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On a recent visit to Armenia, I traveled from the capital of Yerevan to the small village of Sasunik about 40 minutes north. I was on a quest to learn more about the work of the Adopt a Loom project of the Folk Arts Hub Foundation, and its efforts to revive traditional textile folk art & to instill in the younger generation an appreciation for their creative heritage.
Not only did I get a warm welcome and glimpse of Armenia’s carpet-making tradition being carried on, but I received an unexpected education in other dimensions of Armenian heritage as well, including being treated to an exuberant manifestation of tradition, by the school girls of Sasunik.
I had been told earlier by an Armenian music scholar that the country’s ancient tradition of folk dance was a physical expression of making a visceral connection to the land, an expression of rootedness, of home, of community and of identity. Throughout my travels in Armenia, I sensed that connection very strongly, and in Sasunik, I had a powerful lesson in the poignancy of that legacy.
I learned my hosts in Sasunik are the descendents of people from another village named Sasunik in an area that is part of the Armenia homeland that was annexed by Turkey in the Armenian Genocide. Fleeing for their lives, these ancestors established new roots…and kept their village name, and spirit, alive.
There’s more to the story of Sasunik and Armenian culture. Just as I was leaving, it was explained to me that the original Sasunik area was the setting for a priceless piece of Armenian heritage, an epic called the Daredevils of Sassoun. In this legend that dates to the 8th century, the hero David dates drives foreign invaders from from Armenia.
One universal truth always seems to emerge in my travels, wherever I go. We all need our cultural legends to remind us of where we come from, our heroes to inspire us …but at the end of the day, it is the every day very human heroes who keep our cultures alive.