'Kids, We Have to Run Away'

Twelve-year-old Eda Manukjan stars in a theatrical production about fleeing his own country

"What I experienced in Armenia was beautiful but I had to go back," says a 12-year-old actor with a suitcase in his hand on the stage of Prague's Divadlo Archa theatre. He's telling the story of a child refugee who, after a long time away, is returning to a native country where everything suddenly seems strange and unfamiliar. But what Eda describes isn't fiction -- it's his own story, his own life.


Eda Manukjan has roots in Armenia and Georgia. He doesn't remember fleeing his hometown on the Armenian-Georgian border because he was only two years old at the time. "We had a big house, gold, money," recalls Eda, "but we were robbed and only one ring was spared." Despite his not recalling these events, and although the memories depicted on stage are more or less a fantasy, he's a kind of witness too. "I know from my parents what happened and that's why I can portray it now," he adds.


After the opening section of his story, there's a dance sequence in which five kids and four adults interpret the act of fleeing one's homeland. They walk slowly across the back part of the stage in gray costumes, kids holding onto the adults' legs. The children never run away on their own, they go where the adults go. Sometimes, however, the children flee from the adults in fear, as shown in a scene where the kids observe adults dancing from the corner of the stage and hide themselves behind a pile of clothes. This is how emigration is seen through the eyes of a child and how it's being presented in a production called Emigrantes.


"I don't feel at home anywhere," says Eda of his fate. "I'm Armenian, I was born in Georgia and I've lived almost all my life in the Czech Republic. My dad's relatives are in Georgia, my mom's in Armenia and my friends are here. I wish they all lived in one country. I wish we were a normal family, like on TV. I wish we all had jobs and a house."


He became interested in his own past a year ago, shortly before the preparations for the Archa piece began. He had just returned from Armenia, where he was visiting relatives with his parents, and the memories of that were still fresh. The choreographers from VerTeDance were looking for Czech kids who had fled their native country with their families for the Tanec dětem ("Dance for Children") festival. Eda's dad played the accordian in a Prague theatre group at that time and it's through him that the piece's creators learned about Eda's family's story. After learning more, they then asked Eda to take part in the production.


From Georgia into space
Eda wrote his version of the story by himself, which is important for the piece. An adult would probably have focused on different aspects of their escape, whereas Eda's version includes a taxi ride along a bumpy road and a bug he once saw next to his bed in Georgia. Terrified, he would call his mother, who would calmly remove the horrific creature and put it outside. This wouldn't pacify him, though, and he'd worry that there were more of these strange bugs in his room and any hope of a peaceful sleep would be gone.


This thoughtful child doesn't see his future in Armenia, however. If he were to go back between the age of 17 and 42, he'd be called up to the army. And his biggest dream is far removed from that: he wants to become an astronaut and go into space. "It's quite difficult, I know," he says "But if it doesn't work out with the astronautics, I would love to work in a theatre. Or become a clarinetist," he adds with a serious look on his face.


"Everybody is running away from something. From the cold, from the heat, from drought or floods, from hate, pain, death, responsibility, stress, a city, a village, or from oneself," reads the description of Emigrantes in Archa's program. So what are the piece's choreographers, Veronika Kotlíková and Tereza Ondrová, running away from? The reply is accompanied by a smile and a shake of the head: "We're not running away from anything. On the contrary, we want to attract as many people as possible so they come to see the piece and get to know more about people who have nothing apart from having escaped."

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