By Diana Hovhannisyan
Armenia and Colombia - what can unite these two countries, situated in different parts of the world. Perhaps the diplomatic relations established in 1994. Maybe the link between these states is the Colombian city Armenia (the capital of Quindio Department) named in memory of the Armenian people murdered in the Turkish Ottoman Hamidian Massacres of 1894-97 in Western Armenia, and later the Armenian Genocide of 1915-23.
Recently NEWS.am STYLE has found another ''bridge'' between Armenia and Colombia - 23-year-old Natalia Labrada Zapata. Talented Colombian girl with no Armenian ancestors but truly in love with Armenians. As Natalia claims, her heart belongs to Armenia. Her unique pictures are about Armenians and Armenian soldiers, she writes poems about Armenia and Armenian Genocide. But how? How Colombian girl is inspired by a foreign country like Armenia.
How Natalia who has no Armenian roots fell in love with Armenia?
Well, first of all, I would love to say that yes, I am a Colombian girl but I am different from my own people for the fact that I am a Colombian girl whose heart belongs to you: Armenia and Armenians. And yes, I don’t have Armenian roots or any ancestors in what I’m concern until nowadays. This is something that is beyond my understanding, it is a deep feeling in my heart.
I felt in love of Armenia since my childhood, to be more precise, I was 7 years old by that time. I had in my hands an old book of my grandfather, and there, by destiny or I do not know how to called it, I’ve found your flag. And something caught my attention. Also the similarity with my flag in a sort of way, that's was a big surprise for me. So I decided to learn all I could about Armenia: history, culture, music, etc. By Internet I could read more and more about you, I listened the popular songs of Armenia, the sound of the Duduk that's gorgeous and there is not instrument and sound to compare with it, and for me the Duduk and Mount Ararat represent the soul of Armenians. I began to draw the different monuments and landscapes of Armenia, writing poems about you since I was little. And I can assure you that today I know more about you all than my own country.
There are even people and professors who tell me that in “another life” I lived in Armenia, as a way to understand me.
How could you create so many wonderful art-works of Armenian theme before visiting the country?
I really do not know the answer to this question. Firstly,I just started drawing things I’ve already seen in one book I had read or pictures I saw related to it, for example Tatev monastery, Akhtamar Island, Noravank, Tatik-Papik [We are our mountains monument in Artsakh] etc. After that I started drawing also Armenian people with traditional taraz and garments (a lot among them I invented with the ideas I have in my mind) as well Armenian intellectuals, such as Komitas, Avetik Isahakyan, Hovhannes Shiraz, SoghomonTehlirian [For more pictures see Natalia's Instagram].
Furthermore some cultural loses like the historical city of Ani with “1001 churches”, Varagavank in Van, Holy Mary church of Sassoon, Aleppo churches, and many more.
It is just a feeling I have that tells me what to draw or what to write you, it’s something like beyond my knowledge and understanding to be honest. I pray to have more ideas, so I imagine and I’m sure it is God who shows me what I have to do. I do not have any doubt of it.
What is the message of your works?
I just want to spread peace, love and forgiveness. I want to speak about peace even if we are now in a world full of war. I love the people even if they feel they do not deserve it. I want to help even if the people say they don’t need it. I could say that I don’t have dreams for my own, my dreams are yours, to help you. That’s all. My desire is to draw smiles in people faces even if today it’s just with little details or small things. I put all my heart and soul in everything I do.
My desire is to make your lives a little bit happier and easier and I’m sure I can do that. We need love and peace in the middle of the pain. And I’m here to support you, I am always ready to help you. And like Jane Austen wrote once:
"There is nothing I would not do for those who are truly my friends. I have no notion of loving people by halves. It is not my nature."
This is like the best way to describe myself, I embrace it like my own.
You have written poems about Armenia and Armenian Genocide. When and how did you know about the tragedy of 1915?
I do not remember the exact moment but it was long time ago already. Until today I have four poems about the Armenian genocide written in two languages: English and French. But I do not only have poems about the Armenian Genocide, I have also about your soldiers, Armenian nature, Artsakh and I have more ideas to continue writing for the rest of my life.
I just want that my country recognizes one day that tragedy perpetrated against you. And I will try my best to achieve this.
Recently one of your photos has been used for donation campaign for Artsakh. Please, tell our readers about it.
About this topic, Artin Nazaryan, executive director of public relations of Hyer United contacted me the week after all started in Artsakh on behalf of his organization after seeing one of my drawings on my Instagram account. He explained me how the foundation works. They get donations of medical supplies from various hospitals in Los Angeles and they ship them out to several regions throughout Artsakh. He told me that by that time they raised over $10,000 and that they used the money to ship out all those supplies.
Also he told me that they're going to be giving out the shirts for free as well. That the purpose of it is to spread the word and get more people involved. And I allowed them to use my drawing for that. I was more than happy to contribute with that.
You know more than 3 languages and also a little bit Armenian. How do you succeed in learning Armenian as a foreign language?
Armenian is a very difficult language, I would dare to say the most difficult one. First because it is such a unique language with its own sounds and even extraordinary alphabet never seen before. I think I have a sort of succeed with it because you are my inspiration, and I love Armenian language in all it ways, sound, tone, rhythm, intonation, that makes it inimitable.
I can say that is hard because in the languages I speak I don’t have the sound of some letters you have, even if I try the sound of it don’t come out as I want it. But I will continue trying my best as I always do. I’m sure I can speak Armenian soon if I continue like this. For the moment I learn before your alphabet by myself, one friend helped me to write the letters as you normally use it like handwriting, I practiced this in notebooks I have just to practice the writing of your alphabet.
And I’m used to hear your language, for the fact that I love to hear Armenian music while I am drawing or not, like the master of the Duduk, Djivan Gasparian, Flora Martirosian with her unique voice, Sevak Amroyan with his patriotic and meaningful songs and others. Some Armenian songs had inspired me to make a few of my drawings. Some songs speak deep inside of me even if I don’t understand the lyrics it’s like my heart or soul get it all. Then I ask to my friends to explain me that and after it I understand all, why I felt that.
Natalia, you have visited Armenia last year. In your opinion what is the most amazing and attractive thing of Armenia, which makes it unique?
I would dare to say that what make Armenia unique are the Armenians: neither any place, nor food, nor monument. The treasure of Armenia are the Armenians, I am sure about it. It’s a country like no other. People who have unique, bright and caring soul and you can feel it when you look at their eyes.
I could quote some words of one of my poems called “You are more than just a nation” that I wrote last year by this time:
“You are your mountains; you are your lake,
You are the soul of your motherland.
You are strength, you are love,
You are history and much more.
You are more than just a nation,
You are heroes and a living legend.
You are the source and proud of the world,
You are ARMENIANS, that’s how you’re called…”
I think with all this I said enough.
You intend to come to Armenia in summer, 2016. What are the plans for your second visit?
Well, my plans for this summer are to visit the people that already made contact with me and want to meet me. I have scheduled some drawing exhibitions in different cities like Yerevan, Vanadzor and Gyumri. Also I just want to share good quality time with my old friends, I missed them very much. I hope the situation in Artsakh will be good by then, I want to be there because past summer I couldn’t go there and to admire the beauty and uniqueness of that land.
I want to visit places such as Tatev monastery, Yerablur and Zorats Karer and some museums like Yeghishe Charents museum and many more as well. I hope that this summer would be enough to make all of this. It won’t be my last time there for sure, I want to live in Armenia in the near future.
I also intend to meet Kyaram's [Kyaram Sloyan was a Nagorno-Karabakh Defense Army soldier who was beheaded after his death during the 2016 Armenian–Azerbaijani clashes] mother and give to her the drawing I made of his son and also donation, I think is the least I can do for her. I’m sure now he is an angel.
Speak about the opinion and feelings of your parents, friends, who know about your crazy love to Armenia. Don’t they get surprised or maybe jealous?
It is a little hard question to answer but I will tell you for sure. Before it was a little bit difficult to talk about this subject for the fact that almost no one in my country understands why I am doing what I am doing, even until today. But that’s not an obstacle for me because I’m the kind of person that now is not important what others think of me, instead of that I just try to make my best for all and with all.
And sure, both, surprise and jealous, even some of them tell me I don’t deserve to be Colombian, but that kind of opinions are not important to me now. They are surprise also for the fact that I’ve never been there before last summer and I knew so much.
For some reason God put these feelings like love and respect towards you, not towards my homeland. I’m a proud Colombian girl, I like my country but Armenia it’s something I cannot explain with words, it’s a deep feeling that I think just my soul can understand it. I was waiting all my life for this moment to be honest, and I’m happy that already arrived me. May God bless and keep Armenia.
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