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Reviving the Storytelling Culture of Armenia: The Tumanyan International Storytelling Festival

The Tumanyan International Storytelling Festival was established to revive and reinterpret Armenia’s rich storytelling heritage. The festival is a three-day summer event that takes place in the picturesque town of Tumanyan in northern Armenia’s Lori Province. It was made possible by Creative Armenia’s Artbox grant and the EU4Business Innovative Tourism and Technology Development for Armenia.

The festival is a place for people to connect, collaborate, and develop creative ideas that will propel Armenia forward. One of the festival’s goals, according to Anush Tatevossian, CoFounder of the Tumanyan International Storytelling Festival, is to drive cultural tourism and economic development by attracting international and domestic tourists to the town, which is conveniently located halfway between Yerevan and Tbilisi. 

Anush and her colleagues were inspired to collaborate on a project that would allow them to return to the country they love, having formed strong relationships and ties during their volunteer experience through Birthright Armenia. Their desire to return led them to create a storytelling festival in Tumanyan town, which they believed to be the perfect setting. The timing was perfect, as oral storytelling was on the rise, and Tumanyan’s legacy provided a rich source for this art form. 

“Due to existing signs of economic and cultural revitalization, Tumanyan town was chosen as the ideal location for the festival.” The presence of a hostel and the Tumanyan Matchbox Label Museum indicated that the area was off to a promising start.  Another reason for choosing this exact place for a storytelling festival was undoubtedly influenced by the legacy of Hovhannes Tumanyan, as his work has been an inspiration to many in the region. “Moreover, the festival’s location in Debed Canyon, Lori, where many of Tumanyan’s stories are set, emphasises the connection to his legacy,” Anoush added.  

From roughly January to May 2022, the project was incubated at Artbox. The EU grant funding allowed the organisers to host their first festival. Although they had intended to hold a small-scale festival in the summer of 2022, the funding allowed them to host a much larger and more impactful event with international talent. Despite receiving funding later in the summer, they worked tirelessly to plan a successful festival in a short amount of time. One disadvantage was not having enough time to engage the local community more directly with the festival. While many town residents enjoyed the events, the organisers would like to provide opportunities for locals to host guests at their homes as an additional source of income for their families, as well as a more immersive festival experience for visitors. They also intend to work with the community’s youth in advance of the festival to assist them in preparing stories or materials to share at the festival.

With a plethora of activities and performances, the festival was a vibrant celebration of storytelling culture and a showcase of talented artists. Attendees were treated to 12 performances by 40 accomplished artists, including world-renowned musicians Arto Tuncboyaciyan and Sebu Simonian. From the first act to the last, the festival kept the audience on the edge of their seats.

In addition to the performances, the festival included a five-hour up-close and personal storytelling workshop with 16 participants. It provided a one-of-a-kind opportunity for intimate and interactive learning with a seasoned storyteller.

The festival also included an open mic event, where eight exceptional performers showcased their talents. Visits to Kobayr Monastery, the Tumanyan House Museum in Dsegh, and the COAF Visitor Centre were incorporated into the programme, providing a unique opportunity to learn about local culture and history. 

The 2022 festival brought together artists and attendees from Armenia, North America, France, Finland, Lebanon, the Netherlands, Spain, and Russia,” said Anush Tatevossian. The festival had approximately 200 attendees despite only two months of planning due to compelling social media content and promotion through networks and partnerships, which helped cultural enthusiasts learn about the new event. The organisers collected survey data as a means to measure impact and inform attendees of their future plans. “The survey results revealed that nearly 95% of respondents are likely or very likely to attend the festival again and recommend it to friends. This data, as well as the feedback we’ve received overall, indicate a strong interest in reviving storytelling in Armenia,” Anoush continued.  

“The festival gives us an exciting and inspiring opportunity to connect with creative minds from Armenia and around the world,” Anush said. The festival benefited not only the participants, but also the town.  It allowed for exposure to performances and connections with new and traditional artists, as well as culture producers who can inspire the younger generation. Furthermore, it provided a growing opportunity for economic development through tourism and investment as more people came to discover the town’s beauty and interesting history. 

Following a successful inaugural event in 2022, the Tumanyan International Storytelling Festival will return this year from August 25th to the 27th, 2023. The festival promises to be an unforgettable experience, with a strong programme of performances, workshops, and visits to local cultural sites.