100 years of community

Visalia Times-Delta, CA
Tulare Advance Register, CA
May 22 2004

100 years of community
Armenian congregation marks anniversary of first church service in
Yettem
By Mike Hazelwood
Staff writer

Ron Holman/Staff photographer
>>From left, Sark Yahnian, Sylvia Yahnian, Araxie Menendian, Lucinne
Bennett, Rosie Baramian, Carolyn Mikaelian and Hartune Neffian are
members of the St. Mary Armenian Apostolic Church of Yettem. The
congregation will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the first church
service on May 30.

Ron Holman/Staff photographer
Lucinne Benett, 86, stands in front of a map depicting Armenian
family homes in 1915 Yettem. Although an artist finished the map,
Bennett and her sister designed it from memories of growing up in the
area.

How to attend
What: Celebration of first Yettem church service 100 years ago

When: 9:45 a.m. May 30

Where: St. Mary Armenian Apostolic Church of Yettem, 14395 Avenue 384

Cost: Services are free and open to public, but banquet to follow is
sold out

YETTEM — As much as life changes in 100 years, much can also stay
the same.

Take the tiny town of Yettem, for example. A century ago it was a
mere speck on Tulare County maps. But it was an area rich on
religious faith.

Today it’s still a speck. And it’s still a spiritual
diamond-in-the-rough.

“The church holds us together,” says Araxie Menendian, 78, a member
of St. Mary Armenian Apostolic Church of Yettem.

Next weekend church members will celebrate the 100th anniversary of
the first church services in Yettem, the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it
town north of Visalia.

There was no church or clergymen, just a community of Armenian
settlers embracing a new land.

According to written records, the families met outside Tateos
Davidian’s home. Under a tree, the families of different
denominations — and non-Armenians as well — read scripture, prayed
and sang a hymn translated to “Morning of Light.”

It will all be relived May 30.

“They did what they could,” the church’s Father Vartan Kasparian
says.

The anniversary banquet — which follows a morning full of indoor and
outdoor services — is already sold out, though only a handful of
Armenians still live in the Yettem area. Things change, as the
settling families have branched out across the United States.

But things stay the same, because many Armenians still consider
Yettem a slice of home.

“When you’re in Yettem,” Kasparian says, “especially when you’re
looking up at the Sierras, it feels like you’re back in Armenia.”

He says many locals have grown and moved to bigger Armenian churches
in places like Chicago or Los Angeles.

But they still have love for the church in Yettem, an Armenian word
for “Eden.”

Yettem certainly was a paradise in comparison to the homeland 100
years ago, when the seeds of hate were being planted to become 1915’s
Armenian Genocide, which took 1.5 million lives. Armenians sought
refuge around the world.

“Those who stayed went through hell,” Kasparian says.

They sought religious and cultural freedom. And though they left
their homeland, they found solace with each other in places like
Yettem.

“Everybody knew each other’s sorrows,” says Lucinne Bennett, 86.

And it all started 100 years ago, under a tree, fueled by faith. And
it will continue with next Sunday’s services, under a tree, fueled by
faith.

Life changes, yet stays the same.

“There are generations that will come after us,” Kasparian says. “God
willing.”

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