Your Namak for Sunday, December 11
Nagorno-Karabakh president makes working visit to France, Pashinyan and Putin meet in Bishkek, and Yerevan hosts Junior Eurovision Song Contest.
Hi there, here’s your weekly briefing of Armenian news in English, curated, reported and fact-checked by journalists Astrig Agopian and Maral Tavitian.
Nagorno-Karabakh President Makes Working Visit to France
President of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic Arayik Harutyunyan met with high-level French officials and representatives of the Armenian community during a working visit to France this week. Harutyunyan began his trip in the French capital, meeting with Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo and members of the national legislature, and also traveled to the cities of Lyon and Marseille. In a rare platform for an unrecognized region’s leader, Harutyunyan provided an in-studio interview to France 24, in which he spoke about the ongoing conflict with Azerbaijan. “We realize that Europe has oil and gas interests with Azerbaijan, but our request is to respect the rights of our people to self-determination and existence and to prevent the implementation of the genocidal and expansionist policy of Azerbaijan,” Harutyunyan said.
Pashinyan and Putin Meet in Bishkek
On December 9, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and Russian President Vladimir Putin met on the sidelines of the Eurasian Supreme Economic Council gathering in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. According to a statement by Pashinyan’s office, the leaders discussed Armenian-Russian trade relations and recent security issues in Nagorno-Karabakh. The council is the highest governing body of the Eurasian Economic Union, an economic bloc including Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.
Yerevan Hosts Junior Eurovision Song Contest
This week, Yerevan hosted the Junior Eurovision Song Contest, a competition featuring young musical talents from around the world. Armenia’s Maléna won the 2021 contest in Paris with her song “Qami Qami,” which brought the event to her home country this year.
Nyree Abrahamian: Meet a Canadian-Armenian creative fostering the modern storytelling landscape in Armenia
“There is a very practical need for storytelling and not only in times of crisis. Narratives help people connect. For now, there isn’t much of this in Armenia or the region.”
Nyree Abrahamian lightens a room when she enters. The 38-year-old writer and creative producer has a contagious energy, and manages to make people smile even when talking about serious topics.
Born and raised in Toronto, where her parents moved from Lebanon, Nyree grew up speaking Western Armenian at home. “Being Armenian has always been a major part of my life, in a very natural way, not an imposed way,” she says.
From a young age, one of her favorite things to do was listen to stories and tell some herself. In first grade, she wrote her first short story inspired by a cartoon, which her teacher printed and presented to the classroom. “I was a published author when I was six,” Nyree jokes.
But very early on, that drive to create and write complemented another interest of hers — Armenia.
“I knew I was Armenian, but when my parents would speak about back home, it was about Lebanon,” Nyree recalls. “The country of Armenia did not enter my consciousness until the earthquake in December 1988.”
That year, the 6.8-magnitude Spitak Earthquake decimated Armenia’s second largest city of Gyumri, resulting in more than 60,000 deaths. Nyree remembers going to her Armenian kindergarten and seeing adults cry for the first time.
“That day, it entered my consciousness that a country called Armenia exists, as this place of sadness and tragedy,” Nyree says.
But Armenia became much more than that after a trip with her Armenian after-school program when she was 10 years old. “I had never been away from home even for a sleepover and my parents sent me to Armenia, just a couple of months after the ceasefire. There was still an energy crisis,” Nyree recalls, referring to the aftermath of the First Nagorno-Karabakh War. “It was a hugely formative and eye-opening experience. Armenia was not one dimensional, suddenly it became this dynamic place for me, with its difficulties of course but also culture and friends. It stayed with me.”
After graduating from York University in 2007 where she studied English, Nyree returned to Armenia with the Birthright program and volunteered at the Armenian Tourism Development Agency.
“I really fell in love with Armenia, and I also really fell in love with Areg, another volunteer from California,” she says with a smile. She ended up permanently relocating to Armenia, and lives in Yerevan with her now-husband Areg and their two children.
In 2013, the creative director obtained a master’s degree in international education policy from Harvard, and started working as an educational consultant, educator and lecturer for AGBU, and the American University of Armenia. But in 2020, the war in Nagorno-Karabakh prompted her to return to her first love of storytelling.
“The war absolutely triggered a need for storytelling. It was a pivotal moment for me. Actively choosing the storytelling path, that’s really a direct result of the war,” she says.
Two projects were born in the aftermath of 2020 and others are in progress. “There is a very practical need for storytelling and not only in times of crisis. Narratives help people connect. For now, there isn’t much of this in Armenia or the region,” Nyree says.
The podcast “Country of Dust” (whose title derives from Vahan Tekeyan’s poem of the same name “Փոշի -- Ազգ”) is one of the projects Nyree is working on with Jeremy Dalmas, Gabrielle Kaprielian and Gohar Khachatryan.
For the first season set to premiere next February, the team conducted interviews throughout Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh, to share personal stories that resonate, and tell the larger story of the country. The episodes capture scenes and perspectives from the host, in an audio documentary format.
Nyree is also involved in another project — the Tumanyan International Storytelling Festival, named after the famous author, but also the town where it takes place in Armenia’s scenic Lori region.
It all started with a simple idea — why not gather many storytellers and hold a festival? After many shared Google docs, and support from Creative Armenia’s Artbox incubator program, it became a reality with the first prototype festival in September 2022.
“There was a lot of lightness and joy, but there were also a lot of difficult stories people were sharing. We are helping fill a void and supporting a burgeoning storytelling community in Armenia,” Nyree adds.
In the future, Nyree hopes the festival can become a regional event with Georgian and Iranian storytellers joining, along with other international guests. Tumanyan is also home to a newly formed community of Russian artists who fled their country and oppose the invasion of Ukraine, so the next edition might include some Russian-speaking storytellers as well.
“Our main takeaway is that there is no formal contemporary storytelling community but there are actually many storytellers and there is a craving for this, a need for this, especially in the aftermath of war,” Nyree says.
To read: Fearing Scandal, Air Force Blocked Generals’ Foreign Consulting Deals, a remarkable Washington Post investigation revealing how two American generals sought to profit from their connections to Azerbaijan. Pentagon officials persuaded Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev to open his country’s borders and airspace to critical U.S. and NATO supply routes to Afghanistan, promising closer diplomatic ties with the U.S. in exchange.
To listen: Էսօր ուրբաթ է, a beautiful rendition of the Komitas song “Today is Friday,” performed live on the mountains overlooking Lake Sevan.
To read: This new trail reveals the wonders of Armenia — a country at the crossroads of the world, a National Geographic article about the opening of the Armenian portion of the Transcaucasian Trail. Despite its small size, Armenia boasts a wealth of picturesque paths for hiking enthusiasts.
That’s it for today, see you next week!
Questions? Story ideas? An urge to say barev/parev? You can send us a secure email at email@example.com.
I am interested in all things that are Armenian.I like the idea to tell stories especially when it comes directly from real voices.You are an incredible woman Nyrie just like your Mum.
I like what you wrote nyrie ,now we have 2authers in the family you and nyrie bakkalian,I am proud of you and I can't wait to see you love lida jizmejian