Alice Navasargian: “I’ve started taking my husband’s path again…”

Armenian American culturologist Alice Navasargian is first and foremost known to readers for her three books, including The Immortals, Iran-Armenia: Golden Bridges and Armenian Women of the Stage. The books present data that the author has collected about famous Armenian painters, writers, actors, public and political figures, traders and families.

Alice Navasargian, who was recently granted the Boghos Nubar Medal of the RA Ministry of Diaspora, is also involved in community service, and that was the first topic of our interview.

“Hayern Aysor”: Dear Alice, the opening ceremony of the Student Lounge was held under your sponsorship at the American University of Armenia in the scope of the 7th International Conference of the Armenian International Women’s Association. Do you participate in charity acts often?

Alice Navasargian: I don’t consider such acts as charity acts. Charity sounds a little strange to me. All students are like my children. Is helping a child really charity? It is each person’s duty.

“Hayern Aysor”: When did you take that responsibility?

A. N.: I’ve always loved doing such things, but I don’t like to speak out about it. I feel happy, and so do my children. The attention I received today was a big surprise.

When Mr. Mihran Agbabian and his friends founded the American University of Armenia, my husband provided some assistance to their programs. After my husband passed away, I became totally cut off from the University because my children were studying and it was hard for me to do anything else. But when they became independent, I started taking my husband’s path once again.

I thank everyone for their words and appreciation. I wouldn’t like to set anyone aside, but the most important thing for me was to see the students happy.

“Hayern Aysor”: Dear Alice, how long have you been a member of the Armenian International Women’s Association?

A. N.: I’ve been a member since the foundation of the AIWA through Barbara Merguerian. At the time, we were living in Boston where Barbara founded the Armenian International Women’s Association. Merguerian does a tremendous job and always supports Armenian women. The Association paves the way for all Armenian women with a calling, homage and encouragement. Many people often keep their ideas in their heads, but when they see someone doing something, they say they can do the same.

I didn’t write the book Armenian Women of the Stage for nothing. When I came to Armenia with members of the Armenian International Women’s Association in 1997, I saw that all women were busy doing something. I asked myself-What can I do? I visited a woman and asked her if she could help me gather information about women, and she said she would. She introduced me to a woman who had a large collection of information about Armenian women, and that’s how I came up with the idea of writing a book about Armenian women.

When I returned to America, I found the sources and people who had collected stories about Armenians.

Now I have so many materials that I can even print three more books devoted to Armenian women.

“Hayern Aysor”: You have examined the lives and careers of Armenian women. Interestingly, how would you describe Armenian women?

A. N.: Armenian women are soft-hearted and conscientious, but they can stomp their feet hard on the ground and move forward for their nation and children. Armenian women are like no other, like the women representing the Armenian International Women’s Association, including Mrs. Savi, Elizabeth, Hermineh and the others. They have all left everything behind and are doing different things and thinking of what they can do to help. I love this trait of Armenian women.

Even if they don’t speak in Armenian, they aren’t detached from their roots. I’m not only talking about the elders, but the youth as well. All young Armenians of America are spiritually connected to Armenia and Armenians. The young, 18-20-year old Armenian lacking knowledge of Armenian visits Armenia and returns inspired and more “Armenified”.

After Armenia’s declaration of independence, all Armenians have the chance to visit Armenia, and this will help make the connection to the homeland stronger.

I can prove all this by bringing up my family’s example. I have two daughters and a son. They received a great education and are great Armenians. My four-year old and six-year old grandchildren attend an American school, but their dance, violin and painting teachers are Armenian. My children always have contact with Armenians.

“Hayern Aysor”: Dear Alice, your family has taken an interesting path to Artsakh, Grozni, Iran and America. During all these trips, what has helped you remain as an Armenian?

A. N.: Yes, my family has made different stops. My mother was born in Shushi, and my father was born in Karintak village. Later, their families moved to Grozni where they met and got married. In 1931-32, they faced difficulties and moved to Iran. I was born in Iran, but I also know the dialect of Karabakh.

My upbringing, especially my mother’s upbringing helped us remain as Armenians. My mother was a very strong patriot. Everyone in Tavriz was like that. Our environment, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutyun Party, our schools, the church, the theater, the choir and the athletic unions helped us preserve the Armenian identity. We grew up staying connected to Armenian traditions, the Armenian Church and church rituals. That’s how we grew up.

At the time, there was no television or computers in Tavriz. We all had to learn how to play the piano, paint, work with our hands and, most importantly, we had to listen to Armenian radio programs every night. My mother would keep us until 11 at night. It was a magical moment when Hrachuhi Jinanyan would say “Yerevan is Speaking” in her beautiful voice, after which a beautiful melody would be heard. As soon as we heard that, our mother would tell us to go to sleep.

“Hayern Aysor”: So, that was your “Good Night”.

A. N.: Yes (laughing-ed.).

“Hayern Aysor”: Do you prepare hand-made works today?

A. N.: Yes, I knit for my children and grandchildren.

“Hayern Aysor”: Mrs. Navasargian, have you been to Karabakh?

A. N.: Yes, I’ve been to Karintak and Shushi. Unfortunately, my parents’ homes haven’t remained standing.

“Hayern Aysor”: Which cuisine do you like more-the cuisine in Karabakh or Persian cuisine?

A. N.: Out of the meals of Karabakhi cuisine, I love “Zhingyalov Hats”. It’s hard to make it in America and it doesn’t have the taste that one feels when eating a “Zhingyalov Hats” in Armenia and Karabakh. I also love sorrel. I know a place in Yerevan where they make very tasty sorrel. One day I’ll definitely go there to taste it. Persian meals are also great. Persian cooks don’t just mix the ingredients.

“Hayern Aysor”: What are your plans for the future?

A. N.: I’ve received many materials from Karabakh and have asked to compile and integrate all the information in a book.

When you become familiar with those materials, you will be amazed at the history and culture that this small country has. I hope to present all that to my readers soon.

By Lusine Abrahamyan

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