Armenian Picnic banner

We'd like to Introduce you to the Berdavan Village in Armenia...and the Children's Pottery Program

This April, my father (Zaven Koltookian and I had the pleasure and honor to travel to Berdavan, a small Armenian pottery village on the border of Azerbaijan, not far from Georgia.  The original village and its clay pits were desroyed during/after years of war and occupation, but here were children of all ages learning to work with clay and making the traditional vessels of their region.  What made the visit so special was not only seeinng the children's obvious passion, but the fact that the money to buy the clay and glazes was raised at Searsport Shores' very first Armenian Summer Picnic 3 years ago.

When we began to plan this first picnic, we wanted to find an organization in Armenia that would benefit from our modest fundraising efforts. As is so often the way among Armenians, through a friend of a friend we connected with Mariam Mughdusyan, the founder of the Mughdusyan Arts Program. They had established a pottery program for children and needed money to buy clay and glazes.

We raised $1000 and after a swirl of effort, the money reached the village - which is slowly being rebuilt - and enabled 90 children xxx to make pottery for an entire year and their teacher to attend university to refine her classroom skills to benefit the community.

Getting to the village was already an accomplishment. This, picturesque village is situated in the Northeast Corner of Armenian, deep in a gorge and surrounded by snow covered mountains. Our route was from Tbilisi Georgia and our Georgian driver made no secret of his disdain of Armenians (we learned through our travels that the animosity was seeded by the Russian occupation and held widely on both sides of the border). He had spent 6 hours telling us all that was dark and bad about the world and Armenians in particular...and then we arrived in the center of the village after he stopped several times for directions.

We parked in the village square and immediately encountered Aram Zurabyan the mayor of Berdavan. Although we didn’t share a common language, he immediately knew who we were, spoke Russian with our driver and took us to the local Community center insisting that our driver join in the mix. There wasn’t a minute to gather our bearings before we were in the swirl of 15 young children making pottery cups and dishes with their beautiful community program director Siranoush Ghazaryan and Mariam.

Mariam made the trip from Yerevan (a daunting 6 hour drive from the South) so that she could act as our translator and we were enchanted within minutes. The children were completely engaged, sharing shy smiles with us and with a palpable passion for the clay. We learned that their program included an entrepreneurial component that allowed the children to travel out of the village to festivals and markets throughout their region and Yerevan.

The few precious hours we spent in Berdavan were life changing.  Providing the funds for the pottery was important, indeed crucial, but what meant the most to everyone we talked with was the fact that we came in person and the human connection was paramount.

As he drove us to our lodging, our driver couldn’t stop talking...but this time he was gushing about the beauty of the children, the bounty they offered at the reception table and the warmth of the community center administration. I wish that I could hear the stories he told when he got back to Tblisi and friends asked him about his trip to the Armenian village with the Americans from Maine.