31 August, 2012

YEREVAN, AUGUST 31, ARMENPRESS: Annig Agemian Raley has lived in
Glenwood Springs with her husband, Howard, since 1981. They have
been married for 46 years and have two daughters, one son and three
grandsons. Raley teaches piano and yoga. As Armenpress reports citing
Post Independent, Annig Agemian Raley: My dad was an Armenian born
and raised in Bursa, Turkey. When he was about 11, he witnessed
the massacre of his father and other Armenian men by the Turks. He
was rescued by the Mekhitarist monks and taken to Italy to study
medicine, but the monks soon learned that my father fainted at the
sight of blood. He was transferred to Venice to begin studying for
the priesthood. During the seven years that he was there, my father
developed a fascination for art and began spending more time painting
and drawing. The monks finally told him that he was going to have
to choose between God and his art, and after some thought my father
decided that he could study God through his art. Eventually the monks
were so impressed with his religious paintings that they agreed to
continue to fund his education if he agreed to paint religious murals
for the school. So that is what he did. Gallacher: Your father was
caught up in the Armenian massacre by the Turks? Raley: Yes, it is
still not acknowledged by the Turks, but my father had very vivid
memories of the atrocities, and the Armenians that I have met will
not soon forget the genocide that devastated their families and their
culture. The Armenians were a very cultured and successful people in
Turkey, and their religion and their presence posed a threat to the
Turks. So the Turks began to systematically rid their country of all
Armenians. Gallacher: How many people were killed? Raley: Somewhere
between 1 million and 1.5 million people were murdered. Gallacher:
Did your father talk about that time? Raley: He did, and it came
out in his paintings. He painted a very vivid depiction of the
massacre. I think that experience colored his life. It is still on
the minds of most Armenians and is one of the first things to come
up in conversation whenever Armenians get together. There are still
very vivid memories and they are not forgetting or forgiving the harm
that was done to them. Gallacher: How do you think that experience
influenced your father's life? Raley: I think he became more religious
and looked for hope through his faith. He tried to trust in God that
there was a reason why wars happen. Armenians are a resilient people,
and I think my father's childhood experience made him more resilient.

He was very social and loved being with people, but he also loved
being alone with his art and creating. He had his scars from the
genocide, but he never let it affect him to where he was deeply
depressed. Gallacher: Why did the monks take your father? Raley:
The Mekhitarists rounded up the Armenian boys because the men were
being killed. They tried to save as many boys as they could and took
them for an education because they felt that was the only way to save
the Armenian culture. My father and his brother were both taken to
Italy to be educated. By the time my father was 21, he had earned a
doctorate in philosophy and a reputation as an accomplished artist. He
left Venice for Paris because he was commissioned to paint a mural on
a cathedral dome 50 miles outside of Paris. A few years ago, I visited
that church. I knew my father had paintings there but I had no idea it
was the entire dome. When I walked in and looked up, I was overwhelmed
by this sacred work my father had done as a young man. During my visit,
I met the priest who was my father's friend, and he walked me through
the church and the gardens and told me stories of my father.

Apparently my father took time out from painting to come help him pull
weeds in the garden. My father eventually set up a studio and took
a job as a professor at the Mekhitarist monastery near Paris. He
painted every day and had a collection of 150 paintings. That's
when he received an invitation from the Armenian community in New
York City to come to America and exhibit his work. He accepted and
chose 25 of his favorites for the exhibition. He would never again
see the paintings he left behind. It was 1937 and the war had begun
in Europe, and then his uncle who was an archbishop in the Armenian
church committed suicide. These two events brought the memories of
his childhood up and nearly put my father over the top. But I think
he reassured himself that because there was no war in America he
would be safe. He came to New York City to show his work, but he also
wanted to study the American people through his art. He wasn't as much
interested in selling his work as he was just showing it and returning
home to Europe.But then he met my mom. They were married in 1939 and
my brother was born in 1941. In December of that same year the U.S.

declared war on Japan and Germany, and I think that's when my
father decided to make New York City his home. Gallacher: How did
your parents meet? Raley: My father was teaching art classes, and my
mother was his student. My mother came to America from Milan, Italy,
with her parents when she was 2. She was an accomplished artist in
her own right. Her father was the opera coach for the Metropolitan
Opera Company and her mother was an opera singer from the Neapolitan
Conservatory in Italy. I can remember as a kid being surrounded by
art and music. We had opera singers dropping by. Our living room
was my parents' studio. My dad was always painting, and my mother
was sketching. There was music playing and books and papers stacked
everywhere. It was an amazing environment to grow up in. Gallacher:
Was it just you and your brother? Raley: Yes, but my brother was born
with cerebral palsy, which left him severely delayed. Watching my
brother struggle to speak and walk made me so thankful for my health.

But there were times as a child when I was jealous of the constant
attention that he needed just to function. I craved attention
growing up, and as a result I was the class clown who got attention,
negative and positive. We lived in a very close-knit Italian-Catholic
neighborhood, so every Sunday we were Italian. My mom's parents came
to the house for an Italian feast of pasta and meatballs. But when
it came time to celebrate the holidays, my father packed us up and
took us to Boston, Philadelphia or Watertown to visit all of the
Armenian communities and celebrate with them. Gallacher: What was
that celebration like? Raley: Oh, it was wonderful. Celebration was
in order every time we went. First of all it was a reunion and second
it was a holiday. There was endless food and dance. Those visits were
also part of an effort to keep the Armenian culture thriving. I was
encouraged to marry within the Armenian community. Gallacher: So what
is the difference emotionally between Armenian and Italian culture?

Raley: They blend pretty well, but I must say, whatever the idea is,
Armenians feel like they thought of it first. My father tried to
convince me that Saint Patrick was Armenian, and I know better. He
tried to teach his in-laws about opera. But all in all, the Italian and
Armenian cultures were well represented in my house. My parents loved
each other very much. We celebrated life in our home, but I'm sure some
people looked at our family and wondered, "What's to celebrate?" We
were poor, we couldn't go anywhere, my brother couldn't talk, my
father was frustrated, my mother was constantly busy taking care of
my brother. But there were so many wonderful times that outweighed
the difficult ones. We had the best of all worlds.