Duduk player Arayik Bartikyan

Armenian Cultural Encounters in Berlin

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BERLIN — Neukölln is a district in Berlin whose very name is synonymous with internationalization, immigration and cultural diversity. The district is home to first-, second-and third-generations of Germans whose forefathers came from many different countries. A large percentage of the population has Russian or Turkish roots, others Arab, as well as Kurds, Roma people and still more.

In addition to the post-World War II immigration, over recent years more newcomers have arrived from Iraq and Syria. In this milieu, one might not have expected to come across posters announcing an initiative called “Neukölln Armenisch.”

A series of events, lectures, readings, concerts, have been taking place under this rubric since January 24 and will continue until April 2. “Living, Praising and Suffering between Orient and Occident” is the title of a photo exhibition on the culture, religion and history of the Armenian people that is running at the Genezareth Intercultural Center, sponsor of the activities.

Dr. Reinhard Jakob Kees, who is the priest at the Center and in the Neukölln church circle for interreligious and intercultural encounters, explains that the initiative “should contribute to understanding Armenian culture and to becoming acquainted with Armenian neighbors, their lifestyle and their thinking.” In a flyer for the series, Kees writes, “The history of the Armenians reaches back into prehistoric times. All four rivers mentioned in the biblical story of Paradise arise in the Armenian highlands. Was that the site of the historic Paradise?” Kees cites the biblical account locating Noah’s Ark “in the mountains of Ararat,” and points to the Kingdom of Urartu (9-6th century B.C.) on Lake Van, “which contemporary Armenians look back on with pride.”

In the Diocletian period of the Roman Empire, “when Christians were still being cruelly persecuted,” Kees writes that Armenian King Trdat III converted, giving birth to the first Christian kingdom, where an Armenian alphabet was developed, and mandatory education was available for boys and girls. This early literary culture helps explain the immense value placed by Armenians on education, as symbolized by books.

Despite the political upheavals they lived through, caught in the crossfire of great power struggles, Armenians have survived by preserving their language, education and faith. The country today represents a tenth of what Historic Armenia was, and only a third of the 9 million Armenians live in the Republic of Armenia, the rest scattered throughout the world; “and so it is that we find so many people with Armenian roots also in Berlin,” he concludes.

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The exhibition, co-sponsored by the Armenian Embassy and the Berlin Armenian communities and societies, opened on January 23, with greetings by Ambassador Ashot Smbatyan, Dr. Christian Nottmeier, Superintendent of the Neukölln Evangelical Church Parish, Dr. Andreas Goetze, regional church priest for Intercultural Dialog, “Armenian Today,” Lusine Sargsyan, Cultural Attaché and third secretary of the Armenian Embassy. Under the rubric of “Armenian Life in Berlin,” members of the Armenian communities in Berlin prepared typical Armenian music and food.

Masis Arakelian (Photo courtesy of masisarakelian.com)

On Sunday January 26, Archimandrite Yeghishe Avetisyan celebrated mass, with chorus and members of the community.

Among the 10 public events were a number of concerts; Duduk player Arayik Bartikyan from Paris performed on January 25, and on March 26, Masis Arakelian will sing Armenian art songs from the last 300 years, including works by Komitas, Khatchaturian, Sayat Nova, as well as original compositions and works by Charles Aznavour. Arakelian appeared on February 13, for an evening of Armenian fairy tales (read by Renate Raber) and music, commemorating the 150th birthday of Hovhannes Tumanian and Komitas. On May 28, to celebrate Independence Day, a concert will feature singers Yeva Egasyan and Hayk Yesayan.

Dr. Tessa Hofmann, author, human rights activist and genocide scholar, was joined by community members to host an evening to introduce Armenia on January 30, and on February 27 delivered a lecture on “The Genocide of Christians in the Ottoman Empire.” The film “Ageth: A Genocide” will be shown on March 12. For people who have not yet visited Armenia, there are experts to illustrate the natural beauty and the architectural landmarks of the country on March 5; Eduard Saroyan, director of an Armenian travel agency, speaks on “Armenia – Close to Paradise,” Dr. Andreas Goetze’s theme is sacred architecture, and art historian Ani Serobyan focuses on the khachkars.

At the concluding event children from the Giteliq Sunday school in Berlin-Charlottenburg will sing and dance under the direction of Lilit Hakobyan and Masis Arakelian, scenes from Paul Imhof’s film “A Journey through Earthly Paradise” will be shown, and guests will enjoy songs by Arakelian as well as Armenian specialties in food and drink.

 

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