Varduhie Varderesyan

Varduhie Varderesyan was a prominent film and theater actress in Armenia. In addition to many roles and performances, she made over 100 recordings at Armenia’s National Radio Golden Fund. She received the title of “People’s Artist” and won numerous awards. At the age of 87, Varderesyan was a singular representative of the senior generation gracing the Armenian stage. Varduhie Varderesyan passed away in Yerevan on November 24, 2015.
-9 300
Story elements: 
Varduhie Varderesyan was a prominent film and theater actress in Armenia. In addition to many roles and performances, she made over 100 recordings at Armenia’s National Radio Golden Fund. She received the title of “People’s Artist” and won numerous awards. At the age of 87, Varderesyan was a singular representative of the senior generation gracing the Armenian stage. Varduhie Varderesyan passed away in Yerevan on November 24, 2015.
Rodostó to Bucharest, then on to Gyumri and Yerevan. This is the long road traveled by Varduhie Varderesyan’s family. Three women and three destinies full of loss and deprivation.
“I am glad that I returned to Armenia. If I had stayed in Romania, who knows? Would I have ever returned? What would have happened to me? This hard life, you know, taught me many things. I do not get my happiness from the outside – I look for it within. And at this age, perhaps I like to be alone because I fulfill myself. I take good care of myself. The same goes for the homeland. All this pain we have witnessed, we must preserve what we have like gold, so that those who fell on the road of exile can at least be at peace in heaven,” Varduhie said.
At the age of 14 Varduhie graduated from the Armenian school in Bucharest. Her family couldn’t afford to pay for her to continue her education. In Bucharest, Armenian men mostly sewed shoes, while the women sewed the tops of shoes. Varduhie’s mother found a master craftsman to teach her daughter to sew. Her teacher had a large library that became Varduhie’s window on the world. Never having set foot in a theater, Varduhie decided to become an actress.

     Varduhie Varderesyan as Kekel and Khoren Abrahamyan as Pepo (G. Sundukyan’s Pepo)

From Rodostó to Bucharest
Having anticipated the coming violence, Varduhie’s father Garabed Varteresian left his native town of Rodostó (Tekirdağ) on the Marmara Sea in 1912 and relocated to Romania. Garabed’s father, Varteres Varteresian, was a shoemaker who passed the craft down to his son, the only child in the family. 
When Garabed moved to Romania, his father had already passed away. Garabed, aged 54 and single, went to Constantinople together with his mother to look for a suitable wife. There they meet Aghavni Momdjian, a native of Bolis. Aghavni had long before lost her father and she, like Garabed, was an only child. She lived with her mother, Mariam Momdjian, and worked as a seamstress. “My mother was a whimsical girl. But she really took a liking to my father and, because of that handsome man, she agreed to leave Bolis and relocate to Romania with him, bringing her mother along,” Varduhie remembered. Both Garabed’s and Aghavni’s mothers lived with them under one roof.
The couple had a son, Varteres, and a daughter, Armenuhie. At the age of 12, Varteres became afflicted with a bone disorder. Despite selling all their belongings for his care, the family was not able to save him. At the time, Garabed was 68 and Aghavni was 43. Their loss and the poverty the family was forced into brought many days of hardship for the couple. Not accepting her son’s loss, Aghavni, a strong-willed woman, decided to have another son. Garabed tried to talk his wife out of the idea, arguing that she was past childbearing age and that they were in no financial condition to raise another child. 
“My mother resisted, saying she would replace her lost son with another. During her pregnancy, my mother had a revelatory dream, in which my dead brother brought an image of the Virgin Mary to her. My mother realized that she would have a girl. My mother is despondent. She wanted to have a boy. I was born on March 19, 1928 in the Moldovan town of Focșani. My parents were there on business,” Varduhie recounted.
Aghavni asked the family’s godfather to have the girl baptized with the name Varduhie, so that it would resemble the name of her lost child Varteres. “My mother always told me that I was a gift of my brother,” Varduhie said.
Varduhie was six months old when her father Garabed died. Only women remained in the family – Garabed’s mother, Aghavni’s mother, Aghavni and Aghavni’s daughters Armenuhie and newborn Varduhie. When Varduhie was six years old, Garabed’s mother died in Bucharest.
Varduhie attended the local Armenian school, located next to the Armenian church built to resemble the Holy Mother Cathedral at Etchmiadzin. “I had some wonderful teachers at the seven-year Armenian school. After the fall of the first Armenian republic, top Armenian officials who had been educated in Europe scattered throughout the world and some came to Romania. Since they didn’t speak Romanian, they became teachers at the Armenian school. One of the most important encounters of my life was having Catholicos Vasken I as a teacher. He was an intelligent Armenian youth born in Romania who taught us Romanian geography and history. That was in 1938-1939. I am still highly impressed by his brilliant presence today,” Varduhie said.
Women in black mourning dress would periodically visit the family, conversing in bitter whispers about what they had experienced on the road of exile. “They hadn’t forgotten the exile. 
Even though they managed to stay alive, they never forgot the torment. 
I was a child of six or seven and understood that those people had lost something very important. I remember one who was saying that they were rich and that they were able to rent a wagon with their gold and somehow escape when the evictions started. At first they fled to Bolis and then to Romania. Recently, I read Varujan Vardanyan’s ‘The Book of Whispers’ and understood why those women who visited our home spoke in whispers. Do you know why? They brought that custom from Turkey. That’s how they spoke there, feeling the dangers that threatened them,” Varduhie remembered.
Aghavni Momdjian saw Komitas sing in an Armenian church in Bolis and never forgot it. “Amazed and astonished, my mother would say, ‘Varduhie, do you know that four sounds, at once, emanated from the throat of Komitas?’” the actress recalled.

             Varduhie Varderesyan during an evening in her honor  (Yerevan, April 10, 2014)

Upon hearing news of the favorable conditions in Soviet Armenia, when the doors to Armenia had opened in 1946, Varduhie convinced her mother and sister to relocate there.
Varduhie no longer had time to think of becoming an actress. She worked during the day and then took classes at night to learn eastern Armenian. Her mother was a laborer at a knitting factory. The director sometimes gave them fabric to sell on the black market in order to buy food.
“I was 18 when we left Romania for Armenia. They took my mother and me to Sovetashen (Noubarashen). My sister and her husband (Krikor the shoemaker) settled in Leninakan (Gyumri). My strong temperament is a result of our difficult life. We were in Romania during the years of the Great Patriotic War and we suffered many deprivations. They told us legendary stories about Soviet Armenia and we believed it to be a country of miracles and that we would have good lives there. But had I known about the terrible conditions beforehand, I still would have wanted to go. There was a repatriation before ours, in 1932-1934. We were half starving. Our Sovetashen neighbors, in whose house we were staying, were earlier repatriates. They too lived in great difficulty. They would boil wheat and give us a dish. My mother and I survived, half starved, for six months. My sister then took us to Gyumri,” said Varderesyan.
Gyumri was a “closed” city and it was next to impossible to get residency registration there. “My sister was living with her husband and son in a nine-square-meter apartment. My sister went to City Hall and beseeched an official named Gyodakyan to get us transferred to Leninakan. We went and all of us lived under one small roof,” the actress remembered.
Life slowly normalized and, in 1947, on the advice of Jan Eloyan, Varduhie began attending workshops at a studio under the auspices of the Leninakan Dramatic Theater and performing there. In 1958 she relocated to Yerevan and began an illustrious career at the Gabriel Sundukyan State Academic Theatre.
“We had a unique way of welcoming guests. We would say 'pari yegar' to all our guests and they, in response, would say 'pari desank.' This wasn’t a ritual for show, but something from the distant past, a precious thing from a very important place that seemed to unite people. My mother would say, ‘Look here Varduhie, look at the person below you, not at the one above you’,” recalled the actress, regretting not having fulfilled her mother’s request: “Varduhie, make sure to visit Bolis at least once.”
The story is verified by the 100 LIVES Research Team.
Armenian actress on her journey from Romania
Story number: 
Header image: