WASHINGTON, D.C.—In February, the Knights of Vartan Ani Lodge #21 and Daughters of Vartan Dikranouhi Otyag held two special events to mark the annual Vartanantz Day celebration. On Sun., Feb. 9, the Hamasdegh School at Soorp Khatch Armenian Church hosted the Knights and Daughters of Vartan for the first performance of a play on the historic Battle of Avarayr. The following Sunday, Feb. 16, the Shnorhali School at St. Mary Armenian Church hosted the second performance of the play. The Dikranouhi Otyag hosted the receptions at both churches and provided gifts for the school children.
“I was touched and delighted,” said St. Mary Parish Council member Sintia Petrosian-Gusmao. “I grew up watching the performances in the same St. Mary’s hall 25 years ago where I met my lifelong Armenian friends. Having the tradition continue and presented with elaborate detail was wonderful for our younger generation, and watching their eyes light up, knowing they learned an important part of Armenia’s history, is priceless. Hats off to all the performers for making it possible!”
The play featured Richard Vann as Persian King Hazgert II; Ani Lodge Commander Jake Bournazian as Prince Vassag of Syunik; Taniel Koushakjian as Armenian Army General Vartan Mamigonian; Ara Avedisian as Ghevont Yeretz; and Seda Gelenian as Shushanik Mamigonian, the Narrator. Around 200 people attended the performances, including the school children, who were excited to see one of their Armenian history book stories come to life.
Armenians frequently come to the public eye as victims: of genocide, an earthquake, and most recently, as refugees from Syria. Making a character like Vartan Mamigonian come alive on stage teaches people, especially the youth, that Armenians are not passive victims and that they have an enduring faith and culture. As Mamigonian says in the play, “Our religion is not like a garment that we might change according to the circumstances; it is part and parcel of our bones, our blood, and personality.”
Much of the dialogue was taken directly from historical chronicles from the 5th and 6th centuries. The narration was complemented with the projection of slides depicting historical scenes and locations. The story focuses on two feudal Armenian princes, Vartan and Vassag. In the first scene, they meet with King Hazgert II of Persia, who demands that Armenians renounce their faith and worship his fire god. Vartan heroically refuses, but Vassag urges cooperation with Persia. Later, we see Vassag turn traitor and join forces with the Persian King in his attack on Armenia. At the Battle of Avarayr—famous in Armenian history—the Armenian army, outnumbered three to one, was led into battle by Vartan. The night before the battle, he gives an encouraging speech to his men, and the soldiers are blessed by Ghevont Yerets. The battle is depicted in the play as a swordfight, and Vartan was enthusiastically cheered on by the school children at both performances. The play ends with a tableau of St. Vartan, the Yerets, and the traitor Vassag in chains, while the narrator explains the significance of the battle.
“The Knights of Vartan have a special role in educating each generation of Armenians about the courage and sacrifice of Christian Armenians who fought and died against overwhelming odds in the Battle of Avarayr so that today Armenians can worship and live as a free and independent people,” said Bournazian.
The performances were so successful that the Ani Lodge continues to enhance the production and dialogue and present it every year in celebration of Vartanantz Day, this being the second annual performance.