GLENDALE–The depths of Armenian identity were explored Wednesday night at Glendale’s Sardarabad Armenian Book Store, as Armenian Americans gathered to hear Arsineh Khachikian tell “the story of her life and nation through the lens of her camera.”
Khachikian has been trekking across the United States for nearly 7 months, visiting one Armenian community after another to talk about her book, titled “The Trails and Trials of an Armenian Repatriate.”
The event, the final leg of her US tour, was a joint collaboration between Sardarabad bookstore, the Armenian Youth Federation and the Armenian National Committee.
Adorned with memento’s of Armenia’s past and present, Sardarabad provided a poignant atmosphere for Khachikian to tell the many stories she has captured through the lens of her camera. The bookstore hosts regular literary gatherings for Armenian youth in the hopes of serving as a bridge between the Diaspora and Armenia.
Standing against the backdrop of shelves stacked with Armenia’s literary and cultural heritage, Khachikian described her book as an exploration of “the depths of a people who challenge assimilation, defy expectations of defeat and triumph in the face of their own doubt.”
Raised in Washington DC, at the center of Armenian-American advocacy, Khachikian now lives in Yerevan, a repatriate. She moved to Armenian in 2006 after two earlier stints in the country. Having launched one of Armenia’s first graphic design companies, she is now using her photography to bridge the gap between the Diaspora and Homeland.
Almost obsessed with the Armenian community from early childhood, Khachikian became involved with the ANC, AYF and “virtually every Armenian organization ever created,” explained longtime community activist Raffi Hamparian, introducing her to the audience at Sardarabad.
“Arsineh is our community’s minute woman, the prototypical citizen soldier of the Armenian community,” Hamparian said, talking about her involvement in the community prior to her repatriation. “In the early 90s, when Karabakh was in its darkest momen’s and in the pre-email era, Khackikian walked with her heart and her mind, visiting congressional offices door to door, to make sure all 575 congressmen knew Karabakh’s struggle.”
Growing up, like many diasporans, with a conflicting dual identity, Khachikian found an anchor of stability in the fact that she was not alone in America; that everywhere she went, there were other Armenia’s who shared her same experiences and desires.
“The Armenian community was this fascinating beast that would exist everywhere you would go,” she said, noting how her attraction to Armenianness led her to photography. “I wanted to capture these momen’s, to share my Armenian life with others.”
“Now is a good time to sit back and really evaluate who we are, especially after the developmen’s in the last few decades,” Khachikian explained, noting the international nature of the Armenian nation. “We are at a crossroads and after more than 15 years of independence we have an unprecedented opportunity to start a dialogue of ideas and experiences to build a stronger future.”
Khachikian’s book, which she has now been presented in 17 different Armenian communities across the world, reflects on the last15 years of her life. It is her eye-witness account of a nation in evolution, bursting with energy and potential.
The book’s pages reflect an Armenian culture thriving outside its homeland and provide a visual timeline of the advancement of Armenian American influence in the United States. It also gives a visual narrative of the simultaneous development of an independent Armenia, rising from economic collapse to become the tiger of the South Caucasus.
"My Nation" attempts to define a people, undefined in the modern age, she explained. “Hopefully it will create a dialogue to reflect on our past and what we have accomplished in recent history and how we can define our next steps in this global society.”
“Nothing is impossible for Armenia,” Arsineh added. “I see a very strong future for Armenia and the Diaspora.”
It is through books that we learn our history, know who we are, understand our roots, and embrace our identy, said Sardarabad’s manager, Rita Demirjian, reflecting on Khachikian’s observations of Armenian history in the modern age.
"To know ourselves is to be aware of where we stand as a people,and how to better ourselves, our communities, our country and our nation," she added.
"Arsineh, having grown up as a member of the AYF and active in the Armenian community, is an example of how an individual can be successful, ambitious and involved, not only in America, but in Armenia," said Vache Thomassian, the Chairman of the AYF. "This event, hopefully, brought a sense of reality to the notion of repatriation. Her book and her images tell amazing stories of her life both in America and in the homeland."
Asbarez English Editor Ara Khachatourian interviewed Khachikian about her book. They explore issues of identity and repatriation in a frank conversation that can be read here.