Celebrating Armenia’s Independence at St. Vartan Cathedral

By Florence Avakian

A 25th birthday is always an occasion for great festivity, but when it is the silver anniversary of one’s own homeland, it is a monumental event. On Wednesday, September 21, such a celebration took place at New York’s St. Vartan Armenian Cathedral, under the auspices of Diocesan Primate Archbishop Khajag Barsamian.

Sixteen Armenian social and fraternal organizations participated, with more than 750 people in attendance-and an additional 1,000 people viewing a Livestream broadcast from their homes.

The evening’s special guest of honor was Armenia’s Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian who was in New York to address the United Nations General Assembly. Other dignitaries present for the celebration, included Archbishop Oshagan Choloyan, Dr. Movses Abelian, and Ambassador Zohrab Mnatsakanian.

Long-time community and Armenia supporters Nazar and Artemis Nazarian were the benefactors of the evening.

The evening was organized by a committee chaired by Sandra Shahinian Leitner, and comprised of the cathedral dean Fr. Mamigon Kiledjian, artistic director Sahan Arzruni, exhibit curator Vicki Shoghag Hovanessian, and cathedral council chair George Marootian.

In warmly welcoming the attendees to the art show, Sandra Shahinian emphasized the uniqueness and significance of the event, themed “25 Years, 25 Artists,” and focusing on contemporary works “whose styles span the diversity of media, narrative and creativity of a nation and people. We are celebrating our traditions and contemporary talents,” she noted.
Iconic Masterpieces

Among the 25 prominent artists whose works were presented Reuben Nakian, whose style recalls Greek mythology, and Hovsep Pushman whose works emphasized Chinese objets d’art. Two “fountainheads of 20th-century Armenian culture” from Armenia were Martiros Saryan, whose early paintings were influenced by Cezanne and Matisse, and Minas Avetisyan, a modernist with a highly recognizable individual style. From Europe were two painters: the uniquely illustrative Carzou, and the lithographer Jansem.

In a welcoming address to the attendees, exhibit curator Shoghag Vicki Hovanessian-a longtime supporter and patron of contemporary art from Armenia, the Middle East, and the U.S.-related that “this exhibition is as much an homage to the collectors of these artworks as to the artists themselves. In a sense, the artist is the speaker and the collector is the listener. The artist is the sender of the cultural message and the collector is the receiver of that message. Their commitment to the power of art goes hand in hand.”

She thanked the major collectors of the exhibit which included Andreas Roubian, Nazar and Artemis Nazarian, Sandra Shahinian, Dr. Raffy Hovanessian, Hagop Vartivarian, Paul Nakian and the Tekian family, all of whom were present.

Vicki Hovanessian extended a special tribute to “the only surviving godfather” of St. Vartan Cathedral, Nazar Nazarian, calling him “our tower of strength, always at our side, just like the Ararat Mountain,” and thanked his wife Artemis for their special support of the evening’s celebration.

Following a brief prayer service in St. Vartan Cathedral, officiated by Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, and sung by the Cathedral choir directed by Khoren Mekanejian, a concert for Independent Armenia took place, organized by master pianist and musicologist Sahan Arzruni.
World Class Artists

Arzruni, who has performed in solo concerts around the world, not only accompanied the artists but presented his own composition, a meditative piece, “Invocation” (after Magar Yekmalian). He then masterfully played Khachaturian’s brilliant “Sonatina,” a lyrical piece which combines a beautiful lullaby interlude, with dramatic phrasing and a passionate finale.

Twelve-year-old cello prodigy Laura Navasardian tackled with rare aplomb the demanding “Impromptu” by Alexander Harutyunyan, a piece for advanced performers. She followed it with the even more difficult “Moses” Variations by Paganini, an exciting, showy virtuosic work originally written for four strings, then published for only one. It displayed her lush tones, incredible technical skill and expressiveness. The piece was composed on a stunning theme from Rossini’s “Moses in Egypt” opera.

Another astounding talent was 24-year old clarinetist Narek Arutyunian, a 2015 graduate of the prestigious Juilliard School of Music, and the winner of the 2010 Young Concert Artists’ competition. Performing all over the world to great acclaim, he played Khachaturian’s lyrically beautiful “Nocturne” with great feeling, and followed it with the clarinet solo work, “Spanish Caprice” by Olenchik, a startling virtuosic six-minute crowd favorite with frequent changes of mood, demanding great technical prowess and dramatic flair. He lived up to every minute of it, bringing a long ovation from the audience.

Tenor Yeghishe Manucharian, who debuted at the Metropolitan Opera in 2010 and sings worldwide, performed an all-Armenian program of songs by the beloved Komitas, long considered the foundation of Armenian music. He performed “Groung” and “Andouni” with heartfelt reflection and understanding, followed by the powerful “Hayastan,” singing with extraordinary pride and passion, honoring the significance of the occasion.
Armenia in Your Heart

Armenia’s Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian, in eloquent remarks in both Armenian and English, related that despite all the difficulties that Armenia has endured, schoolchildren in Armenia today are celebrating, and soldiers are defending the homeland.

He thanked the diaspora for its care and concern. “I have always felt that all of you have Armenia in your heart,” he exclaimed. “Each of you is part of Armenia. We have to be proud of our long and distinguished history, but this also places on us the responsibility to carry on with great resolve what we have inherited.”

In concluding remarks, Archbishop Barsamian noted that “for Armenians here and around the world, a free and independent homeland was a dream. Tonight marks a quarter-century since we saw that dream become a reality. And despite the hardships of our journey, the miracle of our independent homeland never fails to inspire our hearts.”

Countless people, he stated, “men and women from every walk of life, in the homeland and the diaspora, have worked, sacrificed, endured to bring us to this point. For that reason, this milestone belongs to all of us, to every Armenian on this planet.”

He concluded by reflecting on the role of faith in Armenian history. “God’s presence within the hearts of our people has been the great reality of Armenian history: guiding us through our tragedies and triumphs; preserving us for a purpose that still lies over the horizon. As long as the great reality endures, we can be sure that our one-and-only Armenian homeland will live and prosper, as a sign of hope to all future generations of our people.”

The Primate thanked all who had organized and presented the evening’s program, and paid special tribute to Artemis and Nazar Nazarian. He then expressed appreciation to Archbishop Oshagan Choloyan for participating, and invited him to relay his thoughts to the audience and to join him for the final blessing.

In a strong voice, and emphasizing each word, Archbishop Choloyan stated: “Let us join together to work fervently for the future progress of Armenia and Artzakh.”

Following the program, the large crowd enjoyed a sumptuous reception of Armenian delicacies in Haik and Alice Kavookjian Auditorium, and continued viewing the art exhibit, and celebrating this memorable occasion.

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