Armenian Cultural Festival Has Modern Edge

Isiah Reyes

Armenian food, dancing and storytelling were enjoyed by many people at the “ABRINK: Festival of Armenian Literature and Culture,” hosted at Glendale Central Library’s auditorium on Saturday and Sunday.
The ABRINK event was hosted by Abril, a bookstore that specializes in selling Armenian books, music, videos, cards, posters and gifts. Abril celebrated its 30th anniversary by hosting an event-filled weekend which included Armenian literature, theater, film, music, art, dance, performances, workshops, lectures and discussions.

Arno Yeretzian, the event director and producer of ABRINK and manager of Abril Bookstore, explained the importance of the event.

“Basically, we have a big population of Armenians in Glendale, so this is a way for people to come in and get to learn a little more about us,” Yeretzian said. “Everyone’s going to learn something from each segment.”
Beginning on Saturday at 10 a.m., the evening started with an Armenian dance lesson taught by Ari Libaridian, a graduate of Pepperdine University with a bachelor’s degree in theatre arts.

“I think [ABRINK] is important because it brings in outsiders and makes them part of the Armenian culture and it lets them learn more about it,” Libaridian said. “You only hear so much from people and you don’t know what it’s actually about, but it’s a huge culture with a lot to give to society.”
“Dancing is our way of telling our story and it keeps our culture going and going,” Libaridian said.

Yeretzian then gave an introduction after the dancing segment. He explained that the name Abril was first coined in 1977 as the name of the first magazine in Los Angeles to be written in Armenian.

“Along with the name came the image of the Abril tree and the first issue of ‘Abril’ came out in April of 1977,” Yeretzian said. “The magazine was a great success. The subscriptions came flowing in. With my father, Harut, being the editor, he wrote most of the articles and prepared the layout. ‘Abril’ was published in a tiny office on Sunset.”

“The Yeretzian brothers decided that it would be more worthwhile to the efforts to purchase their own press, rather than send their magazine out to printing,” Yeretzian continued. “And so, towards the end of 1977, they moved into a larger building out on Santa Monica Boulevard and Abril Printing was born.”

Then, after the introduction of the Abril Bookstore by Yeretzian, actress and playwright Lory Tatoulian began her “Everything you need to know about Armenians” lecture, which was wrapped in comedy and wit.

Tatoulian has performed her comedic one-woman shows across the United States, which include “Autosapiens,” “Sketched,” and “Sitting Twisted, Talking Straight,” which had its off-Broadway debut in 2003.
As Tatoulian took the stage, she began by saying, “[Performing] this is quite different for me because I’m always doing a character. So for the past two months, I’ve stuffed my brain with 10,000 years of Armenian history and now I’m going to have a cathartic moment and just spew it all over you, okay?”

She continued her act by teaching some Armenian words, culture, history, food and more – albeit in her own fashion.
The day continued on with a tribute to Hovhannes Toumanian, who is regarded as “The Poet of All Armenians.” Three of his folk tales, “The End of Evil,” “The Death of Kikos” and “One Drop of Honey” were brought to life by Arena Productions, a multicultural community group.

Then Gor Mkitarian, lead guitarist of the rock band Lavi Eli, provided a sing-a-long for some Armenian folk songs. Mkitarian launched his solo career in 2001 and has released six albums since.

Afterwards, Ouhi Uluhogian, a story teller and performance artist, performed a movie screening of “The Human Comedy,” a novel written by William Saroyan, who was born in Fresno in 1908. In 1966, Saroyan founded the William Saroyan Foundation for the preservation of his literary archives.

As the evening passed by, the “Writing from Fresno” segment took stage and the two Armenian-American authors from Fresno, Mark Arax and Aris Janigian, talked about how the city of Fresno inspired them to write.
In addition to the Fresno segment, Janice Stevens and Pat Hunter, author and illustrator of “William Sorayan: Places in Time,” shared their thoughts on Fresno and how it inspired Saroyan to write.

Saturday ended with “The Evening Hour,” a play by writer Aram Saroyan, son of William Saroyan.

The first act of the play took place in an apartment in London in the summer of 1966, and then 30 years later in the second act. It is about a father who has trouble parenting his two hippie kids.

Aram Saroyan was awarded the 2008 William Carlos Williams Award for his latest book, “Complete Minimal Poems,” a complete anthology of his poetry of the ’60s.
On Sunday, the festivities continued by starting the day off with the “Armenian Miniature Art Workshop,” presented by Seeroon Yeretzian, the mother of Abril Bookstore owner Aron Yeretzian.

Yeretzian’s paintings mostly depict Christian subjects. In her art workshop, she explained the meaning of symbols, such as the pomegranate and the peacock, giving the opportunity for others to paint their own ornate letter.

Yeretzian described how she first got started with painting.

“Illuminated manuscripts, it’s the story of Christ in the Bible,” Yeretzian explained. “I started studying the old art from the 7th Century to the inventing of print. These were manually done paintings. When I started doing that, I wanted to bring whatever is Christian into my paintings. I do cards every year; I also do large paintings about homeless people, crucified women, and social paintings.”

“I have even done the Latin alphabet in Armenian style,” Yeretzian said. “All cultures that are Christian and that have painted the Bible by hand have decorated ornate initials.”

Following the art workshop was “Armenian Folklore, Alive!” The age-old Armenian folklore was presented by Alidz Agbabian, a storyteller and author who specializes in Armenian and Middle Eastern traditions.
Soon afterwards, Sarkis Balmanoukian presented the “Armenian Architecture” segment which focused on the architectural wonders of Armenia. Balmanoukian is an architect and scholar of Armenian architecture.

As the day moved forward, Lory Bedikian (poet and columnist), Lilly Thomassian (playwright), Vahe Berberian (playwright and novelist), Garrnik Galstian (poet and critic) and Arpi Sarafian (who teaches English language and literature at Cal State L.A.) all presented an author panel discussion, answering the question as to what defines a piece of writing as American, Armenian or English literature and whether it is language, ethnicity, place of origin, or subject matter that defines it.

Following that segment, “The Daredevils of Sassoun,” an epic story consisting of four acts took stage. Performed by Peter Cowe and Anahid Halabi, the story was handed down in the same manner it has been passed down for 11 centuries. Cowe is the Naregatsi professor of Armenian language and culture at UCLA and Halabi is a founding member of the Lark Musical Society.

The ABRINK event finally came to a close on Sunday night with the “Piano Works of Armenian Composers” segment presented by Armenian composer Vatche Mankerian.
On the note of having ABRINK next year, Yeretzian commented, “Yeah, I would like to. It depends on how this event goes.”