By Mara Noto and Viola Santini

A never-ending territorial dispute lasting (over) thirty years, two countries competing for a small landlock and a solution – temporary or permanent, no one can say it – agreed upon on 10 november 2020. Those are the basics to understand the complex and controversial story  behind Nagorno Karabakh.

At the outbreak of the umpteenth resumption of the conflict, we collected the interviews of two women: one Armenian, the other Azerbaijani, both culturally involved with Nagorno-Karabakh, or the Republic of Artsakh, driven by the necessity to better understand a story, from perspectives not so much told by the mainstream media and generally far from the attention of Western public opinion.

To add one more piece to the mosaic we thought of looking at the conflict beyond the conflict, asking artists, such as musicians, to tell us about their cultural background to further understand how their passions were born and how much they have been influenced by the drama of a conflict.

Producing this article required a huge effort both from the two djs and from us: those efforts were made  in the midst of the war, with family members and acquaintances at the front. Despite that they still found the strength to share their thoughts with us while other decided to decline the request for an interview. 

Lara Sarkissian is an artist of Armenian origins, residing in the USA. Her artistic practice ranges from the experimentation of sounds to film production.

How and under which circumstances did you get involved into music?

I started producing music and working as a DJ back in 2015. Before, I was mostly involved in the production of experimental short films. In 2013, during a course in sound design in cinema at the University of Copenhagen, I began to approach music production. In 2015, together with 8ULENTINA, I started a record label, CLUB CHAI, which deals with promoting dance events. Collaboration is at the basis of my artistic experience: it allows you to develop and discover new perspectives. Even if sometimes this happens unconsciously, no artistic product is the result of the work of a single individual. It is very important for me, as a “daughter” of the Armenian diaspora, to create connections both with artists who live in my community (San Francisco and Oakland), and with local Armenian producers and DJs. Only in this way, by keeping in touch with different places and people who are equally part of my story, I can really feel “complete”. It is exactly for this reason that my project, Club Chai, tries to obtain community sounds, the result of a collective work.

What about the electronic scene of Yerevan? How did it develop?

In October 2019 I had my first DJ set in Yerevan, in one of the newest clubs, Poligraf. The same year, I also worked for a local online radio, Bohemnots radio. An underground electronic scene has been developing in Yerevan for some years now. Many new venues and collectives, dealing with sound and electronic performances – and not only -, are opening up and giving visibility to local artists. The most famous are the Poligraf, the Mirzoyan Library and the Basement.

Could you tell us about your sounds and the influences (both music and culture-wise) you had?

My electronic music is based on the use of Armenian instruments, combined with experimental electronic genre, ambient and techno. I also produced some recordings for experimental films and installations, a fusion of visual arts and music. I always wanted to take Armenian sounds, synthesize them and push them into the new world of experimental music. Creating new languages ​​with those “ancient” sounds, to tell my story as an Armenian from the diaspora who grew up in the United States. It is very important for me to understand how I can connect with other cultures through my musical connection with Armenia: this allows me to create new and completely unexpected conversations. In addition, Armenian culture is very diverse: it varies according to the country where the children of the diaspora were born and raised. Knowing and collaborating with these Armenian artists from all over the world, who, like me, experiment and “take risks” in a non-traditional way, is essential for my artistic production and for my personal growth.

How has artistic/musical production been influenced in times of war like the one you are living in?

When I talked to artists active in the Armenian and Artsakh scene (musicians, DJs, directors …) – they all told me they were strongly affected by the fact that their peers and friends were forced to fight to defend their homeland, and many have lost their lives in this war. None of them had chosen to be a soldier: they were young like me, people you could have met in a club. However, they could not help but defend their land from atrocities such as ethnic cleansing, colonialism and genocide perpetrated by the Azeris and the Turks. We have lost so many DJs, artists and musicians from the Yerevan community.

How are you personally and so artistically coping with the conflict?

When I think of the difficulties that Armenia has historically encountered, I also remember how much music has been an indispensable tool for my people to face persecution and forced migration. Music is resilience. Even in the toughest moments, it’s a way of telling stories, bring people together and form a community. On the other hand, it is capable of bringing joy and helps to survive. Music and art can be seen as a “way of escape”, and not only: they can bring self-awareness, and give us a way to give shape to our self-narration. So, artistically speaking, the conflict has given me more strength to move forward in my musical and cultural production. It was very difficult, but now I have clearer ideas than ever.

What do you think about the outcome of the conflict?

I don’t know what will happen in the long run. It could happen all over again, because the real end of this war is not Artsakh. The most important thing now is to help the 120,000 and more Armenians in Artsakh, who have found themselves homeless, and to rebuild the war-torn piece of Artsakh that has remained with the Armenians. ArmeniaFund.org and ParosFoundation.org are two humanitarian initiatives that are doing just that.