Unless otherwise indicated, the articles here and in the Archive appeared on www.globalresearch.ca


Armenian Artists in Research and Dialogue

by Muriel Mirak-Weissbach
BERLIN, August 8, 2019 — Websites and blogs are generally the voice of an individual. This one speaks for a family, three generations, all of them artists of renown. The Galentz Research Center, launched by third generation artist Archi Galentz, is a blog platform — in Armenian, English and Russian — and a meeting place for persons active in the cultural realm. Especially those interested in Armenian visual art and its history are welcome visitors.

Archi Galentz, who launched the website https://galentz-research.org in July, explains that it is based on the history and experience of his own family, from grandparents Harutyun Harmandanyan Kalentz (Galentz) (1910-1967) and his wife, Armine Baronyan-Kalentz (Galentz) (1920-2007), to father Saro Galentz (1946-2017), to himself, Harutyun Archi Galentz, born in 1971.

Educated in Moscow, Yerevan and Berlin, he has been living and working in the German capital for many years. In his atelier, InteriorDAsein, he has hosted exhibitions of his own and other artists’ works. In 2016, he curated a unique exhibition of works by his grandparents. (See https://galentz-research.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/Artistic-Journeys-through-National-Destinies-The-Armenian-Mirror-Spectator.pdf)

Last year he opened a new gallery, Wolf & Galentz, together with Andreas Wolf. In addition to organizing exhibitions, the two artists serve as consultants for collectors and estates. Galentz himself has a vast, impressive collection of modern and contemporary works.

His latest initiative is the new site, which offers information on this rich family heritage, in the form of published articles as well as new research. With the help of the site, Galentz hopes to lay the basis for a Galentz Research Center, an independent institute “based on part of Hartutyun Galentz’s house-museum in Yerevan, after its restructuring.” In addition to promoting cultural studies, including art history, the new entity will take part in educational activities.

A Contested Legacy

Galentz’s plan to establish a new research center is an uphill struggle. Following his father Saro’s fatal heart attack in 2017, strife erupted regarding his estate, as there was no last will and testament. Nor had a proper inventory been compiled of the numerous artworks left in his home, works by the deceased, and family members, including Archi’s maternal grandfather, sculptor Nikolai Nikogosyan. In addition, there were artworks done by Archi Galentz himself and others from his private collection.

As Galentz explained in an article published the Armenian Mirror-Spectator, the inheritance battle was more than a personal matter and involved a broader, public dimension. (See https://mirrorspectator.com/2019/04/04/the-debate-about-culture-and-the-culture-of-debate/) This is due to the nature of the legal framework — or lack thereof — in Armenia regarding intellectual property rights of artworks or manuscripts, as well as the legal status of museums and their exhibits. Attempts to compile a notarized list of artworks in the home-museum of the deceased met with difficulties that successive courts had to deal with, all the way up to the Supreme Court.

The issue of the contested legacy occupies a prominent place in Galentz’s new site, and numerous documents (in Armenian) related to the legal battle are available, in addition to a film clip of a news item from state television in June of this year.

Repatriate Artists

The site also functions as a blog, with discussion of topics that go beyond the Galentz family story. Most welcome to the site is information regarding the works of repatriate artists to the Soviet Union and others; site visitors with knowledge of works or photographs of Petros Kontrajyan, Aramik, Manuk Ghrdian, among others, are invited to contact info@galentz-research.org. Another topic of interest is Armenian surrealism, in the visual arts, cinema and theatre, both in the Soviet Union during the 1970s-80s and in the diaspora. Finally, Galentz places great importance on the cultural dialogue between the Republic of Armenia and the diaspora, aimed at forging unifying strategies.

Özdemir Receives Wallenberg Medal

by Muriel Mirak-Weissbach
Cem Özdemir
BERLIN, JULY 25, 2019— Raoul Wallenberg was a Swedish diplomat who saved the lives of Jews and others during World War II in Nazi-occupied Hungary. A foundation named after the humanitarian, who was detained and disappeared in January 1945, promotes educational programs and organizes public awareness campaigns focused on the values of solidarity and civic courage embodied in the activities of Wallenburg and other Saviors of the Holocaust.
This year the Raoul Wallenburg award went to Cem Özdemir, a national leader of the Bundnis 90/Die Grünen party and member of the Bundestag (Parliament). He received the medal for his role in “building bridges between Armenians and Turks and his pivotal contribution” leading the campaign to have the Armenian genocide recognized by the Bundestag in June 2016. The award ceremony took place in Berlin on June 16 at the Gedächtniskirche, a church that was bombed during the war and stands as a symbol of remembrance in the capital. The International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation representative Pastor Annemarie Werner, head of the Vaterunser Church, and Martin Gremer, pastor of the host chapel, presided over the ceremony, which included remarks by Turkish-Armenian musician Marc Sinan. Dr. Amill Gorgis of the Society for the Promotion of an Ecumenical Monument for Genocide Victims in the Ottoman Empire (FÖGG) presented the award.
In rendering thanks for having been so honored, Özdemir referred to the historic chapel as “an impressive monument to the horror of the Second World War.” Though one might understand the desire of some to erase “the wounds of conflict from the cityscape,” he was glad it had been preserved; he pointed also to the fact that the square where the church is located was also the scene of a terrorist attack two and a half years ago, which killed 12 persons. “We cannot forget the victims of war and terror,” he said. “An open society needs remembrance as much as every individual needs air to breathe.”
“I am often asked what success I am most proud of,” he continued. “There have been several highpoints and I am grateful for all of them. But there is one event that stands out and concerns me particularly: as you all know, three years ago the Bundestag passed a resolution recognizing the genocide against the Aramaeans, Armenians, Assyrians, Chaldaens and Pontis Greeks. It filled me with pride to have contributed to this recognition.” He expressed his thanks to all those who helped in the effort, saying the award was also going to them.
“The resolution will remain,” he said. “There is nothing that can shake it. The statement that Germany was ‘complicit’ in the deaths of 1.5 million persons in the Ottoman Empire is written for all time in the protocols of the Bundestag.” This, he said, defined a task for everyone, to continue to develop the culture of remembrance in Germany, by adding a chapter to include the history of genocides in the twentieth century.
“In 1948,” he recalled, “the United Nations passed the Convention on Genocide,” and the term “genocide” was coined by the Jewish jurist Raphael Lemkin on the basis of his study of the Armenian tragedy in the Ottoman Empire. “That tragedy was, however, neither the first nor the last genocide in the 20th century.” In the killings of tens of thousands of Hereros and Namas, Germany “was not ‘complicit’ or ‘mainly responsible,’ but was ‘solely responsible.’ And the means adopted, like killing orders, expulsions, starvation and concentration camps, are a terrible reminder of the Armenian genocide and the Shoa. It is high time for the Bundestag to finally recognize also the genocide against the Hereros and Namas through a comparable resolution.” Özdemir added that this chapter has unfortunately not been closed, as documented by Rwanda (1994), Srebrenica (1995) and the “ethnic cleansing” in the Bosnian war (1992-1995)—atrocities which should have provoked a greater outcry.
Özdemir noted that genocides “do not occur in a vacuum” but have “models,” and cited Eli Wiesel’s characterization of the Armenian genocide as the “genocide before the genocide.” Thus the need to talk about the Armenian genocide, as well as those before and after it, including the Yezidi and Rohingya people today. “We have to talk about how we will prevent future Rwandas and Srebrenicas,” and do so early. “For this reason, the 20th century genocides must be featured appropriately in our textbooks in German schools.”
In the second part of his address, Özdemir turned to the current situation in the German Bundestag. He recalled the words uttered by then-President Joachim Gauck in 2015 on the centenary of the genocide. Gauck stressed the “responsibility of those alive today to be duty bound to a policy that respects and protects the right to life and human rights of every individual.” That responsibility, Özdemir said, no longer enjoys a consensus in the current German parliament. “There is a party that refuses to remember the darkest chapter of German history,” he said; “whose parliamentarians refuse to applaud when a Holocaust survivor speaks in the Bundestag; and whose party and faction leader describes Nazism as ‘bird shit’ (Vogelschiss) of history. They reject truth.” The party in question is the AfD, Alternative for Germany, the right-extremist group that now has elected officials at the national and federal state levels.
It is absurd, Özdemir stated, that the AfD should now speak up in favor of the resolution and demand implementation. “What is clear is that the AfD never supported it!” Özdemir recapitulated the three basic ideas behind the Armenian genocide resolution: “First, to recognize the complicity of Germany; secondly, to promote the study and working through of this terrible chapter in German and European history; and, thirdly, to support the dialogue between people in Armenia and Turkey. The AfD,” he noted, “does not endorse any of these aims.”
The reason the AfD refers to the resolution, Özdemir explained, is to put pressure on Turkey and the Turkish people, whether at home or in Germany, and to block possible EU membership for Turkey, “even if, hopefully in the not too distant future, it were to find its way back to democracy and the rule of law.” Özdemir commented that the AfD simply did not understand the meaning of the resolution, and added that, with its presence in the Bundestag today, that same bill would not be passed unanimously as it was 3 years ago.
The central point Özdemir made is that “the greatest honor we can render the victims of the Armenian genocide and all other genocides: to fight to ensure that extremism, hatred and violence find no anchor in our society.” In contrast to Hitler’s cynical remark that no one talked about the fate of the Armenians, Özdemir stressed the importance of living up to the slogan, “Never Again.” In closing the Green Party parliamentarian gave voice to his great respect for two role models: Raoul Wallenberg, for his courage and humanity, and Hrant Dink, “my friend, the Armenian Turkish journalist who was killed in 2017.” Regretting that Dink could not be present for the event, Özdemir said perhaps he was there in spirit; “and encourages us not to allow our hearts to be poisoned by the hatred of fanatics, and to believe more strongly in the power of truth, love and forgiveness, such that a new generation of Turks, Kurds and Armenians may extend their hands for reconciliation as good neighbors.”

Raffi Kantian, at left

Teaching Genocide: Where There’s a Political Will, There’s a Way

by Muriel Mirak-Weissbach
HANOVER, Germany, JUNE 27, 2019— The resolution passed in Berlin in 2016 recognizing the Armenian genocide was a watershed. Not only did the Bundestag (Parliament) take the final step in acknowledging that what occurred in the Ottoman Empire in 1915 was a genocide, but it outlined provisions for educating the population on this crucial chapter in modern history.
In the text of the document, it is stated that “Today it is the responsibility of school, university and civic education to take up and work through the expulsion and extermination of the Armenians as part of the process of dealing with the history of ethnic conflicts in the 20th century, in curricula and teaching materials, and to pass this on to the next generations. In this respect, the federal states have a special role to play.”
In the German system, curricula for public schools are the responsibility of governments at the federal state level. Prior to the passage of the resolution, it was up to the individual teacher to decide what examples to use in courses on genocide and mass murder in modern history. Brandenburg, which introduced instruction on the Armenian Genocide in 2005, was followed a decade later by Saxony-Anhalt, which made teaching materials on the subject available. But it was only with the Bundestag’s action that legislators redefined the matter, spelling out provisions for implementation.
What has occurred since then? At public events commemorating the victims of the genocide on April 24 each year, speakers have lamented the fact that very little has changed. This year, Dr. Elke Hartmann, speaking in Berlin, stressed that it was not only a matter of reorganizing curricula, but of providing educators with the in-depth knowledge required to teach competently. She called for the establishment of university chairs as well as the preparation of scientific materials for the classroom.
Politics at the Federal State Level
If educating the educators is a precondition for intellectual development, political will is mandatory to providing the forum to engage young minds in study. On June 6, a conference took place in Hanover, capital of the federal state of Saxony-Anhalt, which faced the political issue head on.
It was organized by the Hanover Historical Museum, the Municipal Culture of Memory, the German-Armenian Society (DAG) and the Ada and Theodore High School, to examine the issue and make an assessment. Dr. Christoph Bergner, a Bundestag member until 2017, delivered the main speech, which was followed by a round table discussion. Those participating included Dr. Jochen Walter from the Lower Saxony Culture Ministry, DAG President Dr. Raffi Kantian, retired Headmaster Dr. Martin Stupperich, who was Chairman of the Lower Saxony Association of History Teachers for many years, and Nils Vollert, who teaches German and History and has authored textbooks and teaching materials. Dr. Christin Pschichholz, from the Lepsiushaus in Potsdam, was the moderator.
The event was dedicated to the theme, “The Armenian Genocide: From the Bundestag Resolution to its Implementation in Lower Saxony.” Since federal states are responsible for school policy, the conference organizers decided to call on their state legislators directly and ask them to define their positions on the matter in writing. The parties represented in the state parliament are the Green Party (Bündnis90/Die Grünen), the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), the Liberal Party (FDP) and the Social Democrats (SPD). Each party was to reply to the following questions:
• How does your group evaluate the Bundestag resolution’s formulation cited above?
• Has your group taken steps thus far to implement it in Saxony Anhalt? If so, what steps and with what result?
• If not, what were/are the grounds for your reserve?
• Can your group envision active commitment to the issue in the foreseeable future? What would your group like to undertake concretely?

The responses were disappointing, to be polite. On the DAG website they will be available in full (http://www.deutsch-armenische-gesellschaft.de/). In an article prepared by Dr. Raffi Kantian, the replies are summarized with commentary.
All the factions expressed agreement with the formulation — no surprise, considering the resolution had passed with an all-party vote. When it came to concrete steps taken locally, the answers became evasive. The Green Party pointed to a scientific dossier on the Armenian Genocide which the (German government) Federal Agency for Civic Education has published online, adding that the party has reestablished the comparable office on the state level, in hopes it will address the genocide issue. If the Greens have not done anything themselves, it was due to “other priorities.” The CDU was content to recall an experts’ seminar held back in 2012 on “Genocide as a Classroom Topic.” The FDP focused on the foreign policy aspects of the resolution (Armenian-Turkish relations) to argue against action on the federal state level, and, as for classroom instruction, opined that nothing would prevent it from being taught in the upper schools; for younger pupils, the experts should decide. The FDP doesn’t think much of political influence on textbooks or the like. The SPD was in essential agreement; respect for academic freedom at the university level limits political influence, and lower schools have their own responsibilities; that said, one might however show teachers how they could introduce the theme of the Armenian genocide into the classroom.
In his comments to the parties’ responses, Kantian was direct. If the Greens saw no possibility to act in their official capacity, “That is astounding for a party represented in the state legislature, whose responsibilities include participation in addressing all political realms.” They want to “delegate the task to the State Agency for Civic Education. No mention of involving schools.” And the FDP’s passing the buck to those responsible for foreign policy “is a crass error, as one can immediately recognize by reading the passage quoted from the Resolution.” The CDU believes the entire affair was sufficiently dealt with in the 2012 seminar. “Evidently,” Kantian concluded, “this problem has low priority in the Lower Saxony legislature, as openly stated in one answer and indicated between the lines in the rest.”

Identifying the Nodal Points
Participants in the round table discussion did analyze the matter in some detail. Stupperich, who had organized the 2012 event in question, expressed the view that it had remained without consequence. In seeking solutions, one has to take into consideration that the organization of school instruction has changed. Instead of the earlier teaching plan, with a syllabus, or list of subjects for study, now one works with a curriculum which is oriented more to the goals and the learning process. Thematic anchors or reference points exist, and could be used to treat the theme of the Armenian Genocide, but this is not explicitly named in the so-called core curriculum. Furthermore, since the Armenian Genocide is not available as a course of study for university students, future teachers have no access to the subject. Nor do they have access to scientific literature on it in standard textbooks.
In the round table discussion, Nils Vollert, a teacher and author of textbooks, said he probably never would have dealt with this subject if he had not learned about it at the Institute for Diaspora and Genocide Studies at the Bochum University, one of the rare locations in Germany to offer such disciplines. This dilemma is precisely what Hartmann identified in her speech last April in Berlin; the institutions of higher learning have to exist and provide the facilities, in courses, research facilities, published materials, handouts and so forth. Other aspects debated in the discussion were the concept of teaching the Armenian genocide as a predecessor to the Holocaust, and how to relate it to the issue of German complicity.
If the written contributions that political party representatives had submitted in answer to the questionnaire earned Kantian’s critical commentary, the conference deliberations offered a sober assessment of what has and has not been achieved thus far. Most importantly, it generated discussion of the path to be followed, if the 2016 resolution is to be implemented with respect to genocide studies. Kantian appreciated the contribution to the round table of Dr. Jochen Walter, deputy director of the Department for Civic Education in the state Culture Ministry. “From his remarks one could gather that people in the Ministry are thinking about changes. We are full of expectation!”
(Material for this report has been drawn from an article by Dr. Raffi Kantian, to appear in the Armenische-Deutsche-Korrespondenz (ADK 183), the publication of the German-Armenian Society (DAG). Translations from the German are those of the author.)

The four musicians with Ambassador Ashot Smbatyan (left)

Young Talents
Honor the Memory of Genocide Victims in Berlin

by Muriel Mirak-Weissbach
BERLIN, MAY 2, 2019— The date was, as always, April 24, and the venue had not changed: the French Cathedral in Gendarmenmarkt, Berlin. But the organizers were many, the Embassy of the Republic of Armenia, the Diocese of the Armenian Church in Germany and the Central Council of Armenians in Germany, in cooperation with the Armenian Church and Cultural Community as well as the Armenian Community, both of Berlin; and Kammerton, a music initiative. The program presented one commemorative speech, delivered by Dr. Elke Hartmann, followed by a magnificent concert featuring four very talented young musicians from Armenia. The new Primate of the Armenian Church in Germany Archimandrite Serovbe Isakhanyan closed with prayers.
Dr. Hartmann, who is teaching as a guest professor at the Hamburg university this semester, is on the faculty of the Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich, in the department of Russian and Asian studies. In her address Hartmann spoke as a third generation Armenian, whose maternal grandparents transmitted Armenian culture to her, through language, music, cuisine and love. As that generation is taking its final leave, the descendants continue to fight for recognition of the genocide, especially on the part of the Turkish authorities today. Hartmann was direct and uncompromising in her demands for full recognition and her principled rejection of political exploitation through pseudo-acknowledgements and rhetorical lip-service to the suffering of the victims.


As a German, she emphasized the role that Germany must play, especially in the wake of the resolution passed in 2016 by the Bundestag (Parliament) officially recognizing the genocide. In that document, specific provisions are defined for implementation, among them the inclusion of study of the Armenian genocide in history classes in the upper schools. Matters pertaining to school curricula are the responsibility of the federal state governments in Germany, and it is they who must transform the written commitments into facts. But, as she stressed, to do this involves more than a bureaucratic decision; for teachers to prepare classes and present the subject in a scientifically responsible manner, they need research tools and classroom materials. This requires adequate research, which in turn calls for the establishment of centers, institutes, associations within universities that are devoted to Armenian studies. Without such chairs established for Armenian studies it would be impossible to fulfill the challenges and promises of the genocide resolution.
Reiterating the special place that music plays in Armenian life, Hartmann concluded her warmly received remarks with the invitation to the musicians to come on stage. If anyone in the capacity audience expected a few pieces by some world-class professional ensemble or vocalists, that person must be happily disappointed. The first to appear was Aida Avanisyan, age 12, who took her place at the concert grand piano and delivered Arno Babajanyan’s Elegy. Further on in the program, she would perform Johann Sebastian Bach’s Partita No. 2 in C minor and Franz Schubert’s Impromptu in A flat, Opus 90, No. 4. Her contemporary, Gur Sargsyan, also born in 2006, gave an energetic and convincing performance of Sergei Rachmaninov’s Prelude in G minor, Opus 23, No. 5, which is a technically challenging piece, not to mention interpretation. He was equally competent later in presenting Shushiki by Komitas, and Widmung (Dedication, A love song) by Robert Schumann in an arrangement by Franz Liszt.
The other two musicians were considerably older: pianist Zhora Sargsyan is 25 and violinist Ani Badeyan has just turned 16. As a soloist Sargsyan played Ballade No. 4 in F minor, Opus 52 by Frederic Chopin, the Phantasy in D minor by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Spring by Komitas. In a duet together with Ani Badeyan, he performed Krunk by Komitas and the Romance from Henrik Wieniawski’s Violin Concerto No. 2, Opus 22. The program offered Komitas and other Armenian composers alternating with works from the classical European repertoire, a reflection of the range of musical culture the young instrumentalists are mastering.
After listening to one prodigious performance after the other, we were not surprised to read in the program notes that all four have won numerous prizes, both on the national stage and abroad. The two youngest pianists Gur Sargsyan and Aida Avanisyan, have both performed Bach piano concertos together with the State Chamber Orchestra of Armenia. With the exception of Zhora Sargsyan, who has been a student at the Berlin University of the Arts since 2014, the musicians came from Armenia for the event, and heartfelt thanks were in order to the Embassy for having facilitated their travel and to the KAMMERTON Project for the Promotion of International Musical Young Talents. This Berlin-based initiative supports the education of classical music talents, children and youth, and promotes international exchange. Before offering solemn prayers, Archimandrite Isakhanyan expressed his deep gratitude to the outstanding performers.
Hartmann had mentioned in her opening remarks that music has served Armenians throughout the ages as a means of affirmation of their continuing existence and development; the thoughtfully crafted program for this year’s commemoration, brilliantly executed by the young musicians, communicated this not only through their skills but also the pure joy they find in making music. It was a dignified commemoration of those who perished in the genocide and at the same time a celebration of the will to generate cultural excellence into the future.

From left, Hayk Arslanyan, Lilit Soghomonyan and Hasmik Margaryan

Artists Launch Creative Fundraising in Istanbul

by Muriel Mirak-Weissbach
ISTANBUL, JUNE 6, 2019 — People with autism require very special care, and there are precious few facilities providing adequate facilities and personnel to deal with their needs. Armenia is fortunate to have one such establishment; however, being the only one, not only nationally but in the entire Transcaucasus region, it is limited in resources to meet the actual needs of the community. Located in Yerevan, “My Way” Socio-Rehabilitation Day Care Center for Children and Teenagers with Autism provides education, care and therapy for youngsters all day every day during the week and for free. (See Armenian Mirror-Spectator, June 17, 2017, and http://www.m-w-stiftung.org/English/News/MyWay/MyWay.html for additional photos.) The socio-rehabilitation unit offers custom-tailored vocational training classes for almost 190 beneficiaries, up to the age of 35. There are 72 dedicated, trained staff members working in small groups or in a one-on-one basis, to develop students’ skills and support their further integration into society.
With a growing waiting list of persons who want to take part in their programs, the board members decided to expand their physical facilities, in order to provide the logistics for a broader range of activities. This meant launching a major building project to renovate a second building on the premises. The idea is to dedicate the first building, which has been fully renovated, to children and the second to young adults seeking vocational training, to learn skills that will allow them to find meaningful employment and thereby provide the basis for an in dependent adult life.
The renovation work has been proceeding over the past year and a half, with the help of the John Mirak Foundation, and when my husband and I were there in April, we saw that the finish line was in view. The whole structure had been refurbished, with spacious rooms and modern utilities, but what remained were the finishing touches. Inside the building the floors and walls still needed work, windows, doors and the relevant fittings.
The sum required to finance the last stretch was not astronomical, but still beyond the means of the group with its current budget. What was required was a creative approach, and “My Way” is well known for its creative spirit. Not only does it place great emphasis on creative work — painting, ceramics, handcrafts, music — in its therapeutic work, it also has artists among its founders and directors.
Lilit Soghomonyan, for example, the mother of a child with autism and a founding member, is a well known artist, married to Gagik Ghazanchyan, also an artist. Lilit’s mother and father, Nona Gabrielyan and Van Soghomonyan, are both artists, living and working in Wiesbaden, Germany. Lilit’s son, Guy, is a painter and daughter, Yeva, who has been attending art therapy classes in the center, has produced remarkable works.
Why not organize an exhibit and sell works by artists associated with “My Way” to finance the last phase of the building project? The idea arose during a visit to Yerevan by Ani Kurdian, Ani Pekkucuk and Talin Merti of Istanbul. Ani Kurdian her husband, Grikor Kurdian, are active members of the Armenian community in Istanbul, and good friends and supporters of the “My Way” center. They suggested having a fundraising exhibition in Istanbul, featuring art works of the well-known Armenian painters Lilit Sogomonyan and her husband Gagik Ghazanchayn, along with art works of Ani Pekkucuk, Talin Merti, Gulizar Artuchi, Ita Gahramani and Garin Jinjinoglu. Hayk Arslanyan, a leading member of the community who had visited the center in Yerevan, was instrumental in bringing the idea to fruition.
After lengthy and detailed preparations, in April 2019 Autism National Foundation Board Members, Lilit Sogomonyan, Sona Petrosyan, Hasmik Margaryan and Marine Ginosyan joined “My Way” Director Lilit Atajanyan on a trip to Istanbul to organize the initiative.
The exhibition opened on April 13, 2019 in the Karagezian Armenian School Hall with works by the painters from Armenia and Istanbul. But it was not only the professional Armenian painters who showed their creations: some of the students from “My Way” were able to demonstrate their talents in paintings. These are children and young adults who have been working in art therapy sessions at the center. While the guests were wandering around, enjoying and discussing the art works, Karo Pekleian, a young, talented member of the community, officially opened the event.
The exterior of the My Way building

Pekleian gave an enthusiastic account of the history of the “My Way” center, and its current mission and invited members of the audience to participate by purchasing some of the art works on display. All the income, he said, would be donated to “My Way” to finance the completion of the renovation. He elaborated on the function of the new addition, whose premises are dedicated to vocational training classes for youths and adults, to enable them to develop the various skills that will allow them to seek job opportunities and integration into society.
At the end of the ceremony, Lilit Atajanyan and board member/parent Sona Petrosyan spoke on behalf of the children, their parents and staff, expressing their deep appreciation to all those who initiated, organized and implemented this wonderful event. Supporters were recognized, one by one, personally. The initiative was crowned with considerable success; through the generosity of members of the Armenian community in Istanbul, a large number of art works found new owners, and the “My Way” team returned to Yerevan, with the means to push the building project that final step forward.

Prof. Drost-Abgarjan at the conference

Levon I and the Kingdom of Cilicia

by Muriel Mirak-Weissbach
HALLE, Germany, May 30, 2019 — Eight hundred years ago Levon I, a king who left an indelible mark on Armenian history and culture, with respect to relations with other powers, temporal and religious, died. The German city of Halle marked the anniversary with a series of special events, coinciding with the 20th anniversary of the cultural agreement signed between the Federal Republic of Germany and the Republic of Armenia. On May 17, a cabinet exhibition opened at the Moritzburg state museum, titled, “Levon I (1187-1219): An Armenian King in the Hohenstaufen Crusader States,” followed by a festive concert by guitarists Stepan Galantryan and Emil Georgiev, a “Voyage of Songs through the Mediterranean Coasts.”

The following day, an international scientific conference took place, organized by the Mesrop Center for Armenian Studies at the Martin Luther University in Halle-Wittenberg, which is also celebrating its 20th anniversary. (https://mirrorspectator.com/2018/11/08/two-decades-of-armenian-studies-in-germany/)

Titled “The Armenian Kingdom on the Mediterranean: Cilicia in the International, Cultural and Political Context (On the Occasion of the 800th Anniversary of the Death of Levon I),” it brought together prominent scholars from the U.S., Armenia and France in the Leopoldina National Academy of Sciences. Greetings were delivered by the academy’s Vice President Prof. Gunnar Berg, Director of the Institute for Oriental Studies Prof. Cornelia Horn and Armenian Ambassador Ashot Smbatyan. A message was received from Aram I, Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia, and Dr. Stefan Moeller read greetings from P. Frank Bayard, Grand Master of the Teutonic Order, an order established in the 12th century in the Holy Land.


King Levon I

Diplomacy, Foreign Policy and Church Relations
It was the political side of Levon I’s activities that occupied the opening session, introduced by Mesrop Center director Prof. Armenuhi Drost-Abgarjan. Claude Mutafian (Paris) presented Levon the Great as “a brilliant diplomat.” Finding himself at the head of the Rubenid dynasty in Cilicia, which was sought after by both the Christian and Muslim neighbor states, he deemed the best means of consolidating his position would be through the establishment of a kingdom, one recognized by the surrounding powers. In pursuit of this, he turned to Henry VI Hohenstaufen and on January 6, 1198 in Tarsus, under the aegis of the Holy Roman Empire, was crowned King Levon I of Armenia. The Byzantine emperor recognized him but before he could gain comparable status from the Papacy in Rome, he had to settle the controversial issue of the alleged schismatic character of the Armenian church and its autocephalic character. This Levon I succeeded in doing, by organizing his clergy to accept papal conditions in word only, and the union of the churches became a fact. In an effort to subdue hostilities in Antioch and the Hethum dynasty, he tried his hand at matchmaking diplomacy, but was not always crowned by success.

Azat Bozoyan (Yerevan) examined the direction of Levon’s multifaceted foreign policy vis-a-vis European powers as well as the Crusader states, through which he hoped to protect Cilicia’s independence. In his church policy with Rome, he acted in accord with the Catholicos, whose See however lay outside Cilicia. From 1193 on, he sought to set up a state order along the model of the Byzantine system, whereby Cilician royal power would be based on the spiritual structures of the Armenian church, which at the end of the 12th century stretched from Greater Armenia to the Balkans and Egypt. Bozoyan pointed to the coins and royal seals issued in 1998 as proof of this; here Levon is “King of Armenia,” “By the Grace of God,” “King of all Armenians” and “Dei et romani imperii gracia rex Armenie.”

Liana Aghabekyan (Yerevan) narrowed the focus to relations between the Holy Roman Empire and the Armenian Principality of Cilicia in the 1180s, when diplomatic relations were established between the Hohenstaufens and the Rubenids. Political interests motivating both sides to forge such ties included the Hohenstaufens’ desire to expand their power in the region and the Armenian principality’s ability to function as a political and cultural bridge between western and eastern Christian regions. With a western crown, Levon could strengthen his power in the Crusader states region, and he hoped to create a unified Armenian-Antiochene political system. Good relations between the Hohenstaufens and Rubenids would strengthen both in relation to the Byzantine Empire. Thus the importance of Levon’s being coronated King of Armenia, in the name of the Holy Roman Empire in 1198.

Coining the Image of the King
Before visiting the nearby museum to wander through the exhibition of selected coins honoring the Armenian king, participants heard papers dealing with the scientific approach to the matter. Ruben Vardanyan (Yerevan) spoke on “Cilician-Armenian Numismatics: Questions, Solutions, Perspectives and Limits.” In 2008 a systematic research project got underway to classify and catalogue all the silver and copper coins from the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia – about 4500! – that are housed in the Historical Museum of Armenia. Of the planned five volumes, the first (bilingual, Armenian and English) appeared in 2014 and the last in 2017. Numerous questions arose in the course of the work, for example, regarding classification and placement, which opened up further research into the history of mintage in Cilicia. Careful study of iconographical and stylistic changes is required to clarify the identity of coins from the 13th and early 14th centuries, even those bearing the names of Levon and Hethum. One major problem, Vardanyan said, derives from the lack of reliable information on the finds and treasures, despite the huge number of specimens unearthed. The problem lies in the lack of systematic archaeological excavations in the Armenian sites there, and the destructive treasure hunting that has been taking place in recent decades.

Stefan Moeller (Halle) spoke on Levon I’s coinage reform, which he termed a “Numismatic Great Project.” The new coinage introduced by the king bears witness to the meteoric rise of the Rubenid dynasty, he said, as such large-scale reforms were quite unusual at the time. In the period of the principality (1095-1198) the five basic coins in use were made of copper sheet metal. Already in this period, the use of the Armenian language in Armenian script is noteworthy, as well as the depiction of the cross as a khachkar. Following the coronation of Levon in 1198, the capital was relocated to Sis and a new mint was inaugurated, a sign of “this new sovereign pride.” In the first emission phase, the first coins depicting Levon as king appeared with the head of the ruler, stylized, on one side, and a cross on the other side. The second phase was marked by the introduction of silver coins of high nominal value. Here the king’s face is shown in a majestic pose, and he is identified as “Levon, King of each and every Armenian, by the grace of God.” On the reverse side is a crowned “Agnus Deo Lion holding the banner of the cross.”

The very first series of coins bearing the Armenian language, according to Roy Arakelian (Paris), are those from Lori in the 11th century. The coins show Christ, with robe and halo, holding a bible, with “Jesus Christus” on both sides, as well as, on the reverse side, “Lord, help Kiurike, the Kuropalat” (a Byzantine title). Arakelian’s research has led him to conclude that the person in question was Kiurike II (1048-1100), king of Lori, who, after making peace with Sultan Alp Aslan, issued coins during his long reign. Although his immediate successors did not carry on this practice, Arakelian sees the real successors to Kiurike II in the barons of Armenian Cilicia.

Turning to the relations of the Armenians to the Latin world, Maxime Yevadian (Lyon) examined 11th-century source material and the image of Armenians it offers. Armenia is seen as the site of sacred history, for example, as a heavenly paradise and Noah’s Ark, and several Armenian or Armenianized saints are named; there are even references to the myth of a supposed Armenian origin of the Germanic peoples. It was in the period following the destruction of the Armenian highlands in the 11th century, Yevadian noted, that Armenian pilgrims headed westward, among them saints Macarius of Gent, Simeon of Mantua and Davinus of Lucca.

Modes of Narration
Illuminated manuscripts were among the works produced in Armenian Cilicia, contributing to the rich tradition. Cornelia Horn (Halle) showed how artists working on these illuminations performed an important role in transmitting and creating non-canonical traditions. These are the apocryphal narratives, that is, accounts that expand or elaborate on stories and figures known in canonical Scripture. Examining material in the framework of New Testament apocrypha, Horn combined methodological considerations with an in-depth analysis of individual examples to demonstrate the vast array of apocryphal traditions reflected in manuscript illuminations from Armenian Cilicia. The presentation located these examples within the broader history of Armenian illuminated manuscripts, identifying these as among the earliest examples.

Historiography, too, may reveal “non-canonical” material, may expand and elaborate on known events. Heiko Conrad (Frankfurt/Main) discussed how written historical accounts may reveal political attitudes. The case in point is the History of the Armenians by Kirakos Gandzaketsi (1200-1271) and his rather extensive treatment of the coronation of Levon I. Although King Levon wins praise for his courage and military successes, in this account his role in negotiations with papal representatives is ambiguous; there are nuances of censure regarding Levon’s intervention into church affairs. At the same time, certain facts touching on clerical affairs are obscured in the work, for example, the coronation itself and the council of Sis.

At the conclusion of an extraordinarily rich conference, participants were invited on a guided tour of the cabinet exhibition, which will continue until July 29. Later the same exhibition will be on display in Armenia.


Vigil and Commemoration in Berlin

by Muriel Mirak-Weissbach
BERLIN, May 16, 2019 — A central feature of the events organized every year by the Armenian community on April 24 is the demand that Turkey acknowledge the genocide. The AGA, a Working Group for Recognition, held a vigil on April 27 in front of the Turkish Embassy in Berlin, precisely to raise this demand. Participants in the vigil held up a banner with the text, “Armenians, Aramaeans, Assyrians, Greeks Speak with One Voice against the Turkish Genocide.” On the following day, the FÖGG, a Society for the Promotion of an Ecumenical Monument for Genocide Victims in the Ottoman Empire, joined with the Armenian Church and Cultural Society held its commemoration at the site of the ecumenical alters of remembrance in the Berlin-Charlottenburg cemetery. Prof. Tessa Hofmann, sociologist and Armenian studies scholar, plays a leading role in both organizations.

At the chapel of the Evangelical Cemetery, Sona Eypper of the FÖGG leadership, welcomed participants, who received greetings from Armenian Ambassador Ashot Smbatyan. Archimandrite Yegishe Avetisyan spoke on “April 24th, 1915 and its Significance for Armenians Today,” in Armenian, with consecutive translation. Amil Gorgis reported on the completion of the ecumenical monuments. “Loss and Legacy” was the title of a series of readings from memoirs of survivors, delivered by Tessa Hofmann, Gohar Baghdasaryan and Anais Gövez.

Interspersed throughout the program were musical interludes by violinist Lilit Rostomyan, including Dele Yaman by Komitas. Following a moment of silent reflection, the participants walked in a procession to the ecumenical monuments and laid wreaths, after which Avetisyan offered prayers.

(For more on the FÖGG and AGA see https://mirrorspectator.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/March-3-2018-1.pdf, http://www.genozid-gedenkstaette.de/fogg-aktiv/index.php) and http://www.aga-online.org/aboutus/index.php?locale=de)


Three Artists Exhibit in Netherlands, Germany

by Muriel Mirak-Weissbach
WIESBADEN, Germany, May 16, 2019 — Two years ago, a group of six young Armenian artists came to Wiesbaden, Germany to exhibit their works at the Haus der Heimat. (http://www.mirak-weissbach.de/Publications/Archive/files/96e44e6572b1e38f4cf202e09e7e8bb0-135.html) Now, two of the six have returned, this time with a new colleague, for a show in the Netherlands and a brief visit again to Wiesbaden.

The Dutch exhibit took place at the Galleria Unexpected, in Groningen, from April 12 to May 3. Guy Ghazanchyan, 28, and Arman Hambardzumyan, 31, have shown their paintings and sculptures in numerous countries of eastern and western Europe and the United States. Romeo Melikian was here for the first time but has already exhibited in England, Lebanon, Russia and Armenia.

The opportunity to show their works in Groningen came quite by chance. Gallery owner Kors van Bladeren was in Armenia in 2014 and saw some of Hambardzumyan’s works. Impressed, he suggested organizing a solo exhibit in Groningen, but the artist was not quite ready. He did participate in an international symposium there however. In 2018 van Bladeren returned to Armenia and this time they struck an agreement, whereby the Armenian sculptor would travel to the Netherlands, and would take two colleagues with him. The show, which lasted three weeks, was very well received.

While in the Netherlands, the three took advantage of the enormous opportunity offered by a country with such a rich artistic heritage. In Amsterdam and Rotterdam as well as The Hague they spent days visiting the museums and experiencing the works of the great masters in the original.

Before returning to Armenia, they stopped over in Wiesbaden. Guy Ghanzanchyan became acquainted with Germany at a tender age, when his mother (also an artist) took him to visit his grandmother, Nona Gabrielyan, who has been living and working here as an artist for decades, together with her artist husband Van Soghomonyan. Gabrielyan organized a one-day show for the trio in their atelier/gallery V&N in central Wiesbaden. While here, the three again visited museums in the region, including the famous Städel in Frankfurt, which was hosting an exhibit of works by Titian and other masters of the 16th century Venetian renaissance.

In June, the three will return to Europe for an exhibit at the National Art Museum of Belgrade, Serbia.

Cracks in the Little Singers building

Old Yerevan and Young Voices Clash

by Muriel Mirak-Weissbach
YEREVAN, MAY 9, 2019 — It was a bitter cold evening in January 2019. The noise emanating from the construction site in the center of Yerevan during the day must have been deafening: heavy pounding of steam shovels against the ground, whirring of earth moving machinery, and workers’ voices seeking to make themselves heard above the fray. That evening, without forewarning, came the sound of something massive, crumbling, smashing down onto the earth, while brown-grey clouds of dust and dirt rose up from the ground, obfuscating the view. The wall had come down and by a stroke of fortune none of the people inside were hurt.
The Little Singers
It was not the Berlin wall, but the wall of a building on 23 Arami St., one of the four walls of a historic building that has been the “second home” of the Little Singers of Armenia since its founding in 1992. That is where they had been rehearsing.
No one should have been taken by surprise. Even without particular expertise in construction methods and building safety, one could have predicted that, if most of the old buildings on that city block were demolished, and a large hole were dug in the center of the large plot of land, the ground beneath building Nr. 23 would be affected.
In fact, the process leading to the collapse began earlier, in November 2018. And it certainly had to do with the hole. According to government regulations, the hole was supposed to be 10 meters deep maximum, but the one that was being dug went 15 meters down. It began right next to 23 Arami St. and earth-moving machines moved under tuff rocks of the building. One might have even thought the damage had been done on purpose, and in fact, gradually, the wall separated from the building.
On November 27, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan had visited the perilous site, viewed the damage and given instructions for repairing the building. But nothing was done. Then, less than two months later, the wall came tumbling down.
That was on January 11. As a result, the building was transformed from the venue of music rehearsals for the world-renowned children’s choir to a safety hazard. As documented in March 2019, the danger of further catastrophe was imminent; the continuing excavation work on the hole at Teryan Street and the heavy traffic at times involving three-axel vehicles and heavy machinery, add to the threat to the building, which is located at the juncture of Teryan, Byuzand and Arami Streets. There is a serious danger that the façade of the building on Arami Street will also collapse.
The facade of the Little Singers’ building

In April, my husband and I were in Yerevan and visited the site. We were not on hand when the first wall crumbled, but the description of the disaster above is not pure fiction. And we had been apprised of the danger as early as 2017, during our previous visit. My husband had photographed the building at the time, as well as the construction site, the area where the gaping hole would become bigger as time went by. Now, in 2019, we could only shake our heads in dismay.
Tigran Hekekyan, the founder and director of the Little Singers, brought us up to date on developments. In an attempt to save the building, he was circulating a petition that had been signed by numerous artists. The petition, entitled “Children’s Choir in Dire Danger!” is addressed “To the developers of the ‘Old Yerevan’ project, the Yerevan Municipality, the Urban Development Committee of the RA, and the Government of the RA.” It states that the future of the choir is in danger. “The historical monument where the rehearsals of the choir ‘Little Singers of Armenia’ are held is on the verge of collapse. The building’s structural integrity has been compromised as a result of illegal construction that is being carried out under the guise of the ‘Old Yerevan’ project.”
The petition goes on to report that the choir has had to suspend activities as a result, its last performance having been on October 11, in the context of the 17th Francophonie summit held in the Armenian capital. The petitioners demand that the structural integrity of the building be restored “and that a temporary venue be accommodated” until the security of the original building is guaranteed.
Calling on “individuals all over the world” to support their efforts, the petitioners stress that they seek “to prevent not only the collapse of the historic building, but also to protect the Little Singers,” so they “can work and share the light of love and goodness all over the world.” Among the signers of the petition are: Gudz Manoukyan, Tigran Mansuryan, Armen Khandikyan, Yervand Ghazanchyan, Arkadi Ter-Tadevosyan, Vigen Chaldranyan, Armen Elbakyan, Khachatur Martirosyan, Artavazd Peleshyan, Armenouhi Karapetyan, Arthur Utmazyan, Avetis Berberyan, Mkrtich Minasyan, Vagharshak Zakaryan, Hrant Vardanyan, Rouben Barbayan, Gagik Ginosyan, Narine Tukhikyan, Aram Satyan and Svetlana Navasardyan.
Hekekyan told us, in closing, that the Old City Closed Joint Stock Co., which organized the construction work, had refused to realize a reconstruction plan proposed by Italian architects and that the same plan had not yet been confirmed by the Yerevan Municipality. In the meantime, the Little Singers were starting rehearsals in rented office space, with a lease that can be extended only for three-month periods.
The large hole that has destabilized the building

Where is Old Yerevan?

In the petition reference is made to the “Old Yerevan Project”: “The developers,” the text reads, “want to take possession of the Little Singers of Armenia choir’s building, to demolish it and use the entire property for their project.” It continues that due to “The authorities’ passivity and the aggressive behavior exhibited by the developers,” the matter will end up in the courts, “most probably in the European courts,” which could “drag on for many years.” To be able to continue their work, the choir would need a new location, which could cost $5,000 a month.
The Old Yerevan Project presents itself as a program of urban development aimed at preserving the historic the old city of Yerevan. Photos on the website www.oldquarter.am document the demolition of those buildings, and the reader is to assume that they will be reconstructed, to conserve the original design and structure. Instead, it appears that a “tourist pedestrian zone” is to come into being, and “comfortable showrooms, cafes, restaurants … exhibition halls and museum-shops, art galleries, small hotels … are expected to be built.” Indeed the name Old Yerevan should not be taken literally; it “is conditional and does not mean the creation of an ethnographic quarter, but the re-creation of the historical and architectural environment. In the architectural interpretation of the project, the harmony of old and new forms is used….”
According to an article in EVN by Lilit Margaryan on April 4, this is not the whole story. (https://www.evnreport.com/raw-unfiltered/chronicles-of-the-old-yerevan-quarter) In the 1970s, architect Levon Vadanyan had the idea of protecting the buildings in the historic area that go back to the pre-Soviet era and are characterized as “black buildings” for the use of black stones, but to no avail. Demolition began in the Soviet period and continued even after independence. By 2005 there was very little left and in that year the Old Yerevan Project was set up. The designated area, enclosed by Arami, Abovyan, Byuzand and Koghbatsi Streets, was divvied up into five lots and auctioned off to three private companies. Years later most of the area was declared to be eminent domain and was taken over by the Old City Company. The plan for restoration was indeed an urban development plan, foreseeing non-residential buildings, cafes, restaurants, galleries, shops, etc. all under a 7,000-square-meter glass dome. The historical monuments originally located on the site had been divided into three categories: those to be restored, those to be rebuilt with what was left of the original stones, and those to be demolished and replaced by new structures.
According to an earlier article by Ani Mshetsyan in ArmInfo, there was an interdepartmental consultation in 2017 in which Vardanyan participated, with Narek Sargsyan, chairman of the State Committee for Urban Development of RA, and employees of the Ministry of Culture and Yerevan City Hall. (https://finport.am/full_news.php?id=31291&lang=3) At that meeting, plans were discussed for implementation, which parts of the area and which buildings were to be restored or reconstructed. Mshetsyan refers in the article to plans by Vardanyan to include a two-story underground parking lot as part of the project.
The home of the Little Singers on 23 Arami Str. fell victim to the construction work. Lilit Margaryan reports that Vardanyan, as author of the project, had slated the building for dismantling and reconstruction at any rate, on grounds that the sidewalks were too narrow and had to be widened to three meters. The building was “on the edge of the street,” he said, and “it would be taken apart and moved back three meters. This means we are keeping the building in the same area,” he is quoted as saying.
Be that as it may. The fact is, construction work on the property where the building stands was carried out, with authorization of the Yerevan Municipality at the time, and in violation of technical requirements related to urban development. Due to the incompetent work, the building suffered massive damage. Reportedly the Ministry of Culture filed a criminal lawsuit with the General Prosecutor’s office. Since then the ministry has been phased out.
An Expert’s Evaluation
Michael L. Sahakian, a technical consultant, examined that matter and issued his findings on March 27, 2019 to the Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, with copies to the Mayor of Yerevan Haik Marutyan and Chairman of Urban Development Vahagen Vermishyan. In introducing his study of the failed excavation, he stated that he himself, “in 50 years of Project Management, Engineering and Construction internationally, … has experienced such a predicament due to natural causes but never seen one with such human incompetence.” He added that a Site Safety Manager, Hamo Hayrapetian, certified by the City of New York, accompanied him in his inspection and shared his conclusions.
Sahakian’s document explains the technical reasons for the disaster deriving from the faulty construction work, which led to accumulation of excessive liquid, aggravated by rainfall, heavy traffic, and other factors. The storm drain catch basin at Arami Street and Byuzand collects surface runoffs, but the water has nowhere to drain except underground. “All four sides may collapse anytime due to various causes,” he writes, and points to the “junction of Arami and Teryan adjacent to the Armenian Little Singers International  Building, a landmark of Armenian architecture.” He forecasts the collapse of the structure, which “may involve loss of human lives and public property not to mention the landmark building.” He specifies that it is not a question of “if” but “when” the disaster would occur, which would necessitate closing the road and entail a huge financial burden for reconstruction.
In his view, this very complex problem requires coordination by the City Building and Safety Department, with the cooperation of experts in foundations soils who have experience in excavation. In addition, “an expert licensed structural engineer is conjunction with the foundations expert jointly need to study and design the remedy” which entails “a complete constructability review.”
The report concludes: “Both the writer and the Safety Manager are American Armenians with Armenian citizenship also. We have supported the Prime Minister from the days of the amazing Campaign and Revolution. We continue to strive for a better Armenia. We think it would be an unfortunate situation if a disaster occurs; it won’t go on the account of the past government but on the watch of the present one in the eyes of the world and the opposition.”

Protecting Architectural History
How should one preserve the architectural heritage of a nation? Since the collapse of the Berlin Wall 30 years ago and the subsequent reunification of Germany, followed by the independence of the former Soviet republics and the regained sovereignty of nations of eastern Europe, enormous efforts have been made to revive the beauty of great urban centers, especially in the capital cities. In Berlin, Warsaw, Budapest or Prague, to name a few, this has come about through careful restoration of architectural wonders that had fallen into decay, or outright reconstruction of those deemed past repair. The results vary in excellence but where the aim has been to recover the past architectural achievements, replicas of the original buildings have come into being that maintain the integrity of the original, to the degree possible.
In the case of the Old Yerevan Project, it appears that the aim of project author Vardanyan was not to restore monuments but to “recreate an environment.” He has compared his vision to the Vernissage open air market in Yerevan, saying that the current one is “in an embarrassing state.” He says one should “imagine a luxurious version of the Vernissage,” where there would be makers and sellers of carpets, or silver jewelry and the like. As for solving the problem of those dismantled buildings, whose stones have disappeared or been severely damaged, he thought the problem was not restoration of monuments but what he calls the recreation of the “environment“ of the old city. “I do not need the sign to say ‘Monument’,” he explained in 2014, “I want my grandchildren to grow up and see that Yerevan looked like this in the 19th century.” (https://www.armenianow.com/society/59183/armenia_old_yerevan_project_presentation)
But did Yerevan look like the drawings of the project? For architect Karen Balyan, the Vardanyan approach is “pseudo-architecture and a theatrical approach to architecture.” One should restore historical structures, in Balyan’s view, as has been done in Tbilisi for example, not build anew. For architect Sashur Kalashyan, a member of the Yerevan City Hall Urban Development Council, Vardanyan’s idea is artificial, and would create not an urban environment, but a public resort zone.
For the Little Singers of Armenia the issue goes beyond aesthetics. On April 15, A. Vardanyan, who is the Head of the Division of the Programs of Special Regulation of Urban Development Activity, responded to the petition issued on behalf of the Little Singers. Welcoming the professional contributions made by the choir, the writer expressed his concern for the situation caused by the construction work associated with the Old Yerevan Project and announced that his office had sent an appropriate letter to the construction companies “Old City” CJSC and “EMC” CJSC, urging them to implement the necessary measures with regard to securing, maintenance and sale of existing property at the designated location.


Young Musicians Prepare for a Better Future

By Muriel Mirak-Weissbach Special to the Mirror-Spectator
YEREVAN — “If music be the food of love, play on!” Shakespeare’s Duke of Orsino, who could not get enough if it to surfeit his appetite, may have been a hopeless romantic, but he had a point. Music is the food of love, and it nourishes not only the heart but also the soul. Nowhere is this more evident that in Armenia, where a rich musical culture pervades the land, in a manner and to an extent that reminds one of Germany. The country is far smaller, covering a land area the size of one German federal state, and its population of 3 million a fraction of Germany’s 80 million. But the role of music in education and daily life is indeed comparable.
During a trip to Armenia in early April, my husband and I were able to witness this once again, as we visited four music schools that our small foundation has been associated with.
Gyumri, the cultural capital of Armenia and its second largest city, has more than one music school, and boasts a long tradition of musicians, composers and graphic artists. At the Octet School, destroyed in the 1988 earthquake and rebuilt in 2013 thanks to the efforts of Ian Gillan and his Deep Purple music ensemble, together with the Mardigian Foundation and the Fund for Armenian Relief (FAR), we met Manya Hovhannisian, the new director, who told us there are 224 students receiving instruction there this year. In fact, they were in the last stages of preparation for a concert of instrumental and vocal music.

Days later we visited the music school in Dilijan, about 120 kilometers from the capital. Margarit Piliposyan, regional director of FAR, accompanied us to the school, which is the regional hub for music education in the province (marz) of Tavush. The State Art College of Dilijan provides instruction at two levels for children and youth: a seven-year program offers afterschool lessons for children, and older students who choose to major in music can attend a four-year college, which will prepare them for a teaching career. With 178 pupils in the first level and 63 in the upper level, they are coordinating work in 15 music schools in the region. By equipping young musicians to teach others, they are a motor force in the educational process.
Thanks to the efforts of FAR, the concert hall has been renovated and equipped with 300 new chairs. But, as it was not yet completely ready, the concert we attended was held in an older concert hall. The teachers and students organized the event as a gesture of gratitude to those who had sponsored the purchase of badly needed new instruments, 37 of them, jointly financed by our foundation and FAR’s Galust Galo Fund.
We were treated to an afternoon of wonderful music, performed by youngsters from both levels of instruction. We marveled at an original jazz piano piece performed by the young composer herself, and heard a soprano with an Armenian lullaby, followed by another vocalist singing a Puccini aria. It was amazing to see how early these children begin! A very small lad walked confidently onto the stage and, with a huge voice that defied credulity, treated us to a lively rendition of an Armenian folk song. His classmate, about the same size, had to adjust the piano stool downward to be able to mount it. With concentration, he placed his hands on the keys, fluttering gently through a piece from the classical repertoire. A teenage girl carried on stage one of the new instruments, a majestic kanon, and played with virtuosity and emotion, accompanied on the piano. Concluding the program was a trio of girls on kanons, followed by a brigade of drummers (some with newly acquired instruments) who moved from one rhythmic escapade to the next with the ease of a kaleidoscope. And yes, we were right to recognize one of the drummers as the talented young pianist...

They performed with technical skill and confident mastery of their medium, but with no trace of that stiffness that often hampers young musicians when they are on stage. Here was enthusiasm, extreme musicality and the pure joy of producing beautiful works. It was the best thank-you anyone could wish for.
And it was not the only one. The very next day we went to the Alexan Hekimyan music school in Yerevan, on the invitation of Lusine Arakelyan and Director Monika Petrosyan. Arakelyan is an opera singer who has continued her education after graduating from the Yerevan Conservatory, through master classes in Europe, and now teaches singing at the school. In June, she, along with other teachers, plan to accompany a group of students to participate in a competition in Italy.
In this concert we were able to enjoy the fruits of musical training from the youngest to the oldest students, in roughly chronological order. The first to appear on stage were two girls, about 8 years old, who performed Arishka by Doljikov on flutes with piano accompaniment. Other solo instrumentalists followed, the very young pianist Aram Asmangulyan with Berkovich’s Variations and later teenager Garnik Hayrapetyan, who performed a challenging piece by Rachmaninov, Polichinelle, with great skill. Among the vocalists were several pupils of Arakelyan’s, the promising tenor Narek Baldryan and soprano Nare Samvelyan singing a duet by Leoncavallo, and Narek alone, singing Kanche krunk by Komitas.
As this is the 150th anniversary of the birth of Komitas, other works of his also were featured; a female vocal trio presented Swallow and the young Narek Sahakyan sang Krunk.
Traditional Armenian instruments were featured, including the kanon. Alexander Avetisyan displayed his mastery of the saxophone with a rendition of Rapsody by Waignein. And to conclude the concert, a robust brass band played Valse by Tjeknavorian, a Strauss polka and Aznavour’s Je t’attends. As my husband remarked in his words of thanks to the musicians, we never stop marveling at the high level of musical excellence achieved by these young performers, some of whom we have had the pleasure of hearing over the years, thus witnessing their continuing progress.

Only one day later we were treated to yet another concert, this time at the music school in Gegashen, about 30 kilometers from Yerevan. Though the village has only 4,000 inhabitants, it has a flourishing music school, whose director is pianist Mariam Kazaryan. Here the concert opened with choral pieces, performed by a mixed choir of varying ages singing traditional Armenian songs. The entire event was a tribute to Komitas; the emcee was a student who stood at the podium and delivered an impressive overview of Komitas’s life and works. Interspersed in the presentation were then the selected pieces by the great composer. There followed soloists on the piano and kanon. Again, we were amazed to see how young the pupils are, and how seriously they take their music work. One girl, perhaps not 8, was provided with a foot stool so that she could manage to balance her kanon on her knees and play. Some of the instruments had been newly acquired through a donation. The concert concluded with a trio of teachers, featuring Kazaryan on the piano, her brother on the clarinet and a colleague on the kanon.
After the concert, which received lengthy, enthusiastic applause from a very happy audience of family and friends of the pupils, everyone streamed outside to take part in a tree planting ceremony organized by the new mayor of Gegashen. Next to the music school on an empty lot, we could see bulldozers ready to prepare the terrain for a new building. Though Gegashen has a school going up to the 12th grade, it has lacked a kindergarten so far. Now that too is under construction. As the country moves toward the first anniversary of the “velvet revolution,” expectations are great that progress will be made in improving and expanding basic infrastructure, including education. In this process, cultural policy will be crucial, and it is to be hoped that music will continue to fill the lives of children and youth with joy and optimism in the future.

Parliament President Ararat Mirzoyan, left, with President of the Bundestag (Parliament) Wolfgang Schäuble

Armenian-German Relations
Move Forward: Mirzoyan in Berlin

by Muriel Mirak-Weissbach
BERLIN, MARCH 28, 2019 — Following Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s recent state visit to Germany, the process of intensifying contacts between Yerevan and Berlin continues apace. On the invitation of German Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the President of the Armenian Parliament Ararat Mirzoyan began a five-day visit to Germany on March 17. In the capital he was received by the President of the Bundestag (Parliament) Wolfgang Schäuble, and was scheduled to meet with parliamentarians, including Petra Pau, Bundestag Vice-President, and Johannes Kars, head of the German-South Caucasus Friendship Group.
His agenda includes discussions with Ralf Wieland, President of the Berlin parliament, Stephan Toscani, President of the Saarland federal state parliament and Parliamentarian Albert Weiler, President of the German-Armenian Forum. The delegation, comprising parliamentarians Ruben Rubinyan, Lilit Makunts, Ednon Marukyan, Naira Zohrabyan and Tsovinar Vardanyan, was invited to visit the German Parliamentary Association (DPG) the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) and the Saarland University.
Two Peaceful Revolutions
In remarks on March 18 in the Berlin Parliament, Mirzoyan recalled the image still fresh in many Germans’ memories of “the Berlin Wall dividing the people, the country and your beloved city from each other.” He went on to evoke the events of November 9, 1989 when “the people of Germany united” around the idea of an undivided nation, which led to the collapse of the regime in East Germany, and “resulted in the re-unification of Germany on October 3, 1990, which opened a new page in the world history. The world is glad to see again a united and dynamic Germany.” He referred to a picture in the ‘Berlin Wall’ Museum, which shows a woman leaning against the wall, with the caption, “The pressure that in 1987 I made with the palm of my hand produced its result after two years.”
Turning to his own experience, Mirzoyan said, “The struggle of the citizens of the Republic of Armenia through many years for democracy in our country, protection of human rights and the rule of law resulted in the Velvet, non-violent Revolution in April-May, 2018, which unfolded completely in accordance with the Constitution. Now,” he continued, “we should strengthen the democratic model of development and develop its efficiency. In this respect we consider important the deepening of our relations with the EU.”
Working with Europe
“We are resolute to expand and deepen the process of institutional reforms together with our European colleagues. We also highly evaluate the balanced policy being pursued by Germany in the South Caucasus and the support to Armenia in different spheres.” The high-level political dialogue established between Germany and Armenia, characterized by “inter-parliamentary cooperation, the expanding cooperation in bilateral and multilateral formats, and the activation of economic and cultural ties serve as evidence of further deepening of cooperation.” Mirzoyan said that in the process of enhancing relations, he thought the capital cities in the two countries could play a special role. “I hope that Berlin and our 2800-year old capital Yerevan will be able to carry out joint cooperation programs for learning from each other and exchange of experience. The experience of Berlin will certainly be useful for the newly elected authorities of Yerevan in the context of urban management and sustainable development of the city economy.”
In his meeting with the leadership of the German-Armenian Forum, Mirzoyan reiterated that it is Armenia’s intention to seek an even more intensive dialogue with Germany, in which the Forum could play a vital role. Forum President Albert Weiler reported on the aims and activities of the relatively young association. The Forum and its members have followed the political upheavals in Armenia with attention, he said, and welcome the reforms that the new government has announced.
Cooperation with Armenia should be stimulated by the EU-Armenia Partnership Agreement, he said, adding that the Bundestag would vote on the document in April. “With the Partnership Agreement Armenia has a comprehensive and excellent opportunity to develop cooperation with the EU and to carry out reforms in various fields. Our aim,” Weiler continued, “is to intensify the political and economic partnership and cooperation with Armenia on the basis of our common values and close ties,” and this, he added, includes strengthening participation in European Union policies, programs and agencies.
At the conclusion of the meeting, Mirzoyan responded to questions by Forum members. At the event several high-ranking representatives of the city were present, as well as the Primate of the Armenian Church in Germany, Archimandrite Isakhanyan, and the Provost of St. Hedwigs Cathedral, Tobias Przytarski. Forum President Weiler joined Parliament President Mirzoyan in laying a wreath on the memorial stone commemorating the victims of the Armenian genocide.

(Sources: Armenpress, German wires, German-Armenian Forum press release; Mirzoyan speech adapted from “Armedia” Information, Analytical Agency)

Ca’ Foscari university

Scholars in Venice Conduct a Journey through Armenian Art

by Muriel Mirak-Weissbach
VENICE, FEBRUARY 28, 2019 — Venice has a long history of relations with Armenia, which most people associate with the Mekhitarist monastery on the island of San Lazzaro, with its imposing church and magnificent library. But Venice also hosts an important center of Armenian studies, at the Ca’ Foscari university, which has a Chair for Medieval Art History and for Armenian Language and Literature. On February 21-22, the university, in collaboration with the Center for Studies and Documentation of Armenian Art and the Association Internationales des Études Arméniennes, hosted an international conference on “Armenian Art: Critical History and New Perspectives.”
Gathering specialists from Armenia, France, Germany, the Czech Republic and Italy, the conference aimed at providing new impetus for Armenian studies, in a venue associated with the names of such renowned past experts as Paolo Cuneo, Adriano Alpago Novello and Gianclaudio Macchiarella. The Ca’ Foscari university, continuing its mission as a center for cultural encounter, seeks to place new emphasis on the study of Armenian art in the Venetian context.
“The relationship between Venice and the Armenians in intense and fruitful,” Aldo Ferrari, professor of Armenian Language and Literature explained. “In the course of centuries Armenians have lived in the city as merchants, pilgrims, monks, printers and artists. It is no coincidence,” he went on, “that the first book printed in Armenian was published in Venice, back in 1512. In 1717, the Venetian Republic, known as La Serenissima, gave permission to the monastic congregation of Abbot MeKhitar to settle on the island of Lazzaro and thus to begin an extraordinary experience which provided the impetus for the cultural renaissance of the Armenian people.” And, he added, “also in Venice, the Moorat Raphael college was established, where a significant part of the Armenian cultural elite studied to the end of the 20th century.”
Ca’ Foscari inaugurated its chair for Armenian Language and Literature in 1976. The study of Armenian art, which is located here, represents an extraordinary patrimony that has ignited the enthusiasm of all those who have come into contact with it. “Already back in 1988,” Medieval Art historian Prof. Stefano Riccioni recalled, “Prof. Levon Zekiyan organized an important international conference on Armenian art. The following year, Prof. Adriano Alpago Novello began his course in Armenian Art and Architecture at Ca’ Foscari. In 1991, Novello transferred the Center for Study and Documentation of Armenian Culture, from Milan to Venice. And still today, this Center, under the direction of Minas Lourian, organizes several events on Armenian art, often in collaboration with Ca’ Foscari and the Biennale of Venice. Among the activities of the center are the Manukian Lectures, organized in collaboration of another important scholar who passed away recently, Prof. Gianclaudio Macchiarella.”
For the past five years, the seminars of Armenian art at Ca’ Foscari have been organized by Stefano Riccioni, Aldo Ferrari and Marco Ruffilli, in the Department of Studies on Asia and Mediterranean Africa (which hosts the Chair for Armenian Language and Literature). The same three scholars organized this year’s conference, which presented advanced research projects in various aspects of Armenian art, from architecture to miniatures, from khachkars to painting.
Following a lecture by Levon Chookaszian on “New Paths for the Exploration of Armenian Art,” Riccioni spoke about “Armenian Art in Venice – Tradition and Research Perspectives.” Attention was dedicated also to the “vishap,” the famous prehistoric stones characteristic of Armenia, which have been the subject of study in the Ca’ Foscari’s Dragon Stones Archaeological Project. Alessandra Gilibert introduced the origins and long history of the visaps and Hamlet Petrosyan spoke on “The Repatriation Movement of Jougha/Julfa annihilated khachkars.”h
The conference addressed several heated issues, like the fate of the Armenian artistic heritage in hostile political environments; Francesca Penoni discussed the current state of research related to the Armenian architectonic patrimony in Turkey. And with regard to literary works, Dikran Kouymjian spoke on “The Canon Tables of the Zeitun Gospels of 1256 by T’oros Roslin at the J.P. Getty Museum; A History of Theft, Profiteering and Public Indifference.”
Gohar Grigoryan presented a paper on “Method and Manuscript,” followed by Rachele Zanone, who presented a historiographical and iconographc study of the miniature art of Vaspurakan.
Patrick Donabedian delivered a lecture on “Armenia-Georgia-Islam: A need to break taboos in the study of Medieval art and architecture.” Marco Ruffilli discussed spoke on “The art of the Yovnat’anean – current status and research proposals.” Ivan Foletti and Pavel Rakitin concluded with a discussion of Armenian art in the Soviet perception.
The new book, Discovering the Art of Medieval Caucasus (1801-1945) was the subject of a round table discussion that completed the conference proceedings. Published in “Venezia Arti”, volume 27 (2018), the study was edited by conference participants Ivan Foletti and Stefano Riccioni.
As Riccioni pointed out, this conference is to be seen as the first in a series of international meetings on the theme of Caucasian art, which is part of an international research project, “Seminarium Caucasicum. Studies in Art on Medieval Caucasus (And Beyond),” directed by Michele Bacci (University of Fribourg), Ivan Foletti (Masaryk University) and Stefano Riccioni (Ca’ Foscari University of Venice). The project promotes regional discussions dedicated to the arts of the region and the conservation and care of their artistic heritage.
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