chapter. But, as I got more and more
involved with political campaigns, my focus went toward campaigns and
domestic politics."

It was this drive that led Hrag to become interested in history and
primarily that time of momentous social and political change in
America, the 1960s. In fact, Hrag’s obsession with the 60s was one of
the reasons he chose Berkeley.

"I was intrigued by that time. To me, someone that goes out of their
way to think about other people is attractive. The fact that an entire
group of people, an entire generation did that, is attractive to me,
and I would use that as a lesson for what I can be doing." Forty years
later, Berkeley still offers a faint sense of what that time was like.
Although sit-ins and protests are less common on campus, a sensibility
that students have the power to change the world for the better is
ever present.

* That magical class

One of the magical things about school is that sometimes one
professor, one class can set the course for the choices you make for
the rest of your life. In Hrag’s case, a course on the 60s did it.

"It was very narrow in focus. The intention of the entire course was
to come up with a paper on any topic. So, technically, you could write
about the 50s leading up to the 60s. You could talk about what
happened after the 60s were done. But I chose to talk about a
character who enjoyed the national spotlight in the 60s, someone who
was considered one of the best civil-rights attorneys during the

This person was Charles Garry. And rather than write a paper, Hrag
decided to make a documentary.

"The obvious choice was, you’re going to interview these people, so
why not have a camera. Soon into it, I was no longer focusing on the
paper, I was focusing on the documentary."

During the 60s, Garry had almost become a household name. The
civil-rights movement was in full force, oppressed minorities were
asserting their right to be heard and seen, and Garry was there to
offer them a stronger voice.

This was the era of the Black Panther Party. The Black Panthers
fought for the rights of Black Americans; they fought for the
development of the community and the eradication of poverty. Charles
Garry was their lawyer and he was there to defend them and their

One reason Hrag was so attracted to Garry was that Garry’s life
embodied many of the issues Hrag was immersed in: the history of the
60s and the history of Armenians. Charles Garry was Armenian. His
family escaped the Genocide and moved to Fresno. They were very poor
and along with other Armenian-Americans in Fresno in the era of
Garry’s childhood, faced ill-treatment.

This background inspired Garry to become a civil-rights attorney,
get involved in politics, and make a difference. Garry used his
interests, his skills, and his own experience to educate and speak for
others — as Hrag wishes to do.

* The making of a documentary

In Hrag’s last semester at Berkeley, he began making The People’s
Advocate: The Life and Times of Charles Garry. The film has just been
released. Hrag wanted to represent how much Charles Garry had
influenced history in the 60s; he wanted to fill in the gaps in
Garry’s personal history; and he wanted to reveal how one person can
affect great change.

"It starts off with what Garry was most famous for, defending the
person who eventually became the poster boy of the revolutionary
movement, Huey Newton, the cofounder and minister of defense of the
Black Panther Party." In the first few minutes, we learn about Garry’s
life. "He was born in Massachusetts. At the age of five, he moved to
Fresno and he was raised in Fresno from 1914 to 1929. He was a rough
kid. He grew up in rough times. He basically grew up in an era where
Armenians were considered second-class citizens."

Hrag never thought that he would become a filmmaker but the moment
he picked up the camera, he fell in love. And a documentary has to be
a labor of love. So much time and effort is spent researching a story
and living with that story day in and day out.

To truly learn about documentaries, Hrag started watching ones that
had received acclaim. Scratch was his favorite. Although it was not
about the 60s, it reflected on an another underground culture, that of
DJs. Furthermore, it was made by two Armenian brothers. The other
documentary that had an effect on Hrag was The Weather Underground.

"Scratch was what inspired me, and The Weather Underground is what
gave me direction. The Weather Underground is a great example of how
you could take a topic like the 60s and make it modern and
contemporary. Ten months into the process [of making The People’s
Advocate], I started looking for archival footage, and I stumbled
across the San Francisco State University archives. Is this too much
detail for you? Because I can talk for hours about this. It’s been my
life for four years."

Hrag spent months doing interviews and speaking with those close to
Garry, people who were involved with the movement and with the work
that Garry was doing. The People’s Advocate is structured around the
key things that defined Garry’s fascinating and successful career, all
of which are defining moments in American history: discrimination, the
House Un-American Activities Committee, and Jonestown (the largest
mass suicide ever recorded), among other things.

* Apex Theory

The film also has all-original music, most of which was improvised.
"The music supervisor, David Hagopian, is the bassist for a band
called the Apex Theory. The funny thing is, even though they scored
the entire film, about 70 percent of that isn’t actually scored, it’s
improvised music. We would go into the studio, and I would talk to
David, and I would talk to Art, the guitarist, and Sammy, the drummer,
and I would say, ‘this part of the film deals with the Panthers and
it’s supposed to be aggressive,’ or, ‘it’s supposed to have this
revolutionary flare,’ or, ‘this part deals with Vietnam but it deals
with it in a comical way and we need music for that.’ We spent four or
five days in the studio for most of what you’ll hear in the
documentary and we walked away with about three hours of music and it
was all improvised. It’s amazing. It’s all specifically done for the

Hrag has continued his passion for filmmaking. After a brief stint
at UCLA Law School, Hrag decided to continue studying film and is now
a student at the American Film Institute in Los Angeles.

The People’s Advocate premiered at the 2007 Ann Arbor Film Festival
in Ann Arbor, Mich., a place known for its dedication to political and
experimental films. The film also won the 2007 Bay Area Video
Coalition Mediamaker Award.

Hrag’s next project involves yet another attorney: "Tony Sara, a
radical attorney who just got out of prison for failing to pay his
taxes for the last 40 years." Hrag has chosen to become a documentary
filmmaker not only to tell a story but to create a bridge between
ideas, movements, and change.

* * *

Next week, Tania Ketenjian continues her two-part series on Charles
Garry with a look at the first documentary that was made about his
life: Charles Garry: Streetfighter in the Courtroom. The 1992 film was
produced and directed by Bay Area broadcast journalist Roxanne
Makasdjian, who interviewed Mr. Garry for her documentary before the
legendary attorney’s death.

****************************************** *********************************

12. Poetry matters: Gregory Djanikian’s new book carries the weight of
history while it celebrates the present

by Lory Bedikian

It’s the Fourth of July and instead of hovering over a barbecue or
rushing off to watch fireworks, I wait to hear Gregory Djanikian read
"Immigrant Picnic," from his new book So I Will Till the Ground, on
the NewsHour on PBS. A variation of an immigrant picnic is happening
in my brother’s backyard while I wait by the television set.

I first read a poem of Djanikian’s in Poetry, amazed that an
Armenian-American wrote of experiences familiar to me and did so with
such ease and lyricism. Over the years, Djanikian’s poems appeared in
other publications and I became more intrigued by the poet’s voice and
purpose. On March 3 of this year, Djanikian’s poem "My Name Brings Me
to a Notion of Splendor" appeared on Poetry Daily’s website as the
featured poem of the day. Immediately, I identified with the speaker’s

No one could pronounce it
without mutilating spindling tearing
even my best friends would shrug halfway giving up
and always the long pause on the first day of class

The "splendor" or brilliant moment comes when — after much trouble
with pronouncing this Armenian name, these "letters set against each
other sticking/ in the mouth" and after being "face to face now with
Joe Schunk and having/ to explain the D was silent" — the speaker is
urged by a girl, presumably his age, to come and sit with her on her
porch and he tells us "nothing came easier than to walk/ up the stairs
and sit down by her/ and begin telling her who I was." Although the
name has brought much confusion, in a moment of friendship the young
boy can explain who he is beyond the name, where the difficulty lies,
not in the pronunciation of vowels and consonants, but in the history
behind them.

The moment finally arrives (on TV), and I’m shushing those around me
to listen in. Djanikian — director of the creative writing program at
the University of Pennsylvania — speaks of how he came to this
country from Alexandria, Egypt, when he was eight years old. He reads
"Immigrant Picnic" and suddenly the room is quiet. The poem presents
those common traditions of the holiday: "the flags/ are painting the
town,/ the plastic forks and knives/ are laid out like a parade." The
speaker grills and there are mix-ups of language with his parents: "A
chicken with its head loose," instead of "cut off," or "He’s on a
ball," instead of a "roll." The poem creates the atmosphere of how the
immigrant experience is one of a desire to celebrate independence and
the freedoms of country, of self, while embracing the sometimes
"confusing," collisions of languages, of cultures old and new. Seeing,
hearing Djanikian read his poem on the NewsHour brings me to my own
moment of splendor, more than what fireworks or food may offer.

So I Will Till the Ground takes us on two main journeys: that of the
poet’s remembrance of the Armenian Genocide and the acceptance of
one’s displacement from a homeland as an opportunity of rebirth and

In the first section of the book, the opening poem "The
Aestheticians of Genocide" reminds us of "how we have to speak about
it with some sense/ of distance," while a poem like "Armenian
Pastoral, 1915" does not create distance at all, but rather places the
reader in front of those who suffered, such as "Araxi [who was]
razor-thin by the roadside." Djanikian begins the book with an amazing
balance between tenderness in voice and a clear depiction of violence,
or a quiet sorrow which can be found in poems such as "The Soldiers."
The section ends with "How My Grandfather Escaped," where the poet
uses one breath to enact the grandfather fleeing from atrocity.

* How My Grandfather Escaped
It’s not clear if he bribed an official,
or he knew someone, or he knew
no one, not the mayor, or the consul,
not the soldier who lifted a sword
above his head ready to strike, but he ducked,
or he played dead, or became invisible,
or his neighbor came to save him,
said I know him, let no harm come
and none came as he ran, as he rode a cart,
journeyed by foot to Aleppo
or Izmir, to Constantinople
where he took a ship, or he swam the Bosporus,
made a boat out of reeds,
made wings out of feathers and wax
he got out, he got out.

The second section begins with "Diaspora," taking us, not
necessarily away from the Genocide, but moving us closer to the
present, informed of the speaker’s history and genealogies. We further
engage in deciphering the figure of the grandfather, while
experiencing the "Suez War" or the speaker’s "First Supper in the New
Country." Poems such as "Whenever I Had American Friends Over," or
"How We Practiced Being American," again, voices the experience
familiar to many Americans of Armenian parentage as well as any exile
or immigrant. Finally, the third section meshes contrasting places
with memories of Alexandria or thoughts of "Oklahoma." It brings us
"Armenian Primer," again delving into the idea of language and the
poet’s incantation asks, "Let all the words with an ache in them/
burgeon like leaves/ and rustle from every branch."

The book can be viewed as a traditional elegy, since it recalls the
names of those lost, moves through memory and ends with a sense of
hope. The title poem "So I Will Till the Ground," which ends the
collection, brings this sense of renewal. The poem closes with:

So I will dig, perforate, hoe, scarify,
that out of these many wounds
there might come flower and fruit
to carry forth, to replenish.

And Djanikian’s new book does this exactly. It digs into memory,
history, opening up these scars of the past and in doing so, creating
a space where poems can blossom in language and bring the harvest of a
new world.

Since discovering Djanikian’s newest work — the latest, after four
other collections — I return to it again and again. I found a reading
of it on PENNsound and the more I listened to these poems, the more I
understood that one’s ancestry is a door to freedom — a liberty of
feeling and imagination. Djanikian’s voice is accessible, familiar,
musical, and honest, while at the same time echoing images and song
from the bards of our past. Holding this book in hand, reading these
poems reminds us that while we can never escape history, we can all
enjoy the freedom of the present, and we can "carry forth."

* * *

So I Will Till the Ground, by Gregory Djanikian, Carnegie Mellon
University Press, 2007.

To watch a streaming video of Djanikian reading "Immigrant Picnic"
on the NewsHour go to:

To see Djanikian featured on Poetry Daily go to:

To hear Djanikian read from his new book go to PENNsound at:

* * *

Lory Bedikian received her MFA in Poetry from the University of
Oregon. Her collection of poetry was recently selected as a finalist
in the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry Open Competition.

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