Today at 23, they work for Tufenkian, a company that specializes in carpets made of hand-carded, -spun, -dyed, and -knotted wool. Perhaps the most renowned of the Armenian arts is carpet making, a domestic craft that women took up at home in the late hours of the day as a quiet reprieve from cooking, cleaning and childcare. For the Stepanyan sisters, who are participants at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival this summer, once each row is completed, individual strands of thread will be knotted around pairs of warp threads, varying the colors to make intricate patterns. At her loom, the weaver makes the patterns her own, placing motifs in endless combinations, organizing them into grand tableaux, then most importantly, breaking the dominant symmetries with unique variations of form and color, making the patterns flow and breathe. Over countless hours, the vision she holds in her mind emerges, in row upon row of brilliant thread.
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Almost years ago, more than 1 million people died in the midst of the Armenian genocide. Armenian leaders were rounded up and killed. Men were put to work as beasts of burden. Women and children were forced to march to imaginary camps in Syria that Ottoman Empire authorities knew they would never reach. The forced eviction from their land created a massive diaspora of Armenian communities around the world.
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