From left, Jeremy Dalmas, Gohar Khachatryan and Nyree Abrahamian (Chris Natalie photo)

BOSTON — Armenian history, unfortunately, is filled with much turmoil. The current news out of Artsakh is the latest episode in Armenian history where a devastating defeat must be endured.

A new podcast, “Country of Dust,” is taking the hard news and presenting it in a narrative format.

Nyree Abrahamian, the co-host and producer of “Dust,” in an interview last week from Yerevan said, “The idea came about right in the aftermath of the Artsakh war. Among friends we were talking about different things we could do, what we felt needed to be out in the world.”

She and the fellow producers, Jeremy Dalmas, Gabrielle Kaprielian and Gohar Khachatryan, all met through Birthright Armenia. All, except for Khachatryan, were diasporan volunteers in Armenia; Khachatryan was a longtime staffer at Birthright’s Armenia offices.

“We were having a conversation and Gabrielle came up with the idea of starting a podcast to share some of the stories coming out of the war and post-war period,” Abrahamian said.

“We all felt this need for a certain type and quality of stories to be out there. Especially during the war and the direct aftermath there were news stories that covered basic facts, like which lands were given up and how many losses. But when I would speak to my friends in the diaspora who were really concerned about what was going on here. They wanted to know what people’s lives were like. Human stories,” Abrahamian said.

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She added. “If I am trying to quickly describe it to someone, I say you know ‘This American Life.’ We are ‘This Armenian Life.’ It’s the same style. Within the Armenian world we don’t know of another podcast doing this kind of thing and that’s a lot of the reaction we are getting,” she said.

“We’ve got a lot of people reaching out through social media. It’s been overwhelmingly positive,” Abrahamian said. “The type of podcasts we are producing is narrative storytelling. Many podcasts are two people speaking, recording that conversation and putting it out here. What we’re doing is very different. It’s a story, it’s a narrative, there is a host carrying that thread. There is music that Jeremy composes. So it’s a series of audio documentaries.”

“One of the great things about a podcast is you can hear it anywhere,” including Apple and Spotify, Abrahamian added.

The producers share narration duties. As of July 21, the podcast, which is in English, had been downloaded 1,179 times.

“We thought about language a lot and thought about audience a lot. Like Jeremy said, we want this to reach a wider audience but we want it to resonate with the people living through these things,” Abrahamian said.

Dalmas said, “A lot has been happening in Armenia in the past five years and one good way of understating that is storytelling and understanding what is happening to real people, living through the things happening to them.”

“It is covering all the big things happening here, but understanding them through what is happening to the people, a different way than understanding it through breaking news,” Dalmas said.

“It helped us process everything we’ve been going through,” Khachatryan said. “It really makes us think about it in a different way.”

Dalmas said, “It is a chance for people who have lived in Armenia through all this to speak about these things in different ways and process them.”


Trip to Turkey

For the second season, on which the team is currently working, the focus will shift to Turkey and the Armenians there.

Khachatryan said this summer the group went to Turkey with a travel grant from the Hrant Dink Foundation.

Dalmas said that they had been thinking about going to Turkey and were thrilled that the foundation was offering grants. They applied and received them.

This time, the story was more personal for Abrahamian as the podcasters headed to Vakfili. “Vakifli is one of the villages of Musa Dagh. It’s the last Armenian village of Turkey. My family is from there,” she said. “People continued to live there after the Genocide.”

By the late 1930s, however, most, but not all, had moved to Lebanon.

Abrahamian still has cousins who live there. “It’s a region that was very badly affected by the earthquake in February. The stories we’re covering there are multilayered. It’s my family’s personal connection to that place and the fate of the ‘last Armenian village” of Turkey, which was already in a precarious situation before the earthquake and now thinking what it’s future looks like,” Abrahamian said.

Research Leads to New Ventures

“For the first season it was like here are the topics we would like to talk about and we thought what are the people that can exemplify that interestingly or poke around to see what would work for a story,” Dalmas said.

One idea was about the influx of Russians what that means for Armenia, he said. To explore the topic, they went to an artist’s residency and living space in Hovhaness Tumanyan’s village, Apastan, in Lori, where a large number have settled. “Two years ago they were living in Moscow or St. Petersburg. Now they are living in a small Armenian town,” he said.

Abrahamian added, “It took a lot of poking around, even a couple of other interviews, before we landed on one that felt like the right story arc.”

All the different research for Country of Dust, brought Abrahamian to another type of storytelling — a traditional one. She is the creative director of the Tumanyan International Storytelling Festival, which will be held August 25-27 in Lori.

She said, “We had our first prototype festival early last September. It was a full three-day festival. We were really testing out the concept. We wanted to contribute to the revival of the art of storytelling but think of it in a contemporary way,” such as telling stories though film, photos, etc.

This year August 25-27 the festival will take place.

“In Armenian asmoonk, a person stands in front of a group and tells a story that is a known tale, a folk tale,” she said. “There are still some older Armenian storytellers. What we’re trying to do with the festival is to bring that in,” while also bring in personal stories like “The Moth” and blend the two.

Nyree Abrahamian (Chris Natalie photo)

Birthright Connection

Abrahamian was born and raised in Toronto. She graduated from York University and first came to Armenia with Birthright in 2007. She decided to extend her stay and the company where she interned offered her a permanent job. Soon after, she met her future husband, a fellow Birthright volunteer.

She has lived in Armenia since then, with a couple of sojourns to the diaspora.

She got her master’s degree in international education policy from Harvard. After graduating she came back. Among other jobs, she has taught at the American University of Armenia. “I always balance these hats as an educator and a creative,” she said.

“The war in Artsakh was a real turning point for me in setting my priorities. I had this moment of realization of the importance of telling our own stories in a way that is compelling and incites people to tune in and act when needed,” she said.

“When we decided to do the podcast I flew out last summer to work on it in Armenia,” Dalmas said. “We were kind of batting the idea around for a year before it really started taking shape.”

Dalmas, who is half-Armenian, had lived in Armenia in 2008 through Birthright and again in 2019 as he worked with EVN report.

Dalmas is from the Bay Area and is now living in Oakland. He first came to Armenia win 2008 with Birthright. “I’ve been going back and forth ever since,” he said. He is a professional podcast producer and musician.

“It’s very exciting to work on this one. It’s close to my heart,” he added.

The first season will have a total of nine episodes, with the first two episodes of the first season are about a soldier named Kolya (interviewed by Khachatryan) who volunteered for the 2020 war. The third episode is about Artsakh and living through the blockade. A trio of episodes about the 2018 revolution follow and what happened afterwards.

Khachatryan worked for nine years for Birthright and just left her position there.

“That’s how I met Nyree, Jeremy, and many others,” she said.

Gohar was born and raised in Yerevan. She studied economics and political science at the American University of Armenia. She had previously worked on another podcast, Akanjogh. She also teaches self-defense to young women.

“It [Birthright] brought me to Armenia and connected me with Armenia,” Dalmas said. “I don’t know if I would be spending all this time in Armenia without having this cool thing set up.”

While he experienced some culture shock, he said Armenia felt a little further apart from the US in 2008 rather than now.

Added Khachatryan, “It was an incredibly meaningful experience” working at Birthright. “I was able to connect with many diasporans from all over the globe and learn so much with them and grow with them.”

Seeing Armenia through their eyes.

Abrahamian added that her trip with Birthright created a “pivotal moment” in her life. While she had visited in 1994 as a young person, and formed a connection to Armenia, “Birthright really gave me the means to tap into that desire.”

She praised the “immersive activities” and excursions as part of the experience. “There were so many opportunities to engage in a meaningful way that went so far beyond visiting for a few weeks. It was a global experience that helped me find my place in Armenia.”

To listen to “Country of Dust,” visit or look for it on major platforms.

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