Tuesday, March 11, 2003

Letter 12: The dance of Sassoun

I came to Armenia to “move mountains” (read that: to “create jobs”). So what am I doing selling boxes with Grigor Khandjian’s “Sassountsineri Par” painted on them? I have never produced, designed or sold a piece of art in my life!

I love Russian art, and I particularly like the papier maché boxes painted by Russian miniature artists (from Palekh). They are beautiful! But it bothers me that they are being sold as souvenirs in Yerevan’s Vernissage street market and in souvenir shops around town. Don’t we have our own miniature artists and our own Armenian themes to paint?

Thinking about this, an idea came to mind -- why not reproduce Grigor Khandjian’s “Sassountsineri Par” on native-Armenian obsidian and ceramic boxes. Our famous poet, Gevorg Emin, had immortalized the proud struggle of the inhabitants of Sassoun in a poem by the same name. The poem is based on a true story. After three weeks of resisting a full fledged attack by the Ottoman army, the inhabitants of Sassoun had run-out of ammunition and food. They decided to face the final Ottoman army assaults dancing together. In their typical white costumes and with their typical pride, the Sassountsi decided they would dance together in a semi-circle, arm-in-arm. When the Ottomans shot them, they would keep on dancing, holding-up their dancing comrades that were hit by bullets. One-by-one the Sassountsi were hit, but together they kept on “dancing”, until finally, they all fell together.

Gevorg Emin wrote:

Baryx Sasovnn5 ov o.] a,qarhu hiaxaw5
Baryx Sasovnn5 ov o.] a,qarhu hasgaxaw5
Or bar [e sa5 a3l` mi yrgri
Ka] badmov;3ovn5
Ovr bardov;3ovnn ancam ovni hbardov;3ovn5
Yv [i ha.;i o[in[ a3n hin =o.owrtin5
Or a3s ]ankow ov a3s gamko\w
Baryl cidi777
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . .. .
Yv a3s baru
Masis ly-an lan]in barys777

Sassoun danced and the whole world marveled,
Sassoun danced and the whole world understood,
That this is NOT a dance, but the brave history of a country,
Where even defeat has pride.
And nothing can vanquish this ancient nation,
That knows how to dance with such ardor and will...
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . .. .
May you dance this dance on the slopes of Massis

Grigor Khandjian immortalized the poem with his painting by the same name and you can find it in Armenia’s National Art Gallery. I found three different Armenian artists who reproduced Khandjian’s painting on obsidian and ceramic boxes. I am proud to say that all three, first produced, boxes are already sold. The theme had touched the soul of Armenia’s Ambassador to the United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), Mr. Zohrab Malek. Our artists are now producing more of them for your enjoyment. You can see these boxes and learn how to order them by visiting: http://www.flickr.com/photos/armenvahramian/sets/72157602322325957/

(Antoine Terjanian is an Economist, Statistician and Geomatician from Canada. He is working as an AVC volunteer in Armenia on several projects, helping make Armenia self-reliant). To read the Armenian script, you require the arasan.ttf font.

© All rights reserved. This letter can be reproduced with full acknowledgements.