Armenia: Creating Home

At the Smithsonian Institution Folklife Festival, Washington, DC, June 7 – July 8, 2018.

I grew up in and around Washington, DC and the Smithsonian museums along the National Mall were a constant source of inspiration and adventure. Art, history, science – everything was there, all free entry and family-oriented. In 1967, a new outdoor educational project began; the Folklife Festival was an annual international exposition of living cultural heritage, highlighting the different ways of living and the diverse pathways of heritage in the United States. Since then the Festival has grown to include cultures from around the world and this year the focus was on Armenia and Catalonia.

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Armenians in India

In late 2015, I was clearing out my parents’ house when, hidden under the stairs, I discovered Victorian photo albums. There were hundreds of pictures of my father’s ancestors in London and India, including children in mysterious national costumes. Curiosity took hold of me and I researched a rich vein of Armenian heritage, from the founding of Calcutta to trading throughout the Far East.

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The Armenian Revolution: A change came

2018 will go down in Armenian history as the year the young fought and took back control of their country. A small grassroots movement from the opposition turned into one of the largest protests witnessed in Armenia, and for once political support was pouring in from the diaspora, mainly the younger generation, the expats and the disenfranchised encouraged by what they saw on the news and on their screens. Many would argue the writing was on the wall, but no one believed we would reach this monumental milestone so quickly and with such little struggle. Seven months later Armenia has transitioned into a new government with a mandate to reform and revitalise its economy.

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Writing the Seamstress of Ourfa by Victoria Butler-Sloss

The Seamstress of Ourfa is the first book in a trilogy about my family. It begins in 1895, Ourfa, a thriving, cosmopolitan city in the Ottoman Empire, filled with Turks, Armenians, Assyrians, Greeks, Maronites and Jews. A city where the fez mixed easily with straw boaters, the veil with abundant, loose hair. Khatoun Khouri (right, with her sewing machine in 1970), a girl of thirteen, meets her husband, Iskender Agha Boghos. Twice her age; a poet, philosopher and a dreamer, he adores her but cannot express it in words. Around them, the Ottoman Empire is crumbling, the world heading towards war and the Armenian minority subjected to increasing repression at the hands of Sultan Abdul Hamid, culminating in the genocide of 1915.

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