With gestures such as ensuring that guests never leave their homes hungry or without extra food, the Armenian people express their warm and friendly nature.
Through food, music and dance influenced by long-standing family and cultural traditions, Valley Armenians plan to showcase Armenian character and heritage during ArmeniaFEST on Saturday and Sunday, October 4-5 .
The event, which began as a bazaar, has changed over the years with the addition of music and dance performances, local vendors and an Armenian market. Food remains at the center of the event.
The event is one of the major fundraisers for St. Apkar Armenian Apostolic Church of Arizona, a focal point for the Armenian community.
Members of two church groups – Hye-Ways and the Ladies’ Society – spent weeks preparing food.
Victoria Manoogian, director of public relations and communications for the church and member of Hye-Ways, said the event provides a unique opportunity to try Armenian dishes, including grilled kebab, baklava, grape leaves stuffed cookies known as sarma, spinach and cheese filled dough known as boereg, a sweet butter cookie called ghourabia and a dessert made with cream cheese and sweet syrup called kunafa.
Before the festival, Manoogian baked a type of Easter bread called choereg using a recipe passed down from his grandmother. She said the dishes and desserts for the event are prepared according to traditional recipes.
“The food is authentic. It is prepared as Armenians have done for centuries,” Manoogian said. “When people come, they often say: ‘My grandmother used to do that’. It connects them to their past and revives something in them to want to perpetuate it.”
Festival president Hagop Naldjian said the festival provides people outside the community with hands-on education about Armenian culture.
“That’s the main goal, to share the culture, the heritage, the flavors of our food, the sounds and the tastes of Armenia,” Naldjian said.
The festival continues to grow and expand with the arrival of new artists, including a group of young church dancers and dancers from a local Serbian church.
The Erebuni Dance Group, a Californian ensemble, returns with 12 to 16 dancers who will perform traditional Armenian dances during the festival. On Sunday, the dance group plans to engage audience members between sets, dance with them and teach them the steps of folk dances in a circle.
In Armenian dance styles, women and men often perform different types of dances.
“We have men’s dances that are very tribal in nature, where they’re beating an Armenian drum. These dances that they do are very masculine, and we have very feminine dances that only girls do,” Manoogian said.
Naldjian said Armenians share many music and dance traditions with Syrians and Lebanese.
An art exhibition at the festival will feature the paintings and sculptures of local Armenian artists.
ArmeniaFEST: 11am-10pm Saturday 4 October; 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday, October 5. St. Apkar Armenian Apostolic Church of Arizona, 8849 E. Cholla St., Scottsdale. $2, free for ages 12 and under. saintapkar.com.