Lucy Topalian

Lucy Topalian: ‘We Should Remove Suffering out of Hearts!’


YEREVAN — Lucy Topalian is one of most positive and charismatic persons I have ever met. This grey-haired, tall, active Lebanese-Armenian lived in Kuwait for 40 years, where she owned a gallery, and for more than two years has resided in Armenia. Our conversation took place in her cozy apartment in Yerevan, where she lives with her dog Pasha and cats Minu and Noushig.

Dear Lucy, where are your roots from?

The Topalians were from Adıyaman, my mother’s family – from Malatya. In 1915, they were exiled first to Aleppo, then to Lebanon. My paternal grandfather, who was a farmer in Adıyaman, was burned with others in the church by Turks before my father was born. My mother’s father was a carpet trader and had a wool dye factory. He was forced to serve in Ottoman army, after he escaped and became a soldier of Andranik Pasha. Afterwards along with his three friends he entered the French Foreign Legion.

You have done different things in life. What do you consider to have been your profession?

I have done everything I loved or dreamed of doing. When I went to college in Beirut, I studied education and child psychology to become a teacher. I was also very good at gymnastics, I went to Denmark for a year, where I studied sports leadership. I started to work as sport teacher in Armenian and British high schools and a university in Beirut. I left the country in 1976 because of Lebanese civil war, and I was invited to Kuwait. I thought I would go there for three weeks, but I stayed 42 years. Since I know four languages, I started to work as an office manager in a financial company. From then on, I worked in a computer company, starting from a junior sales woman and ending to a deputy managing director. Finally, the Internet came, my employees, who were barely 22-30 years old, every day came to me for consultation, so I started to learn about the Internet. But as I had no training, everything was self-taught, I was unable to keep up with them, so I decided to finish with this job. On the other hand, I loved art, I followed the artists, so I started to run a gallery. And because in Kuwait there were hardly any galleries or anything, I used to do exhibitions in my own house or in my courtyard. They were taking place once every month or later. Finally, the art consultants heard about me, so they would come with their artists or suggest me to cooperate in their projects, letting me follow them up or finish them. I developed the idea of business behind the art. So it was a very nice combination, in the last 20 years in Kuwait I made something that I dreamt of and I made money with it, so what else do you want better than this? (laughing). I have an eye for contemporary art, so I developed that, because all the rest was much more classical. When the contemporary art exhibitions started, it really interested lots of people, and I met very good collectors. I was started contacted from the British Museum, Los Angeles County Museum and from private collectors from Dubai, London, Iran.

My own gallery, named “Dar al Founoun,” which means “The House of Art,” has hosted exhibitions from all around the world. I hosted four or five exhibitions from Armenia, as well as many artists from South Korea, Japan, Europe, USA and South America. Thanks to the support of “Ejee Art Consultancy” of London, I had the most recognized Arab artists in my small gallery.

Lucy Topalian’s drawing by Paul Guiragossian

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What was your most ambitious project?

In 2001 Kuwait City was declared the cultural capital of Arab world. On this occasion I wanted to do something big. The National Council has asked galleries to come up with the ideas. My idea was to bring Christo, famous Bulgarian wrapping artist, to Kuwait and make him wrap one of the monuments we have over there. I spent six-seven months to have everything organized, Christo agreed to come, but afterwards they told me that this would be too much for Kuwait. So my ambitious project never happened. I have had major projects, doing art work in public sections, in hotels, ministries and also providing work for the major collection of Arab Art Found. I also had artists from Iran, which were extremely successful. They were good years, very active and inspiring and reviving to me. Every time there was an exhibition, I lived another life – the life, the vision, the art of another person.

What Armenian artists have you cooperated with?

Of course Paul Guiragossian; I knew him and his family very well. Hrair Diarbekirian, also from Lebanon. And then also artists from Armenia like Alexander Grigoryan, Ruben Grigoryan, Gagik Ghazanchyan, Ararat Sarkisyan, Seda Bekaryan, Arcady Petrosyan. Armenian exhibitions were extremely successful, and people loved them very much.

And after such successful endeavors you decided to stop?

I wanted to find a place to retire. I was looking between Lebanon and Los Angeles, where all my family lives. And one day I said: why not Armenia? Let me go and find out about Armenia, where I have been visiting periodically since 1990. So as soon as I came, I got my passport, I found my house, I loved everything I saw: the hope and enthusiasm among population to increase their life. I loved also to see, that all the expats I talked to in Armenia, from Germany, the US or elsewhere, were all so happy to be here, they loved the country, the culture, the churches, etc.

But the situation has changed after the last war.

When I came, I was thinking I might be able to do something on a voluntary basis. But first COVID came, then the war came. It was extremely sad to see people passing away because of it. Thus, I get into this very calm life, but on the other hand life is going on, I attend concerts, festivals: very good artists from Russia, Italy, Germany, France, etc., come and perform in Yerevan. So I feel elevated. I see there is a whole nourishment to the soul. If nothing else, just 20 minutes away of Yerevan you are in a beautiful natural environment.

So as a new repatriate what would you like to pass to Diaspora Armenians about living in Armenia?

The closest friends that I have in Diaspora, they know that I am happy and content over here and I tell them: I would never change Armenia to any other place I could go and live. On the other hand, I wish that the people of Armenia and Diaspora will come together in order to get the country going further much faster and much better than it is going on. I am so proud when I look at the innovations happening in Armenia and being marketed outside, whether it is technology or simple items. I am always kind of proud to see that “Made in Armenia” is going to be all around the world.

But now the most of local population is in such a hopeless state: what would you like to say them?

I will tell them to wake up every morning, to kiss this land and say: Thank you God, that I am in Armenia! I wish they could listen and see the news on what is going on around them. I will tell you something: during the covid and during the war there were no single shelfs empty in Armenia. I never thinking of getting more than one kilo of rice. If you watch the news at that time, in the USA, in that superpower, people had to wait seven hours to get a box of food. And see the difference in Armenia. I have not seen hunger over here. In Yerevan I have seen only one person lying on the ground, a homeless, whereas in New York City, Los Angeles or next to the White House or behind the White House you are unable to walk without seeing so many homeless people on the parks or in the streets. Armenians help each other, they will never let anybody be on the road, which is also a nice side of our country.

I agree with you, but still because of political situation is so messy, how you see the future of Armenia?

Perhaps I am a  very positive person, but I look at the situation with objectivity as well. It is true, we have enemies at the border, but unfortunately many other countries have this problem too.

Sometimes I think that in the competition of who has suffered more, the Armenians will take the first place with pleasure! But with a little bit positivity we should overcome this wrong mentality. Look at the nature you have, clean air and water we have, look at the wonderful vegetables and fruits we have! I have communication with many young people, students, that I have met outside Armenia and met them here again. I am very hopeful that the youth will see the future much clearer than those who suffered the last thirty, fifty, seventy years. I really have a great confidence on young people, their minds, their working habits. I have met quite a number of them and I hope that it will be the pathway towards good Armenian living, amelioration of their lives. In Armenia we should remove the misery out of the hearts and say: we are not measurable, we are good people and we are fine. I am very optimistic about Armenia and I do hope my optimism will be real rather than just a dream.

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