January 21, 2021

In our most recent Work That Matters series we interviewed MFA candidate, Elise Youssoufian about her project Three Trees and Ten Thousand Stones. In our conversation she chatted with us about how she combined her trauma studies, activist artist background, and Armenian solidarity to create her transdisciplinary project. 

A Refusal to Hate: A Call For Transnational Solidarity and Healing Play Video
Play Video

On September 27, 2020, Azerbaijan launched a large-scale attack on Artsakh and its civilian population, during the COVID-19 pandemic. Though a ceasefire agreement went into effect on November 10, thousands were killed, many more injured, tens of thousands displaced, and much Armenian cultural heritage is at risk. For those looking to learn more about the Armenian struggle, and ongoing humanitarian crises in Armenia and Artsakh/Nagorno-Karabakh due to war and other atrocities, Elise provided these links as a helpful starting point:


Armenia Fund

Help Artsakh

Transcript of the Video Above*

Part of what I am gaining from all my trauma healing studies is just kind of learning more deeply about the systems within systems of trauma that we are born into. That there is like this collective field of trauma that we are born into from countless generations of wounds that have gone unacknowledged and unrepaired. And I believe that many of the issues we have today are symptoms of this collective field of trauma. 

My name is Elise Youssoufian, I’m a candidate in the Master of Fine Arts program at CIIS. It’s an interdisciplinary program which is great for me being an Armenian poet, artist, activist and board certified therapeutic musician. I am building a global initiative to spark 10,000 interdisciplinary acts of creation by Armenians and by people of all ages and backgrounds. 

This project is my way of responding to the systematic destruction, erasure, and denial of Armenian cultural heritage in a region known as Nakhichivan now controlled by Azerbaijan and to which Armenians are indigenous. Three Trees and Ten Thousand Stones is particularly centered on the 10,000 khachkars or carved cross stones which were in Nakhichivan for centuries until they were destroyed by Azerbaijan bit by bit in the second half of the 20th century. 

These stones which were sacred to my people often were created to mark graves of ancestors and to commemorate important events in the lives of the communities who once thrived there. The Three Trees part in the name Three Trees and 10,000 stones refers to my MFA project and that was kind of the cornerstone. 

The project is driven by several creative inquiries including how to raise awareness and respond radiantly to not just historic and not even recent, but also current eradication of indigenous Armenian cultures and communities. In essence the question I’ve been walking with for a long time is how can I and what can we make with these tears, these unrepaired wounds? How to empower and harness a spirit of unity in this time of war and reawakening among my people and lift up the call for transnational solidarity, justice and healing, with my people, and also all those who are targeted?

So being able to give voice in this time, in this time of war is particularly relevant but I think it is also always relevant whenever there are people’s voices and stories that are being silenced. 

Sometimes I think the only thing that  I can do to respond to being hated is to refuse to carry an ounce of hate within my being.


*Elise has provided several clarifying notes to her interview

  • Khachkars are an ancient and sacred practice, still made by hand in Armenia to this day.  They can be found throughout the world in the many Armenian diasporan communities formed by survivors of the Armenian Genocide, which began in 1915.
  • By the second half of the 20th century, there were still over 5000 khachkars in Nakhichevan, of the original count of approximately 10,000.  The complete eradication of indigenous Armenian cultural heritage by Azerbaijan in Nakhichevan, which is near Artsakh, was not reached until the mid 2000s. To learn more, Elise recommends this article:  "A Regime Conceals Its Erasure of Indigenous Armenian Culture"   
  • Armenians are indigenous to an area larger than Nakhichevan, Artsakh and the Republic of Armenia combined.  Like many other targeted groups, Armenians have actively resisted imperial campaigns of domination, dispossession and annihilation for centuries.

About Elise

Elise Youssoufian is a transrevolutionary poet, artist, scholar and activist, whose biophilic works are rooted in restorative justice, cultural recovery—via studies in the US and in Armenia—and collective and intergenerational trauma healing as a student of global pioneers in the field. An MFA candidate at CIIS, Elise is weaving together divine-feminist praxis, ancestral radiance and indigenous resistance in response to systematic and unrepaired eradication of Armenian cultures and communities, through a forthcoming global arts initiative, "Three Trees and Ten Thousand Stones." To read Elise's poems published during the war in Artsakh and onward, visit the Armenian Weekly.

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Master of Fine Arts, School of Consciousness and Transformation

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