BY ADRIENNE TAZIAN SCHWARTZ
One of my goals when I began my undergraduate degree in 2015 was to explore my cultural identity. More than any other institution I have explored, the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) Leo Sarkisian Summer Internship has offered me the most insight and, in particular, spending a weekend at a nunnery in Pennsylvania celebrating Hamazkayin – ArtLinks.
I was previously unaware that there was an organization dedicated to preserving traditional Armenian culture while still furthering artistic advancements. It makes me proud that we as a community value keeping our artistic, musical, and literary legacies alive.
We had spent a busy week in Washington marking the 100th anniversary of the First Armenian Republic, wrapping up with the unveiling of the bust of the first Armenian Ambassador to the U.S., Armen Garo, at the Armenian Embassy. After the event, the interns piled into a Buick SUV and drove to the woods an hour outside of Philadelphia arriving around midnight with high spirits, anticipating the days to come. The venue itself was beautiful- a castle like structure that we were so lucky to have. The energy the first morning was vibrant and warm; everyone was excited to begin. Immediately there was a sense of closeness and friendship felt by all people partaking.
The first workshop was by Columbia University’s Dr. Khatchig Mouradian, who was the Director of ArtLinks, gave an in-depth, interactive presentation on public speaking. We were all tasked with ad-libbing a speech on a random topic. People chose pieces of paper from a fish bowl and were given ten minutes to prepare their words utilizing the concepts we had learned. People took different approaches- some were humorous and others were serious. For example, topics included ice cream and world hunger which obviously conveyed very different tones. Overall, this interactive workshop worked as an excellent icebreaker for the weekend as it allowed everyone to immediately open up and get to know each other. During the nearly 3-hour presentation, Dr. Mouradian was engaging and offered excellent insight into the topic of public speaking that I will carry with me forever.
Following the first lecture, we had a lunch break then regathered to learn from author and photographer Matthew Karanian who shared images of historic Armenia and offered lessons on how best to frame and capture images. His presentation was especially interesting to me because I was able to see Armenia in a new context – juxtaposing historic images alongside his recent versions of the same geography. The comparison was shocking and really put into perspective for me the ravages of not only Armenian Genocide but the cultural genocide continuing to this day. His unique and intimate take on photographic perspective made many of us reimagine the way we will document our future ANCA events.
The final workshop of the day was a creative writing discussion led by noted poet and writer Vehanoush Tekian. The lecture was in Armenian but my friend and fellow intern Lilit was kind enough to translate for me. Everyone was tasked with writing a poem based on words that come to mind when they think of Armenia. The goal was to reimagine the thought process behind discussing Armenia. Many of the people who partook in writing a poem said that the task helped them to return to their roots.
At the conclusion of each of the days of the program, there was a group workshop about Armenian traditional dance history with step by step instructions led by Detroit Hamazkayin’s Arax Dance Group Director Nayiri Karapetian. The folk dance component of the weekend was my favorite part as it was the most interactive. I feel this workshop really brought a sense of pride and togetherness to everyone in the room. People I spoke to who grew up dancing were unaware of the history behind the moves so this session was educational for everyone. The good times continued to the wee hours of the morning as everyone continued dancing even after the instructional aspect had ended.
We started the second day with an engaging lecture by The New Yorker’s Raffi Khatchadourian, who shared his experiences writing long profile pieces for the internationally renowned magazine. This type of in depth writing was fascinating as many of us were not aware of the dedication and time required for such a piece. Since attending his lecture, I have begun to read his artful pieces and share them with my family.
The final presentation of the event was a women’s panel focusing on a range of topics, starting with Asya Darbinyan, who gave a discerning presentation on a topic not-often discussed – women’s important role in Armenia’s recent “Velvet Revolution.” She was followed by Lilly Torosyan, who discussed Hamazkayin’s new H-Pem Armenian cultural web-portal and The Armenian Weekly’s Karine Vann, who offered insights on the important role of the paper in relaying the Diasporan Armenian community’s voice.
Hamazkayin organized a truly inclusive educational retreat that was engaging for all. Because of my attendance at ArtLinks, I’ve continued my journey to develop a better understanding of our culture and thankful for the opportunity to further explore my identity and contribute to preserving our artistic legacy.
Adrienne Tazian Schwartz is a senior at Indiana University and is a 2018 ANCA Leo Sarkisian intern