Jeweler Thierry Vendome is a chip off the old block. Son of the great Jean Vendome, known in France as the father of contemporary jewelry, Thierry has progressively learned to stand on his own through time and his creations.
A sensitive and talented artist, Thierry likes to combine driftwood, diamonds and gold with shrapnel and rust. A great traveler, he has walked the mountains of Armenia, where he has found obsidian shards, stones and various abandoned materials and given them a new life through his thoughtful creations. His Armenian collection reflects a deep connection with the soul of a people whom he has learned to love over time.
To Thierry, harmony appears to be possible only through extreme juxtaposition: the ancient and the modern, the sacred and the profane. Behind every jewel, there is a story.
Thierry has a gallery on Francois Miron Street in the heart of Paris, its doors are wide open to those to want to glance the richness of his universe.
He was born in Saint Maur in 1964. His father Jean Vendome, born Ohan Tudharian, is enshrined in the annals of French jewelry making. Thierry has great admiration for his father, but the origin of the latter’s talent remains a mystery to him.
Ohan was born in Lyon in 1930 and began to work as an apprentice with his uncle, jeweler Aram der Haroutunian. He acquired an expertise and a flawless technique early on. At the age of 17, he opened his own business in Montmartre, after obtaining a waiver from the state because he was a minor. He began making jewels for major retailers, but soon got bored of the repetitiveness and turned to creating his own works, carving stones and minerals. It was a risky bet that quickly translated into huge success. It was in that period, in the 1950s, that he changed his name to Jean Vendome. Ten years later, his name was included in the Larousse Encyclopedia. He participated in the creation of Yan’s Club, a gathering place well known to the Armenians of Paris and its environs. But life was never a long, calm river for the Vendome-Tudharian family. In 1973, Ohan survived a terrible car accident.
Seven years later, another tragic event devastated the family. A bomb, most probably placed by young members of an Armenian extremist group, blew up their shop. It was on that date, September 1, 1980, that Thierry was expected to start his first day as an apprentice. “My father had reached the peak of his fame and everything went up in smoke,” he remembers.
Thierry’s parents were severely hurt and turned their backs on everything connected with their Armenian roots.
“Five years later my mother, Nelly Mazlemian, died of cancer. Near the end, she asked me to put on a CD of Komitas and burst into tears,” Thierry says.
The Mazlemians, natives of Constantinople, arrived in France in the early 1930s. “My [maternal] grandmother Berdjouhi Mazlemian studied at a boarding school, the Tbrotzaser College of Raincy. There, she met her friend Meline, who would later marry Missak Manouchian, a hero in the resistance against the Nazi occupation. My grandparents were supporters of the left. They visited Charles Aznavour’s parents, who dined at their house on Christmas and, similar to them, belonged to the resistance network during the German occupation,” Thierry says.
My grandmother of Marzevan
Thierry had tender and affectionate feelings for the person who raised him, his paternal grandmother Haigouhi (1903-1999), an Armenian Genocide survivor. A native of Marzevan in northern Anatolia, she “Lived 200 percent for her Christian faith,” Thierry says. She was educated at the Anatolia College of Marzevan. Once she reached France, she turned the page on her past. Alluding to the Genocide in the presence of youngsters was out of the question. “She spoke French without an accent; every night, she watched ‘Des chiffres et des lettres’ (‘Numbers and Letters’) on TV to improve her French,” her grandson recalls.
Every Sunday, Haigouhi would take Thierry to the Pentecostal church of Saint Denis. She was not overly interested in her son Ohan’s creations, nor did she want to mingle with Armenians or be involved in community life. One day, when she was checking an Armenian cookbook, she put the book down with a weary gesture and exclaimed: “The Armenian kitchen, it is simple. You only need to open your refrigerator and prepare food with what is available inside.”
Survivor and savior, both
Haiganoush Haroutunian, Haigouhi’s mother, was born in Sivas in 1877. When the deportation orders in Marzevan were issued in July 1915, all the Armenians of the city, as well as the students of Anatolia College, were either deported or killed. Haiganoush’s husband was taken as a soldier, but six members of the Haroutunian family survived. “My great-grandmother was the only one who knew how to weave carpets. They did not kill her, finding that she would be beneficial to them. Few Armenian artisans survived,” says Thierry.
Haiganoush Haroutunian, first on the left
Through Haiganoush’s initiative, they dug a hideout in the family house to clandestinely keep three young Armenian deserters who believed that the arrival of the Russians was imminent. It was very risky, but from three, the number of hidden persons increased to 10. A new decision by the Ottoman authorities to punish, by death, every person who concealed ‘Armenian deserters’ increased the tension. For three years, despite the difficulties and by confronting the fear, Haiganoush raised her five children alone and responded to the needs of her 10 ‘illegals.’ Out of these 10 young men, three were later killed by Turks, another one died in Greece and the rest left for Eastern Armenia, France and the United States.
The family, forced to convert to Islam, remained in Marzevan for the duration of the war. The end of war did not bring peace to these Armenian survivors. The conflicts between the supporters of Mustafa Kemal and Greek groups had disastrous effects on the region with its mixed population of Armenians and Pontic Greeks. Acts of violence continued. The Kemalists, led by their militia leader Tophal Osman, sent in their hordes of Chétés (irregular combatants) who burned the villages and massacred the Greek and Armenian populations. Marzevan was not spared. More than 2,000 Armenians were ruthlessly massacred.
Haiganouche and her five children, Haigouhie in the top right
In 1922, Haiganoush, with her five children – Maritsa, Haigouhi, Aram, Haigazoun (who later became a great racing cyclist in France) and Haigouni (who died in Marzevan from Spanish flu) – left Marzevan for good after a Chétés attack in July. They went first to Samsom, rented a pied- à –terre then left for Asia Minor in September with other family members – Haiganoush’s brothers, the Dildilians, and the children of the Samsom orphanage who were taken care of by Haigouhi’s uncle Aram, Haiganoush’s young brother. The large family arrived at Piraeus at the end of September, 1922. But Greece, worn from the war and facing a constant influx of refugees from Asia Minor, was only a temporary refuge for the family. They continued their odyssey to Marseille, where the family separated. The Dildilians settled in the United States. The der Haroutunians, after living in central France, reunited at Epinay in the Parisian suburbs because “they decided that if they had to die again, they would die together,” says Thierry.
One day in 1990, Thierry, who like many young people of his generation was infatuated with video cameras, decided to film his paternal grandmother. “I wanted to record so that she could tell us about her childhood in Marzevan, that she could transmit her memories to us,” he says. She showed him old black and white pictures, commenting on every person. She then took old notebooks, written by her sister Maritsa, and read them aloud in Armenian. Thierry continued recording, grasping only half of the meaning. The camera was filming, without Thierry immediately realizing that his grandmother had broken a taboo subject – the family’s conversion to Islam.
The story is verified by the 100 LIVES Research Team.