Thursday, March 7, 2013

"I have no plan B": Armenian asylum seeking painter/activist

That's what Armenian asylum seeking painter and activist Narek Aghajanyan told me at the opening of his 8th exhibition, held last week at a small pizzeria located outside of Gävle, when I asked him what he would do if the Swedish Migration Board rejects the new asylum request he made after his second child was born one month ago. When I posed the same question to his beautiful and giggly wife, she told me
she is so tired of this thought and doesn't want think about it anymore, especially on that special night when her husband is showcasing his works. Narek Aghajanyan, a young and up-and-coming painter, was everywhere, attending his two kids and making sure that his visitors felt at home. However, nobody but asylum seekers and refugees could notice that mix of eerie self-doubt, anxiety and stress all over his face masked by big smile.
Just in the middle of the room (turned out to be the “gallery”), an empty chair sits behind a pair of shiny black shoes and a T-shirt with two big holes and stained with something like a blood. Narek said this art installation is meant to mark the fifth anniversary of those 10 people who were massacred following the unrest in connection with the 2008 presidential election in the Armenian capital Yerevan as well as to remind everyone that the Armenian government is still in power and nobody has been charged or tried for the killings of innocent protesters.  Aghajanyan fled his country in 2010 after Armenian authorities denied him to organize an exhibition in memory of the 10 protesters on the same spot where they were ambushed, which resulted in threats from the police and his paintings were shattered by unknown men.
What's wrong with you Sweden?
Aghajanyan was forced to leave his country with his wife and daughter when he couldn't take the death threats and harassment from the police anymore. Nevertheless, the Swedish Migration Board didn't buy his story and told him to leave the country based on a premise that his art isn't “politically critical” enough to worthy him of asylum protection. It is all to believe that the milk is black, or that case officers at the Migration Board live on a different planet. Otherwise they can just Google the name Ai-Wei- Wei and eventually realize that cases like Aghajanyan's are not random phenomena. He was doing his PhD on art before he fled to the wrong country; he could have been welcomed with open arms as an asset on his arrival at the airport by countries like Canada, Australia and given the opportunity to give back all his knowledge, talents and skills to the community but unfortunately he doesn't have the passport to go to those countries. He humbly turned down my appreciation when I expressed my disbelief that those paintings were actually made by a guy who is under a lot of stress to take care of his young family with little or no resources.
Somebody's trash is someone else's treasure
Leave alone for undocumented family guy like Aghajanyan, Sweden is one of the most expensive countries for any person with good income; being undocumented asylum-seeking painter is just a luxury to say the least. However, if there is a true devotion and commitment there's also a way. It bleeds my heart when Aghajanyan showed me some of the paintings he made on a discarded cardboards from a pizzeria where he, his pregnant wife and daughter were hiding for some time before their son was born. Sadly, Aghajanyan's is just one of tens of thousands undocumented asylum seekers in Sweden whose skills, talents, knowledge and years of experiences are being flushed down the toilet.

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