In 1969, the Armenian-Canadian sculptor Arto Tchakmaktchian appeared in Mikhail Vartanov‘s suppressed documentary The Color of Armenian Land. While it was well known that the appearance in this film of nonconformists Sergei Parajanov (imprisoned in 1973) and Minas Avetisyan (assassinated in 1975) caused the film to be shelved (and Vartanov was blacklisted), we have now learned that Arto Tchakmaktchian was also persecuted by KGB.
In a 2010 interview to Armenian TV, Tchakmaktchian said that KGB destroyed his statue of the great Armenian composer Komitas (whose voice incidentally opens Vartanov’s film The Color of Armenian Land) and they dumped the remains in front of Tchakmaktchian’s studio. Tchakmakchian had to hire a bulldozer and level the remains “in order to be able to sleep at night.” It’s noteworthy (but in retrospect not surprising) that this incident occurred around 1974, about the same time as the peak of the persecution of Parajanov, Vartanov and Minas (and was one the reason Tchakmakchyan escaped from the Soviet Union to Canada).
Arto Tchakmaktchian (Arto Chakmakchian, Chakmakchyan, Արտո Չաքմաքչյան, Арто Чакмакчян) was born on June 26, 1933 in Egypt and came to the Soviet Armenia as a teenager with his parents. He was a member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts, and his work has been exhibited at the State Tretiakov Gallery in Moscow and the Louvre in Paris.
Not long before Tchakmaktchian’s passing (October 1, 2019), I was able to get in touch and speak with him and his wife by phone. I sent them my father Mikhail Vartanov’s film The Color of Armenian Land, which had just been released by Criterion, 49 years after it was made. And Tchakmaktchian and his family saw it for the first time nearly half a century later. Papa was right all those years ago — Tchakmakchian, Parajanov, Minas, and others, were the color of Armenian land, and those who persecuted them and my father for his film were not.