Silk Road

Silk Road

The American-Armenian businessman Levon Der-Bedrossian had been dreaming about establishing himself in Armenia for many years. In 2014 he made his dream come true and founded the Silk Road hotel in the Aygedzor district of Yerevan. Simultaneously he established the The Folk Arts Foundation. Its main goal is to revive the art of Armenian national crafts, especially carpet weaving.

Text : Artavazd Yeghiazaryan / Photos : Silk Road

Mr. Der-Bedrossiian, what were your impressions, when you first visited Armenia?

I arrived in Armenia in the summer of 1982. It was an amazing experience for someone from the Diaspora to meet so many people speaking Armenian and to appear in a very special place. I cannot describe my impressions, when I was leaving. They were probably the most pleasant impressions. I visited Armenia after the earthquake for a second time. I arrived as a volunteer as part of a program implemented by a Diasporan organization in the summer of 1989. We settled in Gogaran village, located near Spitak. We triedto provide psychological help to the residents, as our financial support was limited, although we helped one of the families to restore a ruined barn. In the evenings we were just talking to people, enjoying our time. Communication with the people was very important to us. I hope they felt the same way. It was a hard time; the aftermath of the earthquake, the Soviet union on the verge of collapse and the devestating Karabakh conflict. I had spent my summers in that village for two years. I had become very connected to Armenia during that period. So I set a goal to deepen my relationship with Armenia.

And when did you decide to establish yourself and settle in Armenia permenantly?

In the 1990s I had already thought about opening a small hotel in Yeghegnadzor, but it was almost impossible at the time. However, I had been spending all of my vacations here since 1993. But as I had not yet managed to establish myself in Armenia, I did not risk starting a business. Finally, one day I made the decision to buy a house here, where I could spend at least half of the year. I studied the housing market and stopped by at a house in Aygedzor. I saw quite a large space, a semi-ruined old house and the owner had emigrated to Russia. The house was near the center, on the verge of the canyon, so the air was fresh and I decided to buy it. When we started to repair it, I thought that it would be great if we built a few rooms inside to accommodate my friends or children. The architects persuaded me to construct another building in the area. The construction was quite complicated and expensive, so it took us almost 10 years to complete the whole process.

Did you ever change your mind during that period?

On the contrary, I became wiser, looked through my ideas and forged them into a concrete plan. I established the foundation and focused on national crafts. I studied ethnology and anthropology and I had always been interested in Armenian national crafts. I have a large collection of carpets. I have been engaged in the restaurant business for so many years but I did not forget about my collection. So I decided to use this space as a center for national crafts, in addition to being a hotel.
We gathered a class of 10 children and began to teach them carpentry, absolutely free of charge. It was so successful that now we have three classes, and then the children’s elder relaitves showed interest in the craft. Maybe some of the children will launch other activities in the future. Anyway, the culture is being spread and this is the most important thing. Some of them will become professionals, and the adults are seriously fond of embroidery and carpet weaving. We sell their works in the hotel and they earn money in return. It’s a serious economic project for them.

So, in brief, what is ‘Silk Road’ for you?

With its 13 rooms, the hotel became the base of the foundation. It gave independence both to the foundation and to me, as currently we are self-dependent. On the other hand it is a unique live museum, which exhibits Armenian culture to foreign tourists. By the way, most of the furniture has been brought from my house in San Francisco, that is why it is like a home for me.

Could you please tell us about other cultural events taking place in the “Silk Road”?

The ‘Ayrudzi’ ensemble has been operational in Ashtarak for already 30 years. It organizes races and shadow theatre performances. ‘Ayrudzi’ is a very unique ensemble. Recently we have organized their performances at Silk Road, the group performs shadow theatre twice a month on Thursday nights. Our aim was to create a platform for them, which would allow them to discover young talents. We achieved our goal as they managed to find new members. For us, the further development is much more important than just organizing a couple of interesting events, which will be forgotten all too quickly. Additionally we organized documentary movie screenings together with the ensemble. Two years ago Dsirani Dsar Ethno Film Festival was organized by filmmaker Garekin Zakoyan, with the support of the Silk Road Hotel and the Folk Arts Hub Foundation. This year we have worked with Dsirani Dsar again. In cooperation with the ‘Ayrudzi’ ensemble we started to shoot an interesting documentary movie. They have a tradition of organizing a tour in about a dozen villages across Aragats. During the tour they perform shadow theatre and organize concerts. So, the documentary is about the tour.
I was present at their performance in Aragats village last year. I had a chance to talk to the head of the village. 

I naively thought that children study crafts at schools in Armenian villages. Soon, it turned out that children did not study carpentry or carpet weaving, and the school building was in poor condition to facilitate this. This was a significant day for me as I then came to the realization that we should expand our activities in the region. We developed a new charitable “Adopt a Loom” project which included trainings, taking place at that school. We provided the school with the necessary equipment, tools and a specialist. Our next step was to arrange support for the villages of Sasunik and Karakert. We have to continue our activity and to provide support in almost 100 villages. By the way, each village has its own signature and if you pay attention to the carpets weaved by the children, you will see that each of them is different and unique. Even adults joined the children in the villages. Our foundation buys the best samples of their work, which means that it is not just a hobby for them, this is their work and a real investment in their future.The art of carpet weaving is developing and both the villagers and our team are content with the results. I am also glad to see that the revival of traditions have started to come from the younger generation and that encourages the adults. Armenian Rug Society supports the project as well. By the way, I am a member of the Armenian Rug Society. They organize different symposiums, exhibitions and workshops. And this is high time for Armenia and the Diaspora to unite. It seems that a carpet can become a symbol, kind of a bridge between the two worlds.

What can you say to sum up the first two years of Silk Road?

I am very glad as the results are better then I had ever expected. This place began a life of its own and became very important for those who are interested in Armenian culture. We are going to continue our activity and pay attention to the development of other crafts as well. We are currently organizing a project to introduce Armenian culture to foreign students.
Next year we are planning to revive another great Armenian tradition at the hotel. The tradition of baking in a Tonir oven. We will organize special evenings, people will gather around it, talk, sing and bake bread.

The future plans are big…

The future plans are big, but realistic. I prefer to plan such things which can be easily realized and go on taking small steps.