Letter: Parajanov Rolling in His Grave

Dear Editor,

In May, the Russian American Foundation (RAF) launched the 12th Annual Russian Heritage month in New York. Among the special events is an exhibition of renowned Armenian artist and filmmaker Sergey Parajanov opening on June 16. Parajanov lived throughout the better part of the Soviet era, from 1924-90.

The irony, of course, is that Parajanov (nee Sarkis Hovsepi Parajanian) was neither an ethnic Russian nor did he ever consider himself Russian. Actually, it was the Russian-Soviet state that condemned him as a public enemy and a criminal, primarily due to his sexual orientation and also his art. He was imprisoned and sent to work in hard labor camps.

So it’s no wonder that Parajanov himself once declared, “Everyone knows that I have three Motherlands. I was born in Georgia, worked in Ukraine, and am going to die in Armenia.” No mention of Russia for obvious reasons.

Today, we know what Russia did to Parajanov’s three Motherlands. Without having to go too deep into history, one can consider the Russian-Georgian relationship and the war, as well as the recent developments in Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea by Russia. And then there is Armenia, also under pressure to join the Putin-led Eurasian Customs Union. With Putin’s stated longing for the return of the good old days of the USSR, bringing small, landlocked republics like Armenia back into the fold is one more step in that direction.

To add insult to injury, the Panajarov exhibit has been organized under the auspices of none other than the first lady of Armenia, Rita Sargsyan. So while Putin continues to outlaw the LGBT community in Russia, the president of Armenia, Serge Sarkisian, surrenders his country’s rightful national treasure to homophobic Russia.

True, Parajanov lived and created during the Soviet period. Yet that doesn’t automatically make his art and legacy a part of the Russian culture, just as other ex-Soviet republics cannot claim the creations of Soviet-era Russian artists as part of their cultural heritage.

If the world learned nothing else when the Soviet Union dissolved, it was that each of its republics had never really lost its cultural and ethnic identity after all. So when Armenians in the diaspora consider whether to attend the exhibit, they should ask themselves: If Parajanov were alive today, would he have shown up?



Tamar Gasparian-Hovsepian


Tamar Gasparian-Hovsepian is an art historian with an MA in urban affairs. She currently works in community affairs and development sector in New York City.

Guest Contributor

Guest Contributor

Guest contributions to the Armenian Weekly are informative articles or press releases written and submitted by members of the community.


  1. While agreeing with Tamar Gasparian-Hovsepian that Russia has a big problem with homophobia (no more than Armenia, Georgia or Ukraine I think), I doubt very much that Paradjanov would have been rolling in his grave, as there is no indication that he had an inkling of russophobia, which is quite in vogue in the United States and Europe at the moment.

    Paradjanov did not think himself Russian, even though he had the Russian “ov” attached to his last name and had Russian as his primary language; but why shouldn’t the Russian American Foundation (RAF) put on an exhibition of a Soviet artist like Paradjanov? Are Armenian, Georgian or Ukrainian foundations hurrying to put on exhibitions about him? I’ve never heard of any, so why the need for nationalism which is contrary to great art, which is always universal?

    From the only long interview that I saw him give, he was far from being a nationalist, and would have rolled in his grave if he read this article, because it tries to wrap a flag around his dead body.

  2. Thanks for your comment Azat.
    I went to the opening as a proud Armenian and knew that Parajanov would have wanted me to not only attend but bring my children, neighbors and friends of all nations and tell them his story, his life and his work. As Azat said, if we could not do it, why not to use the opportunity to brag about our jewel and show him to the world.
    Preserving our culture, art and nation should be done by celebrating it,not by finding reasons to suffer.

  3. I agree with Azat, it is one thing to be appalled by Russia’s homophobic rhetoric and completely other to protest the celebration, promotion and exhibition of a great Armenian artist. We as Armenians seem to gave mastered the art of Anti-protion. Our nation keeps showering the world with great artists yet we as diasporan’s can’t seem to his a single event to celebrate these great people.

    Russia hosting a Parajanov exhibit is no weirder than Armenia hosting a Dali exhibit (how great would that be). We should be happy that our native son is celebrated by others. Having said this I think this can be a great opportunity to publicly criticise Russia’s stance on the LGBTQ community and also watch our for possible culture appropriation.

    As for this article…. Well it seems like something straight out of a Western propaganda machine.

  4. Those who have negatively commented miss the main point of the article. It’s about allowing Russia to take ownership of Parajanov as one of its own. Maybe Parajanov wouldn’t have minded this as long as his art could be brought to New York, but he may have preferred that the exhibit were under the auspices of internationally well-known art gallery or museum such as MOMA, Metropolitan or Museum of Art and Design, the Guggenheim— any place more worthy than an upscale jewelry store under an nationalistic banner of Russian Heritage Month. The exhibition was a major failure in my opinion, first because the best of his works were not part of the exhibit; only the pieces easy and less costly to transport. Even worse, putting two dimensional art inside jewelry showcases was rather pathetic and embarrassing. Maybe Parajanov would be rolling in his grave to see such a thoughtless and amateurish representation of his work. I took several non-Armenians to the event, thinking I would be showing off a brilliant artist of Armenian heritage worthy of their respect and admiration. Obviously the people who put this show together only cared that was seen at a fancy address in Manhattan. Anyway, I agree with Tamar that Armenians should not allow Russia to usurp the few national treasures of our own. The entire affair permeated mixed messages and poor judgement and the director of the Parajanov museum in Armenia and the organizers unwittingly sold out Parajanov’s legacy to Russians who historically have always looked down on Armenians as inferior anyway. And the way they mounted this exhibit proves the point!

  5. Tamar,

    Do Russians specifically present him as an ethnic Russian at the exhibit? Is it what you are upset about?

  6. I would agree that Russia does not have Armenia’s best interests at heart unless it also serves its own interests, but let’s also not follow the west’s neocon anti-Russia political rhetoric of “Russia is outlawing the LGBT community” – by my understanding it is not – what they outlawed was “LGBT propaganda” against minors, it is not the same thing. Russia is in a process of reverting back to its former Christian heritage, after 70 years of forced Atheism failed to take root. I’m all for personal choice, freedom, rights, etc but doesn’t Russia as a nation have a right to make its cultural choices based on its religion as well? Regardless how one would answer that, as usual this is all about politics more than anything else.

  7. Hagop,
    If Russia’s constitution is based on a theocracy, maybe you have a point. But a progressive democracy usually has a separation between church and state because not everyone in Russia is Russuan Orthodox. Even if the atheists are now a minority, their rights should be protected by a secular constitution. But then you would say that only western democracies promote such ideas and it’s all “neocon propaganda” In my opinion, this is the easiest and laziest way to discredit an opinion you don’t share. There are certain realities that you may not be ready to face. I do not know where you live, but there’s such a thing as right and wrong, good versus evil and yes, west versus east. The west is the lesser of the two evils when it comes to human rights and democratic principles and that is fact not propaganda. By the same token, your rhetoric can be dismissed as the ramblings of an autocratic KGB operative, thereby turning what could have been a civilized discourse into a name calling contest. The sooner our community refrains from this type of paranoic approach to debate and discourse, the more we constructively we can solve problems and resolve issues. The point is that Russia is not a true friend to Parajanov nor to Armenia and so Arnenia should start drawing the line when it comes to its few national treasures with international appeal. If today’s Russia is all going religious as you suggest, I don’t think Parajanovs brand of art would be appreciated any more now than it was during soviet times. He was extremely avant guarde and unconventional which is typically anathema to religion. All the more reason to protect Parajanov’s legacy and promote his genius here in the west!

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