Armenian Earthquake Survivor Arsen Asatryan Finds Hope In Art

Arsen Asatryan is an artist living and working in Spitak, Armenia.

Though he painted at a young age, he didn’t commit himself seriously to the art until after the 1988 earthquake in Armenia, which left him paralyzed.

In those years, painting became both a source of solace and a way to contribute toward Arsen’s medical expenses.

“I was in a wheelchair and I needed something to occupy myself, and a job that didn’t involve using my legs,” he says. “I decided to pursue my childhood dream.”

Arsen’s work ranges from traditional still life to Armenian iconography and biblical scenes.

He says he has been inspired by Armenian artists Martiros Saryan, Panos Terlemezian, Minas Avetisian, and Ivan Aivazovsky.

Last year, Arsen, 44, showed his work in an exhibition with his mentor, Mick Oxley, a UK-born artist who traveled to Armenia in 2006 to lead art workshops.

Arsen was one of Oxley’s students, and the two struck a friendship that led to the 2009 exhibition in York Minster, a cathedral in York, England. Titled “An Armenian Journey,” the six-week exhibition also showcased the work of Iranian-born artist Karen Babayan.

The exhibition followed an earlier display of Arsen’s work in Yerevan. In addition to showcasing his paintings, the exhibitions give Arsen an opportunity to raise funds for medical expenses surrounding his spine injury.

Arsen says his family has provided tremendous support throughout his newfound career. He met his wife when he was in the hospital after the earthquake. They married shortly thereafter and have a son and a daughter. “She made me see life again and love again,” says Arsen.

“It has been 22 years since I have been able to walk,” he says. But Arsen is optimistic about recent developments in spine treatments.

“For the first time, I believe that I can actually start walking again,” he says. “That there is a chance that I can dance with my wife and daughter, and play soccer with my son.”

For more information about the artist and his work, please contact him at asa.arsen@gmail.com.

Arsen and his wife at one of his exhibitions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Interview with photographer Hrair Hawk Khatcherian

A photo of Mt. Ararat, taken by Hrair Hawk Khatcherian

Hrair Hawk Khatcherian, who recently took a journey through Western Armenia, will be speaking at the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America on Thursday, September 9 at 7 pm in an event hosted by the Zohrab Center and the Armenian Network of America Greater New York region. Below is an interview Taleen Babayan recently conducted with Hawk Khatcherian.

Taleen Babayan: What inspired you to become a photographer?

Hawk Khatcherian: While at school at the age of 13 my friend’s brother used to run a photo center and when I asked how a picture was developed into an image, the answer was ‘you cannot do it, it is too difficult.’ This was a challenge for me to try photography, so I bought a tiny 110mm camera and started snapping at school and at the beach, and have been hooked ever since.

TB: What is the story behind your name “Hawk”?

HK: Again it was during my school years. Back in 1975 there were no e-mails, g-mails, Facebook or Skype. We were pen palling from one school in Lebanon to Michigan where a student by the name of Jamie Ledbetter was my pen pal. One day Jamie said please find yourself a nickname I can call you. ‘Hawk’ is my favorite bird of prey for similar qualities, sharp eyes, independent, flight…. so the nickname was approved and I used to sign off my letters with hawk.  In 1992 I earned my wing as a commercial pilot in Hayward, California and my nickname officially became my middle name, and today all my legal documents such as passports, driver’s license all bear the middle name hawk.

TB: How does photography tie you to your ancestral homeland and to Armenians worldwide?

HK: The war in Karabagh was a true introduction for me of what my roots are. Back in 1988 when there were protests by the Armenians in front of the Soviet consulate in Montreal, they were bearing the signs ‘Karabagh is Armenia’, ‘Karabagh is for Armenians’ and when I asked the demonstrators what is Karabagh, they responded by saying Stalin had given the Armenian enclave to the Azerbaijanis back in 1922. My questions were many such as, have you seen the land, or have you seen the Armenians of Karabagh and their answer was no. So for the first time in 1992 I traveled to Armenia and three days later I was in the trenches rubbing shoulders with Armenians defending their land Karabagh or Artsakh as it is known for them.

During the war a man gave me a book about the Armenian churches inside Karabagh and thus I started researching and photographing them. Cancer hit my lungs in 1993 and was given 10 days to die. It’s at this crossroad in my life I made a vow to photograph the Armenian churches worldwide and to capture our heritage on film in the beginning and digital nowadays. I have been totally cured and discovered the true passion and dedication in photographing our rich heritage in Karabagh, Armenia and historical Armenia (Turkey).

TB: Do you feel that you have been successful in presenting the beauty of Armenia and its people to the world through your photographs?

HK: The fact that the majority of the people who have seen my photographs see in them the reflection of my soul which is simple and honest and beautiful in every sense. Friends tell me how a simple e-mailed photograph has made their day more positive and that is the best satisfaction any professional can get.

TB: Where is the one place in Armenia that residents and visitors do not know about but should?

HK: Armenia and Artsakh and historical Armenia is full of discoveries to be made, even though I have canvassed many corners of this entire region I am still at awe every time I discover for the first time a new place a new hidden treasure, for example the Monastery of Yeghishe Arakyal in Northern Artsakh, the twin tallest khackars in Erzncan region in Turkey and the Khoragert in Northern Armenia and many places which can fill a few pages.

TB: How much of your work is about preserving history?

HK: To admit that my work is actually passion self-discovery and life, and I don’t consider it as work. At school I was not interested in history or literature or even Armenian history, and my teacher used to beat me with a ruler and many times breaking them on my head and uttering the words ‘you will never learn’!  I guess my stubbornness lead me to discover our heritage in many corners few people will venture to. And by doing so I believe I am preserving our history and culture and trying to inspire the new generation to continue my work by getting inspired as I have been inspired by others, including the late Archbishop Mesrob Ashjian who literally took my hand in 1997 for the first time through historical Armenia and also the late Mr. Armen Hakhnazarian who for 30 years ventured and risked his life trying to document our heritage inside Turkey and Iran. They both did contribute by publishing many books (more than 100 of them in the last 10 years of the late Archbishop’s life alone!) Also following suit are seven books I have published, the latest one with coauthor and designer Armen Kyurkchyan titled Armenian Ornamental Art, which is the fruit of ten years of photography and graphic design.

TB: What is your favorite photograph that you have taken?

HK: In 1999, while waiting for the last rain drops to fall on top of the roof of our car which we had taken shelter for more than an hour, I stepped out in Southern Armenia with my camera and lens pointing at a ruined church. Not much was inspiring even though a few clicks were fired, and as I was heading back to the car, I bowed at the secondary altar to have a peak and there it was a bird must have dropped a seed on the window and only dust as growing base this thin plant had shot upward defying every logic thus gave the title for this shot “Window for Life” and I use it as the cover page for my web site www.hrairhawk.com.

TB: As someone who has visited more than 40 countries in the past 17 years, where specifically is your favorite place to shoot?

HK: It is so amazing to travel and see 44 countries and have passion to live and discover people land beauty. The world is such a small place yet divine and majestic like Mt. Ararat, which I used to photograph for its beauty and symbolism, but reaching the top made me realize how humble and tiny we are inside nature’s womb, thus respect and awe is what I am left with and Armenia, Artsakh and historical Armenia is one tiny part of the earth I am still discovering, and from high above, no man made borders and no boundaries can limit its awesome beauty. The salmon returns from the ocean back to the river where it was born and lays eggs, same here, the call of our heritage is naturally attracting me like a powerful magnet to Armenia.

TB: What do you see as your greatest accomplishment?

HK: Life and its challenges are still a long process in my daily life. I have so much more to learn, to discover, to capture and to share. Life is beautiful, life is living and I live on a daily basis every minute is appreciated, that is my accomplishment.

TB: What advice would you give young Armenian photographers who aspire to follow in the footsteps of Yousef Karsh, Hawk, and other talented Armenian photographers?

HK: We are all inspired by others, like I am by Henri Cartier Bresson, Karsh, Ara Guller. I have no advice just live life, shoot from the heart, and take no prisoners.

"Window for Life", by Hrair Hawk Khatcherian

St. Gayane Armenian Church

Guest Blogger – Armen Bandikian, Zohrab Center Intern

As someone who has served on the altar of St. Vartan Cathedral as a sub-deacon for the past five years, I had heard of the Krikor and Clara Zohrab Information Center (located in the Armenian Diocese, adjacent to the cathedral) and always considered it to be a library of Armenian books. When I started working here this past summer, however, I quickly realized how much more there was to this center and the importance of this amazing place.

The diverse collection of books here, which number over 20,000, are of the utmost importance. Some of the resources here include books on Armenian history, literature, religion, poetry and music. There are also books published in various languages, including French, Arabic, Russian and Turkish and books published in Armenian during the Soviet era. In addition, the center is home to many periodicals, magazines and journals that date back to the 19th century. To my amazement, the oldest book I have found and catalogued was from 1860 and I am sure that there are even older books available as well.

This small – but culturally rich – library has opened my eyes to a whole new world of knowledge and history.  One can easily come here to conduct research for papers, books, or just to find out about Armenian history.

If there is one thing that I have gained from this internship, it is learning the importance and value of these books.  They contain a great deal of knowledge and prove the richness of our ancient-rooted history and culture. Everyone and anyone interested in historical or current-day Armenia should come to the Zohrab center to experience, through these very books, who they are and where they come from.

Armen Bandikian is currently a junior at Stony Brook University and is studying Information Systems.

Interview with Ece Temelkuran, author of “Deep Mountain”

Ece Temelkuran’s latest book Deep Mountain: Across the Turkish-Armenian Divide explores the history and continuing discussion surrounding the Armenian Genocide in Armenia, Turkey, France and the United States. The project — which was borne from conversations the author had with Hrant Dink, the late editor of Agos newspaper — probes deeper into this situation by interviewing a wide-range of Armenian writers, thinkers and activists including Armenian poet Silva Gaboudikian, musician Arto Tuncboyajian, and filmmaker Serge Avedikian.

A well-known journalist and political commentator in Turkey, Temelkuran writes regularly for the Turkish newspaper Haberturk and has won numerous awards for her work, including the Pen for Peace Award and Turkish Journalist of the Year.

Temelkuran sat down with Taleen Babayan for an interview about Deep Mountain which was recently translated into English by Verso Books.

Taleen Babayan: You interview so many amazing and influential people in this book, politicians, musicians, students, lawyers and businessmen including Arto Tuncboyajian, Silva Gaboudikian, Patrick Devejian, Vartkes Yeghiayan, and they each have their own way of looking at not only the Turks but at themselves as Armenians. Was there a common thread among your subjects and the people you spoke with?

 

Ece Temelkuran: Although they expressed it in completely different ways, the main question that was eating them was this: Why don’t Turks feel anything?  Even Ara Toranian. (Editor of Nouvelles d’Arménie Magazine and alleged former ASALA member) He wants to tell his story to the Turks, not to the French or Americans. But the one who he wants to tell the story to doesn’t want to listen.  I think, although the Armenian community is extremely mature, they have this wounded child in them, whatever their ages are. That is the common thread I guess.

TB: You interviewed French politician Patrick Devedjian, who was the architect of the genocide bill in France, which had an amendment that would criminalize the denial of the Armenian Genocide in France. He felt Turkey would change under heavy pressure, and you felt the opposite; that this kind of legislation would cause Turkey to retreat and make it more difficult for open dialogue to ensue. Do you still hold this viewpoint? Don’t you think the recognition of the genocide by the world will cause Turkey to finally face its past since the rest of the world is doing so?

ET: There are two levels of this issue. One of them is the diplomatic side. Of course Turkey will change under diplomatic pressure, and it started changing as we all witnessed recently. We have seen the Turkish Prime Minister and the Armenian Prime Minister shaking hands and two foreign affairs ministers signing protocols. Behind them were the world leaders as if these politicians were the children and the leaders of the world were the parents who are guarding them. But this is not real. It’s something artificial. When people don’t feel it within them, it doesn’t matter if diplomatic progress has been made. If the peoples on both sides aren’t genuinely integrated to the process the diplomatic progress can be easily sabotaged. After Hrant died, Armenians became an easier topic to talk about. His death became a human shield on the issue. People even created the slogan ‘We are all Armenians’ in his funeral. I always feel as if Hrant was sacrificed. After his death, it became relatively easier for people to talk about Armenian issues and openly say they have Armenian friends. It’s tragically ironic. Even the diplomatic progress would be completely impossible without what people felt after Hrant’s death. Bottom line is, Hrant has done more then any world leader or any legislation could do.

TB: How has the reception been for Deep Mountain amongst both Armenians and Turks? Was it written for an Armenian audience?

ET: It was received very well in Turkey, to my surprise. The book sold over 60,000 copies and [that is a high number] for a country like Turkey, which clings to amnesia. I think it was because of the attitude of the book. In most cases, intellectuals are trying to push and slap this issue into people’s faces. They expect people to feel guilty rather than remember. I tried to make them remember first and then leave it to them to figure out what they feel about it. Most of the people felt, not necessarily guilty, but touched for the first time, and without even questioning whet really happened in 1915 they were eager to understand the humane side of the history. They admitted that they have feelings about Armenians which Turks are taught not to have. I guess, for the first time, Turkish people were trying to put themselves in the place of Armenians.

I wanted the audience, especially the Turkish audience to put themselves in this character, who in the beginning doesn’t feel a thing about Armenians, who rejects to feel anything and who by time understand the reason of her numbness. I suppose that numbness is what intimidates Armenians most, and they have a point. They say, “We feel so much about this ancient conflict and you feel nothing. How come you feel nothing?” That’s the biggest question of the Armenians. That is why I wrote the book for both audiences, Armenians and Turks, just to create a new path of communication. Because there are Turkish people who feel for Armenians and there are Armenians who are not just furious.

To read the rest of the interview, click here: http://wp.me/PMtLq-5o

Interview with Michael Bobelian, Author of “Children of Armenia”

Michael Bobelian’s first book, Children of Armenia: A Forgotten Genocide and the Century-Long Struggle for Justice, focusing on the aftermath of the Armenian Genocide, was recently published by Simon & Schuster.

Mr. Bobelian, a graduate of the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism, is a lawyer, journalist, and grandson of Genocide survivors. His work has appeared in Forbes.com, American Lawyer, and Legal Affairs magazine and featured on NPR’s Leonard Lopate show. He resides in New York City with his wife and daughter.

Mr. Bobelian sat down with Taleen Babayan at the Krikor and Clara Zohrab Information Center in New York City last September to discuss his new book, which explores how the Armenian Genocide entered public consciousness and quickly faded from it. Mr. Bobelian looks at the evolution of U.S. policy regarding the Genocide and also at how Armenian-Americans initially went along with the shifting away of attention from the Genocide.

Taleen Babayan: I read in the prologue about your first encounters with Armenian Genocide survivors and the genocide memorial service at St. Vartan Cathedral in 1985. But what inspired you or interested you to write this book?

Michael Bobelian: There was no specific moment that inspired me to write my book. By the time I was in my late 20s, I began to really wonder why we have these events and these commemorations and why we still need to have them. There is a lot of energy and money spent on Armenian commemorations and on genocide-related activities, and I really began to question how that started, and what the purpose of it was, and when I asked these questions, I realized no one had those answers.

To read the whole interview, please click here: http://wp.me/PMtLq-1X

First Global Armenian Library Conference Hosted by the Zohrab Center

The first international conference of Armenian libraries was held at Holy Etchmiadzin from August 25-27, 2009.

Under the auspices of His Holiness Karekin II, the Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians and with the support of Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, Primate of the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America (Eastern), Rachel Goshgarian, Ph.D, Director of the Krikor and Clara Zohrab Information Center and Rev. Fr. Asoghik Karapetian, Head of Archives at Holy Etchmiadzin, organized an event that fostered dialogue and discussion about library organization and cataloguing as well as book preservation and digitization, among other relevant topics.

The conference was the first of many cultural programs to take place in Armenia as part of the 500th anniversary of the establishment of the Armenian printing press.

Below are excerpts from an interview with Rachel Goshgarian, conference co-organizer and director of the Krikor and Clara Zohrab Information Center. Taleen Babayan is Program Manager at the center, who also assisted with preparations for the conference.

Taleen Babayan: Why did you organize the conference?

Rachel Goshgarian: When I started as director of the Zohrab Center a little over two years ago, I benefited greatly from discussions with my colleagues who were heading similar libraries in the United States. Little by little, I realized that many of the heads of Armenian libraries and collections were not in contact with one another although I was sure we could all benefit greatly from conversations with one another. I started asking my colleagues if they thought a conference would be a worthwhile endeavor and everyone agreed that it would.

TB: What were the objectives of the conference?

RG: At the most basic level, the objective was to create better links between Armenian-oriented libraries in the Diaspora and in Armenia, and to create a forum in which we can discuss issues of importance to all of us. At the conference this first step was realized, and we began to discuss issues such as book preservation, digitization, the exchange of duplicate books and how to send books from the Diaspora to Armenia and from Armenia to the Diaspora. The conversation has just begun. Now we must ensure that our links remain strong and that all of these issues continue to be discussed in detail.

To read the whole interview, please click here: http://wp.me/PMtLq-2g

Participants of the first-ever Global Armenian Library Conference
Heads of Armenian Libraries around the world participating in the first day of the Library Conference in the Old Theological Seminary