A disused Armenian textile factory has become a sanctuary for artists and other emigres from Russia, Iran and Ukraine whose lives have been turned upside down by war or political turmoil.
Abandoned workshops that once produced Soviet knitwear have been turned into a creative space for painters, puppet-makers and photographers in a venture that is helping to revitalise a town in decline.
Launched in 2022, the project is called Abastan – “shelter” in Armenian – and is open to participants and guests from around the world.
Polina Ivanova, a co-founder of Abastan, said locals in the northern Armenian town of Tumanyan were at first bemused by the strangers in their midst.
“I think that for many people this was really incomprehensible: who are those people? Why are they here?…
“And slowly, sometimes through public events like theatre performances, sometimes through personal relationships, we get to know the people and people get to know us.”
Arghavan Majd, a painter from Iran, said she found the atmosphere “more free” in Abastan and it was easier to make personal connections.
Since Majd left Iran, the country has been convulsed by protests over the death of a young woman, Mahsa Amini, in police custody, and she said she had no intention of going back.