Today’s the day that Armenians celebrate

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (Wisconsin)
June 27, 2004 Sunday ZONED EDITION

Today’s the day that Armenians celebrate;
Food and community are focus of annual picnic

by SHEILA B. LALWANI [email protected]

Members of the area’s Armenian community will gather today at Johnson
Park in Caledonia to celebrate the largest and biggest event for the
ethnic group.

Through the annual Armenian Picnic — admission is free — members of
the community hope to raise money for their church, St. Hagop
Apostolic Church in Racine. Members hope to raise $10,000, about a
quarter of the church’s budget.

The daylong event will feature ethnic dishes from Armenia including
marinated shish kebab and chicken dinners, stuffed grape leaves,
cheese puffs and butter cookies.

Dinners are priced between $6 and $8. Vegetarian options are

For the last several weeks, members of the church have been buying
ingredients and baking together to prepare for the festival.

“All the members of the church are all working together to make a
success of this picnic,” volunteer Julie Dergarabedian said. “We
start baking in early May and go to June to prepare all the foods.
It’s all prepared ahead of time.”

Perhaps the dish that takes the most time is sarma, or stuffed grape
leaves. Members of the church spent much of Friday rolling grape
leaves that they picked shortly after Memorial Day. Even though grape
leaves are getting harder and harder to find locally, members
collected enough.

Throughout Friday, women sat in the church stuffing the length of the
grape leaves with a mixture made up of 40 pounds of rice and herbs.
They then cooked the dish. The appetizer is eaten cold.

They expect to sell as much as $5,000 worth of the appetizer, which
costs 50 cents apiece.

“It’s wonderful,” said Sara Micaelian, who helped lead the group.
“It’s back-breaking work, but everyone is chattering away.”

The festival is a day to celebrate their heritage and ethnic
identity, said Zohrab Khaligian, who has been helping plan the event.

“When two Armenians come together, they will start their own
Armenia,” he said. “That’s what we have done.”

The focal point of the picnic will be a blessing, in which members of
the community gather to pray. Armenia, which is in central Asia, has
been influenced by neighbors from the Middle East and Europe. With a
small community in the United States, Khaligian said, maintaining
their identity and passing it on to their children has become all the
more essential.

“The church is not just a church,” Khaligian said. “It’s also our
community center. It’s the source to maintain our religion and
language. Being politically active and socially aware is also
necessary. The church provides spiritual guidance. It also provides
us with a meeting place.”

The church also offers Sunday school and language classes.

“It’s important for young people to see their culture and heritage,”
Dergarabedian said. “The blessing we do at the church ground and the
incense and the beautiful songs that are sung — it’s like a blessing
of the universe. We are blessing the world and thanking God for his

From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress