3626) Armenian-Americans

By Maggie Lewis,
Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor
NOVEMBER 20, 1980

"Kevork Donabedian, editor of the Armenian Weekly and a 30-year ARF member, sits at his desk in the Hairenik ("homeland") building in Boston behind two miniature crossed Armenian flags and states the party's aim simply: "to get a free, united, independent Armenia."

Ask about the cars that were blown up and the Turkish diplomats that were killed recently by terrorist groups demanding the same thing, and he replies, "As an Armenian, I never condone terrorism, but there must be a reason behind this." His reason is frustration with the Turkish government and other nations, none of which will acknowledge officially that the genocide happened. The ARF is not interested in having people settle down in the diaspora, and there was talk on Armenian Martyrs' Day of the "white genocide," or losing the Armenian culture to American homogeneity." . . .

WATERTOWN, MASS. — Mrs. Kimball's English as a Second Language class is hard at work making booklets about how animals move. They put the animal sticker on the page, then find the right animal name on one list and the proper verb on another and write a caption for the sticker. A little boy with bright brown eyes and fluffy brown hair who has been working with quiet intensity comes to Lynne Kimball's desk.

He can just see over her stack of books and lesson plans, but his bearing is dignified, his accent strangely cultivated for a first-grader. "Can a skunk swim?" he asks.

Mrs. Kimball must be calling on all 12 years of experience as an English as a Second Language teacher when she looks him straight in the eye and says earnestly, without so much as a giggle, "I don't know. But I'll try to find out."

She did the right thing. He had just arrived here from Soviet Armenia. What is crucial to this little boy's education is not skunk locomotion but being able to ask about things in English and get sympathetic discussion. He seems satisfied, sits back down at his desk, and, lowering what are probably the world's longest and blackest eyelashes, manfully wields his large first-grader's pencil, struggling with a new alphabet.

After the three-year program, one third of which is taught in Armenian, he may never write in the curvaceous, twigged characters of the Armenian alphabet again. He won't forget them, though, because the anniversary of the invention of that alphabet (in AD 404) is celebrated every year in Watertown.

In fact, he won't forget much about Armenian life, even Armenian life he never experienced. He will probably always be reminded to be proud of his ancient culture and religion. And he will have a hard time ignoring the dream of an independent homeland, or the memories of the massacre of the Armenians by the Turks, passed down by parents and grandparents. These are very much a part of Armenian life, wherever in the world families ended up after the Turks tortured, massacred, and "deported" Armenians living in Turkey, historically their homeland. One and a half million were killed in Turkey or on the march through the deserts of Syria. Those who survived had to find a new place to live. These events happened from 1898 to 1915, but you don't get a sense that they are over from talking to Armenians. The Turks have yet to admit their guilt, the Armenians yet to forgive them.

Memories of this attempted genocide came up, whomever I talked to. The die-hard radicals insisting on reparations and a homeland, more "Americanized" people happy to be in Watertown, or as one woman reminded me while I was asking about the spectrum of Armenian politics, the majority "who are just trying to get through the day like everyone else" -- all have memories of cruelty.

I read the horor stories of the massacre in Michael J. Arlen's "Passage to Ararat": about how Interior Minister Talaat Bey decreed that all the Armenian community leaders were to be killed and the rest deported, and how Turkey has yet to acknowledge this atrocity. (Hitler, when he ordered the extermination of the Poles in 1939, is reported to have told his army commanders that there was nothing to worry about as far as world opinion was concerned. "Who still talks nowadays of the extermination of the Armenians?")
Arlen started out only faintly interested in the Armenian identity his father always refused to talk about, and ended up trying to understand how to deal with his rage at injustices committed against his people. The memories are not just national, but personal.

Every Armenian eventually gets around to talking about the grandparents who were killed, or the one who escaped, just barely.
Martin Halabian, a quiet, gray-haired, scholarly man, is director of information, research, and publicity of the National Association for Armenian Studies and Research. The organization's aim, basically, is to restore Armenia's place in world history. There is now a chair of Armenian Studies at Harvard, the first such academic post paid for by "grass roots" contributions, Halabian says. Three hundred thousand dollars was raised in the Armenian community, which was matched by the university. Other universities have followed suit. The Turkish denial that the massacre ever happened, and the fact that many priests (traditionally, cultural and intellectual leaders) were killed and records destroyed, have left Armenia out of written world history.

"The word 'Armenia' appears in the indexes of world history texts, but if you look it up, it's usually a spot someone went through, with no elaboration," Halabian says. With his gray hair, twinkling eyes, and comfortable sweater under his jacket, he looks more like a Yankee professor than an Armenian, especially when he raises a finger and tells me surprising Armenian facts: The Armenian Bible is the fifth-oldest translation; Armenians have always traveled (not always because they were chased); the Crusaders relied on the Armenians as an island of Christianity in the Middle East; Armenians in the Ottoman Empire were a westward-looking group who brought about interest in constitutional government and were a favored minority until Sultan Hamid came to power.

His message is simple: Armenia and its history is not so simple. And the study of all this, including the massacre, is vital. "In evolutionary and revolutionary periods of history, people are grappling with problems in a deeper way, and this is the beauty of research," he says happily: that scholars can study the questions raised in such times. He is hopeful more scholarship will be done, and he speaks about it so animatedly I feel like diving into a library on my way home. And merely as an aside to explain how lively Armenians are, he triumphantly tells how his own father survived the massacre by smearing himself with blood and hiding in a heap of Armenian corpses until a gang of Turks had passed by.

The massacre didn't wipe out the Armenian nation as the Ottoman Turks intended. But it is part of every Armenian family's history and often the reason they live where they do today. The little boy in Mrs. Kimball's class lived in the only official Armenia that remains, a republic of the USSR, only a portion of the land they claim as historically theirs. His parents probably moved to Watertown to join relatives. Whatever his family's reasons to move here at this particular time -- and it may be just that the Soviet government is being liberal with its exit visas for Armenians these days -- they share in a mixed heritage of pride in an ancient culture and rage at both the massacre that tried to wipe it out and the world that seems to deny it happened.

But this first-grader with the long eyelashes probably has other things on his mind. Like the 42 other children in the Hosmer Elementary School bilingual program, he is working his way through a three-year transition into the American public school system. It's not easy to learn English all of a sudden, as well as how to go to school in the United States. As he does this, he will have even more pressing questions than whether a skunk can swim or not. I can almost see his ancestors swirling above his fluffy, concentrating head, calling on him to avenge them, get back their homeland, speak their language, and go to their church.

And if that isn't enough, passions about the Armenian experience still run high -- and contradictory -- among Armenian-Americans. The leaders of this little boy's community entertain a riot of opposing attitudes about just what all this national identity means. Though they all extol the virtue of being a good Armenian while being a good American, the ideas about how to go about this process are often violently opposed. The easy part is being a good American. The public school will help with that. And Armenians generally are good citizens, valuing discipline, family ties, education, and religion. Even those who feel they are always ready to move back to the homeland, should it be established, are grateful for the freedom to live here by these values in the meantime.

The big question is what exactly a good Armenian is. Perhaps this little boy will move into the mainstream of American culture, identifiable as Armenian only because his name ends in "ian." More likely, considering most Armenians' strong, almost religious sense of national identity, not to mention the fact that he lives in Watertown, one of the more assertively Armenian communities in the US, he will be bothered with deciding precisely howm Armenian to be.

Armenians have lived in Watertown for over 100 years. They came here even before they were forced out by the massacre to work in the Hood Rubber Company and the federal arsenal. The first Armenian church in the US was built in Worcester, 40 miles west, where Armenians went to work in the wire mills.

Before that, an Armenian came to America in the 1600s to consult with the colonists about tobacco-growing. The mills have closed down, and there are other Armenian communities in America. The fastest-growing is in Los Angeles. Waves of new refugees are coming here from the Soviet Union, Beirut, and Iran. Many still settle in Watertown.

Why Watertown? It is a suburb of Boston with a popula tion of 36,000, of which the Armenian population is 10,000 to 15,000. It has a pleasantly outdated air. There is a large, chrome-bedecked diner on one corner, and the brown brick storefronts are just this side of seedy, with their plain white signs in '30 s-style lettering. The houses are big, comfortable, and frumpy-looking, with thick-pillared, squatty front porches, lined inside with bulky woodwork. And they have lawns. The trees are large and well established. The schools are old and castellated. This is a nice little blue-collar New England town. It exudes a peaceful, secure feeling. A pleasant ordinariness. But it is not unlike many other nice little blue-collar New England towns. It's hard to see at a glance what special appeal Watertown holds for people whose ancestral homeland is the warm plain around Mt. Ararat.

Walk up Mount Auburn Street from St. Stephens Armenian Apostolic Church and Armenian Education and Cultural Center to St. James Armenian Apostolic Church and Armenian Cultural Center, and you get an idea of what they see in it. Outside the Arax Market, women old enough to have lived through the massacre call out neighborly gossip in Armenian on their way back home with their string cheese and whichever they prefer of the several varieties of lentils the store carries. The smell of fresh, warm, sesame seed-studded bread wafts out of the Sevan Bakery. The people seem at peace, and they should be. These and less obviously Armenian businesses are owned by their children and grandchildren: the flower shop, the funeral parlors, the hairdressers'. It's as if history had been reversed. Disinherited by the Turks in their homeland, the Armenian community has hegemony over these six or seven blocks.

Armenian cultural life here is rich, varied, and exciting, and it's no wonder they need two churches, each with their own cultural center, to channel it all. Farther up the street is the New England headquarters of the Armenian General Benevolent Union, a kind of embassy for the Armenian nation.

But there is still a dark side to the goings-on. For some Armenians the massacre is just as alive as the tradition of singing the liturgy in classical Armenian every Sunday. The old men gathered playing cards in their lodge across the street from St. James Church, and, increasingly, young radicals, are watching the situation in the Middle East for a chance to free Armenia. There are still two major Armenian political parties arguing about who would run it, and their voices are heard in two Armenian dailies, the Baikal in Watertown, with its English-language weekly, the Armenian Mirror-Spectator, and the Hairenik Daily and Armenian Weekly in Boston.

The little boy in Mrs. Kimball's class will certainly get ideas about how to be Armenian at church. Armenians have always looked to the church for more than religious leadership, even when living in Armenia. The first country to make Christianity its state religion, Armenia has been centered on the Armenian Apostolic Church since AD 301. Since it was always surrounded by non-Christian empires, the Muslim Ottoman Turks to the southwest, the Mongols to the north, and the Persians to the southeast, being Christian was a nationalistic commitment as well as a religious one. When armenians emigrated, the church was the first thing they built in the new community. "The church sustained us," everyone tells you. The priests naturally became community leaders, and Armenians still expect the church to take part in their children's upbringing.

What kind of upbringing depends on which church they go to. On Armenian Martyrs' Day, April 24, both Armenian Apostolic Churches in Watertown celebrate the liturgy the way they have since 301. But the rest of the commemorations have different flavors. The Rev. Torkom Hagopian's St. Stephens Church held a militant celebration, including a march and a 24-hour fast. Many of his parishioners are recently arrived immigrants who are militant about establishing a free and independent Armenia.

"They keep the Armenian cause as part of their lives, because they feel that justice is not done. . . . There is no peace in your heart because justice should come to the just," Fr. Hagopian said of his congregation afterward, as he sat in a folding chair in a side room off the ornate altar of his church. ("Excuse me, I've been up all night and I haven't eaten," he said, falling into the chair in his black shirt after an assistant lifted off his brocade robes.) "Justice is very important," he concluded, sternly. By "justice" he means recognition by the Turks of what they have done, and some kind of reparations.

After the service, the congregation goes down to the church basement to break their 24-hour fast with the ceremonial bread and lamb eaten at Armenian funerals. They fill the basement, sitting in folding chairs. The young men perch on the window ledges, the sunlight streaming over their dark reddish-brown heads and the gray ones of the old folks. An elderly man gets up amid applause and begins a long poem in Armenian, raising a hand, his voice rising in a formal railing tone like the priests', then quieting, all rhythmically.
I ask the woman next to me who he is and she writes "Mardiros Kazanjian" in my notebook, and whispers that he is reciting free verse about the Battle of Sartarabad, where the Armenians defeated the Turks in 1918, establishing the first independent Armenian republic since 1375. It only lasted a little over two years, but it serves to encourage several movements among Armenians to fight or at least dream of another such republic. Especially members of the militant Armenian Revolutionary Federation, many of whom, I later found out, I was sitting among in that church basement.

Everyone gets up and sings or recites something: men, women, and children. Especially children. Two plump little girls in patent leather shoes and party dresses are lifted on stage and shyly sidle up to the microphone. In faltering voices they begin to sing a song. The audience helps out, clapping and singing along, which embarrasses them even more, but they keep up. The melody is hauntingly minor, as all Near Eastern music sounds to my Western ears. The voices all around me softly take up the song, with no prompting. They do the same with verses of some of the poems. The voices are quiet, as if people were talking to themselves, or singing as they worked. You feel they are all thinking the same thing, and it just happened to come out in words.

So when the woman sitting next to me, whose name is Alvart and who immigrated here from Iran, says that some of these people are actively struggling to get a homeland, and for them it is not just a dream but a "feasible goal," I forget to wonder how they will ever do that. This vigil, she says, is for getting toghther and "feeling Armenian." The feeling is very strong.

The liturgy is the same in the Rev. Dajad Davidian's St. James Church. But after the memorial the congregation was encouraged to look inward, a rather modern American concept. "In our church, and personally, too," said Fr. Davidian, "the stress has always been, first of all, remembrance of what happened, that in fact what did take place was an injustice. It was another example that man can really be inhumane. It was a question of injustice, not just injustice against the Armenians, but injustice writ large. Against mankind . . . and you know, it's still out there."

He urges his parishioners therefore to guard against inhumane feelings in their own hearts. "The heart has reasons. The emotions have reasons, and I find that I can get caught up with this kind of fervor . . . but then my reason has to inform my emotions. Feelings of revenge are very real feelings. The only thing is, in the long run, what does it lead to?"

He doesn't hesitate to describe his way of examining all assumptions, and especially his search for identity which led him to become a priest, as typically American. His father grew up in an orphanage after his parents were killed in Turkey, then emigrated to Worcester. Fr. Davidian grew up here and surprised his parents by, as he puts it, "becoming professionally an Armenian."

You can't entirely characterize the churches by their priests' attitudes, Fr. Davidian says. "There are people who come to my church who strongly disagree with me. There are people who go to St. Stephens who feel the way I do. So it's not really a black and white issue. [But] you will find . . . Armenians who have been in this country for two, three generations feel the way I do. Armenians who are more recent arrivals -- even my father when the chips are down says, 'No, we've got to get our rights.'"

You could say Armenians who were born here and want to continue the Armenian culture in Watertown go to St. James, and that recent immigrants who are more militant about reclaiming the homeland go to St. Stephens. But Fr. Davidian puts it more sensitively. The two churches, he says, are formed around "different images. I won't say ideologies, because ideologies is much too strong a term. . . .

Actually they were more attitudes or emotions of people. . . . You will find between their young people and our young people differences of attitude, although they agree on the same things."

Which is not to say that Fr. Davidian has forgotten the old country: "In my wildest dreams," he says, "I would love to see my father's village, my father's land, be a part of an Armenia. But I'm looking back to a period of time that will never come [again]. . . . You notice I didn't mention my mother's village. The Turks have dammed the Euphrates and my mother's village no longer exists.

It's underwater. But you know, hey! if there was an independent Armenia they would probably have done the same thing."

So if the little boy in Mrs. Kimball's class goes to St. Stephens, he could be political, and fight for a free Armenia, or if he goes to St. James, he could concentrate on the culture and settle down while dreaming of the old homestead in Yerevan.

There are so many churchgoers that both churches as well as nearby Holy Trinity are filled up on Sundays. The difference between the churches is not merely in character, but in administration. St. James, the older church, is run from the diocese in Echmiadzin, Soviet Armenia, and St. Stephens is run from Beirut. The split between the churches, which officials are now talking of mending, dates back to a dark chapter in Armenian-American life. On Christmas Eve 1933, Archbishop Leon Elisee Tourian, Primate of the Armenian Apostolic Church in the Western World, was murdered while celebrating the liturgy.

He was killed by a group of Armenians, extremists from the Tashnak party, which governed the Armenian Republic while it lasted (1918-1921). They had a feud with Archbishop Tourian since that summer at the Chicago World's Fair, when he removed the Armenian flag from a podium where he was going to give a speech because the republic was now under the Soviet flag. After the stabbing, Tashnak party members stopped attending the Armenian Apostolic Church run from Echmiadzin, going instead to the one run from the diocese in Beirut, though the liturgy has stayed the same.

Whatever separation remains in Watertown, the priests are friendly. Fr. Davidian, at the end of a two-year course he gave the Watertown public school teachers on Armenian culture, conducted a walking tour that started at his church on the western end of the Armenian stretch of Mount Auburn Street and ended up at Fr. Hagopian's church on the eastern end. There, after a tour of the church, Fr. Hagopian showed the robes and crowns he wears to celebrate the liturgy. "I have five of them!" he said with delight, displaying a crown.

"Father, may I ask who makes your robes?" Fr. Davidian said.
"My wife."
"Very nice. Where do you get your brocade?"
"At the Greek Orthodox supply store in Chicago," Fr. Hagopian said, beaming, his beard seeming to flow a little more eloquently. "I can give you the address."
"Now you know what priests talk about when they get together," Fr. Davidian said, winking at the teachers.

Things are not so jolly elsewhere. The Tashnak party survives today, though more quietly, as the Marxist Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF). The more Western, democratically oriented Armenian Democratic Liberal party (ADL) is almost as old, and less militant. Kevork Donabedian, editor of the Armenian Weekly and a 30-year ARF member, sits at his desk in the Hairenik ("homeland") building in Boston behind two miniature crossed Armenian flags and states the party's aim simply: "to get a free, united, independent Armenia."

Ask about the cars that were blown up and the Turkish diplomats that were killed recently by terrorist groups demanding the same thing, and he replies, "As an Armenian, I never condone terrorism, but there must be a reason behind this." His reason is frustration with the Turkish government and other nations, none of which will acknowledge officially that the genocide happened. The ARF is not interested in having people settle down in the diaspora, and there was talk on Armenian Martyrs' Day of the "white genocide," or losing the Armenian culture to American homogeneity.

Asked if they couldn't be Armenian here, he says, "We can't stay in America and be Armenians. That's a melting pot," he adds, with an abrupt, faintly appalled, gesture out the window to Stuart Street. And, he says, maybe the terrorism will work. It worked for the Jews, he says. They have Israel.

Edward Boghosian, editor of the Armenian Reporter in New York, says that the Justice Commandos for the Armenian Genocide, a terrorist group operating in the US, is an arm of the ARF.

"To my knowledge, that's not true," Mr. Donabedian says. The ARF concentrates on getting the Armenian issue before the United Nations and forcing the Turks to acknowledge what they've done through nonviolent channels.

An unsigned article in the Armenian Reporter hints, however, that the Justice Commandos were formed by the ARF to satisfy members who are frustrated with the small results they have gotten through those channels.

Recently, when cars exploded in front of Turkish office buildings near the UN in New York and in front of a Turkish-owned travel agency in Los Angeles, an anonymous caller to the press claimed that the Justice Commandos had set the bombs. But a car that blew up in London at the same time was claimed to be the work of the Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia. The Secret Army is another terrorist group, which since 1975 has claimed responsibility for the murders of 12 Turkish diplomats. This group is thought to operate out of Beirut.

The Armenian Mirror-Spectator, the ADL newspaper, came out strongly against the car bombings as "an insult to the martyrs." Ara Kalayjian, the editor, is equally adamant about Armenian nationalism, however. "We mingle, but we keep our ethnic characteristics. We try to remain Armenian, because one day we'll return to the homeland.It's a national obligation to remain Armenian."
Does he really foresee a free Armenia? I ask. "The Jews waited for 2,000 years to return," he says, and got Israel.

Henry Morgenthau, the American ambassador to Turkey at the time of the genocide, is fondly remembered by Armenians as the one official who tried to stop the Turks. Though neither the Turks nor the Americans took official notice of his protests, he also started the Near East Relief, an organization that set up orphanages (including the one Fr. Dajad Davidian's father grew up in). His grandson, Henry Morgenthau III, says that being a Jew who emigrated from Germany , Ambassador Morgenthau "had a sense of the tragedy which no one else did." At the time, the Turks asked him what he was complaining about. After all, they said, they were leaving the Jews alone.

Henry Morgenthau III says, 65 years later, "All this inner divisiveness and bitterness has to do with the fact that the Turks haven't come to terms with this atrocity they've committed, so the Armenians haven't come to terms themselves. All they have is a bitter memory." This is destructive, he says. He is president of the Hillel at Harvard and Radcliffe, and quotes the rabbi of that organization, a survivor of Jewish concentration camps, as saying the Holocaust should be put in the past, and that "people not directly involved with the Holocaust have no right to identify with it."

More important than the suffering of the past, Morgenthau said, is the continuity of one's race. "The Jews and Armenians have a lot in common. They are small minorities who have been wandering around in the diaspora. We have to find ways of coming to terms with that."

His way has been to concentrate on the positive elements of his culture. "You find things that interest you and you work at them. Learn the language, the history, the tradition, the food, the customs, and develop a positive sense of continuity. The black community led the way with the whole 'Roots' business."

That is being done by many Armenians. Michael Zaytoonian, director of the nonpolitical, nonsectarian Armenian General Benevolent Union, asked the nearly heretical question, "If there was a homeland, who would live there? That location has always been a trouble spot. You're in the wrong place, surrounded by people you don't want to be surrounded by." But the sense of loss and frustration remains. Zaytoonian was brought up in this country, and has hopes for the AGBU as a positive force in the Armenian community here. But he almost got choked up as he thought about it, and said, "It's frustrating . . . to go 65 years and not much has been said and done."

The conflict in the Armenian community used to be that the Tashnak/ARF party wouldn't recognize Soviet Armenia as the homeland and the ADL would. Now ARF members reluctantly allow that at least this Soviet-ruled fragment is something. Zaytoonian feels that with so little difference between them, they will remain political parties "in name only." He has emotional feelings about the homeland, but thinks these should be put to more positive use than feuding about territory.

"Every Armenian still carries that. They all know where the land is, they all lay some claim to Mt. Ararat. But nations are phasing out. I think it's nice that we're all carrying what makes up the race wherever we go."

And what makes up the race is a distinctive culture, which the AGBU disseminates with increasing vigor. The day I went to his office, which is in what was once the upstairs front bedroom of one of those big old Watertown houses, the kitchen was full of women cooking Armenian delicacies for a booth in a One World celebration.

"They're so energetic they make me tired," said Zaytoonian, a tall man with bushy hair who has the look of a young lawyer or politician -- brisk, ruddy, sharply dressed, with a friendly way of looking you in the eye as he talks.

There has probably been cooking going on at AGBU since it started 74 years ago in Egypt as a relief organization for homeless, hungry massacre victims. The New England chapter, which is the best-endowed, now sponsors a semiprofessional dance troupe; a drama company that does Armenian language plays as well as other classic plays (works by Chekhov, for example) translated into Armenian; Boy Scout packs; and basketball teams. It also runs a private Armenian school. The national AGBU publishes an Armenian literary quarterly and Armenian books.

All this reflects a change in the situation of the Armenians. "In the last 10 years we've realized we've got to start concentrating on the Armenian younger generation. . . . Now we're looking at the needs of young people, to give them a sense of heritage." And the young people actually seem willing to take part in these programs. The "Roots" phenomenon has left its mark on the Armenian-American community, according to Zaytoonian. And, as Mr. Morgenthau points out, in a few years there won't be many survivors of the Holocaust left, and the generations born after it will have to decide how to remember them.

Right now there is an influx of young Armenian immigrants who don't understand why Armenian-Americans don't know the language, and who want to reclaim the homeland, causing social tension in Watertown, he says.

"They're from a different environment. Armenians from the Soviet Union are different from Armenians from Lebanon and Armenians from Turkey." They even tell jokes about one another.

The AGBU runs four private schools in North America, in Watertown, Los Angeles, Montreal, and Detroit, where American-born children of Armenians can learn Armenian language and culture along with a regular curriculum. The school in Watertown has 90 students, from nursery school through sixth grade. Most of the students, said Gloria Agopian, the principal, are children of American-born parents who want their children to know Armenian. They may not know the language themselves.

"Their parents didn't want them to speak Armenian," she explains. In those days, establishing themselves in American life seemed more important. "Now they say there's not enough Armenian in the school."

Coming from Lebanon, where she says "assimilation doesn't exist -- you can live your entire life without speaking Arabic" because religious groups form self-contained communities there, she nonetheless didn't learn Armenian until her 20s, when she taught herself. Her parents spoke Arabic, and she went to a British boarding school in Lebanon. But because she was brought up to understand that she was an Armenian and to appreciate her culture, she studied the language when she got the chance. To her, the feeling of being Armenian is the crucial thing. "I'm not sure if learning the language makes you a good Armenian," she said.

Michael Zaytoonian, likewise, was brought up in an "Armenian-oriented" family. "I read 'Passage to Ararat' and I felt like saying [to Michael J. Arlen ], 'Michael, where have you been?'" he says. Arlen narrates his own search for his Armenian culture in the book, while a lot of Armenian kids like Zaytoonian were going to Armenian church and Armenian school on Saturdays, or hanging out at AGBU functions, soaking up their literature, language, songs, and dances, besides eating a lot of Armenian food.

"My family is Armenian-oriented, but some are not, and may run into Armenian stuff by accident. We have an adult language program and I keep seeing kids I knew growing up."

He knows all the conflicts among Armenians, but doesn't take them too seriously. "Although all the Armenians are different, they have in common more than they don't have in common. If you're patient, it just adds to the whole picture."

Vicky Dilcizian went to the AGBU school in Beirut and emigrated here in 1970. She got a BA and an MA in education in five years, and now teaches the Armenian language part of the Hosmer school bilingual program. Miss Dilcizian isn't afraid that her students, from places like Beirut and Yerevan, now carrying Spider Man lunch boxes and saluting the American flag every morning, will lose their national identity.

"My hope is to get the students to be bilingual and bicultural. I want them to be good Americans who know who they are," she says. The little boy in Mrs. Kimball's class will certainly have to be patient as he grows up among all these different flavors of Armenian heritage. But then, he has a lot more to choose from than he did in Yerevan.

Most people would say that in little children like him lies the hope for the Armenian people. Not entirely, according to Fr. Davidian.

"Sometimes on a Sunday evening vespers service here there's only a handful of little old ladies that come, but I do it because it's our tradition. And I turn around and say, it's these little old ladies who are keeping alive this heritage more than anything else.

It's almost corny, but they're keepers of the flame. . . . When I want to resurrect some country custom that has gone by the wayside, I can go back to those little old ladies. They tell me what they used to do. They have very good memories. And their attitudes are good attitudes. These are people who went through the genocide. Hey, they're 70, 80 years old now. They were 5, 15 years old when all these things took place and I find that they are not people who are embittered. They are not people who have been defeated. . . . I get more strength from them than I do from a lot of other things. It's not propaganda, they're real."

Going down the steps of another Armenian church after an interview, I encountered about six such people on their way to a Wednesday morning service. Without hesitating, one reached up and patted my cheek, greeting me affectionately in Armenian. I have never been so flattered.




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