When an Object Shows Who You Are
Intro by Monica Ellena
A jar of yogurt represents home; an ancient, chipped ceramic pot symbolizes humanity; a traditional frame drum evokes passion; an old, smelly sweater brings to mind carefree childhood summers.
There are objects that we treasure because they define our inner selves, encapsulate our tangible identity -- who we are, where we hail from, what we love or used to love. Even a pear-shaped tea glass or a hazelnut harvest can be part of a personal or communal identity.
The narratives each of us carry are the summation of our values, goals and aspirations.
These narratives are uniquely personal -- depending on the perspective, a yellow bus can be just an old, rusty means of transportation or a symbol of national identity.
Chai Khana asked young Armenians, Azerbaijanis, and Georgians to open their hearts and closets and tell which object they feel best mirrors their identities.
Srbuhy Aidinian, 22, Philology Student
My Great-Grandfather’s Diaries
Aidinian’s family found the diaries of her great-grandfather, Anushavan Yeremyan, only after his death in 1990. He had never told anyone he’d written them.
“They start in 1939 when he left Martuni, his hometown in Nagorno Karabakh, for Ukraine for military service. They continue through the end of World War II. In the section “GANYA,” Anushavan writes about Agaphia Kleptsina, the Russian woman who later became his wife. Ganya was the name everyone used for her. They met on the frontline. After the war they settled in Nagorno Karabakh, and had five children. Anushavan died before I was born, but I remember my great-grandmother well. She was a warm and kind person.”
Ashken Yeghiazaryan, 26, Administrative Assistant
Vardges Sureniants’ Painting “Grief”
“My father is an engineer. His work table at our house was constantly covered with sketches and microchips, but there was one picture -- a photo of “Grief,” a drawing by the Armenian painter Vardges Sureniants. It was under the tabletop glass. I always wanted to move it to see it better. It was so beautiful, vaguely sad. [When] I couldn’t read, I nonetheless learnt the letters to read the painter’s name.”
Yeghiazaryan is moving to Germany and plans to study industrial design. She packed a suitcase-sized print of “Grief” to take with her. “This painting is my house and my childhood,” she says.
Hayk Gyulamiryan, 27, Archaeologist
“My father [an architect] used his first salary to buy the first ceramics in our house. Ceramics accompany human beings [through history]. [They help] you trace the development of humanity. Each time I unearth something, I think about the lips which touched it thousands of years ago, the toasts, the conversations held around it.
During excavations, [it is common] for archeologists to have dreams [while asleep.] They struggle to fall asleep; if their find is interesting, they work non-stop. Archaeology is a profession that demands devotion -- to explore and understand your home, environment, the place where you live, and the people who used to live there.”
Ruzan Safaryan, 27, Marketing Executive
My Family’s Old Photo Albums
“My national identity is [embedded] in my personal identity. It is private and I trace it in old photo albums. There are photos of people I have never met or I don’t remember. I am fascinated by who they were, what they did. The period before Sovietization is the most interesting - when [my ancestors] migrated from Western Armenia [modern-day eastern Turkey -- ed] to Russia, and then settled in Tbilisi.
National identity is not a value [per se], but a story to explore to understand who you are.
It is naive to think that by underestimating or overvaluing your [national] identity you can take advantage of someone or of something.”
Gog Hakheyan, 19, Marketing Student
Rock Concert Tickets
“I feel like a cosmopolitan person rather than a nationalist. Traditions are not for me, but I like Armenian cuisine and rock music. The first time my mother took me to a rock concert I was 12. I started to explore my favorite bands and going to their concerts, even alone. And the underground sub-culture [where] people don’t mind what you wear or what color your hair is. In that environment, I could be myself. I realized that this sub-culture is also national and it gathers people around Armenian rock. Concerts became my hobby. They give me essential energy.”
Amalie Khachatryan, 23, Journalist
My Mother’s Jezves
“Armenia’s population is 98-percent Armenian -- you don’t question your national identity. In 2016, I moved to Lithuania with the European Voluntary Service program [which encourages youth volunteering in Europe] and, among people of different nationalities, I started exploring Armenia’s culture. When I felt lonely, I missed the family conversations around the coffee table. I used to make coffee with the jezves [metal coffee pots] from my mother’s dowry. When we have guests, I use our biggest set with scenes of Armenia carved on it. It serves up to ten cups. It takes hours [for its water] to boil. The smallest jezve always accompanies me during my trips.”
Haig Siserian, 16, Dentistry Student
My Pendant Cross
Born in Aleppo, Siserian moved to Yerevan with his family in 2015 to escape the civil war in his native Syria.
“In Syria, we kept our [ethnic Armenian] identity through our language and religion. I’ve had this cross for ten years. My mother bought it at the Saint George monastery [in Homs] to protect me. I never take it off. I feel its power. Once my brother and I were praying while walking in Villaner, Aleppo’s Armenian district. A minute after we finished praying, a rocket fell just a meter away from us. We were not injured. I think this cross saved us.”
Christina Soloyan, 21, Journalist
Yerevan’s Republic Square
“All [past] political demonstrations took place in Freedom Square. Republic Square, with its institutional buildings, was associated with the government. No matter how beautiful it is, it seemed like a foreign body, something belonging to others. During the Velvet Revolution, I felt I regained it as a citizen. It still belongs to the government, but, at the same time, it also belongs to us because we ‘voted’ for this government.
I have never considered myself an activist. In all previous protests, I participated as a journalist. The Velvet Revolution was the first I took part in as a citizen.”
Soloyan stands with a photo showing her at the April 2018 protests on Republic Square that led to the resignation of Prime Minister Serzh Sargsyan.
Kamran Aliyev, 21, Marketing Specialist
A shallow, handheld drum on a wooden frame, the ghaval produces a pulsating, rippling rhythm that flows throughout Azerbaijani folk music. “The sound of the ghaval moves the deepest strings of my soul and makes me feel the rhythm of ancient times. I bet our forefathers used to enjoy and dance with the ghaval the way we listen to electronic music today.”
Mirqardaş Salman, 23, Sales Manager
“Carpets have always been special objects for me. I remember, as a child, I used to spend hours playing on a carpet or watch my mother washing it every summer with the family. It’s a warm and joyful memory.”
Afag Khalilova, 19, Actress
Statue of a Liberated Azerbaijani Woman
Fuad Abdurakhmanov’s statue in downtown Baku, erected in 1960, represents an Azerbaijani woman removing her chador and breaking free from the restrictions implied by that attire. This symbolic act of liberation appeals to Khalilova as it did to Abdurakhmanov. “I want to see Azerbaijani women emancipated; the way she [sic] has freed herself until now,” she says. “Long live Azerbaijani women!”
Khanum Taptiqova, 27, Painter
My Grandmother’s Earrings
“These ethnic earrings belonged to my grandmother. They are called ‘baskets’ and are made of filigree, a delicate type of metalwork made with tiny beads or twisted threads. They represent my national identity. All ancient jewels reveal a nation’s history and the culture of some nations. The artists’ unique skills emphasize individualism and identity.”
Leman Nasirova, 22, Economist
“I have been obsessed with maps since I was a child. And the [map showing a] proud eagle [representing Azerbaijan] heading into the Caspian Sea has always been the map I feel the closest to me.”
Fidan Abdullaeva, 22, Economist
“This kelaghayi [a traditional silk headscarf; its creation and use are included on UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity list] belongs to my grandmother. I was not that interested in it during my childhood. Now, I value it very much.”
Babek Ahmedowsky, 25, Guitar Player/Band Leader
A Record of Uzeyir Hajibeyov’s Music
Hailed as the father of Azerbaijan’s written classical music and opera, 20th-century composer Uzeyir Hajibeyov has affected Babek Ahmedowsky, leader of the Ahmedowsky Trio, from childhood.“I’ve been obsessed with music since my early years, when my parents sent me to piano lessons."
Ulker Gurzaliyeva, 21, Economist
Called armudu (“pear-shaped”), an Azerbaijani tea glass is synonymous for many with the local love of drinking black tea while chatting with friends, family and guests. “They are somehow magical.Tea in [our] traditional, pear-shaped glasses tastes more delicious.”
Giorgi Jinoridze, 25, Designer
“For me, identity is revealed through emotions rather than objects. One spring day, I was coming back from work when I saw a blooming tree near [Tbilisi’s] Station Square; the surrounding was so grim, that tree looked like an innocent adolescent about to be filmed for pornography. I can use the same comparison for our country.
Georgia should be heaven on earth, but, unfortunately, indecent people corrupt its beauty. I don’t like people, but I like [my] country.
I shun close interactions with people. I think people close to me are the best. It is quite hard to find people like them.”
Ani Kiladze, 21, Social Sciences Student
Books about April 9, 1989
“As a child, I was strangely curious about the books about [the pro-independence demonstration of] April 9, 1989. I would sit and look through the photos of the dead. I could not understand the protest’s meaning, its purpose. Similar books were in every house. I discovered that many [people] had a similar experience to mine. My parents participated in the rally. They wanted the best for their country. I would have been there, too. I participate in demonstrations, I feel a social responsibility. A common problem makes me feel one with the nation. Our common history brought us here [to this point of sensing national unity].”
Luka Qiria, 18, Medical Student
“A crowded bus can be [the mirror] of a society. Through people’s behavior you can see the characteristics of a nation. Most Georgians are working-class people, they use public transportation. I belong to [this class] and to this nation. We are strangers sharing a common fate.
Buses are like a time machine -- the old, yellow ones belong to the past; the blue, new ones take us to the future. Yellow buses are for my generation what trams were for the older generation.
One day, when the last yellow bus will travel [somewhere], I want to sit inside it. I would become a part of [Tbilisi’s] urban history.”
Levan Chkonia, 19, Film and TV Student
“National identity is the old smelly shorts and T-shirts that we took out of the closet for the summer; especially A.C. Milan’s black-and-red soccer uniforms. They belong to a different country, but I spent my childhood in them, on a soccer field in my neighborhood. And my neighborhood is my country. Identity is empathy; something you can relate to. In general, I think that, for my generation, the feeling of nationality is not alien. You don’t hear superficial criticism [of Georgia] from teenagers; they really worry about the problems in the country. Few young people [I know] talk about leaving. Some left, but they came back.”
Sofo Sherazadishvili, 17, High School Student
Tengiz Mirzashvili’s Paintings
“I love this painting by [the late Georgian artist] Tengiz Mirzashvili, aka Chubchika, because it reminds me of Kazbegi, where I spent my childhood and where I still go. The man and the little girl are my father and I. The cow is our cow, Tetrshubla, which I loved very much.
I love my country. This is also part of my identity. Georgia, for me, is Kazbegi. I used to switch to the local dialect, and I would repeat phrases to my friends [here] in Tbilisi. I don’t see a difference between myself and my friends from Kazbegi. We communicate via social media and by phone, we watch the same TV series, read the same books.”
Kristina Kobalia, 24, Public-Administration Graduate Student
I lived in Russia until I was 14, then my family returned to Abkhazia [in Gali]. There, we have a big house and land with hazelnut trees. There are a lot. Some families rely on [the hazelnuts] financially. The harvest is an important ritual for me. Every August, I go back and help my parents. When they’ll pass away, I will take over [the property], then I will pass it on to my children.
Citizenship does not mean much to me. Humanism is my main value. I respect all cultures. I can’t say that something Georgian is of great importance for me. My house in Abkhazia is the place where I can always return.”
Anastasia Kvinikadze, 17, High School Student
Matsoni (Georgian Yogurt)
“In my mountain village in Racha, women prepare matsoni [a thick, white yogurt] at home. Families always buy it because it’s healthy. When I lived in the USA, I realized that people didn’t know [matsoni]. I could not even describe the taste. Women [in Georgia] used to sell matsoni door-to-door, but now it is rare. Homemade matsoni has a special taste. It tastes like home.
I like everything in Georgia. I would not live anywhere else. Now, the borders are more open. You can leave and come back anytime. This is the reason why some of my friends don’t think about migrating. Many want to study abroad, but not settle there.”
Mariam Kevlishvili, 21, IT Student
“I bought this necklace in Navtlugi’s second-hand market [in Tbilisi] for 20 tetris ($0.08). You can find many things [there], but it is difficult to see how poor people sell their things for cheap. This [necklace] reminds me of medieval jewellery, from the 11th-12th centuries, when Georgia was strong.
A homeland is an inseparable part of one’s self. It is not floating somewhere in outer space. I don’t understand when people say that the Internet, globalization and open borders take our national identity from us. How can you lose something that is inside of you?”
July, 2018 Identity Edition