Volunteers learn about their culture – and gain useful work experience - at the Armenian Archive project
by Germana Girelli
A project to establish the Hayashan – an archive library of Armenian culture – in the centre of London two years ago has become a focus for researchers, academics, and the Armenian community interested in learning more about their history and culture.
Now, the archive project, which is bringing together a treasure trove of Armenian publications, photos, films, newspapers and periodicals to promote a better understanding of the Armenian heritage for both Armenians and the wider London community, involves around 50 volunteers per year – Armenians, new Armenian migrants and non-Armenians. Among those volunteers is Italian-born Germana Girelli.
Here Germana tells us more about the Hayashan:
I have been volunteering at the Hayashan archive project, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, since January. The project is based at the Centre for Armenian and Information Advice (CAIA) and was launched by its founder, Misak Ohanian.
Ohanian originally started collecting books back in 1970 in order to preserve his cultural identity.
“Some of the books were given to me by my grandfather who survived the genocide, so it was a way to keep him close to me,” he explained.
The archive project aims to make this growing collection available to the wider community, the younger generation, researchers, students, academics and anyone who is interested in Armenian culture.
The archive has over 3,000 rare and unique items in English, French, Russian and Armenian, some collected by Ohanian from his family, others donated by members of the Armenian diaspora in the UK and worldwide. The oldest item date back to the 1870s; other highlights include historical books and audio visual records of now-destroyed Armenian villages, towns and cultural monuments.
I recently catalogued a 16mm film documentary called “Lipanan: Our Country, Our Struggle”, made in 1979 by Armenian-American director Markar Melkonian. Produced for primary school students and filmed on location in war-torn Beirut, it documents right-wing terrorism against the ethnic Armenian community in Lebanon, helping young audiences to understand some of the country’s troubles.
The project is an opportunity for different communities to work together, explains Scarlet Sarksan, admin officer, librarian and volunteer coordinator at CAIA:
“The volunteers bring their knowledge and skills to conserve their cultural heritage and at the same time, the communities can take inspiration from our project.”
CAIA founder Misak Ohanian came to England in 1967 to escape from the violence between Greek and Turkish Cypriots. His experience influenced the mission of the centre, especially in supporting the welfare needs of disadvantaged Armenians through counselling, translation and information services, which help them integrate into society.
Over 25 years, the centre has become a focus for anyone interested in the history and culture of Armenians, maintaining links between Armenia, the Armenia diaspora and the wider London community.
It is a place where Armenians socialise, speak their own language, feel at home and integrate with other cultures. Non-Armenians get familiarised with Armenian culture and for some volunteers, the work experience in archiving and researching enhances career prospects.
For more information see www.caia.org.uk
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