Found Narrates Armenian Genocide Experience

When Anoush
Baghdassarian CM ’17 approached Claremont McKenna College’s Center for Human Rights Leadership about producing her
play Found, a historical fiction piece that tells the story of Armenian
genocide survivor Lucine, she did not expect the amount of encouragement and
support she rapidly received.

“At the
very beginning of the year, I went to the Center for Human Rights and told them
how I wanted to be a part of the institution, because their work is something
I’m really passionate about,” Baghdassarian said. “I showed them my play
and told them I wanted to perform it here eventually, but maybe not this year
because I’m only a freshman. They thought it was really great, and encouraged
me to produce it this year.”

In
collaboration with the Center for Human Rights Leadership, the Marian Miner Cook Athenaeum at CMC hosts a
speaker about the Armenian genocide every year. After proposing her play and
talking to the directors of the Athenaeum, Baghdassarian was invited to be this
year’s presenter. Her play was shown yesterday, April 24 at the Athenaeum, and will also be shown tonight, April 25 at Allen Theatre at Pomona College. 

Coming from
an Armenian family, Baghdassarian was greatly inspired by her family and
heritage. Her relatives fled Armenia—her mother’s side to Uruguay and her
father’s side to Greece and Egypt—during the genocide, in which 1.5 million people were killed as the Ottoman Empire during World War I. 

“My whole
life, I’ve learned about the Armenian genocide,” Baghdassarian said. “I went to Armenian school on
Saturdays when I was younger. I would wear this bracelet they gave us that said ‘Remember the forgotten,’ because the Armenian genocide is known as the
‘forgotten’ genocide. Whenever someone would ask me about my nationality, I
always said I was Armenian first, but then add Egyptian, Greek, and Uruguayan.
People would ask me how that was possible, and I would explain how my family
had to move because of the genocide.” 

“Being Armenian has always been a big part
of who I am,” she added. 

Growing up,
it was this “forgotten genocide” and her upbringing that inspired Baghdassarian
to educate others. In sixth grade, she crafted a poster presentation, decorated
in the colors of the Armenian flag, with facts and photos to present to her
class. She continued to present to her social studies classes through 11th grade.

But Baghdassarian’s work to promote education and human
rights advocacy did not stop there. In 12th grade, Baghdassarian took a playwriting class at a one-day theater festival in New York that she had always attended. It was there that she wrote a monologue that became the basis of her play. 

“I wrote mine, and it ended up being
about a girl who was talking to her therapist or her friends about the deaths
of her family, and about being alone,” Baghdassarian said. “She wondered if her brother was still
alive. From that monologue the whole other play came about.” 

“I wrote the first scene of the play; my teacher thought it was really
good,” she added. “So he told me to keep writing.”

Found depicts the life of the character Lucine in an artistic and interesting way; it is clear that her love of theater influenced her writing process. The stage is split. One side depicts Lucine in 1915, while the other depicts her in 1925. 1925 Lucine writes in her diary of what she witnessed during the genocide as 1915 Lucine acts it out. 

Baghdassarian
said she was inspired by her grandmother, who was the first Armenian woman elected to
the council that chooses the Armenian archbishop. She also drew on stories from her
family and survivors from the Armenian old-age home in New York, incorporating some of these experiences into her play.

“These
different influences encouraged me to do the play, and this really supported
and inspired me to do what I love, which is theater and acting as well as
raising awareness about the Armenian genocide,” Baghdassarian said. 

Found has drawn a cast dedicated to portraying the heavy subject matter with taste and integrity. 

“I think
the most amazing part of this whole thing is that it’s completely student-run,” said Nooshin Beygui SC ’17, who plays the character of Mayrig. “You wouldn’t believe from looking at the play, from seeing the subject matter,
that it was actually written by a student—by a first-year, even. It’s very
inspiring that she could be so creative and could touch on such a heavy subject
matter. Scene after scene, it can get difficult because we portray
so much loss and so much tragedy.”

Beygui
noted, however, that despite the play’s heavy content, the cast has still managed to have fun with the many hours they have spent together these
past weeks.

Despite her impressive work, Baghdassarian did not expect the support she received.

“I am just so shocked and amazed,” Baghdassarian said. “The
Athenaeum is such a great venue, and I’m really thankful that they’re letting me
use it. Everyone’s heard about the Holocaust. It was a much larger scale. Six million Jews died, whereas 1.5 million people died in the Armenian genocide.
But it isn’t just a saying that ‘history repeats itself.’ It’s a very definite
fact.” 

“If I can inform people about what happened and show them
that this isn’t going to stop unless we do something about it, maybe I can
inspire others,” she said. 

Found will be shown today, April 25 at 8 p.m. at the Allen Theatre at Pomona.

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