YEREVAN—You may know Araz Artinian as a noted Canadian videographer whose films have gained a vast degree of international notoriety.
The 35-year-old repatriate left her roots in Montreal three years ago after completing a tour with “The Genocide in Me,” an angry, tender, and funny work that deals with her father’s passionate commitment to Diasporan Armenians and her own personal needs.
The video landed her a Golden Apricot Award in Armenia and was ultimately shown in 47 cities throughout 10 countries.
Prior to that, another film called “Twenty Voices” provided testimonies from 20 survivors representing different provinces in Armenia—a commitment that extended four years (2001-05) and ran parallel with “The Genocide in Me.”
“Very few ever got to see the final product and none are alive today,” she said. “I look at people like Rev. Vartan Hartunian and Armine Dedekian and how they provided my inner strength. They were my inspiration and this was their legacy.”
These days, Artinian is living in Yerevan with a different mission. She’s raised $250,000 to benefit 50 different art and music schools throughout the capital city. Also visible is an ambitious website project designed to promote history, which is running jointly with the humanitarian work.
Her quest is a necessary one, looking to renovate all the toilet facilities in these institutions that have been virtually untouched over the past four decades, together with the purchase of new instruments, uniforms for dance ensembles, as well as the renovation of classrooms and music halls.
Already opened is a new department in the Method Center at the Yerevan Conservatory. Many grand pianos have also been restored.
Artinian raised the money in six months time, much of it through Vivacell, a cellular phone company, and through the generosity of the Hrair and Anna Hovnanian Family Foundation.
“People in Yerevan know how awful the condition of all the music and art schools remains in Armenia,” she said. “The students and instructors deserve better. If it continues, art will disappear. It gives me more of a satisfaction in helping others with their art than myself.”
That brings Araz to a second project. She’s launched a website project (Zart.am), which stands for “awakening,” in an effort to get the word out and elucidate the cultural population. Keeping tabs on all 50 schools with periodical visits and constant updates makes for one busy schedule. Her cell phone is always on call.
On her website, you’ll tour 21 centuries of Armenian culture. Thirty different children between the ages of 11-17 have been recruited from 12 different districts of Yerevan. Each child will represent a specific art form.
Artinian visited 400 churches in Armenia to select 21 shooting locations she deemed worthy for the project. Research was done at the Madenataran. Artinian recruited the help of Suzanna Baghsaryan who designed and made the costumes. Karen Mirzoyan was commissioned to shoot the website photography.
Artinian expects the work to be completed sometime next year, a project that runs an additional $100,000. Of that, $50,000 has already been exhausted, including $30,000 from Canada.
There appears no rest for the weary when it comes to both endeavors—the website and the schools. Both are critical in this repatriate’s mind.
“Yerevan is home to 22 music schools and 28 art schools,” she points out. “Teachers average $100 a month and principals get $140. There are no decent instruments left and the government sadly won’t help. It’s $10 a month to send a child to music school and there are parents who cannot afford even that. No student should be deprived of an education because of a shortage of money or desperate conditions.”
In 2008, Artinian spent seven months writing a $3 million proposal to install heating and new windows in the music schools.
“They don’t have heating in Yerevan,” she confirms.
When the money didn’t come through, she took matters into her own hands, a relentless mission that often robbed her of sleep and a viable social life. It also led to an imminent book of poetry called “Philophobia,” detailing her personal relations and the fear of falling in love.
“When I was young, I hated Armenian history,” Artinian revealed. “It was far too complicated for me. I want kids to look at these 21 centuries and get a better appreciation for history. I want to raise awareness.”
About Araz Artinian
Canadian-Armenian Araz Artinian spent 27 years trying to comprehend her father’s obsession with his nationality.
She spent the next four years with growing degrees of that same “Armenianness” entering her blood. For the filmmaker, understanding came around the family table in Montreal, through the lens of a camera in Turkey, through the voices of survivors in North America of the very genocide that has been the theme of her home life.
The passion continued with the making of a film titled “Twenty Voices,” in which she documented the eyewitness accounts of 20 survivors.
That was later followed by the award-winning film “The Genocide In Me,” which thrust the 35-year-old into the spotlight as a film artist.
Dr. Henry Theriault, associate professor of philosophy at Worcester State College, says of Artinian’s work, “There exists just a small initial literature on such topics as the intergenerational transfer of genocide trauma. If only for its documentation of these survivors, the work is of historical significance.”
Artinian was the recipient of numerous awards for “The Genocide In Me,” which was produced in 2005 and given the full tour universally by the artist.
She also worked with Canadian filmmaker Atom Egoyan as head researcher for the feature film “Ararat.”
Today, Artinian lives in Yerevan raising money for music and art schools throughout the region.