A Play Dedicated To The Plight Of The Russian Armenians Of WWII
BY BIANCA BAGATOURIAN
By the end of World War II in Europe, millions of former forced laborers, concentration camp inmates, prisoners of war, and anti-Stalin Soviets were uprooted from their homes.
By 1945, at least 850,000 Displaced Persons (DPs) were to be found living in hundreds of DP camps, served to provide temporary shelter for diverse ethnic and cultural groups of Europe’s displaced persons stretched across Western Europe.
“Displacement” is a labor of love by playwright, Shauna Vartanian, which follows the matriarchal lineage of the Ohanian Displaced Persons (DPs) who were uprooted from their home in Kerch, Crimea. This is the story of only one DP family but it is representative of the many Russian Armenians and their stories of survival seeking freedom from social injustice.
It was my pleasure, as a dramaturg, to work with Shauna Vartanian to help further strengthen this piece after an initial reading at the Pasadena Playhouse in 2013. After much work on this project, Shauna commented, “I’m even more excited about bringing the story home to our DP community in Montebello.”
During the process of rehearsals, I got a chance to discuss with some members of the cast and crew of what the experience of working on this piece has meant to them.
Film and theatre director Yervand Kochar, whose feature film The 13th Image is currently being produced in Germany, said that he had witnessed so many epic stories of catastrophe and survival, but what made this story stand out was the unexpected discovery of the resilience of the Armenian spirit under these difficult situations. “Instead of letting the situation break them, the people in the camps, through their inner struggle, discovered strength and values which they carried with them the rest of their lives.”
He was especially moved by hearing some of the survivors say in recordings that the best time of their lives were in these camps. “As a director, I’m focusing on the aspect that they discovered this pearl in the gutter, that when they were forced to survive in dire conditions, the qualities that emerged through love and camaraderie and through precious relationships were ones that would serve them in making a nation no matter where they were.”
Actress, Jade Hykush, who plays the lead role of the narrator of this play, spoke of how the piece was very close to her heart. “I am the daughter of DP’s with blood, sweat and tears. Shauna Vartanian documented their story and believe me, this is no easy feat, because as she says, ‘They always wanted to forget.’ I am so thrilled that she wrote this because someone had to do it, so our Russian Armenians from the DP camp will always be remembered.”
Actor Ramy Zada, whose credits include lead roles in many TV shows over the years, said he felt an immediate connection with his Armenian family roots when he first read the play. “My grandmother, who lived with us when I was a child, survived the Armenian genocide in Turkey. Rarely do we see any form of the Armenian tragedies or genocides told in a film or theatrical setting. The story of ‘Displacement’ is a universal story of hope, strength and survival, told through an Armenia family’s experience. Being part of the cast and telling this story is, for me, a way honoring all of those Armenian families that went through that horrific experience and all the other Armenian families that went through similar ones, like my grandmother. It is part and parcel of the fiber of our being.”
Playwright and actress, Adriana Sevahn Nichols, whose award-winning play “Night Over Erzinga” was recently performed in Armenia said, “I am honored to be a part of telling the important and undertold story of the Russian Armenians who came to America.”
Actress, Sophie Avedikian, mentioned that she was very thankful for the opportunity to be involved in telling the history of her people, especially as it related directly to the community that she grew up in.
And finally, actor Ken Davitian, stated that he was honored to portray the character who and is probably the most loved and respected man in Montebello today, a man who was responsible for bringing so many DP Armenians to this country—the philanthropist George Mardikian.
Join us for a special one-night reading of Displacement, with a stellar cast, together with music by Greg Hosharian and dance by Shiraz Savoian, at Bagramian Hall in The Holy Cross Armenian Apostolic Cathedral, Montebello.
Tickets $15 available at the door and online at www.itsmyseat.com or $10.00 at Abril Bookstore 415 E Broadway, Glendale, CA 91205, (818) 243-4112 Or Goldex 2445 W Whittier Blvd # 201, Montebello, CA., (323) 726-7181.