Anush Aslibekyan: “My sphere of activity includes theater and literature”

Hayern Aysor’s correspondent sat down for an interview with writer, member of the Union of Writers of Armenia and theater critic Anush Aslibekyan, who talked about theater, her career and the current issues in the field of literature.

Hayern Aysor: Anush, tell us about your career.

Anush Aslibekyan: It all started when I got accepted to Yerevan State Institute of Theater and Cinematography. After graduating from the Faculty of Theater History, in 2006, I was invited to be a lecturer of the Chair of Art History and Theory of the same Institute. I am also a scientific worker of the Institute of Arts of the National Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Armenia. Literature has been a part of my life since childhood. After the release of my first book entitled “Welcome to My Fairy Tale” (book of short stories and one play) in 2009, I took my first steps in the field of dramaturgy. In 2010, my play “Flight over the City” (included in the book “Welcome to My Fairy Tale”) was staged by Merited Artist of the Republic of Armenia Narine Grigoryan at Hovhannes Tumanyan State Puppet Theater. The play has been presented at over 10 international theater festivals and has received several grand prizes.

In 2015, my play “Mercedes”, which was dedicated to the Centennial of the Armenian Genocide, was staged at the Yerevan Theater of the Young Spectator and directed by Hakob Ghazanchyan, and Armenian American actress Nora Armani was invited to play the leading role.

The play is not directly about the events that took place during the Armenian Genocide, but the consequences that it had on the destinies of the Armenians. The play presents the story of Zaruhi and her family, who came to Armenia during the 1948 Great Repatriation.

The music for the play was written by my husband, musician Vahan Artsruni, who received the Artavazd Award for Best Music for a Play at the 2015 annual Artavazd Awards. Young actress Nara Sargsyan also received the Artavazd Award for Best Young Actress of the Year. In 2016, I received an offer to present the play “Mercedes” at the 23rd Cairo International Festival for Contemporary and Experimental Theater where, in spite of the linguistic barrier, the play was a great success. Among the attendees were Ambassador of the Republic of Armenia to Egypt Armen Melkonyan and Primate of the Armenian Diocese of Egypt, Fr. Bishop Ashot Mnatsakanyan. It was at their invitation that “Mercedes” was presented twice for the Armenian community in packed halls at the local Armenian cultural center.

In 2015, I received an offer from the Armenian community of Saint Petersburg to write a play devoted to the life and career of Komitas Vardapet and dedicate it to the Centennial of the Armenian Genocide. The play “Komitas: The Blessing Light” play is a joint Russian-Armenian project and was directed by Ivan Latishev and Saint Petersburg-based Armenian director and producer Hamlet Hayrapetyan. Vahan Artsruni was not only the sound designer, but also performed and collaborated with singer Hasmik Baghdasaryan.

The Armenians of Saint Petersburg had the opportunity to not only see the play devoted to the major and turning events in the life of Komitas Vardapet, but also listen to Vahan Artsruni’s songs (“Komitas: Ten Revelations” series) based on the poems of Komitas.

I am also an experienced journalist. During my years of study at Yerevan State Institute of Theater and Cinematography, I felt that the Institute needed a student press, and I founded and edited the “Art” student magazine.

In 2014, I released my second book entitled “From Moyra’s Diary” (edited by Davit Muradyan). In addition, I must say that my works are presented in several languages in local and foreign literary presses and in several literary anthologies.

An anthology of Armenian contemporary poets (translated by Germany-based writer Agapi Mkrtchyan) was recently released in Germany. It is a joy that my poems are also included in the book “The Heart of Armenia” (Armeniens Herz) of Armenian contemporary poems published upon the order of the famous German Größenwahn Verlag Frankfurt am Main Publishing House in 2017.

Hayern Aysor: What sources did you use when you were writing the play “Mercedes”?

I listened to the stories of descendants of Armenian Genocide survivors living in Armenia and gathered rich materials for my play.

My late mother-in-law Naris Artsruni’s stories about her repatriate friends helped me a lot.  I compiled the stories and surprised her by presenting the book to her, and this is why I dedicated the book to her.

Hayern Aysor: Is it easy to be the wife of a musician?

Anush Aslibekyan: I would say it is a pleasure to be the wife of a musician, artist and noble intellectual. We collaborate and inspire each other. We have one point of contact in terms of our careers, and that point of contact is theater. Vahan Artsruni mainly writes the music for my plays. I must also say that we have two children, Anais and Andreas.

Hayern Aysor: How do you collaborate with Armenian communities of the Diaspora?

Anush Aslibekyan: Unlike my husband, who has had longstanding contacts with creators in the Diaspora, I established my contacts with the Armenian communities only after the performance of the above mentioned play devoted to Komitas. Unfortunately, there still hasn’t been an opportunity to present the other plays abroad. Whenever we receive an invitation to participate in an international theater festival in a particular country, only then do Armenian communities take advantage of the opportunity, contact us and offer us to perform. This is the biggest problem.

Hayern Aysor: Is Komitas’s music always a part of you?

Anush Aslibekyan: Of course. Not only his music, but also Komitas as a great patriot and a real artist is a part of me. It is astounding. He managed to crystallize Armenian culture, clean the sources and transmit them to us, the future generations, as an invaluable gift and treasure with his silent, incessant and goal-oriented activities. In general, all of Komitas’s songs are close to my heart.

Hayern Aysor:  You recently had a meeting with RA Minister of Diaspora Hranush Hakobyan. What topics did you discuss?

Anush Aslibekyan: Since Armenian dramaturgy is not presented appropriately in the Diaspora, RA Minister of Diaspora Hranush Hakobyan and I discussed issues on disseminating Armenian dramaturgy among Armenians around the world. The Minister expressed willingness to take adequate steps and collaborate. We need to make Armenian contemporary playwrights recognizable in Armenian communities of the Diaspora.

Hayern Aysor: You are involved in different fields of the arts. Which is the closest to your heart?

Anush Aslibekyan: In general, my sphere of activity includes theater and literature. I am a theater critic by profession, but literature is my soul, essence and lifestyle. I am a writer, regardless of the diversity of genres.

As far as theater is concerned, my critiques and literary articles have been published in the presses from time to time since 1998. Currently, I am working on an academic thesis entitled ““The Issue of Scenicism in the Plays of William Saroyan”. This is a topic that hasn’t been fully presented yet.

We Armenians know very little about William Saroyan. In our reality, Saroyan is examined as a prose writer, but not so much as a playwright. My goal is to conduct research and find the main basis that can make the plays scenic and guide readers and directors. It is accepted to consider that Saroyan is author of nearly 15 plays, but he has nearly 250 plays, most of which are not translated, and some are the originals.

Hayern Aysor: What do you have to say about contemporary writers?

Anush Aslibekyan: This is also a problem. I believe Armenian contemporary writers are not presented appropriately. Even today, there are wonderful writers who write glorious books, but we need to not only present them to our readers, but also translate their works for foreigners. It is time to include the works of Armenian contemporary writers in textbooks and organize regular meetings with them, restoring the past tradition.

The Internet also plays a major role in popularizing a writer. For instance, in 2014, literary critic Ani Pashayan created the Literature closed group on Facebook. Every day, users can read the works of contemporary writers, engage in debates over the arts and literature and freely participate in debates over the materials posted in the group. The goal of the group is to reveal and present new writers.

Hayern Aysor: What books are you reading now?

Anush Aslibekyan: At this moment, I recalled my desk, which is mainly stacked with professional books, books for a theater critic and books devoted to theories, as well as William Saroyan’s books (in relation to my thesis).

Once again, I must say that my favorite writer is William Saroyan with his wonderful plays and his novel “The Human Comedy”. In general, I have many preferences when it comes to literature. Among the other books that I am reading is the book of Komitas’s poems that was published by Vahan Artsruni and Aydin Morikyan.

Interview by Gevorg Chichyan

Scroll Up