Ex-pupil Armen Lucas visits the Armenian College in Calcutta

Ex-pupil Armen Lucas visits the Armenian College in Calcutta

Azad-Hye, Dubai
Feb 28 2005

The Armenian College, one of the oldest Armenian schools in the
world, was established on April 2, 1821 in Calcutta, India. Since
then it has played a significant role in shaping the future of
thousands. The whole Indian Armenian community life is reflected in
the story of the College. The College has a neat “unofficial”
website, dedicated to all the boys and girls who attended the
Armenian College and the Davidian Girls’ School of Calcutta. Many of
these former pupils are scattered all over the world pursuing
successful careers, mostly in Australia, the USA and Iran. The goal
of the site is to collect material related to the school and make it
known to the public. It is designed by Vardan Hovhannisyan, Peter
Osipof and Zorab Ohanessian, all ex-pupils of the Armenian College.

Since lot has been said lately about the mismanagement of the
Community affairs in Calcutta (see previous postings under “Indian
Armenians”), it is a good idea to have a look at the forum hosted in
the same website.

Armen Lucas, an ex-pupil writes about his impressions after paying a
visit to his beloved old time School:

Our visit to the Armenian College:

We, all 4 of us visited Mrs. Sonia John, strictly by appointment, at
the Armenian College. We had a firm appointment, and were initially
asked to wait at the gate by the Chaprasees. We were finally shown in
to the big office, shared by Mrs. Sonia John and her secretary,
Coleen Blanche. The interview took 3.5 hours, and we asked ALL the
questions which you had asked us to put to her.

I will first report on the Q and A, and then will put forward our
views. Our kids, Karineh, aged 20 and Stefan, aged 17 were also
present during the interview, but they left half way through to go
and talk to the Hye kids, and play basketball with them, and visit
their dormitories, etc. They enjoyed their tour of the school, and
the kids also enjoyed meeting the 2 strangers from Europe, and
speaking Armenian with them.

1. I asked about the teaching staff, and was told that they only had
3 Armenian staff, from Hayastan. There were also a few Indian
teachers. During the last 2 older classes the kids had to attend an
Indian High School, but they could sleep in the College…because
they didn’t have competent teachers for the bigger kids. She also
added that she thought it was good for the bigger kids to mix with
kids from the outside world, as they were too protected within the
confines of the school.

2. Sports: The kids had sports organised normally every afternoon,
and also had an official Sports Day, when prizes were given and
special food was organised for them.

3. I asked for OLD photos for sports dating back to your time, but
these were not made available to me. There were school almanacs, but
it was difficult to dig out the info.

4. The current student body consisted of: 60% Hayastansis, and 40%
Parskahays. Sonia John informed us that the kids were allowed to
return to their respective countries once EVERY 3 YEARS. Most kids,
she alleged had come from broken and poor homes, and a few had
returned to the School very disturbed after visiting their

5. No class photos were made available to us. We did however take a
lot of photos ourselves, and these will be forwarded to you via the
internet shortly.

6. The school appeared to be run efficiently, in a very strict
manner. Discipline is considered very important, and no unruly
behaviour of any kind is tolerated. The kids appeared to be, looking
from the outside, perfectly happy, but remember, we were only there
for a total of 4 hours.

7. The current Principal could be considered to be Sonia John, but
the Head master is an Indian guy. An ex. student called Michael J.
Stephen is the Asst. manager, and he was very helpful to us.

Our views: We had a visit by Arsham Sookias every morning for
breakfast at our hotel; he seems to be a really decent chap…quite
harmless. We also met Haik Sookias at the Calcutta races on X’mas
day. Both brothers are pretty upset at having been ousted from the
Armenian committees of the Church as well as from the Armenian
College School. I was unable to discover the real reason why this
huge rift took place. The Sookias brothers had their opinions, and
Sonia John had hers. Sonia alleged that the Sookias brothers were
trying to stop the continuation of the Armenian College as a fully
functioning institution of learning for Armenian kids. She also
accused Haik Sookias of trying to sell the School to Indians by
having them on the Board…?

Sonia also alleged that she had had a lot of interference and
malicious gossip from an old boy called Galstaun, who lived in
Calcutta; this had resulted in Court cases and lots of back-biting
and very negative publicity against the School and also against Sonia
in person. The Sookias brothers alleged that Sonia was a power-hungry
authoritarian, and that she just wanted to rule ALL the Armenian
Committees on her own, without interference. It was also alleged that
Sonia had got rid of 2 or 3 Armenian priests from Calcutta…having
accused them of all sorts of wrong-doings.

All in all, we considered this extraordinary situation as being very
unfortunate for the students, and not at all beneficial to the small

I questioned Sonia about the various accusations of her squandering
Armenian Church money to Indian charities, and associations, and she
freely admitted that she had done so, but gave her reasons that she
thought it wise to give money back to India, for showing kindness
towards the Armenians… She had also given a lot of money to various
Charities, like : 2 X Heart Wards, Sir Cachik Paul Chater Ward, an
Eye Hospital, and various Cancer Wards. She had also created a
Garekin 1 Scholarship Fund for post graduate students to study at
various universities in India.

All the kids were given Rs. 1500 each every X’mas for shopping money.
Sonia considered the security of the school as being very important,
and nobody was allowed IN or OUT of the school without her express

At this stage an old boy and his wife turned up and asked to be let
in. The Chaprasees kept them waiting for ages at the gate, and they
were finally allowed in to the waiting room, and after an hours wait,
they left, without seeing the school, or Sonia John! Sonia’s reaction
was that she thought they wanted money! The infirmary had 14 beds.
There is a man from Armenia called Souren Babakhanyan who works there
as a sports and general teacher; we met him.

It is our opinion that it is a real shame that Sonia decided to oust
the Sookias brothers from the various Committees; she now runs the
Church Committee and all it’s huge pot of money…ON HER OWN. We feel
this is a dangerous precedent, and is absolutely not being run in a
democratic manner. Sonia is obviously, in her opinion, doing a lot of
good work for the school, but we got the feeling that she ran it as
an authoritarian, without any semblance of communication without any
one else in the outside world. This undemocratic manner of
single-minded management technique is a dangerous precedent, as there
is no one else to control the decisions she makes with the College,
as well as with the vast funds held in the kitty of the Church. Sonia
said she sends her ‘Hisab (Accounts), to the Armenian Church in
Hayastan on a yearly basis.

We examined the Armenian Sports Club, and regret to inform you that
it was in a very run-down state, and appeared to be totally
neglected. This will be particularly sad news for all you Rugger
players out there.

The Armenian Old Peoples home is being run by our very own Uncle
Charlie Sarkies, (father of Margaret and Joe Sarkies), known to all
as Uncle Cha Cha. We visited him and we spent some precious time
together; he is doing sterling work in looking after the Church, the
Old peoples home with it’s nursing staff, as well as the Armenian
cemetery, all of which we visited. Uncle Charlie, as Manager of the
Old People’s home, also comes under the authority of Sonia John.
Thus, it would appear that Sonia is running THE WHOLE SHOW, SINGLE
HANDED. It is a pity that she does not permit any form of dissension;
nor does she permit anyone else on to HER committees. This form of
single-rule policy, I repeat is very dangerous, and in our opinion
should not be permitted.

There is no doubt that Sonia believes she is doing a good job;
however, after interviewing the Sookias brothers, Uncle Charlie, and
Sonia John, we think there should be a fairer method of management
than the one she imposes on all 3 committees. Other older Armenians
who have a great deal of experience of running these committees
should be consulted before making momentous decisions re. the School
and giving away Armenian Church funds …willy-nilly. I believe a
FAIRER, MORE DEMOCRATIC method of MANAGEMENT should be adopted.

Sonia John informed us that she was abundantly aware of all the
accusations being made against her, from Armenians all around the
world, and she said she had no intention of going on line to defend
herself, as she felt she had not done anything wrong. It made me very
sad to witness this rather messy scenario; it is a pity the Armenian
community in Calcutta, as small as it is, cannot get together to
combine their forces to keep this very small community together,
without constant bickering and false accusations.

I volunteered the services of Zohrab as the future new Principal of
the College, and she asked about his qualifications. She said she
welcomed him to apply for the post, should he feel he was suitable.

Please feel free to circulate this letter to all your friends, so
they can catch up with currents events about their wonderful old
school. I will be sending you some lovely photos shortly. I am sorry
I was not able to only give you positive opinions, but we must report
back in an honest fashion, as we found the situation. I have brought
back a year-book from the Armenian College for you, and will be
pleased to post it to you if you send us your full postal address.

Barevnerr from all 4 of us,
Hasmick and Armen

From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress