TCA Greater New York Executive Board members with Hrair Hawk Khatcherian (l-r) Vartan Ilanjian, Hrair Hawk Khatcherian, Hilda Hartounian, Barkev Kalayjian and Shoghig Medzadourian

Photographer Khatcherian Brings Cilicia, Armenia to Life

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ENGLEWOOD CLIFFS, N.J. — The symbolic and mystic lands of Cilicia were brought to life for the Greater New York metro area by international photographer Hrair Hawk Khatcherian on Thursday, December 19, 2019, in an event sponsored by the Tekeyan Cultural Association.

An artist whose photographs vividly capture the Armenian history and heritage, Khatcherian has embarked on fruitful yet risky adventures over the last three decades to reach the heights of Armenia, Artsakh, Jerusalem and most currently Cilicia, in order to convey these rare images to the rest of the world.

While his Armenian culture connects him to the region, it was a book by Robert W. Edwards, The Fortifications of Armenian Cilicia, that inspired him to venture into Cilicia and commit himself to his latest publication of the once ancient Armenian Kingdom that is now in present-day Turkey. Within its pages, Edwards focuses on the analysis, topography and history of the forts in this significant Armenian settlement, whereas Khatcherian captures his audience through bold and colorful images, inviting a new audience to learn about Cilicia.

Hrair Hawk Khatcherian

“This book is unique in the sense that it spans 22 years of constant travels, research and photography in Cilicia to access fortresses that are very difficult to receive permission to photograph,” said Khatcherian. His upcoming publication dedicated to Cilicia will be his 16th and will also include photos of Armenian coins minted by Armenian kings as well as maps and manuscripts of Cilicia printed throughout the centuries.

Sharing highlights from his photo collection of Cilicia during his video presentation, Khatcherian provided commentary on the challenges of photographing in the region, including the difficulties of reaching the fortresses and churches that are located atop mountains and in areas covered with forests and woods.

“In order to get the best shots, I take risks,” said Khatcherian, who hikes for hours to reach the fortresses, weighed down by two cameras while dodging snakes in slippery and wet weather. He has even endured rocks being pelted at him by locals due to his activity in the region. Nevertheless, he remains focused on his timely mission to photograph the fortresses before the Armenian inscriptions on the edifices are erased.

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Khatcherian said he finds that art is a powerful way to connect with his Armenian ancestry and he hopes he will inspire the upcoming generations to learn more about their shared history.

“Visual images like maps, photographs and film are easily absorbed by the human brain,” he said. “As a kid it was almost impossible for me to learn Armenian history because of the lack of images in our textbooks and that the majority, if not all the teachers, had never set foot in the areas they were trying to teach us.”

Hrair Hawk Khatcherian

In order to fully encompass the scope of the ancient Armenian lands, Khatcherian has traveled to Armenia over 150 times to photograph a multitude of regions, during all four seasons, from the picturesque mountains of Artsakh to the biblical Mount Ararat to the honey and fruits throughout the Lori region. Dormant volcanoes, lakes, and significant sites, such as the Arax River, and all its accompanying natural beauty, have propelled his work.

Khatcherian’s title of “Captain,” that he earned as a pilot has come in handy during his travels, particularly to Cilicia, since he had to journey through Georgia down into Kars to step foot on the soil. He also used his skillful navigation skills to access hidden and out of reach sites.

“I love adventure and discovery,” he said. His long-term goal is to upload his entire photo library, estimated at one million, so the public can conduct research online in order to access this “treasure trove” of fortresses, monasteries, churches, villages, coins, needlework and manuscripts, among many other objects.

In addition to his photographs, Khatcherian presents in exhibitions and lectures around the globe, making Armenian lands within reach for all. Other acclaimed books from his collection include, Artsakh: A Photographic Journey, Karabakh:100 Pictures, Yergir, 100 (1915-2015); Khatchkar, and Armenia: Heaven on Earth.

Born in Beirut, Lebanon from descendants who hailed from Zeitoun, Khatcherian moved to Canada in 1984 where he was an active participant in Diasporan activities, particularly in relation to the Artsakh liberation movements in the late 1980s. A turning point in his life occurred 30 years ago when he was diagnosed with terminal cancer. As a way to ease his pain during his illness and subsequent treatment, he plastered the walls of his hospital room with photos of Armenia and Artsakh. Since his full recovery, Khatcherian has dedicated his life to snapping photos he could share with the world.

“I want people from Japan to Antarctica to understand what kind of a nation we are,” he said.

“Hrair’s unwavering commitment to documenting a wide range of Armenian treasures is a testament to our heritage’s rich history,” said Hilda Hartounian, chair of the TCA Greater New York Executive Board. “This event marked Tekeyan Greater New York’s fifth collaboration with him, and we look forward to building on our legacy of supporting similar cultural endeavors in the future.”

TCA Greater New York Executive Secretary Shoghig Medzadourian said she was “impressed by Hrair’s courage and perseverance to visit Cilicia and take photos of our Armenian landmarks.”

“I was mesmerized by the quality and clarity of the photographs projecting the beauty of Cilicia,” said Medzadourian, who was moved by the images and wondered how life was once led behind those fortresses. “These photos serve as proof and document our powerful Armenian Kingdom that existed in Cilicia, reflecting our rich culture and history.”

Upcoming events on the cultural calendar for TCA Greater New York include a Children’s Song & Dance Show starring Joelle from Montreal, Canada in her debut show in New Jersey on Saturday, January 11, 2020 at the Hovnanian School in New Milford, NJ. Tickets are $25 in advance and $30 at the door (children ages 2 and under are free). Light reception to follow. For tickets, please text or email: Talia 917.238.3970 (rsvptaliab@gmail.com), Salpie 516.413.4178 (salpimegerian@gmail.com). On February 8, the TCA Greater New York will co-host a Valentine’s Dinner Dance with the Hovnanian School PTO featuring entertainment by VOMAS. Tickets are $60 adult, $30 children under 13 in advance ($75 at the door). RSVP to Nanor at mrsnanor@gmail.com.

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