CAIRO — My friends, Haig Avakian and Martiros Palaian, hosted me last November in Cairo, allowing me to realize my wish to interview one of the Armenian stars of Egyptian showbusiness. Thanks to their efforts, I met Anoushka, a famous singer, actress and TV presenter in Egypt. Our meeting with this charming, charismatic star took place in Hilton Hotel of Cairo. I was fascinated by Anoushka’s fluent Western Armenian.

Born Vartanoushe Tchaderdjian, she was born in Heliopolis, studied at the Armenian Kaloustian School in Cairo and studied business administration at the American University of Cairo. After graduating, Anoushka worked at the Tarek Nour advertising firm as a singer of jingles. In the late 1980s, she participated in international festivals in Finland, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Turkey, France and Latin America. She took third prize with her song Habbytak in Turkey and the first prize in 1994, in the Francophonie competitions in France with her own composition, Ya Habibi (Oh my Love) in French and Ya Leyl (Oh Night) also in French composed by Midhat el Khawla. Anoushka also took part in many national, pan-Arab and international music events. She had the lead role in an operetta entitled “El Ward we Fosoulu” in the Children Day festivities. Anoushka is also a prolific actress. In 1991 the prominent Egyptian film director Salah Abu Seif chose her to participate in his movie “Al-Sayed Kaf.” Since then, Anoushka has acted in numerous films and TV serials, as well as in theater and radio.

Anoushka, how did it happen that after studying business administration you became a famous singer?

I took my artistic steps in kindergarten. When I was four or five years old, I would stand in front of the mirror, hold the comb as if it were a microphone and sing. My big dream was to be an artist, to sing, act and dance. There was an atmosphere of artistry inside our Armenian community, in Kaloustian National College or in the Armenian clubs, “Ararat” or “Homenetmen.” My parents always supported my artistic involvements, especially my father. Mama would always say that her daughter should be the first one in the class, while Papa would say that she should be the second or the third one, but to be in the arts. I wanted to enter a conservatory, but I entered the American University because my father was saying: “It is my duty as a father to take accomplished your studies: you must have your certificate in hand, hang it in the house, but after that you are free to do whatever you want.” And it happened that way. As soon as I entered the university, I met someone who was writing TV commercials for the largest advertising company in Egypt. I joined the Tarek Nur advertising agency with the idea that after my classes I could sing from five to six. I sang a number of commercials for six years, my voice was heard on television, but my face was not seen because I was afraid of my father. One day, sitting next to my father, I heard my singing in a TV commercial, and dad said: “Look, this voice sounds like yours!” I said that actually it is me singing. My father, seeing that there was nothing shameful in it, said with a smile: “Hey, Anoushka, you will not do anything wrong!” (laughs). And I started to take my steps toward singing.


And was it okay from the side of the Egyptian show business?

When I was singing commercials for six years, people in showbusiness would talk about me. At the same time, I started sending my songs to festivals. There was a company that wanted me to sing international songs in Arabic. but I said I would like to sing my own songs. This stubbornness of mine got me to a good place. I said, I don’t want money from anyone, I have to work my own. I started to record songs for 19,000 Egyptian pounds, a huge amount in 1988, especially for someone who had barely started working. I was earning already and, on my birthdays, I would always ask for money instead of presents, which I would invest in my songs. Soon I got partners in my work, who were also investing with me. Thus, God helped me. I entered a milieu, knowing very few people, on the other side, the taste for Arab songs and music is very different from our Armenian taste. The only person who was able to help and be a support for me was composer and choirmaster Haig Sarkisian. I was one of the soloists, the first soprano of his Groong choir. We sang for eight or nine years, we had a concert every year, we traveled here and there, we went to Syria. Our artistic characters were shaped and polished by the Groong choir. My presence in the choir was more professional, and Haig helped me professionally, but up to a certain point. Our qualities were also revealed in the Armenian dance groups. I cannot forget our Zangezur dance group coach Eleonora Grikourova, an Armenian choreographer from USSR.

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I wrote about this amazing lady, originally from Tiflis! Does she speak Armenian?

Of course, she did. Grikourova helped me a lot to be confident as the first dancer of the group. There is a very thin line between being self-confident and self-righteous. Grikourova taught me to know the difference. When she left Egypt, we started participate in the Sardarapat dance troupe, where Shakeh Hovagimian continued to “polish” us. In theater director Gerald Papasian’s role was memorable. I am glad that artistically I was prepared within our community. Outside of it I was alone: I had to rely on myself. Our field is different, as it is more professional, there are certain limits: I have to swim in a different way if I am in the lake and in another way if I am in the ocean. It is easier for the singer now; the whole world can listen to your new song on the Internet at the same moment. In my time, I had to introduce myself in festivals. I have gone to seven or eight festivals, I had not won many things, mostly fourth or fifth prizes, until the opportunity arose. I went to the Antalya festival in Turkey, where I participated as an Egyptian, not as an Armenian. The name of the festival conductor was Garo Mavian. This also indirectly created some confidence on me. There was another person who supported me — Turkish-Armenian journalist, Anoush. I knew that there was another one, famous musician Onno Tunç (Tunçboyaciyan). Thus, I represented Egypt in Turkey, but I was happy that there were Armenians in the festival. Garo Mavian and I were talking with our eyes, without saying a word. On the last day, when I won the third prize, Mavian came and asked: “Do you speak Armenian?” and I asked: “And do you read Armenian?” These are small things that I will never forget.

And how did you enter the film industry?

When I started singing, I also got an offer to act, but always refused, having the idea to be on sure footing in singing first, then switch to acting, radio, stage, films or TV series. The first time I acted was in Adel Sadeq’s film, whom I remember with gratitude. In 1994, Salah Abu Seif, one of the big Egyptian film directors gave one of my first breaks in acting. I performed with the great actors Sanaa Gamil and Abdel Monem Madbouly. At that time, Sanaa Gamil would always tell me to be interested in acting. She was not the kind of person who would spoil you. On the last day of the film, Salah Abu Seif himself said on television: “I have a message for Anoushka, there is a little actress in her, so let her grow up, don’t keep it inside, don’t only sing.” After that I was offered by director Ahmad Abdul Hamid a role in a TV series as a woman in a love triangle. This role was the beginning of my actual acting career. I always believe that God will choose for us. In this series Adel Imam, who is considered the Anthony Hopkins of Egypt, noticed me. He called me and said: “Anoushka, I want you to act with me!” After that, I was always offered important and large roles. So, I am happy who I am and where I am now.

What about your theatrical activities?

I have always played leading roles in the theater, both for children and adults, also on the radio. I would like also to have the opportunity to perform in Armenia, not just to sing or dance. That should be chosen carefully: children can make mistakes, but being an adult is different, you have no right to make any mistake in your career.

I was impressed to watch you perform modern dance on YouTube with the first dancers of Cairo Opera theater.

When I dance, I always want to dance with someone who I can learn from, with someone stronger than me, who is a choreographer himself. I was very happy to dance with Walid Awni. I wasn’t really trained as a dancer, but I had a good posture shaped by Grikourova or Sardarapat, so I could dance with someone strong. Performing with the first dancers of Cairo Opera was a risk, but it was a calculated risk and I was happy. The stronger the person I have in front of me, the better.

Anoushka, do you know where your grandparents were from?

My maternal grandmother was from Smyrna, now Izmir. When my uncle Eduard traveled to Izmir, he said he visited their house, where there was a pool with fish inside. My paternal grandmother was from Constantinople, now Istanbul. That’s all I know. My grandmother migrated to Cairo, while her sister repatriated to Soviet Armenia. I wish I had an interest in my ancestors when they were alive, to compose my family tree. My mother’s cousin Garbis died in Armenia, while his brother Vagharsh moved to Montreal. Now while watching the photos of my grandmother or my mother, I ask myself: who were they? There is a letter from my grandmother that she received from her sister in Armenia, which I found in her papers after her death. These little things are very precious to me; I want to put them in a frame.

How many times have you been to Armenia?

Now, twice. But when I was 14-15 years old, we went to Armenia. It was very long trip: first we traveled to Kyiv, to Moscow, then to Yerevan. I visited Echmiadzin, Sardarapat, but most of my time I spent with Armenia’s State Dance Ensemble. I would go to the rehearsals; the adults were dancing, and I was watching them from backstage, trying to learn from them. Eleonora Grikourova would say: “Let’s take Anoushka to the State Dance Ensemble,” and my father would say: “My daughter should not go far away from my nose!”

Three years ago, in August 2019, I went to the All-Armenian Games in Yerevan. While returning I was crying, I didn’t want to go back. I was divided inside. We went to Tsaghkadzor, we took the cable car, there was a friend with me who was afraid. But my feeling was very sweet: below there were a forest, trees, mountains, above there was God — if I raised my hand, I could touch him! I am sitting on a chair, it is free space from all my sides, I had a feeling that I am so happy! I thanked God with the idea that I always wanted to have this milieu and now I am in it, being aware of both its nice and difficult points. When I returned, the Ministry of Culture of Egypt informed me that in October I should participate in the days of Egyptian culture in Armenia as singer. I would have wanted to reach out and invite Armenian singers to my event, but I just did not know how to reach them, and I did not know who was supposed to do the advertisement as well. No one informed them that there is a singer of Armenian origin in the Egyptian delegation. I only had the opportunity to meet composer Robert Amirkhanian in the village where he lives. In Yerevan, I sang Arabic songs and also three Armenian songs. But if there is an occasion to visit Armenia again, this time my preparation would be different. I love many Armenian songs. I would like to sing with Armenian singers, to perform Surb Surb (Sanctus) and Ter Voghormya (Lord Have Mercy) with a big orchestra!

Let’s hope it will come true. Anoushka, one of your films is called “All Girls Love Chocolate.” Do you love it too?

Yes, very much.

Here is some Armenian “Grand Candy” chocolate for you!

Oh, I am on a diet, but despite that, you can be sure that this evening this box will be empty! (laughs). I am very happy. When you come again, bring my favorite cherry and walnut jam. After my return from Armenia, along with a khachkar I bought in Tsaghkadzor, there were also four cans of jams in my suitcase (laughs).


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