Marina Khachmanukyan Museum of History of Yerevan Doll Curator

Beloved Armenian Rituals Play Important Role on World Doll Day

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By Victoria Atamian Waterman

Well-known doll collector and entrepreneur, Mildred Seeley founded World Doll Day on June 11, 1986, to spread a message that a common doll could be an instrument of world understanding.  Since then, the tradition has been celebrated on the second Saturday of every June and encourages participants to give someone a doll, especially to a child that does not have one. There are many ways to observe #WorldDollDay from sharing a picture of your favorite doll on social media to learning about the history of dolls and the different kinds of dolls throughout the world.  This coming World Doll Day, June 11, 2022, let’s celebrate Armenian dolls and figurines that have played an important role in educating and preserving the rich traditions and rituals of the Armenian culture and history.

Susan Lind-Sinanian Armenian Museum of America Doll expert and Textile Curator

Armenian Dolls Date Back to Ancient Times

Marina Khachmanukyan believes that a doll is not just a toy, but an informative cultural and historical object and a symbol of time and era. Marina is an expert doll curator at the Museum of History of Yerevan and the initiator and founder of the first gallery of dolls in Armenia. According to Marina, there is interest of dolls all over the world, yet Armenian dolls are not well represented. As an archeologist and art historian, this troubled Marina and inspired her to launch a Life of Dolls virtual museum. Marina states “Dolls are unique guides that can tell us about some of the most fascinating fragments of our history.”.

Armenian dolls can be traced back to archaeological excavations in Armenia where anthropomorphic figures were discovered. These figures, which have a cultural significance and a direct relation to rituals, can at the same time be considered as “ancestors” of Armenian dolls. The widespread findings of female origin in ancient times are explained by the fact that fertility and reproduction of life is of spiritual divinity, as in many ancient cultures.

Human-like figures and dolls, that are well known in Armenian ethnography, can be categorized by ceremonial purposes, according to “The Popular Armenian Feasts, Rites/Ceremonies with Dolls/Dances” by Jenia Khatchaderyan. “Dolls are associated with a wide range of rituals, remedies, and superstitions.  There are rituals and dolls that ward off the evil eye; warrant the good intentions of mothers-in-law, fertility, and protection of brides; dolls who are left or buried in cemeteries for the purposes of healing through divination, ceremonial dolls associated with spiritual devotion; and goddesses of mother nature.”

Armenian archaeological figures

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The Nuri doll represents the last two of these categories and is considered a salvation to the villagers to provide rain to the thirsty fields and gardens. According to the belief, when people and animals suffer from water scarcity, Nuri cries and her tears soak the soil and the fields come back to life. Early Palm Sunday morning, groups of girls danced and sang with their Nuri dolls, going from house to house. People sprayed water on the dolls through the windows and doors and gave them eggs, bread, or cheese for the children to have a celebration.  If by chance, it rained, the children rejoiced that Nuri heard their prayers and gave them rain.

Armenian girls with dolls courtesy Project Save

Another beautiful ritual doll is celebrated on Ascension Day. On the Wednesday prior, girls used to go to the mountains and valleys and collected seven handfuls of water from seven springs, seven petals from seven flowers, and seven stones from seven running waters. They put these items in a special flowerpot with the Vichaki Arus doll on top. They were left outside overnight and brought to the fortune-telling square the next morning. During the Ascension ceremony, girls anxiously awaited their fortunes and gave out wreaths the flowers they collected.

For generations, girls have been enamored with dressing dolls in beautiful clothes.  Many family photos captured from the old days illustrate girls holding their precious dolls who also dressed up for the occasion. Dolls can pose as models to preserve history when dressed in traditional Armenian costumes.

The Armenian Museum of America in Watertown preserves and holds special dolls including this collection that was donated by the family of Socie Kradjian.  Her mother, Lucine Szentendrey, created 47 handmade regional dolls by replicating the “Armenian National Costumes Map, 19th – 1st Quarter of 20th Century” compiled by Arakel Patrik.

Doll expert and Textile Curator at the Armenian Museum of America, Susan Lind-Sinanian, plays an important role in the preservation of Armenian culture through dolls.  She has created intricate costumes including a bride from Akhalzikha, and a Cher doll modeling a traditional Armenian dress from Zankezur.

Like many of the most beautiful values of our culture, Armenian ritual dolls, are on the verge of being forgotten.  Because many of the rituals are no longer alive, many of the accompanying events are also forgotten: songs, dances, food. If the ritual is not performed, dolls are not created.  We must save their existence in the form of knowledge and honor customs such as World Doll Day that remind us of the rich and varied ways to educate and preserve our culture.

Nuri Dolls with their favorite donkey

For more information, visit https://www.ufdc.org/world-doll-day/, www.kukliarm.com, www.armgeo.am, www.projectsave.org or www.armenianmuseum.org.

(Victoria Waterman has made a life-long career of advancing women and empowering girls. Her TED.com Talk “Today’s Girls are Tomorrow’s Leaders” and related news articles have been seen by thousands of viewers. Growing up in an immigrant, bilingual, multi-generational home with survivors of the Armenian Genocide has shaped the storyteller she has become. Her debut novel about her family’s history will be released in 2022.)

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