By Aram Arkun
NEW YORK — Zareh Shahan Tjeknavorian is a filmmaker in the prime of his career. His work, largely documentary in nature, has been a process of self-exploration. As he said recently, “I have these interests and passions which guide me, and the film work helps me explore them.” Armenian history, society and folk culture lie at the heart of his interests, and have led him to create a number of unusual films and videos which today are shown in universities, museums and festivals throughout the world.
Tjeknavorian’s aesthetic sensibilities are greatly influenced by his family and his peripatetic childhood. His father is the Iranian-Armenian composer and conductor Loris Tjeknavorian, and his mother, Linda Pierce Hunter, is a native Californian also with musical talent and many years of teaching experience.
Tjeknavorian was born in Fargo, ND, where his father had established residence in order to teach at a nearby university in Minnesota. He did not remain there long, but moved in turn to San Francisco, Iran for some five years, London, Germany, Paris, London again, and then finally New York City in 1986. He graduated from a performing arts high school called the Professional Children’s School in Manhattan, and then New York University in 1992, with a bachelor’s degree in film and television production.
Tjeknavorian grew up in a very cosmopolitan international environment, with most of his friends the children of diplomats and businessmen attending international American schools. He only had occasional exposure to Armenians through special events, but it was his family that provided his opening to the Armenian world. He said, “For me, Armenia was unreal — a sort of secret society. During the Cold War, Armenia didn’t even exist on the map. Somebody would ask me about my name and I’d tell them. Then they would ask about Armenia but I couldn’t show it to them on a map. I felt it was like a millennial cult existing in the midst of other people when I went to church gatherings or recitals or events. You’d be in London, Paris or some other part of the world, and then suddenly in a room you saw a painting of Ararat or a bust of Komitas.”