In celebration of the 80th anniversary of the founding of Hamazkayin Armenian Educational and Cultural Society, an exceptional, one-day Festival of Arts and Culture took place on the Mesrobian School campus in Montebello on Sunday, September 14, 2008 from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. The event was organized by Hamazkayin’s Western USA Regional Board and Festival Committee, created especially for this event.
Following the footsteps set forth in the 90’s by Hamazkayin chapters who organized a massive, three-day cultural festival in Fresno, Hamazkayin, once again faithful to its calling, served Southern California’s culture-lovers with a festive program, full of specialized performances to watch and interactive activities in which to participate. Unique in tone, theme, and program, the festival was enjoyed by hundreds of families. The campus was spotted by tall, white umbrellas that provided shade for more than 600 community members sitting around the tables, enjoying pleasant conversation with their friends and family, their children and grandchildren of all ages.
The Festival Committee, with the guidance of Ohan Ohanian, Regional Board Representative, and the leadership of Vicken Haboian, spared no effort to present Hamazkayin’s profile with an orderly, creative, and artistic program of festivities.
Colors, dance, the smell of warm lavash bread, kebab with eggplant, melodies, and monologues came out one after the other and, sometimes, all at once in rich unison.
During the eight-hour-long festival, flurries of energy arose on the Mesrobian School campus, whose classrooms had been turned into distinct quarters for children. In a sense, Mesrobian School had transformed into an intimate center, where Armenian music, song and dance, children’s storytelling and crafts had surpassed their traditional forms, creating a very eclectic and ornate Armenian space.
By the sight of the festival, one could tell that the Festival Committee members worked meticulously and with great care to present its community, particularly the youth, with an interactive cultural experience.
Suzy Ohanian, the festival’s Master of Ceremonies, enthusiastically invited the artists to stage and announced the ongoing activities and locations, setting the tone for the entire day. In her welcoming remarks, she mentioned, “such events come to expand Hamazkayin’s repertoire and once again serve the palette of its culture-appreciating audience. Since its birth, Hamazkayin has housed such artistic events, each being a celebration of community and atmosphere”.
Both sides of the main stage were aligned with multiple booths, offering freshly prepared foods and art displays. Exhibited artists were Harout Joulhaian, Shogher Baghdoud-Tilkian, Adrine Dilanian Tufenkjian, and Eric Nazarian. Also showcased were Arousiak Haboian’s decorative needlework pieces. Large white tents were set up at a distance, where Armenian coffee, fresh fruit, books, CDs, and DVDs invited passersby to roam around and enjoy the atmosphere, which was woven together by the classic and modern Armenian music played by DJ Mher Bekerian.
The program was further embellished by Hamazkayin’s “Barouyr Sevag” San Fernando Valley Chapter’s Nayiri Dance Ensemble, led by Catherine Hairabedian and Ari Libaridian. The dance was followed by Armens Kvryan’s doudouk performance, Maral Varjabedian’s recitation of poetry, and a performance by Hamazkayin’s “Siamanto” Orange County Chapter’s Yeraz Dance Ensemble, led by Pearlene Varjabedian. The crowd was next moved by teenage shvee player, Aram Manougian. Saro Dance Group and MaggieTune provided dance lessons with charisma and inspiring energy for adults and children, respectively. Later, the stage was once again enlivened by the talented dancers of Hamazkayin’s “Shahan Shahnour” Pasadena Chapter’s Lori Dance Ensemble, led by Lilia Markarian. The closing music on stage was a thunderously uplifting performance by acclaimed Harout Hagopian, Nersik Ispiryan, and Araks Garapetyan.
The children’s playrooms featured an ongoing sequence of fun, interactive activities led by storytellers, teachers and artists. Massis Araradian made individualized silhouettes of the present children while Lori Shirajian, Talar Kharadjian, and Anais Frounjian made crafts with yarn, foam, flowers, and Armenian costume. Children books’ author Aline Bezdikian staged a puppet show as Lisa Manoyan and Takouhi Saatjian inspired the crowd with their captivating stories.
Culture emanated from the words and tunes that were displayed on stage, particularly from the well-represented and talented youth. Hamazkayin’s Festival of Arts and Culture was an incredible experience that combined multiple creative disciplines, providing support to the progress of innovative, local Armenian American artists, as well as introducing them to the community. With regards to the commemorative vision behind the festival, it is commendable that Hamazkayin’s 80th anniversary celebration has designated special attention to the artistic and cultural figures relevant today.