In recent months, young artists and athletes from Karabagh have been making waves at regional and international events. Competitors have placed in the top three in two chess competitions, seven martial arts tournaments, and nine ping-pong events. Five artists have taken regional or national awards, and four will be presenting their work as part of a pan-Armenian art show this month.
All of these youth are scholarship winners in Taghandavor Yeridasardner (Talented Youth), a program designed to combat the prevailing “brain drain” which has deprived Karabagh of young, emerging talents in a variety of fields. The project is a joint initiative of the Tufenkian Foundation and the NKR Ministry of Education.
“Many families see little opportunity for their children to develop in this war-torn country,” says Antranig Kasbarian, the Foundation’s Director of Development. “Facing numerous difficulties, some leave the country entirely, never to return. This obviously has set the country back.”
Beginning in 2004, the Foundation worked with the Education Ministry to craft a program that would enable young talents to develop the skills that will help them grow into leaders in their fields. The resulting program identifies talented youth and connects them to the region’s top instructors. Ultimately, the program provides opportunities for students to showcase their gifts and skills as part of the country’s cultural life. Each Christmas, for instance, the NKR Symphony Orchestra performs a special holiday concert led by instrumentalists from the program.
“Karabagh’s people need more than jobs and infrastructure,” Kasbarian continues. “They also need encouragement to pursue their Armenian heritage and excel in cultural achievements. Without cultural revitalization, the country will remain impoverished.”
When launched in 2004-05, Taghandavor Yeridasardner reached about 20 students, all from Stepanakert. Since then, it has grown to serve 80 young talents from Stepanakert, Martuni and Hadrut. They are taught by 18 local instructors, plus visiting conservatory professionals from Yerevan. This year’s students include 28 instrumentalists, 16 vocalists, 22 artists and 14 young athletes. Over the past three years, participants have competed internationally and been recognized as world-class performers in their fields.
Much of this growth was made possible by support from Diasporan groups and individuals. After an initial co-sponsorship from the Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church (Eastern US), the program has earned the attention of a range of sponsors, including some who have sought to honor the memory of late family members: Lloyd Bellows of Ocala, Florida recently contributed in memory of his mother, Alice Haigazian Berman—a well-known ballet dancer and champion of the arts. Talar Herculian of California participates annually in honor of her late father, Mardiros Herculian—a distinguished Armenian school teacher. Most recently, the California-based Julia Burke Foundation joined the effort with a $10,000 grant.
“It’s exciting to see the accomplishments of these students,” Kasbarian adds. “But it’s even more exciting to witness their dedication to what they are doing, right here in Karabagh. We hope the program will continue to grow, eventually encompassing every region of the country.”
The program will soon grow in variety as well: Plans include creating a folk instrumental ensemble which will promote Armenian folk repertoire and instruments that are on the verge of disappearance. The Foundation also plans to hold a special training for applied art teachers, so they may better serve art students in Hadrut and throughout the country.