Navid Mikhak

Navid Mikhak: ‘Armenia Is Like Something Holy for Me’


YEREVAN / LONDON  – Iranian film and theater director and writer Navid Mikhak was born in 1990, in Khorramabad, Iran. In 2005 he began to study theater in Khorramabad School of Fine Arts; after he went to the University of the Arts in Tabriz, from which he graduated with a degree in theater direction. He received his B.A of Theatre Directing from University College of Nabi Akram in Tabriz, Iran. During his 17 years of independent activity and cooperation with Iran’s national radio and television, he gained experience as an assistant director, actor, writer, producer and director. In the theater he staged “Varazil,” “Good sleep,” “Belbsho,” “Exorcist,” “When the Theater Grows,” “Arash.” He directed short films and documentaries: “A Message on the Way,” “We Have No Problem with Each Other!” “Who Will Receive This Aid?,” “Marousia,” “Paamei Darrah,” “Akam,” “Nun,” “Colostomy.” Navid Mikhak has also published a collection of stories, poems, articles and interviews in magazines, newspapers and domestic and international festivals in Iran.

Navid, you have written articles and made documentary films about Iranian Armenians. What piqued your interest?

When I was a teenager, I met a person who was from Isfahan. As he was talking about himself and his city, he also talked a little about his Armenian friends and neighbors. He explained some things about the religion and culture of the Armenians of Isfahan that were new to me and it was the first time I had heard about. Until later, when I went to the Academy of Fine Arts and studied theater, this basic information and attractive image of Armenians remained in my mind. In a part of Iranian theater history, I accidentally came across the description and information of Armenian actors, writers and directors in the theater who played an effective role in the birth and growth of Iranian theater. Then I went to the Tabriz University to continue my education in theater directing. Tabriz city has one of the largest Armenian communities in Iran and is one of the most important cities in Iran in terms of politics, culture, art, economy, etc. During my education in the field of theater in this city, the topic of Armenian theater and art attracted my attention again and made me do more serious studies and research in this field. In this atmosphere, where I was participating in student theater performances, I decided to publish an article and interviews about the history of Azerbaijani and Armenian theaters. I met one of the Armenian artists named Garen Sarkisian. who helped me a lot in this field and after introducing several people for interviews, he suggested an interview with one of the most important Armenian artists of Tabriz and Iran, Mrs. Marousia Vahramian. After conducting that interview and publishing it in Theater magazine, I became interested in making a documentary film about her personality and life, also to rebuild the last performance that she staged a few years ago. Maroussia also agreed with my idea of film and was enthusiastic for the performance. She would like to reunite and work with her cast members, who each lived in a different city or country. The script of the play I had written, made her more passionate because in her talks, I felt that this play is a debt repayment to Armenian culture, history and art. This play was “Komitas,” and as the name suggests, is about the life of famous Armenian composer who, as it is known, became mentally ill witnessing the Armenian Genocide. Marousia Vahramian’s view of this issue and her loyalty to Armenian art and society, the Armenian Genocide, and the gathering of her group members for the last time attracted me. At that time, I remember saying to myself that definitely considering my experience in the field of theater the process of rehearsing and performing a theater where her group rehearses for the last time with a 94-year-old artist after many years creates attractive and beautiful moments, which will be very interesting for the audience.

We tried to create the conditions for Marussia to start her work, but unfortunately, after the first filming session, with the death of Marousia’s younger sister and her own illness, and other problems that arose outside the group, the group never gathered completely and did not do any rehearsals. In this situation, in order to save the matter and preserve a brief image of Marousia’s life, I tried to make possible her last wish, which was to see an old building belonging to the Armenian community, that was a school and place for art classes. Fortunately, this happened and she saw that house and her wish became one of the important events of the film. And then Maroussia died. In fact, this was the point that moved me towards the art of Armenians and Christians, and after that I tried to continue my activity in this field.

Navid Mikhak in Yerevan, 2013

What about Marousia Vahramyan made her so special?

Firstly, the age of Mrs. Vahramian was important. Because we did not have any women at that age who gained so much experience in theater, music and painting, especially in the Armenian community. She was the only person in the Armenian community from those days who lived to the age of 94 and continued her artistic activity. When in Yerevan I met and talked with the old theater researcher Mr. Bakhtiar Hovakimyan (who published articles about Mrs. Vahramian) for this documentary, he confirmed my words that Mrs. Vahramian is currently the oldest Armenian artist in the world. Another thing that attracted me to her was the character of a woman who herself had experienced different eras of the contemporary socio-political history of Caucasian Armenians and finally, she had turned them into a work of art, works that were influenced by the Armenian Genocide, the Bolshevik Revolution, the migration of Armenians from the North Caucasus to Iran, the collapse of the Soviet Union, and other historical events that occurred in the history of Armenia, Iran, Georgia and Russia.

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In an interview Bahman Kiarostamian said that Iran is the best place to make documentaries. Do you agree with him?

Yes, I completely agree with him, because Iran is a big country with a rich history and a large population, as well as many historical, social and political events, which has deep cultural roots with the international community and its neighbors. So, this gives you, as an artist, especially a documentary filmmaker, the courage and interest to make a documentary in this country. According to my immigration experience and my contacts with other countries over the years, I have come to the conclusion that even in European countries you can find common issues related to Iranian society. Such an experience is rarely seen in other cultures and countries, and if you follow international news and media, there are usually news to be told about Iran on a daily basis, which shows the historical, political and social importance of this country in the international community.


We met ten years ago, when you came to participate in Yerevan Golden Apricot Festival. What was most memorable from your visit to Armenia?

I was very young at that time and had gained my first experiences of filmmaking and independence and had a lot of enthusiasm. I think about those days in Armenia with a regretful mind, I would like to return to Armenia and to that era. Because I feel that a window was opened to my thoughts and beliefs during that time in Armenia and communication with different people helped me a lot to find my own filmmaking path. The respect and friendship of Mr. Harutyun Khachaturian, the president of the Golden Apricot Festival, of Atom Egoyan, jury chairman, and other filmmaker and film specialist friends like you, who made me feel that cinema and the festival are a place to find friends and learn new things. Meanwhile, Armenia is not just a friendly and neighboring country with a common history and culture for me! Rather, it is exactly like the place where one makes love, finds himself, and passion, hope, and motivation are created inside him. Actually, if I want to explain from a religious point of view, Armenia is something like a temple, church or mosque for me.


I am delighted by Iran. You are delighted by Armenia. Our two people need deeper understanding and knowledge of each other.

I love Armenia and I feel that it is my country. If you remember, whenever we talk, I ask you: “What is going on in my beautiful country, Armenia?”! The Iranian people has very colorful feelings towards the Iranian Armenians and the country of Armenia. This feeling was formed in me when I traveled to this country for the first time and experienced the warm and sincere communication of the Armenian people and found friends among artists and ordinary people and had the experience of visiting different regions of Armenia. Now, I can boldly say that this interest of mine is not due to excess or exaggeration! Rather, it was because of the commonalities that I have found with the people and this country during that period and after that. In the past few years, the issue of the Artsakh war and the recent events have caused me and other Iranian people to turn their attention to the behavior of the Turkish and Azerbaijani governments towards the Armenian people and let us show a negative reaction and extreme concern to this matter. So, that the people and political and social activists put pressure on the government that you should not allow the Armenian territories to be invaded or occupied.


Unfortunately, our region is in trouble again. Before I was naïve enough to think that arts and culture can make some positive changes in peacemaking…

Art has always played its role in people’s lives. But nowadays, it has been influenced by social media and television networks and has made us think that it is no longer important and has lost its effect in creating peace and social bonds between nations. Considering the war and cultural problems that have arisen between Armenia and Azerbaijan and the events that have happened in other parts of the Middle East and the world, we must check whether art has had a chance to play a role in those countries and for the nations. For example, when social media and TV channels are bombarding news and giving false information and “false truth” to people, is there any chance for art to play its role properly? In the 2020 war between Azerbaijan and Armenia, when we see the propaganda of extremist, ethnocentric and racist groups, we realize that they focus on the emotional mind and fleeting thoughts of their audience, so that they can control people’s emotions and thinking power. In fact, by doing this, they get the opportunity to think correctly and judge correctly. Well, in such a situation, in your opinion, how many percent of the audience have the conditions and ability to read, hear and see a work of art so that they can make the right decision and act correctly based on the purity and humanity which is the essence of art? Imagine, when you constantly see images of killings and bombings, you develop anger and hatred and a desire for war and revenge. And it is in the nature of the media to create false and biased information, and unfortunately, today art has lost its position and influence in this way! And social media and television have taken their place for people, and this is exactly the point that makes art ineffective in peace-building.


Now you live in London. What does a young Iranian filmmaker lose there?

Almost everything. By immigrating to another country, you are actually committing suicide, but how much luck you have in this action to survive depends on the time and the situations you get. I am condemned to start over in this new country, new culture, new language, new relationships and new life, and the possibility that I can succeed or fail depends on the mental, psychological conditions and relationships that I get.


Do you have any Armenia-related project for the future?

First of all, I hope that peace and security will be established in Armenia, because this is more important to me than making a film. But in answer to this question, I should say: Yes, I have been planning to make a film in Armenia for years. Of course, everything depends on the conditions to work there as an independent filmmaker. If financial conditions arise for me, I will make two films in Armenia with an attractive human theme. Because I don’t have such conditions as an independent filmmaker at the moment, I only hope to find financial support in the future.

In the end, I have to say, I miss Armenia and my good friends very much, and I wish peace and happiness for its cultured and kind people. I hope that there will be an opportunity and I will participate in the Yerevan Golden Apricot Film Festival again and come to meet you!

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