Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Unforgettable Mukhtar Nshan

Unforgettable Mukhtar Nshan

In memory of Khachig and Garo Apelian
Vahe H. Apelian, 10 December 2011



 
Kessab was literally a world onto its own when I spent my youthful summers there. Its umbilical chord to the world beyond was the one thoroughfare that the French, the once colonial power over Syria, had laid down sometime in late 1920s or early '30s. The thoroughfare snaked its way from Lattakia and passed through its north-westernmost point of Kessab onto Turkey. The Kessabtsis referred to it as the “Zifton jampa”, which means the asphalt road. Cars veering their way from that artery to the dirt roads of the villages were a rarity then. Living in Kessab in those years and its subsequent evolution into the recent bustling summer resort, may very well be indicative of the way life would have been and evolved on that Mediterranean coastal prime real estate we left behind. We call it Kilikia  Կիլիկիա - the Armenian Cilicia, whose longing in earnest constitutes the central theme of the Catholicosate of Cilicia’s anthem. 


Through the passing years in and out of Keurkune I came to know or know of four mukhtars of the village. All of them hailed from the Apelian family. However, Mukhtar Nshan, known to us then as Mukhtar Baboug, was the gentle giant for us youngsters. He will always remain etched in my memory. The three subsequent mukhtars of the village are related to him in one way or another. Baboug and Naner are affectionate Kessabtsi terms for grandpa and grandma.

Mukhtar is an Arabic word and it means chosen. However, it seems the name has acquired official status during the Ottoman Empire as the representative of the village and the host to the visiting dignitaries. Its very name indicates that the mukhtars are elected to their office. However for all I know, the mukhtars of Keurkune have not been elected by balloting but by a participatory consensus. Rev. Garabed Tilkian in his book titled Kessab from 1846 to 1945 indicates that Nshan Apelian had been the Mukhtar of Keurkune since 1932, having taken over the mantle from his deceased brother Garabed, who prominently stands as a member of the post 1909 massacre salvation committee (third from right on third row). 



We, the youngsters, spending our carefree summers in Keurkune, were the heralds of the generation known in the West as baby boomers born on and onward 1946. By the time we started being aware and know those around us, we had already learned that Mukhtar Baboug and his wife Anna Naner had lost their only child during the Genocide. After their return, Mukhtar Baboug had embarked on search trips tracking back their caravan route into the interior of Syria looking for the son he had lost. George Apelian narrates Mukhtar Nshan’s poignant search for his lost son Khachig in his “Martyrdom for Life” Armenian book.


Keurkune - Kessab

Few steps separated Mukhtar Nshan’s house from my maternal grandmother’s house, in that cluster of Apelian households in the village up the hill. My maternal grandmother, Karoun Chelebian, was also born into Apelian family and had moved into her parental vacant house after her marriage to Khatcher in 1918 on their return from their 1915 ordeal. My mother has told me that for years, while she was growing up, during the Christmas and Easter celebrations, Anna Naner would tidy their house, make up the bed for his lost son and assume and radiate an air of self-deceptive optimism that her son’s coming home is imminent. By the time I got to know them, both Mukhtar Nshan and his wife Anna seemed to have long given up on the hope of ever seeing their son and only child again and lived quietly. We would always find them together. In their old age they always did things together with a slow motion that inevitably comes with advancing age. 

Mukhtar Baboug and Anna Naner lived out of their land. During the summer, they would leave their house in Keurkune and move to the village below, Douzaghadj, where they would put a hut. Intertwined Kessab native himka evergreen bush stalks, tree branches and leaves tightly covered the hut. In the hut they had their bedding, cushions and few utensils where they cooked their meals over fire made from dry woods fetched from nearby. I had been in that hut with my uncle Joseph. My grandfather’s land was on the other side of the brook that halved Douzaghadj. Coziness and warmth emanated in that bare hut that filled the air. Since then I also have had occasions of staying in lush hotel rooms and sat in well-furnished living or guest rooms but I cannot say that their hut was any less comfortable. It definitely remains the more memorable. Mukhtar Nshan’s nephew Hrant, wife Sara, their son Garbis and their four daughters lived also in Douzaghadj during the summer. The family tended their apple orchard that was adjacent to Mukhtar Baboug’s land and kept a caring watch over the aging couple. 

Mukhtar Nshan and his wife Anna may have had good reasons to be hopeful and optimistic in their old age. They had made a pact with Nshan’s nephew Hrant and his wife Sara. Should they ever have another son and named him after their lost son, they would pass on their land holdings on to him. Indeed Hrant and Sarah became blessed with another son whom they named Khachig. 

Mukhtar Baboug passed away not long after. In time Khachig grew up into a fine and handsome young man and got married. In the later part of December 1988, Khachig, an expectant father for his first child, a daughter to be Tamar, took leave of his pregnant wife in her first trimester of pregnancy and joined a hunting party from the village for a very early dawn to dusk boar hunting excursion. During the hunt, in the twilight of the early morning, he was mistakedly fatally shot. The news of this tragic accident arrived to the village along with the news of my brother’s untimely death in America having succumbed to his illness. It is customary to this day whenever a member of that age-old village passes away, wherever that may be, the bells of the church toll to break the news. This time around it was Steve, my paternal cousin, who rang the church’s bell and broke the news of the untimely deaths of these two young men in the prime of their lives. They were friends. 

I have not visited the village for decades. However, I know that one day when I do and head to the church, I will face its facade renovated in memory of Khachig Apelian. He is buried in Keurkune’s ancient cemetery where Mukhtar Nshan and his wife Anna are also buried. His tombstone reads:
 
Աստ Հանգչի Խաչիկ Աբէլեան
(Here rests Khachig Apelian)
Ծն. Քէորքունա. 1958-1988
(Born in Keurkune, 1958-1988)

Կեանքս Էր բուրումնալի
(My life was sweet-smelling)
Վար յոյսերռվ հիանալի
(Full of marvellous hopes)
Անգութ արկածն բեկանեց
(The cruel accident ended)
Գարուն կեանքս խաբանեց
(Put an end to my life in its spring)
Բարեկամներ,
(Friends,)
Գիտցէք արժէքը կեանքին
(Know the value of life)
Ապրեցէք յոյսով, սիրով լի
(Live full of hope and love)


Monday, December 4, 2017

The Case for not Closing Armenian Nursing Home

The Case for not Closing Armenian Nursing Home,
Vahe H. Apelian




Several years ago Viken L. Attarian in Canada had penned a guest-editorial in Keghart.com about the need of having a demographic database for the Armenian community. To bolster the creation of such a data base he had noted the following  “for example, there have been several attempts in the past and even recently to create Armenian retirement homes or homes for the elderly, the argument being that our elderly do not speak English or French and prefer to be with other Armenians (services to include Armenian cooking, church services and Armenian traditional activities). While this might have been the case 30-40 years ago, there is no scientific evidence that suggests that this is true today, i.e. that 10 years from now we would actually have a group of retirees who would want, need and be ready to finance such an effort. We could be wasting a lot of resources raising the funds to build such an institution but it could be simply another enormous waste of our resources.”
Recently I read a posting by Jerry Bezdikian, whom I met on Face book. Jerry has been entertaining the residents of the NY Armenian Home regularly by playing qanon. . The very logic espoused by Viken, might have been the very reason the governing board of this venerable institution espoused for closing the NY Armenian Home that offered residential care for the elderly. That is to say assisted the elderly who are not bed bound and do not need round the clock skilled nursing care, the other “wing” of a typical nursing home. The Ararat Nursing Facility in Mission Hills, CA, has two distinct wings, housed in different building located on the opposite sides of the main road that crosses the facility, one for residential care and the other for nursing care. 

To give some structure to my ensuing train of thoughts I would like to note the following. I served on the board of trustees of the Home for the Armenian Aged, Inc. in Emerson, NJ for a decade. My last board meeting was the evening prior to my departure day, as the company I would work for relocated me first to be followed by my family. That makes my last board meeting in March 1995, 22 years ago. I was 35 years old when I joined the board, at an age when one does not give much thought of getting old. Those ten years became an education for me. Eventual need for a nursing home looms for each one of us. My parents and my mother-in-law passed away in nursing homes. My father-in-law passed away at home.
I would also like to note that there was a time in my youth when I considered Diaspora transient on our way to settle in Armenia. I admit I had utopian and euphoric notions of a homeland and was not prepared for the stark reality of the past 25 years. I am now ever more convinced that Diaspora will be my lasting place and also for most Diaspora Armenians. Therefore, we do have an obligation to attend to matters pertaining to our long-term stay in the Diaspora. A nursing home in Armenia for Diaspora Armenians is not a viable option. Who among us would want to leave family and friends behind and move to Armenia to spend the twilight of his or her later years there?
It would be a wrong notion to visualize that an Armenian staff all throughout run an Armenian nursing or assisted living home. It is very likely, while some of the professionals such as doctors, nurses, administrators etc. may be Armenian, the majority of the staff, be it nurses’ aides, dietary workers, activities assistants, housekeeping will very well be non Armenians. Even then, in an Armenian nursing home, you need to be conversant in English or French. Proficiency of the English or French language is not relevant to have an Armenian nursing home.
Why then the case for Armenian community nursing homes, when language is not a consideration? In my view community sponsored nursing homes render better quality care. They are by nature under the watchful eye of the community. Our national and religious holidays are observed there. School children, as well as artists such as Jerry, entertain the residents. Armenian priests go to render mass and observe Armenian holidays. Visiting dignitaries make a point of visiting it. Under such watchful eyes, the administration and the staff become much more cognizant to render round the clock quality care. The Ararat Nursing Facility has been enjoying the highest rating, year after year.
Many auxiliary support groups also congregate around the ethnic nursing homes and there is a better pool of volunteers. Even though an Armenian nursing home houses our elderly, the home becomes a vibrant part of the community. First Tuesday of every month, the women’s guild of the Ararat Nursing Facility in Los Angeles holds a mid day social function which is well attended by hundreds. Armenian organizations take turn in sponsoring it. There are real life advantages for having community nursing homes.
The Home for the Armenian Aged, Inc. in Emerson, NJ was founded in 1938. At its 50th anniversary, in 1993, I researched and wrote the story of its founding and progress the community had made from maintaining a chicken house and growing their own vegetables on its premises in its formative years to the veritable institution it had become fifty years later. I had concluded my history of the Home thus.  Twenty-fours years later I stand by that conclusion and I believe it pertains not only to the Armenian nursing home in Emerson but also to any Armenian nursing home.
I quote: “The sociologist claim that we are heading towards a graying society and statistical projections predict that an increasing number of the population will need the care of a nursing home in the twilight of their later years. Also there was a large influx of Armenians in the mid-seventies from Middle East and what was the former Soviet Union, who in case of need, most likely will seek the familiarity of their ethnic nursing homes. Such trends indicate that the Home will continue to function as a viable institution well into the twenty first century. However, members of the community need to continue to assume responsibility of managing the Home prudently and soundly. The ever escalating cost of healthcare, and the dwindling financial resources, paradoxically couples with increasing compliance standards, ever so more will require the continual community management and support to keep the spirit and the purpose of its Founders alive and viable, to meet the needs of the once productive citizens of this nation”.


I wish the governing board of the NY Armenian Home had not taken such a drastic step and put in motion the closing of the only residential care Armenian nursing home on the East Coast.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Խաչակիրը

Խաչակիրը՝ Ճորճ Ազատ Աբէլեան, (1945 - 2008)

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Lest We Forget: A Village Named ARA LEZK

Lest We Forget: A Village Named ARA LEZK
Vahe H. Apelian



We may speculate, but surely God only knows what would have been the actual course of our history had the Genocide not occurred but I doubt the course of my life might have been much different for I hail from Kessab where our family traces itself on record for 10 to 11 generations. After the genocide, my surviving maternal and paternal grandparents returned to their native village and resumed their lives and raised their families there. Like the rest of Kessabtsis, I have walked on our predecessors' lands. I have also witnessed the inevitable change that time and demography brought upon Kessab rendering it into a town far from the dormant exclusively Armenian enclave it was when I spent my childhood and adolescent summers there. Western Armenia would also have evolved but I still would have wanted to visit its many historic sites, including the one-time village named Ara Lezk and mingle with its native Armenians.
Truthfully speaking I found out about this Armenian village a few years ago when, in my late maternal uncle Antranig Chalabian's extensive library, I stumbled upon a book titled "From Van to Detroit: Surviving the Armenian Genocide" by Souren Aprahamian.
This year, my maternal cousin Garine· and her husband Hovsep invited my wife and me to spend the Thanksgiving with them in Detroit where they settled since emigrating from Lebanon over three decades ago. I looked for the book and found it. I quote the passage about Ara Lezk, the author's village.
"I was born in 1897 in all Armenian village named Lezk, which is a couple of miles north of the city of Van and an equal distance east of Lake Van. Lezk is at a higher elevation than the city and the lake. Present day geography places this area in Eastern Turkey, just west of the Iranian border.
Ara Lezk acquired its name as a result of historical as well as legendary events. In the ninth century B.C., Queen Sameramis of Assyria, following the death of her husband, King Ninos, offered marriage and joint rule to the young King of Armenia, Ara. Because of his beauty, he was called Ara Keghetsik (Ara the beautiful). King Ara rejected the queen's offer, saying he was already married to his beautiful Queen Nvart, and it was not the customs of his people to have more than one wife. Monogamy was prevalent not only among the royal family but throughout the pagan Armenia of those days.
Following Ara's refusal, Sameramis invaded Armenia. In the battle that followed, Ara was killed. The Armenians fought valiantly even after their kind fell.  Sameramis to discourage the Armenians had one of her soldiers wear Ara's armor. She then declared that she captured the Armenian king and that resistance was futile. The Armenian army was scattered, and Samiramis placed Ara's body on the altar atop the citadel of solid rock, now known Amenaperkitch, so that her sacred dogs could lick him and restore life in him. The word lick in Armenian is lizel, thus the name Ara Lezk, the licking of Ara. The village has carried this name for centuries, to this day. We left it for the last time in 1918.
The citadel Amernaperkitch is a solid rock formation, above three hundred feet high, perpendicular on three sides –north, east, and south. An earthen ramp on the west side comes close to the summit. From there, steps carved in the rock make it possible to reach the top and the ruins of the castle that once adorned it.  A long time ago, a small chapel consisting of a single room, approximately twelve by twelve feet had been built. Turkish law forbade building places of worship, but once built, they were not destroyed. The villagers had built this chapel in one night. It was called Amenaperkitch, the Savior of All, and this was the name given the citadel. The neighboring villages participated in its annual feast day. The southern face of the citadel rock served as the northern wall of the village's main church."
I have also read about other Armenian churches that have been erected similarly, including the Armenian Evangelical Church of Keurkune, Kessab. The Armenian subjects took advantage of an Ottoman ruling that forbade destroying a dwelling with a roof on it, so they made sure that the sanctuary they erected had a roof before the authorities would have their say.


As to the Assyrian queen, she is more known in Armenian history as Queen Shamiram. The eminent poet Roupen Sevag had named his daughter after her. Shamiram Sevag passed away last year in France at the age of 102. She was born in Istanbul on July 14, 1914. Her father who had chosen to return to Istanbul from Europe with his German wife, after completing his medical studies, was also arrested with the other Armenian intellectuals on April 24, 1915 and was killed on August 26, 1915 in Çankiri, Turkey.
In my formative years, I too had been taught about the legend but I had not envisioned that the hill that housed handsome King Ara's body actually existed and that an Armenian village had existed around it and that its inhabitants had carried the legend for centuries and named their village after the legend; and after the Armenians accepted Christianity, had a chapel built at that very spot, on top of the hill. Who would not want to visit and climb atop that hill?
The late Simon Simonian speculated on the Assyrian queen's rejected love in his book titled "Ge Khntrvi Khachatsevel", which literally means, "Please Overlap". In that book, Simon Simonian had luminaries of the Armenian history come on stage to a capacity filled audience and dwell upon of what could have been if only their actions were heeded. Queen Shamiram stated the following:
"Ara refused my love. I had promised him my kingdom along with my heart. He would have become the king of two countries, the kingdom of Ararat and Assyria because these two countries would have ceased fighting each other to extinction. Handsome Ara rejected both the throne and my heart.
Had Ara joined me, the great majority of the oil wells of Mosul, some 95%, would have belonged to the Armenians. With Calouste Gulbenkian's 5%, the Armenians would have owned all. Just for the sake of Nvart khanoum (lady), Ara lost two kingdoms and the oil wells of Mosul"!
I leave Simonian's speculation for the reader to ponder.



Saturday, November 18, 2017

Simon Vratsian’s Intuition

Simon Vratsian’s Intuition
Vahe H. Apelian


Two prominent Diaspora Armenians, Vartan Gregorian and Richard Hovannisian reflected on Simon Vratsian extensively. Let me qualify my statement and state that it is Garin K Hovannisian, the grandson of Richard, who mentioned Simon Vratsian many times as he narrated the story of his prominent family in his book titled “Family of Shadows”.
Garin K. Hovannisian’s book does not have an index and therefore it is not possible to quantify the number of pages where Vratsian is mentioned unless one painstakingly notes the pages upon reading. On the other hand, Vartan Gregorian in his book titled “The Road to Home” mentioned Simon Vratsian more than any other person. Seventeen (17) separate pages and a section of four pages, 76-79, out of the 338 pages long text, make reference to Simon Vratsian. No other name in the index has this many pages listed.

Vartan Gregorian’s book makes for a fascinating reading and engulfs the reader and at times raises a reader’s ire over the treatment this youngster received in the early days of his arrival to Beirut from his home in Iran. When he started attending the famed Jemaran, Levon Shant was its principal. After his death, on November 29, 1951, Simon Vratsian was invited to fill the vacated seat. Vartan Gregorian’s apprehension as to how the new principal would treat him, soon gave way to a close relationship as Vartan became Vratsian’s “eyes” as the latter chose Vartan as his trusted aid to read him the letters he received and copy his writing because Vratsian’s penmanship started losing its legibility due to his deteriorating eyesight. “Within a span of four years,” wrote Vartan Gregorian, Simon Vratsian, “had become a surrogate father to me, as well as a teacher, mentor, and friend.”
After graduation and having formed a family of his own, Vartan Gregorian returned to Lebanon in 1965, noting that he was happy that he could do his research and work again with Mr. Vratsian. His stay did not last long and he returned to the United States the following year after taking an emotional leave from Mr. Vratsian who passed away three years later. “He died in 1969,” wrote Vartan, “and was given a national funeral. He never saw Armenia again. I hoped that Soviet Armenia would welcome the remains of the last prime minister of Independent Armenia (1918-1920), but they did not. I hope the government of the newly independent Armenia will do that someday in the near future, for Mr. Vratsian belongs to Armenia. And without him, I would not be where I am and remain who I am.”


Richard Hovanissian’s life was altogether different from Vartan Gregorian’s. Richard’s parents were financially well off. He was living the American dream of a first-generation Armenian American who did not speak Armenian but was involved in Armenian affairs through his association with Armenian Youth Federation (AYF). He was also attending Berkeley where he had met a girl in her first year of medical school, named Vartiter.
Right after his appointment as the principal of the Hamazgayin Nshan Palanjian Jemaran, where Vartan Gregorian was already a student, Vratsian arrived in San Francisco in early 1952, touring the Armenian American communities for the cause of Armenian education. It is there that Richard Hovannisian attended his lecture and ‘afterward, approached the prime minister for a few words. Instead, he received the offer of a lifetime.” Mr. Vratsian suggested Richard should spend a year at the Jemaran to learn Armenian.
Three years later, on September 20, 1955, Richard arrived in Beirut. At the request of Mr. Vratsian, Antoine Keheyan, who taught English in Jemaran and was more known by his endearing moniker, “Sir” than his name, and medical student Hrayr Kabakian met him at the airport. “At the first sight of that clumsy American,” wrote Garin about his grandfather, both “wondered what the prime minister has seen in him?” Incidentally, in time Hrayr Kabakian would emerge as a prominent A.R.F. leader.
During Richard’s study in Jemaran, Mr. Vratsian prophetically confided to Sir that Richard, whom he called Dikran, would one day serve Armenian history and to Richard, he noted that upon his return he would marry Vartiter, with whom Mr. Vratsian was corresponding and had noted to her that no matter what, saluting the host country’s flag is one of respect and not necessarily a principled support of the country’s policies. The present days’ athletes should heed the advice of, according to Garin, “the unofficial warden of Armenia Diaspora”, Mr. Simon Vratsian.
What drove Vratsian to make the suggestion to the eager young man Richard Hovannisian was, has long been buried with him. Why did Mr. Vratsian take Vartan, the young student from Iran, under his wings? That also is a mystery. “I have wondered during the past forty years”, wrote Vartan Gregorian, “why I was chosen by Mr. Vratsian to be ‘a pair of his eyes’, or his ‘eyeglasses’. Was it due to the fact that I was alone in Beirut? That I had no family obligations, and practically no social life, and hence could spend inordinate hours with him?  That I was from Iran and spoke eastern Armenian, his maternal language? That he knew first hand that I wrote well? That he trusted me and knew that I would never divulge his confidences? That he wanted to help me survive and help educate me? Or was it perhaps that I reminded him occasionally of his late young son, who had died during the 1921 exodus of the anti-Bolshevik Armenians from Armenia to Iran? Maybe it was a combination of all these things.”
Vartan Gregorian surely and rightfully ponders to find an answer for his unique relationship with Mr. Vratsian. But it appears that there was more to it. All these possibilities could have legitimate reasons for Mr. Vratsian to treat Vartan as a son but cannot possibly explain why the other young man, Richard Hovannisian, had also caught Mr. Vratsian’s attention. Mr. Vratsian had no real reasons to bestow upon Richard the same attention, care and concern he bestowed upon Vartan Gregorian. Unlike Vartan, Richard came from America and was independently well off financially and did not need to accompany Mr. Vratsian accepting invitations for dinner just to help him fill up his belly. In both of them, the last prime minister of the independent Armenia had seen a potential to fill, in a way, his shoes servicing the Armenian cause and Armenian history.
Vartan Gregorian and Richard Hovannisian as youngsters became Simon Vratsian’s protégés because intuitively Simon Vratsian noted a promising potential in both. The prominence of these two eminent individuals over the subsequent decades attest, in my view, to Simon Vratsian’s institutive understanding of men, in the genderless sense of the word.

Hotel Luxe by Vartan Gregorian

Hotel Luxe by Vartan Gregorian

Quoting from Vartan Gregorian’s book titled “The Road to Home”, pages 65 and 66, (2003).


“Once in Beirut, I had stage fright. My Persian, Armenian, Turkish, even some Russian, proved insufficient as a means of communication. One of my companions on the IranAir flight came to my assistance. He helped me change Iranian rials to Lebanese pounds, negotiated the cab fare for me, and gave the driver the address of my destination in Beirut: Hotel Luxe. “Which one?” the driver asked. I said, “The one, the famous one. It is a well-known hotel.” The driver shook his head. “I know about the location,” he said, “but I have never heard about Hotel Luxe.”

After a wild taxicab ride and an inquiry or two, the driver located the Hotel Luxe. It was in one of the busiest sections of the business district. Buried among a myriad of signs was a discreet, small sign indicating the exact location of the hotel. It was on the fifth floor of a building and was reached by a crude elevator. The hotel had six or seven rooms and a nice, large, airy rooftop terrace. The owner, Mr. Toorigian, and his family lived on the top floor. The kitchen served the family as well as the guests. It was a lively Armenian hotel. In the evenings, it served as a gathering place for several writers, or backgammon, and discuss a variety of pressing national and international issues. It was sort of modern-day salon.


The hotel’s rooms were occupied by visiting writers, teachers, and businessmen from Syria, Egypt, and Iraq. I was the first guest from Iran. I handed Mr. Maloyan’s letter to Mr. Toorigian. He extended a warm welcome and gave me a room, and asked me to join him, his family, and guests for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The guests, all Armenians, spoke the western Armenian dialect. I spoke the eastern one, but we understood each other. My first night in Beirut was depressing. All of a sudden, I felt alone in the world. I was in a faraway place, in a strange city and strange hotel and bed, uprooted and transplanted to follow the unknown. I had neither friends nor acquaintances.



My first two weeks in Beirut were memorable even though I was alone and lonely. I found the city intoxicating. It was my first encounter with a foreign metropolis, a seaport, and ships. I experienced, for the first time, the distinctive smell of the sea, and the oppressive late summer heat and humidity of the city. This was offset by the clean air and gentle breeze of its beautiful nights.”

Friday, November 17, 2017

ARMENIAN EVANGELICAL SCHOOLS OF CALIFORNIA, INC. The Founding of the First School

ARMENIAN EVANGELICAL SCHOOLS OF CALIFORNIA, INC.
The Founding of the First School
Author: Unknown



I came across these three typewritten and stapled pages in my mother’s archives. I could not trash them without reproducing it here. It narrates the chronology of the founding of the CHARLOTTE and ELISE MERDINIAN ARMENIAN EVANGELICAL SCHOOL and in doing so, illustrates the community-wide efforts that were vested in the founding of the school that had its start with three students only.

February, 1980
Rev. Vartkes Kassouni convened a group of thirty-five members of the United Armenian Congregational Church (UACC) to discuss the possibility of the founding of an Armenian Evangelical School. He was responding to the many requests from recent Armenian immigrants.
After a comprehensive discussion of the subject, the group decided to form an ad hoc committee to investigate the possibilities in a systematic way and to report the findings. Seven persons volunteered to serve on such a committee. Rev. Kassouni then assigned specific areas to four Members: 
o     Hrant Agbabian (facilities)
o     George Guldalian (finances)
o     Alice Haig (curriculum)
o     Hagop Loussararian (enrollment)
Missak Abdulian was asked to serve as convener for subsequent meetings. Hrair Atikian and Eva Shahinian were to cover assignments as needed. Later Berta Bilezikian agreed to serve as an educational consultant. By the end of 1980, the committee reported that.
o     there is a need for such a school,
o     sufficient enrollment seems assured, and
o     the resources can be found.
The committee recommended, however, that the project be sponsored not by UACC alone but by the whole Armenian Evangelical community, led by the Armenian Evangelical Union of North America (AEUNA), the Armenian Missionary Association of America  (AMAA), and the local churches.


January, 1981
After reviewing the report of the UACC ad hoc committee, Rev. Kassouni referred the matter to the executive committee of AEUNA, and Rev. Dr. Giragos Chopourian, Executive Director of the AMAA, brought the subject to the attention of the board of director of the AMA. Those two bodies the appointed a Joint Investigative Committee to study the feasibility of Armenian Evangelical schools in the United States. Although the consideration was nationwide, committee members were select4ed from the West Coast and they were asked to make a pilot study in the Los Angeles area, which has the largest Armenian population. The committee consisted of :
o     Dr. Mihran Agbabian
o     Alice Haig, Chairman
o     Roy Kaprielian
o     Rev. Vartkes Kassouni
o     Edward Maljanian
o     Arthur Arutian served as a consultant.
Rev. Dr. Chopurian was designated an ex-officio member. 
To receive input from the East, two additional members were selected as advisors Rev. Vahan Toutikian and Nazar Daghlian.
At the end of 1981, the Investigative Committee reported that a school would be feasible if a suitable location could be found.

October, 1981
The AMAA offered seed money ($25,000 to $40,000) to start the school.

January, 1982
The AEUNA and the AMAA gave the investigating committee a new name and mission—“site Search Committee”. Two new members were added: Hrant Agbabian and Creg Hekimian. Luther Eskijian agreed to serve as advisor.

April, 1982
Within three months, site possibilities were identified, and a target date of September 1982, to start the school seemed to be realistic. A new committee was selected—“Interim Organizing Committee”. Members of this committee included.
o   Aram Garabedian
o   Alice Haig, Chairman
o   Greg Hekimian
o   Roy Kaprielian
o   Zaven Khanjian
o   Dr. Pepronia Merjanian
o   George Phillips, Esq.
Consultants were: Hrant Agbabian and Edward Maljanian. The pastors of the four local churches were designated as ex-officio members:
o     Rev. Abraham Chaparian (Armenian Evangelical Church of Hollywood)
o     Rev. Vartkes Kassouni (United Armenian Congregational Church)
o     Rev. Norair Melidonian (Armenian Cilicia Congregational Church)
o     Rev. Edward Tovmassian (Immanuel Armenian Congregational Church)
This committee took the necessary preliminary steps for opening the school.

June, 1982
School bylaws and Articles of Incorporation were completed, and the school obtained its state charter. (To avoid the need to draw up new charters if additional Armenian Evangelical schools are founded in California in the future, a plural name was chosen for the corporation.) Official signatories were the four local pastors named above and the committee chairman, Alice Haig.

At this point, the Interim Committee was replaced by an actual Board of Directors of the school, selected according to the bylaws. The initial board consisted of ten members representing the sponsoring groups:
o     Hrant Agbabian (AEUNA)
o     Vahe Ashkarian (Immanuel Armenian Congregational Church)
o     Aram Garabedian (Armenian Evangelical Church of Hollywood)
o     Alice Haig (AMAA)
o     Greg Hekimian (AEUNA)
o     Roy Kaprielian (Armenian Cilicia Congregational Church)
o     Zaven Khanjian (AEUNA)
o     Hagop Loussararian (United Armenian Congregational Church)
o     Dr. Pepronia Merjanian (AMAA)
o     George Phillips, Esq. (AMAA)
The four pastors named above were designated “advisory members”.
The eleventh space on the board was reserved for the representative of the Parent-Teacher Organization when established.
Four standing committee chairmen were appointed:
o     Curriculum: Anahid Terjimanian
o     Finance: George Guldalian
o     Personnel: Hagop Loussararian
o     Public Relations: Hratch Baliozian

July 1982
Officers of the board were elected:
o   Chairman: Alice Haig
o   Vice-Chairman: Hrant Agbabian
o   Corresponding Secretary:  Dr Pepronia Merjanian
o   Recording Secretary/Treasurer: Zaven Khanjian
o   Associate Treasurer: Vahe Ashkarian
At this time, Rev. Dr. Chopourian approached Elise Merdinian, an AMAA supporter. He was aware of her wish to make a major donation if she could find a permanent memorial that could bear the family name. The school project appealed to her. She agreed to make some initial conations and more later, if the school could be called CHARLOTTE (her sister) and ELISE MERDINIAN ARMENIAN EVANGELICAL SCHOOL and if certain other stipulations could be made.

September, 1982
The school opened with thirteen students; by the end of the year, enrollment reached twenty-eight. Daniel Albarian, a ministerial candidate at the Fuller Theological Seminary, was designated Administrator/Chaplain. Two teachers were selected:
o     Kindergarten (four and five years old): Mrs. Vergine Mitilian
o     Grades 1 to 3: Mrs. Gilda Nargizian.
The UACC agreed to rent out three Sunday school rooms for the use of the day school, on the condition that the school would move as soon as a promised site became available at the First Presbyterian Church of North Hollywood. 


February, 1983
After detailed negotiators, the legal documentation for the first phase of Elise Merdinian’s pledge was completed.

September, 1983
The school moved to larger quarters at the First Presbyterian Church.