By Serge Taran
A true jewel of International Dallas is ArmeniaFest – Armenian Cultural and Food Festival. Thousands and thousands of people come each year to St. Sarkis Armenian Orthodox Church to enjoy the true spirit of Armenia, the finest in food, music, dance, fun, fellowship and faith. Raffi Gostanian, the Chairman of Armenian Festival Committee, reviles some of the highlights of the three-day (October 9, 10, and 11) Festival.
– Raffi, please, tell us about the tradition of the Armenian Cultural and Food Festival in Dallas.
– It began 20 years ago. What we are trying to do is to showcase traditions that we have – the food, the religious aspect, the culture and the art. There are lots of other activities as well. We have different tournaments and lots of activities for children.
– This is your jubilee, 20th, Cultural and Food Festival. How different will it be from your festivals 20 years ago?
– It will be very-very different, especially the dancing program. We are very fortunate to have an excellent Armenian dance instructor from California. She comes many times during the year on the weekends to teach children and young adults. Therefore, today’s dance program is exceptional. Back then, in the 20th century, there was not even a dance program on the program. Another significant improvement is the food that we offer to our Festival guests.
– Will you have anything special, new that would be a surprise this year?
– Yes. We have some surprises. In the church hall usually we have some tours and displays to introduce Armenian Church, culture and ethnicity. This year we have paintings, tables with Armenian souvenirs, tournaments, fun for kids and we will have something we have never had before. At this time, we want to keep it as a secret.
– How can we advertise the event and bring people to it if we keep some sparks as a secret? Give us some clues!
– Shall I say it will be more cultural than food-related? It centers on the heritage of the church as we are building a new church building. It will show lots of traditions we have around the church.
– I am holding in my hands the ArmenFest-2015 brochure, and I see something new in the program compared to the last year. It is a photo-booth. Tell us about it.
– This idea was brought in by one of the younger adults of the church. We are always looking for fresh thoughts and new approaches. This person had been to a number of weddings where they had different photo-booth set ups. We will do something similar – individuals or families can come and have a family picture taken, and it will be printed right there on location. It will be a nice opportunity for families and friends to have something to put on a wall at home or at the office, to put it in wallet or on social media.– Today I was talking to Mikael Mikaelyan, a good friend and trusted business partner as a co-owner of Valley View Dental Clinic, and he told me, in the photo-booth you will have traditional Armenian dress to put-on and to take “historical” pictures.
– Indeed, we are trying to have different activities where people cannot only see, taste, and listen to, but also touch and put on.
– Seems like you are trying to have ArmeniaFest-2015 as a completely new experience and a family event. Kids will be entertained, teenagers will have fellowship, adults will have fun at the stage and in the food court, even “babushkas” will have something to enjoy.
– This is exactly what we are trying to achieve this year. We want to make ArmeniaFest-2015 a whole-family event – fun and safe for all. By the way, we have never allowed alcohol at our festivals. It is a very safe and friendly environment. Kids will have face-painting, hair-braiding, and games. There are also cooking demonstrations and tournaments for “babushkas.”
– Many people who attended your festivals in the past, including me and my wife, Ludmila, treasured your Armenian food demonstration and tasting. What will you have this year?
– Many people state the food is the main reason they come to our festivals. It is practically impossible to get fine Armenian food with such a variety elsewhere. It is prepared in a very particular way, according to original traditions and recipes. We have a huge variety of food – it is not just chicken or beef plates, we also have lamb. There will be many veggie options. We have literally 60 different types of baked goods. They are amazing.
– Food, music, and dance – it is all nice. We are forgetting the event takes place on the St. Sarkis Orthodox Church premises. Tell us about the spiritual aspect of the Festival.
– What I think is very important is the tradition of the church service itself. We have a number of church tours every day of the festival. It has a very interesting spiritual background with religious significance of all the different aspects of the church service. Those who are interested are certainly welcome to come inside the sanctuary. Our priest, Father Ghevond Ajamian, will provide a remarkable presentation and explanation of the service itself and will explain why we do things in a certain way. It will not be merely a verbal presentation but will utilize many different senses. During the tour, we will have incenses that are used in actual services.
– Now for the third year the Armenian community is partnering with The Dallas Telegraph newspaper. What is your experience?
– We know The Dallas Telegraph is the International newspaper of Texas. The amount of marketing that is done is incredible, but to me what is most incredible is that the staff really cares. They don’t send just an email or make a phone call and say, “Hey, put an ad in the newspaper.” They come and support the church. They know many of the church members and this type of the personal touch and personal attention is extremely rare. We consider The Dallas Telegraph a true friend, not just some media or marketing partner.
– Thank you. See you at the 20th Armenian Festival and hopefully at the 30th, 40th, and beyond.