A portrait painted by Archi’s grandmother Armine Baronian
Armine Baronian was born in Adabazar in 1920. Even though World War I was over and massacres of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire had subsided, by the age of four she lost her father and was forced to flee to Syria. Her mother was a teacher and her older brother Aram would eventually become a leading engineer in the field of drinking-water technology. Armine, however, fell in love with art during a visit to Italy in the late 1930s. “My grandfather’s fame had meanwhile spread across the Near East, making him one of the most highly regarded artists in Lebanon,” Archi says. “Armine went to Beirut to become his apprentice. She assisted him with his work for the world exhibition in New York. In 1940, she had her first exhibition in Aleppo, and four years later – another one in Beirut.
Harutyun was ten years Armine’s senior. He was born in Gürün in the Sivas province (present-day central Turkey) in 1910. He, too, was forced to leave his hometown early, at the age of five. His father was killed and the rest of the family was sent on a death march to the Syrian Desert. “According to information passed generation to generation, the family owned a weaving mill. My grandfather’s roots can be traced back to the ruling dynasty in the medieval Armenian capital city of Ani, but unfortunately there are no documents to prove it. He certainly had aristocratic habits,” Archi says.
Harutyun mother died shortly after arriving in Syria, emaciated by the march through the desert. “Together with his siblings, my grandfather was taken to an orphanage. This is where mentors discovered his love for art and started promoting his education.”
Harutyun grew up and travelled the Middle East, making a name for himself as a painter whose works adorn the Armenian church in Beirut to this very day. His big breakthrough, however, came with his participation in the 1939 New York World Exhibition.
“He is even said to have befriended late French President Charles de Gaulle when the latter organized French resistance against the fascists from his base in Lebanon,” Archi says. In 1946, Harutyun and Armine, by then – his wife, immigrated to Soviet Armenia.
“My grandfather would not talk much about what happened to him in 1915. But there is a drawing of his that deals with the horror, depicting a dead woman on the ground, embraced by her little kid. People who experience such atrocities often express their anger through art. Harutyun’s paintings are unexpectedly colorful and bright. My grandmother’s art is also characterized by its humanitarian appeal and sublimity. Even though Soviet art critics saw my grandparents primarily as victims of Genocide, they were more than that. They lived an active life, singing praise to it,” Archi says emphatically.