Ten days ago the Armenian community all around the world woke up to their worst nightmare — their homeland was under attack. The former Soviet republic of Azerbaijan executed military strikes on the Armenian territory of Artsakh, also known as Nagorno-Karabakh. After more than a week of defending themselves against the aggressions of Azerbaijan, aided by Turkey, it’s unclear when peace will be restored.
In support of their fellow man, Armenian diasporas all around the world have rallied to raise funds and gain international attention. Considering the lack of mass media coverage around the war, spreading awareness to those outside of the diasporas proves difficult. However, due to protests and the bond of community, every day more people are aware of the dire threat to the Armenian existence. One non-Armenian singer specifically has gone out of their way to not only raise funds but allow for a cultural experience to take place.
MEET DANIELLE SEGEN
Mezzo-soprano, Danielle Segen, of the UCLA VEM Ensemble is baking to support Artsakh. When Segen had the idea for fighting injustice with the power of Armenian sweetbreads, she reached out to Dilijan Chamber Music and UCLA Armenian Music Program director, Movses Pogossian, for support. Pogossian has continuously worked with initiatives like Music For Food, so combining cultural elements to aid humanity is a concept both he and Segen are passionately attached to.
GATAS FOR ARTSAKH
Segen’s “All For Artsakh” bake sale involves making high-level artisan Artsakh recipe Gatas and hundreds of nazooks — both breads being a warm familiarity to the Armenian tastebuds. The large gatas are shaped with two bread designs: Artsakh’s “We Are Our Mountains” monument and the Armenian genocide centennial “Forget Me Not” flower. 100% of the proceeds will go to the “Armenia Fund” which serves the people of Artsakh and the families of soldiers. Segen is also delivering the baked goods with Covid-safety measures in mind, from Palos Verdes to homes all over Los Angeles County.
If you’re in the L.A. area, you can order Segen’s beautiful gatas and nazooks here.
In a conversation with Segen, she spoke to discovering the Armenian experience through music and food:
How did you get involved with the Armenian community?
I first became involved with the Armenian community through music as a part of the VEM Ensemble with UCLA, before which I had little knowledge of the rich history of Armenia or of the atrocities committed against Armenians during the genocide. I have since come to feel very much at home within the community, and I knew I had to do something to help when the news began coming out about the attacks against Artsakh.
What does baking tell you about culture?
Baking, especially when using simple and traditional recipes as with gata, is a little bit like opening a book of history or genealogy. So many of these recipes exist because they have been passed down from generation to generation and it is astonishing to think that I can create with my hands something that someone’s great-great-great-grandmother may have made for her family as they gathered to celebrate a wedding, or a birth, or any number of happy occasions – that my hands can bring into being a piece of Armenian history and culture in my small, non-Armenian, Los Angeles kitchen.
Why did you choose Gata?
Gata for me is something that brings back vivid memories of my first trip to Armenia when we were taken up to Geghard where these wonderful older women were out selling their gata and the air was so thick with the sweet scent of baked bread. I knew that for this fundraiser I wanted to bake Armenian sweets, especially since I am hoping to raise awareness of what is happening in Artsakh outside of the Armenian community. Food and culture are always so intertwined, and I hope that by introducing my friends and colleagues to this piece of Armenian culture I can help to open their hearts to the plight of Armenians in Artsakh.
When Segen isn’t fundraising for peace, she is performing on the opera stage or with the Dilijan Chamber Music Series, among many other things. Most recently she was a featured soloist in the Armenian music compilation CD Modulation Necklace released by the label, New Focus Recordings.