Over 400 Young Professionals Attend AGBU FOCUS 2017 in Beirut

Young professionals boarded flights from as far as Australia, Brazil, Thailand and beyond to participate in AGBU FOCUS 2017 in Beirut from August 2 to 6.  Following the tradition established sixteen years ago, over 400 guests came together to expand their networks through meaningful exchange while discovering the cosmopolitan Lebanese capital and attending an unparalleled set of cultural and social events.

This year, in addition to the popular series of events expected at AGBU FOCUS, guests were invited to join a special excursion on Wednesday and tour in the unique sites of Beirut, the Jeitta Grottoes, Byblos city, the Jbeil souks and the Armenian Genocide Orphans’ Aram Bezikian Museum at the Bird’s Nest Orphanage. The visit to the museum proved particularly memorable as many attendees found themselves in the spot where their ancestors took refuge and learned skills to integrate into some of the communities represented by the FOCUS guests. “We were eager to welcome guests to our city, which carries a lot of emotion and history as well as a sense of belonging for Armenians.  Lebanese traditions, culture and hospitality added a special touch to our weekend. From the very start, we presented a truly inclusive Lebanese-Armenian experience ranging from the local food to music and settings,” said AGBU FOCUS 2017 Chair Natacha Keuchguerian.

AGBU FOCUS officially kicked off with its signature event Perspectives, a panel discussion, held at Bachoura in the Beirut Digital District. The evening offered insights by fellow professionals who had broken the mold in their careers by taking risks in their fields and often stepping outside of their comfort zones. Sarine Karajerjian, the former chair of the AGBU Young Professionals (YPs) of Lebanon, moderated the discussion that included engineer Sevag Babikian, fashion designer Sarah Hermez, attorney-turned-entrepreneur Stephane Petrossian and tech researcher and startup founder Anna Vartapetiance. Although panelists’ careers and paths varied, an underlying theme of social responsibility emerged in each person’s journey. “Someone once told me that beauty and justice can be found in everyone and that statement resonated with me and pushed me to start Creative Space Beirut which aims at making design education accessible to all students with vision and an impulse to create, regardless of their socio-economic standing,” said Sarah Hermez, co-founder of the design school.

The dialogue continued the following day at the inaugural FOCUS Conference where emerging leaders and engaged young professionals learned how grassroots ideas have launched evolving into signature programs within the AGBU’s landscape of activities. Framed appropriately as a network of ideas, AGBU has served as an incubator for new initiatives for decades. The participants were also offered a look at two up-and-coming projects aimed at engaging communities on an international scale. Brainstorming sessions and workshops created a stimulating environment for attendees to provide feedback and hold collaborative discussions for new program concepts.  “It was a distinct honor to host the first FOCUS Conference and collaborate with AGBU leadership. The drive of like-minded peers was evident throughout the day as participants shared their thoughts and encouraged each other to take action to ensure that their communities remain engaged in giving back,” noted AGBU FOCUS 2017 Co-chair Nathalie Piranian. The day concluded with an opportunity for industry-based networking before the ever-popular FOCUS Club Night at B018, a former bunker turned into an open-air nightclub designed by world-renowned architect Bernard Khoury.

On Saturday, after the first-hand exposure to Khoury’s architecture, guests at FOCUS on Art held at the impressive Sursock Museum were treated to his special presentation. Reflecting on the resilience of the city and his design process and ideology, Khoury noted that his mother’s Armenian roots remain ever present in his mind. Khoury, who has left his indelible mark on the Beirut landscape and designed the Tumo Center for Creative Technologies in Yerevan, has a few ongoing projects in the homeland. “What a treat to discover the spirit of the structures and spaces of Beirut, their virtues and vices through the architectural storytelling of Bernard Khoury,” noted Stepan Khzrtian who traveled from Arcadia, California, for the weekend.

The highlight of the weekend was the AGBU FOCUS Gala held at The Legend, nestled on the bank of the ancient Lycus River. The impressive entertainment ranged from a performance by the AGBU Arine Dance Ensemble and a fire drumming show to fireworks and endless dancing. The night began with a dedication to the AGBU Scholarship Program, the designated beneficiary of the FOCUS fundraising drive. Since 1923, the AGBU Scholarship Program has provided financial assistance to tens of thousands of students pursuing higher education at some of the world’s top-ranked universities. AGBU FOCUS 2017 organizers Natacha Keuchguerian and Nathalie Piranian addressed guests drawing their attention to the lasting impact of the AGBU Scholarship Program. The fundraising campaign leading up to the FOCUS weekend raised nearly $100,000 attesting that the spirit of giving is alive and well in the current generation of YPs.

As a beneficiary of an AGBU scholarship, fashion designer Eddy Anemian of Saint Chamond, France, shared his experience and expressed his gratitude to AGBU and its donors. Anemian, who received the coveted H&M Design Award 2014 at age 24 and whose own collection for the company sold out within the first hours on the market, conveyed his incredible journey from his small-town upbringing to the storefronts of the Champs Elysées. “My AGBU scholarship was extremely helpful because it allowed me to fully engage in the creative process without facing the struggle of a financial burden. The creative process is often very tiring and overwhelming at times but AGBU’s support provided me with the encouragement I needed to propel forward and pursue my dream,” said Anemian.

Addressing the crowd in three languages, AGBU Lebanon District Committee member Gary Nazarian thanked AGBU Lebanon, the Central office in New York and the Organizing Committee for their tireless efforts behind the scenes. In a touching tribute, he announced the establishment of the AGBU Noubar Nazarian YP Innovators Fund, which will designate $10,000 per year to finance start-up projects initiated through the AGBU YP network. “Noubar Nazarian committed his time to ensure that AGBU youth activities thrived during his lifetime and this fund builds on the foundation he and his generation of leaders set decades ago,” he noted.

The weekend ended with a farewell brunch at the Beirut Waterfront. In the weeks following FOCUS, professional and personal connections will continue to be made and new ideas will be explored, a testament to the impact that FOCUS has on connecting Armenians around the world.

Since premiering in New York City in 2001, AGBU FOCUS has distinguished itself as a unique networking experience for Armenian young professionals globally. What began as a signature anniversary celebration is now a sensational biennial tradition, offering young professionals an opportunity to connect with hundreds of international peers while highlighting the direct and positive impact of AGBU’s programs on generations of Armenians. Over the past 14 years, AGBU FOCUS has united close to 3,000 young professionals in seven different cities: New York City (2001, 2007), Montreal (2003), Miami (2005), Chicago (2009), Paris (2011), San Francisco (2013), Toronto (2015) and now Beirut (2017).

To learn more about AGBU Focus, please visit www.agbufocus.org.

 To learn more about the AGBU Scholarship Program, please visit: www.agbu-scholarship.org.

Established in 1906, AGBU (www.agbu.org) is the world’s largest non-profit Armenian organization. Headquartered in New York City, AGBU preserves and promotes the Armenian identity and heritage through educational, cultural and humanitarian programs, annually touching the lives of some 500,000 Armenians around the world.

 For more information about AGBU and its worldwide programs, please visit www.agbu.org.

Artsakhi citizens return to normal life after April War – Amnesty Press

Amnesty Press, the publication of Amnesty International, published an article on the Nagorno Karabakh conflict. Amnesty Press correspondent Izabella Rosengren visited Artsakh, where she met the locals as well as officials. “The road is full of holes and on one side there is a threemeter high wall. This is to protect us, the people in the car, from getting shot or even worse, getting bombed as we continue. Azerbaijan is on the other side of the wall”, Rosengren says.

The correspondent mentions that although there has been a ceasefire since 1994, gunfire occur every now and then. Last time, in April 2016 Azerbaijan bombed the densely populated Martakert region. “The fighting has been defined as the worst since the ceasefire in 1994”, she wrote. “I was chocked. I cannot explain in words what I felt. Can you imagine how it feels to leave your home, your grandparents’ country? After the attack, I began to cry and stumble. It’s not decent for a man to behave like that, but I was very sad”, Talish Mayor Vilem Petrosyan told the Amnesty Press correspondent. It was this very village which was attacked by Azerbaijani bombers and snipers during the night of April 2, 2016.

 The article mentions that authorities are currently undertaking measures to restore the infrastructures of the village. Amnesty Press notes that although the local population suffered huge trauma after the April attacks, they are trying to return to their normal lives now.

 “The hero of the war, Monte Melkonyan said that if we lose Artsakh we will reach the last page of our history book. I say the same thing about Talish” comments Levon Apresyan, the government’s representative in the village who supervises the works. “Former residents of the village come here every day to see what has happened to their houses and fields. I understand that there is a psychological barrier, but I think time heals all sores, and almost everyone will move back”, says Levon Apresyan.

 Tigran Abrahamyan, the presidential advisor of Artsakh, told the correspondent that no one wants war and losses. “Armenophobia in Azerbaijan has a negative impact on the peace process, and there are no negotiations at the moment. Because they do not want to agree to increase the number of observers at the border, they have clearly shown that they want the war to continue. In recent months, they have been very active and increased the number of weapons and soldiers just to heat up the atmosphere”, Abrahamyan said.

Film on sole Armenian village in Turkey being translated into Turkish

The 2012 film by American writer Caroline Trent-Gurbuz and Turkish photojournalist Sait Serkan Gurbuz, and which is about the sole remaining Armenian village in Turkey, is being translated into Turkish.

A total of 22 biographies, six photo stories, and two short videos are presented in this documentary, entitled “A Shrinking Community: Vakıflı, Turkey’s Last Armenian Village,” which was shot under the auspices of the US embassy in Ankara, according to Agos Armenian weekly of Istanbul.

The English version of this film is accessible at Vakifli.com.

Armenian, Azeri religious leaders to meet in Moscow in September

Catholicos of All Armenians Garegin II and Allahshukur Pashazadeh, the Sheikh ul-Islam and Grand Mufti of the Caucasus, are set to hold a meeting in Moscow, Russia in September.

“According to the initial information, the meeting is scheduled for 8 September in Moscow,” a spokesperson for the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin, Vahram Priest Melikyan told Panorama.am, adding that the agenda of the meeting features the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, as well as issues related to the regional peace.

In his words, currently preparatory works are under way.

The meeting is organized under the mediation of Patriarch Kirill of Moscow.

Foreign Minister of Armenia received Deputy Mayor of Marseille

On August 28, Edward Nalbandian, Foreign Minister of Armenia, received Didier Parakian, Deputy Mayor of Marseille.

Welcoming the guest, Edward Nalbandian commended that the cooperation established between the local self-governing bodies plays an important role in the development of privileged relations between Armenia and France.
During the meeting, a number of issues related to the Armenian-French decentralized cooperation were discussed.

The sides attached importance to the productive activity of the Consulate General of the Republic of Armenia in Marseilles.

The interlocutors touched upon issues related to the organization of the Armenian-French decentralized conferences, by noting that they serve as a solid platform for the implementation of programmes on decentralized cooperation, as well as for the elaboration of new projects.

Last stage of 2017 “Ari Tun” Program is over

On August 25, the solemn closing ceremony of the eighth and final stage of the “Ari Tun” Program of the Ministry of Diaspora of the Republic of Armenia was held at the “Ari Tun” Camp in Aghavnador. Among the participants were RA Deputy Minister of Diaspora Serzh Srapionyan, Chief of Staff of the RA Ministry of Diaspora Firdus Zakaryan, employees of the Ministry, cultural figures and guests.

Among the participants of the eighth stage of the “Ari Tun” Program were 67 young Armenians from 13 countries, including Russia, Ukraine, Georgia, Turkey, Abkhazia, the United Arab Emirates, Syria, Latvia, Germany, France, Romania, Great Britain and Poland.

Greeting the young Diaspora Armenian participants, RA Deputy Minister of Diaspora Serzh Srapionyan transmitted the welcoming remarks of RA Minister of Diaspora Hranush Hakobyan and particularly stated the following: “Dear boys and girls, it is my pleasure to express my greetings to you in your homeland. I believe the past days were fun and substantial and you now have a stronger connection with the homeland. I believe you will grow up as proud Armenians, will maintain the honor of our nation and study hard. I believe you will leave in Armenia a part of your heart and will return again and again.”

The participants of the eighth stage performed numbers that they had been rehearsing during the camping event.

In 2017, the “Ari Tun” Program for homeland recognition gathered 1,061 young Diaspora Armenians from 36 countries.

The “Ari Tun” Program of the Ministry of Diaspora of the Republic of Armenia has been held since 2009.

Next year marks the 10th anniversary of the “Ari Tun” Program. Throughout the years, the program has gathered over 7,600 young Armenians (between the ages of 13 and 18) from 54 countries in Armenia, providing them with the opportunity to become familiar with the country. It has also helped them feel patriotic, form the desire to support nation-building and the awareness about being a part of the Armenia-Artsakh-Diaspora triumvirate, as well as get acquainted with the customs and traditions of the Armenian family, the typical Armenian family and the peculiarities of an Armenian.

As it approaches its 10th anniversary, the program is prospective. There will be changes to enlarge the program, strengthen the Armenia-Diaspora relations and engage young Armenians in the development of Armenia and in the inmost task of preserving the Armenian identity in the Diaspora.

Rostov-Armenian painter Nerses Kirakosyan to donate works to Union of Theater Figures of Armenia

On August 26 at 16:00, CARLLEVONI Gallery (14/1 Vardanants Street) will host a graphic arts exhibition.

Rostov-based Armenian painter and sculptor Nerses Kirakosyan will donate 30 works devoted to remarkable Armenian theater figures to the Union of Theater Figures of Armenia.

The exhibition will run until September 6.

Armenian artists living far away from the homeland

After 25 years, Naregatsi Art Institute hosted a meeting with Paris-based Armenian composer and pianist Artur Aharonyan, who is in Armenia with his wife, Karine. As the composer said, Karine is the first and impartial critic of his works.

Generally speaking, successful Armenian artists have something in common-they are all simple and straightforward with their audiences. I suddenly remembered my pleasant and straightforward interview with world famous operatic singer Juliet Galstyan-Everts years ago. You become convinced once again that arrogance is only characteristic of mediocre individuals who have proclaimed themselves as artists.

The meeting with Artur Aharonyan was held in a friendly atmosphere and featured unmatched performances. The composer’s great mentor, Tigran Mansurian, who would always host Artur when he was a young student, was also attending the meeting.

Artur Aharonyan was born in 1962 in Yerevan. In 1986, he graduated from the Piano Department of Yerevan Komitas State Conservatory. He also studied in the Composing Department of the Conservatory and was a student of Eduard Baghdasaryan and later Tigran Mansurian. Like many Armenian artists who left Armenia due to the country’s dire social-economic conditions in the early 1990s, Artur Aharonyan also left the country for Paris in 1993.

Today, Artur Aharonyan is a guest composer at the conservatories of several French cities where he gives lectures devoted to Armenian music. As a pianist, he has performed in several countries across Europe and in the United States of America. Since 2002, he is a professor of Darius Miyo Conservatory of Paris. He is also a member of the Union of Composers of Armenia and the Society for Authors and Composers (SACEM) of France.

Artur Aharonyan’s list of songs include songs for the piano, works for various instruments, as well as long symphonic and concert music.

The event featured performances of some of his works. Let us set aside his symphonic poem called “Jonathan’s Ballad” based on Richard Bach’s short story “Jonathan Livingston Seagull”. The premiere of the symphony was held at Mozador Theater in Paris in 2004, performed by the National Symphony Orchestra of Paris under the direction of George Pehlivanian. In 2014, the symphony was performed in Armenia by the State Youth Orchestra of Armenia under the direction of Sergey Smbatyan. The composer promised the attendees that the performances would continue.

The audience also listened to the song “Rural Images” composed in 2006 and based on Tumanyan’s poems. Let us also mention the composer’s concert music, which is internationally recognized. The premiere of the First Concerto for the Violin was held in 2007 in Cannes (performed by the Cannes Symphony Orchestra and under the direction of Philippe Bender, soloist Sergey Khachatryan).

Composed between 2008 and 2015, Concert Triptic, which is composed of three parts (Divertisment, Ballad and Rural Scerzo) for the saxophone, marimbaphone and symphony orchestra, has been performed several times in cities across France.

The Violin Concerto N 2 (for the violin, string orchestra and one percussion instrument) was composed upon the order of the Amsterdam Sinfonietta and premiered in 2011 at Muzikgbau Hall in Amsterdam (soloist Sergey Khachatryan).

It is a joy to hear about another talented Armenian artist’s success and recognition in the international arena. This meeting instills hope that Artur Aharonyan the pianist will entertain the audience in Yerevan with his works and exceptional performances on the piano soon.

Vardine Isahakyan


President Attends Solemn Graduation Ceremony Of Graduates Of Military-Educational Institutions Of The Ministry Of Defense Of The Republic Of Armenia

Supreme Commander-in-Chief of RA Armed Forces, President of the Republic of Armenia Serzh Sargsyan joined today the country’s top leadership to attend the graduation ceremony of 2016-2017 academic year graduates of military-educational institutions at Sardarapat memorial complex.

The President welcomed the participants, congratulated the graduates of military-educational institutions on the graduation ceremony, wishing them good service and every success.

In accordance with the order signed by the Minister of Defense of the Republic of Armenia, 279 graduates have been awarded the first commissioned officer title of Lieutenant. Within the framework of the event, the graduates of military educational institutions received their graduation documents and daggers, which were handed in by the President of the Republic and the National Security Council members. The President of Armenia delivered a speech on that occasion.

The event ended with a farewell ceremony to combat flags and a ceremonious military march.

Weightlifter Gor Minasyan becomes champion at 2017 Summer Universiade

Vice-champion of the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, weightlifter Gor Minasyan (105+ kg category) has become a champion at the 29th Summer Universiade (2017 Summer Universiade).

As reported the Ministry of Sport and Youth Affairs of the Republic of Armenia to Hayern Aysor, Minasyan exceeded all of his opponents after lifting a total of 430 kg in the biathlon (200 kg during the snatch drill and 230 kg during the jerk drill).

Gor Minasyan’s gold medal is the fifth medal of the delegation of the Republic of Armenia at the 29th Summer Universiade.

“Ari Tun” Program participants from Poland, Turkey and Russia

The young Diaspora Armenian participants of the “Ari Tun” Program visited the Institute of Ancient Manuscripts after Mesrop Mashtots (Matenadaran), the temple in Garni and Geghard Monastery. Impressed by the visits, the participants shared their feelings in an interview with Hayern Aysor’s correspondent.

“The last time I visited Armenia was a decade ago. I am very impressed. I really liked my homeland. This is the first time I am participating in this program. We are having a great time. Frankly, I couldn’t even imagine that we would have such a good time,” Polish-Armenian Syuzanna Tagesyan said.

Turkish-Armenian Arden Arslan really likes central Yerevan. “My homeland is very beautiful. My expectations were met. We visited Sardarapat Memorial Complex where I felt something familiar. We are having a good time, and I have already made new friends. In Istanbul I attend an Armenian school. You know, it is hard to live with the Turks, but over time, we have come to terms on some matters. There are many Turks who treat us well. Of course, there are also Turks who treat us badly.”

Karen Barkhudaryan has come to the homeland from the Russian Federation. “This is not my first time in Armenia. My family and I visit every year, but this is the first time I am visiting through the “Ari Tun” Program. We are having a great time. I had never been to the Armenian Virtual University. It was a very interesting visit.”

Arpi Petrosyan

Agnesa Petrosyan: “If we don’t speak Armenian at home, where else can we speak the language?”

Young Diaspora Armenians visit Armenia through the “Ari Tun” Program, and most of them visit the homeland for the first time ever. One of those participants is Odessa-based Agnesa Petrosyan, who gave an interview to Hayern Aysor.

Hayern Aysor: Agnesa, is this your first time in Armenia?

Agnesa Petrosyan: The first time I was in Armenia was when I was nine months old. So, I don’t remember anything…

Hayern Aysor: You have very pretty blue eyes and light hair. Do you resemble your mother or father?

Agnesa Petrosyan: I mainly look like my father.

Hayern Aysor: Do you and your family speak Armenian at home?

Agnesa Petrosyan: We only speak Armenian at home. My father is very strict when it comes to Armenian and demands that we all speak Armenian at home. He says we can only speak Armenian at home and can’t use the language anywhere else.

Hayern Aysor: So, you understand Armenian well.

Agnesa Petrosyan: I don’t understand everything. I attend an Armenian Sunday school where I study Armenian language and history.

Hayern Aysor: What do you remember from Armenian history?

Agnesa Petrosyan: I can’t remember anything specific, but I probably remember that the Armenia people have been patriotic throughout their history.

Hayern Aysor: Have you learned Armenian dances at the Armenian Sunday school?

Agnesa Petrosyan: Yes, I have learned how to dance the “Kochari” and “Argishti” dances. I love to dance.

Hayern Aysor: Agnesa, which Armenian dances do you like the most and how do those particular dances stand out from the rest?

Agnesa Petrosyan: The “Kochari” dance is an easy dance to learn. It consists of universal dance moves. However, “Argishti” is a different kind of dance, and this is the dance I like the most. It is a dance for both male and female dancers. In the beginning of the dance, the girls come out with candles and capes. The moves are different from each other, and the music is beautiful.

Hayern Aysor: Which is your favorite Armenian national dish?

Agnesa Petrosyan: I love dolma with cabbage and Armenian barbecue. Out of pastries, I prefer gata.

Hayern Aysor: Anesa, do you know any song or poem devoted to Armenia?

Agnesa Petrosyan: Yes, but I don’t remember it by heart. I love Yeghishe Charents’s poem “Yes Eem Anoosh Hayastani” (My Sweet Armenia).

Hayern Aysor: Do you have a dream about the homeland?

Agnes Petrosyan: I had a dream of coming to Armenia, and my dream came true through the “Ari Tun” Program. I thank the Ministry of Diaspora of the Republic of Armenia for that!

Syuzan Mirzoyan

Katarina Darbinyan: “Dance is life, history, language and…a weapon!”

Artistic directors of Ararat Armenian Dance Ensemble of Issy-les-Moulineaux, the young and attractive couple Katarina Darbinyan and Aram Arzumanyan, who were recently hosted at the Ministry of Diaspora of the Republic of Armenia, gave an interview to Hayern Aysor. During the interview, I listened to their pro-national and patriotic activities with a feeling of pride and admiration. Hayern Aysor presents the interview in its entirety.

Karine Avagyan: Katarina, tell us about your dance ensemble’s activities.

Katarina Darbinyan: Ararat Armenian Dance Ensemble was established 14 years ago and is adjunct to the Armenian Apostolic Church in Issy-les-Moulineaux. The founders are the chairman of the church and his wife, Turkish-Armenians Haikaz Gordebak and Maida Gonkese. After its establishment, the dance ensemble was under the direction of another dance instructor, after which the founders found us and invited us to be the ensemble’s dance instructors, and we have been directing the dance ensemble as a couple for the past 14 years. It is safe to say we are also the founders.

Karine Avagyan: As far as I understood, you and Aram are professional dancers. When and how did you start dancing?

Katarina Darbinyan: Yes, you are right. We are professional dancers. We lived in Armenia and danced in the Barekamutyun State Dance Ensemble. We graduated from Yerevan State Dance School and Yerevan State Institute of Arts and Theater and were students of Armen Mazmanyan. Later, we signed a contract and traveled to Paris where, as I mentioned, we have been living and working for the past 14 years.

Karine Avagyan: How old do your dancers have to be to start dancing? Are they professional dancers?

Katarina Darbinyan: We admit dancers between the ages of 4 and 35 and already have a ensemble of 25 child dancers. There is no age limit. It is just that most of the dancers get married and have children. We already have about 5 families of dancers and grandchildren who have joined our ensemble. We admit all those who wish to dance. We don’t take appearance into consideration at all, and it doesn’t matter if they are thin or fat…The important thing is that they dance well, and the most important thing is to help them preserve the Armenian identity through dance.

Karine Avagyan: Let’s talk about costumes. There are obviously various types of national costumes originating from various provinces of Armenia. Do you manage to show a delicate approach to the details that are characteristic of every province and maintain the conventional colors, decorations, hats and jewels at the same time? Do you consult with specialists?

Katarina Darbinyan: You asked a very important question. Our goal is not to show or advocate everything about the nation in a precise manner. Aesthetics is the most important thing for us. The costumes are designed according to our taste, and of course, we consult with professional tailors, one of whom is Rubina Hovhannisyan. We also collaborate with famous skillful tailor for operas Karine, and now we have started collaborating with tailor/painter Aida Melkonyan, who is such a great designer. I would like for everyone to see her sketches.

Karine Avagyan: Katarina, do you and your husband only direct the ensemble, or do you also dance?

Katarina Darbinyan: We direct the ensemble and teach the beginners. As far as our longtime dancers are concerned, we try to help them improve. We also dance with them. We continue to dance in order to make a living. We often dance on big stages. We dance solo dances, dances for couples and international dances. We also take flamingo dance lessons, but we teach Armenian dances.

Karine Avagyan: Do you only teach, or do you also give a brief presentation of the particular dance?

Katarina Darbinyan: We teach the dance, present the origin of the dance and explain the meaning of every move of the particular dance.

Karine Avagyan: In which other cities and countries has the dance ensemble performed?

Katarina Darbinyan: Our dance ensemble has performed in different cities across France and in Belgium. Currently, we are getting ready to give a concert dedicated to our ensemble’s 15th anniversary in Armenia next year.

Karine Avagyan: How often do you visit Armenia? Is this your first time at the Ministry of Diaspora?

Katarina Darbinyan: We visit Armenia every year, and this is our first time at the Ministry of Diaspora. The respectable Minister received us with great pleasure. We came to talk about our work and future plans and consult with the Minister.

Karine Avagyan: Are there dances you still haven’t choreographed or dances you are working on?

Katarina Darbinyan: We have choreographed many dances. We simply want to choreograph some dances again. We support innovations, and this is exactly why we choreographed the famous “Berd” Armenian dance again.

Karine Avagyan: Do the French applaud your efforts?

Katarina Darbinyan: Yes, they do. One time, we performed in a French city where the people in the audience were mainly young Frenchmen. They received us very cordially and gave endless rounds of applause.

Karine Avagyan: Besides your students, is there anyone else who can follow in your footsteps? 

Katarina Darbinyan: We have a 9-year-old girl, who has been dancing in our ensemble for the past five years. Our son is only 4 years old and doesn’t dance yet, but he closely follows our performances. He has the posture of a dancer, and I think he will want to dance someday.

Karine Avagyan: Katarina, I would like to ask Aram a question. Aram, which of you is the leader? Who works harder with the ensemble?

Aram Arzumanyan: Both of us. We both work hard, but my wife works more as a psychologist. She talks to the members, gives explanations, while I demand that my students work harder and constantly make them work harder.

Karine Avagyan: As directors of the dance ensemble and being professional dancers yourselves, what interesting things have you discovered in Armenian dances over the years?

Aram Arzumanyan: We haven’t discovered, but always felt the unique rhythms in Armenian dances that are only characteristic of Armenian dances.

Karine Avagyan: Katarina, Aram, if you were reborn by a miracle, would you choose dance as a profession again?

Katarina and Aram: Definitely! We have the same opinion. Dance is life, history, language and…a weapon!

Karine Avagyan: Well, we will be waiting for your long-anticipated concert in the Homeland.

Karine Avagyan

Hovhannes Balabanyan: “I am from Bitias…I was born and lived in Bitias…”

There are few heroic Armenians of Musa Ler who are with us today, and one of them is 106-year-old Hovhannes Balabanyan, who lives in Etchmiadzin. Our working group, under the leadership of Editor-in-Chief of Canada’s Horizon Weekly Vahakn Karakashian, visited Etchmiadzin where we were greeted by Hovhannes Balabanyan’s daughter and son-in-law. Hovhannes was waiting for us inside the arched building. His daughter, Beatrice said when Hovhannes found out that we were going to visit him, he started preparing early in the morning, sat in his favorite corner and kept asking when we would arrive…Words can’t describe the joy of Hovhannes, who was over 100 years old and had almost no wrinkles on his beautiful face with white and rosy skin…We engaged in a long and pleasant conversation, without circumventing even a short episode. Hovhannes Balabanyan shared his life story, the story of an Armenian and the history of the brave Armenians of Musaler.

“I was born in a wonderful place called Bitias. It was the farthest from the sea. The nearby villages were Adias, Yoghinoluk, Khdirbai, Makf and Kabusen. The water of the fountains in our village were so cold! The fruits were so tasty! In 1939, we left Musa Ler. I was 29. When the war ended in 1919, Armenian volunteers were taken to Adana. My father was also a volunteer. After Adana, the volunteers stood up and said if they weren’t released by May 1, they would escape the army. After the war, a pastor came, spoke to the boys and told them that they had created a garden, planted trees, received crops and had to enjoy all that…The volunteers said they had served in the army for four years and others should enjoy the fruits. They claimed that they had to be released before May 1; otherwise, they would escape. Afterwards, they began to write and prepare the documents of the Armenian volunteers. Dressed in their military uniforms, the volunteers come out, leave for Musaler and reach Bitias village. In 1919, they declare that the war is over and that those in exile can return to their respective settlements. My maternal and paternal grandfathers had also been exiled by the Turks and had been taken to the city of Hama where they returned after staying for four years. My father returned from the army, and my mother – from the place to where she had been exiled.The French suggested those in Port Said live in France and told them that they would establish a settlement named Musaler for the Armenians of Musaler, but the Armenians of Musaler didn’t agree, saying that they wanted to defend their land and homes. They lived there from 1919 to 1939. In 1938, Turkish troops enter Antioch, saying that they also had to take Sanjakh (the state bordering Syria). The Turks also took Sanjakh. Before 1935, people would always come from Aleppo to breathe fresh air, but after 1935, they didn’t come anymore because the Turks had set up a customs point and demanded an entry and exit visa. The Turks gave alphabet books to our schools, but there were no teachers. They wanted to bring teachers to our village, but there was nobody who would read in Turkish…In 1939, on Vardavar Day, we left Musaler and crossed the border. A Turkish ship with the Turkish national flag took us back and forth 7 times. They took our items by ship. We had cattle, and so we reached Kessab by foot. We had cousins in another nearby village, and we spent the night at one of our relatives’ house. We stayed for two months, after which the same ship took us from Turkey to Syria. We were told that the people who were ready should board the ship. The ship transported the Armenians of all villages to Tripoli six times. We rested a while, got on a train and reached Bekka Valley. Afterwards, we sat in cars and went to Anjar. All the villagers gathered and said we should gather all the stones near the tents and grind them. The architect designing the main plan had decided to embellish the area located in the middle of the villages, and that is exactly what happened. They built and embellished Anjar, turning it into a land of trees and flowers. They also provided water. We lived like that until 1945. That is when we were told that those who wished to move to Armenia could move, and my family registered. In 1946, the Rosia ship arrived. There were many people from different countries. We reached Dardanelles via the Mediterranean Sea, after which we reached Marmara Sea. Later, we went from Bosphorus Strait and entered the Black Sea. Darkness fell…We reached Batumi where we stayed for 12 days. Afterwards, we were sent to Etchmiadzin. Some were sent to Yerevan. Fifteen Armenian families of Musaler settled in Etchmiadzin.

You asked me about the Battle of Musaler. I was little and don’t remember much…Our volunteers having escaped the Turkish army would come to their villages and suggest that everyone resist. The Armenians of Musaler decided that they would either die or be free…They organized a resistance movement, decided to go up to the mountain and helped the villagers climb to Musaler. There were two water mills in our village. Whoever had wheat would take food, arms, ammunition, cattle and organize defense on the mountain. For 40 days, the Armenians of Musaler showed resistance, after which the French ship arrived. The Armenians had written “The Armenians are in danger”. There was a rocky place, and the crew on board had trouble approaching the coasts of the sea. Some boys threw themselves into the sea and swam towards the ship. The Frenchmen helped the Armenians, and everyone was saved.

…Bitias was heaven with abundant waters, tasty fruits and clean air. We would make harisa in our village, just like the Armenians of Etchmiadzin make it today. Many would say Bitias is really like Europe…Bitias is a dream! I lived in Etchmiadzin for many years, but Bitias the wonder has stayed in my childhood memories. My family has preserved all the dishes and traditions of the Armenians of Musaler. All of our daughters-in-law are from Musaler. We speak in the dialect of Musaler…I am from Bitias. I was born and lived in Bitias…Should I sing the song about Musaler called “In my garden, bright until morning, I sing for Musaler, Musaler!” (he sings with an amazing voice, longing and pride, after which he goes on to amaze us with a performance of another song called “Hala-Hala Nino Eh”).

Everyone sang along with Hovhannes, and he became happier when Vahakn Karakashian, who is a descendant of an Armenian of Musaler, talked to him in the dialect of Musaler. Later, during the conversation, it turned out that Karakashian knew the sons of Yeghia, Balabanyan’s U.S.-based brother…Hovhannes Balabanyan was indescribably happy and had a feeling of longing, and this made my and our crew’s day. We bid old man Hovhannes farewell and left Holy Etchmiadzin.

Karine Avagyan

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