Armenia Represented in IOV/UNESCO on an International Platform

Armenia Represented in IOV/UNESCO on an International Platform

An Interview with Anahit Khechumyan

The objective of the UNESCO’s International Organization of Folk Art (IOV) is to “further promote folk art, customs and culture around the world through the organization of festivals and other cultural events, thereby contributing to international understanding and world peace” which is directly related to UNESCO’s mission of “Building Peace in the Minds of Men and Women”. IOV has had its presence in Armenia for many years, however, Anahit Khechumyan’s journey with this international organization started in 2001, when Valeri Paranyan, an active cultural event and festival organizer and a writer known widely during the Soviet Union times, got to an age of retirement and decided to pass the torch to a more dedicated and enthusiastic person. So, he found Anahit Khechumyan.

Interview : Hasmik Chakaryan    Photo : Anahit Khechumyan

 

Anahit Khechumyan

Mrs. Khechumyan, who has graduated from Romanos Melikyan College of Music in 1988 followed by the Komitas State Conservatory in 1993, has studied piano and musicology obtaining the specialty of a folklorist. She has had 33 years of active career representing Armenia on various platforms, both nationally and internationally. She has established the Vaspourakan Dance and Song Ensemble in 1987 which she leads to this day. The Ensemble has been the home to hundreds of children coming from mostly lower socio-economic backgrounds for whom this educational establishment has been an escape from hardship and an opportunity for shining of their many talents. 
Vaspourakan has participated in several international festivals in countries like Russia, Ukraine, Georgia, Egypt, Jordan, Belarus, Iran, Turkey, Syria and the Baltics. They have participated in two State Festivals organized by the Ministry of Culture of Armenia during both of which the Ensemble has taken the Second Place (Children of Armenia, 1992, and Debut 95, 1995). In other State level international festivals, Vaspurakan has also obtained distinguished prizes, such as a First Place in Zolotoy Delfin Festival/Competition in Batumi, Georgia, 2017, and Jerash Festival organized by the queen of Jordan, where they won the Best Folk Ensemble category. In the framework of UNESCO festivals, Khechumyan’s Ensemble has participated in several international festivals including those of Georgia and Syria. 
Based on her many publications, years of dedication and work in the framework of cultural representation, and presenting as a member of IOV of UNESCO, Anahit Khechumyan was invited to serve on the jury of several international festivals in many cities of Georgia, Egypt and Armenia.

 


What does it mean to you to be a member of IOV/UNESCO?

It is a great honor and privilege. Not everyone gets to represent their beloved country on such a level, at such a prestigious organization. 

 

What has it been like for you to bring Vaspourakan to a UNESCO Festival Competition?

It’s a spectacular event for the kids and they never complain of the long travels and endless hours of practice. You burst with pride when your kiddos take the stage. But you raise your head even higher when your ensemble, an Armenian team, wins the Original Style category. This was in Tbilisi, at the UNESCO Festival of 2003. 

 

So, is it because of all these festival participation and awards that you started getting invitations to serve as a jury on these international festivals and competitions in all these countries for the last 5 years?

Well, there is certainly a rule that only a member of an international organization can be a juror of an international cultural festival in addition to having earned your place among best folklorists and cultural activists. It’s certainly a great honor to serve on the jury representing Armenia but more so a huge responsibility. I do, however, carry it with pride. 

What are some recent events you participated in that have stood out to you in one way or another?

I just returned from an international festival in Egypt which was organized by the International Association of Performing Arts in which 10 countries were presented. I represented Armenia among these 10 jurors. I am invited to serve on the jury of international festivals representing Armenia for at least 5 times a year.

 

I know you recently returned from Borjomi, Georgia. What was the cause?

I’d love to. I was invited to serve on the jury of the international festival and exhibit of handmade works where we presented Armenia through various talented Armenian artists. Among them, Maya Dali, the only female vitrage jeweler, presented her works of leather and gemstone-composed jewelry. We also had Tatev Grigoryan presenting her NGO and the participating artists’ handmade dolls and needle works, as well as Silva Hovakimyan, who among other handmade works, presented her unique compositions with flower-petals which is a unique branch of Japanese Oshibana art. Maya received the title of an International Master, while Silva and Tatev received the title of National Masters. It’s a great honor to come to these international festivals with so much unique talent representing Armenia. 

 

What are some other great achievements that you remember taking away from these international festivals that were remarkable for Armenia?

Well, I can think of Yegishe Gevorgyan, a master vocalist in folk song genre who took the Grand Prix in Egypt, 2020, and Khachik Khanzatyan, who took the First Place in Borjomi that same year as a master clarinetist. These are just the very recent ones. It’s hard to remember all the winners and achievements after 33 years of busy schedule and activities. 

 

So, what’s next for you?

Oh, well, that brings me to this very recent assignment I received by the World Association of Performing Arts. I am in charge of organizing the Conference in the framework of the International Festival Superstar during which there will be a new genre category presented for the first time – literary art, and many writers and publicists from Armenia and Diaspora will bring their participation. I will also be presenting my research on folk art during this conference. My work is dedicated to Komitas’ Interpretation of Horovels and Armenian Liberation Folk Songs. The festival will take place in Batumi in June of this year. This is a new endeavor which is pushing me to continuously advance both my research and cultural representation.

 

What is the most significant thing about being an IOV/UNESCO member for you and doing this work for so many years?

You know, I hate politics, everything about it, really. That’s the one thing I could never be involved in. But I do find myself lucky as I get to live in this, sort of, parallel reality, where people from all these countries get together to celebrate art and culture, cheer one another, appreciate each other’s work, value a cultural representation of a life lived somewhere else. It’s quite a unique place where we are connected through art and get to honor, appreciate and respect each other’s work and stand on the ground of more similarities than differences that tear us apart everywhere else. These are people from countries that are war-torn and generations who have only seen life through a lens of armed conflicts. We just all come together and speak art. We can, for a moment at least, forget about the madness of the world that has infected many of our homes and believe, if even for a second, that we are all connected through art in the various forms of cultural expressions. UNESCO, after all, stands for “international understanding and world peace” while “building peace in the minds of men and women”. This is my life dedication!

 

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