A coffee with… Lousnak | Memory over your shoulder

I meet the artist Lousnak Abdalian at the Dépanneur Café, in Mile End, a stone’s throw from the apartment where her friend Lhasa de Sela, who died of cancer in 2010, lived.

The memory of the singer is still very much alive in the neighborhood, with a park in her name and a ceramic mural adjacent to Le Dépanneur. Also alive and well in the heart of Lousnak, who met Lhasa 30 years ago, when they were both in their twenties. From this meeting was born a great story of friendship… until death separated them, much too soon, when Lhasa was only 37 years old.

“She would be there supporting me,” Lousnak says with emotion, talking about his recent project, White flagsa participatory artistic installation in memory of children killed in wars that she wishes to travel throughout Quebec and even further afield⁠1.

A multidisciplinary artist of Armenian origin, Lousnak describes herself as a “remembrance activist”. A descendant like me of survivors of the Armenian genocide, she has organized an artistic event every spring since 1999 to commemorate all the genocides in the world. Through song, dance, poetry or the visual arts, she carries her memory across her shoulder and seeks to raise awareness.

Her friend Lhasa has already participated, notably writing a text inspired by a discussion they had on the denial of genocidaires.



“It is possible to erase the traces of a genocide from the pages of history, but not from the memory of human beings who carry history within them,” wrote Lhasa de Sela, in 2003, in the booklet a benefit concert presented at the Lion d’or for the April 24 commemoration day of the Armenian genocide.

This year, Lousnak, deeply concerned by the situation of child victims of the war in Gaza, created an event which still digs into the furrow of memory, this time echoing her own childhood disrupted by the war in Lebanon.

Born in Beirut, the artist was 8 years old when bombs gutted her building and her life. Until then, she had had a happy childhood. Very modern parents. A mother who worked for a photographer. A graphic designer father in an advertising agency. The family lived on the seventh floor of a large concrete building located right next to the Phenicia Hotel in central Beirut.

“That’s where it first broke.” »

Beirut residents were warned to sleep in the middle of their building. “As kids, we were excited at first. Are bombs coming? What is that ? I remember that I found it impressive to sleep not in my room, but to camp in the middle of the living room, on the floor, with my aunt, my uncle, who felt safer at home. »


The child in her found the situation amusing until she understood what a bombing was. “We started hearing the bombs. One night our building was bombed. For my parents, it was total panic. »

She remembers the fear on her mother’s face. His reflex to pick up a few personal belongings before going out. His father who says no and urges the family to get out as quickly as possible. Everyone rushing up the stairs in their pajamas.

These pajamas were all they had left of their previous lives. “Like many families, we lost everything. »

When his parents took advantage of a ceasefire to return to their apartment and try to recover things, there was nothing left. The war raiders had gone before them. “It’s like your past is erased. »

Lousnak and her family went to live in Anjar, an Armenian village in the Bekaa plain of Lebanon where residents of Musa Dagh, a region of southwest Turkey known for its heroic resistance during the 1915 genocide, were refugees. Armenian villagers installed at the top of the Musa Dagh mountain then held out against the Turkish soldiers until French naval ships evacuated them by sea. Lousnak’s ancestors, on his father’s side, were among them.

Meanwhile, Lousnak’s father went to work in Jordan, hoping to save enough money so his family could leave war-torn Lebanon.

He became a political cartoonist in Jordan Times. “He made such spicy caricatures that the sheikh’s brother summoned him to the palace one day. He told him: “Mr. Abdalian, you have a lot of talent. But if you want to stay alive, I invite you to leave my country.” »


It was an “invitation” that he could not refuse… This is how Lousnak, following the job offers of his father forced into exile, settled with his family in London, then in Paris, finally landing in Montreal, one winter day, in 1982, at the age of 15. The teenager who dreamed of studying Fine Arts in Paris was not particularly delighted to have to exile herself once again to a distant, snowy country. “I ran away. I didn’t want to leave Paris. I was given a caricatured image of Quebec, with bears and teepees! But in the end, I was pleasantly surprised. I fell in love with Quebec. »

In the preface to Franz Werfel’s novel The 40 days of Musa Dagh, this book published before the advent of Hitler’s regime in Germany recounting the struggle of Lousnak’s ancestors against the genocidal forces of the Young Turks, Elie Wiesel evokes the “crime of forgetting”, which the besieged Armenians feared more than death . If this Holocaust survivor himself dedicated his life to telling the story, it is because he felt that, having survived, he owed something to the dead. Not to remember is to betray them again.

In the movie Ararat by Atom Egoyan, Lousnak plays the role of Shoushan, the mother of painter Arshile Gorky, who says exactly the same thing to her son. “If you survive, it will be to tell your story […] You’re not going to forget me. »

Lousnak gets chills thinking about this film which took her to the Cannes Film Festival, alongside Atom Egoyan and Charles Aznavour. For her, it was much more than a role. The reflection proposed Ararat on memory is at the heart of his life and his work as a committed artist.

“I often say that it’s my cross to bear, even if I don’t really like this image. »

Armenians, victims of the first genocide of the 20th centurye century, are bearers of knowledge and memory. And like many descendants of survivors, Lousnak cannot help but think when he recalls the terrible phrase uttered by Hitler in 1939 – “Who still remembers the massacre of the Armenians? » – that if humanity had remembered better, the course of the world would have been different.

“If I talk about it, if I raise awareness, it is with the hope that it will stop. »

Because no one has a monopoly on pain, this hope comes through the convergence of memories, she believes. The denied memory of Armenians, who saw history repeat itself in indifference with the forced displacement of Armenians from Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh) last year. The wounded memory of all people who have suffered or are still suffering such crimes, whether they are indigenous, Jewish, Roma, Tutsi or Palestinian. The memory of children killed in the wars of the grown-ups when, the artist reminds us, they should have been the ultimate white flag.

1. Read the article “A child like a flag”

Questionnaire without filter

Coffee and me : At my age, I only drink decaffeinated coffee. I also read the Armenian coffee cups. I do this for very close friends. I often stir my coffee when I drink it at home.

The people I would like to bring to my table, dead or alive : Giacometti, Ai Weiwei, the Armenian-American painter Arshile Gorky, Joséphine Bacon.

A book that marked me : The man without qualities, by Robert Musil. It’s my bedside book. It’s a philosophy in fiction. The kind of book you keep rereading passages from. You sleep on it. The next day, you talk about it with your friends… I never finished it because it’s such a dense read that every sentence is something to think about. But maybe I don’t want it to end either.

The last time I cried : Listening to Joséphine Bacon read her poems at the Montreal Underground Art festival. It’s the first time we met. It was really touching.

Advice I often give : Don’t be afraid to be who you are.

Who is Lousnak Abdalian?

  • Born in Beirut in 1967, to Armenian parents.
  • Exiled to Quebec in 1982.
  • Graphic designer who won a Félix prize at the ADISQ Gala in 2003 for the album cover Volodyaby Yves Desrosiers.
  • She developed her talents as a painter and sculptor under the critical eye of the great sculptor Arto Tchakmakdjian, while taking visual arts courses at UQAM.
  • A multidisciplinary artist, she has notably collaborated with Armand Vaillancourt and co-signed a photography exhibition in Paris with Atom Egoyan.
  • With Patrick Masbourian, she is one of the protagonists of the documentary My son will be Armenian (ONF, 2004), which took her for the first time to Armenia, on the trail of her identity.
  • She is also an author, composer and performer, drawing her inspiration from traditional Armenian songs.

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