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October 13, 2007 — From the Arts & Culture section
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1. Rock: Serj Tankian goes solo with "Elect the Dead" (by Adrineh Gregorian)
* System of a Down vocalist to release album on October 23
2. Tour: From Gyumri, with love (by Betty Panossian-Ter Sargssian)
* Kohar Symphony Orchestra and Choir will tour North America
3. Illusion: Magic redefined (by Adrineh Gregorian)
* John Gabriel takes on magic one elephant at a time
4. Stars shine at Toronto’s annual Pomegranate film festival (by
* ARAM wins best feature film award
5. From Francis Ford Coppola’s right-hand woman to filmmaker (by Mary
* Anahid Nazarian’s film featured at the Pomegranate Film Festival in Toronto
6. Literature: There once was an Armenian in Africa. . . . (by Atina Hartunian)
* A chat with African Symphony author Raymond Kupelian
7. Levity: If you make it to church on Sunday, what should you wear?
* And where should you do your standing?
8. My words: The pickle meets the cucumbers (by Patrick Azadian)
9. Women in Black want peace (by Karine Armen Kurkjian)
1. Rock: Serj Tankian goes solo with "Elect the Dead"
* System of a Down vocalist to release album on October 23
by Adrineh Gregorian
LOS ANGELES — Serj Tankian — rock star, vocalist,
multi-instrumentalist, composer, lyricist, and poet — is first and
foremost an artist.
Best known for his inimitable voice as the lead singer for System Of
A Down (SOAD), Serj is also an activist whose work includes Armenian
Genocide awareness campaigns.
The 40 year old is also the co-founder of the nonprofit organization
Axis of Justice, created to bring together musicians, fans of music,
and grassroots political organizations in order to fight for social
Serj was born in Lebanon and moved to the United States when he was
eight. He’s a product of private Armenian schools in Los Angeles and a
graduate in marketing and business from California State University.
The famed rocker, who plays a number of musical instruments, says he
was always interested in music but only started taking it seriously
One night while driving home after a law school admittance
examination prep class, he realized music was his passion and that it
would be his career, he says.
In 1995 Serj was running his own software company and had already
been composing music and writing songs when he co-founded System Of A
Down with three friends. SOAD became one of the most influential bands
of the new millennium — both in their genre of music and for their
All four members, Serj (vocals), Daron Malakian (vocals/guitar),
Shavo Odadjian (bass), and John Dolmayan (drums), are grandsons of
Genocide survivors. They are widely known for their outspoken views
found in many of their songs. SOAD released five studio albums before
their recent hiatus: System of a Down, 1998; Toxicity, 2001; Steal
This Album! 2002; Mezmerize, 2005; and Hypnotize, 2005.
* Topping the charts
SOAD quickly achieved heightened commercial success with these five
albums and with singles such as "Chop Suey!" "Aerials," "B.Y.O.B.,"
and "Hypnotize." The Grammy-winning, platinum-selling (16 million
copies) band has produced works that have earned the coveted top slot
on Billboard charts, while influencing music lovers all over the
The bandmates also never lost sight of their roots and used their
voice to promulgate issues close to their heart.
From its inception, SOAD has campaigned tirelessly to raise
awareness of the Armenian Genocide and to raise money for political
organizations like Amnesty International, Center for the Prevention of
Genocide, and Axis of Justice.
SOAD took genocide awareness to new heights, using its fame as a
platform to reach out to millions of listeners. In addition to its
lyrics, since 2000, System Of A Down has staged an annual "Souls"
benefit concert that showcases history alongside its live music.
The band was featured in Screamers, a documentary by Carla
Garapedian, which traces System’s ongoing campaign for the cause.
"It’s important for people to be aware of the Armenian Genocide,"
Tankian says. "History does and will repeat itself, unless we stop
that cycle." While most of his work is recognized as hard rock, Serj
has proven his range of talents through books, collaborative music
projects, and composing film scores. His professional successes
include a published book of poetry, Cool Gardens (2002), which is a
popular poetry collection.
Serj’s collaborative projects include SerArt (2003), which he
recorded with another acclaimed multi-instrumentalist Arto
Tunç – boyaciyan.
He has also collaborated with Wyclef Jean from the Fugees, and
contributed tracks for video games.
* Elect the Dead
Since SOAD’s hiatus began in August 2006, Serj has been in his home
studio in Los Angeles, writing, recording, and producing his debut
solo album, Elect the Dead.
In this new project, set for release on October 23, Serj combines
his unique vocals, musical talent, and stalwart dedication to
Serj also demonstrates his musical talents by playing almost all the
instruments on an album which includes collaborations with Dolmayan
and soprano Ani Maldjian. Never one to shy away from calling out
political truths, Serj has filled this album with serious political
themes, urging listeners to wake to what’s going on in the world
around them. With songs like "The Unthinking Majority" and "Money,"
Serj sets out "to make a statement about the current catastrophe of
our failing democracy."
The unresolved Armenian Question has made Serj ponder other
injustices in the world. He says his music allows him to vent his
frustrations by "bringing high energy into moments where things need
to be drilled into people’s minds more. I do that unconsciously to be
honest." Serj says, "making Elect the Dead, I felt the exact same
energy as I did recording System’s debut in 1998, that sense of open
experimentation, the idea that ‘Wow, I’m actually doing this.’ I was
living and eating this music every day. I’d wake up in the morning and
the thought of working on a song was so powerful I couldn’t focus on
anything else." Serj is releasing his debut solo album through his own
record label, Serjical Strike Records, in partnership with Warner
Being the head of his own label allows him to take part in every
facet of Elect the Dead, including out-of-the-box marketing,
promotions, and merchandising.
"With Elect the Dead, the sky’s the limit," says Serj. "There are no
barriers between myself and the listeners on this album." He will be
touring cities across the U.S., Canada, U.K., Ireland, Scotland,
Holland, and France to promote the album; some venues are already sold
out. Serj says Elect the Dead is a more direct connection with
listeners. "It’s liberating," he explains, "because all the choices
are mine. With this record all success or failure rests with me. It
made me realize that I have an amazing life and I am getting to make a
lot of my dreams come true."
* Question and answers
Serj spoke with the Armenian Reporter.
AR: How is the voice in your solo work different from your voice in SOAD?
ST: It’s different in a lot of ways and there are certain
similarities. At first, I wasn’t sure if I was going to make a rock
record, and then I started arranging the songs and giving the songs
the dynamic that they required. If I sing on any record that’s rock
oriented, it’s going to have similarities to SOAD, no matter how the
music is, no matter what nuances I use, because it’s my voice
generally that’s recognized with SOAD music. [This record] is more
intimate than SOAD. Lyrically it’s more intimate, vulnerable, and
personal. I played most of the instruments myself, I wrote all the
songs. I produced it. I arranged everything myself. It’s more me than
anything that I’ve ever done before, and there’s a lot more piano,
strings, and orchestral instruments than System ever embraced. You
know, I just did it my own way, and I did it more as a composer with a
lot of layers rather than thinking of a four-piece rock band and how
to present that. After Elect the Dead, I’m planning on doing a more
orchestral, more jazzy type of record.
AR: What musical influences in your past have contributed to your style?
ST: I have a wide array of musical as well as other nonmusical
influences in my life. I’ve listened to a lot of different genres of
music. I’ve never really stuck to one. Growing up in the 70s and 80s,
I listened to anything from the Bee Gees to ABBA, from Armenian music
to Arabic music, to Greek music, to French music, to funk, to soul. In
the 80s I was listening to a lot of goth and new wave. In the 90s I
was listening to a lot of rock, hip hop, punk, and def metal. I listen
to more jazz now than anything else, so I kind of always take up new
genres as life goes on and embrace them. These influences are filtered
throughout my music; I don’t juxtapose those things against each other
in an unfashionable way. Whatever comes out is what I put on the hard
drive. We used to say tape, now we say hard drive.
* Call to action
AR: Your lyrics espouse a very powerful message reflecting today’s
heightened political climate. What kind of action would you like to
see from your audience?
ST: The most important thing as far as activism, and it sounds very
simple. My premise and my theory in life is that everything is
connected, and we’re all one.
If you believe that, then you have to take action accordingly and
that action would be to open doors and help people. It doesn’t have to
be on a grand or political scale. It could be letting someone in
traffic in this busy L.A. town or opening a door for somebody or
smiling at somebody, making someone’s day. The repercussions of those
actions are unlimited and infinite, and to me that is the best way of
making positive change in the world, starting from the person,
starting locally. And that can lead to an organized community and that
can lead to a city, which can lead to a nation and to the
international in terms of layers of positive interaction.
Another solution would be not to be consumed by consumer culture in
general and not pay so much attention to the exterior of everything
we’re doing, and really pay attention to our footprint both
ecologically and morally in terms of everything that we do in our
We all take a lot of things for granted in this so-called city of
civilization. I think those things will change enough things for the
political things to work themselves out. People focus on very narrow
issues, and they say yea or nay on small things, and they really miss
the whole perspective and the picture of what’s going on.
AR: What would you be doing if you weren’t a rock star?
ST: Well, I don’t really see myself as a rock star. I see myself as
an artist, and everything has turned from my hobby into my work. I
actually started paying more close attention to foreign policy and
reading up on stuff and trying to really make sense of what this life
So, my hobby became a realization, a life realization, and an
understanding of knowledge and love. And music became my work.
I still enjoy music as my hobby. When I actually have time from my
schedule, I like writing songs. That’s what I enjoy. I go into my
studio and write music. It’s what I love to do whether I have a
placement for it or not. I think we can all do whatever we put our
minds to, and whatever we enjoy should be the main thing we spend most
of our time with.
AR: As a child were you always musical and poetic?
ST: I always loved music, but I started playing music when I was in
college. I got into music later in life with a bigger hunger than
probably anyone who had been into music as a kid. I started late in
life, and to me it’s been a blessing. It gave me a lot of other
perspectives on things in life. I’ve worked in many occupations from
retail, wholesale, manufacturing, owned my own software company, and
got a college degree before ever getting into the music world —
before getting into the arts, as I like to call it.
AR: What made you switch gears?
ST: The realization that this was my path, and that I was not going
to be happy doing anything else on a daily basis if I didn’t do this.
AR: When did you passion for music burgeon?
ST: I started playing instruments when I was 19 in college and
progressively grew as a musician. In my 20s, when I got out of
college, I was working for a living, and I was still playing music and
increasing my artistic arsenal musically, and I came to the
realization one day that I had to do this.
* Words of wisdom
AR: It takes a lot of courage to follow your passion. What advice do
you have for Armenian musicians?
ST: It’s the advice I would give to any musician. You have to be
able to create the energy of live shows and be able to pack your own
clubs in your city to gain that momentum and that interest and that
enthusiasm from fans that want to pay to come and see you play. If you
can’t do that in your hometown, not even a record label can help you.
AR: How did the Armenian community help with the progress of SOAD?
ST: To be completely honest, in the beginning, I think, when we
first started, friends were very supportive, but the community wasn’t
The Armenian community is not geared so much toward the modern arts.
The Armenian community has generally a holocaust theory, which is
‘we’ve suffered so much, we want our kids to be professionals, doctors
and lawyers, so they’ll never see hunger.’ It is a good thing in some
ways, but it’s a bad thing, because we are very artistic people; music
and art is in our blood. And if we react to the Genocide in a way
that’s not self-realizing for our youth and our culture today, it may
not be the best thing for us.
AR: Tell me about your new album.
ST: It’s such an organic record. Everybody who’s worked on it has
done so with so much passion and so much love. Every little bit of it,
whether it’s the artwork on the record or the videos or the actual
recordings themselves, the guests on it, the touring. Everything that
I’m doing is done with a lot of people who are passionate, people that
are professional, people that are really cool, modest, down-to-earth,
AR: Any future plans for SOAD?
ST: We’re all good friends. We’ve taken an indefinite hiatus because
we’re not a corporation, and we don’t do things in a systematic way,
even though we are System. We wanted to pursue our own other artistic,
as well as personal goals, without being tied down to a corporate
schedule. So, we’re all doing what we like; we’re encouraging each
other. The door is open for future collaboration, yet no plans have
* * *
Adrineh Gregorian is a filmmaker whose work has been featured on
Current TV. She has a graduate degree in public international law from
the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and currently works in the
entertainment industry. She is also a writer and creator of Siroun
Stroytellers, a series of short story performances. At any given time
you can find her in the aisles of Trader Joe’s or playing sodoku.
2. Tour: From Gyumri, with love
* Kohar Symphony Orchestra and Choir will tour North America
by Betty Panossian-Ter Sargssian
An acclaimed yet relatively new symphony orchestra and choir from
Gyumri, Armenia, presents all-time Armenian favorites.
In the coming weeks, Kohar Symphony Orchestra and Choir will perform
for audiences in eight cities across North America. It will bring them
the magic of live music and a critical interpretation of Armenian
songs and music.
Comprising approximately 160 singers, soloists, musicians, and
dancers, Kohar, however, is more than a symphony orchestra and choir;
it is a cultural phenomenon that has transformed the life and image of
* Rising from the ashes of the earthquake
In the second half of the 1990s, three Armenian brothers from Beirut
had a significant impact on the cultural and social rebirth of Gyumri.
Harout, Shahe, and Nar Khatchadourian founded the Kohar Conservatory
of Music and the Kohar Symphony Orchestra and Choir. They continue to
fund and sustain them in memory of their father Aram, and for their
mother, Kohar. Those days Armenia’s second largest city was still
physically and spiritually shattered from the 1988 earthquake.
In 1997 the Khatchadourian family reconstructed a grand building
with impressive architecture to be a cultural and business center in
the heart of Gyumri. The center would become the core of the cultural
activities they had planned.
Prior to the earthquake the building had been a machine-tool
construction factory. Together with the surrounding lands, the complex
was approximately 6500 sq m.
The artists of the city rallied around the project to decorate the
building, the park and the courtyard with paintings and statues. Part
of the building itself was transformed into the ISUZ Hotel, and other
sections of it were occupied by the growing number of business
enterprises in the city. The front area of the building was
transformed into a small public park; a breath of fresh air in the
city then still in ruins.
By 1999 Apkarian had assembled the members of the Kohar Choir. "The
whole existence of Kohar and its activities were called to life due to
the Khatchadourian family," says Apkarian, the artistic director and
conductor of Kohar Symphony Orchestra and Choir. "Every aspect of the
orchestra and the choir, be it administration or artistic supervision,
is linked to its patrons, who are truly devoted to the growth and
progress of this cultural phenomenon they have given life to."
In 1999 Apkarian visited Kohar Conservatory in Gyumri. He was in
Armenia at the request of Harout Khatchadourian, who had asked him to
conduct concerts in Yerevan.
Abkarian recalls that when he first came to Gyumri, the construction
of the Kohar conservatory building had been completed, and the
conservatory had just started its activities. "I was very much
impressed by what had been achieved by the Khatchadourian family in
Gyumri on social and cultural levels," says Apkarian. "It was the
first and biggest mission to cherish and sustain artists in Gyumri."
* The fruit of days gone by
The bond between Apkarian and the Khatchadourian family is an indirect
one, yet dates back decades. In Cyprus, Apkarian was the founder and
host of the Armenian program on CyBC, the national radio station,
which was also broadcast in Beirut, Lebanon. "At that time the father
of the Khatchadourian brothers, Aram Khatchadourian, was a fan of my
radio program, and there was a correspondence between us. For years
during my radio hour he gathered his sons around him and they followed
my program," Abkarian said.
Harout, Shahe, and Nar were brought up on authentic Armenian songs,
music, poetry, and culture. "Kohar is the fruit of those days,"
A meeting in Cyprus in 1999 with Harout Khatchadourian was a turning
point in Apkarian’s life. "Harout Khatchadourian invited me to conduct
the National Philharmonic Orchestra of Armenia," he said.
The proposal was very unexpected and unbelievable. Within a week,
Abkarian left for Armenia. After three rehearsals the orchestra was
ready to perform. At the same time Abkarian gathered around him a
250-member choir. "The repertoire consisted of Armenian songs mostly
favored in the diaspora, however almost unfamiliar to audiences in
Armenia," Apkarian said.
Later that year Apkarian received an invitation from the Kohar
conservatory in Gyumri to form and conduct a choir. "I was very eager
to accept the invitation," Apkarian said.
In fall 1999 the Kohar Choir was established. A group of a hundred
singers, all from Gyumri, were selected for the choir. The choir
underwent phases of selection and now, almost a decade later, the
orchestra and the choir consist of singers and musicians with a sound
education in music.
Soon Kohar established itself as a thriving young choir capturing
the very spirit of Armenian songs. They now decided to start a
symphony orchestra to further blend the sounds and the tunes of
In 2001 the newly formed symphony orchestra with musicians from
Gyumri joined Kohar. Later, the choir was enriched with a dance
troupe, accompanying the performances with folk dances to popular
Armenian songs, as well as a troupe of Armenian folk music
In June 2002 Kohar tested its performance abilities with audiences
in the Armenian diaspora. The symphony orchestra and the choir had
their first-ever international tour to Cyprus and Lebanon. The result
was the revelation of Kohar as a new talent, and it captivated the
"Thousands of our Armenian and non-Armenian audience members were
thirsty for what Kohar had to perform from the anthology of Armenian
songs and music," Apkarian said.
Kohar went to Turkey to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the
In October 2005 the symphony orchestra and the choir had four
full-house concerts at the Lutfi Kurdar concert hall in Istanbul.
These concerts were also dedicated to the 1600th anniversary of the
invention of the Armenian alphabet.
"After the last concert was over the audience was demanding one more
song, Araradn harach (To Ararat we march). How could we perform it?
The mayor of Istanbul was sitting in the front row, next to the
Patriarch! The audience was ecstatic and continued to yell ‘Hey! Hey!’
We had also taken with us three flags of the kingdom of Cilicia; the
flags of Roupen I and King Hetoum, and that of the Cilician marine
forces. We could do nothing but sing Araradn harach, and a joker
brought the three flags of the Cilician Armenian kingdom to the stage.
We were later told that when the mayor had asked the Patriarch what
flags they were, the latter had replied that they were the flags of
the choir, the orchestra, and the dance troupe!" Apkarian recounted.
In May 2005 the Kohar Symphony Orchestra and Choir DVD was honored
with the Anoush Achievement Award at the seventh annual Armenian Music
Awards in California.
In 2006 Kohar performed at the Kremlin in Moscow.
* A vision turned reality
Kohar Symphony Orchestra and Choir embody the vision of its patron,
"Kohar selects its repertoire from the treasury of Armenian music,
and constantly fuses Armenian favorites with a blend of modern zest
and pulse," Apkarian said.
Indeed the songs performed by Kohar are well-known favorites in
Armenia and the diaspora. These songs have been performed for decades
in schools, homes, weddings, and national ceremonies. "The desire of
the audience is to hear these songs over and over again. They
communicate the genuine rhythms and melodies of Armenian music,"
"Our program is composed of what the Armenian individual sings, and
those songs which have endured time. These are songs that the audience
will sing with us, because they come from their heart, from its past
and present," says Grigor Guzikian, the administrator of Kohar. "And
we do our best so that these songs will be performed with the highest
Kohar Symphony Orchestra and Choir will tour the United States and
Canada from October 16 to November 22, performing in Los Angeles, San
Francisco, Detroit, Chicago, Boston, Toronto, and Montreal. They will
conclude the tour at New York’s Carnegie Hall.
Apkarian was secretive about the program selected for the tour.
Kohar will probably share its all-time Armenian favorites, with a few
surprises mixed in.
3. Illusion: Magic redefined
* John Gabriel takes on magic one elephant at a time
by Adrineh Gregorian
Imagine floating in the air and slicing a person into nine pieces.
These tricks aren’t for comic book heroes. They are for illusionists.
Most kids dream about performing these magic tricks. John Gabriel was
one of those lucky kids whose dream turned into a career.
Gabriel has been creating magic from a very young age. When he was
seven, his parents got him his first magic trick set; little did they
know their son would go on to make a two-ton elephant disappear in
front of a live audience.
Born in Los Angeles, Gabriel went to Mesrobian Armenian School and
performed magic for his fellow students. By the 9th grade, this 15
year old was building illusions in his parent’s garage and teaching
himself the tricks of the trade.
The positive reaction he received from his audiences, both at home
and at school, secured his future aspirations as a professional
magician. He was always fascinated by the arts, and the possibility of
earning money through performing was an unexpected delight.
* Never had to work
"My father told me, ‘Find a job you love and you’ll never have to work
a day in your life.’" Gabriel took his father’s advice to heart.
Gabriel’s career burgeoned through natural progression. First he
began with small private performances and then started getting booked
at larger venues.
Gabriel had a lot of success early on in his career. His first
sold-out public performance was in 1994. He performed for the Special
Olympics of Southern California in 1998. Again in 1998, he appeared on
NBC’s World’s Greatest Magic Special and various television
At the age of 23, Gabriel established his own corporation called
John Gabriel Magic, Inc., and in that same year successfully performed
200 shows within three months in Branson, Missouri. This entailed two
2-hour shows a day with no time off. But it was a thrill for Gabriel,
"An average show is close to 90 minutes, and this was a two hour show
every day. I lost a lot of weight," he said jokingly. "It was a lot of
hard work and a great learning experience. It was like a real college
In 2002, Gabriel had his own television special that aired on the
Charter Network. He has since continued performing across the States,
even making his way to the coveted Las Vegas strip.
* Working hard
His fascination with the art of illusion has made him a spectacle to
watch on network television, including opening an NBC special. Right
out of high school he filmed live at Caesars Palace, Las Vegas. His
romantic double levitation that was featured was hailed by NBC as "one
of the greatest illusion’s of the year." In fact, NBC was so impressed
by his work, they called him the "magician of our future."
Gabriel has also toured in Southern California, including the Alex
Theater in Glendale, Palm Springs, and the Downey Civic Auditorium,
among others. He has performed charity shows at YMCAs, the Ararat Home
in the San Fernando Valley, and of course, he went back to where it
all started, Mesrobian School, to help raise funds for the school.
Gabriel is living his dream by taking his show on the road. "That’s
a big thrill for me," says Gabriel. "Doing the show live and getting a
reaction from the audience."
* Trademark illusions
"Everything I do in the show is for a reason, because I like all of my
tricks," says Gabriel, whose show mainly consists of large-scale
Both a master of optical illusions and card tricks, Gabriel is known
for his original illusions as well as reinventing some classic tricks.
Double levitation is one of them. You may have seen a magician float
a girl before — but never like this. John himself flies up to embrace
the girl in midair.
Osmosis is another. Gabriel pushes boundaries and brings a movie
special effect live on stage.
Then Jaws the Rabbit chews newspaper into the shape of a card to
prove he mentally knew which card the volunteer really chose.
Gabriel selects a random audience member to be cut in half.
He squeezes his own body down to become only 8 inches. A box is
opened to reveal his 8-inch body.
He merges together a black dog and a white dog, creating a Dalmatian.
And Gabriel combines two of Harry Houdini’s most famous escapes, to
make a 2,000-pounds water escape.
Gabriel is involved in every aspect of building the illusions.
"Magic came to me naturally," he says. "My experience in it has been
really knowing what I want and how I want to do it. I took that energy
into getting what I want, that turns into mental and physical work."
"I love magic because it’s visual, you don’t have to speak any
certain language, you can come from anywhere, you can be any age, you
can be nine years old, you can be ninety, you can still sit there and
equally enjoy it."
Gabriel began using his magic to raise money for charities from the
onset. "My grandfather always taught me to use your own opportunities
in life to help others as much as you can," says Gabriel. To date he
has raised over $100,000 for various nonprofit organizations.
Gabriel is tight lipped about revealing the truth behind his illusions.
Gabriel is coming back to the Armenian community with 6 performances
at the AGBU Center in Pasadena on October 12, 13, 14, 19, 20, and 21.
********** ************************************************** ***************
4. Stars shine at Toronto’s annual Pomegranate film festival
* Aram wins best feature film award
by Simone Abrahamsohn
TORONTO — The 2007 Pomegranate Film Festival transported audiences
through sun-soaked California vineyards, gritty streets of Paris, the
Russian countryside, and many more locales at the 2nd annual event
held at the Hamazkayin Theatre, September 28-30, in Toronto.
Screening 25 films from 7 different countries, the festival —
coordinated by the Hamazkayin Film Committee — featured films by and
about Armenians, and was attended by high-profile actors, directors,
and producers from around the world. With 2,200 tickets purchased and
$46,000 raised in sponsorship and gifts-in-kind, this year’s fest
surpassed the inaugural 2006 event (which had 13 films, 1,500 tickets
purchased, and $16,000 raised).
"We were really lucky with the lineup this year," says Maral
Hasserjian, Executive Committee member of the festival. "There was a
strong anticipation for the films, and the attendance numbers exceeded
last year’s event early on in the weekend."
Ms. Hasserjian acknowledged that in planning for the 3rd annual
event, it may be necessary to accommodate the films with a longer
festival, perhaps running for four or five days.
The 3-day festival opened with the heartfelt film Illusion written,
acted, and directed by actor-director Micheal Goorjian and produced by
Anahid Nazarian (see profile on page C14). Starring the legendary Kirk
Douglas, the film examines regret and second chances for making the
right choices in life. Goorjian appeared also in Pomegranate — a
road-trip film focusing on family dynamics and featuring Talia Shire,
of The Godfather — and directed the short film The War Prayer based
on a monologue by Mark Twain.
"My ancestry is Armenian, but I was raised American," he said.
"Being Armenian seemed like a mystery growing up, and I wanted to know
more. By working on independent projects with an Armenian theme, you
get to explore the artistic side married with your heritage and it’s
Following Illusion was the spirited documentary Screamers, featuring
the dedication of System Of A Down band members in seeking recognition
of the Armenian Genocide. Lead singer, Serj Tankian (see page C3) —
who leads the band in campaigning for justice — is shown interviewing
his grandfather, a Genocide survivor, and also questioning (in his
charismatic, unassuming style) U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert in
the Capitol, politely requesting that he read a letter he’d sent him.
Tankian says he hopes for his grandfather to receive some
acknowledgment of the Genocide in his lifetime and concludes the film
by saying, "We should all be screamers."
On Saturday morning festival attendees were treated to complimentary
organic coffee and an assortment of sweets before embarking on a full
day of viewing international screenings.
Environmental awareness was predominantly featured this year, as
‘Pom goes Green’ was the theme of the 2007 fest, with the Armenian
Tree Project featured as a key part of the agenda.
"Basically, the future of Armenia is directly tied to the health of
the environment," said Paul Yeghiayan, development officer of the
project. "It comes down to poverty reduction and environmental
The organization, which has 40 full-time employees in Armenia, and
five in Boston, works to reverse deforestation by implementing
programs to restore degraded and lost forest areas.
Other green highlights for the fest included:
* A hybrid vehicle to transport guests to and from the airport
* Organic and fair-trade coffee offered
* Merchandise with an eco-theme in a reusable gift bag
* All emissions created by flying guests to the festival to be
offset by a donation to the Armenia Tree Project
A celebratory atmosphere filled the festival venue on Saturday
evening, as an elegant cocktail reception preceded the gala
presentation of The Priestess , an epic story of suspense and drama
that examines the roots of Christianity. Director Vigen Chaldranian —
one of Armenia’s best-known celebrities — participated in a Q&A after
Following the film, guests enjoyed an elegant cocktail party with a
live band, a delicious, upscale menu: mini burgers, shrimp cocktail, a
chocolate fountain, an assortment of cakes and fruits, and a signature
festival cocktail: Pomegranate martinis. As guests nibbled and
mingled, a model — dressed in an ancient costume struck various poses
on a pedestal to the amused crowd’s enjoyment.
Upon leaving, guests were treated to green gift bags filled with an
assortment of toiletries, a DVD of Journey to Armenia by French
director Robert Guediguian and organic coffee and tea.
Sunday’s lineup included The Long Journey from the NFL to Armenia, a
documentary featuring the personal journey taken by Tennessee Titan
Rien "Vartan" Long, directed by Peter Musurlian, and The Lark Farm, a
startling film directed by Paolo and Vittorio Taviani and starring
prominent Canadian-Armenian actress Arsinée Khanjian. The film, based
on a true story by Italian-Armenian author Antonia Arslan, defied
Turkish lobby groups throughout Europe and has been described as the
most anticipated film made to date about the Armenian Genocide.
The film features non-Armenian actors such as the Spanish actress
Paz Vega as a young, beautiful Armenian woman who is pursued by a
Young Turk soldier.
"Actors of different backgrounds had references to draw from, even
if their point of reference was different," said Khanjian, describing
the involvement of the non-Armenian cast members. "Making the movie
was the most unique experience of my career and a cathartic
experience," she said.
The festival concluded with a presentation of National Film Board
jury awards, announced by Goran Boyajian, a jury member and
up-and-coming Canadian-Armenian actor, who starred in Atom Egoyan’s
award-winning film Ararat. The five categories were
Audience Choice Award: Illusion
Best Feature Documentary: Stone Time Touch (a reflective documentary
starring Khanjian, directed by Garine Torossian)
Best Short Documentary: I Hate Dogs (an engaging film chronicling
the experiences of one of France’s oldest Genocide survivors, Garbis
Best Short Drama: The Last Bang (a story of the tenuous relationship
between a young man and his grandfather, two-time Gemini award winner
Bernard Behrens, who presents him with an unusual request)
And the Best Feature Film award goes to Aram, an action drama by
French director Robert Kechichian starring Simon Abkarian, exploring
family dynamics and forgiveness.
Kechichian, who wanted his first feature film to depict his Armenian
heritage, spoke out against violence and war in the Q & A following
his film’s screening.
"I hate violence very much and, regardless of its cause, it always
results in tragedy," he said. "The subject matter in the film is,
unfortunately, a result of the Armenian Genocide and this violence has
continued on even today in Cambodia and Darfur." Kechichian went on to
say that although he doesn’t harbor ill feelings today toward the
Turkish government, it is still unforgivable when the Genocide is not
Festival organizer Sevag Yeghoyan says the committee will be meeting
later this month to get the wheels in motion for next year’s 3rd
annual event. Potential highlights include films profiling heroic
figures from ancient Armenia and depicting the Karabakh conflict.
5. From Francis Ford Coppola’s right-hand woman to filmmaker
* Anahid Nazarian’s film featured at the Pomegranate Film Festival in Toronto
by Mary Nersessian Sagharian
TORONTO — Her foray into the film industry was by happenstance. More
than 25 years ago, Armenian-American Anahid Nazarian was hired by
Francis Ford Coppola to catalog his books when she realized a career
playing in rock bands and orchestras was not enough to pay the bills.
Today, it would not be a stretch to say Nazarian, who has been
working in the industry for Coppola since 1980, is the esteemed
filmmaker’s right-hand woman.
Nazarian grew up in Los Angeles. She received her bachelor’s degree
in music performance from UCLA, playing the violin, flute, alto
saxophone, and bass guitar in a variety of musical groups. While she
found employment in hard rock bands and symphony orchestras, she
needed financial security.
The turning point came when she realized she would need a day job,
"because the life of a musician is so unstable," Nazarian said.
She returned to her alma mater to earn a master’s in library
science. In her second year, she worked as an intern for Lillian
Michelson, who ran a research library for art directors and costume
Michelson worked out of a space that Coppola provided for her on his
new Zoetrope Studios lot in Hollywood.
It was in 1980, during the making of One From the Heart, that
Coppola told Michelson he needed someone to catalog his books.
Michelson suggested that Nazarian would fit the bill. She took the
post, helping him create a tape library for the editing of the film,
and the rest is filmmaking history.
Nazarian would go on location with him for the 1981 film The
Outsiders and Rumble Fish (1982) and has since worked on every one of
Nazarian says she climbed the ladder from the bottommost rung. She
started her career as a low-paid employee at American Zoetrope and
managed to hang on with the company even through unstable years of
financial difficulties. She carved a niche for herself by taking on
different roles and acquiring new skills, because "I had to do
everything," Nazarian said.
Eventually, Nazarian gained Coppola’s trust and began to assist him
on all his writing as script editor and supervisor.
Nazarian also conducted art and costume research for many other
films, including Artificial Intelligence, Big Fish, Road to Perdition,
The Italian Job, O Brother Where Art Thou, The Aviator, and Good Night
and Good Luck.
Now, Nazarian is the director of Coppola’s research library, housed
in a former barn on his winery estate, just a few hundred yards from
his home. She still edits Coppola’s screenplays and other writing; and
in her capacity in that role, she has worked with renowned novelists
such as John LeCarre, Mario Puzo, and William Kennedy.
Armed with her decades of experience and who’s who of contacts,
Nazarian decided it was time to take a reprieve from her busy schedule
to focus on her own projects. And in 2001-2, she took extended
vacation time to produce two independent films.
* "I called in all my favors"
"I had worked on other people’s films for so many years. So I thought,
‘You have all this knowledge, all this experience, even more
importantly, all these contacts. Why not try to make your own films?’"
"I called in all of my favors," she added.
The first, Pomegranate, is a film about two cousins who embark on a
road trip in California, during which they must tend to several family
obligations. They uncover, along the way, several long-held secrets.
The film, which was released in 2005, was directed by Kraig Kuzirian
and stars Michael Goorjian, Krikor Satamian, and Talia Shire.
The topic spoke to her because "Armenians are like the kings of
denial," she said. The Armenian culture is "very much about shame and
how you appear to others."
While she concedes these are generalizations, Nazarian also says she
found them to be "pretty true."
Her second project was Illusion, which was directed by Michael
Goorjian and starred Kirk Douglas.
"I felt like Pomegranate was my education and Illusion was putting
my education to use," Nazarian said.
She made some rookie mistakes on Pomegranate, she admitted.
"I would say it was hiring people without really checking into what
the personalities were. I realized you have to hire your crew like
you’re casting your film. On set, we ran into problems with crew who
Especially with a small crew of eleven, the producer’s role can be
even more daunting.
"From getting them lunch to hiring, to firing, to getting a light at
a special discount, you have to be a jack-of-all-trades," Nazarian
Even so, there were few challenges she was unable to overcome with
the right recipe — one part experience, one part ingenuity.
Securing permission to film at MGM Grand in Las Vegas came down to a
delicious home-cooked meal.
At the Canadian premiere of Pomegranate two weeks ago, Nazarian
recounted to the audience that she once cooked Armenian food for a
bigwig at MGM.
"He asked if there was anything he can do," she told the rapt
audience at the appropriately named Pomegranate Film Festival.
"I said, ‘Actually, there is.’"
Despite what she calls her "rookie mistakes," Coppola was impressed
enough by Nazarian’s work on her own projects to promote her to
executive producer for one of his latest projects, Youth without
Youth, which will be released in December. This film, which stars Tim
Roth, is about an aging professor of linguistics who survives an
earth-shattering event to find his youth miraculously restored.
* On the set with Coppola
With her promotion came a different nuance in her relationship with her boss.
It was, Nazarian said, "sometimes difficult, but it had to change
from what it had been, owing to the nature of the job. We think
differently. Certain logical aspects of my mind sometimes drive him
nuts. But I’m always honest about what I think."
Her honesty paid off, it seems, as Nazarian is also serving as
executive producer of Coppola’s next film, Tetro, which is being made
in Argentina. It’s a working relationship that has paid off on both
Coppola has taught her that "nothing is impossible."
"Every day is an adventure," she said. "He has the imagination of a child."
The master filmmaker has also taught Nazarian that "There’s always a
way to make something happen, and you should be very flexible in your
While Coppola will often rewrite scenes on the spur of the moment,
"my brain doesn’t quite think that way," Nazarian said.
Still, she has learned through his example that she must force
herself to think outside the box.
Coppola has also taught Nazarian that with the best collaborators on
board, it is the producer’s job to give them the room to create.
While it has been years since she has pursued a career in music, her
training has served her well in her function as a producer.
"When you are a musician playing in a group, string quartet, or
orchestra, the whole quality of the piece depends on the relationship
of musicians listening to each other. It’s the same thing on a film,"
"You’ve got to listen to each other and be sensitive to
performances, no matter what you are doing," she added.
As an Armenian-American, her background is also a source of
inspiration for her work.
"It’s hard not to come back to who you are," she said. "Of course I
grew up in an Armenian family, very close to my grandparents," who
came to the United States as immigrants after the Genocide.
"It was all around me my whole life. I am glad I got that
opportunity to do something with that richness that I feel I was
blessed with," she said.
Indeed, her Armenian identity is a thread that is woven through her work.
In fact in the film Youth without Youth, the main character recites
a poem in Armenian, My Death, by Bedros Tourian.
It was an addition to the script, "which I obviously suggested,"
Days before she was to arrive in Toronto for the screenings of
Illusion and Pomegranate at the city’s Armenian film festival,
Nazarian said being recognized by her fellow Armenians was akin to
being honored by relatives.
"They are always going to applaud you no matter what you do," she
When asked about the highlight of her career, one that has seen her
working with the top filmmakers and actors of her time, Nazarian took
a moment to mull it over.
"I don’t think it’s happened yet," she said after a pause. "I think
it’s still to come. There have been many highlights but I’d like to do
And in 20 years, where will she be?
"I hope I’m alive, number one. I don’t know. Enjoying life, sitting
on a terrace in Italy with a glass of wine and a cellar full of the
movies I’ve worked on in my house."
* * *
Mary Nersessian Sagharian is a Toronto-based journalist who works for
Canada’s CTV news network. Her work has appeared in The Globe and
Mail, the Toronto Star, and the Qull & Quire and Horizon Magazine.
6. Literature: There once was an Armenian in Africa. . . .
* A chat with African Symphony author Raymond Kupelian
by Atina Hartunian
It was a warm Friday afternoon when I met Raymond Kupelian at his
local haunt, Marie Calendar’s. The back bar was dim, covered in dark
wood and green vinyl. "It reminds me of an old English pub," said
Kupelian. That’s why he likes coming here.
Once we settled in, there was no need to look at the list of
questions I had prepared for the interview. We began talking with such
ease, covering a wide range of topics, from his childhood in Lebanon
to Hollywood’s portrayal of Africa in recent movies. I was spellbound
as he spoke of the series of events that led him to an extensive
He traces the beginning of his literary life back to his parents.
"Mom was a storyteller. She read Turkish-coffee cups for fun and could
write a whole book just reading one cup. While dad would easily forget
to bring home bread, but he never," Kupelian said, wagging his finger,
"never failed to purchase the Armenian daily paper, AZTAG."
Kupelian didn’t learn to read in Armenian until he was ten. While
going to school in Lebanon, he was able to read in French and Arabic
before learning one word of his native tongue. The only Armenian he
knew was from Sunday-school songs. "I longed for it," Kupleian said
soulfully. It was only after being admitted into Saint Gregory
Armenian Catholic School that he began to learn Armenian. "The
Armenian language became my first love!" he exclaimed. "Soon my twin
brother and I were fighting over who was going to read AZTAG first."
Though it was the love for the Armenian language that pulled him
into writing, what resonates most from his stories are the genuine
acts of compassion seen from his characters. These traits are embedded
in his characters because he himself is compassionate and has also
been on the receiving end of kind gestures.
There was a moment, while talking about his childhood when his voice
became wrought with emotion. A memory that touched him deeply then and
still does today. It was about Sami Garo, a barbershop owner who also
rented Armenian books from his shop in Hadjn Tagh.
Young Kupelian would spend his Easter pocket money all renting Sami
Garo’s titles. Once, after reading a 400-page romantic novel in four
days, young Kupelian went back to the shop with a heavy heart. When he
arrived at the barber shop, Sami Garo saw Kupelian in his mirror and
stopped shaving the hairy Armenian customer.
"He asked if I didn’t like the story he chose for me. I said, voch,
Baron Garo, I found it so exciting I read it before the due date! He
came closer, and gave me an affectionate slap and handed me another
book. ‘No charge,’ he said."
To Kupelian the kindness of Sami Garo, the barber, left such a deep
impression upon him that even remembering the story left him with
tears brimming from his eyes. "He was a god," Kupelian said, as he
rubbed his eyes, "Mashdotz in person."
However, Kupelian claimed the first catalyst toward his literary
career came about when he was 17. "I hurt my back. It was a
work-related accident, a serious one. I would go to work, and as soon
as I came home, I would lie down a read for hours. I had no social
life. Reading became my savior."
The second catalyst was his move to Africa.
* So, why Africa?
"Everyone always asks me that question," Kupelian laughed lightly as
he leaned back against the vinyl booth.
He discovered Africa through geography class and his stamp
collection, but what sparked the intrigue with the continent was
Tarzan. Apparently, it was the adventures of Tarzan and his movies
that motivated Kupelian’s group of friends to sell all their
possessions and move away to Africa.
As he relayed the story, his "bold" group of friends didn’t even
make it through one night on the streets and came back home, earning
the nickname Africatsi. It was only Kupelian who actually made the
trip into the bush ten years after his friends’ first attempt.
"It was a ticket out of poverty and out of the Armenian ghetto,"
Kupelian said about his decision to move to Liberia.
On the eve of his departure, close friends and family gathered at
his house for a farewell dinner. "Our great friend Kacharentz, the
writer and a fine poet, made a toast. ‘Parov yertas,’ he said. ‘Go
with peace and introduce the African landscape to Armenian literature.
I know you can!’"
The toast, in Kupelian’s eyes, was essentially his destiny handed to him.
* Diasporan writer
In fact, among diasporan authors, Kupelian is the first to not only
introduce Africa into Armenian literature, but also introduce the
genre of adventure into the culture’s literary landscape.
"It took me some time to creatively feel the African landscape under
my feet," Kupelian said, compared to other writers — great writers —
who have written about Africa, like Hemingway or Conrad, who’ve spent
only a year in the jungle and written masterpieces. "The African, in
the fullest sense of his humanity, is absent from their work. They
used them as décor and figurines."
Of his first night in Africa, Kupelian recalls that people made a
bonfire and danced to the sound of the tom-tom late into the night.
"They lived in a compound called a yard. If one of them got sick,
his neighbor would feed him and take care of him. They shared the
little they had."
Kupelian quickly realized that what the outsider sees of Africa is
only a façade created by the thickness of the jungle. To reach the
true African nature, one must go into the bush. "I wanted to reach out
and touch that truth behind the façade."
In living with local people and on the continent’s soil, Kupelian
was able to deeply feel their humanity first before he went in search
for the right Armenian words to convey it.
But his struggles didn’t begin there. "My first year in Liberia was
disastrous," he recalls. Being the first Armenian in his profession as
an expert in car repair, Kupelian complained about his Lebanese boss
who was always broke and delayed pay to his employees.
While on the subject of his early trials, Kupelian went on to relay
another story. With his pocket money gone and nothing to buy his
meager diet of bananas and peanuts with, Kupelian decided to starve. A
young native school girl, from whom he bought his food sensed that he
was hungry and gave him a bunch of bananas and some roasted peanuts.
"She succeeded in keeping me alive!" he said, "What a beautiful
soul. I felt their suffering as an extension of my own, as the one I
endured as a little refugee child."
* Universal themes
"Africans feel close to the plight of those who have endured similar
experiences," he said, speculating that is the reason why he never
felt like an outsider during the twenty years he was there. Both
cultures have lived under colonial rule for long periods of time and
have been branded with inhuman sufferings
Yet, these kernels of human-to-human connection resonate in his
first translated anthology of short stories, titled AFRICAN SYMPHONY.
When Kupelian was ready to write about his African experience, he
focused the energy of his writing into the social issues troubling the
people who lived in newly liberated Third-World countries, rather than
spending large amounts of time and words into describing and detailing
the lush surroundings.
Focusing on social issues, there is no jungle dividing the natives
from the educated class. They are all on the same level. What you have
then, and what Kupelian achieves, is exposing the humanity in each
"One of the most difficult stories I wrote was A BLACK GIRL’S WHITE LOVE."
The story, in short, is about a young Black woman’s vow to give her
father a dark-colored grandchild, even if it meant entering a loveless
marriage with a man, as long as he was the same skin color as she. She
is determined to bear this grandchild to end her father’s secret grief
over having light-colored grandchildren. But as fate would have it,
the young woman is unable to conceive a child. Her father, who has
suffered multiple strokes, is hanging onto dear life only to hear that
his youngest daughter is with child. The daughter in return, lies to
her father about a false pregnancy, so that he may finally rest in
The lie is spoken out of the young woman’s love for her father.
How many times have we lied to our own parents to keep the shadows
of disappointment away from their eyes? It’s these types of issues
that also erase any color line. These are not specifically Black
issues, nor are they Armenian issues. They are problems that riddle
all of humanity.
What is also very interesting about this collection of short stories
is the raw sexual content that is laced with a sensual sensibility.
This being an Armenian text, it came as a surprise.
"There are some puritans who didn’t like my candidness in describing
or portraying the sexually permissive African lifestyle," said
Kupelian. "I came to realize that in our timidity in not using a
bolder ‘manly’ language we are pushing young readers into other
pastures. Armenians are a passionate people. You will not find that in
The sexuality described in Kupelian’s prose, in the English
translation, is neither abrasive nor vulgar. However, it sometimes
lacks heaving emotion that passionate words sometimes create. One
wonders if it’s been lost within the cracks of the translation.
The project of translating AFRICAN SYMPHONY took 20 years and was
spearheaded by Dr. Winston Sarafian, who at the time was coordinating
everything through La Verne University.
However the project stalled after Dr. Sarafian passed away.
The final translation was done by Ishkhan Jinbashian and the title
is now available.
Currently, Kupelian is working on several projects simultaneously.
The first is the English translations of his novels DECADENCE and THE
PASSPORT. He is also working on a satirical book, a children’s book,
and an anthology of essays titled IN QUEST OF THE TRUTH.
Kupelian is seriously considering publishing and releasing these new
******** ************************************************** *****************
7. Levity: If you make it to church on Sunday, what should you wear?
* And where should you do your standing?
I have not been to church in a long time. This past Sunday I went and
I was amazed to see how people are dressed at church. So revealing!
What are the dress codes these days?
No More Class
Dear No More Class:
Oh, so you finally made it to church? Was it Easter or something? Or
did you just go for the free Hokehankist meal in the memory of your
great aunt, whom you never visited when she was alive? Well, I am glad
that you finally made it out of Soorp Angogheen on Sunday morning and
got yourself to church.
You’re right! Nobody remembers to cover their heads with scarves
when they come to church, and they wear clothes that look like they
are going to a nightclub with that Paris Hilton. The word amot went
out of style just as fast as the full-length skirt did.
Remember the Dandeegeen’s four Ds of church etiquette: don’t show
your shoulders; don’t cross your legs; don’t chew gum; and don’t dress
like a prostitute.
And while we’re at it, there are also proper "rules" that men need
to follow. When did it become okay for more than half the men at
church to stand outside and smoke cigarettes? I don’t think Saint
Gregory the Illuminator spent 15 years in a dungeon so his descendants
could huff and puff on Marlboros and discuss the World Cup. Um, it is
like the church has turned into an agoump. The only thing that is
missing is a belot table. I know, a lot of people say they don’t
understand the Badarak.
Well, maybe its time they started to learn. Instead of watching
Oprah everyday for an hour, learn krapar. Actually, I am currently
working on a book called Badarak for Dummies. It explains all the
sacred and ancient rituals in easy-to-understand language so when you
go to church you really know what’s going on instead of sitting (or
more like standing) there for hours pretending to mouth the words like
So my dear No More Class, I’ll see you at church next Sunday. Make
sure you also bring a dollar for a candle and stop hoarding them for
free like my gtsee friend Sonia does. She thinks the more candles she
lights, the more her prayers will be heard. You don’t need to put on a
pyrotechnic show for the Lord to hear your prayers and it’s so rude to
hog up the candle box. Plus, Sonia should be putting more money in
that plate because, obviously, some of Sonia’s prayers were answered.
Her husband Setrak just bought her a new Lexus and she lost 30 pounds
on Weight Watchers. Miracles do happen.
* * *
I am part Musa-Daghtzi and part Hadjinzti. That means I go to a lot of
madagh picnics where I have to eat a lot of harissa. The problem is
that I’m vegetarian. My family gets mad because they think I am
disrespecting the memory of my ancestors by not eating harissa. What
shall I do?
Dear No Meese, No Peace:
I can’t believe you asked this question. I am currently in the process
of putting a patent on a new food at Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s
called Tofurissa. It’s a tofu and barley version of harissa, and it
also comes with an easy-to-open packet of cumin and a little cross so
you can bless it yourself. Why stand in long lines at a picnic where
nenes and dedes are having a mosh-pit just to get to the harissa? Just
go to Whole Foods and buy Dandeegeen’s Organic Tofurissa.
* * *
Krapar: Classical Armenian
Madagh Sacrifice offering
8. My words: The pickle meets the cucumbers
by Patrick Azadian
I felt guilty for a few days. None of the spiritual feelings
associated with holy pilgrimages awakened in me when the plane touched
down in Yerevan. I didn’t feel like Mother Teresa during a visit to
the Vatican. My senses did not resemble Malcolm X’s awe of Muslim
brotherhood during his trip to Mecca. And I was more at ease with my
emotions than a Brooklyn-based Hassidic Jew would be on his first
visit to Jerusalem.
My uncle Ed, my sister Lilit, and my cousin Serine were awaiting me
outside the airport.
As I pushed through the crowd of young men blocking the exit
offering cab rides, I felt tranquil. The thread of belonging felt thin
To reach my uncle’s house, we cut through the mini-Vegas outskirt of
Yerevan. Gradually, a grin came over my face.
The orphan had been set free.
Years ago, the orphan had miraculously survived war and destruction.
Once he had been stripped of his few last belongings, he’d been
adopted by Slavic stepparents. In exchange for obedience and loyalty,
he was given the gift of a stable and peaceful life.
During this time, he’d experienced artistic growth, constriction,
and a life of dependence. He was good kid, yet stubborn at times. An
occasional harsh beating was not unusual during his childhood to keep
him in check. An unexpected set of events had led to his hesitant
escape from the controlling stepparents. Sadly, self-sufficiency had
not been a necessary condition for survival; he was new to that
Through my short trip via mini-Vegas, I reluctantly understood the
orphan. He was now living a life of gaudiness, promiscuity, and fiscal
irresponsibility. Maybe it was a matter of time until he found his
balance and rediscovered his biological parents’ humility.
Later, I would discover the orphan was still grounded. He was green,
perhaps like an overgrown Yerevan cucumber, with a thick skin to guard
against the environmental hazards. It still had roots in Mother Earth.
In contrast, I wasn’t sure if my roots were intact. Maybe as I was the
pickle who’d been detached from its roots and thrown in a pickle jar
My relatives all inquired about where I wanted to go the next day.
Did I want to venture into Karabakh, or take the standard voyage to
Garni and Geghard? Without discovering an inch of the historic
capital, was I ready to venture to the Western border and begin
counting all the diasporan ‘what ifs’: What if we had Van? What if we
had Erzeroum? What if we had Ani? What if. . . .
Of course, any time you have more, you can potentially do more. But,
it wasn’t until I was on independent Armenian soil that a not-so-novel
thought crossed my mind: What you do with what you have should be an
indication of what you really deserve.
I left the ‘what ifs’ unpacked in the suitcase. I chose to remain in Yerevan.
I’ve never been into bar hopping and I don’t like seeing everything
and experiencing nothing in my travels. I was to be here for 14 days,
and I wanted to absorb the local life as much as I could.
Armenia was right there in Yerevan. As much as I wanted to fool
myself into believing otherwise and visualize the Armenia in the
novels of Raffi, the living Armenia was not in the temple of Garni, or
spending a day in Shushi.
Armenia existed with all its faults and potential in the hodgepodge
of Yerevan. It was where Europe met the Middle East, where myths
tangled with modern realities. It existed in the face of
schoolchildren laughing their way to school, confidently speaking
their mother tongue. It existed in the affection of an aunt grabbing
her nephew from his mother in the marshrutga (crowded working-class
minibus) in order to cover him with infinite kisses and tight hugs. It
survived in well-groomed young girls holding hands and spending a free
afternoon eating ice cream on the outskirts of the Opera House. And it
was reflected in the mischievousness of young boys exchanging jokes on
an early fall afternoon. Armenia lived in the ‘massives’ (the old
Soviet-built apartment complexes) where despite being eyesores from
the outside, they provide tidy homes for thousands of families.
Upon their request, I took my uncle’s Italian guests to the Genocide
monument; it was a first for me as well.
After minutes of silence in front of the humble flame, I began to
walk to the open space before our guests. Not wanting to burden the
Milanistas with my internal anguish, I kept my back to them. It wasn’t
long before an intuitive Italian hand reached out to me from behind
and handed me a virgin white tissue.
I was not the pickle I thought I was. My roots were still in Mother
Earth. And perhaps my skin was thinner than my brethren grown locally.
For the first time in my life, I belonged.
9. Women in Black want peace
by Karine Armen Kurkjian
"I am the only Armenian woman here," I was thinking during a five-day
conference in Valencia, Spain. More than 400 women participated in the
peace conference organized by Women in Black in August 2007.
Women in Black is a grassroots peace group that was started by
Israeli women in Jerusalem in 1988. It was a reaction to the
violations of human rights by Israeli soldiers in the Occupied
Territories. The women decided to hold a vigil every Friday in central
Jerusalem, wearing black clothing in mourning for all the victims of
whatever side and holding signs with the slogan "Down with the
Later, many Jewish women who were critical of the policies of the
government of Israel formed their local Women in Black groups. Such
groups took up a variety of local social and political issues, and the
idea spread fast. It has now become an international movement. Women
in Black has many active members in Belgrade. In the 1990s they were
confronted by violence from nationalists and persecuted by police.
They were called "witches" among other negative names. The worldwide
Women in Black keep in regular contact via e-mail and the Internet and
hold international conferences every two years. The movement has been
growing in the United States since the invasion of Iraq, which is an
important issue for many members of the movement. Some chapters of the
movement also encourage men to participate; though the movement still
consists mostly of women. Standing together in complete silence is a
main activity of the group.
On the first night of the conference, all the participants got
together in the Valencia Polytechnic University auditorium for a
cultural program. The women stood up as they heard their country’s
names. When they said "Armenia" I waved and everyone cheered.
It was an exciting moment for me that I was representing Armenia by
my participation. There was one young woman from Turkey.
Later she played santour, an Iranian instrument. I approached her
and told her that I was Armenian from Iran. I asked her about Hrant
Dink. We exchanged just few sentences but we felt connected through
Hrant’s peaceful spirit.
During the following few days I met very interesting women. The
Italian women were informed about the Armenian Genocide by the book
and the movie "The Lark Farm" by the Taviani brothers. One of them
talked to me in Italian and told me she went to Armenia in 2005. When
I gave her one of my postcards with Ararat on it, she said "Khor
Virap" and used words in Armenian "Matenadaran" and "Tirdad."
A Spanish woman wanted to take a picture with me because I was the
only Armenian she had ever met. She knew many facts about Armenia.
On Sunday afternoon all the women wore black and went to the beach
for a silent vigil. They held the quilts and banners they had made.
Later the Turkish woman played her santour and I danced an Armenian
dance. Then the other women joined me in a circle dance. It was so
touching to see Palestinian and Jew, Croatian and Serbian, Turkish and
Armenian all united and connected by our desire for world peace.
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