A New Jewel: Artsakh Farmers Market Opens

First published in the Sept. 18 print issue of the Glendale News Press.

The Artsakh Gardens Farmers Market debuted this week in downtown Glendale, bringing the heart of cultural craftsmanship and artistry to the Jewel City with a first-of-its-kind market that carries the true spirit of Armenia. The weekly event will return Sundays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and is located at 222 E. Harvard St.
The result of the deep-rooted love held by local Armenians for their homeland, the market has been a collaboration with 30 vendors, who will offer a percentage of their earnings to directly benefit Armenia through its nonprofit partners — Aid Beyond Borders and Eternal Nation.
Co-founder Lilit Barsegyan said that in her effort to buy from Armenian small businesses in aid of the Artsakh War — a conflict with Azerbaijan over the highly contested territory — she was frequently en route from one vendor to another across town, some operating out of their homes.
“This farmers market started out for my own selfish reasons because during the war, everyone who could do something was doing something — making jewelry, baking things — and I was supporting as many people as I could,” Barsegyan said. “I was driving around everywhere and I was like, ‘Why isn’t there a place we can gather to buy, sell and support each other?’ Then a light bulb went off and I realized there was a need for a farmers market in our community.”

State Sen. Anthony Portantino (from left) and Councilman Ardy Kassakhian with Artsakh Gardens Farmers Market Co-founders Hilda Avanessian and Lilit Barsegyan cut the ribbon to kick off the grand opening last Sunday.

She then posted on Facebook searching for someone to help her bring the market to life, and that’s when Barsegyan enlisted fellow co-founder Hilda Avanessian, who had previous experience putting on farmers markets.
Together, Barsegyan and Avanessian navigated a 10-month process to the market’s eventual opening with a clear mission in-mind — to provide relief to those affected in the war.
“Our brothers and sisters fought for us, for our country, so what can we do? We can fight here, for them through this farmers market and send our support,” Avanessian said. “We may not be on the frontline alongside them, but whatever dollar amount we can send through the nonprofits to help makes a difference.”

Artsakh is a semi-autonomous, mostly unrecognized nation located between Armenia and Azerbaijan, largely in a region called Nagorno-Karabakh. The majority-Armenian population declared independence following the dissolution of the Soviet Union and, with Armenia’s support, warred with Azerbaijan until a 1994 ceasefire that set territorial boundaries held until last year, when Azerbaijan launched an offensive to take control of the region. The 44-day war — which killed thousands of Armenians and displaced at least 120,000 more — ended when all parties involved signed an accord ceding a significant amount of Artsakh land back to Azerbaijan’s control.

Customer Ani Sargsyan said by shopping at this market, she feels she is doing her part.
“For the past year, we as an Armenian community experienced so much loss that our unity is strongly valued,” Sargsyan said. “I was born in Armenia so being here when Armenia was going through a war, while our brothers and sisters were protecting our homeland, it was so hard having that guilt of not being there … but this farmers market is a way for me to give back.
“Seeing the vendors come together to support one another is amazing to see. They’re not in competition — it’s for a cause,” Sargsyan added. “Whatever they’re gaining from this market, they’re giving to charities that are benefitting Armenia.”

Yeva Papayan, a singer and songwriter, performs at the Artsakh Gardens Farmers Market last Sunday.

Cal State L.A. Professor Maria Cozette Akopian, who was the emcee of the event, said she was honored to contribute to the market.
“I think this is a fantastic demonstration of that special kind of patriotism that Armenian Americans have for supporting Armenia,” Cozette Akopian said. “Many of us have been raised outside of our homeland, yet have done everything we can to keep our little Armenia. The diaspora is an integral part of Armenia’s future and this is a great way to support it.”
She said the market “brings a piece of Armenia” to the city with its rich display of cultural artisanship.
“Seeing all of this money being collected to be donated is amazing to me and seeing the vision for the farmers market come to life is a dream come true,” said Natalie, Avanessian’s daughter, who acted as the market’s social media manager and volunteer director. “I think being a part of the diaspora and spreading our culture and keeping it intact is very crucial.”
Yeva Papayan, a singer and songwriter, performed at the event. She said she appreciated seeing a mix of ethnicities in attendance.
“I’m surprised we haven’t had something like this before given that we have such a large Armenian population in Glendale,” Papayan said. “I’m also happy to see non-Armenians here. That makes me really happy. Part of the reason why I love living in L.A. is learning about and interacting with other cultures so it’s a really nice opportunity for non-Armenians to [experience] Armenian art, music and the community that lives here. I hope it keeps growing.”

Photos by Natalie Miranda / Glendale News-Press