A minstrel's journey - Armenian Reporter

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A minstrel's journey - Armenian Reporter

Minstrel’s journey Remembering homeless hagop

March 15, 2008

the armenian

reporter

arts&

culture

Modern-day storytellers


Students from

the Holy Martyrs

Armenian Day

School in Bayside,

New York, who

were assigned by

their teacher to

pick a cover story

from the Armenian

Reporter’s Arts &

Culture section

and report about

the personality for

their Armenian

Hall of Fame

project.

prologue

....and Boghos Kupelian takes

a swig of the Armenian brandy

and congratulates the three dozen

young Armenians gathered on the

second-floor office of the former

Atwater Village, California, warehouse

that has served as the temporary

office of the West Coast

Bureau of the Armenian Reporter.

The occasion is a visit from our

editor Vincent Lima from Yerevan.

I have invited the sixty-plus

active contributors to the Reporter

to come, meet up, chat, and enjoy

lahmejune and boregs and

tahn from Sassoun Bakery . . . and

brandy. The latter was the idea of

Boghos’s son Roger Kupelian.

As I walk from one friendly face

to another, it dawns on me that

not only have we just finished producing

the first year of an exceptionally

interesting, avant-garde

Armenian newspaper, but we have

actually engaged young Armenians

to participate in something

uniquely Armenian.

Thanks to the leadership of the

newspaper’s owner and the support

of our growing circle of subscribers

and advertisers, we have

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reached out to Armenians who

may have never been part of the

community and may have had no

reason to get involved with the

community.

What we have done is perhaps

engage more Armenians, giving a

pivotal role to some of our most

talented artists, writers, journalists,

photographers, and supporters.

They came one-by-one at the beginning,

being drawn to a newspaper,

and then they have come in

twos then tens.

These young Armenians have

become an active part of this

weekly dialogue about all things

Armenian.

We have made them our storytellers,

the creators of culture,

introducing them to other likeminded

Armenians, and created a

bridge to our new and collective

Armenian identity – one we were

suddenly even more proud of.

The second realization at our

party, in an unremarkable warehouse

in an unremarkable part of

Los Angeles, is that most of these

young people are writers, communicators,

some with double

degrees from absurdly tough writing

programs to get into. They are

mainstream journalists, but none

of them have ever had a chance to

do what they are doing in this new

Armenian media before.

As we enter the second year of

the new Armenian Reporter, it’s

amazing to think that in addition

to keeping our readers informed

and up to date with news

from Armenia and news relevant

to Armenia, Armenians, and our

diaspora communities, we have

recreated old ties and forged new

ties with the sons and daughters

of the Armenian people – not

only the contributors to these

pages, but those talented souls

we write about week in and week

out. Their involvement has produced

a virtual, living museum,

a place to see the art and meet

the artist.

We look forward to a second

year of successes and your involvement.

f

—Paul Chaderjian

paul@reporter.am

On page C1: Alidz Agbabian, pictured with her daughter Areni,

breathed life back into timeless Armenian stories and shares them

with children. Rooted in Armenian oral traditions, she also tells

stories from the Middle East. See page C10.

C2 Armenian Reporter Arts & Culture 3/15/2008


A minstrel’s journey

Claire Manoogian.

Gregory Page’s latest

album offers a lush

aural landscape

by Claire Manoogian

minstrel

Gregory Page’s latest album, All

Make Believe, is replete with melancholy

meandering. It also exudes

the San Diego–based minstrel’s

signature dark humor and offbeat

charm. Still, categorizing Page’s

music is something of a challenge.

An artist of great range, he can

transport you to the Paris of the

1920s or a cathedral of seething

rock and roll. At turns his 18 albums

register pure American folk,

show off his Celtic roots, dabble

in classical music, and reach back

over to country.

Born in London, Page grew up in

a musical family. As a teenager he

attended Trinity College of Music,

where he studied classical guitar

and music composition. When he

was 16, he moved with his mother

to San Diego, where he began writing

and recording his own brand

of modern troubadour music.

Page recalls his meeting with musician

Steve Poltz, who would go on

to encourage and mentor him. “We

became fast friends and he gave me

this great enthusiasm to write my

own songs,” he says. “I had always

thought that writing was this mysterious

thing that famous people did.”

But it wasn’t until Page’s breakup

with his long-time girlfriend that

his songwriting led to actual recording.

The result was his debut album,

The Romantic Adventures of Harry,

a collection of heartbreaking love

songs laced with sarcastic lyrics and

lulling melodies.

Some years ago, Page was informed

by his mother that the man

who he thought was his father was

in fact his stepfather. Though his

Gregory Page.

mother knew nothing of Gregory’s

real father’s whereabouts, she gave

him his name: Krikor Hovelian. After

an extensive search, Page discovered

that his father was living in

Paris, and a reunion was arranged.

“All I had was this name,” Page recalls.

“I would call these embassies

and talk to these people who were

complete strangers yet so incredibly

helpful and caring.” Page wrote

and recorded the album Love Made

Me Drunk about that experience.

He adds: “Once I saw how small Armenia

was I felt like I belonged to

this exclusive club.”

Page’s influence extends beyond

his music. Over the years he has

collaborated as a bass player and

producer with a wide range of musicians

including Jason Mraz, John

Doe, Jewel, and The Rugburns, of

which he was a founding member.

Page has also started his own label,

Bed Pan Records, toured throughout

the world, and opened shows

for the likes of Bob Dylan, Judy

Collins, and Chris Isaak, among

others. All of Page’s albums, including

the Parisian-inspired Love

Made Me Drunk, were recorded in

his tiny bedroom in San Diego.

“The thing about Gregory’s shows

is that they’re really intimate,” says

Tracy White, a fan, about Page’s

live performances. “The room can

be packed full, but you always

feel like you’re the only one there.”

Page’s latest effort, All Make Believe,

was released on Sounden Recordings,

an independent label distributed

by Warner Brothers. Page tells

me he’s looking at about a year of

promotional work and concerts,

including an extensive Australian

tour with Jason Mraz. Page’s fans,

across Los Angeles, San Diego,

San Francisco, and elsewhere, are

known to feel a certain ownership

of his work. “We want the world to

have him, but we’ll always know we

had him first,” says Thalia Thomas.

After Page walks me to my car following

our chat and I drive away, I

put his new album in the CD player

and think about the time we discovered

we both had fathers who were

Armenian. I also remember bringing

him a copy of a William Saroyan

book in which we read these words.

“For whenever two of them meet

anywhere in the world see if they

will not create a new Armenia.” f

connect:

www.gregorypage.com

Armenian Reporter Arts & Culture 3/15/2008

C3


Armen Nalbandian

breaks the boundaries of

Marina Terteryan

performing and composing

jazz

by Marina Terteryan

Armen Nalbandian.

It is safe to say that jazz pianist

and composer Armen Nalbandian

is a cool cat. At the age of

16, he was asked to direct his high

school’s jazz ensemble playing

one of his original songs. Nearly

a decade and half later, he leads

14 different ensembles and has

nearly 600 compositions to his

name. This Fresno-based musician,

who values improvising and

experimenting, is also the musical

director and resident artist for

the Fresno Art Museum and hosts

its acclaimed “Rhythms in Art”

monthly series.

Though he grew up surrounded

by genres of music as diverse as

opera, Armenian folk, and Motown,

he was first captivated by

jazz when in his early teens he

bought a Wynton Marsalis record

for his father.

“I’d heard jazz before but there

was something in the freedom

of [drummer] Elvin Jones’ playing…

it communicated to me in

a certain way and I wanted to do

that for other people,” Nalbandian

says. “I wanted to be a part of that

type of creation.”

From the beginning, his music

was first and foremost about

learning enthusiastically. Nalbandian

was always eager to learn

from other musicians he admired.

He made a habit of attending his

heroes’ concerts and approaching

them after the show to ask for advice

or talk about music.

“I had a long list of people I wanted

to learn from, whether they

wanted me to or not,” he says. “The

thing with jazz is, since it started

100 years ago, that was how the

music would carry on – the masters

learning from the masters.” It

was in this way that he connected

with some of the jazz world’s most

respected players, such as trumpet

virtuoso Wynton Marsalis, drummer

Billy Higgins, and pianists

Horace Silver and John Hicks. The

latter subsequently mentored Nalbandian.

“There is an undeniable strength

in their artistic vision… the connection

with the tradition that

had come before them without

necessarily repeating it or copying

it,” Nalbandian says.

This admiration for skill, combined

with formal training (he

earned a Bachelor of Arts in jazz

studies from California State University,

Long Beach), has made

him a regular fixture on the list of

highly respected artists.

Nalbandian was invited to serve

as the musical director and residence

artist for the Fresno Art

Museum in 2004. His job is to use

his inspiration from the museum’s

monthly special exhibits to

create musical interpretations of

the artworks, for the “Rhythms in

Art” concert series.

“While there were a lot of composers

in the past who had written

for art specifically, there was

never an ongoing program like

this,” he explains. “Once I learned

that it had never been done before,

it was scary and an amazing

feeling of freedom that I can create

whatever I want to create.”

In the course of a month preceding

a given art exhibit, Nalbandian

researches the artist and his/her

works, composes the pieces, and

rehearses with a group of musicians.

The resulting concert is performed

in the opening weeks of

the exhibit. The initial “Rhythms

in Art” events yielded modest audiences,

but by the end of the first

year the museum’s 150-seat auditorium

began selling out at each

show. The success of the program

encouraged Nalbandian to continue

his residency, now entering its

fourth year.

The series is “not just way for us

to have someone come on board

for the museum, but also a way

for us to help talented individuals

in the community unleash those

C4 Armenian Reporter Arts & Culture 3/15/2008


skills and develop themselves professionally,”

says Carlos Martinez,

executive director of the museum.

Music for Arshile Gorky

Nalbandian says one of his

most significant accomplishments

was a “Rhythms in

Art” concert written for

the spring 2006 exhibit of

works by prolific Armenian

painter Arshile

Gorky. A

year prior to

the event,

Nalbandian

began

developing

an

interest

in Armenian

music

and

e x p e r i -

m e n t -

ing with

its vari- ous styles. The Gorky

exhibit allowed him to further

connect with his heritage, adding

a greater meaning to the music

he created for the show. Though

Nalbandian grew up speaking Armenian

and aware of his culture,

it was the Gorky event, he says,

that helped him truly experience

his heritage.

But the project also came with

emotional consequences, as Nalbandian

learned of the history behind

Gorky’s works.

“I had to emotionally confront

something that I’d only mentally

confronted before,” he recalls. “His

most famous painting, the one of

his mom with the blurry hands – I

had to confront what that painting

means; I had to understand

why it affected me the way it did.

The first reaction to something

like that is to write the saddest

thing you can conceive but the

music came across sounding very

hopeful. It wasn’t so much about

what had happened to our people

in the last 100 years, but the possibilities

of the next 100 years.”

News of the concert reached

international audiences,

though it was performed

only once.

N a l -

Armenian Reporter Arts & Culture 3/15/2008

bandian tells the story of an acquaintance

who, during a trip in

France, was asked by an Armenian

woman whether he had heard of

“that young pianist in Fresno” who

had composed for the Gorky exhibit.

“Armen has developed an audience

over the years that looks forward

to coming to the concerts,”

Martinez says. “People have responded

to his experimental style.

He takes a lot of risks in his music.

He’s definitely a leader and goes

out and does things very differently.

That’s exciting.”

Though composing is one of his

biggest strengths, another of Nalbandian’s

unique approaches to

music is his emphasis on improvisation,

a process he considers

“fun and liberating.” He is a fan of

using his environment as inspiration

for creating music, and often

improvises on recordings and in

live shows.

“When I record, I go into the

studio for four hours and just tell

people to be ready to record,” he

explains. The result: “This is what

Armen and his trio sounded like

at this day and this time. There’s

something that’s very natural

about being able to sit down

on the piano and just create

music. It’s composing without

having the opportunity

to go back and change it.”

He leads the Armen Nalbandian

Trio, featuring

drummer Brian Mamada

and double bassist

Kevin Hill.

They have released

three

albums together

since

2006, the last

of which was

recorded in

one session

and in one

take.

“ A r m e n

is highly

respected

among his

peers and listeners,” says Christopher

Bravo, Nalbandian’s manager.

“As a band leader, he embraces

the individuality of his musicians

and uses their sound as a catalyst

for the creation of his musical visions.”

True to his experimental style,

Nalbandian is constantly on the

lookout for fresh approaches.

Though he’s largely identified as

a jazz performer, he knows no

boundaries of genre, with plans to

write for a choir and string quartet

in the near future. Of course

this is in addition to the monthly

“Rhythms in Art” events, new solo

and trio albums in the works, as

well as a 30th-birthday concert, in

which he’ll perform with each of

his ensembles.

“Armen’s creative energy runs

a hundred miles per hour and

shows no sign of slowing,” Bravo

says. “He has infinite musical

ideas waiting to hatch.”

Ellington would have been

proud.

f

connect:

armennalbandian.com

Armen Nalbandian

and Han Bennink.

C5


Melineh Saroyan

Armenian Society of Los Angeles (ASLA) Choir. Theirs is a story of perseverance and steadfastness in the face of many challenges.

Photos: Hilma Shahinian.

An evening of folk bliss with

the Armenian Society of Los

Angeles Choir

by Melineh Saroyan

chorus

On March 2, when the curtains

went up at Glendale’s Alex Theatre,

the nearly sold-out hall was

greeted by the Armenian Society

of Los Angeles (ASLA) Choir, more

commonly known as the Iranahay

Miutyan Yerkchakhump.

Nestled between the equally divided

halves of the choir was the

Tavigh Armenian Folk Orchestra,

with Maestro Mikael Avetisyan

(now in his fourth year as artistic

director and conductor of the

choir) standing at the helm.

The program consisted of “Treasures

of Armenian Folk Music,” a

compilation of familiar folk songs

arranged by 20th-century Armenian

folk-music masters Ruben Altunian

and Khachatur Avetisyan.

To sweeten the deal, the program

was generously sprinkled with the

dance accompaniments of the Tavigh

Dance Ensemble as well as

Music director Mikael Avetisyan and guest soloists Margarit Shahinyan and Arthur

Tsaturyan backstage after the concert.

three guest soloists: Margarit Shahinyan,

Hovhannes Shahbazyan,

and Arthur Tsaturyan.

The choir, clad in colorful traditional

costumes, performed for

nearly two hours. The wonderful

performances were the culmination

of an arduous trek, a story of

perseverance and steadfastness in

the face of many challenges. Aida

Chamras, chair of the ASLA Board

of Directors, says, “It took more

than a year and $40,000 to bring

this production to stage.” On his

C6 Armenian Reporter Arts & Culture 3/15/2008


part, Maestro Avetisyan describes

a challenging regimen of once-aweek

choir practice for nearly nine

months, enhanced by private voice

training with Assistant Choirmaster

Marine Abrahamyan-Abdasho.

“The last month before the concert,

we had choir practice three times a

week,” Avetisyan says. “I also prepared

the orchestra and soloists

independently, and then brought

them together for four or five rehearsals

before going live.”

A long and colorful past

The ASLA Choir, which was originally

formed by a group of Iranian-

Armenian immigrants living in

Los Angeles, has a rich history.

From 1956 until the late 1970s, it

was led by Hovannes Topalian and

Varoujan Haghbandarian, but it

wasn’t until 1979 that the group

became much more seriously engaged

in musical endeavors, when

Maestro Alfred Mardoyan took

the lead as the conductor of the

choir. When he came on-board, he

brought with him years of experience

as the general director and

conductor of the Iranian National

Choir. “I led the Tehran Symphony

at the Shah’s coronation in front

of an audience of numerous international

dignitaries and politicians,”

Mardoyan recalls. He went

on to lead the ASLA Choir for 18

years, giving two to three concerts

a year.

By 1997, when Mardoyan retired

from his position, his name had

become practically synonymous

with the ASLA Choir. There was

much skepticism about the future

of the choir without him, but

the ASLA was lucky to find highly

qualified successors. In 1998 the

torch was passed to accomplished

young musician Alenush Yeghnazar.

Then, in 2002, Mikael Avetisyan

was appointed conductor. An

acclaimed musician in his own

right, Mikael is the son of renowned

composer Kachatur Avetisyan,

some of whose works were

presented at the March 2 concert.

Maestro Mikael Avetisyan was the

principal conductor of the Yerevan

State Symphony Orchestra before

he moved to the United States.

Gathering of a few

choir members in

the green room

before their big

performance.

Photos: Hilma

Shahinian.

Guest soloist

Margarit

Shahinyan.

Armenian Reporter Arts & Culture 3/15/2008

C7


Above left: All

smiles after the

concert. From left,

Razmik Nazarian,

Andranik

Gregorian, Dr.

Ara Martirossian,

Armen Karapedian,

and Edik

Zaribkhanian.

Above right:

Glendale’s Alex

Theatre. Right:

Choir members

Janette Shahinian

and Aida

Martirossian in

the green room

before the concert.

Photos: Hilma

Shahinian.

Avetisyan’s tenure at the ASLA

also marked a significant change

in the overall profile of the organization.

Whereas once the ASLA

was known as an exclusively

Iranian-Armenian organization,

today’s 75-plus-member choir is

comprised of Armenians from

various countries, and they take

lead from a musician who has no

Iranian background.

Come what may

The choir, and the ASLA as a whole,

are ushering in a new era of growth.

To this day, however, Mardoyan’s

iconic mark on the choir is still

palpable. At a post-concert reception

on March 6, the choir, the

orchestra, and the dance group

congregated for a night of celebration.

And there, in the middle of

the hall, sat Maestro Mardoyan

and his wife, who were greeted

by all the choir members who had

also served under his leadership.

Ramona Sahakian, the veteran soprano

who has been with the choir

for 30 years, says “I love singing,

and I love working with Maestro

Avetisyan. To me there is no difference

between their levels of

ability, but I feel a special kinship

with Mr. Mardoyan.”

Yet there is also new energy

and new blood in the group.

There are, for example, Edna and

Elena Karamian, twin sisters

who immigrated from Tehran

to Los Angeles only two months

ago. As Edna puts it, they “accidentally”

found their way to the

choir, through random connections,

caught up with all the music,

and managed to participate

in Sunday’s concert with only a

month of preparation.

As the ASLA looks forward to

having a new center in Glendale

(slated for completion in about

two years), the future of the organization

seems bright but also

fraught with many uncertainties.

Yet that is not the sentiment that

came across at the end of the reception.

As most of the younger

crowd left to go home to prepare

for a work day the next morning,

the diehard members of the choir

gathered around a table in one

corner of the room, sang Persian

and Armenian pop songs, and

suddenly an intimate after-party

was under way. A few let their

hair down and performed solo

while the rest kept a beat going by

pounding on the table. Chamras,

with a look of pure joy in her face,

reached over to this writer and

said, “You see how fun we are Put

all the other big things aside. This

is the real fun of working for our

miutyun.”

f

C8 Armenian Reporter Arts & Culture 3/15/2008


After the magic decade

Aram Kouyoumdjian

saroyan

Third in a monthly

series

by Aram Kouyoumdjian

In the words of C.W.E. Bigsby, the

1930s proved to be a “magic decade”

for William Saroyan. He

found literary success amidst the

Depression and in 1939, on the

eve of World War II, had two plays

– My Heart’s in the Highlands and

The Time of Your Life – on Broadway.

The magic of that decade followed

Saroyan into the next, and

the playwright became a Broadway

mainstay during the early years of

the 1940s – but not beyond.

No sooner had The Time of Your

Life ended its 185-performance run

in April 1940 than Saroyan was

back on Broadway with the premiere

of Love’s Old Sweet Song.

This fragmented play, improbably

combining a love story with

the surreal presence of “a vast

family of Okies,” received mixed

critical reaction; a scathing notice

in Time magazine dismissed the

play as a “travesty.” The production

closed after 44 performances.

According to Jon Whitmore,

Saroyan blamed the failure on

his co-director and vowed to go

it alone in the future. He began

to publicly harangue theatre producers,

critics, other playwrights,

actors, designers, theatre unions,

and even the New York audiences

themselves about their lack

of understanding of his special

theatrical vision.

Love’s Old Sweet Song was actually

one of four Saroyan plays to

premiere in 1940. (The remaining

three were not successful and

Aram Kouyoumdjian is the winner of Elly

Awards for both playwriting (The Farewells)

and directing (Three Hotels). His

latest work is Velvet Revolution.

are little remembered, although

Sweeney in the Trees – per Whitmore,

“one of Saroyan’s most bizarre

plays” – may be considered a

predecessor to the Theatre of the

Absurd that came into prominence

in the 1950s.) Joining them was a

return engagement of The Time of

Your Life in the fall, after the play

won the Pulitzer Prize and the New

York Drama Critics’ Circle Award

– the first ever to be so doubly honored.

Saroyan turned down the

Pulitzer for passing commercial

judgment on his art.

In 1941, yet another new Saroyan

play reached Broadway, as The

Beautiful People bowed at the Lyceum

Theatre, settling in for a 120-

performance run. Saroyan himself

directed the rather fantastical

play that features such eccentric

characters as Owen, a young poet

who has written a one-word book,

and his sister Agnes, the protector

of the mice scampering around

the family home.

That same year, Across the Board

on Tomorrow Morning premiered at

the Pasadena Playhouse while Hello

Out There was staged at the Lobero

Theatre in Santa Barbara. Both

works made their way to Broadway

the following year, playing at the

Saroyan Theatre – so christened

by Saroyan himself after he rented

the Belasco from the Shubert

family. Although Hello Out There

(paired with G. K. Chesterton’s

Magic) lasted for 47 performances,

Across the Board on Tomorrow

Morning, playing with Saroyan’s

own Talking to You, suffered critical

rebuke and shuttered after only

eight. “The anti-war themes did

not play well during this time of

intense patriotism,” Whitmore explains,

adding that “[t]he Shuberts

ejected Saroyan from the theatre

when he could not pay his bills.

Once more an embittered Saroyan

turned his back on Broadway.”

Saroyan’s theatrical fortunes

were certainly changing by 1942,

when he was drafted into the army.

Although he was briefly represented

on Broadway in late 1943 – with

Get Away Old Man, a flop – that

year was marked by his marriage

to Carol Marcus and his work on

The Human Comedy – both in novel

form and as a screenplay that

nabbed him an Academy Award.

The army stint took Saroyan to

Europe, where he was briefly stationed

in London and ultimately

discharged in 1945. He wrote very

few plays in the second half of the

decade – a time when Saroyan’s

drinking and gambling caught up

with him and his marriage ended

in divorce.

“Following the war, Saroyan

went into a critical tailspin,” Gerald

W. Haslam has written. Several

reasons accounted for the

downturn, ranging from Saroyan’s

army experience, the troubles

in his personal life, and his

worsening adversarial relationship

with the theater community.

Another contributing factor,

however, was the changing mood

of a post-war nation. As told by

William J. Fisher,

The story of William Saroyan’s

amazing success and rapid decline

is, in microcosm, a history of

American optimism. Saroyan rose

in mid-Depression as a bard of the

beautiful life, a restorer of faith in

man’s boundless capacities; he has

declined as a troubled, pseudo-philosopher,

forced to acknowledge

man’s limitations, yet uncomfortable

in the climate of Evil.

Indeed, “[t]he death camps of

Europe left a legacy with which

[Saroyan’s] work was ill-designed

to cope,” Bigsby echoes. It is no

surprise, then, that he “never recaptured

the personal success

which [the 1930s] had brought

him.”

f

Armenian Reporter Arts & Culture 3/15/2008

C9


Alidz Agbabian breathes new

Lory Tatoulian.

life into the oral traditions of

Armenia and the Middle East

by Lory Tatoulian

storyteller

For the past 15 years, Alidz

Agbabian has been sharing Armenian

and Middle Eastern folk

tales, myths, songs, and legends

with communities around the

world. With her energetic gestures

and animated facial expressions,

Agbabian, who is also a

children’s book author, has performed

her dynamic storytelling

in many classrooms, libraries, and

museums.

Because of her connection to

the lands and peoples of the Middle

East, much of her repertoire

is gleaned from the cultural traditions

of the Levant and Armenia.

Her colorful stories have the

power to transport listeners to

the past and the dramatic literary

landscapes of the East.

Agbabian’s affinity for telling

stories blossomed more than 15

years ago, when she would tell

stories to her children. At that

time she noticed that there was

a dearth of books that catered to

Western Armenian-speaking children.

In order to communicate stories

written in Eastern Armenian,

Agbabian would first read and then

orally translate them into Western

Armenian for her children.

The stories she read further

piqued her interest, compelling

her to thoroughly research the

legacy of Armenian children’s literature.

What she came to find

was a treasure trove of literary

works that had been laying dormant

on library bookshelves. She

Alidz Agbabian is a colorful and dynamic storyteller. Photos: Aaron Paley.

also realized that the new generation

of Armenian children was

virtually unfamiliar with ancient

Armenian myths.

In the beginning

It was the 1970s, when a new storytelling

movement was burgeoning

in libraries and classrooms

across California. Agbabian made

it her personal mission to breathe

life back into timeless Armenian

stories and share them with as

many children as she could reach.

As she took her own children to

storytelling events, she familiarized

herself with the unique storytelling

style of acclaimed children’s

author Kathleen Zundell.

“I became aware of the Armenian

oral tradition… the vast treasures

that were given to me,” Agbabian recalls.

“I could bring these traditions

back to life by telling them again.”

She began an after-school program

at the Merdinian School,

where students had their first

glimpse of the wondrous world

of Armenian stories. Soon, as her

popularity grew, Agbabian was invited

to all the Armenian schools

in Southern California. During

her visits, she noticed how children

developed a closer connection

to the Armenian language

through storytelling. She realized

that once a relationship between

mind, body, and imagination was

established, it was easier to teach

children reading, writing, and

grammar skills.

Agbabian notes that storytelling

is unlike theater or film, in that the

audience members need to listen

and employ their own imagination,

making their minds the venue

where the drama unfolds. The conjuring

of images gives children the

power to flex their own imaginative

powers, Agbabian says.

“When I visit the children during

Armenian class, they close their

C10 Armenian Reporter Arts & Culture 3/15/2008


ooks and experience the living

language in a playful and interactive

environment,” she explains.

“Through storytelling, songs,

games, and riddles, children experience

the pure joy of language.”

Still, Agbabian did not wish

to limit herself to the Armenian

milieu. She knew that the stories

she told had universal appeal and

just about any child would benefit

by hearing the ancient Armenian

tales. Like an ambassador of Armenia

literature, she began taking

her Armenian stories to publicschool

classrooms.

“They absolutely loved the stories,”

she remembers. “It is a great

way to introduce our culture.”

Her work in schools eventually

led her from the carpeted storytelling

nooks of classrooms to the

marble floors of the Getty Museum.

In 1996, she was invited to

perform a program of storytelling

at the museum, during the “Book

Arts of Isfahan” exhibition. She

presented a montage of stories

representing the various cultures

that have thrived in Isfahan, Iran.

Ever since the success of her initial

appearance at the Getty, Agbabian

has been involved with numerous

other productions at the museum.

The power of the

universal

“Even though my focus is rooted in

the Armenian oral tradition, I love

telling stories from Greece, Iraq,

Iran, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan,

and Israel,” she says. “I think

telling stories from the Middle

East is an antidote to all the wars

that are going on.”

By including Arabic and Jewish

stories in her repertoire, Agbabian

helps provide a common ground

that transcends prejudice and hatred.

She uses stories as mirrors

that reflect the distinct parallels

and commonalities the two cultures

share.

In December 2007 Agbabian was

invited by the Stockholm Public Library

to represent Armenia in the

International Children’s Book Week.

For the last five years, the International

Library – a department of the

Stockholm Public Library, which

houses 129 languages and boasts

over 220,000 titles – has organized

the event to promote reading and

writing among children of different

cultures and languages.

Every year, the library invites a

different group of representative

writers from various countries to

meet not only children but also

teachers, librarians, and Swedish

colleagues. In addition to Armenia,

the 2007 Book Week hosted

authors from Korea, Japan, India,

Poland, and Somalia.

“They have a lot of respect for

the Armenian people and they are

aware of our culture and history

and appreciate Armenian art and

literature,” Agbabian says of the

Stockholm Public Library. “They

really understand the Armenian

temperament.”

Into the modern

As a way to contribute to the

oeuvre of Armenian children’s

literature, Agbabian established

Dzil-u-Dzar Publications, which

in the past 12 years has released a

number of high-quality, bilingual

storybooks for readers of all ages.

Commenting on the mission

of Dzil-u-Dzar Publications,

Agbabian says she strives to publish

works that go beyond longheld

cultural paradigms and resonate

with today’s young readers.

“We [Armenians] have a didactic

mentality, which we tend to impose

on our children,” she explains. “We

need our books to be more childcentered

and address the issues

that are important in the lives of

our children. The world is changing

drastically and we need to produce

meaningful children’s literature

and not keep repeating the old.”

Today Agbabian continues to

work with Saravant, her group

of storytellers. The three other

members are Agbabian’s daughter

Areni, an accomplished musician;

her son Ari, an actor; and musician

and photographer Mher Vahakn,

who contributes to the performances

as a percussionist.

Agbabian’s next major project

is an anthology of Armenian

children’s literature presented

through storytelling. “It would be

important to have a historic perspective

of where we have been

and where we are going,” she says.

Another upcoming event is “From

Childhood to Matriarchy: Celebrating

Women in Armenian Oral Traditions,”

a lecture and storytelling

performance which Agbabian will

present together with daughter Areni,

during the Merdinian School

Ladies’ Auxiliary luncheon. The

event will take place on April 5 at

the Wilshire Country Club. f

connect:

alidz.com

Alidz with

her group of

performers,

Saravant: Ari, Alidz,

Areni, and Mher.

Armenian Reporter Arts & Culture 3/15/2008

C11


Risk and passion in the

entertainment industry

Shahan Sanossian

Husband-and-wife

team continue to build

on their success

by Shahan Sanossian

television

It’s all about who you know. That’s

the commonly held belief about

the entertainment industry. The

biography of a star is almost sure

to include an anecdote – whether

true or apocryphal – of his or her

big break.

So it is no surprise that Alera Enterprises,

a creative house known

for its postproduction, has such

a story. Started in 2001 by the

wife-and-husband team of Lara

Sarkissian and Alen Tarassians,

Alera was struggling by 2003. The

couple went on a vacation to Armenia

with no projects on their

schedule to return to. The future

was so tenuous that they didn’t

even have an office anymore.

“We went there praying for a

baby,” Sarkissian says, “and then

we ended up having a TV show

instead.”

The big break

Alera’s big break was Overhaulin’,

the popular TLC show that follows

the painstaking restorations of

classic automobiles. They were offered

the opportunity because of

connections Sarkissian had made

over the years working in the industry.

It is nothing like Pimp My Ride,

Sarkissian says. The restorations

are overseen by Chip Foose, a

renowned hot rod designer. Overhaulin’

has a large budget and the

work they do is museum quality,

according to Tarassians.

Lara Sarkissian and Alen Tarassians on the set of a commercial shoot.

Upon their return from Armenia,

Alera was presented with over

300 hours of footage. But they had

no script to work with, not even

a logline. “You have to just go

through the tapes and try to make

sense of everything,” Tarassians

says, “and cut it to a stage where

it looks like a show.”

“And that’s where directing for

reality is completely true in editing,”

Sarkissian says. “They just

film it, and you have to make a

story out of it without – I mean,

nowadays … a lot of it is scripted,

a lot of it is kind of made up. But

back then, especially with that

show … nothing was set up.”

The couple worked continuously

for over a month to meet the very

tight deadline, and added Karlo

Gharabegian and Taline Olmesekian

to their team. “Literally, I

worked at night,” Tarassians says.

“She worked in the daytime. And

we were going around the clock.

The adrenaline was really high. We

knew this could have a huge potential

for us.”

Alera met the deadline, and TLC

was so pleased with their work

that the channel ordered another

three episodes. Tarassians and

Sarkissian realized that they had

to lease an office and hire a team.

To date, Alera has completed 70

episodes of Overhaulin’.

Reconnecting

When Tarassians, 40, and Sarkissian,

37, first met, they were young

children in Tehran riding the

school bus together.

“I used to remember her,” Tarassians

says, “because she had this

backpack of ABBA. And I had a

backpack with Bee Gees. We had

the only European kinds of backpacks.”

“They used to be blond,” Sarkissian

says of Alen and his brother.

“We used to call them odars. So we

thought they were German.”

But they soon forgot about each

C12 Armenian Reporter Arts & Culture 3/15/2008


other. Both moved to Vienna with

their families and had friends in

common but never met. Then

Tarassians moved with his family

to England, and Sarkissian to the

United States. They reconnected

at Sarkissian’s 30th birthday party

and were engaged before either realized

their earlier acquaintance.

“My younger brother was telling

a story of when he was in

Iran,” Tarassians says. “He was in

the school bus, and the bus hit a

motorcyclist.” That story brought

back the memories of their shared

youth in Iran.

“Basically ran over his head,”

Sarkissian adds. “It was traumatic.”

Not while you’re living

under this roof

Sarkissian studied at UCLA and

the California State University,

Northridge, with plans to become

a director. She went on to work in

the camera department because,

she says, it is closest to the director.

But her plans changed when

a director of production she was

working with bought a nonlinear

editing system, a computer based

system free from the constraints

of manual editing.

“That was the age of when it first

began,” Sarkissian says. “My career

shifted towards editing.” She

didn’t instantly fall in love with

editing. “It’s directing from a different

point of view. That’s what I

found postproduction to be. You

really have the most control in the

editing room.”

“It’s a way of traveling,” she says.

“It’s a way of experiencing things

without really leaving your chair

because you see other people go

through so much.”

“When I told my mom that I

wanted to declare film,” Sarkissian

says, “she almost threw up.

And this is with my dad being a

producer, mind you. It’s not like

the family wasn’t in the business.”

In addition to owning a popular

restaurant called Chardaz, Sarkissian’s

father Henry was a producer

and distributor for foreign films

in Iran, traveling every year to the

Cannes Film Festival to buy films.

“It’s basically in the blood,” she

says. “But moving here, it wasn’t

something a girl should do, probably.”

Her mother Jeny kept hinting

that Sarkissian would make a

good lawyer.

Tarassians’ father had a similar

reaction. “When I wanted to

go to university,” he says, “I told

my father that I wanted to go into

drama and do acting and directing.

He basically said, ‘Not while

you’re living under this roof. Go

get a proper degree...’ If you want

to waste your time in acting, do it

later. So even though my passion

was drama and directing, I didn’t

do it. My mom was absolutely

open.”

Tarassians worked in software

development for several years before

he met Sarkissian. “But I always

had the passion,” he says. “If

you ask my friends, I always had a

camera and always directed small

short vignettes.”

Above: Lara and

Alen with Joseph

Brutsman the

creator of Living

with Ed. Left:

Shooting on the

set of Shooting

Shorts.

Armenian Reporter Arts & Culture 3/15/2008

C13


Top: “Our

Aleratini

pomegranate tree.”

Above: Editing

from home.

“Almost to an annoying state,”

Sarkissian interjects.

“I documented everything.” His

marriage and his move to the

United States allowed him to follow

his passion. “I never had the

opportunity in England,” Tarassians

says. “Finally, I thought, you

now what, let’s just do it. If we are

both hard working people, both

have the passion for the industry,

let’s just do it and see what happens.”

Alera has had up to 14 employees,

a number that ebbs and flows

depending on the number of projects

on their roster. Sarkissian and

Tarassians cite Natalie Gerber and

Ryan Klabunde as integral parts of

their current production team.

Alera has helped produce not

only TV shows, but also commercials,

infomercials, webisodes,

documentaries and promos for TV

creators who want to pitch their

projects to cable and broadcast

channels.

“Say somebody has an idea,”

Sarkissian says, “and they want to

go out and pitch it. They need to

get that meeting and they need to

have it written. But these days, it

definitely works best if you have

shot something and there’s a twominute

promo.”

Working with Ed

Perhaps the most well know project

Alera has worked on is the

HGTV program Living with Ed. The

reality show follows Ed Begley Jr.

as he makes his home and others’

environmentally responsible.

The idea for the show came from

Joseph Brutsman. Brutsman

“always had this idea to do something

with Ed Begley Jr.,” Tarassians

says. “But everybody kind

of didn’t want anything that he

brought to the table because it involved

Ed Begley doing something

green. There was no story there;

there was nothing that could be

a good show.” One day, Brutsman

came up with the idea to include

Begley’s wife, Rachelle Carson.

“Basically,” Sarkissian says, “adding

the twist of living with Ed is

where the interesting elements are.”

Tarassians and Sarkissian

learned a lot from working with

Begley. “I think that he’s definitely

so passionate about [the environment]

that he wakes you up,”

Sarkissian says. “When he lives to

that extent, then you feel like you

can do a little bit.”

When the couple embarked on

renovating their own home, they

couldn’t help but use what they

learned about sustainable design.

“And interestingly,” Sarkissian

says, “once we did all the renovations,

without really realizing, we

healed the space.” Tarassians began

sleeping more soundly, and

after years of trying, Sarkissian

became pregnant. The couple was

glad to announce the birth of their

baby boy on March 1 st .

Of the many projects Alera is

currently working on is a reality

show called Healing Spaces. They

have found that many “green”

renovations can be bland. The

show combines environmentally

responsible renovation with

Feng Shui and modern design. A

master designer will be sent into

a space–a dorm room or a small

business–to assess the situation

and develop a plan to improve not

only the aesthetics but also the

spiritual “health” of the room.

Madly in love

Tarassians is also working on a

short film titled Madly in Love.

Not only did he write and direct

the film, he is also composing the

music for it.

“It’s a love story with a twist,”

Tarassians says. “It was a story I

came up with when I was 17 years

C14 Armenian Reporter Arts & Culture 3/15/2008


old sitting at the beach near Hastings

in England.” The film is already

shot and edited, but since

it is a personal project, Tarassians

continues to fine-tune it.

“You know, I believe I’m this

way,” Sarkissian says. “If I have a

personal project, it will never get

done because you’re just never

done with it. For me it’s never

good enough. And I think I project

that onto him, unfortunately.”

“She’s a true perfectionist,”

Tarassians adds. “And that has

good points and bad points.”

Tarassians hopes to eventually

have the film accepted into film

festivals. “It was an experimental

thing,” he says. “I’m not expecting

it to be a huge success. It was

just something I wanted to do. We

have a lot of other ideas and projects

that are sitting on the back

burner waiting for our time. We

have projects we want to do in

Armenian in very early stages of

development.”

The Aleratini

Sarkissian claims to have invented

the now-popular pomegranate

martini, which she dubs the

Aleratini. “Even Oprah had my

recipe on the other day,” she says,

though Sarkissian wasn’t credited

with concocting the drink.

When asked for the recipe,

Sarkissian responds, “I have to

make it for you.” She doesn’t have

the measurements written out;

she simply relies on her instincts.

What she did reveal were the ingredients:

Pomegranate juice from

the tree in their backyard (though

any fresh pomegranate juice will

do), vodka, Cointreau and lime.

“One of my goals,” Sarkissian

says, “is to have a bar someday,

and I have a name for it. It’s called

the Char Bar.” Although Tarassians

isn’t so sure his wife’s dream

will be realized, he is otherwise almost

always optimistic.

Tarassians’ personal motto is

this: “Always look at the bright

side of every situation, and sometimes

the situation is so bad that

Armenian Reporter Arts & Culture 3/15/2008

you can’t find any bright side to it.

When that happens, make one up.”

“By the way,” Sarkissian adds,

“he’s married to the most pessimistic

person in the world.” But

his optimism is important to her.

“Thankfully, he’s that way. It’s a

good match. He definitely taught

me to be optimistic.” Which is especially

helpful in the entertainment

industry, they add. Its reputation

as cut throat is well earned.

Both feel they have been burned

at one point or another.

“Right now, our focus is on realitybased

TV shows,” Tarassians says.

“Every business has it’s ups and

downs. You don’t know where your

next project is coming from. But

we’re consistently working hard to

keep up with our momentum.” f

connect:

aleraenterprises.com

Above: On the set

of Overhaulin' in

Las Vegas. Left:

Alen directing his

short Madly in

Love.

C15


Inspiration, an ancestor’s

poetry, and a son’s future

Lola Koundakjian

filmmaker

An interview with

experimental

filmmaker Irina

Patkanian

by Lola Koundakjian

Irina Patkanian’s video, Armenian

Lullaby received the prestigious

Young Women’s Choice Award for

Imagining Ourselves, an exhibition

at the International Museum of

Women (IMOW). Irina represented

Armenia and used a poem by her

great-great-grandfather, Rafael

Patkanian, titled “Cradle Song,” as

her inspiration.

A resident of New York since

1999, Irina is an associate professor

of media production at the

Department of Television and

Radio of Brooklyn College/CUNY.

She met with Lola Koundakjian in

January to discuss her work.

ttt

Lola Koundakjian: How old

were you when you came to the realization

that there was a famous

poet in the family

Irina Patkanian: I grew up

in St. Petersburg, Russia. I knew

that we had a poet in the family;

we had beautiful volumes of

Armenian poetry translated into

Russian, but my father believed

that my destiny did not lie in the

humanities and did not encourage

questions about my pre-revolution

relatives.

It was not until I was living in the

United States and enrolled at the

University of Iowa, studying for my

master’s in Linguistics, that I discovered

Rafael Patkanian’s poetry.

It was in a book I borrowed from

the library. By then I was involved

Irina Patkanian. Photo: Imagining

Ourselves website.

in theatre (acting and producing),

had taken some classes at the Iowa

Writer’s workshop and eventually

had gotten enrolled in the MFA

program for film production.

At first I looked at all these creative

endeavours as some odd

activities that I was not really

supposed to be engaged in. After

reading the biographies of my ancestors,

who were all involved in

theatre, journalism, poetry – it all

made sense.

LK: Raphael Patkanian was

born in Nor Nakhichevan in 1830.

He travelled to work and study

in Tbilisi, Moscow, and St. Petersburg,

finally returning to his

birthplace. What happened to the

family after his death in 1892

Patkanian: Unfortunately, by

the time I actually asked myself all

these questions about the origin

of my family, both my parents and

my grandparents had died, and I

had nobody to turn to for answers.

It was in America (thanks to the

Internet) that I started discovering

where I came from.

LK: Where were you born and

raised

Patkanian: St. Petersburg,

Russia.

LK: In the introductory notes

to your award-winning video, “Armenian

Lullaby,” you mention

that your generation [growing up

in Russia] was most affected by

the [Soviet Union’s 1980s] war in

Afghanistan. Did any of your immediate

friends or relatives participate

in it

Patkanian: Not relatives,

but friends. When I was in high

school, we were trying to come up

with creative ways to prevent our

classmates from serving in the

army, because of the likelihood

of being sent to Afghanistan. The

resistance to that war, especially

among writers, musicians, and

artists, is what defined our generation

and gave wings to glasnost

and perestroika, to fly over the

bump of habitual thinking.

LK: When did you move to the

U.S. and under what circumstances

Patkanian: I came to the U.S.

in 1991. After the collapse of the

Soviet Union, everyone was trying

to become an entrepreneur, buying

and selling western goods, and

I was not interested in this. I had

friends in the U.S., and decided to

explore a new territory.

America is an incredible place,

which allows you to reinvent yourself.

Nobody asks you where your

father works; no one questions

whether or not you have the right

to be a writer or an artist. It is this

freedom that I wanted. Both my

husband and I wanted to get an

education and we wanted to do it

in a place where we could raise our

one-year-old son; so we came to

the University of Iowa.

We got our master’s degrees, and

my husband went back to Russia

where he became a successful businessman.

I stayed to get a second

C16 Armenian Reporter Arts & Culture 3/15/2008


graduate degree, an MFA in film

production, eventually moved to

New York in 1999 – the only place

where I wanted to live.

LK: Tell us the events that lead

to the creation of this video. You

were shooting in Armenia in 2003.

Patkanian: Like any Armenian

born outside of Armenia, I have

always felt this longing, a gravity

pulling my heart to my historical

motherland. It is hard to explain,

but I knew I had to turn this longing

into a film. I looked for an idea

that would interpret my respect

and love for the country, even

though I had never lived there.

As I read Rafael Patkanian’s

work, one poem in particular

moved me. It is about a mother

who invites various birds, each associated

with a particular profession,

to sing a lullaby to her baby

boy. They all fail to lull the baby to

sleep. In the last stanza, a falcon

comes and starts singing battle

songs and finally puts the baby

to sleep. It was hard for me, as a

mother of a teen-age boy, to imagine

that a mother could wish her

son to become a soldier. I dedicated

my interpretation to mothers

of all soldiers.

As for the video, I wanted to find

visuals in rural Armenia – places

that haven’t changed that much

since the end of 19th century (the

era of the poem). So in the summer

of 2003, my French friend, Marion

Schoevaert, and I flew to Armenia.

We visited Yerevan and two villages.

I found a mother, Gayane, who

allowed me to film her singing a

lullaby to her baby boy.

One striking observation that I

made, while we were there, is that

there were hardly any men around.

Women were working: keeping

homes, baking bread, selling and

buying food at the market, and

of course, raising children. Perhaps

the men were away, searching

for work. It made me very sad

to think that their beautiful boys

could one day become soldiers.

LK: I saw the video in the Imagine

Ourselves website towards the end

of 2006, just prior to meeting you. I

was searching for the tag “Armenia.”

When did you complete the work

Patkanian: The video was completed

in 2005. I used additional

footage shot by Vardan Hovhannysian

and Lilit Pipoyan’s song.

LK: How did you come about

picking Lilit Pipoyan’s song to accompany

the poem

Patkanian: I attended a concert

of hers at New York University

in February 2004. I was very

moved by her range, her very elegant

yet strong voice. We met

for coffee and went to see Arshile

Gorky’s exhibition at the Whitney

Museum. I told Lilit abut my project

and she allowed me to use the

song that she had composed and

recorded.

LK: In early 2007, you presented

the video in Berkeley. What was

the reception

Patkanian: The video actually

premiered in October 2005, at the

United Nations Association Film

Festival at Stanford, Calif., where

it was very well received. It continued

travelling with the UNAFF

in festivals, including the ones at

Berkley, Harvard, and New York.

Nora Armani then took it to the

Silver Lake Film Festival. It has

since played in Canada, Germany,

India, and South Africa.

Soon after the premier, IMOW

[the International Museum of

Women, located in San Francisco]

invited me to apply. I really liked

the museum’s mission of creating

a vibrant tapestry of words, images,

and sounds that connect all

women to each other, and show

that our differences are not cultural

barriers but cultural riches,

precious and revealing.

After a year of being a part of

the museum’s online exhibition,

I was told that it was nominated

and eventually won in the best of

Middle East category.

I am very grateful to the voters

and the IMOW and encourage

everybody to check the beautiful

poetry, visual arts and films created

by women from all around

the globe.

LK: Tell us about your current

and upcoming projects.

Patkanian: My short documentary,

My American Neighbor, is

about the perception of America

and American dreams, as seen

from abroad. It is currently playing

at festivals. I created an accompanying

website: www.myamericanneighbor.com

– which has 60 additional

video interviews and a full

version of my documentary.

My short narrative film, Second

Egyptian, has just won the “Best

Narrative” award at the San Diego

Women’s Film Festival. In addition,

I have received the 2007

NYSCA grant to direct a short film,

Armed Defense, based on a story by

Dmitry Bakin. I will be shooting it

this spring.

f

connect:

The International Museum of Women

website contains links to the video clip,

Irina’s introduction to the video and its

story, as well as comments left by viewers.

Log onto http://imaginingourselves.

imow.org/pb/Home.aspxlang=1

Irina has also founded a not-for-profit

company, In Parentheses, where visitors

can learn about her projects. Log onto

www.inparentheses.org.

Irina reviews

still images for

use in one of her

films. Photo: Lola

Koundakjian.

Armenian Reporter Arts & Culture 3/15/2008

C17


Reflective moments

reflections

by Kay Mouradian

The loneliness. That’s what I remember

the most.

And the shock of no longer being

young – another reality I had

to accept. In my late 30s at the

time, I felt the pain of not having

found “Mr. Right,” and I had to

confront the possibility that maybe

I never would. But I never gave

up hope. Thanks to my travel addiction,

I was looking for that guy

in various parts of the world.

Then, one day, returning from a

ski trip in Australia, I came home

to devastating news. My sister

was in the midst of bearing her

heaviest cross. Her breast cancer

had been in remission for ten

years, but suddenly it began to

spread with a vengeance. Malignant

tumors were metastasizing

throughout her body. I was told

she wouldn’t fully recover and

that her time was limited.

She was acting courageously, but

I was shaken to my roots. I couldn’t

face the reality of what was happening.

My sister was going to

die! No, I wanted to shout. She’s too

young. Hurting and grieving, I was

desperate for answers. I needed to

understand my sister’s plight, and

my painful need for answers was

fierce. I was struggling. My heart

was crying, Her cancer is so unfair.

Why Why her

I couldn’t fathom why this terrible

disease attacked her at such

a young age. Her illness and subsequent

death at age 49 were catalysts

into my search for deeper

meanings with regard to the whys

of life. My fun-loving attitude of

having a good time and getting all

you can get was crumbling like a

Kay Mouradian is author of Reflective

Meditation and A Gift in the Sunlight: An

Armenian Story.

great wall. I was in a

state of confusion

and no longer

felt invincible.

An old adage

says that

when a student

is ready,

the teacher

will come,

and I was

in great need.

That’s when some

great souls came

into my life. What

they said were ideas

and thoughts that for me

were steeped in truths I understood.

Maybe they will

be of use to you as well.

My teacher said:

There is no death in

this universe.

There is only change.

What you call death

Is merely a change of vehicle.

When there is no longer a physical

pattern

To hold it together,

The body disintegrates.

You can’t see the occupant anymore.

You think it’s gone.

But it is not.

It’s just in another state.

When man leaves his body

He moves into what we call

The Astral Plane

And changes into another vibration

of matter,

One slightly less dense

Than the physical one.

Then we have what is called

A Second Death.

Those heavy with selfish thoughts

and egotistical desires

Stay in the astral body a long

time.

They become floating astral corpses

In the plane nearest to the earth.

But

A n

a v e r -

age good

man’s astral

body

Will disintegrate much

more quickly.

He will move onward into states

of rest and recuperation

And into the Halls of Learning.

When karma is right

He will reincarnate into a new

physical body.

As I reflected upon what my

teacher said about death, I thought

about our Armenian ancestors on

that doomed march that took their

lives prematurely. I wondered who

and where they are today; and if

they have reincarnated, have they

become aware of the root causes

that turns human beings away

from compassion

I thought about our Armenian

ancestors and thought, can our

Armenian community embrace

compassion and lead the way to

eliminating the hatred and fear

Talaat Pasha embraced in his attempt

to exterminate the Armenian

race

f

connect:

www.aGiftInTheSunlight.com

C18 Armenian Reporter Arts & Culture 3/15/2008


still homeless in cyberspace

homeless hagop

...two decades back, some six years

before we would hear about the Internet,

when big hair was fashionable

and English literature was focused

on apathy and indifference in

the affluent America of the Reagan

era, a group of young Armenians,

fresh out of college, picked up

their Hi8 cameras to show their

community what was ravaging

the homeland and what the diaspora

needed to confront.

There had been an earthquake,

massacres in

S u m g a i t ,

and talk

of ind

e p e n -

d e n c e ,

and a weekly

show called

H o r i z o n

would bring

these stories

to KSCI TV in

Los Angeles every

Sataurday at

5:30 P.M. courtesy

of the Armenian National

Committee.

In those days of a somewhat

lost innocence and naivety,

when the sons and daughters of

the diaspora were tipped that

there was a homeless Armenian

living on the streets of Hollywood,

the would-be filmmakers and reporters

took the cameras out after

midnight to track down a man

named Hagop.

We gave him food, interviewed

him as if he was an exotic animal

in a zoo, then reported his whereabouts

to local community service

organizations. Then we forgot

about him...

Decades passed, the information

age changed the world, and

last week, inspired by memories

of Hagop, L.A.-based artist Zareh

sent his e-mail buddies a drawing

of the homeless man. Hagop and

his story,

his life, had not faded away

into oblivion.

“It was always enjoyable talking

with Hagop, and sometimes his

words were wise and insightful,

philosophical” says Zareh Meguerditchian.

“Perhaps that’s why it was

a good experience drawing him.”

Zareh spent five-and-a-half hours

drawing and remembering Hagop,

and his drawing resurrects Homeless

Hagop, who will now live forever

through art and in cyberspace.

“I remember Hagop telling me

that he was from Cyprus,” says

Zareh. “When he was young, he

wanted to marry a very beautiful

woman but she refused him. He

married another woman later, and

the two of them came to the U.S.”

The tragic trajectory of Hagop’s

life follows a path that many face

in our paycheck-to-paycheck civilization.

After Hagop’s business

failed, his life became unraveled.

He left his wife and ended up on

the streets of Hollywood, the

same streets that are dubbed

by the Los Angeles City Council

as “Little Armenia.”

“Many in Hollywood knew

and liked Hagop,” says

Zareh. “He used to

push a shopping

cart full

of bottles

and cans

down the

street, and

he spent

m o s t

n i g h t s

sleeping

next to

the Fountain

Theatre.”

Zareh says

he would run

into Hagop sometimes,

see Hagop eating

at the Sassoun Bakery in

Hollywood; and Zareh would

often wonder if any of Hagop’s

family ever came to look for him

or visit him again.

“He seemed to me a kind man

with a soft spirit and without an

evident mental illness as is sometimes

the case of many homeless

people,” says Zareh.

His name was Hagop. Sevag K.,

Azniv K., and our Hi8’s couldn’t

help Hagop; neither could the

community service organizations

we reported him to. Perhaps his

lot in life was to walk the streets

of Little Armenia. Perhaps his story

should remind us how easily all

of our lives can unravel. f

connect: artistzareh.com

Armenian Reporter Arts & Culture 3/15/2008

C19


17 March 18 March 19 March

Monday Tuesday Wednesday

EST PST

4:30 7:30 Good Morning, Armenians

6:00 9:00 News in Armenian

6:30 9:30 A Drop of Honey

19:00 22:00 The Armenian Film

9:00 12:00 News in Armenian

9:30 12:30 Cool program

9:50 12:50 Music Videos

10:10 13:10 Exclusive

10:30 13:30 Yo-Yo

10:55 13:55 The Century

11:15 14:15 Cartoon

12:00 15:00 News in Armenian

12:30 15:30 Armenia TV Film

12:50 15:50 Cool Sketches

13:05 16:05 Beauty is not enough-Serial

13:50 16:50 Blitz

14:10 17:10 Italian Serial

15:00 18:00 News in Armenian

15:30 18:30 Cobras and Lizard-New Serial

16:15 19:15 Amazonia- Serial

16:55 19:55 Hit Music

17:15 20:15 Soul Mate - Serial

18:00 21:00 News in Armenian

18:30 21:30 Unhappy Happiness - Serial

19:15 22:15 My Big, Fat Armenian Wedding

19:40 22:40 The Armenian Film

21:00 0:00 News in Armenian

21:10 0:10 Hit Music

21:35 0:35 Deal or no deal

22:30 1:30 Super Duet-Concert

0:40 3:40 Cool Sketches

23:50 2:50 Exclusive

0:10 3:10 Cartoon

0:50 3:50 Yo-Yo

1:15 4:15 The Century

1:40 4:40 Blitz

2:00 5:00 Italian Serial

2:50 5:50 Furor

3:20 6:20 Discovery

4:00 7:00 Music Videos

EST PST

4:30 7:30 Good Morning,Armenians

6:00 9:00 News in Armenian

6:30 9:30 Beauty is not enough-Serial

7:15 10:15 Cobras and Lizard-New Serial

8:00 11:00 Unhappy Happiness - Serial

20:40 23:40 My Big, Fat Armenian Wedding

9:00 12:00 News in Armenian

9:30 12:30 Amazonia- Serial

10:15 13:15 Exclusive

10:30 13:30 Soul Mate - Serial

11:15 14:15 Cartoon

12:00 15:00 News in Armenian

12:30 15:30 Armenia TV Film

12:50 15:50 Music Videos

13:05 16:05 Beauty is not enough-Serial

13:50 16:50 Blitz

14:10 17:10 Italian Serial

15:00 18:00 News in Armenian

15:30 18:30 Cobras and Lizard-New Serial

16:15 19:15 Amazonia- Serial

16:55 19:55 Hit Music

17:15 20:15 Soul Mate - Serial

18:00 21:00 News in Armenian

18:30 21:30 Unhappy Happiness - Serial

19:15 22:15 My Big, Fat Armenian Wedding

19:40 22:40 Mosfilm

21:00 0:00 News in Armenian

21:10 0:10 Hit Music

21:35 0:35 Health Program

22:00 1:00 Fathers and Sons

23:00 2:00 Discovery

23:25 2:25 A Drop of Honey

23:50 2:50 Exclusive

0:10 3:10 Cartoon

0:50 3:50 Armenian Diaspora

1:15 4:15 Blef

1:40 4:40 Blitz

2:00 5:00 Italian Serial

2:45 5:45 Cool Sketches

3:15 6:15 Furor

3:40 6:40 Music Videos

4:00 7:00 Exclusive

EST PST

4:30 7:30 Good Morning,Armenians

6:00 9:00 News in Armenian

6:30 9:30 Beauty is not enough-Serial

7:15 10:15 Cobras and Lizard-New Serial

8:00 11:00 Unhappy Happiness - Serial

8:40 11:40 My Big, Fat Armenian Wedding

9:00 12:00 News in Armenian

9:30 12:30 Amazonia- Serial

10:15 13:15 Exclusive

10:30 13:30 Soul Mate - Serial

11:15 14:15 Cartoon

12:00 15:00 News in Armenian

12:30 15:30 Armenia TV Film

12:50 15:50 Cool Sketches

13:05 16:05 Beauty is not enough-Serial

13:50 16:50 Blitz

14:10 17:10 Italian Serial

15:00 18:00 News in Armenian

15:30 18:30 Cobras and Lizard-New Serial

16:15 19:15 Amazonia- Serial

16:55 19:55 Hit Music

17:15 20:15 Soul Mate - Serial

18:00 21:00 News in Armenian

18:30 21:30 Unhappy Happiness - Serial

19:15 22:15 My Big, Fat Armenian Wedding

19:40 22:40 The Armenian Film

21:00 0:00 News in Armenian

21:10 0:10 Hit Music

21:30 0:30 Cool Sketches

22:15 1:15 Our Language,Our Speech

22:50 1:50 Discovery

22:30 1:30 Music Videos

23:50 2:50 Exclusive

0:10 3:10 Cartoon

0:50 3:50 A Drop of Honey

1:15 4:15 Blef

1:15 4:15 Blitz

2:00 5:00 Italian Serial

3:00 6:00 Furor

3:30 6:30 Armenia TV Film

4:00 7:00 Music Videos

C20 Armenian Reporter Arts & Culture 3/15/2008


Satellite Broadcast Program Grid

17 – 23 March

Watch Armenia TV on

Dish Network. To get a

dish and subscribe,

call 1-888-284-7116 toll

free.

20 March 21 March 22 March 23 March

Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday

EST

PST

EST

PST

EST

PST

EST

PST

4:30 7:30 Good Morning,Armenians

6:00 9:00 News in Armenian

6:30 9:30 Beauty is not enough-Serial

7:15 10:15 Cobras and Lizard-New Serial

8:00 11:00 Unhappy Happiness - Serial

8:40 11:40 Cool Sketches

9:00 12:00 News in Armenian

9:30 12:30 Amazonia- Serial

10:15 13:15 Exclusive

10:30 13:30 Soul Mate - Serial

11:15 14:15 Cartoon

12:00 15:00 News in Armenian

12:30 15:30 The Century

13:05 16:05 Beauty is not enough-Serial

4:30 7:30 Good Morning,Armenians

6:00 9:00 News in Armenian

6:30 9:30 Beauty is not enough-Serial

7:15 10:15 Cobras and Lizard-New Serial

8:00 11:00 Neighbours- Serial

8:40 11:40 Cool sketches

9:00 12:00 News in Armenian

9:30 12:30 Amazonia- Serial

10:15 13:15 Exclusive

10:30 13:30 Soul Mate - Serial

11:15 14:15 Cartoon

12:00 15:00 News in Armenian

12:20 15:20 Our Language,Our Speech

4:30 7:30 Mosfilm

6:00 9:00 News in Armenian

6:30 9:30 Beauty is not enough-Serial

7:15 10:15 Cobras and Lizard-New Serial

8:00 11:00 Neighbours- Serial

8:40 11:40 Music Videos

9:00 12:00 News in Armenian

9:30 12:30 Amazonia- Serial

10:15 13:15 Exclusive

10:30 13:30 Soul Mate - Serial

11:15 14:15 Cartoon

12:00 15:00 News in Armenian

4:30 7:30 The Armenian Film

6:00 9:00 News in Armenian

6:30 9:30 Concert

7:30 10:30 Discovery

7:50 10:50 Neighbours- Serial

8:45 11:45 Cool Program

9:00 12:00 Fathers and sons

10:00 13:00 Exclusive

10:20 13:20 Health Program

10:45 13:45 Furor

11:05 14:05 Cartoon

11:50 14:50 Music Videos

12:00 15:00 News in Armenian

13:50 16:50 Blitz

14:10 17:10 Italian Serial

15:00 18:00 News in Armenian

15:30 18:30 Cobras and Lizard-New Serial

16:15 19:15 Amazonia- Serial

16:55 19:55 Hit Music

17:15 20:15 Soul Mate - Serial

18:00 21:00 News in Armenian

18:30 21:30 Neighbours- Serial

19:10 22:10 Cool program

7:30 10:30 Deal or no deal

20:30 23:30 Armenia TV Film

21:00 0:00 News in Armenian

21:10 0:10 Hit Music

21:35 0:35 Discovery

13:05 16:05 Beauty is not enough-Serial

13:50 16:50 Blitz

14:10 17:10 Italian Serial

15:00 18:00 News in Armenian

15:30 18:30 Cobras and Lizard-New Serial

16:15 19:15 Amazonia- Serial

16:55 19:55 Hit Music

17:15 20:15 Soul Mate - Serial

18:00 21:00 News in Armenian

18:30 21:30 Neighbours- Serial

19:20 22:20 A Drop of Honey

19:40 22:40 Mosfilm

21:00 0:00 News in Armenian

21:10 0:10 Hit Music

12:30 15:30 A Drop of Honey

13:05 16:05 Hit Music

13:30 16:30 Deal or no deal

14:30 17:30 Blitz

15:00 18:00 News in Armenian

15:30 18:30 Armenia Cartoon

15:50 18:50 Concert

17:40 20:40 Cool Program

18:00 21:00 News in Armenian

18:30 21:30 Neighbours- Serial

19:20 22:20 The Armenian Film

21:00 0:00 News in Armenian

21:30 0:30 Hit Music

12:30 15:30 Armenia-Diaspora

12:55 15:55 Super Duet-Songs

13:25 16:25 Cool Sketches

13:50 16:50 The Century

14:10 17:10 Blitz

14:30 17:30 Yo-Yo

14:55 17:55 Unhappy Happiness - Serial

16:55 19:55 Hit Music

17:20 20:20 Armenia TV film

17:40 20:40 Armenia Cartoon

18:00 21:00 News in Armenian

18:30 21:30 A Drop of Honey

19:00 22:00 Neighbours- Serial

21:00 0:00 News in Armenian

22:00 1:00 In the World of Books

22:20 1:20 Blef

22:45 1:45 The Century

23:05 2:05 Cool program

23:25 2:25 Yo-Yo

23:50 2:50 Exclusive

0:10 3:10 Cartoon

0:50 3:50 Health Program

1:20 4:20 Armenia TV Film

1:40 4:40 Blitz

2:00 5:00 Italian Serial

2:45 5:45 Music Videos

3:00 6:00 Cool Sketches

3:35 6:35 Furor

21:45 0:45 Fathers and sons

22:35 1:35 The Century

23:00 2:00 Discovery

23:30 2:30 Armenia TV film

23:50 2:50 Exclusive

0:10 3:10 Cartoon

0:55 3:55 Our Language,Our Speech

1:15 4:15 Blef

1:40 4:40 Blitz

2:00 5:00 Italian Serial

2:45 5:45 Music Videos

3:00 6:00 Super Duet-Songs

3:30 6:30 Furor

21:50 0:50 Deal or no deal

22:40 1:40 A Drop of Honey

23:15 2:15 Cool Sketches

23:30 2:30 Music Videos

23:50 2:50 Exclusive

0:10 3:10 Cartoon

0:55 3:55 Cool Program

1:10 4:10 In the World of Books

1:40 4:40 Blitz

2:00 5:00 Discovery

2:20 5:20 Furor

3:00 6:00 Pan-Armenian Star - Concert

21:30 0:30 Hit Music

21:55 0:55 Cool sketches

22:20 1:20 Furor

22:50 1:50 Music Videos

23:10 2:10 Armenia-Diaspora

23:50 2:50 Exclusive

0:10 3:10 Cartoon

0:55 3:55 Yo-Yo

1:20 4:20 Cool Program

1:30 4:30 Blitz

2:00 5:00 Health Program

2:30 5:30 Discovery

3:10 6:10 Blef

4:00 7:00 Exclusive

4:00 7:00 Cool Sketches

4:05 7:05 Cool Sketches

3:35 6:35 Deal or no deal

Armenian Reporter Arts & Culture 3/15/2008

C21


The fearless imagination of

flutes and flames

Lory Bedikian.

poetry matters

by Lory Bedikian

When teaching the course an “Introduction

to Imaginative Writing:

Poetry” at the University of Oregon,

I at first thought it was peculiar to

include the word “imaginative” in

the title, perhaps even redundant,

since poetry of course should be

rooted in the imagination. But then

I realized that most beginning poets

and students tend to interpret poetry

as verse that rhymes or mimics

traditional poems. How grateful I

became over the course of my first

year teaching that the word “imaginative”

was included in the course’s

name. We eventually pleaded with

one another to be imaginative,

since we had to read a stack of poems

each week. The more imaginative,

the more we wanted to write,

the more we wanted to read.

From this imaginative world, poets

pull out ideas and visions that

we cannot possibly think of while

attending to the mundane details

of our daily lives. And when we read

these poems, we can either join

the poets in this world, or at least

lose ourselves for a moment, take a

break from the usual, and shake our

heads—lovingly, of course—while

placing the book back down.

Armenian women poets thrive

in this world of inventive words.

Vehanoush Tekyan a poet born

in Beirut in 1948 and who currently

resides in New Jersey, seems

Lory Bedikian received her MFA in Poetry

from the University of Oregon. Her collection

of poetry has been selected as a

finalist in both the Crab Orchard Series

in Poetry Open Competition and the

Crab Orchard Series in Poetry First Book

Award Competition.

quite comfortable in the creative

process of verse-making, as does

Sonia Tashjian-Tavtyan, a poet

from Yerevan.

Tekyan’s poem “Trash Collection

Day,” surprised me. And this may

be one of the very necessary elements

of poetry, besides its multitude

of other devices. It begins

with the speaker telling us she is

collecting dreams. But what she

does with them serves the purpose

of catching us off guard.

Trash Collection Day

Greetings. I’m collecting dreams today.

Give me your discards

on this spring cleaning day.

I am gathering everything I can.

Dreams don’t live long on dead end

streets

so I layer them all in a huge

shipping trunk. I spread yellow on

yellow.

Then lock them in.

Let them stare into each other’s eyes

until their words lose meanings,

lose pronunciation and even

their very molecules die from

inactivity, unmedicated, unmeditated.

Then at the right time I will set fire

to the whole lot

and calmly watch their demise.

Multi-color dreams will meld in the

dark

like poisoned flames keeling over.

Then the dreams will collapse fold by

fold.

Won’t it be fun to watch them

disintegrate

I’ll collect any variety of dream you

have.

Instead of burning flags for

peace let us set fire to dreams.

When we begin the poem we

follow the speaker as she collects

dreams, layering them “all in a huge

/ shipping trunk.” We feel amused

when told “Let them stare into

each other’s eyes,” but clues such as

“discards,” “inactivity,” or “unmedicated,”

hint at something more

sinister. The turn in the poem (the

surprise that’s necessary to wake us

out of our own dream-state) occurs

when she declares she “will set fire /

to the whole lot / and calmly watch

their demise.” The start of the poem

“Greetings,” sets up a tone of friendliness,

so we too are taken on this

ride toward what will “collapse.”

And, of course, the poem is not

merely about destroying dreams,

but about the speaker’s final message:

“Instead of burning flags for /

peace let us set fire to dreams.” For

some this may suggest that just as

burning dreams has no tangible

outcome, the same may be said for

destroying flags. But if the poet had

begun with such an assertion, we

would not have been drawn in as

we are to her world of imaginative

images. The imagination leads us to

her message.

Tashjian-Tavtyan’s poem “Concert,”

although just as imaginative,

has more to do with the inner-world

of the speaker than the

outer world as in Tekyan’s poem.

In “Concert” the speaker is hypnotized

by music.

Concert

Let the delicate syllables

that speak

from your flute

fill with the breath

of wood aroma and the soil

of the poplar root,

fill with wood sap

and sound like the mass

of Gomidas while the song

C22 Armenian Reporter Arts & Culture 3/15/2008


aids around our heads

and for its length

we believe death is dead.

The element of surprise at the

close of “Concert” has more to do

with the speaker’s feelings. We are

not “greeted” or asked to give away

something of our own as we are

in “Trash Collection Day.” Instead

it’s much more like finding a note

someone has written to herself. But

the imagination still resides in these

lines. A flute is able to “speak” to her

“with the breath / of wood aroma

and the soil / of the poplar root.”

And then quickly the music turns

to the “sound like the mass / of

Gomidas.” And in the final lines the

speaker joins with the flute player

telling us “for its length / we believe

death is dead.” So, this imagination

has led her to the idea that they are

both immortal or at least in a state

of otherworldliness “while the song

/ braids around [their] heads,” like

crowns of laurels.

Both Tekyan and Tashjian-Tavtyan

use imaginative writing to create

poetry that immerses us into their

fabrications. Tekyan does it to guide

us to her message while Tashjian-

Tavtyan lets us peer into the private

world of her speaker. Both poems

display the use of unrealities to reveal

the realities of their speakers.

Some may say that spending

time in the world of imagination

may be time wasted. But if we

think back to all of our greatest

moments in our lives, very few

of them came to us on their own.

Most materialized after much

dreaming, imaginative thought,

the creative “writing” of our own

wishes. Some use the poem as the

outlet of these visions. The key

may be in making sure that we are

aware of them, because after all

(taking the advice of one of our

poets here) “dreams don’t live

long on dead end streets.” f

“Trash Collection Day,” from The Other

Voice: Armenian Women’s Poetry Through the

Ages, translated by Diana Der-Hovanessian,

AIWA Press, 2005. Reprinted with

permission.

“Concert,” from The Other Voice: Armenian

Women’s Poetry Through the Ages, translated

by Diana Der-Hovanessian, AIWA Press,

2005. Reprinted with permission.

Sirusho at Eurvision

Sirusho will be representing Armenia

at Eurovision this year.

The song she will sing was chosen

from an open competition

involving Armenian songwriters.

Four songs were shortlisted

by a jury and then voted on by

members of the public as well as

a panel of experts. Sirusho sang

each of the songs live on Armenia’s

public television on March

8. The four songs were: Strong, I

Can’t Control It, I Still Breathe,

and Qele Qele.

Qele Qele was the winning submission.

According to eurovision.

tv the winning song is a mixture

of ethnic sounds and contemporary

pop music. It starts like a

ballad with a verse in Armenian,

building up to an up-tempo pop

song with lyrics which are mostly

in English.

Armenia will compete in the

first semifinal of the 2008 Eurovision

Song Contest, taking place

on May 20 in Belgrade. f

Catching up with Anne Bedian

The first beautiful Armenian to

grace the cover of the Reporter’s

Arts & Culture section 52 weeks

ago was Canadian-Armenian actress

Anne (Ani) Bedian, who

has kept as busy as ever with her

Hollywood career since our profile

(available online at reporter.am).

After a respite during the writers’

union strike, Anne is back

on the set with regular roles on

shows like Lost, CSI, The Unit, The

Anatomy of Hope, Law & Order, and

a film titled Divided We Stand.

“I shot a movie in November called

Let the Game Begin,” says Anne.

“It also stars Ken Davitian and

Stephen Baldwin. It’s a comedy,

which is a different direction for

me.”

When she’s not acting, Anne

is keeping her mind, body, and

heart in tune by working out, taking

acting classes, and also volunteering

for charity projects.

“This weekend, I was invited to

a celebrity reading to help raise

money for those affected by the

writers’ strike,” says Anne. “The

play is called Faces and deals with

the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

We’re going to read it for a paying

audience, and the play will

feature a very talented cast.”

Keep up the good work, Anne.

We’re all watching.

f

connect: annebedian.com

Canadian-

Armenian actress

Anne (Ani) Bedian.

Armenian Reporter Arts & Culture 3/15/2008

C23


“…a mix of Jimmy Eat World,

3 Doors Down & Matchbox 20

...will be highly welcome on

your stereo...”

—Kudos Magazine

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