Anna Astvatsaturian Turcotte and the Power of Personal Story
Anna Astvatsaturian Turcotte, author of “Nowhere, a Story of Exile” and human rights activist, visited Russian-Armenian University and shared her story of survival and advocacy activity with the students of RAU Department of Journalism.
Anna Astvatsaturian Turcotte is an Armenian-American businesswoman, author, member of the Westbrook Maine City Council, mother of two and a keen gardener. But besides that, she has another life: that of an Armenian activist who in the years after the ethnic violence against Armenians in Baku advocates for the recognition of Nagorno-Karabakh and the interests of the Armenian community.
“I grew up in Baku in the 1980s. As a little girl, I was curious and asked too many uncomfortable questions: ‘Why don’t my Azerbaijani friends want to play with me anymore?’, ‘Why should I hide my face on the street when I go to school?’, ‘Why do men in black scream “Die, Armenians” in our yard?”, ‘Why should I tell people I’m Greek when I’m Armenian?’”, she said.
In childhood, Anna Astvatsaturian Turcotte wrote down everything she saw during the anti-Armenian pogroms in Azerbaijan in the 1980-90s and later translated her diary into English. In 2012, she published it as a book “Nowhere, a Story of Exile”. She confided that she had not expected the book to become anything more than another story from the library, but it did.
After the publication, she received an invitation to U.S. Congress to speak at an event related to the independence of Nagorno-Karabakh. “Before I took the floor, an Armenian state official was delivering a speech, and no particular reaction followed. When I shared my story of survival, people came up to me and offered compassion. I was quite surprised to see the audience’s reaction, and it was then that I realized what a personal story can do”.
At the Congress, somebody advised her to attend a lecture by an Azerbaijani minister, and when she walked down the hall, for the first time in years Anna heard the Azerbaijani language. Her first reaction was to hide her face. “I never realized that I still had that fear in me”, she said. The reaction came as a shock and a wake-up call. She felt that she had to do more, be actively engaged in the Armenian community, raise awareness about what happened back then and advocate for the recognition of Nagorno-Karabakh.
Since then, Anna has been speaking extensively in U.S. and other countries about the given issues. Through her efforts, in 2013 the State of Maine adopted the resolution recognizing the independence of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic.
Marina Alekyan, Ph.D., Head of RAU Department of Journalism mentioned, “I think it is particularly important that Anna Astvatsaturian Turcotte is meeting with future journalists, because journalists serve as mouthpiece for the society and are the key element in the communication processes”.
Anna in her turn encouraged the students to write more about the issues that need attention, “I am not a professional writer, but when I learn about a story that needs to be heard, I cannot stay out – I have to write about it, and so should you”.
Anna Astvatsaturian Turcotte’s extensive efforts were recognized in state awards and medals. She was awarded the Mkhitar Gosh Medal of Honor from the President of Armenia Serzh Sargsyan and the Nagorno-Karabakh Gratitude Medal from Nagorno-Karabakh Republic President Bako Sahakyan in 2013. She also received Vahan Cardashian award by the Armenian National Committee of America.