WIESBADEN, Germany — The lights go down, the hall is hushed. A grey-haired woman begins to tell a story to her grandchildren, a story 2000 years old. It is the story of the Nativity, portrayed in dramatic form by a group of Armenian children in Germany, on January 7. An angel appears to Mary to announce the joyous future event, then a herald comes forth with Herod’s menacing decree. The curtain opens: no room at the inn. Mary and Joseph must move on to a stable in Bethlehem, where three shepherds, guided by an angel, will find them. And then, the three Magi, the kings from afar.
The story unfolds on a stage in a Wiesbaden community center, home to the Demokratisches Volks- und Kulturzentrum (DVK), an Armenian club which organizes cultural activities in theatre, music, and sports, to promote Armenian-German understanding and integration. Founded in 1976 in Wiesbaden, the association has continued to grow, recently welcoming Armenian refugees from Ukraine into the community.
The Nativity play is the most recent event in a project initiated by the DVK in October 2021, called the KOMITAS Educational Institution (Կոմիտաս հայկական կրթօջախ). As Chairman of the DVK Karen Gharslyan explains, “Children in the diaspora tend to forget Armenian and, if we continue at this pace, there will be a generation of Armenians in the diaspora who cannot speak Armenian.” This entails the risk of loss of “our language, our culture, and paves the way for total alienation.” Setting up KOMITAS was “our contribution to solving this problem.” The program offers instruction in the Armenian language, literature, and history and organizes cultural events like the Nativity play. Teaching aids and books for classroom instruction are provided by the Ministry of Education, Science, Culture, and Sport of the Republic of Armenia.
The effort has been most successful. The 40 or so children and youngsters active in the project, including several from Ukraine, displayed an admirable mastery of Armenian, both in acting and singing. Their delivery was clearly articulated, and their stage interaction convincing. Dressed in beautiful costumes amid am imposing set, they presented an artistic tableau on stage. (They even coped with the technical challenge of sharing microphones.) And they had rehearsed their curtain calls very well. The audience (standing room only) was enthusiastic.
Following a pause, the very young children mounted the stage, and took turns to recite, then joined together in singing Christmas songs, and saying the “Hayr Mer” or the Lord’s Prayer. Santa Claus and Mrs. Santa appeared with a bag full of gifts and bountiful humor. To conclude the event, Shushan Tumanyan, who co-chairs the Armenian Cultural Society in Hessen (AKV), offered a lesson in Armenian folk dancing.