My braid images hold stories and memories, most of which I have not experienced myself, but are still closely connected to me. As physical objects, the braids I paint from observation are my own, from when I was about nine years of age. The costumes worn for Armenian women’s dance performances often portray the woman with two long dark braids. These hair extensions read as a symbol for the Armenian female. I learned traditional dances and have seen dance performances throughout my life—expressions of beauty that deeply connect an entire culture. Growing up, I always had two long dark braids, until I reluctantly agreed to have them cut off. I kept them. Today I paint them.

I’ve heard and read accounts of the atrocities of the Armenian genocide—philosophers, artists, priests, and teachers were some of the first to go. My father was born in the Armenian Diaspora. He was born while his family was fleeing from their homeland. His father wanted to leave him in the snow, because of the difficulty of traveling on foot with an infant. My grandmother refused and she fed him chewed grass to keep him alive. My grandfather was a guerilla fighter. He was captured by Turkish soldiers and thrown into prison. Three years later he escaped. It is amazing that he survived, let alone was reunited with his family. There are tragic stories from both sides of my family. I feel compelled to give them a voice—in part for a people that have not healed, in part for myself, and in part for my family that still remembers. I feel the small degrees of separation between the events that occurred during the genocide and myself. I work to give voice to Armenian women—imagery of beauty marginalized and compromised by brutality.

Connected-hair, so close to my being; disconnected, my hair.


Is (Khatchkar No. 6)
The impetus for creating Is (Khatchkar No.6) was an article about the khatchkars of Julfa in Azerbaijan’s enclave Nakhitchevan. Khatchkars—translated literally as “cross-rocks”—are intricately carved stone monuments as small as 27 inches tall and as large as 16 feet. Khatchkars are sometimes carved as tombstones, at other times cut as memorial stelae. The Julfa khatchkars were located on a burial ground. The creation of the first khatchkars of Julfa dates back as early as the 6th century and at one point in time numbered about 10,000. The Julfa site “boasted the world’s largest collection of khatchkars.” [See: A Regime Conceals Its Erasure of Indigenous Armenian Culture, Hyper Allergic, Simon Maghakyan, and Sarah Pickman, February 18, 2019.] By 1987 only 3,000 were left standing. By 2005, they were all destroyed. In 2006, the Julfa khatchkar burial ground was replaced by the erection of a military base. The only proof of the Julfa khatchkars is people’s memories and extant photographs and films of the area. According to “Azerbaijani officials, this reported destruction was a farce…the sight has not been disturbed, because it never existed in the first place.” [Maghakyan and Pickman] The Azerbaijani position is an all too familiar willful fallacy, echoing post-Ottoman political posturing. To this day, the Armenian Genocide is still not recognized as a genocide by many countries.
Denial runs rampant in America’s political climate, too. The political rejection of global warming by previous presidencies and the denial the #metoo movement faces regularly are particularly troubling. I am outraged by the lack of accountability in my country regarding women who stand up in solidarity while speaking the truth. Denial of women only serves to perpetuate the deplorable ways women are treated. The blatant ignorance of climate change science should scare us all. The denial of climate change drives us all toward ruin. Such public rejections remind me of the century-long denial Armenians have faced regarding the Genocide.
Denial of documented history and science prevents healing and rectification on a cultural level.
In light of the Julfa denial, I have titled my piece Is to honor the 10,000 khatchkars that did exist. In my Khatchkar series, I typically paint over text. I marked each of the 90 component paintings of Is with 10,000 Armenian alphabet letter forms—one letter to represent each destroyed Julfa khatchkar. The single Armenian letter form I used is the letter “eh” (Է). The capital form of “Է” means “God,” while the uncapitalized letter form of “Է” means “is,” which inspired the title of the work. The 90 paintings come together to form a 2- x 16-foot tower when shown in its intended presentation. The tallest khatchkars of St. Tavit in Abrank, Turkey, served as inspiration for Is’ proportions.
For over a century, the Armenian people have lived with a lack of accountability and responsibility by Genocide perpetrators. My work channels the collective outrage felt in the face of these forms of denial by embedding visual narratives that reference both the contemporary issues of today and the past. Additionally, I borrowed and transformed historical imagery as visual reminders critical to understanding loss and denial while also standing as a beacon of possibility and endurance.