NEW YORK—Journalist and cartoonist Lucine Kasbarian delivered an unprecedented talk on the Armenian lecture circuit with a highly informative and entertaining presentation, “Armenians and Political Cartoons,” on Nov. 12 in New York.
An audience of some 60 people who had gathered at St. Illuminator’s Armenian Apostolic Cathedral in New York were exposed to a comprehensive survey of sharp-witted, insightful, and thought-provoking work by diverse cartoonists spanning various eras in Armenian life—vivid proof of the old adages “the pen is mightier than the sword” and “a picture speaks 1,000 words.”
At the conclusion of the presentation, Rev. Mesrob Lakissian, pastor of St. Illuminator’s, which co-sponsored the event with the Hamazkayin Armenian Educational and Cultural Society’s Eastern Regional Executive, obviously struck a chord with his comment, “I really learned something new today,” because the audience responded with sustained applause.
The event began with glowing introductions by Rev. Lakissian and Arevig Caprielian, chair of the Hamazkayin Eastern U.S. Regional Executive. Then Kasbarian took to the lectern, quickly demonstrating her mastery of the material, both in English and Western Armenian, as well as her passion for this art form in the proverbial toolbox of public persuasion.
In tandem with the images projected on the screen, she first described the origins of political cartooning with early examples from Europe and the United States. She outlined the history of cartooning among the Armenians, and showed examples of cartoons that Armenians and non-Armenians have been producing about the Armenian Cause and related subjects. Kasbarian also explained how she herself began creating political cartoons following the murder of Hrant Dink in 2007 and offered examples of her own work, some of which are in her newest book, Perspectives from Exile.
Drawing from hundreds of political cartoons in her collection, which she singlehandedly and laboriously researched from an array of sources, Kasbarian spotlighted Armenian artists such as Alexander Saroukhan, Massis Araradian, Krikor Keusseyan, Vrej Kassouny, MediaLab artists and others, including herself. These examples dealt with such topics as Armenia-Diaspora relations, the presidential and parliamentary elections in Armenia, the war in Artsakh, and corruption and domestic violence in Armenia.
She also featured the works of non-Armenians, such as Khalil Bendib, Arend Van Dam, Carlos Latuff, Kaniwar Zidan, and several others, and also Kasbarian herself, whose cartoons dealt with the Armenian Genocide, the megalomania of Turkish President Erdoğan, Turkey’s support of ISIS, and Turkey’s aspirations to join the EU.
Kasbarian went on to furnish examples from history of how satirical cartoons have mobilized the people to act as agents of positive change. She pointed out that political leaders who abused their power have often persecuted cartoonists precisely because the latter’s satirical work was so successful in targeting and exposing such politicians.
When asked about public reactions to her political cartoons, Kasbarian said the responses have been overwhelmingly positive. She noted that “sometimes, Diasporan Armenians—including writers and cartoonists producing works that are unflinchingly critical of the Armenian government—are called ‘too critical’ of a still-fledgling nation 26 years after asserting its independence from Soviet rule.” Even so, Kasbarian said, the sentiments coming out of Armenia by its citizens, writers, and particularly the cartoonists shown during this presentation “are often far more unapologetically critical of their government than we in the Diaspora are.”
In addition to her new book, Perspectives from Exile, Kasbarian has produced the award-winning books Armenia: A Rugged Land, an Enduring People and The Greedy Sparrow: an Armenian Tale. She was also a consulting editor and contributor for a special publication called The Armenian-Americans. Kasbarian is a graduate of the NYU Journalism program and studied cartooning at the New York School of Visual Arts.
Kasbarian has already presented a modified version of “Armenians and Political Cartoons” to students in the metropolitan New York and Boston areas and is planning subsequent presentations in other venues.