Linking with ink: Hairenik celebrates 70 years of news from Diaspora

Linking with ink: Armenian paper celebrates 70 years of news from the
By Monica Deady

Watertown Tab
Friday, July 9, 2004

To exist for 70 years in a world full of shifting, recycling and revamping
is not a small feat. The Armenian Weekly, a weekly ethnic newspaper written
and published in Watertown, has reached the regal age of 70, with plans to
continue on with its task of sharing news of Armenians worldwide.

The Armenian Weekly, published in English, was first published in Boston in
1934 as a means for the Armenian community to learn about what was affecting
the Armenian people throughout the United States and the world. What began
with four pages a week has increased to 20, with a circulation of about
1,700 and a readership of more than 7,000.

The paper moved to the Watertown office in 1985 to be closer to where the
population is centered. According to editor Jason Sohigian, who has been
editor since 1999, Watertown has the largest concentration of Armenians
outside of Los Angeles. It is published by the Hairenik Association of

“Our primary focus is the Armenian view,” Sohigian said, sitting in the
small newspaper office on the first floor of 80 Bigelow Ave. “I think the
Armenian interest or Armenian point of view is not really represented in the
other media. I think it’s a good chance for Armenians to discuss the issues
that affect the community.”

For example, Sohigian said the paper may cover topics like United States aid
to Armenia or dual citizenship.

“For us, I think the way we present things and the topics we choose to
present … it gives people something to think about,” said assistant editor
Sossi Essajanian, who said her family has always received the paper. “We
want not just a newspaper, but a collection of news and analysis.”

The paper, which is what Sohigian called “an organ” of the Armenian
Revolution Federation, an Armenian political party, tries to represent the
points of view of that party in Armenia, and publishes editorials, political
analyses, columns, short stories and poems.

Several newspapers are published as arms of the ARF party in many areas of
the world, Sohigian said, and the Armenian Weekly published in Watertown
focuses on the East Coast of the United States.

Most of the paper’s subscribers are in major cities, where Sohigian said the
Armenian population is concentrated, including Detroit, Chicago, New York
City, Providence, R.I., Boston and Worcester. He said they also have
subscribers from New Jersey, Florida and other parts of the world.

Members of the Armenian Caucus in Congress receive the paper as well,
Sohigian said.

Although the paper does not have any writers on staff, they have
contributors worldwide and longtime columnists, poets and volunteers who
help them with everything from art to translation to copy.

Sohigian said they accept press releases and often work them into stories
and will report on Armenian issues that are concerns to other regions of the
United States and the political activity in Washington, D.C.

“It’s kind of like a community service,” Sohigian said.

Throughout its publication, the paper has focused on youth writing through
the Armenian Youth Federation. Students are encouraged to submit writing,
and it is often one of the first places they are published.

One journalist, Mitch Kehetian, who says he saw his first byline in the
Armenian Weekly, has been a journalist for more than 50 years. He is
currently the editorial page editor at the Macomb Daily, a paper that covers
the northern suburbs of Detroit.

“I always read the local paper because it gives me a feel for the
community,” he said, and said the Armenian Weekly does the same thing.

Tom Vartabedian, a 37-year veteran reporter and photographer at the
Haverhill Gazette, has also been a correspondent for the Armenian Weekly for
34 years. When he was about 20 years old, he volunteered to be the Boston
chapter scribe for the Youth Federation and said his contributions to the
paper never stopped. He has been writing a weekly column since 1970.

“It gives me a chance to exercise my mind and contribute to an ethnic
newspaper,” Vartabedian said. “It’s a vehicle that connects one community to
another. It’s also a tool to publicize a community, and it’s an organ …
it’s our voice,” he said. “It’s a voice for all to be heard.”

“There are a number of things that create a community…” said Hayg Oshagan,
a member of the editorial board, “but having people spread in a geographic
space does not create a community. A community becomes a community when they
have a connection with one another.”

He said the Armenian Weekly is one of those things that can supply the

“A newspaper creates a forum across the whole region,” said Oshagan, who
worked on the paper for a few summers when he was in college and has been on
the board for about three years. Oshagan said some of the challenges of the
newspaper are finding stringers to work for them and getting the paper to
all of the subscribers in a timely manner, which can be delayed.

Still, he said over the years, he thinks the paper has found a “comfort
zone” and “a way of working well.”

“It connects [Armenians] with the past, it connects them with the present,
it connects them with their origins and their identity,” said Tatul Sonentz,
who has been contributing to the paper since the 1950s. “It will survive, I
believe, as long as there is a community.”

Photo: Assistant editor Sossi Essajanian looks over proofs of The Armenian
Weekly, which is celebrating 70 years of publication. – STAFF PHOTO

Monica Deady can be reached at [email protected].