This project consisting of 6 choirs in the Vayots Dzor region (one in Yegheknadzor and 5 in the border villages of Yelpin, Areni, Aghnjadzor, Chiva, and Karaglukh) provided an important, unique, and often the only extra-curricular activity for children living under constant threat from Azerbaijani aggression. Music proved to be an excellent cultural stimulant for the children as expressed by the children, the parents and Maro Simonian (the choir conductor) as well as our partner, the AKNA Cultural Society NGO (under Levon Eskenian - a musician of international reputation and head of the Gurdjieff Ensemble), and was an excellent tool to build community and mutual understanding, particularly after trauma inflicting war and pandemic-associated social isolation. The two Christmas concerts (Yegheknadzor and Yerevan) brought children from 8 communities together for impressive, life-changing, and joyful concerts. It was indeed the culmination of 6 months of intensive rehearsals, giving the children a great sense of achievement, a return to life, empowerment, and built community resilience. Our Armenia-based partner under the leadership of Levon Eskenian, the AKNA “Cultural Society” NGO did a fantastic job keeping track of the finances for the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation SDC funds that were generously provided to co-sponsor the project. The Atken Armenian Foundation provided, and continues to provide funds for the ongoing project.
As explained in our proposal:
The recent war and the proximity of the villages we serve to the border with Azerbaijan results in a strong sense of vulnerability in the children and their communities. The Human Rights Based Approach to development stipulates that the most vulnerable segments of society must be cared for as a priority in any development goals. The pandemic has also resulted in greatly reduced opportunities for group activities, especially in remote areas.
It is our firm belief that the Resilience Hubs project has provided much-needed care to the children of the region. We are convinced that the lifelong positive Resilience Hubs memories acquired before, during, and today will help the children grow up into more confident and socially and musically competent adults. After being let down by the seeming indifference of an international community preoccupied with COVID-19, the children in the region can now look forward to a new narrative and a renewed sense of hope.
Finally, the presence of Ambassador H. E. Lukas Rosenkranz at the Yerevan concert and Mr. Verner Thut, Deputy regional director of Swiss Cooperation South Caucasus and Deputy Ambassador of Switzerland at the Yegheknadzor concert along with members of the embassy staff was a very meaningful encouragement felt very intensely by the children and their parents.
- Resilience Hubs Christmas concerts in Yegheknadzor (Dec. 26, 2022) and Yerevan January 25, 2023).
- A celebration of Christmas music from around the world!
- Concerts venues were Yegheknadzor Culture Centre and the Arno Babajanian Concert Hall in Yerevan
- "A Swiss Christmas Concert" was the title of both concerts
- Maro Simonyan, a resident of Yegheknadzor was the Musical Director
- Official program name: The Resilience Hubs choirs of the Atken Armenian Foundation
- Co-funded by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation SDC
- In partnership with the AKNA Cultural Society NGO (Armenia)
- Over 70 children from our choirs in the border towns of Vayots Dzor.
- The power of music empowering the next generation!
Timeline in pics
Our Resilience Hubs Choirs gave an amazing concert forming a 100+ Choir and performing at the magical Noravank site. The culmination of a year of efforts in the border villages of Vayots Dzor. We were in the local news too (Zangezur TV).
In August, Maro Simonyan began the task of regrouping the choirs, finding new members and fine-tuning our choirs in order to improve the quality of the musical results of the program. We were looking for committed and interested children and with the co-sponsorship of the SDC, we wanted to make sure all the parents, communities, local governments, and schools would collaborate with us to make the project a success.
Based on the choirs we now had, important decisions were made on the repertoire for the Christmas concert program. It was deemed important and beneficial to rehearse outside as much as possible to benefit from the pleasant weather and to be inspired by nature. Rehearsing (and having fun!) in this atmosphere created essential bonds between the members and with Maro.
Intense months of rehearsals and refining of the music. Maro visited the six locales twice a week for extended rehearsals. Her dedication and determination are exemplary. As mentioned in our proposal, Maro also worked one-on-one with certain children who would sing solos and who may want to go into music more seriously.
It was getting cold indeed! Unfortunately, due to budget constraints and bad isolation, the rooms where the children rehearsed were also quite cold. There were numerous moments when the children were getting colds, one after the other making Maro's work all the more difficult. But, we pushed on!
By the end of November, the repertoire was ready and the outfits were coming along quite well! We held a practice concert in Yegheknadzor for the parents. The villages arranged for many of the children to be bused into Yegheknadzor for this concert. A big thank you to the Syunik NGO and Arshbishop Abraham for hosting this event at the Gitelik University!
A final push to get ready for the big concert. The outfits were prepared, the pianos tuned again, the transportation arranged, and we decided that to make it extra special, we would invite two qanon players to accompany the choir instead of only the piano (it was apparently a first in Armenia and proved to be a perfect match) and a soprano to sing some Swiss folk songs. A local flute student was also added to the mix. All four young ladies are Atken Armenian Foundation scholarship winners and our Zartonk Academy (a summer music program we have) participants. Their participation and their wonderful mingling with the children really contributed to making the children feel respected and loved.
December 26 Concert
From our Facebook post on this day:
Today marks the 14th year that has gone by since the passing of Dr. Atken Armenian. It seems special events coincide with either his birthdate, August 4th (in 2019 we began our Zartonk Music Academy program on that day) or the calendar date of his passing, today. Indeed, today in Vayots Dzor we held an exceptional and important event in collaboration with the Embassy of Switzerland in Armenia and the local government and municipal authorities in Vayots Dzor. The event we have been telling you about for the past couple of weeks: "A Swiss Christmas Concert".
A special thank you to Mr. Verner Thut, Deputy regional director of Swiss Cooperation South Caucasus and Deputy Ambassador of Switzerland and his colleagues at the mission for choosing our Resilience Hubs program for financial assistance this year. Without this aid, 70+ children in the border villages of Vayots Dzor would not have this incredible opportunity to learn songs in English, French, German and Armenian under the direction of Mrs. Maro Simonyan, a wonderful local musician we have been working with for the past 12 years. Today they gave a memorable concert in the presence of Mr. Thut and his wife Yoko Shimo, Vardan Janazyan, National Program Officer / Media and Communication Officer, Marco Hunziker, Academic Intern, as well as several dignitaries from Vayots Dzor and a large audience of parents and friends of the singers.
In Mr. Thut's words, "the last two years in particular have been difficult years for Armenia. Many of you have not been able to do what most children of the world do: play, work, grow without fear.." He then explained eloquently to the children and audience that music has that special power to bring hope and joy to performer and audience alike. Indeed, the main purpose of the Resilience Hubs. . .
Syunik TV did a great news clip on the event: NEWS CLIP!
After a holiday break, rehearsals restarted with extra vigour. The choir in Yegheknadzor even did small concerts at the local church and at a local New Year's event, singing some of the repertories from the Christmas concert.
January 25 Concert
And finally a very exciting concert in Yerevan that required a huge amount of organization and collaboration. We were so glad that with such little advertising capabilities, we were able to provide a nice audience for the kids who travelled such a long distance to share their music. Before the concert, the children were taken to the Komitas Museum, we could not simply come for a concert, could we?
The Ambassador graciously gave a welcome speech explaining the importance of culture and collaboration. The audience was enthralled. Shoghakat TV did an interesting news clip on this occasion: NEWS CLIP!
What a fantastic climax to a 6-month program, the children are super excited and realize that they have made an excellent journey in music that will stay with them for the rest of their lives. The experiences of performing in Yegheknadzor and Yerevan contributed to their development as a choir. The Atken Armenia Foundation would like to thank once again the excellent collaboration of the AKNA “Cultural Society” NGO and we are very honoured to have been chosen by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation SDC for funding these past 6 months allowing this project to really take off and provide an excellent result for the children living in border areas of Vayots Dzor.
To continue this project, we ask you to donate today, reach out to us now!
Thank you from the regional government