Armenian immigrants living in Glendale, California

National Public Radio (NPR)
SHOW: Morning Edition (11:00 AM AM ET) – NPR
August 10, 2004 Tuesday

Armenian immigrants living in Glendale, California




This week, MORNING EDITION is visiting immigrant communities here in
Los Angeles, one of the most diverse places in the country.
California is home to the largest population of Armenians outside the
homeland. NPR’s Amy Walters recently visited the Chamlian Armenian
school in Glendale.

AMY WALTERS reporting:

Glendale looks a lot like other Los Angeles suburbs. It has several
major shopping malls, strip malls and house after house after house.
Signs advertise familiar businesses like Texaco and 7-Eleven. But
other storefronts display an ancient script that doesn’t mean much to
anyone except the city’s 53,000 Armenians. That’s more than a quarter
of Glendale’s population, and that script represents their future.

Ms. ANI BABARIAN(ph) (Teacher): If you are going to keep one nation
together, it’s the language and the religion. When you take the
language, and if you take the religion, you don’t have a nation

WALTERS: That’s Ani Babarian. She’s teaching Armenian to
eighth-graders at the Chamlian Armenian school, where she also
teaches history and religion. Armenia has a unique Christian church
founded in the early fourth century, before the country was conquered
by Persians, Byzantines, Arabs, Mongols and Turks, among others. As a
result, Armenians lived in diaspora in the Middle East and Europe for

Ms. BABARIAN: These are all student work. This is our alphabet.

WALTERS: Babarian’s classroom displays pictures and posters created
by her students, each one representing Armenia, a homeland most of
these students have never seen.

(Soundbite of bell)

WALTERS: Every morning at Chamlian begins with a bell and the Pledge
of Allegiance.

Group of People: (In unison) I pledge allegiance to the flag of the
United States of America.

WALTERS: But here they pledge allegiance twice, first to the American
flag, then the Armenian.

Group of People: (Armenian spoken)

WALTERS: It’s the final year at Chamlian for Babarian’s eighth-grade
class, and she’s filling their heads with as much Armenian as she

Ms. BABARIAN: (Armenian spoken)

Unidentified Boy: (Armenian spoken)

WALTERS: Students learn Armenian two hours a day beginning in first
grade. This first-grade class sings a traditional children’s song
about how much fun it is to be at school.

(Soundbite of children singing in Armenian)

WALTERS: The school opened almost 30 years ago when the Armenian
population of Glendale started to grow. In the late 1970s, war broke
out in Lebanon and Iran, and the Armenians from the Middle East
flooded into Los Angeles. Today’s immigrants come mostly from the
Republic of Armenia. They’re looking for economic opportunities they
can’t find in the chaos that followed the collapse of the Soviet
occupation. At Chamlian, Armenian communities that were separated for
decades, even centuries, are reunited for the first time. Megan
Megasarian(ph) is part of Chamlian’s eighth-grade class. Her parents
came from Iran. After hearing their story, she says she appreciates
the freedoms of America.

MEGAN MEGASARIAN (Student): My mom came here when she was about 10
with her brother, and they kind of had to raise themselves on their
own. And my dad came here, I think, around when he was 18 or 19 to
escape from the war. And they had to always look out for themselves
because if you don’t look out for yourself, basically, really nobody
will. But when you come to an Armenian school and you’re in an
Armenian community, you feel that you’re protected.

WALTERS: Next year, Megan and her eighth-grade classmates will go to
public school. There’ll be no Armenian classes, songs or pledge of
allegiance. These kids say they don’t share their parents’ fears of
war and political oppression. But Patio Kerkorian(ph), a fellow
classmate, says she has fears of her own.

PATIO KERKORIAN (Student): You know, it’s really scary when you,
like, see–you know, you meet someone, like, you go to a new school
and their last name ends with I-A-N and then you go and you say, ‘Oh,
you’re Armenian,’ and you start talking Armenian, and they’re like,
‘What are you saying?’ And it’s like, ‘Aren’t you Armenian?’ and they
say, ‘Yeah, but we don’t know Armenian.’ It’s like, ‘It’s not
possible. How can you not know Armenian?’ You get scared. You know,
you think, oh God, you know, when I’m gonna go to a public school
after Chamlian, you know, is that gonna be me?

WALTERS: This summer, Patio is preparing for freshman year at
Glendale High. She says she’s nervous but she comforts herself with a
promise she made to one day send her own children to Chamlian. Amy
Walters, NPR News, Los Angeles.

MONTAGNE: It’s 11 minutes before the hour.

From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress