Anush Ter-Khachatryan (BAEC ‘17): Paving Her Path in the Creative Realm

Anush Ter-Khachatryan (BAEC ‘17) is a graduate of the BA in English and Communications (BAEC) program of the American University of Armenia (AUA). In spite of having graduated rather recently, Anush was successful in paving an impressive career path in the creative realm. She published the comic book Mashtots: A Not-So-True True Story, gave a talk at TEDxAUA in 2021, and is currently director of programs at Creative Armenia, an innovative arts foundation that discovers, develops, and champions creative Armenian visionaries. Anush is passionate about art and creative practices, and she credits her education at AUA for shaping her worldview and for developing her talents. During our interview, Anush talked to us about her career path, her passion for art, the projects she is currently engaged in, and the goals she strives to achieve.

This year marks the fifth year since your graduation from AUA. Given that the humanities and liberal arts are facing a dramatic decline in higher education worldwide, what brought you to the AUA BAEC program five years ago?

Since a very young age, I had two passions in life that I wanted to pursue: one was becoming a writer and the other was to be a pilot. So, when I was in high school and had to decide which path to choose, I was actually leaning toward applying for admission to an aviation school in the UK. However, in the summer of 2012, when I found out that AUA had launched an undergraduate program, it was kind of a sign that I needed to follow my dream of becoming a writer. I also realized that becoming a pilot was more like a poetic vision. Though I really loved the poetry of being a pilot, I thought that becoming a writer I would be able to tell many stories of many characters, including one of a pilot. I was more reassured in my decision when I came to an AUA Open House. Back then, the provost was Dr. Dennis Leavens. At some point in his speech, he started reciting this poem by William Carlos Williams: “I have eaten/ the plums/ that were in/ the icebox/ and which/ you were probably/ saving/ for breakfast/ Forgive me/ they were delicious/ so sweet/ and so cold.” Dr. Leavens had an enchanting voice. In that very instance, two things crossed my mind: “Who eats plums for breakfast?” and “This is the university I should attend, the university where the provost recites a poem in his speech to potential applicants.” That was very much aligned with my own idea of what a university should give me. Then, during the four years at AUA, my decision was constantly reaffirmed.

How was your experience at AUA? What role did your program play in your career development? Did you have a professor(s) who influenced you?

AUA has played a significant role in my life, in shaping my worldview, and in showing that one should always aspire upwards. It also taught me that one should take responsibility for being a leader and giving back to society in some way, besides securing a good livelihood for oneself.

I was fortunate to have great professors at AUA who have played a major role in my life, and I’m so grateful to them for forging my path. I already mentioned Dr. Dennis Leavens, who influenced and inspired me in many ways. I was really fortunate to have him as my Freshman English teacher. He showed us the power of the American liberal arts education and introduced us to a whole world of poetry and literature. Another person I would love to mention is Shushan Avagyan, who taught a class in literary translation and helped me a lot with my capstone project on Toni Morrison’s Beloved. I’m also grateful to Zareh Tjeknavorian, who taught me courses in filmmaking and the language of cinema, and who ultimately changed my vision of life. We would watch and analyze classics such as Rear WindowAll About EveThe Elephant Man; and would learn how to see with our ears, how to tell a story through montage, and so much more. Zareh would always start and end the class quoting William Butler Yeats: “Beauty is truth, truth beauty — that is all Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.” I carry those words with me always.

My love for literature and poetry inspired me to start a student club at AUA. Although I knew that poetry was not so popular among students, I was looking for people that would share my love for literature and would join in that kind of a poetic congregation. And once I found people that shared my passion for poetry and literature in general, I decided that was the right time to start a poetry club. We participated in an exhibition, where we presented poetry that we had written. We had film screenings about art. We also translated into Armenian poems by Alan Ginsburg, John Berryman, and others.

In spite of being a recent graduate, you have had quite an impressive career trajectory thus far. Let me ask you, what has been the most memorable moment of success in your career path?

Shortly after I graduated, I started working at Creative Armenia, an arts foundation that I had heard about and whose work had greatly impressed me. I am one of those people that are very strict about the kind of path they’re paving for themselves. And I think that work and life are not two separate things — they’re just parts of one whole organism — and if one’s respectful to oneself, one should do work that is truly fulfilling oneself, which talks to one’s values and also, which would allow one to grow and to do something good for society. I’m lucky that I found fulfillment in my work early in life.

As to my most memorable moment of success, it’s still in the making, but so far, I have had several accomplishments that I’m humbly proud of. I’ve published a comic book, which will be in print soon. As a writer, completing a creative project is such a rewarding feeling; and I do hope people will read it. Another thing that I am proud of is a project we did at Creative ArmeniaWe have recently published a book called “44 Days: Diary from an Invisible War,” written by Lika Zakaryan, a journalist that took cover in a bunker during the 2020 Artsakh war and began to write a diary. Her book, which is available in English, Armenian, and Russian has become a definitive and comprehensive chronicle of the war. I am the editor of the book, and I am very proud that we can bring it to readers worldwide.

What do you like most about your current position as the director of programs at Creative Armenia?

In Creative Armenia, we discover, develop, and produce creative talents and help Armenian artists worldwide through our signature programs. We believe that apart from grants or other financial assistance, artists primarily need strategic support to bring their works to life and take them out to the international art scene and marketplace. In Armenia, many people are in the mindset that art cannot be successful commercially; this is what we want to change. We want to show that it is possible for art to be both sustainable and commercially successful, and that one attribute does not contradict or devalue the other. We have many projects designed to promote Armenian artists through funding, industry connections, mentorship opportunities, and so on. Artbox, our most recent creative incubator provides comprehensive support to creative projects and businesses with potential for commercial success. This is our pilot year of the program, and we’re really excited about the definitive change it will bring to the creative economy in Armenia. We do think that our artists should also be creative leaders and ambassadors for Armenia. It resonates with what AUA has taught us: not to be just members of the local workforce, but to represent Armenia as its ambassadors wherever we go.

How do you manage to overcome challenges? What has been the biggest challenge that you have faced?

I think what has always helped me is my persistence. I’m a very stubborn person by nature, which is not always rewarding, but it helps when it comes to facing challenges. Perhaps the most difficult challenges for me were the inner ones, such as becoming more confident in my own beliefs and abilities. I’ve spent much time shaping and carving out the person I want to be. I think that one should always try to be or at least get closer to the person one aspires to be. It’s an ongoing challenge — I think we all face that.

What are your plans for the next couple of years? Do you have specific goals that you want to achieve in the near future?

I’m working on my debut novels, one of which is based on my grandfather’s story. I consider it one of my biggest missions in life to bring his story to life. I have also written a short picture book for children that I would like to see published soon. Other than my personal goals, I would love to see our programs at Creative Armenia evolve — we have a lot of work ahead and it’s all very exciting. I think that in the near future we are going to witness considerable changes in the creative economy of Armenia, and I look forward to that.

Nowadays, many careers in the humanities are changing, settling into new roles in a new reality. What is your perception of the role of the humanities in general? 

The role of the humanities is significant in any society. It gives us the chance to analyze our society, to test its boundaries, to predict and also create what’s coming. All great ideas and anything new first spark from words, stories, and great narratives. Perhaps if we look at statistics, we’ll see that the number of people involved in the humanities is significantly low compared to those engaged in other spheres. But I think we shouldn’t approach the issue in this way. I don’t think that the humanities and sciences are very different from each other, but rather, they are interconnected. One of the most iconic physicists, Nobel Prize winning Richard Feynman was also a great artist, and he is only one example of those scientists who think and envision as artists would do. So, cooperation between the humanities and sciences is possible and constructive, they can complement each other, and this is what we should strive for. In this regard, creative entrepreneurship is one of the spheres that could be considered by people engaged in the creative field.

What would be your advice to current AUA students, especially those majoring in the humanities, particularly EC? 

I would advise them to follow their passion — that is their greatest asset. Everything else, all challenges and complications of the field are just circumstances that can be overcome. Where there is an obstacle, there is an opportunity yet to be found — a road not taken.

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