I was invited to do a portrait series of the people of Sarigyugh by my friend Lucine. I was in town during the last week of school in May which was a highly symbolic time to be around. The kids were busy organizing all the festivities and dance balls, but most of them were going to be gone soon after their high school bells chime for the last time. The reception was warm. I shot nearing 50 people – all of them in the environment where I met them in natural light. Yet I had an aim to portray the village lifestyle through these stories as fully as possible. The original series of 15 portraits was first exhibited in Grote Kerk, Zwolle in July of 2019 and in Oulu, Finland from January 2020.
- Miika O. Koskela
SԱRI FEST 2019
The first ever festival in Sarigyugh
When I first visited Sarigyugh in 2017 I was devastated to experience the level of cultural decay that has been a reality in most Armenian rural environments for over 30 years. Project SARI started activity in Sarigyugh in order to revitalize the cultural life in the region. We planned to focus attention to the building of the old cultural center by organizing this festival, right in front of it! The goal was to shine some light on the situation and try to solve some of the issues concerning location and resources. An army of volunteers pushed the concept of the festival to its limits. We end up organizing the first ever music festival in Sarigyugh, together with a local market and hosted approx. 2000 visitors from all over the country including the governor of Tavush province, Hayk Chobanyan and Bishop, Bagrat Galstanyan. Multimple national media channels covered the story of a successful rural fest in the mountains of Armenia, including the national news that week. It was a tremendous success and an example of collaborative organisation. The team accomplished all of that in only 2 weeks time! We plan to organize the now renowned SARI FEST every June 2nd of every year!
- Lucine Ellarian
Volunteering at an electronic festival in Yerevan
In May of 2019 the first ever electronic music festival was held in Yerevan with a line-up of more than 50 artists from abroad. It was a tremendous success. A few weeks later the organisation got in touch with me to collaborate on a project they wanted to enroll outside of the capital. We came up with an idea to offer volunteering experience to a group of youngsters from Sarigyugh during their next event: Synthposium Yerevan. For three days 16 volunteers worked at the festival sight as part of the team. Each of them was linked to a professional of choice (photographer, musician, manager) and got to assist then throughout the weekend. There was time for work, partying and even sightseeing in Yerevan. They were hosted by my family and friends.
From Kirants monastery to Sarigyugh
The founder of Network Hiking Armenia, Mayis Margaryan, introduced me to this wonderful concept during a hiking trip to Tatev and we quickly fetched plans to bring the project to Sarigyugh. We rented an open back truck, loaded it with 20 kids, a few guests from Ijevan and Yerevan and drove up hill towards Kirants monastery, on a mountain top 20 km away. We walked all the way back to Sarigyugh. The visitors from outside the village had a chance to talk to the kids from the village on the way back and get familiar with their everyday life, their struggles and their dream. They also got to learn about the environment and enjoy being in the mountains. This way of connecting through an activity proves to be most valuable and effective for both the visitors and locals.
How we sold out a rap/rock concert in Ijevan
The man in the picture holding 2 tickets is Vazgen, my taxi driver and an old acquaintance of my grandfather. Vazgen always told me - when driving me to and from home - how they used to visit concerts and theater when he was younger and how that had stopped 30 years ago. I invited him to the P5P benefit concert we were organizing at the time to kick off the crowdfunding to tour with a mini festival in 20 border villages in Tavush. The cultural center in Ijevan had not sold out tickets since 1988. We had to print standing tickets because everything was sold out 2 days before the concert. All hands were on deck. It was a tremendous success. The crowdfunding is still in the air. Feel free to contribute!
- Lucine Ellarian
Traditional dance classes in Sarigyugh
Anna Berberyan teaches ethnic Armenian dance classes at Tohmapar Dance Club in Yerevan. When she found out about this project in Sarigyugh, she was excited to visit our village, get to know the kids and consider future collaboration. One sunny afternoon she invited 4 of her students to Sarigyugh to work with the children. They arrived in the guesthouse in the afternoon and after a little walk through the sunny mountain landscapes, arrived at the destination, the place where they were going to work. Around 25 kids attended the dance class, many spectators gathered. Anna and her team taught the group around 15 traditional Armenian dances, learning about their origin, the technique and the movements. The day was a great success. Anna expressed her motivation to find a way to keep on working with the kids and possibly even scout talented dancer that would be offered a training at Tohmapar in order to be able to teach! We are determined to make this a continuous collaboration where Anna and her team can work more frequently and more closely with the children in Sarigyugh. Plans are currently in the making.
What happens if I push this button?
World renown artist Jesse Osborne-Lanthier is a Montreal-born Berlin-based multidisciplinary musician focused on inciting alternative cognitive responses via mixed sonic material. His works are admired and demanded all over the world. He visited Armenia for Synthposium Electronic Festival in September of 2019 and collaborated with Project SARI to provide an in debt understanding of electronic music during a workshop. He brought some equipment, sat down with a group of kids and after explaining some fundamentals, got busy to create music! The sounds were strange to the kids at first but after touching the colorful equipment and pushing some buttons, they transformed the venue info a conceptual, experimental playground.
A collaboration with the regional football bond
When Project SARI was just setting foot on the ground in the village, we were monitoring the interests of the community. Very soon we realized football was one of the few
extracurricular activities the children had access to. They were very excited about it but trained sporadically and the need for a solid resourced, organisation and management was evident. We got in touch with Nikarm, the regional football bond, and decided to organized a tournament with several local clubs. A sponsor from the Netherlands got the team brand new outfits and equipment. Although the weather and the conditions weren't great, they still held their medals with the biggest smile.
Let's walk to Berkaber and have a class
Berkaber is a neighboring village right on the border with Azerbaijan. It can be quite a turbulent place at times when the political landscape is unstable. Mostly it's peaceful but neighboring villages prefer to avoid any visit due to its history and location. We find it important for the community (especially the children) to be aware of their environment so we organized a hiking tour. We walked all the way to Extreme Cafe, a venue on a hill in Berkaber, sharing stories about the village and it's reputation. I realized how awake, informed and brave these kids are, I was so proud of them. Angel Hita provided a caricature drawing class right outside the cafe. We had a wonderful afternoon.
What's volunteering and how do you do it?
Lilit Grigoryan, the coordinator of cultural programs of My Step Foundation visited Sarigyugh to meet our community and talk about the life and works of Claude Monet. Her experience with the youth and our conversation in the evening inspired her to provide some background information on volunteering and help us gather a team of young, energetic and motivated youngsters. During this gathering she talked about the individual responsibility in community development and the benefits of voluntary work. After that session, the kids created a platform on facebook, designed a logo, gathered a team of volunteers and presented themselves to Project SARI. We have been working with them ever since and the group keeps growing.
A Monet afternoon
The life and work of an impressionist
Some young artists had been requesting more in debt seminars and workshops on painters, musicians and writers. Lilit has a history in arts and is crazy about Monet, just like Alisa, a young painter from Sarigyugh that visits the Art School of Ijevan. The education in Armenian is generally quite formal and static, contrary to this gathering. Lilit kept the topics were intriguing and mysterious. She talked about Monet's wife's, his muses, his struggles, insecurities and his dreams. Monet's love for Giverny inspired the children to view their village from another perspective. Their works could also turn into universal masterpieces and their village would become famous, just like Giverny.
A transformation in rural economic cultures
Gor Nazaryan is a successful entrepreneur in Yerevan, he owns Rena Restaurants, recently founded WishApp and works as Recruitment Manager with Teach for Armenia. He recognized the need for information on business startups in rural areas a while ago but never found the time to initiate a project, until we came along. He provided a course on business foundations for young (aspiring) entrepreneurs in Sarigyugh and the region. In collaboration with Gor we are currently developing a methodology to make this elaborate package of information easily accessible to rural community members. In addition, Gor got involved in individual coaching, which generates incredible results.
An introduction to playing responsibly
Circus artist Angel Hita visited Sarigyugh from Amsterdam with no expectations. He wanted to understand the needs of the children and offer them a unique experience. He spent some time breathing the fresh mountain air and got to know them. Soon he proposed to set up a few workshops, one of which being the incredibly successful and fun Acro-Yoga class. Playing is an incredible way to unite and relax at the same time, Angel rconfirmed the need of play withing our methodology. The children started asking for yoga classes every day and we decided to offer them a class each week. We have 4 age groups of 12 participants and this is one of the few moments we come together and practice being present, conscious, respectful and respected.
The life and work of an impressionist
''Would you like to go hiking?'' ''To where'' is the answer 9 out of 10 times in Armenia. You need to go somewhere, do something, why would you hike with no 'purpose'? We are determined to contribute to a healthy and active community, not only by organizing hiking events but also establishing a cycling club, physical exercise workshop and yoga classes as mentioned above. Besides, to do a free activity outside like hiking together gives us the opportunity to meet each other more freely, with no restrictions. It is an incredible way for us to learn about the children, their personalities, their passions. They love to play, run and tease each other along the way, they start inspiring conversations and laugh from the heart.
Secrets of Rural Tourism
Carefully tiptoeing around the subject
The geographical position of the village could not be any better, it lays in a mountainous valley, alongside the silk road toward Tbilisi in the north and Tehran in the South. We spend the year mapping the touristic potential, all the resources and services the village has to offer. The process is still in progress but we already managed to convince and assist one of the inhabitants to open her majestic house to tourists and visitors. As of May 2019 Elnor guesthouse is a member of booking.com and Airbnb. The lady of the house, Raya, was hesitant at first but with proper guidance she grew into her role and enjoys the company of her guests incredibly. She even greets them in their mother tongue in the morning,
A fundamental demand from the children
Everyone who attended Angels Acro-Yoga class, demanded, after Angel left Sarigyugh, to continue the yoga classes. I asked them to gather a group, appoint a place, time and inform me about it. Never thought they actually would. The next day they came back with a list of 4 groups of 12 students, in several age categories, a location and a time! I was amazed. I had to quickly learn the fundamentals of teaching yoga since I couldn't find a part-time yoga teacher anywhere around. I managed, but I have to be honest, we play most of the time, we stretching a bit, laugh a lot and share stories very often. It became a safe space for the kids to be wild and graceful, listen to each other and to themselves.