Anoush Chakhalyan: “I am a soldier and serve for Armenian culture”

Hayern Aysor’s correspondent sat down for an interview with founding dance instructor and artistic director of the Anoush Armenian Dance Group of the Armenian Compatriotic Union in Munich Anoush Chakhalyan.

Anoush Armenian Dance Group was established 15 years ago when the Armenian community of Munich was just beginning to be established. There were no favorable conditions for coordinating activities, but the members of the community moved forward with the conviction that they were preserving Armenian culture abroad.

Hayern Aysor: Anoush, where did you receive your professional education?

Anoush Chakhalyan: I was born in Yerevan. I initially received my professional education in the Curative Department of the Medical School of Yerevan and continued my studies in the Acting Section of the Department of Dramatic Theater and Cinema at Yerevan State Institute of Theater and Cinema. I graduated from the Institute in 1996, got accepted to the dance school of Taron Aesthetic Center of the Republic of Armenia and became a qualified instructor of folk dances.

I have been dancing since I was 5 years old. I attended dance lessons at the Pioneer Palace of Shahumyan, the Center for Arts and Discipline, the Youth Palace and have danced for the Malatia Dance Group. I have also been a member of piano, recitation and performing arts clubs.

I have been performing for many years. The stage is my second home, and I can’t live without it. I am grateful to my parents for being consistent and creating opportunities for me to grow as an individual.

Hayern Aysor: How did you adapt to the foreign environment? Was it easy to start a new life far away from Armenia?

A. C.: My family and I moved to Munich 18 years ago. At first, it was hard since there were few Armenians around us and nobody knew us.

Later, we found out that there was a small Armenian community in Munich. I will never forget the first time I visited the members of the community.

I was excited to meet the members of the community who had gathered in a basement. True, the place was not too pleasant, but I could feel the warmth of the Armenians inside.

A woman named Astghik approached me with a smile on her face and asked if I was from Armenia. I got very happy and immediately said I was Armenian. That is how I immediately became friends with the late Astghik.

During my direct conversations with the kind woman, I understood that there were no Armenian organizations in Munich and that the only place for the Armenians to gather was the rented basement where the Armenians would gather, hold discussions and make Armenian national dishes every Friday.

Over time, I planned to take action to preserve the Armenian national identity and didn’t spare any effort to turn my idea into a reality.

Hayern Aysor: The result was the “birth” of the Anoush Armenian Dance Group. How did you manage to establish the dance group in Munich?

A. C.: I received an offer from the leader of the Armenian community, Iranian-Armenian Edik Margarian. He knew I had been dancing for a long time and trusted me. The leader’s offer made me happy and gave me wings since I was about to turn my dream into a reality.

The dance group’s first performance was the performance of the dance called “Armenian Girls” that I had choreographed for four female dancers. It is based on the lyrics to patriotic songs and was performed at a community event dedicated to Holy Translators’ Day in 2000.

True, we were not professional, but the idea of performing Armenian dances abroad was already positive. The dance group was officially established in 2001 when we performed at an event dedicated to Vardanants Day. In December, the dance group will be celebrating its 15th anniversary.

Hayern Aysor: What obstacles has the dance group overcome?

A. C.: There have been many obstacles that we have overcome without thinking twice. First, we had a problem with understanding the psychologies of the locals and perceiving their mindsets.

Bulgarian-Armenian Yekaterina Dolbakyan was always by our side and has helped us a lot. She would give us good advice and lead us in the right direction. We refer to the devoted Armenian as “the mother of Anoush”.

Later, a German woman by the name of Rozvita, who was teaching five German girls Armenian dances, invited my dance group to perform at their concert. We performed the dance “Armenian Girls” again, and I danced the “Shalakho” alone.

So, in just a matter of months, we became popular, and even German presses were regularly providing coverage of our activities. We participated in the summer festival in Munich where we were included in the top three. After that, we started receiving invitations to participate in different festivals across Germany.

The dance group has nearly 70 members between the ages of 3 and 45. We don’t have special standards for selection. We generously enroll anyone who wishes to learn Armenian dances. I don’t have the right to set restrictions for them in the Diaspora.

This might sound immodest, but currently, Anoush Armenian Dance Group is the group that links the young Armenians of Munich to Armenia and Armenian culture.

The mothers of the young Armenian members of our dance group thank me for instilling in their children the feeling of patriotism through dance. They say their children come home, search for the songs of Komitas and Sayat-Nova on the Internet and listen. I consider this a great achievement.

For seven consecutive years, I have been the director of Hrashk Dance Group, which I established in Nuremberg. Generally speaking, throughout all these years, my husband and musician Gegham Arakelyan has always been by my side.

Hayern Aysor: Does the dance group participate in community events?

A. C.: We participate in all events. We performed properly during the events dedicated to the Centennial of the Armenian Genocide. We also performed at the event dedicated to the exhibition of ethnographer Lusik Aguletsi’s costumes in Munich.

On April 25, 2015, we joined the Armenians of Berlin in a large protest. I was walking on the streets with clothes that portrayed the image of Mayr Hayastan (Mother Armenia). In Regensburg, at the initiative of an Armenian student by the name of Anna Babayan, we organized a flashmob dedicated to the four-day Artsakh war. By performing the Armenian Kochari dance during the protest, we showed that we Armenians are a peace-loving nation and that our weapon is our culture.

Anoush Dance Group always participates in the concerts that Armenia’s pop singers give in Munich. For instance, we recently participated in one of singer Nouneh Yesayan’s concerts dedicated to the Centennial of the Armenian Genocide and called “We Exist, We Will Exist and We Will Grow”. The Ministry of Diaspora of the Republic of Armenia was one of the organizers.

Hayern Aysor: Are there any interesting stories about your career?

A. C.: I remembered one story at this moment. Young Turks had invited us to participate in an international festival that they had organized. There were different national dance groups. We didn’t decline the invitation, performed several Armenian dances and were warmly received.

After the concert, one of the female organizers of the festival approached me, kneeled before me, held my hand and expressed gratitude for the dance group’s wonderful performance. I get emotional every time I remember this story.

Hayern Aysor: What has the dance group achieved so far?

A. C.: The dance group has made many achievements over the past 15 years, and it is hard for me to talk about all of them.

For us, being in the focus of German state organizations and receiving invitations to different festivals and other events is a major achievement.

In 2014, the adult group won 2nd place and the children’s group won 3rd place at the regional dance competition in Bavaria. Our dance group was also recognized as the second best dance group of Germany at another dance competition.

As for our achievements in Armenia, when I was in Armenia this spring, the Taron Center for Aesthetics awarded the dance group with the “I Remember and Demand” Medal and Certificate of Appreciation for showing active participation in the events dedicated to the Centennial of the Armenian Genocide, as well as a certificate and a gold medal for preserving Armenian dance abroad.

The Center had closely followed the activities of Anoush Armenian Dance Group and had decided to encourage us with such awards.

Interview by Gevorg Chichyan

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