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Department of State

The Hon. Tahesha Way, Secretary of State

Fort Lee Artist Named Recipient of Nation’s Highest Honor in the Folk and Traditional Arts

Onnik Dinkjian

TRENTON, NJ - The National Endowment for the Arts recently announced the recipients of its 2020 National Heritage Fellowships. Onnik Dinkjian of Fort Lee is among the nine recipients to be honored this year. These lifetime honor awards of $25,000 are given in recognition of both artistic excellence and efforts to sustain cultural traditions for future generations.

Onnik Dinkjian is hailed as one of the most beloved and influential Armenian singers in America, with an expressive voice said to convey both the joy of his Armenian heritage and the deep sorrow of its painful history.

Dinkjian was born in 1929 in Paris, France. His parents, born in Dikranagerd (Diyarbekir), Turkey, were survivors of the 1915 Armenian Genocide, and died when he was an infant. His godparents, also survivors of the genocide from Dikranagerd, adopted him and they immigrated to America in 1946. The Armenian dialect from Dikranagerd is unique and Dinkjian is one of the last remaining Armenians who speaks and understands it, and perhaps the last who sings in this endangered dialect.

Apart from the sacred music of the Armenian Church, Dinkjian’s repertoire consists of mainly folk and popular songs from the Anatolian (Eastern Turkey) villages, Armenia, and the Armenian Diaspora. Dinkjian is also a composer and lyricist, whose songs have become standards in the American-Armenian community. Read Onnik Dinkjian’s full biography online.

When asked what receiving this honor means to him, Dinkjian said, “Not only did America give my people a safe haven, it also provided me the opportunity to keep the dialect and songs of my ancestors alive, which I have strived to do for over 70 years. My goal was not to be recognized, but rather to pass our rich Armenian culture down to future generations. Receiving the NEA Heritage Fellowship is an honor beyond my wildest dreams. I am truly humbled and appreciative.” A brief documentary captured Onnik recording his latest album, highlighting the importance of continuing and sharing this unique cultural art form. Watch the documentary online.

“For years, Onnik Dinkjian has used his talents to share the proud history of the Armenian people through traditional music,” said Governor Murphy. “His work is an inspiration not only to the Armenian Diaspora, but to artists across the world. We are proud of his many accomplishments and success in using his music to promote and preserve Armenia’s rich cultural heritage.”

“The State Arts Council is proud to support and celebrate the various art forms rooted in cultural heritage – art forms that can be found in communities throughout New Jersey,” said Council Chair Elizabeth Mattson. “We congratulate Mr. Dinkjian on this significant lifetime accomplishment and are honored to count him among the many talented and passionate artists who call New Jersey home.”

“I applaud the National Endowment for the Arts for recognizing Mr. Dinkjian for a lifetime of artistic and historical contributions through his music,” said Secretary of State Tahesha Way. “We are proud that New Jersey has been home for Mr. Dinkjian as he preserved the artistic heritage of his ancestors and shared his gifts with the world.”

To read the full announcement from the National Endowment for the Arts, including the list of all 2020 National Heritage Fellows.

About the National Heritage Fellowships
The National Heritage Fellowships are the nation's highest honor in the folk and traditional arts. Including the 2020 class, the Arts Endowment has awarded 449 National Heritage Fellowships, recognizing artists working in more than 200 distinct art forms, including bluesman B.B. King, Cajun fiddler and composer Michael Doucet, sweetgrass basketweaver Mary Jackson, cowboy poet Wally McRae, Kathak dancer and choreographer Chitresh Das, and gospel and soul singer Mavis Staples. More information about the National Heritage Fellows is available on the Arts Endowment's website.

About the National Endowment for the Arts
Established by Congress in 1965, the National Endowment for the Arts is the independent federal agency whose funding and support gives Americans the opportunity to participate in the arts, exercise their imaginations, and develop their creative capacities. Through partnerships with state arts agencies, local leaders, other federal agencies, and the philanthropic sector, the Arts Endowment supports arts learning, affirms and celebrates America's rich and diverse cultural heritage, and extends its work to promote equal access to the arts in every community across America. Visit to learn more.

About the New Jersey State Council on the Arts

The New Jersey State Council on the Arts, created in 1966, is a division of the NJ Department of State. The Council was established to encourage and foster public interest in the arts; enlarge public and private resources devoted to the arts; promote freedom of expression in the arts; and facilitate the inclusion of art in every public building in New Jersey. The Council receives direct appropriations from the State of New Jersey through a dedicated, renewable Hotel/Motel Occupancy fee, as well as competitive grants from the National Endowment for the Arts. To learn more about the Council, please visit


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