Pop princess Sirusho - Armenian Reporter

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Pop princess Sirusho - Armenian Reporter

the armenian

reporter

& arts

culture December 29, 2007

Dancer of Shamakha Crafter of mysticism

Pop princess

Sirusho


James Martin

in memoriam

Mireille Kalfayan sought

truth – with passion

Book collects

Armenian Observer

columnist’s essays

by James Martin

“In a way, Mireille was life’s detective….

She wanted to know everything,

see everything, and experience

everything, and in turn relate

it in her writing,” said Sona

Yacoubian, founder and chairperson

of the AGBU Hye Geen Society.

Ms. Yacoubian conveyed her

memories of Mireille Kalfayan,

the late journalist, teacher, actor,

and dancer whose book of essays,

As a Woman Saw It, was published

posthumously in 2007.

Yacoubian spoke during an event

that marked the release of the

book, held on December 15 at the

AGBU Alex Manoogian Center in

Pasadena, California. The presentation

was organized by the Hye

Geen Society, a women’s advocacy

group that has helped finance the

publication of Kalfayan’s book.

Kalfayan herself was a member of

Hye Geen. As a Woman Saw It is a

collection of selected articles that

were published in the Armenian

Observer from 1993 to 2004 in a

weekly column titled “As a Woman

Sees It.”

The idea of collecting her articles

in one publication was originally

conceived by Kalfayan herself, but

others shared and supported her

wish. “Whenever I opened the Armenian

Observer, her column was

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the first thing I read,” said Cecile

Keshishian, a board member of

Hye Geen. “I always felt that we

thought alike.” In 2005, during

a Hye Geen event that honored

the ailing Kalfayan for her many

achievements in the cultural

arena, Keshishian proposed a

project which would culminate in

the publication of the honoree’s

articles. “I stood up and declared

that I would contribute $2,000 toward

the publication of her essays

if everyone would contribute just

$25,” Keshishian recalled. “Some

people paid more than $25. At that

one event, we were able to raise

$4,500, in a matter of minutes.”

Together with Keshishian’s $2,000

contribution, the raised funds totaled

$6,500 – enough to publish

the book.

Speakers at the book presentation

also included journalist Jenny

Kiljian; Osheen Keshishian, editor

of the Armenian Observer; and

Mher Vahakn Ajamian, Kalfayan’s

son. They each related stories attesting

to Kalfayan’s strength of

character, uncompromising work

ethic, and love of life.

“Of all the women that I’ve

known in my life, Mireille was the

most liberal and cultured,” said

Keshishian during his address,

and added that Kalfayan’s impassioned

essays spurred much debate

and controversy in many quarters

of the Armenian­American community.

The project

The book took about a year to

Mireille Kalfayan.

complete. Under the guidance of

Kalfayan’s sister, Diana Kalfayan,

a team of editors including Kiljian,

Ajamian, and Raffi Shubukian,

a former editor at Asbarez and

AIM, took on the task of combing

through the writer’s articles to

select material for the planned

compilation as well as setting up a

framework for organizing the essays

in a coherent manner.

Kiljian and Ajamian, who were

responsible for the majority of the

work of editing the book, sifted

through over 450 articles, close to

half of which made it into the published

collection. Only the articles

that were outdated or did not suit

the purposes of the book, along

with a few of the many poems Kalfayan

wrote for the Observer, were

left out.

The price of honesty

It was the criticism of readers

who disagreed with Kalfayan

On page C1:Sirusho, one of Armenia’s most beloved pop singers,

will represent her homeland at the 53rd Eurovision Song Contest,

which will be held in May 2008 in Belgrade.

C2 Armenian Reporter Arts & Culture 12/29/2007


that brought about her demise,

Kalfayan’s son Ajamian argued.

While researching Kalfayan’s

press clippings, her son found

some letters to the editor which

were fiercely critical of her essays.

The fact that she had held on to

these clippings was proof to Ajamian

that her mother took the

feedback of her readers very seriously

– and personally.

“When my mother was diagnosed

with cancer, it was a surprise

to a lot of people, but not

to me,” Ajamian told the audience.

“To be honest, I did see it coming –

I saw it with every passing week….

I saw how with each topic she carried

the true weight of the issue.”

Ajamian stressed that her

mother’s comments were never

flippant, casual observations, but

were based on introspection and

discussions with her son and

friends. “Each week she would

live with [a particular] issue and

be burdened by the brunt of the

criticism long after an article was

published. I felt that it just eventually

wore her thin. She poured

her heart and soul, her compassion,

foresight, and understanding

into her work and was often

met with harsh criticism.”

Kiljian, in her remarks, recalled

an incident connected with a

November 2004 symposium on

issues faced by the Armenian­

American youth. She was a panelist

at the event, which was held in

Glendale.

“Mireille had come along to support

me,” Kiljian said. “She was

very thrilled by my presentation.

However, after the event, a few of

the audience members chastised

the speakers for not speaking

Armenian during their speeches.

I was very perturbed, to say

the least, but Mireille was livid.”

Kiljian was outraged that some

people considered language more

important that the particular issues

she chose to focus on in her

2004 speech. It “shook our idealism

regarding the advancement

of the diasporan community. That

moment was a watershed. Rather

than talking about the goals and

direction of our culture and instead

choosing to focus on matters

irrelevant to the question at

hand in order to assert one’s dominance

in an arena was too much

for Mireille to handle. She had to

take a break. At that point she felt

that all her work, all her years of

writing, were fruitless.”

“Our Own Enemies”

That event would become the

subject of Kalfayan’s final essay.

Standing on the podium under a

solitary spotlight, Ajamian read

from the piece as a projected image

of his mother stared out into

the audience. Titled “Our Own Enemies,”

the article was published

in November 2004, nine months

before Kalfayan’s death.

“How can we be such individualists

while being so tribal in our

attitudes and beliefs?” Kalfayan

wrote. “Have you seen any event

where someone in the audience

would suddenly negate all intelligent

remarks … by condemning

[that same person] for not speaking

in Armenian? When are we

going to let go of this false mea­

“Of all the women

that I’ve known in

my life, Mireille

was the most

liberal and

cultured,” Osheen

Keshishian said.

Armenian Reporter Arts & Culture 12/29/2007 C3


As a Woman Saw

It, published

posthumously.

“Couldn’t

we learn

to express

our true

identity

in

whatever

language

we

choose?”

Kalfayan

insisted.

sure of our own culture? The Armenian

language is beautiful and

we should always use it, but [we

should] not try to reject any of

our compatriots who have not had

the chance to learn it. Couldn’t we

learn to express our true identity

in whatever language we choose?

Shouldn’t that be the measure of

our true worth?” Ajamian continued

to read while trying to hold

back his tears: “I’m ready to toss in

the towel. I have given up on Armenia

and now much of the Armenian

community in Los Angeles. I

don’t want to blame this or that

group – I cannot exclude them

from our culture – they are our

brothers. Yet I have a hard time

accepting their ignorant, old­fashioned,

barbaric attitudes, [which

reject] nobility – true humanity

– for the sake of survival… The hurt

is too deep – touching me to the

core. It is worse than genocide. I

need to take distance from all

– withhold from writing for an indefinite

while. Please forgive me.”

A week after the article was published,

Kalfayan was diagnosed with

cancer. She died in August 2005.

Uncompromising

integrity

Attaining inner truth was Kalfayan’s

lifelong ideal. Her writings

stirred the imagination of

many women and men. She inspired

them to question not only

long­held beliefs, traditions, and

practices, but compelled them to

reexamine their personal roles in

the perpetuation of collective acts

and convictions. Her articles were

not controversial for the sake of

controversy; they were controversial

because they made people

challenge themselves. That was

a task that Kalfayan never took

lightly.

Ajamian noted: “What most

people saw was the clear­thinking,

logical, insightful side of her

– people used to come up to me

and say, ‘Your mom is so smart

– she’s such a good writer.’ But

what I want to share with you is

the contemplative and questioning

person that she was. Before

writing each article, she would

ask me what I thought about it…

she would call her friends for their

opinions, invite people to dinner

and for hours discuss the topics

in detail – ‘What do you feel about

this?’ and ‘What do you think

about that?’ Finally, at the end of

the week, she would be able to put

all these thoughts together and

present her case.”

No wonder Keshishian kept

publishing her articles week after

week. “You have to read the book,”

he said, “really read the book seriously…

and take it in; make it a

part of your life. I am certain it

will change your life.”

All proceeds from the sale of

As a Woman Saw It will benefit

prenatal­care centers in Gyumri

and Vanadzor, Armenia, established

and supported by the Hye

Geen Society. f

C4 Armenian Reporter Arts & Culture 12/29/2007


portrait A

Dancer of Shamakha: Armen Ohanian

woman’s life that

was devoted to

art, literature, and

communism

by Talin Suciyan

Armen Ohanian was born in Shamakha

in Azerbaijan in 1887. She

lived on three continents: Asia,

Europe, and North America. During

her extraordinarily fruitful life,

she performed, wrote, and translated

books. Her own books were

translated into many languages.

Perhaps this has been the reason

why we used to know so little

about her.

Armen Ohanian’s story bridged

the gap between Yerevan and

New Jersey, brining together two

writers and translators; Artsvi

Bakhchinyan and Vartan Matiossian.

Bakhchinyan and Matiossian

did extensive research on Ohanian’s

life, reading resources in 10

languages, in Yerevan, Paris and

New Jersey. The book Dancer of

Shamakha has been published by

Yerevan State Museum of Literature,

thanks to Sosie Khatchikian’s

sponsorship from New Jersey.

Artsvi Bakhchinyan tells us how

they decided to write about Armen

Ohanian: “Her extravagant

biography with its ups and downs,

wide geographical sphere and intrigues

always thrilled me. I was

glad to know that my friend and

brother of pen, Vartan Matiossian

from the U.S. also shares my inspiration

about Ohanian. Hence, we

decided to conduct a study about

her, as we both are always in continuous

research of Armenian

press and literature. The dancer

from Shamakha became a kind of

obsession for us. Thus, six years

of detailed research and the result

is this study: philological, but as

some readers say, it is being read

as a novel.”

A quick look through the book

shows why Armen Ohanian’s life

has been so extravagant. She was

born in 1887 and after a devastating

earthquake her family moved

to Baku. In 1905, being afraid of

the pogroms against Armenians,

her family let her get married to

an Iranian Armenian doctor Haik

Ohanian. Yet the marriage did

not go well and ended in one year,

leaving Armen Ohanian heavily

depressed. In 1907 she began

her acting career at the Armenian

Dramatic Theater of Baku.

A year after she went to Moscow

and studied plastic arts. After a

short period of work at the Opera

of Tbilisi in 1909 she decided to

go to Iran where she founded the

Union of Iranian Theater Lovers.

She directed Nikolai Gogol’s The

Reviser in Iranian and in this way

she became the founder of Western­style

theater in Iran.

During her stay in Iran she perfected

her dancing skills and started

to dance in Constantinople

(Istanbul), Smyrna (Izmir), and

in Egypt. She became one of the

sought­after names in European

cities. She developed choreographies

based on Armenian and Iranian

music by using Isadora Duncan’s

“free dance” method. She

performed extensively in London,

Paris, Brussels, Milan, Sofia, Madrid

as well as in New York and

Mexico.

In 1912 she settled in Paris,

where she started writing. Her

first book The Dancer of Shamakha

was published in 1918 in French.

Her book was translated to English,

Spanish, German, Swedish

and Finnish. She later published

four other books, one of them being

a novel.

Armen Ohanian was a bisexual

and there were famous names

among her boyfriends and girl­

friends; painter Emile Bernard,

Armen Ohanian.

writer and politician Maurice

Barres, writer Andre Germain and

Nathalie Barney. She married a

Mexican economist and diplomat

Makedonio Garza in 1921 and the

couple settled in Mexico in 1943

after living in Paris, Moscow and

Madrid.

Since she was committed to

communism starting from the

1920s, she became a member of

the Communist Party in Mexico.

She translated the masterpieces

of Russian literature into Spanish.

In 1946 she wrote a book titled

Happy Armenia and in 1953 a poem

“ My Dream as an Exile” have become

fruits of her interest in her

own identity. In 1958 she traveled

to Armenia where she offered

a part of her private files to the

Museum of Literature and Arts

in Yerevan. Armen Ohanian’s life

ended in 1976 in Mexico.

Bakhchinyan and Matiossian’s

book on Ohanian’s life, is in Armenian.

At the back of the book,

there are English, French, Persian,

Russian, Spanish summaries; the

languages that Armen Ohanian

used to speak. f

Armenian Reporter Arts & Culture 12/29/2007 C5


Sonya Varoujian

live jam by

Tuncboyaciyan’s avant-garde

folk meets Mt. Helium’s rock

Sonya Varoujian

LOS ANGELES – December 14

drew a packed house at the famous

Whisky A Go­Go Club on

Sunset Boulevard. Conservative

world­music aficionados mingled

with hard­core rock fans in anticipation

of a long­awaited performance.

The room buzzed with excitement

and necks craned toward

the stage anxiously as one of the

most prominent Armenian musicians

in the world­music arena,

Arto Tuncboyaciyan, was about to

play his set. Furthermore, after

a year­and­half hiatus from the

Los Angeles scene, The Apex Theory,

now renamed Mt. Helium, returned

to show their fans exactly

what they had been working on

in the last 18 months, and also to

treat their audience to a collaboration

with Tuncboyaciyan.

Arto Tuncboyaciyan is best

known for his creation of a style

of music he calls “avant­garde

folk.” He is also responsible for

conceiving and forming the Armenian

Navy Band, winner of the

BBC World Music Audience Award

in 2006. “Avant­garde folk” consists

of a fusion of traditional Armenian

folk songs, jazz and blues,

Anatolian melodies, and what

Arto describes as “music with no

national boundaries or limits.”

Arto’s music reaches beyond the

moment. He focuses on educating

his audience about what he

believes are important values in

our contemporary approach to

life and strives to relate his conviction

that humanity will struggle

without creativity. Currently

Arto Tuncboyaciyan.

working on several projects, Arto

seeks to bring the Armenian community

together and foster artistic

excellence among the youth. In

April 2007 he told the Armenian

Reporter, “I want the climax of

my music to be the zero point of

the next generation. I am waiting

for the Armenian youth to pick

the music up from where I have

reached.” That having been said,

Arto is now looking to open a

club in Los Angeles, similar to the

Avant­Garde Folk Club in Yerevan,

as a way to facilitate the realiza­

tion of his projects. He also hopes

to bring the Yerevan­based Armenian

Navy Band here for a series

of concerts in 2008.

Given Arto’s goal of taking

down the boundaries between

various styles of music, his collaboration

with Mt. Helium would

only seem natural. “Music should

be expressed and explained the

way you want,” he says. “Whether

it is a violin or heavy distortion,

does it matter? Even silence can

be used to express yourself. Art

should have no borders.”

C6 Armenian Reporter Arts & Culture 12/29/2007


The pioneer

Sitting center stage among his

percussion instruments at Whisky

A Go­Go, Arto delivered yet another

one of his endearing performances.

In his famous style, which

consists of scatting and playing,

basic yet powerful messages, and

intricate rhythms, he proceeded

to lead his audience on a journey

of emotion. The concertgoers had

a mixed expression of amusement

and awe as they watched him

“play” a glass bottle like a wind instrument

while singing and playing

percussion at the same time.

One of Arto’s future projects

is to create a play that will represent

the story of his music. The

play will be another way of giving

people insight into his philosophy.

Arto is constantly creating,

evolving, and expanding. Having

played with numerous musicians

such as Paul Winter, Al Di Meola,

Matthew Garrison, Serj Tankian,

and Omar Faruk Teklibek, he continues

to experiment, improvise,

and be open to working with new

artists.

The view from Mt. Helium

Once a band with four members,

Mt. Helium is now a trio consisting

of Art Karamian on lead guitar

and vocals, Dave Hakopyan on

bass guitar, and Sammy J. Watson

on drums. Since their last show

in Los Angeles, in June 2006, Mt.

Helium have been coming into

their own. It has been a summer

of touring and sold­out shows, including

an opening performance

for the highly regarded band 311

in front of an audience of 5,000

at the Dodge Theatre in Phoenix,

Arizona, this past July.

Asked about the name change,

Karamian says, “The new name,

Mt. Helium, relates to growing up

and growing out. As an artist, one

needs to change and evolve, and

I think our new sound is exactly

about that.” Originally the guitarist

for The Apex Theory, Karamian

has been able to experiment considerably

in his new role as lead

singer and guitarist of the evolved

trio. After a year and half of auditioning

close to 150 singers and

not finding quite the right fit,

Karamian found himself heavily

involved in writing parts and producing

the songs. His input was so

influential that the band felt that

it was only a natural progression

for him to finally take on the role

as lead vocalist. At last the band

members arrived at what seemed

to be an obvious and natural conclusion:

they would remain a threepiece

band.

Faces, their new album, was remixed

by acclaimed producer Sylvia

Massy, (Tool, Johnny Cash) in

Mount Shasta, which Karamian

describes as a “one street town” in

Northern California, where the

lack of distraction allowed them

to focus entirely on the music. “We

really felt like we were being lifted

to a higher place, growing out and

evolving, and that definitely contributed

to calling ourselves Mt.

Helium.” Although the album is

complete, the band is taking their

time to lay the groundwork for its

official release, slated for spring

2008. In the interim, fans can

sample some of the new material

on the band’s myspace.com page

(myspace.com/mthelium) and

even purchase pre­release copies

of Faces.

Collaboration

Mt. Helium played a highly energetic

set at Whisky A Go­Go, proving

that they were equally strong

as a trio. Hakopyan flew across the

stage as Karamian’s impeccable

lead­guitar solos and powerful voice,

backed by Watson’s drumming, left

the audience mesmerized.

Karamian approached Arto after

he heard that the latter had

relocated to Los Angeles. Karamian

states, “Arto is a tremendous

influence, especially in relation

to his unique style of singing

and his ability to make music

out of almost any object. Also,

no two Arto performances are

ever the same.” Soon they were

jamming together in the studio,

in what Karamian describes as

very “open” and “free” sessions.

Mt. Helium hopes to collaborate

with Arto again in the future and

perhaps even write some music

together.

Mt. Helium and Arto’s collaborative

performance at Whisky A

Go­Go consisted of an interpretation

of Abush (Fool), a Tuncboyaciyan

song on the current state

of world politics. The song’s

title is a wordplay on the name

of President Bush. Karamian describes

how during the open jam

sessions Arto began playing the

song and the members of Mt.

Helium immediately started jamming

to it.

So what’s in store for the future?

Before the official release of Faces,

the band is planning a Northwest

tour in mid­January, which

will include Seattle, Tacoma, and

Portland. Mt. Helium encourages

people to “check out” and experience

what they’ve worked on and

what they’ve become. Karamian

suggests to their fans, “They

should feel it on their skin. This

is a record we are really proud of.”

As for Arto, he felt the show was

a good experience but was quick

to point out, “This is just one day.

It’s what we do forever that really

counts.” f

connect:

www.naregatsi.org/Artoistan

www.myspace.com/mthelium

Mt. Helium.

Armenian Reporter Arts & Culture 12/29/2007 C7


Lory Tatoulian.

pop by

Meet Armenia’s new

ambassador of song

Lory Tatoulian

Sirusho, one of Armenia’s most

beloved pop singers, will represent

her homeland at the 53rd

Eurovision Song Contest, which

will be held in May 2008 in Belgrade.

Artists from 43 countries

will compete in the event, which

in the past has helped launch the

careers of first­place winners such

as ABBA and Celine Dion. Sirusho

(Sirouhi Harutyunyan) participated

in the Eurovision Song Contest

for the past two years as a member

of groups accompanying singers

Andre (2006) and Hayko (2007).

In 2008 she will face her greatest

challenge yet, as millions of Armenians

around the world will hold

their breath and root for her.

To prepare for Eurovision,

Sirusho is now in the midst of

writing and mixing new songs,

consumed with a thousand and

one logistical details, ranging

from her choice of clothing to the

selection of crew and supporting

musicians to take with her to Belgrade.

“I’m very excited to participate

in Eurovision, but there is a lot

of preparation, and I just want to

make sure that my song is really

strong,” Sirusho says with confidence.

The 20­year­old singer first appeared

on stage in Canada 13

years ago, performing at a concert

headlined by her mother, acclaimed

folk singer Suzan Margaryan.

Sirusho’s father, Hrachya

Harutyunyan, is a renowned artist

in his own right. “When I lived in

Canada for two years, I not only

“I’m very excited to participate in Eurovision.”

C8 Armenian Reporter Arts & Culture 12/29/2007


Sirusho’s first song, the award-winning Lusabats, was released when she was only 9.

had the opportunity to develop a

love of performing on stage, but

became fluent in English and

French,” Sirusho recalls. She feels

that her talent for languages has

helped smooth some of the potential

rough edges of touring around

the world.

Sirusho’s first song, the awardwinning

Lusabats, was released

when she was only 9. Three years

later she launched a self­titled

debut album, which was also well

received.

Sirusho’s second album, Sheram,

released in 2005, paid homage

to Armenia’s troubadour legacy.

Despite being known as a pop

singer, Sirusho took the plunge

in favor of folk music, making

some of the timeless classics of

the minstrel Gusan Sheram reverberate

throughout the album.

For her work in Sheram, Sirusho

was honored with the Best Album

and Best Female Performer prizes

of the 2005 Armenian National

Music Awards, an annual event

held in Yerevan. Sirusho feels that

she is making a difference with Sirusho’s second album, Sheram paid homage to Armenia’s troubadour legacy.

Armenian Reporter Arts & Culture 12/29/2007 C9


Sirusho says that

she loves living

in Armenia where

everyone feels

like family and

everything is

yours.

her music by re­introducing folk

songs into Armenian mainstream

music. “It means so much when

young boys and girls join me in

singing these ancient songs during

my concerts,” she says.

In the past five years, Sirusho

has given concerts in many parts

of the world, including the Middle

East, Europe, and the United

States, earning popular and critical

acclaim for her exuberant pop

songs and folk renditions alike.

Signature sound

Sirusho wrote much of the music

for her latest album, Hima, in

which she weaves together the percussive

beats of R & B and the traditional

instrumentation of zurna

and dhol. The album also features

her duet with legendary singer

and songwriter Ruben Hakhverdyan.

“I was very honored to

work with Ruben because I know

he is very selective with whom he

chooses to work,” Sirusho says and

comments on her new compositions:

“Most of the songs I write

are about real­life experiences my

friends are going though. I use my

music as an expression of their

pain or joy, and usually most of

the people who listen to my music

can relate to the stories found

within the songs.”

As most artists will tell you, inspiration

is capricious and comes

at the most unusual moments.

When Sirusho gets a certain rhyme

or melody in her head, she pulls

out her cell phone and records her

voice. Though an extremely convenient

tool, her phone has also

been a bane, as she has discovered

that there are underground privacy

pirates who illegally obtain the

cell­phone numbers of Armenian

celebrities, including herself, and

sell them to fans and paparazzi.

On any given day, Sirusho receives

hundreds of unwanted calls and

text messages on her phone, with

admirers often pleading with her

to include their amateur lyrics in

her next album.

Despite the side effects of celebrity,

Sirusho says she loves

Armenia and nothing gives her

greater joy than spending time

with her childhood friends, strolling

through the streets of Yerevan,

and grabbing a cup of coffee with

them. “I’m always working,” she

explains. “It almost feels nonstop.

So whenever I get to relax,

I want to spend that time with

my buddies. I just love living in

Armenia. It feels like living in a

country where everyone is family,

everything is yours,” says Sirusho,

who is often seen in the company

of President Kocharian’s younger

son, Levon. f

connect:

sirusho.am

C10 Armenian Reporter Arts & Culture 12/29/2007


Armenian Reporter Arts & Culture 12/29/2007 C11


Adrineh Gregorian.

artisan Designer

Crafter of mysticism

Michael

Aram dazzles

connoisseurs during a

stop in Los Angeles

by Adrineh Gregorian

Only one word can describe the

scene at the Regali Preciozo gift

shop in Glendale on the unusually

cold windy day in December:

pandemonium. There’s a swarm

of women gathered in and outside

the shop, waiting anxiously

to meet their idol. The man of

the day, however, is not an actor,

a rock star, or even an athlete,

but designer­artist Michael

Aram.

Walking into the store, one

can’t help but get caught up in the

frenzy. Among the luxurious crystal

vases and porcelain sculptures

bearing high­end names such as

Baccarat and Lladro lies a display

of delicately crafted metal objects

normally found in nature: a

silver lotus leaf shaped as a bowl,

a bronzed pomegranate candleholder,

or a knife shaped like a

twig, to mention a few. However,

these objects are better suited to

a museum gallery than the wilderness.

They are the decorative

pieces designed by Michael that

households across the world can’t

get enough of.

At the end of the narrow store,

Michael sat calmly behind a desk,

greeting admirers and individually

signing pieces with an engraving

pen. Throughout the five

hours he spent at Regali Preciozo,

champagne flowed and hors

d’oeuvres were served to eager

women scrimmaging to purchase

the last remaining displays. Meanwhile,

an endless steam of patrons

waited in line, carrying boxes of

Michael Aram.

favored pieces and newly acquired

merchandise.

The Michael Aram Collection is

replete with functional art pieces.

Each handcrafted creation is like a

sculpture modeled after a familiar

object in nature.

“It’s mobile merchandise,” says

Regali Preciozo owner Joseph

Toorian, who at first wasn’t sure if

Michael was Armenian. “The pieces

are always moving and pushing

each other in different directions,”

he adds. Toorian sells Michael’s

creations as gifts for housewarmings,

weddings, anniversaries, or

as collector pieces.

Regali Preciozo presold their inventory

four times over for this

event, leaving women to plead for

C12 Armenian Reporter Arts & Culture 12/29/2007


the display tables designed by Michael

himself.

“It was so heartwarming for me,”

says Michael, who knew the store

was owned by Armenians but had

no idea the majority of the day’s

customers would be Armenian as

well.

“I love it. I feel that there is a

greater enthusiasm,” he continues,

as he comments on meeting Armenians

at similar signing events

across the United States.

Aida Mangassarian and daughter

Yvette Amirian came back

more than once throughout the

day. “To me it’s a proud moment

that there’s an Armenian designer

that we can support,” Mangassarian

says.

Collector Ivet Tahmazian owns

almost every piece designed by

Michael Aram. She proudly displays

them in a room dedicated

to the artist. “I couldn’t bring the

vases,” she says in a disheartened

tone.

Michael signed six pieces for

Tahmazian, some in Armenian

and others incorporating the specific

design of each piece.

Maral Kazandjian was the last

to come through the line. Michael

personalized her selected pieces.

She says she likes the pomegranates

because they show an Armenian

side.

Origins of a designer

Ever since he was a young child,

Michael has had an interest in the

arts. “I loved to make things,” he

recalls. “I was forever in my parents’

basement making furniture,

making art, restoring old furniture,

and taking things like clocks

and dishwashers apart.”

Michael’s family always encouraged

his experimentations and

exposed him to art. In college, Michael

double­majored in art history

and fine arts, not knowing

that he would make a career out

of design. He went on to study at

the University of Florence and the

Arts Students League of New York

and eventually became a graphic

designer.

Michael landed a job as a freelancer

at the New York Metropolitan

Museum of Art. During his

three years at the museum, his

heavy exposure to fine and decorative

arts had a profound effect

on him.

He was mainly inspired by Alexander

Calder, an artist who took

art off the wall and put it into

Michael’s

Armenian heritage

has been an

essential source of

inspiration for his

Armenian Reporter Arts & Culture 12/29/2007 C13

work.


Michael’s

family always

encouraged his

experimentations

and exposed him

to art.

people’s lives. “He was a thinking

designer who would create anything,”

Michael says. “There was

no boundary for him.”

What began as a trip

turned into a career

Some say there is no such thing as

an accident, but little else can explain

how Michael found his true

calling. At a crossroads between his

job at the Met and a burgeoning career

in the fine arts, he decided to

get on a plane and visit his brother,

John, and sister, Lousine, who ran

a loungewear company in India.

As

a tourist

in India,

Michael discovered

a profusion

of ancient crafts which

he thought were underappreciated

and underutilized.

“Working with craftsmen [in India]

was like Aladdin’s cave had

been opened up to me,“ Michael

explains. In India, he could work

with new materials and make

things he’d always dreamed of

making.

Initially he made five original

designs which included a bowl, a

shoehorn, a candle stand, and a

letter opener. When he brought

them back to New York, friends

encouraged him to think about

selling them.

At first Michael simply enjoyed

working with the artisans and

didn’t think of the process as a

business. It was the late 1980s, and

at the time a lot of metal designs

were beingproduced

and marketed

in New York. He met with a

designer rep who loved his work

and said, “If you can make it, I can

sell it.”

With his parents’ support, Michael

was never afraid to take

chances. “There was a solid rock

under my foot,” he says. “Something

about being Armenian, I always

say, is that there are carpets

under the carpets. There are so

many levels of security within the

Armenian network and family.”

Michael went back to India and

began production on 50 pieces

of each sample. In the following

month he secured his first orders,

at a New York gift show. Within

six months, his products were

C14 Armenian Reporter Arts & Culture 12/29/2007


on the cover

of the Neiman

Marcus Christmas

catalogue. The

company exploded.

Michael was only 25.

There was nothing

else in the market

that resembled what

Michael was doing.

Each handmade

piece was a functional

art object,

crafted with ageold

techniques.

In the 20 years since then, Michael’s

namesake brand has landed

into display cases alongside

venerable brands such as Lalique

and Waterford, in the most highend

department stores and boutiques

across the globe. Michael

has also launched a flagship store

and showroom in New York City

and recently opened a store in

Manhattan, New York.

The company did have its fair

share of mistakes and problems,

according to Michael. “In New

York you would be allowed one

mistake, maybe two or three, and

then you’d be out of business because

you couldn’t afford to recover

from them,” he says. “Thankfully

in India I was able to make

mistake after mistake and still

bounce back.”

Dreams and marigold

fantasies

Michael now lives in India six

months out of the year. He first

began working with zero infrastructure.

No studio, telephones,

fax machines, bank accounts, or

even maps to navigate the unpaved

roads. He would walk through the

narrow passages of New Delhi and

use his senses to find the smell

of the sand casters and hear the

metal beaters. He would stop

rickshaws on the road and forge

new relationships with his broken

Hindi.

He began

making

patterns with

sticks and rocks and

drawings in the sand.

“I didn’t show up with

modeling clay, so I

was casting things

from nature right

away from the very

beginning,” Michael

recalls. “It was very normal

for me because I was always dealing

with nature and life and the

elements.”

Today Michael continues to

manufacture his trademark designs,

including his twigware,

which first appeared on the Neiman

Marcus catalogue.

His collections are divided by basic

elements, such as Earth, Water,

and Dream. Each piece interacts

and tells a story, which the artist

describes in detail on his website.

Design integration, as for instance

found in his Tree of Life

pieces, is key to Michael’s work

and philosophy. “Just the idea that

you would look at the piece, imagine

the tree of life, think of what

that invokes for us [Armenians]

in terms of symbolism, and then

to see two little love birds looking

at each other,” he explains. “If you

turn it over, it has the same design

intention. Everything is deigned

from the front and the back. You

sense the passing of time in each

piece.”

Being Armenian

Michael’s Armenian heritage has

been an essential source of inspiration

for his work. “I grew up on

the altar of my church,” Michael

says. “The idea of ritual objects

is something that stayed with

me. All of that heavy sense of the

ritual which the Armenians have,

whether it’s the dove of the oil con­

tainer or

the incense

burner, or the

crosses or the chalice…

The very idea of mysticism

and the power of

objects are very strong

themes for me.”

His keen

sense of ritual

did not

come solely

from church.

“We used to set up a beautiful table,

light candles every night, even for

family dinners,” Michael recalls.

“There was always that sense of

ritual.”

Michael took his first trip to

Armenia in 1981 with the Armenian

Church Youth Organization

of America, intent on learning

Armenian and studying Armenian

culture. He went back five years

ago with his parents, who were

visiting for the first time.

Throughout his travels in the

homeland, Michael was struck by

the beauty and intricate craftsmanship

of old churches and artworks.

“All of those things get into

you and are very inspirational,” he

says.

The experience served him well

in his recent, extraordinary project

of designing all the interior

fixtures for the St. Gregory Armenian

Church in Westchester County,

New York. f

connect:

www.michaelaram.com

Michael’s

collections are

divided by basic

elements, such as

Earth, Water, and

Dream. Each piece

interacts and tells

a story.

Armenian Reporter Arts & Culture 12/29/2007 C15


Kristen Kidd.

this is CNN The

Karina Chobanyan: Life, love,

and the pursuit of global news

unlikely true story

of a CNN producer

by Kristen Kidd

Some people seem to sashay

blithely into adventure, making

casual turns that lead into exciting

opportunities they never

envisioned. Behind the scenes,

though, may be remarkable talent,

a supportive family, and years

of hard work. Take the career of

Karina Chobanyan: She came to

the U.S. from her home in Russia

intending to take one college

course. Ten years later she still is

here, because quirks of fate – and

magic ice skates – pirouetted her

into excitement, romance, and a

fascinating job in global television

news.

Chobanyan, now 32, was the first

in more than six generations of

her family to leave the Armenian

enclave known as Nor Nakhichevan,

in the historic city of Rostov

near the Don river and the Sea of

Azov in the Crimea. Through two

centuries of czarist rule, Nazi occupation,

and Soviet control, her

family had stayed in the community,

built at the invitation of

Empress Catherine the Great (see

sidebar story).

“I really thought I would come

here for 18 months with the college

program and go back home,”

explained Chobanyan. “But then

I needed an internship, and then

at the end I could stay a year for

practical work training, then I got

Kristen Kidd is a freelance writer and

soccer mom living in Littleton, Colorado.

She has worked for NBC, CBS, HGTV, TLC

and various print media.

a work visa. It’s always like, ‘I’ll

do it another year, do it another

year.’” She now awaits her green

card as well as the next chance to

visit family half a world away.

A friendly exchange

Chobanyan was studying journalism

and English at Rostov State

University when New York University

sent a group of professors

over as part of a friendly exchange.

Chobanyan was chosen

as a Russian­English interpreter

in Rostov and also in New York,

where she was allowed to sit in on

classes for no credit. When a new

program on science and health reporting

was created at NYU, Chobanyan

was invited to enter and

earn her master’s degree.

She enrolled, expecting to graduate

and return to Rostov, where

her mother Tatyana Popozyan

Chobanyan works for the government

as an economist, and her fa­

ther Vardan and younger brother

Gaik work in the city’s booming

construction industry. “Living so

far apart from them for so long

is probably the hardest thing I’ve

ever done,” Chobanyan said. The

pull of home was strong, but the

promise of a television news career

was stronger. And other

things added to the allure of life

in America.

A childhood dream

realized

Karina Chobanyan.

Chobanyan learned to ice skate

on outdoor rinks, something she

hadn’t been able to do in Rostov.

One winter afternoon in New York

she impulsively joined other skaters

auditioning as a stunt double

for actress Winona Rider in the

2001 romantic film Autumn in New

York.

“I had only been skating for a few

months, just a beginner, and the

C16 Armenian Reporter Arts & Culture 12/29/2007


other skaters who were auditioning

were doing spins and jumps,

but I saw Richard Gere point his

finger at me. They said they wanted

someone that looks like a regular

person, not an Olympic athlete,

so I got the job.” Petite, brunette

Chobanyan had to wear a wig and

two pairs of pants to create the illusion

of being Rider. Filming the

two­minute skating scene in Central

Park gave her five hours with

leading man Gere, a paycheck, her

name in the credits, and a great

story to impress her family back

home.

After four years in New York,

where Chobanyan worked as a

producer and writer for the nowdefunct

CNN financial news channel,

she was offered a producer’s

job at CNN International headquarters

in Atlanta. Once again,

she thought she’d give it a year.

The hour­long commute from the

suburbs meant walking to work

was no longer an option, so Chobanyan

bought a used Volkswagen

Jetta and learned to drive at the

age of 26.

Adjusting to her new, albeit

temporary life, Chobanyan set

out to find an ice rink to continue

her favorite hobby. She found the

Cooler Arena where she took lessons

in pair skating and had to

overcome a bad initial impression

of her coach, Tony Dicus. “We

met on the ice and the first year

we wouldn’t talk to each other. I

thought this guy doesn’t like me

at all!”

Dicus explained, “I was backstage

trying to rehearse and warm

up for an ice show, and she didn’t

realize she was standing right

where I needed to jump, so I think

I snapped at her and she thought

I was mean and later didn’t want

to take lessons with me. But I was

the only pairs coach, so eventually

she did.”

Dicus was ending a relationship

and had moving boxes packed and

ready to return to his hometown

in Arkansas, but at the last minute

asked Chobanyan for a date.

They took a romantic sunset dinner

cruise on Lake Lanier and two

years later were married in dual

ceremonies in Atlanta and Rostov.

The latter ceremony was held in

a centuries­old Armenian church

her family helped save from Soviet

destruction, known as Surb

Khach.

Where few Armenians

have gone before...

Describing her high­pressure role

as a CNN International news pro­

ducer, Chobanyan said. “I once

had to write a behind­the­scenes

article for our website, explaining

what this job means. I compared

it to being a cook. In the sea of

information, you have to find the

right ingredients and put them

together in the right proportion.”

Surrounded by news people

from many countries, Chobanyan

said she enjoyed a greater recognition

of her own background.

“People here are handpicked from

all over the world, and their level

of awareness is amazing. Before

I came to CNN, I did feel a bit of

‘what’s an Armenian?’ reaction

when a few of my former colleagues

would ask about my name,

but not at CNNi.”

The cable news network strives

to cover news on a global scale.

Its slogan “Be The First To Know”

echoes its ambition to be the first

to report breaking news, no matter

when and where it happens.

After four years

in New York,

where Chobanyan

worked as a

producer and

writer for the

CNN financial

news channel,

she was offered a

producer’s job at

CNN International

headquarters in

Atlanta, Georgia.

Armenian Reporter Arts & Culture 12/29/2007 C17


Karina with

husband Tony

Dicus on the ice

rinkskating.

This approach afforded Chobanyan

the chance to report on­air

when a developing story out of

Russia caught her attention back

in August 2005. A small Russian

submarine was tangled in fishing

nets more than 600 feet below the

surface with Russian, British, and

U.S. Navy rescuers racing to reach

the crew before oxygen ran out.

Chobanyan was monitoring

Russian television in the CNN

newsroom in Atlanta as the story

was unfolding. CNN’s Moscow correspondent

was in flight trying to

get to the scene, but news managers

didn’t want to wait for his

arrival, and so asked Chobanyan

to go on live with the information

she was hearing. She jumped at

the chance to report in a newscast

that reaches 222 million households

and hotel rooms in more

than 200 countries and via CNN.

com (second only to BBC World).

Following her international news

debut, reporting the rescue effort

was a success with all seven crewmembers

surviving, Chobanyan

knew this was the direction she

would like her career to take.

Typically, on­air reporters

and anchors start in smaller TV

markets, gaining experience and

working their way up to the bigger

and better­paying stations

and networks. Chobanyan said

she does not expect a local TV

market in America to hire her because

“local markets don’t look

for accents that aren’t the local

accent.” Chobanyan’s written

English is impeccable, but her accent

has the unmistakable sound

of a woman raised in Russia. Her

grandparents speak Armenian

with the so­called Don accent that

has evolved over the centuries,

but Chobanyan grew up speaking

Russian and began learning English

when she was eight.

“So far, I’ve done a few hits for

‘Russian Online TV’ (a small Russian

media company in Atlanta),”

said Chobanyan, who continues to

gain respect among her colleagues

as an intelligent and highly competent

producer. Gregory D’Avis,

a senior copy editor at CNNi,

said, “Karina is one of my favorite

people to work with. She’s known

for her solid work ethic and her

friendliness. She’s very professional

and also stays calm under

pressure. Whenever we have a story

out of the former Soviet Union

she’s immensely helpful, able to

give us some background.”

Chobanyan explained, “A lot of

people don’t realize how many it

takes to put one show on TV. Usually

the viewer only gets to see an

anchor in the studio, but behind

the scenes it’s a team effort, and

everybody’s job is so important.

Basically, I am in charge of planning

a newscast, usually 30 minutes

or one hour long. That starts

with reading­in and finding out

what’s going on today. Then checking

what the network is covering

and in which form. After that, it’s

a matter of deciding which stories

are important, appealing, have

human interest, and putting them

in order, which we call making a

rundown.

“When it’s time for the live show,

my job is to keep the train on the

tracks. I make changes when we

have breaking news, communicate

with the anchor, director, supervisor,

writers, and copy editors and

just make sure the show is clean

and interesting.”

Finding ways to stay

connected

When she’s not working or skating

or traveling, Chobanyan finds

time to teach youngsters about

Russian language and culture. “I

devote a lot of time to my Russian

school. We organized a weekend

school for kids from Russian families

here in Atlanta. Right now, we

are preparing for a Russian New

Year party. I want them to know

who Grandfather Frost and his

granddaughter Snowden are (the

traditional Russian New Year

characters). We are also staging a

play, where kids will perform and

sing. I really enjoy working with

kids.”

Chobanyan won’t predict what

the New Year, or the years beyond

will bring, saying, “In my life

there have been so many unpredictable,

unscripted turns that I

have learned to take it one day at

a time.” f

C18 Armenian Reporter Arts & Culture 12/29/2007


Nor Nakhichevan, Russia

by Kristen Kidd

The Armenians of Nor Nakhichevan

(not to be confused with the

embattled enclave of Nakhchivan

in Azerbaijan, said to have been

settled by Noah) have a fascinating

history dating back 230 years

to the reign of Catherine the

Great of Russia. In 1778, following

one of the Russian­Turkish wars,

she invited Armenian merchants

living in the Crimea to establish a

settlement near what is today the

capital city of Southern Russia,

Rostov­on­Don. The Armenian

settlers, who had been clashing

with Islamic Tatars, a Turkic ethnic

group in the Crimea, gratefully

accepted the offer, soon building

five villages and naming the

area Nor Nakhichevan.

Within three years they founded

a church and named it Surb

Khach (Holy Cross), after an ancient

Armenian church in Crimea.

It became the pilgrimage destination

for all Armenians in the

south of Russia. A set of 13 khachkars

dating back to the 15th century

were brought in from various

churches to decorate the walls of

Surb Khach, all of which were destroyed

in 1960 by the Soviet government.

A spring called Saghlyk

Su (cure all aches) runs under the

hill on which the church stands,

and is said to have legendary

healing powers.

Bolsheviks also demolished

St. George Cathedral in Nor

Nakhichevan during Soviet rule,

prompting Armenians to take

action to save Surb Khach from

destruction. They removed the

steeple and renamed the building

“Museum of Russian­Armenian

Friendship” and displayed artifacts

from the Don Armenians’

history. It wasn’t until 2006 the

church was fully restored and

handed over to the Armenian

Church.

Nazi forces occupied and destroyed

much of Rostov during

three invasions in the early

1940s before finally being chased

out by the Russian Army. The city

has been largely restored and

is experiencing great economic

growth over the past decade.

Construction projects are hap­

pening all over the city, which

now boasts a population of more

than one million. Armenians

from other regions are showing

up for work in the building and

farming industries. Shopping

malls offering typical Western

retails stores, mega movie complexes

and bowling alleys are all

fairly recent developments in

Rostov­on­Don. f

St. Khach

Church in Nor

Nakhichevan,

taken in 2001.

Photo: Hrair Hawk

Khatcherian (www.

hrairhawk.com).

Armenian Reporter Arts & Culture 12/29/2007 C19


Monday Tuesday Wednesday

esT PsT

4:05 7:05 New Year Program 2008

6:45 9:45 New Year Program 2008

31 December 1 January 2008 2 January

8:45 11:45 NY Speeches of Armenian Catholicos’ &

RA President

9:00 12:00 Clock+Bells/New Year Program 2008/

continuation

9:15 12:15 New Year Show / Dubai/

10:10 13:10 Concert /Dima Bilan/

11:10 14:10 Cool sketches

11:40 14:40 Concert / Tata /

13:30 16:30 The Hour /New Year Program/

14:00 17:00 NY Show

14:30 17:30 When Stars Dance/New Year/

15:30 18:30 Cool sketches

16:00 19:00 New Year Program 2007

18:10 21:10 Cool sketches

18:45 21:45 New Year Program 2008

20:45 23:45 NY Speeches of Armenian Catholicos’ &

RA President

21:00 0:00 Clock+Bells/New Year Program 2008/

continuation

21:15 0:15 New Year Show / Dubai/

22:10 1:10 Teleduel /NY Program/

23:00 2:00 Furor /NY Program/

23:30 2:30 Cool sketches

0:00 3:00 Concert / Tata/

1:50 4:50 New Year Program 2006

3:30 6:30 When Stars Dance/New Year/

esT PsT

4:30 7:30 Good Morning, Armenians!

6:00 9:00 Cool sketches

6:30 9:30 The Best Songs

18:45 21:45 NY Show

7:30 10:30 Blef /NY Program/

8:30 11:30 Concert

9:30 12:30 Furor /NY Program/

10:00 13:00 Exclusive

10:20 13:20 New Year Program 2006

12:00 15:00 Cool sketches

12:30 15:30 Candid camera

13:00 16:00 Teleduel /NY Program/

13:50 16:50 Dances

14:30 17:30 Cool sketches

15:00 18:00 NY Show

16:30 19:30 Concert

18:00 21:00 Furor / NY Program/

18:30 21:30 Cool sketches

18:50 21:50 Unhappy Happiness - Serial

19:20 22:20 When the Stars Dance

19:40 22:40 Teleduel /NY Program/

20:30 23:30 Blef /NY Program/

21:30 0:30 Evening Encounter / NY Program/

22:30 1:30 Cool sketches

23:00 2:00 Furor / NY Program/

23:30 2:30 The Best Songs

23:45 2:45 Exclusive

0:05 3:05 Candid camera

0:45 3:45 When Stars Dance

1:05 4:05 Blef /NY Program/

2:05 5:05 Cool Program

2:30 5:30 NY Show

3:30 6:30 Dances

4:00 7:00 Cool sketches

esT PsT

4:30 7:30 Concert

6:00 9:00 Neighbours- Serial/1,2,3/

7:30 10:30 Music Videos

Watch Armenia TV on

Dish Network. To get a

dish and subscribe,

call 1-888-284-7116 toll

free.

8:00 11:00 Unhappy Happiness - Serial

8:30 11:30 When the Stars Dance

8:50 11:50 Cool Program

9:10 12:10 NY Show

10:00 13:00 Exclusive

10:20 13:20 Evening Encounter / NY Program/

11:20 14:20 Furor /NY Program/

11:50 14:50 Cool sketches

12:30 15:30 Candid camera

13:00 16:00 Program about SerialCaptives of Fate

14:00 17:00 Dances

2:30 5:30 Cool sketches

15:00 18:00 Concert

16:30 19:30 NY Show

17:50 20:50 When Stars Dance/New Year/

18:50 21:50 Unhappy Happiness - Serial

19:20 22:20 When the Stars Dance

19:45 22:45 Cool Program

20:05 23:05 PS Club / NY Program/

20:50 23:50 Blef /NY Program/

21:30 0:30 Evening Encounter / NY Program/

22:30 1:30 Cool sketches

23:00 2:00 Furor / NY Program/

23:30 2:30 The Best Songs

23:45 2:45 Exclusive

0:05 3:05 Candid camera

0:45 3:45 When Stars Dance

1:05 4:05 Blef /NY Program/

2:05 5:05 Cool Program

2:30 5:30 Program about serial Captives of Fate

3:30 6:30 Dances

4:00 7:00 Cool sketches

C20 Armenian Reporter Arts & Culture 12/29/2007


Thursday Friday saTurday sunday

esT PsT

Satellite Broadcast Program Grid

31 December – 6 January 2008

3 January 4 January 5 January 6 January

4:30 7:30 Good Morning, Armenians!

6:00 9:00 News in Armenian

6:20 9:20 The Colour of Sin- Serial

7:05 10:05 Serial

8:00 11:00 Unhappy Happiness - Serial

8:30 11:30 When the Stars Dance

8:50 11:50 Music Videos

9:30 12:30 Express

10:00 13:00 Exclusive

10:20 13:20 Soul Mate - Serial

11:05 14:05 News in English

11:20 14:20 Cartoon

12:00 15:00 Late at Night

13:00 16:00 Music Videos

13:05 16:05 The Colour of Sin- Serial

13:50 16:50 News in Armenian

14:10 17:10 Against Clock-Arrow

14:35 17:35 Dances

14:55 17:55 News in English

15:10 18:10 Serial

15:55 18:55 Music Videos

16:05 19:05 In Reality

16:30 19:30 Serial

17:15 20:15 Soul Mate - Serial

18:00 21:00 Express

18:30 21:30 News in Armenian

18:50 21:50 Neighbours- Serial

19:20 22:20 When the Stars Dance

20:00 23:00 Discovery

20:25 23:25 Cool Program

20:45 23:45 Blitz

21:00 0:00 Music Videos

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Armenian Reporter Arts & Culture 12/29/2007 C21


poetry matters by

Poetry as prayer and

prayer as poetry

Lory Bedikian

Over a month ago I was searching

for poems that had to do with

thankfulness or gratitude. After

not finding many written by Armenian

poets, I did find one by

Lola Koundakjian. Another poem

did come my way but, like all good

things, just a bit late for the theme

of “Thanksgiving.”

The poet Jacques Hagopian

– born in Jerusalem, 1917, and now

residing in Pasadena, California

– has written a poem of “Thankfulness.”

While Koundakjian’s poem

delved more into a list of pleasures

of this earth and thankfulness to

those she loves (not forgetting the

“spirits”), Hagopian’s poem focuses

on “Thankfulness” to God.

Hagopian’s poem reminded me

of a particular situation while

receiving a Master of Fine Arts

in Poetry, where I was “encouraged”

to take a reference to God

out of one of my poems. Strange,

I thought. Poems insulting to

other religions or cultures were

not acceptable and rare to come

by at that level of education.

And this was nothing of the sort,

so I could not understand why I

was being told to do this. But investigating

that professor’s mo­

Lory Bedikian received her MFA in Poetry

from the University of Oregon. Her col-

lection 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.

tives or the current “trends” in

the poetry world would require

writing a book on the topic. All I

knew was as long as a poem does

not purposely insult another religion

or culture, etc., but takes

joy in its own spiritual quest, I

couldn’t see what the problem

could be.

Most Armenian poets and writers

over the centuries have written

of God, religious themes and spirituality

in their works. Being the

first nation to accept Christianity,

it would almost be impossible not

to find praises and prayers within

the writings of many Armenians

everywhere. From early Christian

poetry or the poem/prayers of

Krikor Naregatzi to contemporary

times (the poets too numerous to

name) praises to God or prayers of

desperation have been recurring

themes of Armenian bards.

Of course, this is not unique to

Armenians alone. An unending

list exists of poets throughout

time and throughout the world

who have written of their respective

faiths. In my own schooling,

two poets come to mind as having

been entirely devoted to religion

in their verse: George Herbert

and Gerard Manley Hopkins.

Herbert, the Anglican priest and

poet, wrote of “The Holy Communion”

or “The Twenty­third

Psalm” as well as other biblical,

spiritual themes in his short life.

Hopkins, with his riveting textures

of sound, wrote of “God’s

Grandeur” or “The Windover: To

Christ our Lord” during his life

as a Jesuit priest. What most of

Jacques Hagopian.

these poets also have in common,

alongside these themes of faith,

is their gravitation toward nature

as a place of inspiration or meditation.

Hagopian – the author of fifteen

books of poetry – writes mainly

of religion and faith with poems

such as “Let the Bible Stay Open,”

or “Your Blood, Jesus.” And like

many other poets of this spiritual

realm, he too turns to nature for

its symbols and metaphors. And

within his career he has also produced

nationalistic verse such as

“In Praise of the Braves of Vartan”

or “We Exist and Are Here

to Stay.”

A student of Daniel Varoujan,

Missak Medzarentz and Vahan

Tekeyan, Hagopian received the

C22 Armenian Reporter Arts & Culture 12/29/2007


Saint Sahag and Saint Mesrob

medal from the Catholicos of all

Armenians in Etchiadzin, Karekin

II and the Saint Mesrob Mashdotz

medal from Aram I of the See of

Antelias.

“Thankfulness” by Hagopian

employs many of the traditional

poetic devices such as the use

of simile: “the clamorous poplars

which soar/ To the skies like

fountains of praise” or “Blessings

upon blessings do I receive from

Your hands / Like an open granary,

rich and plentiful.” His use of repetition

“Goodness, goodness and

goodness” is itself prayer­like and

a chant of gratitude.

“A thousand lips,” “a thousand

arms,” “a myriad of knees,” “Not

one heart, but a thousand or a zillion,”

all are hyperboles, uses of

exaggeration creating a dramatic

effect in the poem. But this is

done with a sincerity of tone and

voice throughout the last lines.

The recurring image of the “sea”

also creates a feeling of that which

is grand and unending.

Hagopian’s poem, as in most of

his poetry, is simple in diction and

devices, but complex in the depth

of the poet’s faith. He upholds a

tradition of writing that began

with his forefathers and continues

to this day.

I’m glad when people write of

their faith or spirituality, whatever

it may be, when I feel it is

for the good of themselves and

others. Around this time of year

I welcome these poems, whether

from Hopkins or Hagopian, as

we look toward the New Year and

Christmas.

And I know that in the future I

will refer to God when it’s necessary

in my writing because I know

I’m writing about my own beliefs

with no ill­will intended to anyone

else’s beliefs. I hope that all

the poems created, whether about

God or other topics, will lead ultimately

to what we wish for one

another during this time: peace

on earth, good will toward everyone.

f

Thankfulness

by Jacques Hagopian

translated by Vahan Bedikian

There is endless thankfulness in my

heart, for You, O Lord.

Yet in the world’s books and in my

mouth, I find no lexicon

To read or translate it; as a detainee

from my linguistic chains

I yearn long to see the clamorous poplars,

which soar

To the skies like fountains of praise.

Were my heart to turn into a massive

sea

And shout its thankfulness constantly

To show how much I am grateful to

You!

Lord, I wish my thankful heart

Was a large piece of incense,

That through life’s winter or spring,

Day or night,

Instead of uttering words, I would burn

and emit fragrances for You!

Goodness, goodness and goodness

From the cradle up to this day

Your love has sustained me.

Blessings upon blessings do I receive

Music on canvas:

Oldest YY shows off “Color of Jazz”

Sona Yeghiazaryan will open

her first personal exhibition on

Sunday, January 20 in New Jersey.

The artist, known to many

on the East Coast as the oldest

of the YY Sisters accappella trio,

will display her collection of

“jazz paintings.” Opening night

will also feature jazz pianist and

composer Tigran Martikyan.

“Color of Jazz” takes place from

5:30 PM to 8:30 PM at Trumpets

Jazz Club in Montclair. f

connect:

973-744-2600

www.SonaArt.com

www.trumpetsjazz.com

Top: Sona

Yeghiazaryan.

Right: Poster of

Sona’s personal

exhibition.

from Your hands

Like an open granary, rich and plentiful…

What can I give You in return from my

tiny soul?

Or, what would You expect from a poor

one like me?

Lord God, You have everything.

From my clayish mouth would a word of

thanks suffice, Lord?

Like the constant roaring sea,

Not with two but with a thousand lips

would I praise You.

Instead of a pair of arms, if I had a thousand

arms

I would burn incense for Your worship.

Rather than two if I were given a myriad

of knees,

I would, like a battalion, fall prostrate before

You!

Not one heart, but a thousand or a zillion

Was hardly enough to worship You, O Jesus.

I would worship not with candles and

flowers,

But with all my heart and all the days of

my life.

Armenian Reporter Arts & Culture 12/29/2007 C23

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