Naira Kilichyan is a senior specialist of ICH, Department of Cultural heritage and Folk crafts, Ministry of Education, Science, Culture and Sport of the Republic of Armenia
Valentyna Demian: Hello, Naira! The Development Centre “Democracy through Culture” carries out a set of interviews about diverse issues related to the ICH safeguarding. Thank you that you’ve have agreed to make this conversation. It’s very important for us and for all who wish to learn more about the intangible cultural heritage of Armenia. The Republic of Armenia ratified UNESCO Convention on the safeguarding of the intangible cultural heritage in 2006. There are inscribed on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity such Armenian elements as: Duduk and its music (2008), Armenian cross-stones art. Symbolism and craftsmanship of Khachkars (2010), Performance of the Armenian epic of ‘Daredevils of Sassoun’ or ‘David of Sassoun'(2012), Lavash, the preparation, meaning and appearance of traditional bread as an expression of culture in Armenia (2014), Kochari, traditional group dance (2017), and Armenian letter art and its cultural expressions (2019).
Could you tell us, please, what does it mean, for you personally, when UNESCO has inscribed on its List the presentation of the intangible cultural heritage uniting all your nation?
Naira Kilichyan: First of all, I would like to thank you for invitation to interview on a topic so close to my heart. It should be noted that ICH inscriptions on the UNESCO lists are very important processes and foster more effective implementation of local heritage safeguarding programs. They greatly stimulate the meaning and new approaches of ICH in communities, underline the important role of legacy and activate young people to join to processes of revaluation, restoration and viability of heritage.
I am in the field of ICH for more than 30 years. My narrow specialization is the ethnochoreology: that is, the field of investigation of traditional dances. For me, all ways of heritage safeguarding are important and that is the main credo of my activity. Time has proved that the inscription of the ICH elements in UNESCO lists increased its awareness not only among ICH bearers, but also among the broad society. It contributes to organization of more programs and events and more actively spreads the information about heritage. In case of inscription of Armenian ICH elements, I consider the effectiveness of their safeguarding and valuation processes as a professional achievement for me and a guarantee for further protection and development of the sphere.
V.D.: Dear Naira, Armenia was among the first member states ratifying the Convention 2003. What are the main principles on which the policy for ICH safeguarding has been based in Armenia?
N.K.: Armenia has ratified the Convention in 2006. In 2009, Armenia has approved the “Law On Intangible Cultural Heritage” and other legal acts arising from it. The basic principles of ICH protection are defined in this law and are currently implemented through various programs and activities. The main ones are: ICH as a strategic area of cultural activity and state-protected national treasure, the role of ICH as one of the foundations of cultural development, access to ICH communication and accessibility, the provision of international cultural dialogue, etc.
V.D.: Travelling over Armenia and communicating with local inhabitants, I have felt their extremely proud when they explained me what Khachkars were. It’s really, wonderful presentation of Armenian culture: the stones embody the symbol of faith, uniting “tangible and intangible”. In the description, it is said that “Khachkars are outdoor steles carved from stone by craftspeople in Armenia and communities in the Armenian diaspora”. It deals with Armenian diaspora in Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Belarus, Brazil, Greece, Cyprus, etc. Was it difficult to unite efforts of all concerned parties?
N.K.: Yes, indeed, the khachkar is a complicated symbol and has different meanings, one of which is the idea of the unification of Armenians scattered all over the world, and the other idea is the eternity of existence. Khachkars are placed in many countries of the world among Armenian communities. They are also installed in countries where no Armenian communities exist but donation of khachkar is perceived as a confirmation of international friendly relations. With their delicate ornaments and symbolic images, these stone monuments depict a Christian cross in the center: the best manifestation of the Armenian culture, Christian faith, and universal value.
V.D.: Armenia has approved the Law On Intangible Cultural Heritage defining principal rules in this sphere. Could you tell, please, what role do non-governmental organizations play and what support do they get for implementing Convention 2003, according to this law?
N.K.: The state cultural policy of ICH safeguarding organized on the base of grants and program proposals of cultural, scientific and non-governmental organizations, which are involved in the global cultural program (annual, mid-term and perspective) of the state. In recent years, about 35 cultural, educational non-governmental organizations and foundations have been involved in these processes.
The ICH Law of Armenia clearly defines the mechanisms and procedures for cooperation between public administration and scientific, educational, non-governmental organizations, their information exchange, implementation of joint programs. One sample of such collaboration is the case of NGO ‘’Federation of Youth Clubs of Armenia’’, which is by state financial support conducted “Intangible Cultural Heritage of the Republic of Armenia” trilingual website: http://int-heritage.am and Facebook page: ICH Armenia https://www.facebook.com/intheritageam/
V.D.: Recently, the interesting information has fallen into my hands: in Armenia, the state allocates significant funds for ICH safeguarding. Could you tell, Naira, please, does such support concern only specific projects or the whole complex of measures?
N.K.: As I mentioned, the safeguarding of heritage is greatly important for Armenian cultural policy, and the RA state budget provides special funding for the general protection of the ICH sector. Within that framework, up to 20-25 ICH programs and events are implemented annually. For example, the festival dedicated to the epic “David of Sassoun”, ‘’Bread’’ and ‘’Lavash’’ festival, the folk song and dance festival “Gutan” and international folk festival “Armenia at the Crossroads of Peace”, different educational workshops, exhibitions, etc.
ICH programs are mainly implemented in the communities, which aim to foster the safeguarding of ICH transmission in local environment.
In 27 communities of Armenia is realized the global program “Arar (Creation): Safeguarding, Dissemination, Development and Popularization of ICH in the regions of the Republic of Armenia”. In this program almost 600 children of different ages are involved, and they take part in traditional song and dance, fine arts, carpet weaving, lace and embroidery, pottery, khachkar (cross-stone) making, stone, wood and metal art groups. They are taught by local masters, ICH bearers. Nowadays, the program is continued on the online platform, during which folk masters conduct workshops for children from different communities: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCM7iMqLtIlKD174Yx1OGB3A?fbclid=IwAR1xzprnreO0rclDhlbDb-CpmomJZeJyFbe95nBufHn2sBW1e95lyBXxwiU
These days, the “David of Sassoun” mobile application has become more applicable for everyone. It helps students deepen their knowledge about this epic. It includes text materials, testing system and games about the epic. The application is available for Android and IOS systems in English (sasunci davit) and in Armenian.
There is state support for preparation of ICH informative films also:
1.”Song Of Apricot Tree’”, in Russian https://tvkultura.ru/video/show/brand_id/21745/episode_id/1544323/video_id/1681653/viewtype/picture/
2.”Armenian Cross-stones Art. Khachkars”, in Russian https://tvkultura.ru/video/show/brand_id/21745/episode_id/1502368/
3.“Lavash”, with English subtitle https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q17dy1bggeQ&feature=share&fbclid=IwAR2txZiPgUKfyzuKljko4httlHrsZbXkpJM5IUI70Q-wcKBlWzWdAgZ-jmU
4. “Kochari”, with English subtitle https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xCsLFi5tnHE&feature=share&fbclid=IwAR039HwhaM8e_MVtpBNTNIAZS7sGrIqyHn2WRoXfGFDHuYEVeAYeFU-LeYY
V.D.: In 2019, Armenian letter art and its cultural expressions was inscribed on the Representative List. It’s a very beautiful element with wide expressions. Is there a special programme in Armenia for supporting this element? Are there educational courses in educational establishments?
N.K.: In 2019, the inscription of the nomination “Armenian letter art and its cultural expressions” was a great event not only for the ICH communities, but also for the all Armenian society and Armenian Diasporas, because that element is pan-Armenian and represents one of the world’s oldest alphabets and its various manifestations in miniature and book arts, embroidery, stone, metal cultivating, etc.
In the formal and non-formal educational system, cultural and non-governmental organizations are implementing continuous programs dedicated to letter art, among which special mention should be made to the ‘’My Armenian Alphabet’’ educational and cultural program realized in “Cafesjian Center for the Arts”. https://www.cmf.am/My-Armenian-Alphabet
V.D.: As I know, Armenia has received, recently, a grant assistance from the Intangible Cultural Heritage Fund for needs assessment in the ICH sphere. Tell us, please, which was the objective of such assessment, how it was practically carried out, how communities did participate and what results/impacts would you expect?
N.K.: In 2019, in Armenia, in the frame of implementation of the Convention the ‘’Needs assessment’’ program was realized in the ICH sphere. The aim of the program was the investigation of the implementation of the Convention in Armenia, assess the current situation of ICH, basic needs, legislation, formal and non-formal educational system, as well as set priorities for future tasks and developments. A detailed work plan was developed for the implementation of the project in cooperation with various ICH NGOs, cultural and educational organizations. Armenia has a rich heritage and presentation or monitoring all spheres in a very short time was almost impossible. As a result, the program overcome successfully, the priorities were formed, in the direction of the safeguarding of ICH in Armenia will continue more effectively.
V.D.: We’ve long and interesting conversation. I am grateful so much for you, indeed. Questions, which we have made, concern concrete examples, thus answers would inspire for further activities. Thank you very much for your openness and for your time! I wish you success!
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