Young talents Mihran and Vaneni Vardanyan made interesting project possible

Youth represent great potential, and evidence of that are talented Armenians living and working in Armenia and abroad. Vaneni and Mihran Vardanyan have lived and studied abroad and have returned to the Homeland after having studied brilliantly at the University of London and University of Oxford. The young and beautiful couple has started a beautiful family with their little Vardeni, have found their own formula for living and creating and have created their own mechanism for personal and impersonal happiness. The fruit of their ideas and goal-oriented efforts is, and this served as an opportunity for me to meet the young couple. We engaged in an interesting conversation and revealed their future plans to create innovative projects.

“Hayern Aysor”: Let’s start with you, Mihran. Where did you study? What is your profession? What is your scientific ranking?

Mihran: I’m an astrophysicist by profession. I studied at the University of Oxford where I was conferred the ranking of a doctor. My wife, Vaneni, is a USL graduate. She is a psychologist.

“Hayern Aysor”: When did you return to the Homeland and why? You had a chance to stay abroad and earn more money, achieve greater heights and live a better life…Of course, I welcome your return. I would also like to ask if you were compelled to return?

Mihran: We returned by our own will two years ago. We weren’t compelled. Of course, we had the advantages that you mentioned, but the most important thing for us was to have our child grow up in an Armenian environment, speak Armenian, think in Armenian and be surrounded by the warmth of her relatives and Armenians and communicate with Armenian children. We also had a mission to carry out the project. For that we definitely had to be in Armenia.

“Hayern Aysor”: It’s clear that you and Vaneni decided to carry out this project. Whose idea was it?

Mihran. Vaneni and I made it possible, but it was my idea. Seven years ago, when I was working on my doctorate at the University of Oxford, there were cases when friends and acquaintances would try to find each other (living or deceased) and were having trouble. They couldn’t even do it on Facebook or on other social networks. This is how the idea was born and turned into a reality later on. Many times there are difficulties. People might have changed their names and last names, or one letter of the name might have changed, and this makes it hard to find the tomb or residence of the relative. Our project helps solve all the problems. I must also state that our project has won two awards.

“Hayern Aysor”: Mihran, is this project only being carried out in Armenia, or does it extend to Western Armenia and trace to your roots?

Mihran: Armenians everywhere are looking for their relatives. Armenians in Armenia and abroad seek their relatives who moved from Western Armenia and settled in Eastern Armenia and different countries. The third and fourth generations of Armenians try to find the tombs of their relatives who have died. They also try to find the living inheritors of their relatives.

“Hayern Aysor”: It’s not easy to create a website. Were there many obstacles?

Mihran: Well, there are difficulties when you start any task, but you can overcome those difficulties with desire, diligence and goal orientation. Vaneni and I created through our efforts, by consulting and by complementing each other.

“Hayern Aysor”: Who helped you?

Mihran: We created the website with our Czech friend, computer vision expert at the University of Oxford, Dr. Vatslav Potsil, who helped us with great pleasure and great motivation. We don’t have sponsors. We’re looking for them, but for now, we’re covering expenses on our own.

“Hayern Aysor”: How long has been operating?

Mihran: It has been around for two years, but until then we were using the website through an internal procedure. In that period, there were people who found the tombs of their relatives and the inheritors of the deceased. If the relatives or the tombs of ancestors are in Armenia, that serves as an opportunity to not only visit the relatives, but also see Armenia. Who knows? Perhaps when they see Armenia they might want to return to their roots someday.

“Hayern Aysor”: Which are the languages on the website?

Mihran: For the time being, we post materials in Armenian, English, Russian and are getting ready to post materials in French.

“Hayern Aysor”: Have there been many visitors over the past two years?

Mihran: There aren’t many people who know us yet, but at the same time, we have a lot of visitors, and the number will definitely grow over time. Our plan was to have people visit our website and post information about their relatives’ roots and biographies. There are also photos that help form a large database through which people can easily find the tombs of their relatives. A guiding map helps them with that.

“Hayern Aysor”: Vaneni, I know that you also examine Armenian khachkars (cross-stones), especially since your father, Vano Dadoyan, is a well-known artist and master of Armenian cross-stones.

Vaneni: Yes, we also examine Armenian khachkars (cross-stones) and have 19,200 visitors on Facebook. The group on Facebook is called Armenian Khachkars (Հայաստանի խաչքարեր), and there are translations in several languages. My father is a master of Armenian khachkars. I have witnessed the art of making khachkars since childhood. It requires a scientific approach. Unfortunately, people often make khachkars just for the love of it, place them in different countries and present them as Armenian culture, but that’s inadmissible. In reality, one has to have the relevant education. After all, Armenian khachkars are expressive witnesses of the existence of Armenians and they have to be created and engraved the way Armenians create and engrave them. Our goal is to restore the khachkars of Western Armenia. If anyone wants to create a khachkar, we offer restoring an old, destroyed khachkar based on the photo of it. For instance, we can restore the khachkar of David Anhaaght at the Arakelots Monastery in Mush. We want to restore and give impetus to the powerful witnesses of our history, that is, the khachkars. Khachkars are engraved on tuff. They are absolutely of Armenian origin. The stones and the cross are Armenian.

“Hayern Aysor”: Vaneni, how does operate now? Let’s talk about the working style.

Vaneni: We have a database of tombs of Armenians buried in Armenia and abroad. We have information about the birthplace, date of birth and a photo of the deceased. The first and most important information is information about the exact place where the given tomb is located. Our goal is to receive data from more than 1 million people. We still have 500,000. At this moment, we have data regarding the deceased of Armenian origin who have been buried at cemeteries in London and Moscow. We’ll also have to take business trips, but the interested people can help us. Several Armenian Americans have managed to find the tombs of their relatives via our website and have already contacted the inheritors.

“Hayern Aysor”: Armenians often bury the second deceased person in the same hole and at the same cemetery. Don’t you face difficulties in such cases?

Vaneni: Our website also helps solve that problem because there is a specific location of a tomb. If a new deceased person is buried over the old deceased person in the same hole, we can still show any relative the specific location of the old deceased person because we know exactly where the old deceased person was buried. There is a map that shows the cemeteries of Armenia and Karabakh clearly and in detail. We constantly update the database in which we create the profiles of the deceased persons.

 “Hayern Aysor”: So, you carry out two wonderful tasks-you find the tombs of the ancestors, connect relatives, and Armenians who have never visited Armenia, visit Armenia.

Vaneni: Yes, many Armenians come and find the tombs of their ancestors, see their relatives, stay in Armenia for a while and recognize the Homeland of their ancestors. We also have data regarding the people buried at Yerablur Military Pantheon and at the Pantheon. For instance, many Diaspora Armenian freedom fighters are buried at Yerablur Military Pantheon. People can find the tombs through our website. If they have any trouble, they can contact us.

“Hayern Aysor”: Mihran, how do you carry out this tremendous task? Do you have funding? I get the impression that you are doing this as a charity act.

Mihran: You’re right, to a certain extent. We’re looking for sponsors because we want to expand the project. We have small services like care for tombstones and delivery of flowers…We can also offer renovation of tombs and placement of khachkars. This will help us make the placement of khachkars made by masters and sculpted with the right Armenian décors. This is the world’s only website of such a scale. More and more people are visiting the website every day, and we believe we’ll have more visitors soon. On the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, we would like to create a garden of Armenian khachkars. This is something that will help identify the culture of Armenian khachkars of Western and Eastern Armenia and promote tourism. We don’t want to carry out this project in Yerevan because Armenia is not just the capital city. We’ll select a place that will be in between Yerevan and the provinces.

“Hayern Aysor”: Well, thank you for this interesting interview. Good luck! I wish more people visit your website, and I wish success. May you succeed in your pro-national and innovative activities!

Karine Avagyan 

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