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‘The Armenian Dating Show’ doubles as a lesson in geopolitics and culture | related to art | Arts & Culture

Amid the COVID-19 lockdown in 2020, Anthony Dikran Abaci had a flash of inspiration. Spurred on by the episodes of reality TV shows “90 Day Fiancé” and “Indian Matchmaking” he was watching, the Los Angeles-based producer wondered, and if he was making a dating show focused on people who , like Abaci, were ethnic Armenians?

A dating show was not part of the plan earlier that year, when he first considered starting a production studio and creative agency focused on Armenian stories. “It was about creating a show that Armenians and my community could be proud of and non-Armenians could connect with,” Abaci said of the plan during a recent video call from Carmel, where he was traveling. .

But, dating is what Abaci calls a “spider’s web,” in which the various threads of history and culture are connected. When “The Armenian Dating Show” debuted on YouTube in November 2021, the series was working the same way. Its ten-episode first season followed 11 Armenian Angelenos in their 20s and 30s as they searched for a potential love match. The catch of the show: some of their families met their dates before them. As the dates got to know each other and the families, viewers learned about the food and, perhaps, even learned a few Armenian words and phrases.

More importantly, though, they got a glimpse into the lives of millennial and Gen Z actors, all of whom maintained ties to the lore in Los Angeles in the 21st century. Additionally, viewers would see how LA’s Armenian diaspora was shaped by the 1915 Armenian Genocide as well as upheavals in various countries in the century that followed, reacted to a war in Artsakh, part of the Armenian homeland. historic event that had taken place a few months earlier.

Raised in Silicon Valley, Abaci grew up in a small, tight-knit Armenian community around St. Andrew’s Armenian Apostolic Church in Cupertino, where his family was active and Abaci himself was a deacon. During the summers, he went to an Armenian summer camp, connecting with children who shared his background more than his classmates in the public schools he attended. After studying film at Chapman University, Abaci became a branded content producer, working on campaigns for Spotify, Def Jam Records and DJ Marshmello. “By telling other people’s stories for so long, I realized, where is my Armenian story?” he says. He launched Miaseen, which means “together” in Armenian, to do just that.

Ari, a man with shoulder-length dark brown hair and a beard, sits on a green velvet upholstered chair with his legs crossed and his arms folded across his chest.  He is sitting relaxed as he laughs and looks at something behind the camera.  The backdrop is an ornate rug hanging from the ceiling and curtains on the floor.  Two accent pillows sit casually to the side and a potted palm tree stands to the side.
Ari, a contestant on “The Armenian Dating Show,” sits down for an on-screen testimonial. | Image from “The Armenian Dating Show”/Courtesy of Miaseen

With a full-time staff of three and a roster of freelancers that comes and goes with various projects, Miaseen takes a broad approach to telling Armenian stories. They collaborated with the non-profit humanitarian organization Kooyrigs to tell the stories of the inhabitants of Armenian villages who were affected by the 2020 war. They produced market places and immersive events in their studio, located at the outskirts of Glendale, bordering Los Feliz and Atwater Village. They’ve also created a handful of web series, including “Arm 101,” where comedians break down the different dialects of the Armenian language, and “Studio Sessions,” which spotlights Armenians in the music industry.

Miaseen’s work highlights the fact that there is no single Armenian experience. “We are a validation company,” says Abaci. “Our job is to validate people’s Armenian experience.

Our job is to validate people’s Armenian experience.

Anthony Dikran Abaci, founder of Miaseen and co-creator of “The Armenian Dating Show”

This means digging into the multi-faceted identities of the people they highlight. “Everyone has their own story to tell. Everyone is their own main character,” says Abaci. “In Armenian culture, it’s so much about community, which I think is great. That’s why we stayed so long. But there’s no emphasis on individualism, even individual in terms of, what ideas can you bring to the table.”

The balance between Armenian and American culture – of being “pretty Armenian”, as they say – is something that comes up often in conversations at Miaseen. Alique Derderian, who joined Miaseen as an intern in 2021 and is now an associate producer, offers a personal perspective. “Growing up in the Armenian school, there aren’t many places where you can be anonymous or not really care about the whole collectivist culture. People are going to remember what you did or how you act,” she said via video call from Arcadia. For Derderian, who grew up in Pasadena, that changed when she attended a non-Armenian high school and then moved on to college. “It helped to understand who you are alongside the Armenian community and to have a better idea of ​​who you are,” she says.

Three family members are sitting on a couch with their hands crossed on their knees.  The woman in the middle, the mother of a contestant, has her head tilted to the side, her eyebrows raised and her lips pursed as she eyed someone off frame suspiciously.
The main premise of “The Armenian Dating Show” centers on 11 Armenian Angelenos in their 20s and 30s as they search for a potential love match – but some of their families would meet their dates before they do. | Image from “The Armenian Dating Show”/Courtesy of Miaseen

These are all ideas Miaseen brought to “The Armenian Dating Show,” a series whose premise goes against tradition. “In traditional Armenian culture, you’re not supposed to date. You just have to get married. We don’t want to hear about it until you’re engaged,” says Abaci.

“When you’re doing a dating show for a very conservative community and it’s the first season of the show and people don’t know who you are, every moment is controversial,” he adds. “I got so many messages from people saying, ‘You’re doing the devil’s work, stop. “”

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But what would complicate the series wasn’t the opposition to the subject. It was a series of events that took place over 7,000 miles from California. Just weeks after Miaseen began the casting process for “The Armenian Dating Show,” Azerbaijan attacked the Armenian-populated enclave of Artsakh, sparking a 44-day war that would impact Armenian communities. worldwide. Amid this turmoil, Miaseen temporarily halted the online casting campaign, but Abaci continued to see messages from people excited about the project. He read these posts in between checking for updates on the unfolding war and had a revelation: What if Miaseen could be a platform to spread joy as well as awareness? “What the war really helped us realize was that we could provide happiness and a place of rest for our community,” he says.

As “The Armenian Dating Show” was filmed in late spring and early summer 2021, the shadow of war looms in the background, as some cast members discuss its impact on their relationship to Armenian culture. Just as the war didn’t really end with the ceasefire – tensions remained high and periodic clashes occurred throughout 2021 and 2022 – this fear of what many call an “existential threat “, the loss of the native homeland that remains in Armenia hands, has not faded either.

In fact, war plays into the show to such an extent that Abaci says his proudest moment was when filming ended, the crew – which included Armenians and non-Armenians alike – could all pronounce correctly. Artsakh.

If we don’t record our culture and our history, no one will ever know us.

Anthony Dikran Abaci, founder of Miaseen and co-creator of “The Armenian Dating Show”

On the surface, “The Armenian Dating Show” is as its title suggests, but underneath it’s a look at the lives of Armenian Americans in Los Angeles when a current event triggers a look back at a tragic history. It is a way of documenting a particular community at a critical time.

“If we don’t record our culture and our history, no one will ever know us,” says Abaci. “‘The Dating Show’, in a way, could be considered a historic document 20-30 years from now because, if we don’t record what our culture is like in a new way, how are we going to continue in history?”

He adds, “I know it sounds silly that a dating show is this cultural artifact, but what else is it?”


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