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Kooyumjian Foundation establishes Chicago Armenian Humanities Festival with AGBU/Chicago

AGBU/Chicago is proud to host the Kooyumjian Chicago Armenian Humanities Festival, a continuing series of community cultural programs made possible through the generous sponsorship of the Thomas Kooyumjian Foundation.  In addition to presenting cultural, social and political programs for the community, the Foundation has a special interest in programming to connect Chicago youth with their Armenian heritage.

 
AGBU/Chicago students featured on online kids' cooking show Spatulatta.com!


AGBU/Chicago Armenian School students and teachers star in the latest segment of the James Beard-award winning online kids' cooking show Spatulatta.com, which spotlights Armenian Easter.  Master chef Kavork Hagopian showed the students how to make Racine-style choereg....from all accounts their baking certainly rose to the occasion! The program also included some fun and games with everyone's favority activity: egg wars!

The video segments are part of the School's current effort to "completely reinvent ethnic identity and cultural education," says cultural programs director, Gary Rejebian.  "With the support of the Kooyumjian Foundation, AGBU/Chicago is using technology to connect students with their peers around the world, to share everyday experiences in their lives today, along with traditions their families have treasured for generations."


Rejebian asserts that fostering an appreciation for differences and similarities in respective ways of life--whether growing up across the country or on the other side of the world--is critical to forging the bonds with which our youth will identify for themselves, and with each other, as the next generation of Armenians.

As a first effort, students made short videos about their lives and favorite things.  Along with the cooking segment, the 'video pen-palling'  films will be shared with peers in Armenia.  The AGBU/Chicago School has initiated a conversation with the Paros Foundation, which supports the Manana media education program in Yerevan, and also hopes to build relationships with other Armenian schools in the western hemisphere.

 
FESTIVAL PREMIERE EVENT: Concert performance & sneak preview screening of

 

VOYAGE TO AMASIA



Eric V. Hachikian, composer & co-director
Randy Bell, co-director
Emily O'Brien, film editor

Original piano trio performed by
Andie Springer, violin Alisa Horn, cello Meg Zervoulis, piano

 

Debut performance at AGBU/Chicago

Composer Eric Hachikian and filmmaker Randy Bell search for traces of a lost way of life

 



Inspired by a beloved grandmother who gave him a lifetime passion for music that became his career, composer Eric Hachikian imagined in sound a journey back to the land of her birth as a tribute to her when she died. On May 2, a full house at the AGBU/Chicago Norehad Center took that journey with him in film, as Eric and award-winning filmmaker Randy Bell presented a sneak preview screening of their new feature-length documentary, Voyage to Amasia, and a performance of the musical composition which inspired the documentary.


The debut presentation marked a first for AGBU/Chicago also as the premiere event of the chapter’s new Kooyumjian Chicago Armenian Humanities Festival, a year-long celebration of Armenian culture sponsored by Thomas Kooyumjian Foundation of Chicago. A grant from the foundation helped the filmmakers reach their final rough cut, and they are in the process of submitting to major film festival and producers for final funding.


The filmmakers spent 23 days traveling throughout Turkey and Armenia, making a real voyage to Amasya and following Eric's family's exile march to Malatya and Istanbul. The film traces a path through the past: telling the story of Eric's grandmother Helen Shushan; examing perspectives on the dark past of the Ottoman Empire among today’s residents of Turkey and Armenia; and describing how the Armenian Genocide affects Turkey, Armenia, and the Diaspora today.

Beginning the program with a presentation of the namesake piano trio, violinist Andie Springer, cellist Alisa Horn and pianist Meg Zervoulis gave a stirring performance of the lively melodies and plaintive lyrical tones in Hachikian’s composition. A special exhibit of Hachikian’s travel photographs conjured emotional glimpses Helen’s former hometown, as seen in the crumbled remains of old missionary buildings and churches boarded up or now used as a mosque.

The documentary constitutes much more than simply a statement of historical injustice. As seen through the camera’s eye of filmmaker Randy Bell and their editor Emily O’Brien, the intensely first-person sojourn sets a fascinating stage for Eric to understand for himself contemporary attitudes about the horrors of the past among those living today in his grandmother’s birthplace. Guided in his journey by woman who is a half Armenian and Jewish, he discovers a mix of opinions and realities as varied as the population of the old Empire: Turks who know little or nothing of their history and others who are eager to sweep away any mention of it. He encounters an elderly resident of Amasya who knows of her Armenian heritage but feels powerless to speak of justice: “Hrant Dink talked about it, look what happened to him…” she says, at the same time joking that “whatever the Turks know about culture they learned from us (Armenians).”

In comments after the screening, Eric mentions a Turkish family who bakes fresh bread for him…touched by the sincere warmth of their hospitality, he also cannot forget how many of his ancestors starved to death without a crumb of the staple food offered to him now by possible descendents of his people’s assassins.

Yet with every step he takes, the audience is increasingly aware of the longing for a sense of home Eric seeks in this strange--and yet strangely familiar--land. Like most Armenians of his generation, even those from storied families like his, he knows little about his relatives in the Old Country. Doing random research during his journey, he recognizes a photo of his great-grandmother Aghavnie Zorigian in a compatriotic society town history of Amasia. He knows Aghavnie and her children were driven to Malatya. From a fragment of her handiwork treasured by his mother Gloria, he knows Aghavnie was an expert seamstress and embroiderer who wove gardens of lush flowers on fabrics with jewel-toned and gilt threads. The Armenian narrative in the town history describes Aghavnie as ‘loved and respected by all because of her decent character,’ a woman who managed to support her family in Malatya because she had mastered a trade, and who helped the poor and needy and taught sewing and designing to many Armenian girls. Simply walking in the footsteps of those who tread before him, he feels the land itself pulling at his heartstrings.

“I feel very rooted here, like I have found something,” he says. “This could have been my home.”

The Film has been submitted to the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival, and will be submitted to several other high profile film festivals across the US and abroad, including the Sundance Film Festival, Silverdocs, New York Film Festival, and Tribeca Film Festival. The filmmakers hope to be able to showcase their work in both Armenia amd Turkey.

 

 
The Armenian Dance Co of Chicago

ADCC sparkles in stage debut!

Sell-out crowd enjoys spectacular multimedia presentation


Beaming with pride and enthusiasm, the Armenian Dance Co. of Chicago’s debut stage production on June 26 marked one of the most joyful—and hopeful—presentations of Armenian culture in this area in years.  Flying in the face of gloomy forecasts for the vitality of an Armenian ethnic identity in the Midwest, more than 50 youth representing all facets of the community have formed an boundlessly energetic ensemble under the inspired direction of Karnig Kerkonian and his sister, Lara Kalayjian.

The dance company’s genuine camaraderie radiates from every step, every turn, every bounce, and every smile.  Not content to simply put their own spin on tracing the footsteps of their ancestors, this ensemble is clearly on the road to evolving a living art form of its own…jeweled with a rich and storied past, yet fuelled by a very contemporary creativity.  Collectively and individually each of the company members represents everything one could ever wish to see in a bright and shining prospect for the future for Armenian youth in America.

Inspired to tell the story of the pivotal role of the Armenian people in the capital of Christendom, ADCC’s stage performance combined vignettes of critical events in the history of Jerusalem with elegantly choreographed movements, all framed by giant visuals on a rear screen backdrop.   In scene after scene, the attention to detail caught the eye, such as the harmony between the colors in the beautiful costumes and the video scenery.  Their two-hour performance leapt by as if a dream, punctuated with the innocence of junior members as young as five, and a thoroughly amusing scene portraying a competition among young bachelors for a bride. Yet its conclusion, exhorting heartfelt concern for the future of an Armenian presence in the Holy City, reverberated with the very soul of our struggle to survive.  ADCC is clearly not your grandfather’s dance company.

If you were not among the more than 400 people who packed a capacity crowd at Northeastern Illinois University’s Auditorium Theatre for this joyful evening, please email This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it to be notified when an encore performance will be scheduled.  Experiences like this are too good to be staged just once.