Ambiguity lends a special quality to art. Not ambiguity as attempted deception, but as an invitation to explore what is unstated, merely hinted, or lends itself to multiple, even contradictory interpretations. An exhibition that opened on November 9 at the Yerevan Modern Art Museum is a perfect example. Guy Ghazanchyan is the artist and the title of the exhibition is “ԱԿԱՆատես” [Akanatehs], which contains a double meaning, through a play on words.
Exclusive interview was conducted by Muriel Mirak-Weissbach with Ashot Smbatyan, Ambassador of the Republic of Armenia in Berlin, at the conclusion of his term, on November 26. 2021.
"Taking a retrospective look at the Armenian-German relations of the last six years, it would not be an exaggeration to describe them as dynamically developing and reflecting the interests of the two countries at both bilateral and multilateral levels."
A hundred years ago Berlin was the scene of a criminal trial which was to go down in history. The Armenian Soghomon Tehlirian stood trial for the murder of Talaat Pasha, whom he shot on March 15, 1921 in broad daylight. Talaat was the former Interior Minister of the Young Turk regime who had masterminded and directed the genocide against 1.5 million Armenians and countless other Christian minorities.
Art is inclusive. Creativity, that uniquely human characteristic, is by definition universal. No matter what age or sex, from what culture or geographical region, every human being is endowed with the ability to create, and art is the way we celebrate that capacity.
Nowhere is this more evident than in cultural events featuring youngsters with disabilities. In Yerevan earlier this month, the «ԿՈՂՔ ԿՈՂՔԻ» “Side by Side” State Musical Inclusive Art Festival took place, presenting both the visual and performing arts.
As the tensions between Azerbaijan and Armenia escalated in Summer 2020, it became clear to some think tanks and specialists in Germany that this was a kind of proxy conflict. Behind the historical conflict between the two countries, they saw a clash of interests between regional powers. Azerbaijan’s active military engagement role led to a questioning of defined borders and a shift in the balance of power, reigniting a long-term conflict.
On September 21 Armenians throughout the world celebrated 30 years of independence for the Republic of Armenia. In official venues, like the Armenian Embassy in Berlin, the event was commemorated in the presence of public figures from political life. It was an occasion to reflect on 1991 and to cast a glance to the future, enriched by the lessons learned in the intervening period. On that same day, a group of Armenians and Germans, scholars, writers, civil society activists and others, convened in a virtual Zoom meeting, to offer insights into events of the far more distant past, the genocide a century ago.
Every year in mid-September, members and friends of the Greek Orthodox community in Berlin gather at the Luisenkirchhof III cemetery to honor the memory of the victims of the genocide. On September 11, the Day of the Open Monument, participants took part in a tour of the cemetery led by Dr. Tessa Hofmann, co-founder and spokeswoman of the organization behind the initiative (FÖGG). On Sunday, September 12, she delivered an address at the commemorative ceremony, where a wreath was laid, and Archimandrite Dr. Stefan L. Toma, of the Greek Orthodox Church of Christ’s Ascension, offered requiem prayers.
The members of Ars Musica agreed that the musical and cultural highpoint of their extensive visit was the final event. The renowned men’s chorus from Thuringia, Germany, was concluding a two-week concert tour that renewed and enriched their relationship to Armenia. The friendship had begun more than thirty years earlier, when many of today’s singers were members of a boys’ choir. In 1988, they had performed a concert in the city of Suhl, in solidarity with the victims of the Armenian earthquake. And in 2018 the Ars Musica singers commemorated the anniversary again with a major choral performance.
It was supposed to be the war to end all wars. But once it had ended, there was “no peace to end all violence.” On the contrary, even with the establishment of the League of Nations, which was to usher in the new era of peace, the world witnessed new forms of nationalism and imperialism, new conflicts, and continuing human suffering on a mass level. At the same time, new concepts of humanitarian intervention and international law developed.
GYUMRI —Sunday, August 22. Gyumri, in the Black Fortress. About 300 guests gathered for a very special event. Ars Musica, a renowned men’s chorus from Germany, was on a concert tour in Armenia, having already performed in Tatev, Yerevan and at the Geghard monastery. After Gyumri, they would continue with performances in Gavar, the Sevanavank monastery, Litschk and Echmiadzin.
If you are an Armenian artist living in the German capital and you are about to turn 50, how should you celebrate the occasion?
Archi Galentz has decided to mark the event with an exhibition of a special kind.
Among the working titles he considered were “The First 50” and “Stages of Formation of the Midlife Crisis of an Arriereguardist,” but the show was not to be a retrospective.
All eyes this summer were on the Olympic games, where Armenia competed successfully in several disciplines. Some weeks earlier, another international event took place, albeit not followed by so many millions of television viewers, but in which the Armenian contestants walked away with gold, and not only once.
The cathedral in Halle, Germany, is huge, but once the doors closed and visitors had taken their seats, it was almost full — at least as full as it could be under pandemic conditions of social distancing.
Four young musicians from Brussels have just concluded a concert tour of Armenia, bringing the healing power of music to layers of the population still suffering the impact of war and pandemic disease.
The Akhtamar Quartet made its musical and solidarity journey through Armenia in the first three weeks of June, performing 20 concerts (all free of charge) in 15 days.
In 1988, after massive earthquakes struck Armenia, leaving behind a trail of death, injuries, crumbled buildings and shattered lives. “That December,” Ambassador Ashot Smbatyan would later recall, “many came to our aid, from all over the world. But the help that came from the Suhl concert moved me in a special way.” The Armenian diplomat in Berlin was referring, 30 years later, to a concert of the Boys Choir from the Thuringian city of Suhl.
What does it mean to be Armenian? What is Armenia’s national identity? How do its citizens perceive it? And those in the diaspora?
Over the last 30 years, the country and its people have experienced political upheaval through the collapse of the Soviet Union, the subsequent economic crisis and years of war, decades of struggle to shape a new self-conception and define a meaningful role in the regional and international context. The most recent phase of transformation, ushered in by the “Velvet Revolution” three years ago and followed by the catastrophic 2020 war in Nagorno-Karabakh, remains open, more questions raised than answered.
The Working Group for Recognition: Against Genocide, for Understanding among Peoples (AGA) issued a call for a vigil on April 24, 2021 opposite the Turkish Embassy in Berlin. Among the 250 persons who joined were participants in a demonstration organized by an Armenian association, HayStab. As became clear from the posters, leaflets and statements, the focus was not only on the demand for Turkey to assume historical responsibility for the genocide, but also on Germany’s involvement, Azerbaijan’s military aggression against Nagorno-Kara- bakh and its continuing refusal to release prisoners.
“I welcome you to this special event dedicated to the 110th anniversary of the birth of Alan Hovhaness, one of the greatest composers of the 20th century.”
This is how Dr. Ara Ghazarians, curator of the Armenian Cultural Foundation (ACF) opened a moving tribute on April 17. Conducted over zoom, the commemoration was organized by the Board of Trustees of the ACF, and co-sponsored by Amaras Art Alliance and the Friends of Armenian Culture Society and Alessandra Pompili.
April had started with rain in Yerevan, one wet day after another, and the organizers of the My Way Center prayed for sunshine. On April 6, the day they had chosen for the event, board member Sona Petrosyan, looked up at the cloudy sky that morning and said to herself, “Dear God, please send us some sunshine around noon.” Right then a dove spread its wings and flew towards her, then soared gracefully up to the sky, and she said to herself, that must be a good omen.
Under normal circumstances we would have organized a huge birthday party. There would have been music — Armenian music — and poetry and dancing, shish-kebab, with all the trimmings, paklava and Ararat cognac. Friends would have come from all over Germany — Armenians, Turks, Kurds, Germans, young and old, colleagues and students, as well as family members. No one would want to miss Heide Rieck’s 80th birthday party.
“It seems that our dreams have come true!” This is how Alya Kirakosyan put it when the ceramics lab opened this month. Kirakosyan is the director of Warm Hearth, a house in the village of Geghanist in Ararat marz, not far from Yerevan.
Every message I have received from Armenia over the holidays has expressed the notion that 2020 was a terrible year for everyone, and doubly so for Armenia. Not only has the pandemic brought sickness and death to many families, but the war in Artsakh has left the country traumatized, many young people wounded or killed in battle.
It was in the middle of October, not long after the outbreak of the war in Nagorno-Karabakh. Amalia Safaryan, a young pianist living in Marburg, called her friend, Seda Nahapetyan, a singer a Giessen. Her message was urgent: “We have to do something; we’ll go crazy if we just sit around waiting for the war to end. We have to do something for our country!”
At My Way Socio-Rehabilitation Day Care Center for Children and Teenagers with Autism, children, parents, guests, teachers and staff therapists joined in the newly equipped multi-functional performance hall for a live concert on December 25.
Fourteen years have passed since Hrant Dink was assassinated in front of the offices of Agos newspaper in Istanbul. Since then, conditions for journalists, intellectuals and pro-democracy activists inside Turkey have worsened and the new war in Nagorno-Karabakh has engulfed Turks and Armenians again in violent conflict. At such a time of political repression and renewed military aggression, commemorating the anniversary of his death assumes special significance.
On December 19, six choirs from Armenia and Artsakh joined seven other choirs to perform on World Choral Day.This event, organized every December under the auspices of the International Federation of Choral Music, attracts thousands of singers who organize concerts around the middle of the month
Walking up towards the Brandenburg Gate, you see on the ground a myriad of small red votive candles, lined up in rows to form a huge cross. Behind it, on a stage, an orchestra plays a piece by Komitas. It is November 6 in Berlin, and people have been gathering throughout the afternoon, to take part in an event dedicated to peace in Berg Karabakh. They have been visiting information stands to find out about the conflict, have seen works on exhibit by Berlin artist Mischa Badasyan and have listened to speakers from the political and cultural world address the issue.
On November 25, the French Senate voted almost unanimously to recognize Artsakh, as reported in the Mirror-Spectator. The following day, the Central Council of Armenians in Germany (ZAD) issued a press release, thanking the French Senators for their action, and calling upon Germany’s Bundestag (Parliament) to follow suit, and demand recognition on the part of the federal government.
Armenia has not only brandy to tempt the palate. Together with its legendary cuisine, it also has a wide range of wines, product of a long history of winemaking. Recently two Germans have launched an initiative to publicize this little known fact. Michael Richter comes from Bernkastel on the Mosel, famous for its own wines.
Since the renewed outbreak of war in Nagorno-Karabakh, efforts have been underway on an international level to stop the fighting, and lay the basis for a political solution. The central institution involved has been the Minsk Group, which came together in 1994 at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Budapest summit. Its permanent members are Belarus, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Finland, Turkey, Armenia and Azerbaijan. Co-chairmen are the Russian Federation, the United States and France.
At the Luisenkirchhof cemetery in Berlin-Charlottenburg, large, imposing structures stand in solemn commemoration of genocide victims. These are the Altars of Remembrance, dedicated to the memory of the more than 3 million Christian genocide victims in the Ottoman Empire. They are the Armenians, Pontic Greeks and Syrian Orthodox who were massacred. The altars are the work of the Promotional Society for the Ecumenical Monuments for Genocide Victims of the Ottoman Empire (FÖGG), which plans commemorative events several times a year.
As the war in the South Caucasus enters its second month, Armenian organizations in Germany are redoubling their efforts to urge government authorities in Berlin and in Europe to finally take effective action.
On September 18 the Lepsiushaus in Potsdam hosted a book launch of the volume, Todesvision. Eine Hommage an die ermordeten Dichter Armeniens (1915-1945) (Vision of Death. Homage to Armenia’s Murdered Poets (1915-1945)).
The poems were translated from Armenian by Dr. Gerayer Koutcharian and rendered poetically into German by Prof. Tessa Hofmann
On April 24, 1915, the Young Turk regime rounded up hundreds of Armenians, intellectuals, artists, writers, teachers, religious leaders, community elders in what Prof. Tessa Hofmann has called “elitocide.” It was the alarm that sounded the beginning of the Genocide that was to eliminate all layers of the population, young and old alike. A new book has just appeared in Germany dedicated to the poets murdered in that process.
With the passing of Karen Vardanyan, Armenia has lost a dedicated citizen, a creative engineer, an indefatigable organizer and passionate educator, a fine human being. He died on July 10 in Yerevan at age 57.
“Make dolma not war.” That is the message that Haykanush Sechelyan transmitted on a poster during a demonstration in Hamburg, Germany on August 1.
When Azerbaijan attacked the Tavush region in July, Armenians everywhere responded with protest demonstrations. In Berlin, as reported in this newspaper, several cultural associations came together to organize an artistic response, with an exhibition that opened on August 9 and ended on August 30. Hosted by the Wolf & Galenz Gallery in Berlin, it was entitled, “Armenia: Grace and Violence. Images of Landscapes and Traces of War.”
If you think teaching music, dance and art online is a challenge, consider what faces educators whose students are children and youngsters with autism. The My Way Socio-Rehabilitation Center for Children and Teenagers with Autism in Yerevan provides education and therapy for such pupils with special needs, usually with a full week’s schedule of classes in their spacious buildings. When the pandemic crisis hit Armenia in March, the center was functioning, but soon had to close, like other schools, first for a brief pause, then for an indefinite period of time.
“It’s so hard to give vocal lessons by Skype. It’s terrible!” Lusine Arakelyan is an opera singer who teaches at the Aleksey Hekimyan Music School in Yerevan. Since the lockdown started in response to the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, she, like most other Armenian teachers, has been forced to expand her pedagogical skills with patience and creativity. She and her students bridge the social distance through the computer, and the challenge is significant.
Every year on April 24, the French Cathedral in Berlin welcomes Armenians and Germans to commemorate the anniversary of the 1915 genocide. I usually travel to the capital for the solemn ceremony. In Frankfurt, the historic Paulskirche is the venue for a parallel ceremony that my husband regularly attends.
Every year, but not this year.
The coronavirus pandemic shutdown has affected every aspect of life here in Germany, from schools to shops, from factories to farms. Social encounters that have always been part of our daily life, in restaurants, bars and cafes, fitness studies, public parks and playgrounds, have undergone a drastic redefinition, distancing has replaced engagement, friendly personal exchange stifles under the protective cloth of the face mask.
It was February 17 in Zvartnots airport, and two young men shared the stool at the red piano and played with energy and passion. It was before the Coronavirus pandemic had brought international travel to a halt, and they were expressing their excitement about their imminent flight.
Five years ago, the German-Armenian Forum came into being upon the initiative of Albert Weiler, a member of the Bundestag (Parliament) from the Christian Democratic Party (CDU). The aim of the new association was to intensify relations and promote mutual understanding between Armenia and Germany at all levels, from government to parliament, among professionals, students and youth. And it has been a success story.
Slowly, cautiously and with painstaking care to ensure the safety and health of visitors, Archi Galentz and Andreas Wolf welcomed art lovers to their gallery in the German capital for the opening of a new exhibition on May 29. It was the first time since the Coronavirus pandemic had shut down normal life in Berlin that people could gather in such a setting. To be sure, guests had to register beforehand and could enter the gallery only five at a time, so that each would always have 20 square meters space.
On July 12, two human rights organizations based in Berlin issued a joint declaration on the decision taken a day earlier to alter the status of the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. Both organizations have been in the forefront of efforts to gain official recognition of the genocide, efforts that led to the resolution in the German Bundestag (Parliament) passed in 2016.