NEW YORK—He’s his father’s son, a veritable chip off his dad’s block when it comes to blazing new trails in the Armenian community.
While Ken Hachikian has gained a reputation as the pragmatic chairman of the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA), son Eric is making his own imprint in the music and film industry.
And with gusto!
Since co-producing a documentary title “Voyage to Amasia” with collaborator Randy Bell in December 2011, the 30-year-old artist has been on a veritable merry-go-round, filling commissions, answering calls, and collecting awards.
His path these days appears to be heading straight toward the end of a rainbow. It’s been that colorful, and productive.
“Voyage to Amasia” documents Hachikian’s return to his ancestral home in Turkey, nearly a century after Ottoman soldiers deported his grandmother during the Armenian Genocide.
The film is set to his piano trio of the same name, which provided the initial inspiration for the documentary, honoring the relationship with his grandmother and what family life in Turkey may have been like at the time.
In doing so, the filmmaker embarked upon his own journey in the hopes of finding a greater understanding of his heritage and culture.
“Our entire family is thrilled to have this personal record of our roots, but also so happy to share this story with our greater community,” said Gloria Shushan Hachikian, his mother. “In making this journey, he discovered that deep within himself lies a wonderful history and rich sense of honor. He also was able to learn and appreciate the role of his great-grandmother and her incredible strength. He was inspired to make this film to complete his grandmother’s wish to return to her home. Although he made the journey without her physical presence, she was most definitely in his heart and thoughts.”
Eric Hachikian is a classically trained composer, a self-taught DJ, and perpetual student of world music. He’s studied in Paris and at Tanglewood, graduated with highest honors from University of Michigan, and with a master of arts from New York University.
He also plays piano and tuba, is a classically trained vocalist, and an accomplished conductor, dividing his business interests between New York and Los Angeles.
Below is a question and answer session with the artist.
Q: Describe your connection with the Armenian community.
A: I grew up in the Chicago AYF and attended church and Sunday School when I was younger. It wasn’t until college that I discovered my Armenian identity through music. My parents always encouraged my involvement in Armenian activities. But as a typically stubborn Armenian child, I had to discover this for myself. For me, it was through the music my grandmother encouraged me to explore. She played a large role in my upbringing, both in my moral and cultural foundation.
Q: What turned you toward films after an interest in music?
A: I’ve always been interested in how music can transform images, and vice versa. As an undergrad, I scored several student films. While pursuing a master’s degree in composition, I was quickly attracted to the challenges of scoring for film, television, and commercials.
Q: How did all this apply to “Voyage to Amasia?”
A: It was a reverse experience than most film scores. The music came first and inspired the film. Randy [Bell] helped bring alive a fantastic story. His clarity on issues as a non-Armenian was extremely beneficial as we crafted the film’s viewpoint.
Q: How have you managed to keep your own personality apart from your dad and his work? Did your mom have any input?
A: While my family’s commitment to the Armenian Cause has been strong for many generations, this was a project I delved into on my own. My father’s opinions and views certainly shaped me growing up. As a stubborn Armenian son, I rejected a lot of his teaching as a teenager. I wanted to be an artist and he rightfully worried how I would pay my bills. As an adult, I’ve realized the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. In turn, he has been the most supportive father any artist could ask for. My mother was also very influential. I haven’t figured out if she’s an extension of my grandmother, or quite the reverse. Both women were certainly an inspiration in making this film and taking this journey. My maternal grandmother [Helen Zorigian Shushan] was most influential in wanting to write this music and create the film. My strongest feelings of Armenian identity come from her.
Q: What prompted you to produce “Voyage to Amasia?”
A: My grandmother passed away in 2004. That year, I was commissioned by the Prelacy to write a piece based upon my Armenian heritage, to be premiered at Carnegie Hall the following year. I chose to commemorate her life with an imagined musical journey to Amasia, where she was exiled during the genocide and sent on a death march through the Syrian desert. To me, my grandmother symbolized my Armenian identity and I wanted to honor her. A filmmaker [Randy Bell] was in the audience. Following the concert, we created a plan to make a film based upon the music. My grandmother’s sister had given an oral account of her life in Amasia and the exile. We used this as our guide.
Q: A brief account of the film and how it was received internationally?
A: We premiered at the Pomegranate Film Festival in Toronto in December 2011 where we won Best Documentary. We have screened at eight international film festivals, including the Golden Apricot in Yerevan last July. Several other screenings are in the works in Texas, Washington, D.C., and New York over the next couple months, including on April 24th. We also won the Special Jury Award at the 2012 Alexandria [Virginia] Film Festival. We would love to show it in Istanbul and elsewhere in Turkey, but have not yet submitted to their festivals. The film is about creating a dialogue between Armenians and Turks. It takes the genocide as fact and we’ve been careful on how to best approach this.
Q: Who funded this?
A: We received funding from all over—Armenians, non-Armenians, and people we’ve never met. There was a generous contribution from the George Ignatius Foundation, Armenian General Benevolent Union, Thomas A. Kooyumjian Family Foundation, and Robert Khederian and Family in memory of their loved ones.
Q: Has it done anything to soothe the bitterness toward Turkey and the genocide?
A: For me personally, yes. It allowed me to disassociate my anger from the people of Turkey and feel much more secure in my fight for justice from the Turkish government. They brainwash their citizens with false accounts of history. I had not realized how many Turkish people were supportive of recognition measures and had Armenian ancestry. I was raised with the assumption that all things Turkish were bad. So this was a big revelation for me.
Q: Tell me something about Amasia that would make me want to visit there.
A: Amasia is the most beautiful village I have ever visited. Even more than visually, there are traces of Armenian culture lingering there which makes it even more exquisite. The ground feels like it is where my ancestors walked. I would go back in a second just to absorb the air and rub against the dirt. One thing that would bring most Armenians there is a shop that has the original Armenian recipe for making Amasietsi choreg.
Q: Is there something about you that would surprise others?
A: That despite my classical upbringing, I’m a self-taught DJ. I spin vinyl records, scratch and mix. I have a strong mix in all musical styles that comes in handy when I get hired to write a bluegrass jingle about kitty litter.
Q: What’s next on your docket? Is there a sequel?
A: I have a few films I’m currently scoring and remain busy working on music for a variety of television shows and commercials—most notably, “The Place beyond the Pines,” a film for which I wrote additional music that will open nationwide in theaters on March 29. There are no current plans for a sequel to Amasia. However, I do have plans to continue pursuing art through my Armenian lens.
Q: How do you feel we, as a diaspora, should commemorate the centennial in 2015?
A: We must come together as a community and pool our talents. Artists should collaborate to make beautiful films together, write poetry, and share their literature. Musicians need to play the music of their ancestors and compose new material for future generations. Politicians must come together and make a difference in bettering the lives of Armenians. While we certainly should not forget that horrific chapter in history, we should show the world that 100 years later, we have fulfilled William Saroyan’s famous quote about not being able to destroy the Armenian race. Personally, I want to explore the history of Armenian music over the past century, culminating in both new compositions and collaborations around the world.