Sara Mechitarian

Sara Mechitarian: ‘If You Want to Take in the Scent of God, Go to the Armenian Mountains!’


YEREVAN — Italian film director Giuliano Montaldo, during his visit to Armenia in 1974, said the following in an interview: “A film editor of Armenian origin, named Baghdikian, works in Italy. I have worked with him often; he is a talented editor.”

While working on my study The Armenians in World Cinema, I wanted to know more about this person, so I sent a letter to Giuliano Montaldo. In his reply, Montaldo informed me that Baghdikian or Bad, as they called him, has “disappeared, after being one of the most appreciated editors in the 1970s. I appreciated Bad’s editing work, done quickly. It was a very modern style. I would have to say (but many people said at the time) that Bad was the pioneer of that “revolutionary” style of editing. He was an attractive young man (a bit of a Casanova), great worker (a bit unruly), likable (a bit self-centered), but always full of enthusiasm.” Signor Montaldo repeated the same when we met during the Italian Film Festival in 1998 in St. Vincent, Italy.

However, it was possible to find Baghdikian’s relatives through Facebook, to learn that his name was Giuseppe, and moreover, to find out that his cousin lives in Yerevan. She, the Italian language professor Sara Mechitarian, has spent her life in Italy, Germany, Iran and for more than 20 years has lived in Armenia with her family. And my meeting and conversation with Sarah took place in her pleasant house in Davitashen district of Yerevan.

Sara, I am very happy that Giuseppe Bagdikian became an opportunity for us to get to know each other. Let’s start our conversation from him. How did that “Armenian Casanova” enter the world of cinema?

Giuseppe was an extremely handsome and smart person. I remember well his very beautiful eyes. An article about him was titled “The Armenian Eyes Look at the World.” Giuseppe’s father, Levon, was married to an Armenian girl from an orphanage in Milan; they also had two daughters, Elisabetta and Maria. The first one married a French-Armenian; the second one an Italian, but divorced. Giuseppe was not fond of studying, so from an early age he started working at the Rome branch of the “Paramount” film studio, where his father worked as a guard. This is how Giuseppe entered this world, learned film editing and participated in important films. Then he engaged in journalism, created TV programs. I had not met with him for many years, but the last time I saw him was a few months before his death, in Rome. He was sick, but still was very handsome. And he was speaking Armenian. He died at the age of 60 in 1997. Giuseppe was married to an Italian lady, but they had no children and divorced, but he had a daughter from another woman, whom he named Armenia. Armenia Baghdikian works in television. Some years ago she visited Armenia.

Giuseppe Baghdikian

As far as I know, the Baghdikian family was from Smyrna/Izmir.

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Yes! They were displaced and driven to the deserts during the Genocide. My grandmother Arusiak, who was already married, lost her husband and two children during deportation. Surviving, she reached Constantinople, met my grandfather, who was survived with his two sons. They got married, my aunt was born in Constantinople, then they left for Greece, where my mother Baidzar was born in Patras. Grandfather’s two sons became students of Moorat-Raphael Armenian College in Venice. The family decided to move from Greece to France, on the way they stopped in Venice to pick up their sons. However, since France stopped accepting Armenian refugees, my grandparents decided to stay in Italy. The government sent them to the city of Subiaco, 60 kilometers from Rome, where my uncle Benedetto was born.

By the way, Subiaco is known as the birthplace of Gina Lollobrigida.

Yes, and you know, she attended kindergarten with my uncle Benedetto!

And do you know that Sergei Paradjanov wanted to film Gina in his planned film “Ara the Handsome and Semiramis” in the role of Queen Shamiram-Semiramis?

Really? It would be so good. The world would get to know us more. Paradjanov is very familiar with special circles, but if he shot Gina in his film, the whole world would know him!

Was the famous American journalist Ben Baghdikian related to you?

No, but we met when he came to Rome. Uncle Benedetto met him by chance at the airport in Rome. By the way, now I am trying to write the history of the Baghdikian family, which is not easy, because it is very long, I have to write about many generations.

And where is your father’s side from?

My father Gevorg Mkhitaryan was from Gyumri. During the Second World War, he was captured by the Germans, taken to Italy and escaped from captivity. The Italians found out that he is Armenian and introduced him to my mother’s family. Until the end of the war, my father was hidden from the Nazis by Baghdikian family, and eventually he married my mother. Three girls were born: Maria, Sara, Donatella. After the war, five years after the marriage, my father went to the Soviet embassy in Rome and announced that he wants to return to Armenia. He did not know that Stalin declared those captured during the war traitors. And then one day the Russians came to Subiaco, caught our whole family and took them by car to Rome. Since my father was a Soviet citizen, his daughters were stateless, so they also took the children, and the police could not defend us. I was two years old. When they were taking us away, my grandmother handed me over to a 12-year-old Italian girl who was there and told her to run away with this child. The girl ran away with me, that’s how I got rid of the Russians. So, I stayed in Italy until I was 15 years old. My family was taken to Dresden and kept for 10 years in a camp where former prisoners lived with their families. Life there was very hard, my sisters got pneumonia and other diseases. When the Berlin Wall was being built, one day my father ran away with his family from Dresden to Berlin and passed through the Western part, but later he was caught and imprisoned for two years. Then he escaped from prison one more time, and he thought that his wife would have returned to Italy, but my mother was waiting for him in West Berlin. And although my grandmother and other relatives in Italy looked after me very well and were very caring, in 1961 I went to Germany, got to know my parents and sisters, and our family was reunited. We lived in the city of Ravensburg, where I studied at school, then specialized in food chemistry and worked as a chemistry technical assistant. At the age of 23, in Munich I met my future husband, an Iranian Armenian. Five years after our marriage, we left for Iran, because my husband was the only child of his parents, and his mother wanted her son to be with her. I lived in Tehran for 30 years, my other son was born there (the first one was born in Germany). My husband forbade me to work, but I started giving private Italian and German lessons at home. I learned Armenian in Iran. until then, the only Armenian sentence I knew was this: barev, yes hay em (hello, I am Armenian). It was my identity card. It was very difficult to learn Armenian, because Persian was mixed there, and I did not understand which one was Armenian and which one was Persian. But little by little I learned. I have always been stateless; if someone asked me where I am from, I had no answer. I was neither Italian, nor German, nor Persian. I could say that I am a cosmopolitan. The only thing that was certain in my life was being born in Subiaco. Of course, I have always been Armenian, but that is ethnicity, not citizenship! I just got Armenian citizenship 10 years ago.

How did you settle in Armenia?

I have said all my life that I could live anywhere, because I have a lot of love and respect for all peoples and cultures, I can understand every kind of lifestyle, but it is important where you will die, because it is your last step. In Iran, I always thought that if I die, they should take me either to Italy or to Armenia, which I did not know, but it is mine. At that time, Armenia was Soviet, it was not so easy to travel. We came here after independence. Once my friends took me to Mount Aragats for the first time. It was a very gloomy, rainy day with heavy black clouds. On the way back, the car had a problem, we stopped. Suddenly there was a strong wind, the clouds dispersed, and a dark blue sky opened, from the middle of which the white Mount Ararat appeared. I will never forget the power of that scene. That day I thought: if I die in this land and even no one knows, I will be calm. I felt that my tree had finally found its soil; I had found my roots. I always say that there are incredibly beautiful places in the world, but if you want to feel the scent of God, go to the Armenian mountains! No mountain in the world has that mystical feeling. I have seen beautiful mountains in Germany and Italy, but they do not have that power.

I have been living in Armenia since 2001, being the only Italian-born Armenian living here. I know the Italians working at the embassy, as well as Antonio Montalto, the honorary consul of Italy in Gyumri, a businessman who has lived in Armenia for 30 years.

And you worked here as an Italian language professor.

At first, my husband and I worked for seven years in the Persian Mosque of Yerevan. The Iranian embassy opened it as a cultural and tourism center, where Persian language classes were organized for free; there was a large library and a film library. By the way, I met Charles Aznavour three times, who loved to come to the mosque, as his Moroccan son-in-law is a Muslim. Aznavour told me that he is Armenian, but his family is international, and that he loves his Moroccan son-in-law very much.

Then I taught Italian at the Humanities University, and for a very short time at the Conservatory. I loved my work, looking into the eyes of my students, full of dreams and goals, as if they wanted to conquer the world. That work filled my life. Years have passed, but many students have not forgotten me. Is there a greater joy for the soul than that?

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