Nouneh Sarkissian
Country: Armenia

Nouneh Sarkissian

Nouneh Sarkissian is a writer, art critic, cultural and public figure. Her children's stories and fairy tales have been translated into English, Russian, Ukrainian, Georgian and other languages. To support the preservation of Armenian linguistic and cultural traditions, her works have been rendered from Eastern Armenian into Western Armenian, as well as dialects of Artsakh, Gavar and Gyumri. Some of her tales have become puppet and ballet performances.Books by Nouneh Sarkissian have been presented at the Book Fairs in Great Britain, Italy, Armenia and other countries.

PC CREDIT: Davit Hakobyan (photographer)

Nouneh Sarkissian wrote one of her latest fairy tales – "The Adventures of Bluey and Pinky" – with Savannah, her granddaughter. Savannah illustrated the book as well. Nouneh Sarkissian was born in a family of intellectuals; her father was a writer, and her mother was a teacher of the Armenian language and literature. While receiving secondary education, she graduated from a music school as well. She graduated from the Romance-German Department of the Yerevan State University and worked at the Matenadaran for some time. Then, she moved to London with her husband in 1990. Professor Armen Sarkissian taught theoretical physics at the Universities of Cambridge and London. Mrs. Sarkissian continued her education at Goldsmiths College, London University, and received her MA degree in History of Arts. She studied art at the Sotheby's Institute of Art and then painting at Westminster College. Nouneh Sarkissian is the author of numerous articles and reviews on contemporary art, culture and music that have been published in Armenia, the USA and various European countries. At the same time, she has organized exhibitions of contemporary Armenian art and cultural events on classical literature in London. She has organized exclusive international exhibitions and concerts, including a Fabergé exhibition in Las Vegas, and "Symbols and Mysteries. Transforming Art" in London, concerts of world-renowned musicians and especially talented young artists in London and elsewhere. Mrs. Sarkissian has devoted her time and energy to international and Armenian charity events for years, raising funds for humanitarian purposes with the participation of prominent musicians, choirs and orchestras. Children are my little muses: spouse of the President Nouneh Sarkissian published a new book for kids Spouse of the President Mrs. Nouneh Sarkissian on December 19 was hosted at the Zangak publishing house where she presented her new book and met with little readers. “Magic Buttons” is the second edition of “Sadap: a fairytale which came true” book which was published in Yerevan in 2005. The tale is about an eight-year old girl Sadap Darzi who wants to rid the world off all problems. “I believe our kids have the same nature. Our Armenian kids want to save the world, to make it peaceful, clean, with pristine nature, and the people living in harmony and peace. This is the principle our kids are guided with, and I have conveyed in my book exactly that, trying to pass that inspiration to little readers,” Mrs. Nouneh Sarkissian said in her conversation with the journalists. The book tells also how important family is in the life of children. “Strong families, children’s attachment to the members of the family is important, and I want to convey to our children how important families are in the life of each kid,” Nouneh Sarkissian underscored. The spouse of the President of Armenia, who has been recently appointed by the UNICEF an extraordinary defender of children’s rights, speaks of children as her little muses. “Children are the source of my ideas. I learn from them, take ideas from them. Little ones are still immaculate and innocent and their thoughts and ideas are very close to the nature. I take every chance to interact and converse with them,” Nouneh Sarkissian said. According to the Director of the “Zangak” publishing house Emin Mkrtchian, cooperation with Nouneh Sarkissian has begun this year and this is already the third published book. In the framework of the event, an excerpt from the “Magic Buttons” was performed. The performing actors were the little readers of Yerevan’s N. 32 secondary school library

PC CREDIT: Preceded by Rita Sargsyan Free Media Always Fight

Free Media Always Fight
Asa young person choosing a career in Armenia, Nouneh Sarkissian knew she wanted to make a difference. Sarkissian began her search for a meaningful career as a student at Yerevan State University in the early 1980s, when Armenia was part of the Soviet Union. Her interests took her from archeology to academia before realizing that her desire for adventure coupled with her natural talent for writing made her especially suitable for journalism. It would be a challenge, though. Her university didn’t even have a journalism school. After contemplating out loud one day to her husband about the possibility of becoming a broadcast journalist, she made up her mind to pursue it. He dismissed it as a possibility, so she resolved to make it happen. Within six months she was working at the only television station in the country, the State TV and Radio of Armenia, as a correspondent and editor. Fast forward almost 35 years and several television stations later, and Sarkissian is now head of the Media Initiatives Center, a media support organization in Armenia and USAID partner that recently celebrated its 20th anniversary. Once a branch of the U.S.-based organization Internews, the center became independent in 2004 and supports freedom of expression and the protection of journalists’ rights in Armenia.

PC CREDIT: Giorgi Abdaladze, Official Photographer of the Administration of the President of Georgia

Nouneh Sarkissian has spent nearly 35 years working on the frontlines of independent media, advocating for independent voices and informed readers. / Courtesy of the Media Initiatives Center With the motto “Information is Power for Change,” the Media Initiatives Center has positioned itself as a leader within Armenia, but also throughout the Europe and Eurasia region as it works to expand the reach of independent reporting. The organization has pioneered innovative approaches to media literacy education, including a game that allows players to put themselves in the shoes of journalists, and a traveling museum that chronicles the history of media in covering critical events, like the devastating 1988 Spitak earthquake. Now, the center has created a multimedia project capturing the role journalists and citizens played leading up to and during the public demonstrations last year, sometimes referred to as the Velvet Revolution. The Revolution Won’t Be Televised Ithas been one year since weeks of peaceful street protests throughout the country forced the resignation of Prime Minister Serzh Sargsyan and displaced a regime characterized by corruption and cronyism. The events ushered Nikol Pashinyan, a former journalist and head of the small opposition party Civil Contract, into the post of interim prime minister. Livestream broadcasts enabled the protest leaders to speak unfiltered and directly to the population, while citizens witnessed the protests as they happened. In the first few days of the protests, television stations tied to oligarchs and government elites showed popular movies and soap operas as hundreds of thousands of people demonstrated in the streets, revealing how out of touch authorities were with reality. At the same time, the country’s vibrant social media helped increase pressure on the ruling regime, serving to coalesce young people around the movement. At the height of the revolution, over one-third of Armenians were streaming, commenting, and coordinating via Facebook. Their photos and videos held authorities accountable and likely prevented them from cracking down harshly, as they had in the past. Sarkissian notes, “Last year was very exciting and difficult. We changed the course of life and political stagnation. We [opposition politicians, civil society, young people, and journalists] changed the apathy. Even with all the existing problems of the media, journalists played a huge role in these changes. They were heroes of the Velvet Revolution.”

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A group of young Armenians join thousands of fellow citizens in Yerevan’s historic Republic Square during the mass protests in April 2018. / Sona Kocharyan The Beyond Each of the independent journalists and citizen activists who took to the streets in Yerevan demonstrated the power of a free press and an engaged civil society to hold government officials to account. Decades of U.S. support for independent media in Armenia helped keep the space open for dialogue and reporting, particularly about corruption — the central organizing issue for the Velvet Revolution. Although the revolution is over, the work is really just beginning. The media sector in Armenia historically has been undermined by political pressure, harassment, and a distorted advertising market favoring outlets with positive coverage of the former ruling party. These challenges won’t change overnight, but USAID will continue to support champions for press freedom in the country. By working with independent media organizations like Media Initiatives Center, USAID improves their professional capacity to produce fact-based, quality content and their ability to serve as effective media watchdogs. These programs also help the public become more critical consumers of news and information — ultimately increasing demand for transparent, independently sourced information. As the Media Initiatives Center and its partners prepare to celebrate another World Press Freedom Day on May 3, what does Sarkissian believe the media needs to keep progress moving forward in Armenia? “Media need the same as all society — freedom, independence, prosperity, dignity, transparency. We need brave people, who are ready to be leaders of responsible journalism, who believe in professional values and believe that they can make people and society better.” She cautions, however, that freedoms in general, including for the press, are always fragile. “You should never give up [on fighting] to protect it, to secure it,” she says. “It always fights.” And Sarkissian will be right along side it. A rags to roubles fairy tale: Writer and ambassador's wife Nouneh Sarkissian on her journey from Soviet Armenia to Chelsea I am sitting in a sumptuous drawing room overlooking the Thames, enjoying watermelon slices and cherries from a silver salver. My hostess, Nouneh Sarkissian, 62, is the wife of Armenia’s ambassador to Britain. She also has one of the world’s largest collections of David Linley furniture and numbers the designer himself – the Queen’s nephew – among her closest friends. A journalist by background, she is now a successful children’s author (Linley hosted the launch party for her latest book, The Magic Buttons, at his flagship store last December). But there is nothing showy about Nouneh. Her exquisite furniture collection – bespoke Linley tables, chairs and bookshelves, alongside art deco treasures, antiques, rare pieces of Japanese art and old masters – is referred to with quiet appreciation. Nouneh can’t tell me exactly how many Linley pieces there are, but they seem to be everywhere, blending in seamlessly in this immaculate Chelsea town house. ‘We met David at the wedding of Armenian friends in Beirut in 1995 and have been close to him and [his wife] Serena ever since. We like his style. If I buy a set of Russian Imperial chairs, he will build a table to match. We don’t consider our Linley collection to be furniture. We see each item as a work of art that will be passed down to future generations,’ she says. Nouneh’s husband Armen – an astrophysicist and former prime minister of Armenia – is now serving his third stint as Armenian ambassador in the UK. As well as being a prominent diplomat and politician, he is one of Armenia’s most esteemed scientists and professors, and was, therefore, in a perfect position to broker oil and energy deals with the West when his country gained economic freedom from the Soviet Union in 1991. Hence his wealth, and the seven-storey house at one of London’s best addresses (he’s also one of the creators of the cultishly popular tile-matching video game Tetris, which may have helped, too). But Nouneh is too erudite and polite to talk about money. She and Armen met at school in Yerevan, the capital of Armenia (then communist, and a part of the Soviet Union since 1922), when she was 14 and he was 15. In contrast to their current gilded existence, they grew up in the austerity of the Soviet regime – a life Nouneh remembers as repressive, but also secure and nurturing of creative talent.

I don’t regret sacrificing my own ambitions for the wellbeing of my family,' says Nouneh

‘My father was a journalist and my mother a teacher, so we were part of the intelligentsia. There were no classes in our society back then, just layers, and we were the second layer, after the nomenklatura – politicians and dignitaries who were allowed to travel and had access to foreign goods. 'We weren’t rich but we were educated, with enough money to feed and clothe ourselves. I never felt deprived. It wasn’t a bad childhood and I knew no different.’ Nouneh does, however, recall some sinister moments. ‘There was always a sense that we were being watched,’ she recalls. ‘My mother would say to us, “Be careful. Don’t tell jokes. The walls have ears.” 'And you felt it from a young age. It is something I will never forget. The fear was everywhere – that’s how the regime lasted so long 'My father, as a journalist, had to be very careful to use the right words and phrases. When he became the editor-in-chief of the monthly newspaper World of Books, he had to make sure not to allow the “wrong” titles to be reviewed. 'You could lose your life for using the wrong word or picture. I remember a story of someone spilling tea on Stalin’s photo in a newspaper and having to go for an interrogation. 'The fear was even worse during his regime; I was born a year after his death – nine years after the Second World War ended – and can still remember seeing people who had lost limbs fighting in the war. It was very gruesome.’ But there was an upside to growing up in a communist regime: the huge emphasis that was placed on culture. ‘Our schools were amazing,’ says Nouneh, ‘and we were given tickets to theatre, opera, classical music and the best ballet in the world – all for free!’ Nouneh was a bright talent in her own right; her early promise evident when she got herself a job at a local radio station aged ten, which meant travelling half an hour on her own by bus every Sunday morning. ‘I was given children’s books to read on air. They would pay me some roubles, which I then gave to my mother, who needed them. I also wrote children’s stories and tried to get them published.’ It was at secondary school that she met – and fell in love with – her husband. ‘He is my first and my only,’ she smiles. ‘Armen was the best student at our school and I was the best actress. We did Shakespeare and George Bernard Shaw plays – in English, because learning English was a big part of a communist education back then – and I always landed the main parts. 'Because of this, I had boys running after me. But I was an independent soul and always said no. Armen became curious and thought, “Who is this girl rejecting all the boys?”’ The two wound up at a Young Communists conference together, ‘which was very boring’, so she invited the other students back to her house. Armen was wowed by her father’s book collection and asked to borrow a volume of poetry, ‘which was against the rules, as my father hated loaning his books’. Fearing her father’s wrath if the tome was not returned, Nouneh tracked down Armen at school to retrieve it, ‘and this was how our friendship started,’ she explains. They went together to Yerevan State University – Armen to study physics and Nouneh languages. Upon graduating, Armen was offered a position at Cambridge University. ‘He was invited 13 times by different universities before the communists allowed it.’ By the time he arrived in the UK in 1984, he and Nouneh were married with two sons, Vartan, now 36, and Hayk, 32. ‘Wives were not allowed to go abroad with Soviet scientists. We were kept behind as hostages. It was right after Hayk’s birth, so that was difficult. Moscow only allowed me to visit him for one month in April 1985. 'I was 30 and when I arrived in London [en route to Cambridge] it was the first time I had ever been abroad. Before that, I had only travelled around the Soviet Union to places like Siberia, which are beautiful but, of course, all any of us wanted was to see London and Paris. ‘I fell in love with London. Armen and I said, “If only we could live here for the rest of our lives…” At the time it didn’t seem possible, but Gorbachev had just come to power and declared his glasnost and perestroika – loosening censorship and allowing greater communication. We had friends from the West who told us about chewing gum, bell-bottom jeans and Jesus Christ Superstar – and, slowly, people began to rebel.’ Once the communist regime collapsed in 1991 and Armenia became independent, the country’s first elected president asked Armen – by then a prominent academic – to open an embassy in London, and by 1992 Nouneh and the boys had joined him there. After several years as ambassador, Armen was appointed prime minister of Armenia in 1996. Nouneh spent two years commuting between London (where the boys were at top public schools) and Yerevan to visit her husband, with her mother coming to London to stay with their sons while she was away. After stepping down as prime minister because of illness (from which he has now recovered), Armen became ambassador for a second time. He then gave up the role for a few years to focus on other projects, before taking it up again in 2013, this time on an honorary basis. Nouneh points proudly to a framed photo of Armen bowing to the Queen when she gave her blessing to his most recent appointment in 1998. ‘She said, “Armen, you are the champion of all ambassadors. This is the third time you have come back to us.” I admire Her Majesty so much. She is such a gracious soul and so intelligent.’ Nouneh and Armen are also friends with Prince Charles: they gave him a private tour when he visited Armenia in 2013. ‘The prince and my husband share a passion for preserving heritage,’ explains Nouneh. ‘Armenia has some of the earliest Christian churches and our basilicas and sacred monuments have been beautifully preserved. Charles loved it.’ The Sarkissians have their own charity, Yerevan My Love, which restores ‘dilapidated and destroyed late 19th- and early 20th-century buildings’ and repurposes them as music, community and sports centres where disadvantaged children can develop their talents. The charity has held events at Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle, as well as in Yerevan. ‘The Prince has supported all of these and our charity has partnered his Prince’s Trust project at Dumfries House [a Palladian mansion in Ayrshire, which was restored for the community].’ Art and culture have retained a major influence on Nouneh. The holiday she and Armen most look forward to each year is their annual pilgrimage to the Mozart Festival in Salzburg. And she found a channel for her own creativity through writing – for many years as a freelance arts journalist for Armenian publications and now through her children’s books, which are beautifully illustrated, full of imagination ‘and each with a strong moral’. The Magic Buttons is her 14th book and the first to be published in English. (She has written ten in Armenian and three in Russian.) It tells the story of a little girl called Pearl, who is sent to live with her grandparents in Spic-and-Span Town after a plague takes hold in their village; she spins off on an adventure to save everyone, picking up friends with names such as Tumbletash along the way. It is inspired by Nouneh’s childhood and the close relationship she had with her grandmother growing up. ‘I sat down to write something that would reflect my own experience but when the words started to flow it became something completely different – a fantasy fairy tale. The story developed on its own, which is the magic of writing.’ Nouneh is now working on a sequel. When she isn’t writing or playing the dutiful ambassador’s wife, Nouneh’s energy goes on her English bulldog Kolo – ‘my first dog, and I am totally in love with him’ – and her grandchildren, Savannah, four, and Armen, two, Vartan’s children with his American wife. ‘Savannah has such an imagination. She loves books and loves us to sit down and write stories together. Many of my best ideas come from her. We write about little domestic problems that can seem very large to children, such as worrying about needing the loo on the way to school and whether this will make you late.’ Her sons feel British, she says, though they are still proud of their roots. ‘I miss the less formal relationship between people in Armenia – the way you can just ring someone’s doorbell, have a coffee, empty your concerns and come home feeling better. 'We have a home in Yerevan and my sister [her only sibling, a graphic designer] is there, so we visit often. But I love London as much now as I did the day I arrived. There is no other place like it.’ Nouneh admits that she has forfeited some of her potential to support Armen’s career, but she clearly relishes family life and feels any sacrifices she’s made have been worth it. ‘I adore being a grandmother. My younger son Hayk is still single. I keep saying to him, “Hurry up! I want more grandchildren while I am still young.” 'When I push too much, he says, ‘You find me a woman then. I have just three conditions: she must be beautiful, clever and kind,”’ she smiles wryly. ‘At least they live close to me. What I did to my mother by moving away!’ Her idea of a perfect Sunday is the family coming together at their house in Surrey. ‘I think I did sacrifice my own ambitions for the wellbeing of my family,’ she says. ‘But I never regret it. I have two beautiful children who are mentally strong and ambitious [Vartan runs his own cyber-security company and Hayk works with his father]. 'If my life was ever frustrating, I tried not to show it. I was like “happy face”’ – she assumes an exaggerated smile that brings to mind the grinning emoji – ‘because this was what everyone needed from me…Happy Mum. Sad face never works. 'It’s difficult to find the right balance in a relationship. Armen is strong and I’m strong. That could have been a clash, but I let him be our leader and he appreciates me for it. He always says he couldn’t have done any of it without me.’

Outstanding Achievements
Spouse of the President Mrs. Nouneh Sarkissian visited the Hakop Kojoyan educational center

Spouse of the President Mrs. Nouneh Sarkissian was hosted today at the Hakop Kojoyan educational center. Created on the base of Yerevan’s n. 15 secondary school and Hakop Kojoyan four-year children’s art school, the center is carrying out a compound art education. Accompanied by the Director of the center Gohar Sanoyan, Mrs. Sarkissian toured the center, conversed with the faculty and students, familiarized with the conditions and events aimed at the development of the children’s intellectual abilities. Presenting the works of the center’s students, Gohar Sanoyan informed that painting, design, sculpture, computer design classes are held in the workshops and exhibitions and theater days are organized regularly. Mrs. Sarkissian presented her books of fairytales to the library of the school, wished success and new achievements to the staff.

Armenia's First Lady visits Sharjah Book Authority

Nouneh Sarkissian, First Lady of Armenia, recently visited the Sharjah Book Authority, SBA, to explore the emirate's leading achievements in the cultural sector. Ahmed bin Rakkad Al Ameri, Chairman of the SBA, welcomed Sarkissian and introduced her to SBA’s continued efforts in organising the Sharjah International Book Fair, the world's third largest book fair, and to the services offered by the Sharjah Publishing City, the world’s first printing and publishing free zone, including licencing and distribution, printing, translations, freight, logistics, and others. During the tour, Al Ameri presented Sarkissian with the English editions of publications written by H.H. Dr. Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Sharjah. On the cultural relations between Sharjah and the Armenian Republic, Al Ameri said, "The close cultural relations between Armenia and Sharjah are exemplified by H.H. Dr. Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammad Al Qasimi’s initiative to renovate a 1,000-year old church in Armenia. Nouneh Sarkissian’s visit to the SBA headquarters and SPC, are a reinforcement of the strong bilateral relations the nations enjoy. Her visit also emphasises the importance of building cultural bridges through enhanced communication and understanding between nations to forge healthier bonds in all other aspects that make up a bilateral relationship." "Promoting and communicating the great gems of Armenian culture raises the value of Emirati and Arab cultures. Throughout history, Arab countries have had close linkages with the Armenian nation and their presence became part and parcel of the social fabric of some Arab countries. Their traditions and culture have seamlessly blended many aspects of ours, bringing the two civilisations together. We are delighted to welcome Armenia’s First Lady to this meeting to clear the way for a series of Armenian-Emirati cultural relations," Al Ameri added. The First Lady thanked the Ruler of Sharjah, for his leadership of the cultural and humanitarian project, which is at the centre of the emirate's developmental efforts. She also praised the vision and efforts of SBA, and its initiative - the SPC and its services - commending its capacity to grow and develop the publishing industry, not just in the region, but globally. Sarkissian noted the importance of broadening the horizons of Emirati-Armenian cooperation on the cultural front, to be led by innovative partnerships between publishers, cultural institutions and literary events.