Ken Hill said finding authentic Armenian food in Alexandria can be an arduous task. "There are a couple of carry-out places that mixes, but there’s no specific Armenian restaurant [in Alexandria]," he said.
Hill is the chairman of the Alexandria - Gyumri Sister City Committee, which has helped organize the annual Armenian Day Festival over the last 15 years. When it comes to a genuine Armenian feast, he said look no further than Saturday, June 2, from noon to 6 pm, at Market Square. "By the time people sit down to eat, they’ll be getting an authentic Armenian meal," he said. "We’re going to have better food than ever. We’ve got the cooperation of the St. Mary’s Armenian Church. They usually help us out anyway, but they’ve gone out of their way to create some dishes that are really authentic and really unusual. Their Dolma — stuffed grape leaves — are always fantastic, with the spices in them. And they have a dish called Eech, which is kind of a peasant’s salad thing, and it’s really quite extraordinary."
The Armenian Festival is a charity event that benefits Alexandria’s Sister City Gyumri, Armenia; providing humanitarian aid and educational services to the region’s citizens and children. It is in its 15th year and has always been held at Market Square (301 King St.), according to Cheryl Lawrence of the Alexandria Department of Recreation, Parks and Cultural Activities, which co-hosts the festival.
With food, entertainment and a sense of humanitarianism, the annual event bridges different cultures in an afternoon of fun. "My favorite thing is getting to experience a wonderful and different culture without even leaving Alexandria," said Tim Ramsey, who is helping to publicize the event. "At the festival we get the opportunity to experience Armenian dance, music, and food...not to mention the great people. I think we are very fortunate to be able to learn and appreciate the Armenian culture right here in our own community."
THE FUN BEGINS at noon at this free festival. Entertainment features the Arax Dance Ensemble with Artistic Director Carolyn Repkievian; the Washington Armenian Ensemble, a group of classical instrumentalists performing Armenian music; the Birky Family enacting Armenian folk tales; Sevan Birky, reading stories for children; and vocalist Naira Babayan.
"There’s a folk dance troupe that’s almost professional," said Hill. "Beautiful costumes, traditional and authentic. They’ve been with us for the last three or four years and they’ve been getting better every year."
There will also be a VIP event at 2 p.m. for community leaders and elected officials.
"We should have a really good festival, but just as important, we’ve improved the kind of assistance we give to Gyumri," said Hill. "We’ve set up a small grants program, we’ve gotten a lot of proposals. We screen them to make sure they’re consistent with our objectives, which is a focus on children and youth."
Hill, who has been on the committee since 2002, said his organization has had more resources than in the past to facilitate their charitable efforts.
"We’ve been able to raise more money, which has given us the chance to do more things. Plus, some of us on the committee have had experience with grant making," he said. "When you set up a system and do it competitively, it’s more effective. We’re shooting for sustainability, too; things that will give children skills that they wouldn’t develop otherwise."
So along with the food and the fun, there’s a chance to make a difference — and, as always, it all happens in Market Square.
"As long as we do it, that’s the best place to have it. No question," said Hill. "We’re praying for good weather."