It hurts to write this. As I sit in my living room in Los Angeles, home to the biggest population of Armenians outside of Armenia, 120,000 indigenous Armenians are being displaced from the place they’ve called home for centuries. Artsakh, otherwise known as the region of Nagorno-Karabakh, just experienced one of the biggest losses over the last 40 days against Azerbaijan and Turkey. A peace deal was signed, and unexpectedly, a majority of the region that belonged to Armenia has now been given away.
The pain among the Armenian community is palpable. As our hearts collectively break, I turn to my peers in the fashion and beauty industry, who I’ve been inspired by over the course of the last two months, to give me strength. As many of you may be aware or not, Armenians have been making a splash in the world of beauty and fashion, and many have gone on to start their own companies. Dose of Colors? Anna Petrosian is behind that. The Kardashians’ makeup artist? Her name is Hrush Achemyan, and she’s a badass. I’m proud of my community, but I am especially proud to be an Armenian woman. In our culture, Armenian women are revered: We have Mother Armenia, a monument standing tall in the capital city Yerevan, reminding everyone that the strength of an Armenian woman defeats even our strongest enemy. My peers, who are also in the diaspora like myself, represent this idea of female strength. As a longtime editor at Who What Wear, I feel that it’s my responsibility to shine a very bright light on these girls who, despite being a million miles away, have done what they can to protect and help our small nation in the Caucuses during this dark time. I won’t go too deep into the history of Armenia, the genocide we experienced 105 years ago, and why there even is such a huge diaspora to begin with (Google can help you do that), but what I do want to do is inspire you with the strength and beauty of Armenian women by introducing you to the ones whose wardrobes you’ll want to steal and beauty routines you’ll want to re-create. Meet my Armenian kooyrigs (sisters) here.
What does beauty mean to you right now, and is it helping you cope with the current events happening in Armenia, specifically Artsakh?
I’ve always been a believer in beauty being from the inside out. When one is comfortable, happy, and confident in their own skin, you can see it in their face. This, of course, is directly correlated to what’s happening in Armenia, as it is a tough time for us all. I have tried instilling positivity and good spirits through my socials at all times.
You’re one of the most prominent Armenian women in the beauty world, especially in Los Angeles and in the Armenian community. How did you harness that following to bring awareness and fundraising to your followers, and do you have any more projects in mind?
It was a moral obligation to use my platform to spread as much awareness and information as possible. I decided to first use my brand to raise funds to help support those affected by the war. We raised $100k, but it still didn’t feel like enough. I decided to do a live tutorial and fundraiser on Instagram to encourage my viewers to donate anything they can. Four hours later, we collected $250k, which was later matched to $500k. We as a community are always thinking about what to do next to help our country and using our creativity and platform in any way possible. I definitely will continue to use my platform to now help the wounded soldiers, the families who have lost their loved ones, and the 120k families left homeless. Unity has been our greatest strength during these hard times.
You’ve had one of the most prominent voices in raising awareness about the Armenian cause—can you tell us the reaction you’ve been getting from your followers?
The overall reaction from my followers has been supportive, thankful, but it has also raised a lot of curiosity and interest for those that do not know much about the Armenian people. I’ve always spoken up about issues relating to Armenia, even before the attacks. So people who have followed me for a long time already knew that this issue was a personal one.
For my Armenian allies, the reaction was supportive. I received many messages from followers who were not of Armenian descent showing interest in what was going on and asking how they can help. You realize how much your voice matters when someone messages you and says they wouldn’t even know this was happening if they didn’t look at my posts. As we realized time and again, we only had ourselves and couldn’t rely on the media to report what was really happening. So when someone who isn’t Armenian just lets you know that they are paying attention, that alone makes a big difference.
The reaction from the Armenian diaspora has been incredible. The silver lining, if I’m even allowed to call it that, is how the Armenian community came together through tragedy. I always say that I feel like my family grew tremendously these last 40+ days. And the messages from followers in Armenia, who are living under the threat of genocide but still message you to just say thank you for being a voice, are what really keep me going.
Tell us about some of the fundraisers you’ve been part of and what plans you have for the near future.
I’ve been volunteering with Armenia Fund and One Armenia. Armenia Fund has been doing everything it can since day one of the war to raise money for all the humanitarian efforts in Armenia. The same goes for One Armenia, organizing virtual events to raise money and matching donations. Many of us have been utilizing the IG Live fundraiser tool. It has been another great way to motivate our followers to donate. I hosted an IG Live on my page and invited a few speakers from these organizations to join me. We were able to raise somewhere around $20k, which got matched by One Armenia. I also had the pleasure of joining other people’s IG Lives, where we auctioned off our own bags, shoes, anything we can. One of those was Diana Madison’s IG Live, where we raised a total of $70k for the Armenia Fund. KTLA 5 News covered this story on its network. I’m also working with an Armenian jewelry brand, Kirk Kara. The proceeds will be going to Armenia Fund, valid through November 30.
And finally, I’m planning another IG Live fundraiser with Armenian Wounded Heroes, which is a nonprofit organization that funds the rehabilitation of wounded soldiers.
I love how you have been involved with multiple brands and organizations to join forces and raise money for Armenia Fund. Can you tell us a little bit about what you’ve been working on?
I never hesitate to get involved in helping Armenia, even though it can be frustrating being so far away. Watching my homeland deal with economic collapse and COVID-19, I knew I had to do more during this pandemic. Armenia has survived a genocide and is currently dealing with Artsakh, a region of ethnic-majority Armenians, potentially being stripped of its sovereignty. With this cataclysmic collection of events happening right now in Armenia, it is so important to get the word out to mainstream news sources. Most people are not familiar with what is going on, as the conflicts and history of Armenia and its people are vast and complicated. So when my dear friend Olivia Jamgotchian reached out and asked if I would become a founding board member and advisor for Armenia Support Fund, I, of course, did not hesitate to get involved. ASF was founded on the premise of helping Armenians stimulate the Armenian economy with grants to bolster small businesses in Armenia. We believe in encouraging businesses to make enterprising long-term decisions—empowering them to succeed through promoting sustainable business models and infrastructure. So far, we have awarded 45 grants to small businesses, but the work is not done. We continue to raise funds to make more relief available for many business owners in Armenia.
ASF’s latest endeavor, Shop Shouga, is a virtual bazaar that mirrors the open-air markets of Armenia to support local designers and producers. The goal is to help Armenians sell their wares and for Armenians and non-Armenians alike to experience Armenia from the comfort of their own homes. This will be under the umbrella of ASF. Each time a purchase is made, a contribution will go to the small businesses in need of capital to expand their opportunities.
Another project, a collaboration between myself and Omnes All (sold on ShopStyleguise), was designed to blend fashion and giving back because, What is the point of creation without finding a way to pass along some of that good fortune? A bracelet, with the colors of the Armenian flag, tells the story of my past, present, and future. Armenia is intricately a part of me, and what a perfect way to show that with a delicate bracelet holding the hues of all that is Armenia. Also on Styleguise was the Honey collection, a collection of a mask, scrunchie, and scarf, all in a beautiful, rich gold, made from 100% deadstock fabric. The Armenia Fund received 50% of the proceeds for humanitarian efforts in Armenia.
Another passion of mine is Armenian coffee. It’s one of the things I tout as best from where I’m from, so the collab with Henry’s Coffee, creating the ASF blend, was a match made in heaven. Coffee is the ultimate equalizer, and it brings people together, no matter where they hail from. All countries have their own special blend. This blend was especially for this collaboration, and 100% of the proceeds went to ASF. We also created a Homeland Tote, a bag designed to carry a little piece of Armenia with you, wherever you may end up. The bag’s proceeds were divided among ASF (40%) and Armenia Fund (60%) and Kooyrigs (60%) and ASF (40%) on our second round, all assisting Armenians in creating a better Armenia for future generations. With all these collaborations combined, we have raised close to 80k for Armenia!
How has your platform helped you amplify Armenian’s voices?
For us, as children of the Armenian diaspora, we know the importance of “never forget.” We were raised on it and raised on the stories of the Armenian Genocide. We were told of our responsibility to make sure something like that never happens again. The responsibility is where my passion comes from and is why I try to use my platform to educate about the turmoil Armenia faces. My goal is to make Armenian culture accessible and to spotlight the struggles in the Armenian community and in Armenia itself.
I am always so thrilled when someone reaches out saying that they learned about what’s happening in Armenia from me or if they tried Armenian coffee for the first time based on a recommendation I had made. I love to show the beautiful things that Armenia is while also showing the upheaval in the country. Because if people can resonate with a culture, they can care about the suffering of its people. Empathy comes after familiarity. How can you care about something you know nothing about?
Right now, with everything going on in Armenia and in the world, I am simply calling for peace, for kindness, and for patience. For taking the time to understand where someone else is coming from. It’s hard sometimes to not get frustrated or angry watching Armenia in pain while I am so far away, but I try to use that emotion to help, as fuel for my fire.
Only time will tell what will happen in Armenia. Things seem to change by the minute. But what I do know is that I will continue to speak for Armenia in any way that I can. Armenians cannot and will not be silenced. It’s against everything that we are as a people. We simply cannot forget.
As a diasporan Black Armenian, can you please explain how you’ve been using your voice and your platform to bring awareness to both causes?
As a Black Armenian woman, I’ve always felt it was my duty to honor my ancestors and community through my voice and gifts. As an activist, I have participated in protests and “die-ins” for Black lives and marched for Artsakh and genocide recognition. I have also worked within the system through the use of constituent letters and advocating for local budget justice from L.A. City Council and the Board of Supervisors. Over the past six months, I have also used my social media platform to mobilize all of my communities in support of Armenians and Black lives in addition to other movements for the indigenous, incarcerated, and undocumented. As an artist, I choose to center marginalized narratives through my writing. This sparks empathy and leads to necessary unlearning and important conversations. My presence in theater and film as an actress in and of itself is radical because representation is critical.
Is there an outlet or activity you’ve been turning to this last year for self-care that you can share with the Who What Wear audience?
I’m not going to lie—I preach self-care and am pretty atrocious at taking my own advice. That being said, I have found comfort in unplugging for moments throughout the day and doing something mundane like rewatching the original Twilight Zone, listening to ASMR in a dark room, or sharing space with loved ones. I find that writing also helps me process and release trauma that can weigh on my spirit. As a theater arts educator, I also recognize the importance of breath and listening to your body. A nice deep breath may seem basic, but just that moment of pause can help sustain you until you are able to set aside ample time to care for your body.
How are you supporting other Armenian women right now, and why do you think it’s critical to raise awareness about what’s happening in Artsakh?
In the past five weeks, we’ve learned the hard way that we only have each other to rely on. No other country has come to our aid, so it’s clear that the diaspora is solely responsible for the future and security of Artsakh and Armenia. For that reason alone, I’ve been focused on supporting specifically my Armenian peers in the beauty and lifestyle space, both publicly and behind closed doors. At this time, we all seem to have a renewed purpose moving forward, and this mutual support will continue.
How has the Armenian beauty community been coming together in the last 40 days to help, and what fundraisers have you been involved in?
I’ll tell you one thing: When Armenian women organize, watch out! We naturally found that each of us has a different strength—some of us are stronger at raising money. Others of us, including myself, are combatting misinformation with accurate material that helps those who aren’t familiar with the situation understand what is happening. I’ve been able to offer support in live fundraisers led by my peers who are quite literally fundraising machines, totaling upward of $500,000. And we don’t stop here; there’s much to be done, having learned how greatly our unity is needed for our future as a people.