EXCLUSIVE: First Lady Nouneh Sarkissian on Passing down Values through Writing Books, Aznavour and Many More

BY ANGELA HAMBARDZUMYAN
EDITED AND TRANSLATED BY STEPAN KOCHARYAN
YEREVAN—APRIL 5 “The creative process gives me happiness and satisfaction […] I sign my name with the spiral, a symbol for eternity. Life is eternal, and yet we are in this world to do something; to give birth to composition,” this is how Nouneh Sarkissian once described her love for writing, and art.

Throughout her writing career, author Nouneh Sarkissian has written 14 children’s books in Armenian, Russian, Ukrainian and English. As the First Lady of Armenia, it’s clear her love for writing still lives, as her new book , “The Adventures of the Blue Hippo and the Pink Mouse,” is set to be published in the near future.

In an ARMENPRESS exclusive, Angela Hambardzumyan engaged in a question and answer discussion with Sarkissian, where she revealed details about her new book, explaining the writing process as a joint effort between herself and her 6-year-old granddaughter, Savanna.

ARMENPRESS: Mrs. Sarkissian, your father is a journalist and your mother is a teacher. You are a philologist who write, and paints. Has your family environment contributed to the development of your professional preferences?

NOUNEH SARKISSIAN: The family environment is critical to all developing children and teenagers. My work ethic, time management, and motivation to learn have roots in my upbringing. I was constantly surrounded by people that worked. My grandfather, for example, was a translator at ARMENPRESS. I remember how he used stay at the office late into the night, translating the lengthy speeches of the first secretaries of the Communist Party. His job was to ensure the publication of transcripts, in Armenian, in the morning press.

Growing up, the conversations in our home always related to books, the theater, and studying international works of art in the library of our house. One of my greatest joys as a child was when we would have guests over. To me, each guest was a character, a story, and I was significantly interested in them.

ARMENPRESS: You have written articles about artists, in the past. Was there a specific encounter that was the most impressionable, or interesting?

SARKISSIAN: A London theater had staged a musical called “Lautrec,” by Charles Aznavour, about French painter Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. Armen and I went to the premiere and thoroughly enjoyed it. Lautrec, born to a noble family, became a famous painter of the Post-Impressionist period. Although he had certain disabilities, he had taken up the arts. In his works, Lautrec depicts women working in circuses, seemingly being the only women not hostile towards the painter. This very drama was portrayed in the musical, through the beautiful songwriting of Aznavour.

After the performance, we had dinner with Aznavour, where we had the opportunity to congratulate him. We had high hopes that the production would continue to take place. Unfortunately, Aznavour’s musical was cancelled few months later. I am unaware of the reasons behind the cancellation. Perhaps this operetta was staged in the wrong place, at the wrong time. This genre has major competition in England, doesn’t it?

Armen and I were able to attend the last performance, sharing that sad day with Aznavour. We both tried our best to comfort and encourage him by explaining the impression the performance had left on us. We also talked about the town of Akhaltsikhe of Javakheti [Georgia], where Charles’s mother and father were both born. Through our conversations, we formed a closer friendship. Shortly after, I wrote an article about Lautrec. The article was published in the Aravot newspaper in Yerevan, as well as the Armenian Press in the Diaspora.

Aznavour’s “Lautrec” was beautifully written, and orchestrated. Perhaps Armenian theater directors will one day find Aznavour’s work and stage it again, because it truly is a fascinating play.

ARMENPRESS: Charles Aznavour is known not only as a wonderful artist, songwriter and Armenian, but also as a deeply caring and kind man. You’ve had the chance to get to know him personally, what was your experience in interacting with him?

SARKISSIAN: Aznavour was very down to earth, he didn’t live to brag, to impress others, or to show things off. He was calm and even-minded among friends. He was able to reach global greatness while keeping the harmony and balance in him. I never got the impression that he was being anyone other than his true self during our conversations. I am amazed by Aznavour as a poet, singer, and as an Armenian.

ARMENPRESS: I can’t help but ask about the books you’ve published. When and how did you decide to write for children?

SARKISSIAN: I began creatively writing when I was 7 years old. No one person necessarily pushed me towards it, it just came to me.

Later in life, I was writing for the children-youth Soviet newspapers and magazines, and I was very active in the school’s literary group. Although I’ve always written fairy tales, I wasn’t a published author until 2005. My husband encouraged me in this matter. I was skeptical at first, but Armen reassured my abilities to not only engage children, but to also pass down important messages to them.

ARMENPRESS: About passing down messages—what are the main values that little readers can learn from your stories?

SARKISSIAN: Life has changed, it has become harder and faster. Things are much different than before. In today’s world, there are activities children partake in that we, as children, would only dream about, or maybe read in science-fiction books. With the growth of technology, and the accessibility to computer and television, children can easily find all kinds of information. These conditions have made it difficult to preserve simple human values, which are critical. My fairy tales attempt to teach children kindness and love, and to sow the important values of family, diligence, friendship, courage and helping others.

Speaking about her new book, “The Adventures of the Blue Hippo and the Pink Mouse,” Sarkissian revealed how her 6-year-old granddaughter Savanna was the one who made the illustrations. “We would make up stories about these two characters, and we eventually decided to make it a book,” she explained.

The book will soon be published in London and Yerevan, in both Armenian and English.

ARMENPRESS: Is Savanna living in Armenia?

SARKISSIAN: Armen and I have two sons, Vardan and Hayk. Vardan is married and has three children. Both of my sons work in London. However, my grandchildren are currently here in Yerevan. They are working on improving their Armenian, as well as their math.

When asked to comment on her admiration for London, where she lived for many years while her husband served as Armenia’s Ambassador, before assuming the presidency, Sarkissian said: “For me London is wonderful because it is a center of global culture. There is a variety of concerts, operas, ballets, films, lectures and exhibitions to choose from. The leading singers of the world seek to perform in London, and the finest painters strive to have exhibitions there. But, with this said, Yerevan is my city, and my favorite city.”

ARMENPRESS: Was leaving London difficult?

SARKISSIAN: I travel often, and I’ve lived in many cities. But, even throughout my travels I always came back to visit Yerevan—it is my true home.

ARMENPRESS: Many politicians claim they couldn’t have achieved their success had it not been for the sophisticated and dedicated women by their side. What role did you have in Armen Sarkissian’s achievements?

SARKSSIAN: I definitely agree. However, I also believe that every successful woman, very often, has a supportive and intelligent man by her side.

ARMENPRESS: On one occasion you said you’ve sacrificed many dreams for your family’s welfare. What are your dreams today?

SARKISSIAN: I dream of a world where children in Armenia are healthy and joyful, that they may receive education and acquire a profession, that their families are prosperous and happy, and for a world without wars.
ARMENPRESS: April 7, the day dedicated to Motherhood and Beauty, is approaching. Do you have a message for women?

SARKISSIAN: On Motherhood and Beauty Day, my hope is that our women are healthy and happy. To our women: the sparkle in your eyes, your smiles, the way you encourage your husbands and children, your assertive voice and heartening laughter captivate all. Thus, you must continue to be strong, optimistic and lively in order to educate the new Armenian generation.

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