Program Organized through the Initiative of AGBU Hye Geen Association Dedicated to Legacy of Armenian Culture By Sona Zeitlian
(Reprinted from Nor Gyank, Vol. XXX, No. 51, November 27, 2008, pp. 9, 38, translated by Aris Sevag)
On November 8, 2008, AGBU Hye Geen Association held its second program dedicated to the legacy of Armenian culture, at AGBU Alex Manoogian Center in Pasadena. As with the first, so too the motto of the second program was “The Procession of Display of Ideas.” Once again, the purpose was to present to the public the honorable contributions of Armenian women in various cultural realms. On this occasion, a rich collection of carefully chosen pieces of needlework was displayed by Lusine Zeitountsian, an expert in Armenian handicrafts and one of the day’s speakers.
The program was opened by Manuela Kosayian, one of the members of AGBU Hye Geen. After her words of welcome, she presented the topics of the day–the contributions of Armenian women in the fields of music and needlecraft. Then she invited to the stage the first speaker, musicologist Karine Ter Gevorgian.
In her meticulously prepared presentation of Armenian women composers from the early period of our history down to the present, the speaker commented, “We transmitted our spiritual riches from one century to the next through song and music; we expressed our grief and joy through song.”
Sahagatukhd, the sister of Catholicos Stepanos of Siunik and one of the prominent figures of the 8th century, not only contributed to the development of Armenian music with her compositions but also, as a nun sitting behind the curtain, taught Armenian song art. She is the first poetess and composer mentioned in Armenian literature. A contemporary of hers, Khosrovitukhd of Koghtn, likewise composed hymns and sons, creating great interest.
19th-century Armenian music also experienced a period of awakening and, shaking off foreign influences, pursued the search of national sources. The well-known composers and musicians of this and subsequent periods were Ovsanna Der Krikorian, Armenuhi Der Garabedian-Kevonian of Mush; Constantinople natives Koharig Ghazarosian, Sirvart Karamanukian and Dania Bartevian; Alicia Terzian of Argentina; New York-born Alice Sirouni and, finally, Addis Ababa-born Sirvart Kazanjian. Alicia Terzian refers to the national nature of her works and those of contemporary women composers, when she attests: “Armenianism has become so much a part of my flesh and blood that it’s not possible, without it I can’t give life and breath to my works…I find the secret of my success solely in this.”
In her comprehensive presentation on Armenian women composers, Karine Ter Gevorgian also listed the notable figures of the Soviet Armenian period. Among them were Lucia Safarian and Susanna Galikian, composers of children’s songs, as well as Gayane Chepotarian, Emma Mehranian, Sofia Samvelian and Geghuni Chitchian. Considering the scope of the works of the latter, the remainder of the lecture was devoted to her life’s path and creative works.
Native Armenian singer Suren Mkrtchian interpreted two songs from Chitchian’s works, “Molorvel Em “ (I’ve Gone Astray, I’ve Lost Myself, I’m Confused) and “Yerevan,” with piano accompaniment by the speaker. Then, Jenny Mirzoyan and Alik Barsoumian, students from the Lark Musical Society, played “Antarayin Handes” and “Vartavar” by Chitchian on the piano.
In 1997, a concert dedicated to the works of Geghuni Chitchian was organized through the initiative of the Republican Women’s Council of Armenia. It was a true expression of popular gratitude, which created great enthusiasm. Karine Ter Gevorgian, in turn, concluded her talk by making the following evaluation: “Her works had a vivid individuality, as well as a wealth of artistic forms, in the sense of musical language as well, embracing in them the national spirit of Komitas’ traditions and characteristic features of contemporary music.”
The second speaker of the day was Lusine Zeitountsian, a member of AGBU Hye Geen organization, known for her expertise in the fine designs of Armenian costumes and needlework, as well as national characteristics. She began her remarks by making the following affirmation: “The most delicate branch of handiworks created by the people is needlework. This national handicraft, which has come down to us over the centuries, was gradually perfected, becoming an inestimable ethnographic value. The creations of Armenian women have become their style of speaking with the world.”
Lusine Zeitountsian drew interesting parallels between needlework and architectural style, the art of goldsmithing, as well as murals and miniatures. Then she added that the well-known centers of handicraft making in the Middle Ages were Dvin, Ani, Dikranagerd, Van, Marash, Ourfa, Aintab and other cities of Cilicia. Rug weaving, silk weaving, pottery and silk manufacturing through silkworm breeding were also developed trades. Famous among the colors used was the red dye obtained from a worm of the Ararat Plain, and the yellow dye produced by a mountain flower in Zeitoun.
Lusine Zeitountsian specifically mentioned that in the 19th century, the Ashkhenian Girls School of Aintab had achieved fame for its classes in needlework and lace making. There was a large market for the finely woven products of this institution, as priceless decorations in the homes of Armenians and non-Armenians alike.
The designs of Armenian needlework include trees, flowers, the sun, etc. – expressions of nature. Also dominant are geometric motifs, especially in the patterns of rugs and carpets. Embroidery or needlework known by different cities has pronounced characteristics. Needlework items with gold thread, as well as head garments and belts with precious stones or lined with pearls have a special place. Handiworks donated to churches and ecclesiastical garments made with needlework are also of great value.
After the Armenian Genocide that threatened the very existence of the Armenian people, Armenian women made a living for surviving family members/relatives and kept the dignity of the family at a high level by utilizing their knowledge of needlework. “From sunup to sundown, Armenian women relied on their needles to earn their daily bread and provide for their children’s education,” attested the speaker, qualifying Armenian handiworks as “never fading flowers.”
The extremely comprehensive lectures given by Karine Ter Gevorgian and Lusine Zeitountsian will be published in their entirety in AGBU Hye Geen’s periodical.
Inspired by the accomplishments of Armenian women, the attendees also had the special pleasure of welcoming the day’s guest of honor, documentary filmmaker Carla Garapedian. Her film, “Screamers,” has won three prizes and has been translated into twelve languages. The unique songs and music of the Armenian band System of a Down is dominant in this work about the Armenian Genocide.
Expressing thanks for the beautiful plaque given to her by Sona Yacoubian, Chairwoman of AGBU Hye Geen, Carla Garapedian expressed much appreciation for the search of, and attachment of value to, the ideas and creative works of Armenian women. She added, “I profoundly believe in the influence of ideas through the various avenues of art. It is possible to defend human rights and stem evil through the syntax of ideas.”
After the lectures were over, a dinner was served, during which conversations continued about the topics of discussion and the finely woven needlework specimens on display.