Seta Devletian

A Daughter of Diaspora Finds Her Spark in Armenia


YEREVAN — I got acquainted with Seda Devletian Papazian, a Belgian-Armenian now living in Yerevan, at the presentation of my book about Rouben Mamoulian. I appreciated that a repatriate who does not read Armenian fluently (yet speaking fluent Western Armenian), obtained the book. What was more interested me is Seda being a dance teacher in the past, so our next meeting was not too late, during which the following conversation ensued.

Seda, I am glad to have found another Diaspora Armenian figure in dance. How did dance enter your life?

I have always loved dancing, but when I was 14 years old, I started to dance seriously and every day after school I went to a dance class at the Royal Theatre of La Monnaie in Brussels. Maurice Bejart’s dancers also trained in the same building. My parents did not agree to my becoming a dancer, they did not like that atmosphere, but they did not mind me being a dance teacher, considering it a more acceptable job. Nevertheless, I have occasionally appeared on stage in various performances, including classical and modern ballet, as well as in opera performances, such as Wagner’s “The Valkyrie.” After school, I went to Antwerp, where I studied for two years at the school of the Royal Ballet of Flanders, which specializes in training ballet teachers. At the age of 20, I graduated with a degree, went to Paris, got married, and began teaching ballet at the Conservatory of 16th arrondissement of Paris. I taught for almost 20 years, and at the same time I started dancing in the Armenian “Nairi” dance group. When I met the dancer and musician Gerard Madilian, we formed the “Armen Dance” duo and started staging and presenting Armenian dance performances. We performed in Belgium and France (Paris, Lyon, Strasbourg and in 1988 at the Festival of Avignon).

Our most successful work was “The Princess of Armenia,” which we performed in French and Armenian schools. We used to tell fairy tales to the children in French. I was dancing solo, Gerard was dancing a shalakho, and at the end we all were dancing the kochari at the heroes’ wedding. It was a very successful performance, everyone loved it.

But you were more involved in pedagogy.

Yes, in parallel with the Conservatory, I managed the Seda Devletian Papazian Dance School in Paris for about 20  years. I had hundreds of students, from 5-6 years old to 40 years old and over.

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Were there any Armenians among them?

Very few. Once a sweet African girl came to me and surprised me by speaking Armenian. It turned out that her father is Armenian and the mother is African. A few weeks later, she came with a sweet Japanese girl. “Is she your friend?” I asked. “No, she is my sister,” she answered. It turned out that her father’s other wife is Japanese.

I see, you are speaking about Anouche and Vartouhi Yezeguelian, the daughters of French-Armenian businessman Raymond Yezeguelian.

That’s right. Anouche is very fond of Armenians; she speaks Armenian very well.

Yes, we worked together for a short time in Yerevan. Seda, have you ever performed on an Armenian theme at your school?

At the end of the year, we always showed my performances in the graduation events. After the 1988 earthquake, I staged a play dedicated to Armenia with the music of Aznavour and others.

Where are your ancestors from?

My father, Noubar Devletian, was born in Brussels. His father had left Constantinople before the Genocide because he felt that the situation was not good. And my father’s mother was a survivor of Trabzon massacres. My father was engaged in the cigarette business. My mother, Mano Petrossian Devletian, was an Iranian-Armenian from Tehran. At the age of 20 she decided to go to America for university education, went through Europe, met my father in Brussels and neither went to America nor entered university. My parents were very fond of everything Armenian, thanks to them I grew up a good Armenian. When I was in Brussels, there were very few Armenians, no people from Armenia at all. My mother learned French later, so mostly thanks to her I learned Armenian. As an Iranian-Armenian, she had a great desire to help her compatriots. My father was a very respected, honored person. The Armenian community in Belgium used to elect a chairperson every four years, and my father has been elected twice.

And it is not surprising that the child of such a family lives in Armenia today.

I have been in Armenia for five years, and my two sons came in Yerevan three years ago, while my daughter is in France. All three of my children are very fond of Armenia. My language is French, I think in French, but when my first child was born, I decided to speak Armenian with her. Although my daughter lives in France, she speaks Armenian better than me.

In fact, your children are fourth-generation European Armenians, but today two of them live in Armenia, which is wonderful, and one of them has two children. As a new repatriate, what would you say about the life in Armenia and what would you like to convey to Diaspora Armenians?

I want to say to the Diaspora Armenians: come to live and work in Armenia! You can have a good life here: sure, there are difficulties, but where are they not? When I am in Paris, Armenians always talk only about the bad sides of Armenia. I tell them to come to Armenia and see also the good sides of Armenian life and people. It is very difficult to stay Armenian in diaspora, so your children have to grow up here, go to school here, so they will stay Armenian. My sons, my daughter in law and my grandchildren are really very happy here.

Even after the war?

Repatriation after the war should be encouraged even more. No matter how patriotic they are in the Diaspora, it is impossible to remain Armenian there forever. If Armenians have to go and live in the Diaspora, for whom do we work, for an empty country? Come here, listen with your ears, see with your own eyes the advantages of Armenia. Here we have “iGorts,” “Armenian Volunteer Corps,” “Birthright Armenia,” “Repat Armenia” helping people to find job in Armenia – I will gladly work for such organizations. There is so much good youth, a great potential in Armenia. After leaving the teaching, now I see my job in strengthening the ties between Armenia and the Diaspora. I see it more necessary today to encourage Diaspora Armenians and help them to come and work in Armenia. So I repeat my call to Diaspora Armenians: Come to Armenia!

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