As I entered the hotel room in Windsor and turned on the TV, I was pleasantly surprised to see our handsome compatriot, Arthur Abraham, on the TV screen. Arthur Abraham (Avetik Abrahamyan) is an Armenian-German professional boxer, born in 1980 in Yerevan. The next day I visited Tate Modern, and when I saw “Garden in Sochi” by Arshile Gorky on the wall, I felt as if I was just greeted in Armenian. Gorky (Vostanik Adoian) moved to the US in 1920 and became one of the 20th century’s most outstanding American painters, and a seminal figure in Abstract Expressionism.
There aren’t that many Armenians in Britain. Still… a person like Calouste Sarkis Gulbenkian can reveal more about his nation than millions of other talented people. Gulbenkian (1869-1955) was a renowned Armenian businessman and philanthropist of British nationality. He played a major role in enabling access for Western companies to the petroleum reserves of the Middle East and is credited as the first person to exploit Iraqi oil.
Another example of a British person of Armenian descent is Andrew Clement Serkis, born in 1964, who is a prominent English actor and film director. His father, Clement Serkis (originally “Sarkisian”), was an Iraqi-born Armenian. Serkis has received many awards, including the BAFTA Award for Outstanding British Contribution to Cinema in 2020.
Sarkisian is a lucky surname for a film career! It was proved by Cherilyn Sarkisian, a Hollywood star and an American-Armenian singer, actress and television personality. She visited Yerevan in the 90s, when the country was in a dire economic situation, and her visit was cheering for us. Another superstar, Kim Kardashian, followed in her footsteps and, together with her husband and sister, visited Armenia in 2015 to commemorate the victims of the 1915 Armenian Genocide.
The USA has a vast Armenian Diaspora. William Saroyan, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and other prestigious awards, is a vivid example of an American-Armenian, born in 1908 in Fresno to immigrant parents. Saroyan wrote extensively about Armenian immigrant life in California. American-Armenians reside mainly in California, although there are large Armenian communities all over the country. Los Angeles is home to the largest and richest Armenian community in the world. There are Armenian neighborhoods around the city, an Armenian TV channel, newspapers and magazines, dozens of Armenian churches, and a couple of MPs officially representing their interests in the government.
Another outstanding American-Armenian is the legend of the world of business, «The Richest Man in California» Kirk Krikorian (1917-2015), who founded the Lincy Foundation in 1989 in response to the devastating Spitak earthquake.
As for Europe, there’s been an Armenian presence almost since the beginning of European civilization. The tragic opera «Poliuto» (based on Pierre Corneille’s play «Polyeucte») by Donizetti was performed in the world’s best opera houses for several centuries, and is dedicated to the life of an early Christian martyr, Armenian prince Saint Polyeuctus in circa 259 A.D.
There was a myriad of Armenian emperors and generals in Byzantium. One of the better known is Basil the Great (867–886), an emperor of Armenian origin, who established the Macedonian dynasty. As for Greece, Armenians have been “insiders” there since prehistoric times.
One of the major centers of Armenian culture in the world is Saint Lazarus Island, a small island in the Venetian Lagoon, which was founded by Armenian Catholic monk Mkhitar in 1717. The island was a favorite destination for Lord Byron, who frequently visited the island since 1816, and became acquainted with Armenian culture, studying the Armenian language there.
France became home for numerous refugees from Western Armenia after the 1915 Armenian Genocide. Those events are reflected in a thrilling film , “Mayrig”, directed by the talented Henri Verneui (Achod Malakian). The Armenian community in France is very active and well-organized, maintaining a genuine connection with Armenia. They include the prominent musician Charles Aznavour, talented artist Jean Carzou (Garnik Zulumyan), and Michel Legran (his mother was of Armenian descend): those people have become legends of world culture. Recently, we learned about new “Achievements of Armenians”: Anouch Toranian (Socialist Party) was elected the head of the 15th arrondissement of Paris, and Jeanne Barseghian (Green Party) was elected mayor of Strasbourg: both are ambitious and talented women with an impeccable reputation.
As for the Middle East, Armenians are considered almost indigenous there and traditionally enjoy great respect in Arab society. What about the Armenians in Turkey? The Armenian community in Turkey has survived, and they consider themselves as an indigenous people of the country, remaining devoted to their roots. A brilliant representative of the community is Garo Paylan, a Turkish politician of Armenian descent. He is a Member of the Grand National Assembly of Turkey for the Peoples’ Democratic Party representing Diyarbakir. He became one of the first Armenian members of Turkey’s parliament in decades.
Armenians in Russia form part of a unique epoch in the history of Armenian nation. The incorporation of Eastern Armenia into the Russian Empire in 1828, after a long Persian rule, gave a powerful impetus to the development of the nation, and underpinned the formation of an independent Republic of Armenia. By the decree of Catherine the Second, Armenians from the Crimea were resettled to the Don steppes in the southern borders of the Russian Empire, still undeveloped at that time. Since then, Armenians of Rostov and Krasnodar Krais and the North Caucasus have been considered an indigenous ethnic group. They’ve preserved their language, traditions, and links with their historical homeland Armenia. Ivan Aivazovsky – the legend of Russian Fine Arts, Agrippina Vaganova – the legend of Russian ballet, and Alexander Mantashyan – the legend of Russian oil business among other Armenian oil tycoons.
Time will not permit a mention of all famous and renowned Armenians of the Soviet Union. But a few are worthy of recognition:
Anastas Mikoyan was the second person in the USSR government with his indisputable contribution to the resolution of the Caribbean crisis in 1962. Gevork Vartanian was a Soviet intelligence officer. He and his wife Goar Vartanian were among those in charge of thwarting the notorious Long Jump Operation, concocted by Adolf Hitler and led by Otto Skorzeny, which attempted to assassinate Stalin, Churchill, and Roosevelt at the Tehran conference in 1943. Ivan Bagramyan was a prominent military figure, a Marshal of the Soviet Union. Armenian academician Abram Alikhanov (1904 -1970) was one of the creators of the first Soviet atomic bomb, and his brother Artem Alikhanian, also nuclear physicist, academician (1908-1978), was the founder of Yerevan Physics Institute. Aram Khachaturyan was a renowned Armenian composer and Viktor Ambartsumian was one of the 20th century’s top astronomers.
Apart from the stars listed above, there is an actual star in the sky with an Armenian name. Itis Asteroid 3027 that was named «Shavarsh» after Shavarsh Karapetyan – a multiple medallist of diving championships and a genuine Prometheus of the late 20th century, who saved dozens of lives from certain death three times in his lifetime. Today he resides in Moscow.
Text by Yelena Aslanyan, translated by Astghik Melik-Karamyan