By Mihran Aroian
Special to the Mirror-Spectator
GYUMRI, Armenia — The people in Gyumri may not know her name, but they recognize Narine Poladian as the self-proclaimed dusty girl – the local artisan, covered in dust, who turns Armenian tuff stone into beautiful khachkars (stone crosses) and decorative art. Cross carvings, dating as far back as the fourth century, continue to be a vibrant and iconic part of Armenia’s cultural heritage, and intricate one-of-a-kind khachkar designs can be found in nearly every corner of Armenia. And as Armenia’s first female khachkar master, Narine takes them a step further.
From Beirut to the Birthright Armenia program, Narine began teaching architecture in 2018 at the Gyumri TUMO Center for Creative Technologies. She then began working for a Yerevan architectural studio when she met Hambik Hambardzumyan, a master stone cutter. She worked with him for the better part of a year, learning the craft of stone cutting and understanding the long history of khachkars.
What started as a hobby soon became an obsession as she took classes to learn about the original Armenian patterns that she now majestically brings forth from inside each stone. In 2019, she married her husband Kevork and moved to Gyumri, where she set up a workshop to continue exploring her love of carving.
Narine has since turned plenty of tuff into works of art. During the 2020 44-day war in Artsakh, for example, she made it her mission to preserve the intricate Artsakh khachkar patterns that Azeris were destroying so that a unique part of the Christian world’s earliest heritage would live on.