Over the course of two hours, participants experienced the ninety-year glorious past of the Hamazkayin Armenian Educational and Cultural Association, keeper of the flame of Armenian identity in the diaspora, an organization that expresses the various layers of our culture in the present, and a brilliant, hopeful future. It was a carefully choreographed program that spanned from the past to the future, encompassing the founders of the association as well as the youngest member of today. It was Hamazkayin, organized and presented primarily by young Hamazkayin members. This was the vision that “Root and Branch” brought to its audience. And what the audience took away was endless satisfaction.
On Sunday, December 9, 2018, at the entrance to the Toronto Armenian Youth Center, we are greeted by a mountain of books published by Hamazkayin. We walk around the carefully arranged display and notice textbooks, many issues of the literary journal Pakine, novels and books of poetry, examples of the thousands of publications released by Hamazkayin.
Sitting with the publications is Lala, the Armenian-speaking doll developed and popularized by Hamazkayin.
On top of the pile is an old Letterpress machine that insists on not being forgotten.
Beyond this display, in Armenian style, is a long reception table, decorated with sheaves of wheat, carrying wine and cheese. Behind that is a big banner with the profound inscription, “Root and Branch.”
To the right, a wall of black-and-white photographs: a glimpse at the activities of Hamazkayin. Standing in front of the photos, we feel pride and longing. From the photographs of the founders to the printing press and the schools, memorable moments and meetings, object and faces, and a piece of Toronto.
Further on, we notice easels holding two attractive paintings featuring the letters created by Mesrop Mashtots. They could be dancing in front of our eyes.
In a warm atmosphere inspired in part by classical Armenian music, the crowd is restless for the day’s program to begin. Before the appointed time, people head for the Hamazkayin theater hall, where they are greeted by Hamazkayin founders Dr. Hamo Ohanjanian, Levon Shant, and Nigol Aghpalian, as portrayed by the painter Meruzhan Khachatryan. A video presentation prepared by the Hamazkayin Central Executive Board is playing on a big screen, building on the atmosphere created in the foyer. The hall is full. Extra seats have been added and are fully occupied. Reverend fathers, guests, representatives of community organizations, Hamazkayin members, and devotees of Armenian culture are in attendance.
At 7 p.m., the program begins with a video prepared for the occasion, “What do our founders say?” In a few short minutes, the video conveys Hamazkayin’s mission and the messages of founders Shant and Aghpalian to future generations. Arsen Mnatsakanyan, Mushegh Karakashian, and Sevak Harutiunian are the readers. After the presentation, the author of the “Root and Branch” program, Tamar Donabedian, comes on stage. From her brief remarks, it becomes clear that the purpose is not only to praise the past but more importantly to experience the present and to turn the page together toward the centennial. She salutes the presence of Hamazkayin Central Executive Board member Dr. Vicken Tufenkjian and members of the Canada Regional Executive Board, which is sponsoring the event.
We soar toward our fountainhead, our roots, the place from which we receive our daily infusion of lifeblood, “Mur ergir” (Motherland, in a dialect of Armenian). A member of the Hamazkayin Kousan choir, Nver Ghazarian, is on stage, accompanied on the shvi by her talented son Seyran, while the slides in the background carry us to the plains of Moush and the mountains of Sasun—where, behold, moments later, we are greeted by the “Kochari.” Every stomp of the dancers’ feet wakes our forebears. It is performed by the boys of the Hamazkayin Erepuni dance ensemble, under the direction of the recent emigrant from Armenia Nelly Karapetyan. The scene continues. We are in fields of wheat. The sea of “waking” stalks awaits the mighty hand of the reaper. It is Daniel Varoujan’s “Tsoryani tzover” (Seas of wheat) performed impressively by Meghedi Mnatsakanyan Kalousdian, accompanied on the shvi by Seyran Ghazarian. The first scene concludes with a song, “Vakhnam knem,” performed by Nver Ghazarian and Seyran Ghazarian.
The voice of the homeland is what ties us together. On the stage were the members of the Hamazkayin Kousan choir, under the baton of Hripsime Tovmasian, with Vanik Hovhannesian on piano. After “Im heravor hairenik,” they perform “Bingöl” and Gomidas’ “Gaini yaro.” The audience is moved. Included in the program is the work of composer Parsegh Ganachian, who has truly left his mark on Hamazkayin. His “Shusho” was captivating. The profound work, “Yes badranke siretsi” (I loved an illusion), by Hamazkayin cofounder Levon Shant is brought to life by Aris Chuljian. To warm applause, Kousan wraps up its performance with an interpretation of the song, “Parki jampov.”
Every part of the program has its corresponding slides. We turn the page. We are in Paris. We could have been in any spot far from the homeland; the feeling in the room would have been the same. The Paris group included Shahnour, Sarafian, Shushanian, and others; it’s the talented Dr. Shavarsh Nartuni we see: “Amen pane ver” (Above all else), his masterpiece, is the best interpreter of the exiled Armenian’s heart, which goes hither and fro in search of what for it is “above all else” and finds Armenia. The performance by Varak Babian and Rupen Janbazian of the Hamazkayin Book Lovers Group is greeted with thunderous applause.
Where Armenian culture flowers, we can always hear the prayers of Gomidas, whose penetrating eyes from the image on stage touch our hearts. We hear “Kele kele” and “Shogher jan,” followed by Babajanian’s “Vagharshabati bare” performed by pianist Karina Kheshvajian, diplomate of the Hamazkayin Parsegh Ganachian conservatory, and violinist Nshan Papazian. Hamazkayin’s educational path has been illuminated by educator and writer Moushegh Ishkhan; his “Gdag” (Last will and testament) is seared in our hearts by young reciter Lori Berberian. After Ishkhan, who gave us a proud flag to fly alongside his words, we hear Vahan Tekeyan’s sweet “Tagh hay lezvin” (Ode to the Armenian language) performed by the young reciter Alik Baboghlian. From poetry we move to the bubbling spring of “Tavigh,” performed beautifully by the Hamazkayin Erepuni Dance Ensemble, with graceful soloists Lana Ter-Petrosian, Berla Bushmanian, and Maria Manoogian. The choreography is by Azat Gharibian and the artistic director and dance teacher is Nelly Karapetyan.
The time has come to hear about Hamazkayin’s plans. “Toward the Centennial” is the title of the conversation that takes place on stage. The interlocutors are Hay Horizon presenter Dr. Khajag Koulajian and the day’s guest of honor, Hamazkayin Central Executive Board member Dr. Vicken Tufenkjian. We hear about the online library, the Lala and Ara games created for children, the program to prepare Armenian language teachers and textbooks, and the H-Pem online program for young people.
The curtain falls. We pause for a moment to pay our debt of gratitude to the veteran Hamazkayin members whose contributions to Hamazkayin and, more broadly, to Armenian culture, has been considerable. On stage are the chairperson of the Hamazkayin Canada Regional Executive Board, Dzovig Kahvejian and the chairperson of the Klatzor Chapter, Lorig Katerjian. The emcee introduces each awardee briefly before asking him or her onstage to receive an award on the occasion of Hamazkayin’s 90th anniversary. Klatzor Chapter members Krikor Hotoyian, Sona Hovhannesian, Rupen Mnatsaganian, Hagop Janbazian, and Jirair Bedrosian are honored. Veteran members Kalusd Babian and Suren Chekijian are honored posthumously. The chapter had taken a similar step on the eightieth anniversary of the organization, awarding Vanig Hovhannesian, Simon Haserjian, and the now-deceased Rosdom Yeghoyian, Arsho Boyajian Solakian, and Edik Hovsepian.
The curtain rises again and now we see the Hamazkayin Hye Asdgher children’s choir and little Teresa Berberian in Armenian traditional costume. From her lips we hear Hamo Sahyan’s short poem “Yes Hayastann em” (I am Armenia), which wonderfully expresses the eternalness of our ancient homeland. Then, with colorful images of the homeland, we are in “Mer ashkharh” (Our world); we travel to “Nakhichevan,” then in the florid plains of “Tzaghkatzor.” Our “Armenian Stars” are so well-coordinated and enthusiastic under the direction of Hripsime Tovmasian, accompanied on the piano by Vanik Hovhannesian.
The applause continues. Ara Kevorkian’s passionate rendition of a part of “Arshaluys” is powerful. The Erepuni dance ensemble follows to bid the audience farewell, followed on the stage by all the performers of the evening. The audience is standing and the applause is continuous. Later, members of the organizing committee, the Central, Regional, and Chapter Executive Boards, and the award recipients gather around a 90th anniversary cake.
Congratulations, dear Hamazkayin, on your ninetieth anniversary. You tie our steps throughout the diaspora to our centuries-old culture, toward Armenianness, toward the mother tongue. Shoulder to shoulder, let us move forward toward the centennial.