UK Armenians & WW1 exhibition in Birmingham on 24 April

CAIA’s Board Chair Ruby Chorbajian and Project Manager Tatevik Ayvazyan travelled to Birmingham to share our “UK Armenians and WWI” project on 24 April, Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day. Here are Ruby’s reflections:

This April, I was honoured to represent Hayashen at an Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day event at Centala Art Space in Birmingham. The event initiated by Misak Ohanian, CAIA’s Founder and CEO, and Tatevik Ayvazyan, CAIA’s Project Manager. It was our first major initiative towards advancing our new mission, which is to “Build bridges towards equality, opportunity, cultural identity and greater inclusivity for Armenians in the UK and the wider community.”

The event was extremely high calibre, drawing up to 50 people of British, Polish, Jewish, Palestinian, Greek and Armenian heritage. I was delighted to meet such a mix of students, academics, writers, social organisers, musicians, artists, medical professionals and members of the business community.

The evening began with a chatty meet & greet, during which someone pointed out that the bar was offering wine from Armenia. An unexpected but welcome discovery! This part of the evening was an opportunity for the panelists to meet members of the audience, and also for Tatevik and I to speak about Hayashen’s work in London. We had brought ample copies of our publication “Armenian Voice” and 6 floor-to-ceiling panels from our Heritage Lottery project on UK Armenians in WWI. Tatevik took small groups around the panels and talked about her experience interviewing descendents of these sometimes forgotten Armenians. Some of these stories were truly overwhelming and it was inspiring to see them brought to life for so many people interesting in this aspect of shared Armenian and British history. I was proud to know Hayashen produced such a high quality (and portable) presentation about Armenians in the UK. 

Our conversations touched on what others are doing in their communities and we were given some fascinating booklets compiled by a Polish group documenting the experience of Polish emigration to the UK. At least a half dozen individuals expressed their interest in visiting Hayashen to either give a talk or collaborate with in the future. I was excited to see so much interest in building new partnerships.

We followed the festivities with a screening of “Taniel,” – a short film produced by Tatevik. This is a multi-award winning arthouse biopic of Taniel Varoujan, one our great writers who was deported and killed by the Young Turk government just as he was reaching international stature at the age of 31. The film is currently on a global festival tour and was recently screened in Istanbul and Ghent.

The second film, “The Other Side of Home,” is a reflective documentary about a Turkish woman who uncovers her Armenian roots, and then travels with the filmmaker to Yerevan for the 100th anniversary of the Genocide. The film is filled with raw and sometimes uncomfortable introspection, but it sensitively captures the complexities faced by those with mixed ethnic heritage.

The films were followed by a panel discussion with Tatevik and others who responded to questions about their work and the changing nature of Armenianness. The evening was hugely illuminating and a wonderful experience for one and all, as evidenced by dozens of tweets and social media broadcasting including by the Taniel film’s production company.

On a personal note, I was hugely inspired to see Armenians and non-Armenians gathered not only to learn our history, but to look forward towards the future together, using new media, discussing contemporary issues facing Armenians and those in our community, those impacted by displacement and genocide today, and the legacy of denial. Rather than reinforcing the power of denial, this event very mindfully lifted Armenians to 1) connect with non-Armenians on common themes such as art and human rights, and 2) explore modern notions of Armenianness in a positive, constructive and empowering way.

For information about our upcoming events, please check here and follow us on Facebook and Twitter

Featured image: Ruby Chorbajian and Tatevik Ayvazyan with Alan Kessedjian, a member of Birmingham’s Armenian community and one of the initiators of the events, to whom we are very grateful. 

We’d also like to thank to the audience members and the Centrala staff for sharing their images of the event with us.