Armenia & The Arts

By:Allison Seremjian

armenia_000.jpg


am-map.gifam-lgflag.gif

















Armenia, officially the Republic of Armenia, is a small, landlocked, mountainous country that is about 11,505 square miles and borders Turkey. It has a population of almost 3 million, of which 97% are Armenians and of the 3 million, 1.5 million reside in the capital Yerevan. As a former member of the Soviet Union, its dissolution in 1991 caused Armenia to declare independence on September 21st. Since then, the country has faced difficulties, especially economically, and just recently fully moved to a market economy as of 2009. Armenia's past has been scarred by war, and genocide. The Armenian genocide occurred in 1915-1917 and it is an estimated that anywhere from 600,000 to millions of Armenians died as a result. The Turkish authorities, who committed the genocide, still deny the claims even though it is now widely accepted by Armenians and most of Western culture. Armenia is also famous for being the first country to adopt Christianity as a state religion back in AD 301. Now, Christianity is still the predominant religion. Armenian culture is very rich and distinct which shows through their own language, art and music. Music is the most important part of Armenian culture, even now as new forms emerge they include a traditional style.


Artist Profile: Eduard Topchjan

topchyan-black.jpg
Eduard Topchjan is an Armenian conductor and violinist. He currently is the conductor of the Armenian Philharmonic Orchestra. He started as a violinist, studying at Yerevan Komitas Conservatory. Here is a video of him performing, he is the soloist on the left hand side.



He started conducting in 1991 when he created the Serenade Chamber Orchestra with a group of friends. He started conducting the Armenian Philharmonic Orchestra in 2000 and continues with it today. Below is a video of him conducting.

Eduard has been a guest conductor, received several rewards, and been primary artistic director in festivals mostly in Armenia and Europe. He has a large repertoire, extraordinary talent, and conducting style which has gained him high public approval.


Arts Organization: Armenian Centre for Contemporary Experimental Art

Also known as ACCEA in English or NPAK in Armenian, is a nonprofit foundation that was founded by Sonia and Edward Balassanian, Armenians residing in New York. Sonia is a poet and Edward an architect both who clearly appreciate the arts. They founded NPAK in Yervan in 1994 but did not start activities until 1996. The delayed start was kick started when they were able to start renting a space which the Armenian government in 2002 then donated for an unlimited amount of time free of charge! The organization is funded solely by contributions from people and other organizations.

As taken from the website <http://www.accea.info/en/home/>
The Center for Contemporary Experimental Art has been created with following objectives:
1. To encourage and facilitate uninhibited expression and creativity of Armenian contemporary and avant-garde artists.
2. To support the process of search, discovery, and conquest of “new frontiers” in the arts.
3. To facilitate creation and presentation of experimental art by Armenian artists, at home as well as at international fori.
4. To counteract commercialization of art, and to replace market criteria by intellectual and emotional determinants.
5. To create partnership between Diaspora Armenians and the art com­munity in the Republic of Armenia in support and promotion of the Armenian arts and literature.
Above mentioned objectives are envisioned to be realized by:
1. Creation of adequate space for presentation of experimental works of Armenian contemporary artists.
2. Presentation of contemporary international art (fine arts, cinema, theater, dance, poetry, etc.) in Yerevan.
3. Creation of multimedia reference library of printed matter as well as audio and visual material.
4. Creation of Armenian artists’ directory, including biographical information, and audio-visual record of samples of their works.
5. Organization of specialized meetings, seminars, conferences, etc.
6. Provision of grants, scholarships and financial assistance to contemporary artists.
7. Creation of artists’ co-operative for sale of works of contemporary artists.
8. Facilitation of international interaction and exposure of Armenian artists through:
• Establishing professional contact with foreign art critics and specialists.
• Establishing relations with foreign artists and exhibition of their works in Armenia.
• Facilitation of presentation of Armenian art at international exhibitions, festivals, fori, etc.

To see sample artwork, exhibitions or artwork i encourage you to check out the website. Also, there is much more information available.

Education:

Gaining independence in 1991 shifted a lot of responsibility back to the country of Armenia. They now had to figure out how to run an education system and how to train people to be employed in that system. The system was changed drastically. Prior to this change, Armenians were getting a well financed, high level of education, even compared to international surveys. However gaining independence meant loosing funding and thus the necessary changed to the system. The language of instructed shifted from Russian to Armenian, and an emphasis was placed on Armenian culture and history. This refocus was centralized on five ideas: democratization of educational system, training of new educators or retraining current teachers, new textbooks with reformed content, increasing parental and community involvement and financing, encouraging development of preschools, and repair schools to meet international standards. However, being such a young independent country the education system is still very unstable. Drop out rates and absences are on the rise as children are needed for labor due to economic necessity. It is seen that since there is so few resources it would be most valuable to gain achievements in the scientific sector. This leaves little to no room for the arts in schools. The Armenian government is trying to adjust and allocate resources effectively, however funding could make or break the system. Despite the hardship they are still able to boast a 99.4% literacy rate! Outside of this basic information there is really no further information available. This school system has only been in place for twenty years, that is a pretty young program and reform is still in progress. Also, having little to no funding doesn't allow for studies or research to be done.


Funding:

Money seems to be the focus of everyone world wide. The reality is that it takes money to run an education department, for supplies, facilities, and faculty. However, money and funding is in very short supply in Armenia and is causing difficulties in undergoing the reform wanted and necessary. When part of the Soviet Union funding was centralized and not an issue and education was on top of its game. Now, since declaring independence, funding is very hard to come by and there is very little coming from the government. The worsening economy is not helping the lack of funding either. The value of the Armenian Dram, the official currency of Armenia, continues to drop in value even today. Funding seems to be the main obstacle to reforming the education system, however with economy bad world wide, especially since the worsening economy in America, the amount of outside donations has significantly decreased. With no options left, funding for the education system is looking worse and worse, and could cause the collapse of the whole system. With little to no funding for education, school are relying on the basics and have no extra materials, resources or funding for the arts.


Conclusion:

I have not had much education in the arts, however they were very accessible to me. My schools always had enough funding to offer at least a minimum of classes. I have never had to experience such lack of financing and thus can not even begin to speculate what it would be like. I can not personally relate to this at all but am very disappointing Armenian children do not have the opportunity to fully experience education and the arts fully at school.

I was shocked by the lack of arts organizations in Armenia. The one above was the only one I found outside of the Armenian Philharmonic Orchestra, which is the national orchestra and hence tied to the government. Once I reflected on how bad the funding situation was, I started to understand why there are no organizations starting in Armenia. Also, since the economy in the west, specifically the United States, has also been on the down swing there are less available funds to donate to organizations abroad.

Even though Armenian culture is rich and important, the arts has no room in schools right now. The lack of funding is limiting all progress in the arts. Even though music is of the utmost importance funding and resources are not making it possible to teach these in schools. I can only hope that the culture is being pass along outside of schools in order to maintain the rich, important, and unique culture.

Sources:

https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/am.html
http://www.apo.am/?sub=akhachaturian
http://www.artquest.org.uk/artquest/artroute/asia/armenia.htm
http://www.nationsencyclopedia.com/economies/Europe/Armenia.html
http://www.artfactories.net/Armenian-Centre-for-Contemporary.html
http://www.accea.info/en/home/