Growing up in Great Neck, Anoush Baghdassarian spent her Sundays in school at the Armenian Church of the Holy Martyrs in Bayside, reading stories of her country and learning how her heritage has been shaped over time.
“When I was young, in second, third grade, I was captivated by the stories of our past, what makes my culture,” Baghdassarian, 19, said. “I just wanted to learn more.”
As a senior at Great Neck South High School, it was the pursuit of spreading education that prompted Baghdassarian to write her first play — “Found,” an examination of the impact of the Armenian genocide on individuals.
“The Armenian genocide is a topic that isn’t discussed as often as other historical tragedies like the Holocaust,” Baghdassarian said. “I wanted to find a way to connect students in a way where they can learn more about these themes in a more interactive way, other than a textbook.”
Baghdassarian finished the play in 2013, after being prompted to write the draft in a playwriting workshop during the 2012 New York Educational Theater Festival. Since then, it has been produced at the Levels Teen Center at the Great Neck Library, the Armenian Church of the Holy Martyrs, and most recently at California's Claremont McKenna College, where Baghdassarian is studying psychology and literature.
The play follows the story of Lucine, an Armenian native who is rescued by her Turkish neighbor after her home is set ablaze during the onset of the Armenian genocide in 1915, in which 1.5 million Armenians living within the Ottoman Empire were killed. Ten years later, Lucine recounts her life after that tragic event through diary entries, centralizing on her ongoing pursuit to find her younger brother, who still remains missing after nearly a decade.
The play uses a split-stage presentation to portray the past and present, with an older Lucine narrating the past, which is acted out on the other side. For Baghdassarian, the play is not only an examination of the impact the genocide can have on an individual, but an exploration of the relationship between Armenians and nonviolent Turkish citizens during that period of time.
“I wanted to make a point that there were a lot of good people in Turkey at the time of the genocide as well,” Baghdassarian said. “It’s a story of hope, of reconnecting with a loved one.”
Baghdassarian says she drew a lot of influence for the play from stories told to her by her grandmother, whose family escaped the Armenian genocide and settled in South America. Baghdassarian also spent time talking with elderly residents at the New York Armenian Home in Flushing, where she frequently volunteered while in Sunday school.
“It was amazing to sit with these people and learn their stories,” Baghdassarian said. “There were some stories that were told that I took from for the play, and worked them into the story.”
Baghdassarian will host a play signing at the Barnes & Noble in Manhasset on Jan. 8. While the play is performed by request only, Baghdassarian hopes to promote it as an educational tool in light of the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide, on April 24.
“Genocide is a very real thing, and we’ve seen several in our world happen even after the Armenian tragedy,” Baghdassarian said. “I believe the more we know about the topic [and] the more we understand the mistakes we’ve made in the past, can help us prevent future genocide in the future.”