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March 22, 2007 — From the community section
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1. Author chronicles the hidden story of Turkey’s Armenian remnants
(by Adrineh Gregorian)
* Kemal Yalcin speaks in Glendale
2. Sensitive and gentle, romantic and pleading, Bayrakdarian
captivates (by Florence Avakian)
* A triumphant return to Carnegie Hall
3. A public forum at Columbia University analyzes "the Armenian
diaspora and its discontents" (by Antranig Dereyan)
4. Richard Hovannisian tells a N.J. audience about a journey he took
in 2006 through Western Armenia’s vanishing past (by Anoush Ter
5. A new volume collects articles that shaped British public opinion
of the Armenians during the Hamidian massacres
5a. Book chronicles U.S.-Armenia relationship
6. Doctor works to register life-saving links between Armenians
worldwide (by Alex Dobuzinskis)
* An effort to match bone marrow donors with patients who need transplants
7. Rooted in family (by Tania Ketenjian)
* Insights from Jackie Speier’s parents
8. This Armenian Life by Tamar Kevonian: The surfer
9. All about my father (by Boghos Kupelian)
* A diet guru born before his time
10. Longtime church members honored by Western Diocese (by Tamar Sarkissian)
* Archbishop Hovnan Derderian gives out Hye Spirit award
11. Gregory Djanikian disarms with his latest collection (by Armine Iknadossian)
12. Karo Ovasapyan: the Armenian Crocodile Dundee (by Vartan Dudukjian)
13. Exploring the furthest reaches of the diaspora
* The extraordinary life of broadcaster Leo Sarkisian, Part II
14. School Beat: How much homework is too much homework? (by Hripsime Moskovian)
* Are kids overburdened with schoolwork?
* Parents and teachers weigh in
15. Kitchen-table wisdom (by Atina Hartunian and Ishkhan Jinbashian)
* A book co-authored by Jackie Speier provides practical life advice
1. Author chronicles the hidden story of Turkey’s Armenian remnants
* Kemal Yalcin speaks in Glendale
by Adrineh Gregorian
GLENDALE, Calif. — On March 16, the Glendale Public Library
auditorium was filled with an audience anxiously waiting to hear
Turkish author Kemal Yalcin talk about his book, You Rejoice My Heart.
Recently translated into English by Paul Bessemer and published for
the Tekeyan Cultural Association by the Gomidas Institute, the book
tells the seldom-discussed story of Armenian remnants, the so-called
secret or hidden Armenians, who still live in the provinces of Turkey.
These survivors, along with the scant ruins of churches and other
landmarks of their communities, are the last reminders of Armenian
civilization, which has thrived on the lands of Western Armenia for
thousands of years before being decimated by Turkish repression and
As if frozen in time, the small numbers of Armenian remnants
continue to live on the soil of their ancestors, secretly holding on
to their Armenian heritage and sometimes even their religion.
In his opening remarks, Ara Sarafian of the Gomidas Institute cast a
brief look at the Turkish treatment of minorities that remained in
Turkey after 1915. In light of the prejudice and hostility to which
these minorities continue to be subjected, Mr. Sarafian described You
Rejoice My Heart as a "seminal work" which is "opening a new chapter
of understanding Armenian history." "The Armenian Genocide didn’t
finish in 1915," Mr. Sarafian said. "Turkish nationalism has become
Mr. Sarafian explained that concerted efforts to repress ethnic
minorities persevered throughout modern Turkish history. By the 1950s,
many Greeks, Jews, and Armenians who still lived in Turkey fled the
country, and the few who remained, especially in the provinces, were
assimilated by converting to Islam.
Armenians survived by adopting Turkish names, no longer speaking
Armenian, and not telling their children about their ethnic origins.
Children usually found out that they were Armenian much later in life.
While traveling throughout the eastern provinces of Turkey, Mr.
Sarafian has come across Armenians who have assumed Muslim identity.
But "they are Armenians," he said. "They will let you know if they
choose to let you know. They all have Genocide stories [to tell]. They
all had horrible experiences."
Part memoir, part travelogue, You Rejoice My Heart peers into the
world of Turkey’s secret Armenians. "For the first time we have
insight into their lives," Mr. Sarafian said. "As Yalcin collects all
these biographies, we get a more coherent picture of Armenian
history,… a sense of what it means to be a Turkish-Armenian over the
past 90 years."
* The author
Mr. Yalcin began his address by welcoming the audience in Armenian.
Afterward he spoke in Turkish, with an Armenian translator relaying
his words to the audience. With a personable style that captivated his
listeners, the author focused on his personal journey of uncovering
the hidden links of a shared past that hold the keys to many
Born in the Honaz subdistrict of Turkey’s southwestern Denizil
province, Mr. Yalcin was a product of the Turkish educational system,
which reinforces the notion of an ethnically and religiously
homogeneous Turkish society and teaches little about minorities — let
alone the Armenian Genocide. After earning degrees in education and
philosophy, Mr. Yalcin went on to become a journalist and an
award-winning author. He moved to Germany in the 1980s.
Mr. Yalcin recalled that there were about 1,000 Greeks in Honaz
during the years he grew up there. His grandparents were never
prejudiced against their Greek neighbors. In fact, they agreed to hold
on to a Greek family’s dowry for safekeeping. The Greek family never
came to retrieve their belongings. Mr. Yalcin recalled his grandfather
saying, "Whether it’s 40 days or 40 years, we will hold on to this
dowry until we return it to their family."
Mr. Yalcin’s family stayed true to their promise until, decades
later, Yalcin himself handed the dowry over to the Greek family’s
grandchildren in Greece. It was there that he learned about the
Armenian Genocide and began what would become the journey of a
lifetime. "If you think what they did to the Greeks was bad, listen to
what they did to the Armenians in other parts of Turkey," the Greek
family told him.
Mr. Yalcin then began meeting with Armenians. He took time to
nurture relationships and gain trust in order to get the secret
Armenians to tell their often unbearably painful stories — which
would eventually be included in his book.
* The book
You Rejoice My Heart opens in Germany, where Mr. Yalcin, working as a
Turkish instructor, befriended an Armenian cultural-immersion teacher
named Meline. Through her guidance, Mr. Yalcin eventually embarked on
a project to seek out Armenians living in Turkey as Muslims or Turks.
His journey took him on a trajectory that started with his native
Honaz and included Amasya, Erzurum, Askale, and Kars, and ended in the
ancient city of Ani.
One example of the secret Armenians whom Mr. Yalcin met is Madame
Safiye. In the book, she tells her story with the effervescence of a
person who has waited 70 years to speak. She is one of the last
remaining Armenians of Amasya. Born in 1931, she ran away from home to
marry a Turkish man. Through her conversation with Mr. Yalcin, she
opens up, for the first time since she was 15, about her Armenian
past. She reveals that her real name is Zaruhi, after an aunt who had
perished during what she calls "the Deportations."
Safiye’s mother, Zeytimya, was the sole survivor of "the
Deportations." As Safiye remembers her parents, her memory drifts
away, Mr. Yalcin explains. Her own children and grandchildren never
knew about their Armenian past until Yalcin’s arrival.
Through her story, we learn about the lives of other Armenians
living in Amasya after 1915. Amasya once had a thriving Armenian
population. The community, along with its churches and schools, was
utterly devastated during the Genocide. After 1915, only about 60
Armenian families remained. All they knew was that they were Armenian
and their religion was different. "We didn’t let a lot of people know
about it," Madame Safiye says. "Even so, we were so afraid!"
Armenians tried their best to marry within their tiny community.
They prayed in secret and adopted Armenian orphans who had survived
the massacres. While some Armenians eventually fled, most of those who
remained stopped speaking their native tongue and denied ever being
"These are hard things to talk about!" Madame Safiye tells Mr.
Yalcin. "If you think about all the things that happened to us, you
can’t believe how we managed to make it till now…."
* The aftermath
Mr. Yalcin has been living in Germany for years and speaks freely
about this topic, though he is aware that he might be the target of
Turkish retribution. "I’m scared," he said. "But the reality is more
"There is big work to do," Mr. Yalcin added. "As humans we have to
address and expose this inhumanity." He went on to stress that his
work is about promoting communication between Turks and Armenians.
"Researchers deal with the archives, but my job is working with
survivors and their grandchildren," he said.
When asked about Turkish public opinion and whether the Turkish
educational system will ever allow future generations to learn about
what really happened prior to 1923, Yalcin answered optimistically,
"Today what we see in Turkey was unimaginable 30 years ago."
"Things are changing in Turkey regarding this matter," he continued,
referring to the recent wave of Turkish intellectuals and authors
writing about the Armenian Genocide. "Dividing is easy; coming
together is hard," he stressed. "Always live with hope."
You Rejoice My Heart has been published in Italian, Armenian,
Spanish, and French, in addition to Turkish. After the destruction of
the entire first Turkish edition in Istanbul on June 21, 2002, the
book is now once again in print and widely read in Turkey.
Mr. Yalcin has dedicated the English translation of the book to the
memory of "his dear brother," Hrant Dink.
The English translation of You Rejoice My Heart is available at Abril
2. Sensitive and gentle, romantic and pleading, Bayrakdarian captivates
* A triumphant return to Carnegie Hall
by Florence Avakian
NEW YORK — Metropolitan Opera soprano soloist Isabel Bayrakdarian
with pianist husband Serouj Kradjian captivated an enthusiastic
audience at Carnegie Hall’s Zankel Hall on the evening of Saturday,
March 8, with a group of classical, romantic, and Armenian selections.
A trio of Vincenzo Bellini (1801–1835) love songs opened the
program, sung with longing and passion. "La ricordanza"
("Recollection"), a song of anguish offered with appropriate pleading,
highlighted Bayrakdarian’s lush tone and warm delivery. The song’s
final phrase — "Even if, after this bliss, grief was far more bitter;
even if, for me, no moment matched this; Ah! How dear was dying in
that hour" — highlighted the equally descriptive poetry, frequently
devoted to the magic of, and yearning for, love.
Five songs by Francis Poulenc (1899-1963), titled "Banalities,"
envisioning picturesque locations and memories, demonstrated
Bayrakdarian’s technical virtuosity, bright sound, and poignancy. The
first part of the performance also included a work by modern composer,
Jake Heggie (b. 1961), whose "Songs and Sonnets to Ophelia," to a text
by Edna St. Vincent Millay, was a strange entry sandwiched between
Poulence and Hector Berlioz.
"La mort d’Ophelie" ("The Death of Ophelia"), a dark-hued
composition by Berlioz (1803-1869), a Shakespeare devotee, was
fashioned after Hamlet. A somber but beautifully reflective work, it
demonstrated the singer’s subtle and vulnerable portrayal, and the
pianist’s superb technique and sensitivity.
Kradjian, who has concertised extensively throughout Canada, the
United States, Europe, and the Far East, often accompanies his wife in
recitals. Playing with great understanding, he never overpowered the
singer during the concert.
* Komitas: the highlight
For this writer, the most heartfelt songs were those of Komitas
(1869-1935), perhaps the greatest of Armenian composers. In the
printed program, he was listed as "Reverend Gomidas," and the Genocide
which wreaked such horror on this legendary clergyman/composer was
noted as the "1915 massacres of the Armenian people."
Bayrakdarian was truly in her element, giving the love song, "Akh
Maral jan" ("Dear Maral") the delicacy it deserved. "Chem grna khagh"
("I Cannot Play"), a mischievous and playful number, was performed
with verve and humor, eliciting laughter from the audience. And the
well known "Alakyaz/Khungi dzar" ("Mount Alakyaz/Incense Tree")
received the necessary subtle shadings in Bayrakdarian’s rendering.
The text of the great poet Raffi in the patriotic "Tsayn dur ov
dzovag" ("Call to the Sea") partly says: "I wonder if the day will
come when I will see a flag on Mount Ararat, and Armenians from all
over the world will make their way to their dear homeland."
Bayrakdarian’s delivery of these lines was one of unforced power and
Her sensitive and gentle rendering of one of the loveliest of all
songs, "Oror" ("Lullaby"), reflected the strong maternal feelings of a
woman who recently gave birth to her first child, which resulted in
last October’s cancellation of Bayrakdarian singing the role of
Susanna in the Metropolitan Opera’s production of Le Nozze di Figaro.
"Five Popular Greek Melodies" by Maurice Ravel (1875-1937), with
their unmistakable Greek inflections, and a series of charming,
romantic works from the shores of Spain by Fernando J. Obradors
(1897-1945), sung with passion and spirit, concluded the exciting
program, which brought a standing ovation for the radiant artist, and
two encores for the eager audience.
3. A public forum at Columbia University analyzes "the Armenian
diaspora and its discontents"
by Antranig Dereyan
NEW YORK — Armenians living in the diaspora, and to some extent in
Armenia, are a people whose history has left them with a lot of
questions — but perhaps not so many answers.
That was the theme, at any rate, of a gathering on Saturday, March
8, at Columbia University in New York, which sought to tackle some of
the questions that have disconcerted Armenians for some time. The
public forum, titled, "Speaking Beyond Living Room Walls: The Armenian
Diaspora and its Discontents," was sponsored by Columbia’s Armenian
Student Association (ASA).
Panelists asked: When will the Armenian Genocide gain proper
recognition? Why do Armenians seem to lack sufficient political
influence in Washington? The list of concerns ranged from diaspora
misgivings about the Republic of Armenia, to questions of Armenian
"identity" in environments as disparate as the New York and Istanbul.
Alongside the questions themselves, participants offered reasons why
such questions might exist among Armenians — and spoke, too, on the
possibility of resolving the questions once and for all.
Dr. Seta B. Dadoyan struck one chord of the wide-ranging discussion
when she advised: "We should know our history to discuss these
subjects; and our problem is that we just do not know enough history."
That deficiency was partially filled by some of the presentations.
For example, when it comes to the question of Armenian Genocide
recognition, panelist Michael Bobelian observed: "One reason for the
lack of Genocide backing [in the past] was the lack of an independent
Armenia to fight for the recognition of the Genocide, the way the
Jewish people had the nation of Israel to fight for their
recognition…. The Genocide was not on the international radar, not
until the mid-1960s."
Bobelian mentioned other reasons during a presentation titled "The
Armenian Response to the Genocide."
"It is only after 1965 that Armenians made the Genocide a concern,
and started to hold public demonstrations to recognize the Genocide. A
group of youth took to the streets [of Yerevan] in 1965, in what is
now called Republic Square and the Opera House, and soon there were
100,000 people gathered. They were carrying placards and chanting ‘our
lands, our lands’ — and this is the first demonstration for the
Genocide and the recognition of the Genocide."
Bobelian brought up key intellectual figures that lobbied the United
States Congress on the issue, including Vahan Cardashian.
(In a bow to current preoccupations, Bobelian pointed out to the
young crowd that Cardashian bears no relation to the television
personality, Kim Kardashian.)
"Cardashian first started getting involved in trying to get the
Armenian cause revealed by secretly sending letters to Congress. Later
he established a committee — a committee which is now known as the
ANC [Armenian National Committee]. He dedicated his whole life to the
* Laws against language
According to the March 8 participants, official recognition for the
Genocide is not the only significant source of "discontent" among
Armenians. Another involves trying to maintain an Armenian identity
while living in Turkey.
Program panelist Lerna Ekmekcioglu is quite familiar with that
struggle, having been born and raised in Istanbul. Her parents had to
change their Armenian last name to a Turkish-sounding one, in a bow to
a 1934 Turkish regulation. "Any last name ending in ‘-ian’ was
prohibited," she said, "and so my [family] name was changed from
Hatsvamian to Ekmekcioglu. Even Greek, Kurdish, and any other
international last names were changed, due to this rule."
But Lerna Ekmekcioglu added: "I am Turkish-Armenian, and I am proud
of being who I am."
Nevertheless, "For the Armenians living in Turkey, the challenge is
living among the people who killed their families. Armenians were
expected to forget the past and share the same space with murderers,
who not only rejected having any contact with their past, but were
never punished," said Ekmekcioglu.
On Turkish streets, Ekmekcioglu pointed out, speaking a language
other then Turkish is a danger. "One gets more then stares when
speaking a non-Turkish tongue [in Turkey]; one can get put in jail for
not speaking Turkish," she said.
Audience members brought up names of familiar Turkish-Armenian
figures like Hrant Dink — a man whom Ekmekcioglu said she knew
personally, and whom she regarded as "more than just a name."
"He knew the risks of speaking up, but his pride and his wanting of
justice for the Armenians was too strong for him to stay quiet,"
Ekmekcioglu said. "His family also knew that his life was in danger
every time he stepped outside, but they stood by Dink’s side
regardless of their fear." It was "a fear that ended up being right,"
* Frisson of disagreement
When the discussion turned to Armenians living in Armenia itself, the
words "change," "human rights," and "possibilities" became a refrain
for a few of the panelists.
Panelist Karen Hakobyan identified one "discontent" as revolving
around "two aspects" of life in Armenia: "nationalism against civil
rights," she said. From Hakobyan’s perspective, solving the problems
associated with this tension will require "more than the Armenians in
the diaspora just sending money."
An interesting feature of the March 8 event was its focus on
individual, distinctive, and sometimes opposing perspectives among the
panelists. Not only did panelists disagree on given issues, but they
disagreed on how to solve the "discontents" outlined — and on whether
those issues were solvable at all.
Dr. Dadoyan felt that "All these issues can be solved; but theory
and analyzing strategies should be used, and I feel we need to take
all these concepts and analyze them." She was more critical, however,
of the tenor of much of the discussion in the Armenian community: "The
Genocide is not the only reference to talk about when talking about
the Armenian diaspora," she said.
She was likewise tentative about the panel discussion itself,
suggesting that "none of the panelist had any direction. There should
have been some guidelines, and I feel it should have been coordinated
better. But it was good to have all the discussions with all the
One issue casting a shadow over the program was the development in
Armenia over its recent presidential election. The presidentially
decreed state of emergency in Yerevan — still in force at the time of
the gathering — was not a part of the program itself, but it came to
the fore when audience members had a chance to ask questions.
Nicole Vartanian was struck by the absence of discussion on the
topic, and expressed her concerns: "For me, the events of last
Saturday [March 1] in Armenia represent a crisis of massive
proportions, and for the diaspora to be getting together and talking
about really important things like culture and arts at a time when our
homeland is in such peril, it is hard for me to think about that not
becoming a focal point somewhat of today’s discussions."
Vartanian conceded that the election drama was "not what [the
speakers] came here to talk about." But she added that "I feel a
strong connection to Armenia, and I was looking for more interaction
on this topic from the panel and the audience."
Nonetheless, event organizer Neery Melkonian said she was very
pleased with the forum overall.
"I called these [panelists] to come and told them what I wanted to
accomplish, and they all paid their own way and came here for today’s
event," she said. "These kinds of minds do not come together under one
roof very often."
"I love our passion as people and I wish we had more time for the
panelist to speak," she said.
The event was organized by Melkonian along with Silva Ajemian, Hrayr
Anmahouni, Razmig Aslanian, Christopher Atamian, Arda Berberian, David
Kazanjian, Lori Khrimian, Anoosh Tertsakian, and Meldiya Yessayan.
An afternoon session of the program explored through personal
accounts the experiences and roles of artists in Armenian communities.
Melkonian expressed her hope that the March 8 gathering could be an
annual forum for exploring pressing issues for the worldwide Armenian
4. Richard Hovannisian tells a N.J. audience about a journey he took
in 2006 through Western Armenia’s vanishing past
by Anoush Ter Taulian
RIDGEFIELD, N.J. — "The Vanishing of Historical Western Armenia:
Reflections on a Journey into the Past" was the topic of a lecture and
slide show by Dr. Richard G. Hovannisian, sponsored by the Armenian
National Committee of New Jersey, on March 9 at Ridgefield’s Sts.
Vartanantz Church. An enthusiastic crowd of 56 people gathered to hear
the insights of Prof. Hovannisian, who still teaches Armenian and Near
Eastern history at UCLA, and has held 17 conferences on historical
Western Armenia (The latest one was covered in the March 15 Reporter).
Prof. Hovannisian’s illustrated talk revolved around his two-week
trip to historical Western Armenia in 2006, in which he followed the
routes of the deportees from Trebizond to Gumushkhane and Erzurum, and
to Kharpert via Erzinjan, to view the gorge of death in Kamakh.
Hovannisian’s parents were both Genocide survivors. His own journey
to historical Armenian lands only came later in life. He related how,
when he traveled to Istanbul with his father in 1967, after two days
Hovannisian’s father insisted on leaving: it had proved too painful
for him to rub shoulders with Turks, whom he could only associate with
the atrocities he had witnessed.
Hovannisian also said he felt troubled whenever he saw videos of
fellow Armenians who had gone on pilgrimage to the ruins of Western
Armenia, singing hymns in the ruins of a church — as if such
re-creations could recreate the church itself, or its lost village
When he finally did decide to visit Western Armenia, Prof.
Hovannisian went with his wife Vartiter and Prof. Fatma Muge Gocek
from the University of Michigan. Later Agos editor Sarkis Sargoyan
joined them at Kharpert.
"During my journey, I found many contradictions," Hovannisian said.
"In the same city of Trebizond where Armenians were taken out on ships
and dumped into the sea in 1915, and where the killer of Hrant Dink
was raised, there were some people who felt a compulsion to remember
and develop contributions of Armenians to the Ottoman Empire. For
instance, a Turkish drama group was reading an Armenian play,
Honorable Beggars by Hagop Baronian, which they had translated into
[The assertion about the mass drowning of Armenians in the Black
Sea, repeated here by Prof. Hovannisian, was debunked years ago by Ara
Sarafian. See and
In the coastal cities he met some hidden Armenians who might one day
agree to identify as Armenian — if conditions were right. After
Trebizond they traveled northward to the Erzurum region where they
visited his wife’s father’s village of Tsi-togh. Dr. Hovannisian had
brought along her father’s reconstructed diagram of the village,
detailing where everyone had lived, and so she was able to locate her
father’s house and met the current owners.
The group also visited Dersim and Basmashen, the village of
Richard’s Hovannisian’s own father, where the Armenian church had been
dynamited in 1960. They saw the Hafav springs that had been built by
Armenians, and the Keban dam which has flooded many old Armenian
villages, and which Turkey uses to blackmail Syria by controlling the
water supply. As a result of the dam, the ancient Golchuk Vank now
The journey proceeded to the Kharpert region, where Hovannisian’s
parents were from, and to villages whose names he had heard as a
child. Prof. Hovannisian showed slides of the Upper Euphrates river,
and of a lake where thousands of Armenians were slaughtered. He also
showed pictures of Kharpert before and after the Genocide — images
collected by Raymond Kevorkian and Pascal Papoudjian of Paris, who
have published a large volume of photographs of the Armenian towns,
villages, and communities of the Ottoman Empire.
Prof. Hovannisian also traveled to Kemakh, where deportees from the
Eastern provinces were marched into a narrow gorge to be massacred by
squads of killers. Those who survived the massacres had to walk up a
zig-zagging road that ascended to an elevation of 6,000 feet.
Prof. Hovannisian recalled how he "met Kurdish activists who were
critical of Turkey, who had empathy with Armenians, and who said that
they suffered like the Armenians — which of course is not true, since
the degree of persecution was different. They did not fully admit that
most of the Kurds, who were already predatory and looted one another,
participated in the Genocide. In fact, the Turks formed special groups
of Kurds to kill Armenians."
He allowed that there were Kurds who helped Armenians — notably the
Alawis, who allowed the Armenians safe passage through their territory
en route to Russia.
In the book signing which followed, audience members were clearly
excited about the presentation they had just seen. Haroutin Der
Derian, thought the travelogue was fantastic, and though he already
owned several of Prof. Hovannisian’s books he bought six more to give
as gifts to his family.
A different thought was on the mind of Dr. Haikaz Gregorian, who
said, "We have to go beyond presenting these matters as travelogues.
These experiences of individuals visiting our ancestral lands should
also result in putting money into educating the Kurds and Turks about
the Armenian Genocide."
5. A new volume collects articles that shaped British public opinion
of the Armenians during the Hamidian massacres
DEARBORN, Mich. — The Armenian Research Center of the University of
Michigan-Dearborn has just published The Armenian Massacres,
1894–1896: British Media Testimony, edited and with an introduction
by Arman J. Kirakossian. This new book is a companion volume to Mr.
Kirakossian’s The Armenian Massacres, 1894–1896: U.S. Media Testimony
The latest volume permits readers to find in one location many of
the articles that helped shape the British public view of the
Armenians in the years of the Hamidian massacres.
These articles, 48 in all, consist of in-depth pieces from weekly,
biweekly, and monthly news magazines, which are, as a rule, longer
than articles published in the daily British newspapers. Preceding the
articles is a long introduction by Mr. Kirakossian, which discusses
British relations in the 19th century with the Ottoman Empire and with
the Armenians in particular, and lays the groundwork for the articles
reprinted in the collection.
Mr. Kirakossian was formerly Armenia’s ambassador to the United
States and is now Armenia’s deputy minister of foreign affairs. He
holds a doctoral degree in history and teaches history and
international relations at Yerevan State University. His book, British
Diplomacy and the Armenian Question, was published by the Gomidas
Institute in Princeton and London in 2003.
The newly published book includes a foreword by Richard Bentinck
Boyle, the Earl of Shannon, one of the cofounders and prominent
members of the British-Armenian All Party Parliamentary Group. A map,
15 pages of notes, and an index round out the book, which was made
possible by a grant from the Dolores Zohrab Liebmann Fund.
The Armenian Massacres, 1894-1896: British Media Testimony (ISBN
978-934548-01-1 or 1-934548-01-4) is distributed by Wayne State
University Press and can be purchased from most retail and online
* Sidebar: Book chronicles U.S.-Armenia relationship
YEREVAN — A new volume on the U.S.-Armenia relationship was released
on February 4 at the library of Yerevan State University. The 292-page
volume brings together the speeches and interviews given by Arman J.
Kirakossian during his tenure as Armenia’s ambassador in Washington
from October 1999 to March 2005.
The book, titled Armenia-USA: Current Realities and Vision for
Future, and published by the Center for Civilization and Cultural
Studies at the university, features a foreword by Harry J. Gilmore,
who was the first U.S. ambassador to Armenia.
Mr. Kirakossian notes that more than 70 U.S. companies are doing
business in Armenia today. Exports from Armenia to the United States
doubled between 2000 and 2006 to $46.5 million. Encouraging bilateral
trade is among the issues covered in the book, which chronicles the
positions and efforts of the Armenian government on matters of mutual
concern with the United States in the first half of this decade.
The book highlights the special interest of the Foreign Ministry
under President Robert Kocharian in reaching out to
6. Doctor works to register life-saving links between Armenians worldwide
* An effort to match bone marrow donors with patients who need transplants
by Alex Dobuzinskis
This article is part of a Reporter series on the work of the
Armenian Bone Marrow Donor Registry, as it gears up for a worldwide
telethon on April 13.
GLENDALE, Calif. — Phone calls to Yerevan in the morning and at night
— these are the bookends to a full day of work for Dr. Frieda Jordan,
who spends countless hours using medicine to forge life-saving links
Jordan, a Glendale resident, is president of the Armenian Bone
Marrow Donor Registry, an international organization she helped found
in 1999. The registry matches patients suffering from leukemia or
certain blood disorders to willing donors who can provide the healthy
bone marrow they need.
Jordan spends more time at her volunteer job with the registry than
she does at her regular job at a medical lab in Pomona. But thanks in
part to her efforts, doctors worldwide are slowly overcoming the
biggest challenge they face when seeking a bone marrow match for an
Armenian patient — the unique genetic makeup of Armenians.
A good match is important, because otherwise a patient’s body will
reject the bone marrow transplant, and the patient will not get
"In this case, being an Armenian is not an advantage," Jordan said.
"The unique genetic makeup is not an advantage for the patient. But
knowing that only an Armenian can help an Armenian kind of unifies the
project, brings Armenians together."
Jordan realized the need for an Armenian bone marrow registry while
working in England for the Anthony Nolan Trust, an organization that
matches bone marrow donors and patients of all nationalities.
Jordan heard stories of patients of Armenian descent for whom
doctors couldn’t find bone marrow matches, because of Armenians’
unique genetic profile.
Because of their history as a Christian people living amidst Muslim
lands, Armenians over the centuries had little intermarriage with
people from other nationalities, making it difficult for doctors to
find matches for Armenian patients from among the general population.
To overcome this challenge, Jordan started the registry with the
help of Dr. Sevak Avagyan, who is based in Armenia. The registry has
grown to include 14,000 potential donors, and over the years it has
helped eight patients get the transfusions they needed to have healthy
bone marrow and fight their disease.
* Global reach
In running the registry, Jordan has the support of volunteers, but
much of the leadership work falls on her.
"I feel that it’s my mission that God has given me," Jordan said.
"I’m the expert in this field and I can help to bring hope to parents
and children who are suffering from leukemia, and that is really
nourishing for my soul and for my work."
For Jordan, who has lived in the United States since 1998, running
the registry is a job that spans time zones and continents, forcing
her to work night and day, seek out Armenians in the countries where
they live and convince them to sign up to be on the registry, so that
they can donate their bone marrow if they match a patient.
She starts her day with a 6 am phone call to Yerevan, where the
registry has offices and a lab. The work day is just ending at that
time in Armenia, so Jordan speaks with Avagyan, the organization’s
executive director, to find out how things went that day.
Jordan then goes to her regular job at the Foundation Lab, a private
medical firm. After finishing her work at the lab, Jordan begins her
charity work with the registry.
The work varies from day to day. Sometimes it means taking an
unexpected call from a leukemia patient seeking advice or consolation.
Other times, it means arranging for supplies to be shipped to the
registry’s Armenian lab.
Earlier this month, Jordan had to attend the funeral of a woman who
died of a blood disorder before she could get the bone marrow
transplant she needed. The registry matched the patient with a
potential donor in Boston, who after volunteering to be on the
registry changed her mind and refused to donate her bone marrow — a
problem Jordan said she has encountered with other potential donors
who suddenly become jittery, even though the process is safe.
"It’s very sad that the refusal comes at the last stage, when they
have become a match for the patient," Jordan said.
In an effort to broaden the scope of potential donors, Jordan has
traveled to Syria, Lebanon, Bulgaria, Greece, Canada, and other
countries, seeking out Armenians willing to share a mouth swab’s worth
of DNA so that they can be on the registry.
She also travels to Armenia five times a year to help run the
registry, which has 15 paid staff members in Yerevan. From her home in
Glendale, Jordan ends each day with a 10 pm call to the Yerevan
office, where at that time the work day is just beginning.
* Labor of love
Armond Aghakhanian, 36, a volunteer on the advisory board of the
Armenian Bone Marrow Donor Registry, said he was inspired to join the
organization because of Jordan’s commitment to the cause.
"She is basically not only a founder, she is the backbone of the
organization and she is the biggest advocate when it comes to saving
lives," he said. "And she has committed herself 100 percent to the
cause, and I have never seen anyone committed so much, not only
through their life but their spirit and their whole being to a cause,
as Dr. Jordan."
Jordan is not married. She was born in Iran with the last name
Jordan, because her grandfather — an Indian by nationality who
married an Armenian woman — had changed his name to Jordan after
converting to Christianity.
After years of work with the registry, which she calls "her baby,"
Jordan said she looks forward to one day retiring and passing on her
share of the registry’s work to a younger generation of medical
"It’s becoming my life. I’m regretting it sometimes — I get very
frustrated," she said. "I want to get away [from] it… probably this is
my destiny to have this. But my project is not completed."
One of the goals Jordan has set for herself before ending her work
with the registry is to create a center in Yerevan for obtaining
non-embryonic stem cells from consenting donors, so that the cells can
be transplanted into patients, who can then regenerate their own bone
The Armenian Bone Marrow Donor Registry will hold a telethon on
April 13, between 4:00 and 9:00 pm PST. The event, which will be
televised and webcast in the United States and throughout most of the
world, is being organized to raise $650,000 for a first-of-its-kind
Pan-Armenian Stem Cell Harvest Center in Yerevan.
********************* ************************************************** ***
7. Rooted in family
* Insights from Jackie Speier’s parents
by Tania Ketenjian
SAN FRANCISCO — In the past few weeks, the Armenian Reporter has
published a number of articles on the congressional campaign and
extraordinary life of Jackie Speier. This week we’re going a bit
further, to the source, sharing with our readers the insights of her
parents, who have seen Jackie through every step of her life.
Jackie was born and raised in San Francisco. Her mother, Nancy
Speier, was born in Fresno. When she was a young child, Nancy’s family
moved to Rigley, where her father started a farm. As the enterprise
didn’t flourish as they had hoped, the family moved to the small town
of Fowler and later back to Fresno. When Nancy was 13, her family
settled in San Francisco. As Nancy recalls, "It was quite a change. We
were in an area where there weren’t any Armenians and we got kind of
lost. It was during the depression, when everyone was either on
welfare or they were just getting by. It was terrible. But we managed
somehow. When I was looking for work, I sat there in the streetcar and
I said, ‘Boy, I am never going to be poor again.’"
That is exactly what happened. Nancy went to school and looked for a
job. "We would take the streetcar for five cents and I went to the
five-and-dime [store] and JC Penney," she says. "I got jobs at those
places but they weren’t permanent." Still, Nancy continued to work
hard and was able to raise a family with her husband, Fred. To this
day, Nancy, who is 93 years old, continues to work, teaching
* Role models
Nancy’s spirit is much like her daughter’s: strong, spunky, fearless.
She shares a story about her sense of independence, a story she has
enjoyed telling often. Back in Fowler, when she was eight years old,
she told her mother that she wanted to visit her grandmother, who
lived in Fresno, nine miles away. Her mother wondered how Nancy was
going to be able to do that. "’I’ll go down the highway and thumb a
ride.’ I told her," Nancy says. "So can you believe what I did? Here
comes a car, a roadster, and I said, ‘Oh no, not for me.’ But then an
old-fashioned Ford came along, with a fat man in it, and he said, ‘Do
you want a ride?’ And I said, ‘Sure,’ and we talked the whole way
until we got there [lots of laughter]. I can remember it like it was
yesterday, I can see everything plain as day."
Nancy was visiting her paternal grandmother. Everyone on her
mother’s side was killed during the Armenian Genocide. Her parents
married in Armenia before immigrating to America. "When I was child, I
used to wonder why my mother would cry so much," Nancy says. "I
wouldn’t ask her what she was crying about. And if I did, I would
never get an answer. Her whole family must have been killed because
none of them has shown up. And my mother was the most wonderful woman
— kind and sweet, and never yelled. I never saw a person like her. I
used to think Mom was the best person in the world, and she was."
Nancy also has fond memories of her grandmother and especially her
cooking. "She made the best food," Nancy recalls. "And you know, in
her days, she was the doctor in her village. Everyone would go to her
to get cured and she had the old-fashioned remedies. I thought that
was neat. I think maybe that is why I am living for so long. She was
104 when she died."
Even in Fresno, Nancy didn’t have many Armenian friends. And while
she doesn’t speak the language, she feels very Armenian and aware of
her roots. When she moved to San Francisco, however, it was difficult
to keep in touch with the few Armenians she did know. She was working,
studying, and spending time with family. When asked if she liked San
Francisco when she first arrived there, she draws a blank. It was so
long ago and her mind was on other things. Fred, Jackie’s father, on
the other hand, says, "I loved San Francisco when I first saw it."
Fred Speier, a native of Germany, was inspired to move to San
Francisco because of, not in spite of, the 1906 quake. "In 1935, I saw
a picture of San Francisco and I was fascinated by the earthquake and
I said, ‘That’s where I want to go,’" he remembers. Had he not moved
to San Francisco and become a lodger in Nancy’s home, they would have
When Nancy was in her 20s, she bought two flats on Irving Street in
the Sunset District of San Francisco. She and her sister lived
upstairs while they rented out the lower flat to lodgers. "And this
joker came along and wanted to rent a room," Nancy quips. "And he
would see me working on that property. I used to do a lot of the work
that needed to be done, pulling up the rugs and things like that. He
would watch me and I think he sized me up and said, ‘Boy, she’s a good
On their first date, they went to see a movie but afterward, as Fred
had to go see a friend, he didn’t walk Nancy home. "I will never
forget that," Nancy says. "I felt so funny because other boys that
took me out, they brought me home. This one didn’t." However, as Fred
will attest, "But I stayed!" and they have been married for nearly 60
years. Nancy was 33 when they got married and were eager to have a
child. When Jackie was born, "It was like God sent me the gift of the
world; it was beautiful," Nancy says. "She was the sweetest girl. I
loved that girl like you wouldn’t believe. She was an angel. [To this
day] she takes interest in us, she speaks with us, spends time with
us. I love her."
The relationship is all the more precious because Nancy and Fred
almost lost their daughter in Jonestown, Guyana, when Jackie was shot
by followers of Jim Jones’ People’s Temple. On that day, a friend of
Nancy called her and asked if she had heard the news. Nancy hadn’t. As
she quickly turned on the television, she learned that her daughter
had been shot, nearly died, and was being flown back to America. "I
was like a chicken without a head," Nancy recalls. "The doctors said
she was three minutes from death. Can you imagine? Three minutes! When
I think of those days, I don’t know how I lived through it."
Nancy flew to Washington to be close to Jackie as she recuperated.
"When I saw her, I can’t tell you how I felt," she says. "It was
almost impossible to comprehend. And although she was laughing, she
had so many operations to come. All the flesh from her upper thigh is
gone." But Jackie survived it all. "Jackie was such a beauty child,"
Nancy says. "She was a doll. I have a picture of her on a coffee table
that I carry around with me in my wallet. She had black hair when she
was born. And as a teenager, she gave me no trouble."
Jackie got involved in politics very early on, when she became a
"Leo Ryan girl," helping with then South San Francisco Mayor Leo
Ryan’s campaign for a seat in the California State Assembly. "Ryan
bought them uniforms and they were so cute," Nancy recalls. Jackie
continued to work with Ryan during her years as an undergraduate at UC
Davis. Her father says, "I don’t think anyone knows politics the way
Jackie does, at every level."
Jackie Speier’s parents are very proud of their daughter. "You know,
the Armenians are known to be honest and I have always drilled that
into Jackie," Nancy says. "She did very well in school and she still
takes part in her church. She’s a dynamo. We are so proud of her. Who
Jackie comes to visit her parents every single day. Even if she can
stay for only a moment, she makes the effort. She values family — the
one she comes from, the one she has created — and is passionately
committed to making and safeguarding laws that protect families.
8. This Armenian Life by Tamar Kevonian: The surfer
Mike, a quiet, 28-year-old ex-surfer, ambles across the lot of the
business he owns and runs with his father, Steve. He walks in a slow
gait with arms swinging lazily by his side. His sloped shoulders,
relaxed manners, and easy tone of voice are indicative of the
laid-back lifestyle of a California surfer.
He’s been involved in the auto-detailing business for the last four
and a half years but doesn’t like the fact that it doesn’t pay well.
"It’s a family business and no family business pays well," he says,
"but it gives me time to spend time with my old man." Steve, a small,
wiry man with a full head of gray hair, is a force in the office of
the business they manage together. Quick-talking and hard-selling, he
dominates the tiny space. Mike just shrugs when his father continues a
conversation he started with a customer, as if to say, What can you
This is the latest of several family businesses on which they’ve
embarked together. Before auto-detailing, they owned a pawn shop and
before that… it seems too long ago for Mike to remember. But in the
beginning there was surfing. "I was a surfer and got paid for it,"
Mike says with pride. He stumbled into it completely by accident. "My
cousin got his [driver’s] license and we would go to the beach," he
reminisces about his older relative.
Surfing is a very popular pastime, born in Hawaii but popularized on
the beaches of California. In the last several decades it has grown
from its cliquish roots into a highly competitive sport. Mike had
managed to turn a favorite hobby into a lucrative profession. "I
surfed everywhere. I even went to Tahiti," he says wistfully. His new
career lasted five years until one day, about to get out of his car on
Topanga Canyon, a winding road through the Santa Monica Mountains, he
was hit by a car. "Some guy was trying to be cute and spun," forcing
the tires to spin and swerve the car wildly across the road. "I almost
went over the cliff," Mike explains. He spent a year convalescing and
sustained permanent back injuries, at which point all his sponsors
terminated their support.
He misses those days. "Who doesn’t miss competition?" he says wryly.
But he would never consider returning to the profession he loved.
Since the accident, his back has not been the same. Surfing requires
"a lot of getting up on the board," which relies heavily on the
muscles in the back. "When a ten-foot wave crashes on your head, your
back gets tangled," Mike explains. Despite all these reasons, one gets
the impression that he would still pursue surfing if he could, except
for the fact that he now considers himself too old for the business.
"These youngsters are a little crazier than me," he says. These days
he indulges his passion for surfing only for fun.
So now Mike has partnered with his father and started a family
business. Steve and Mike spend their days in a clean but small,
cramped office on their auto-detailing lot. A customer walks onto the
lot and it’s not clear who’s in charge. There are several people
rushing about on the tiny lot packed with cars. Mike looks like a
customer waiting for his car and will greet you like a polite stranger
you may pass on the street, without indicating that he’s the one who
can answer any questions you may have. Finally, as you take a peek
into the empty, tiny office, looking for the proprietor, you realize
that Mike has followed you, waiting for you to acknowledge him.
* Easy does it
Mike has carried over the casual beach culture he acquired in his
teens into the way he runs his current business. It’s a startling
contrast to his father, who is a bundle of energy with a healthy
mixture of humor and aggressive salesmanship. "Do both services now
for $140. It will be $100 [for each] if you come back," Steve jumps in
and impresses upon the customer — a very different approach than that
of Mike, who’ll answer the customer’s question but lets them make a
"I like working with Dad; it’s comfortable," Mike explains. He has
an innate distaste for the corporate confines of other jobs and likes
that his father isn’t a "by-the-book boss." "But," he says, "I have to
keep a higher level of respect." Naturally, since the two not only
work together but also live together. Having lost his mother to cancer
when he was only ten years old has left Mike alone with his father and
younger sister. He doesn’t have a particular love of the business. "It
was something to do," he says — a business that was bought to both
keep him occupied and have him spend time with his father. "When I
held other jobs I felt distant from my family," he says. Still,
spending so much time together, both at work and at home, "could be
hair raising," Mike says, displaying his dry sense of humor.
Although he doesn’t have a serious girlfriend, he believes that his
next step is to get married and have kids. Asked whether he wants to
get married or simply believes that it’s time for him to get married,
he shrugs and says, "I don’t have a girlfriend so I guess it’s that I
think it’s time." He is at an age now when all his friends have begun
to get married and start forming families. He doesn’t find it hard to
meet people and believes that when he’s ready he could meet someone at
any time. "I’ll start [a family] when I find someone special," he
notes. He doesn’t think of the future much more than that. He may
continue in this business for another year, or five, or ten, but for
now he’s living in the moment, with a clear idea of how he wants it
realized: "spending more time with the old man."
9. All about my father
* A diet guru born before his time
by Boghos Kupelian
"Eat everything, but eat in moderation" was one of my father’s most
cherished mantras. It’s what all three of my children abided by when
they were growing up — a fact that might well explain their fit
My father’s dietary maxim was much more than that. It encapsulated
his approach to life itself, a way of seeing things that thrived on
simplicity and self-restraint even while celebrating the fullness of
A confirmation of that approach, only this time based on scientific
research, was witnessed by my daughter recently. Right after hearing a
nutritionist utter my father’s words, almost verbatim, during a show
on a women’s channels on cable television, she called me frantically.
"Dad, you’re not going to believe this," she said excitedly. "I just
heard a diet expert say what you’ve been telling us for years: ‘To
maintain your figure, eat everything, but in small portions!"
Thank God I’m not in the habit of lecturing my children. Still, I
couldn’t resist venting out a bit, a propos of our culture of pundits.
"Sweetheart," I told my daughter in a tone of undisguised
self-satisfaction, "you kids are always skeptical when you get advice
from your supposedly old-fashioned Middle Eastern parents, but you’re
won over as soon as some professor repeats the same thing, as though
announcing a mind-blowing invention."
During this Christmas season, every thoughtful person is obsessed
with the danger of calories and extra pounds waiting to assault them
via the delectable treats heaped on the holiday table, those
malevolent fats that so easily make our figures swell yet require
countless sacrifices to be rid of.
My father was neither a physician nor a nutritionist. He was a
classical musician and one of the first photographers of Turkey.
Thanks to his fluency in some six languages, he acquired up-to-date
knowledge by reading a variety of European publications. He became a
photographer after completing a correspondence course with a school in
Paris. Years later, when we moved to Jerusalem following the Genocide,
he received musical training from a local Jewish maestro.
Throughout his long life, my father never suffered an illness more
serious than a headache or a cold. In "extreme" cases, he would heal
himself by popping an aspirin. He worked seven days a week, practicing
photography during the day and performing as a musician on certain
nights. He never skipped work, not even for a day. Where did his
energies come from? I think it was a combination of being abstemious,
in constant movement, and thoroughly dedicated to his family, friends,
Years ago, when I lived in Africa, I took a vacation in Lebanon,
where the rest of the family had settled. In those days my father was
the artistic director of the Armenian Catholic Brass Band. With
military precision, he walked every night from Eshrefieh to the
Mesrobian School in Burj Hamud, where the rehearsals took place. One
night I decided to join him, as I had missed my friends who played in
the band. As my father, who was 65, and I took the two-mile walk to
Burj Hamud, he left me gasping for air. I couldn’t keep up with him.
"Our stomachs are like balloons," my father used to say. "The more
you eat, the more the monster hidden within you will demand." Apart
from his philosophy of moderation, my father was also punctual to the
extreme when it came to dinnertime. He never sat down to eat a minute
before seven o’clock, even if he were famished. Neither did he deprive
himself of pastries or a glass of arak, though with these, too, he
knew and honored his limits.
My father insisted on being well-dressed for the dinner table, and
we boys had to wear a tie on Sundays. Of course we weren’t allowed to
eat at all if we failed to attend Mass. Following his example, we
filled our plates with only half a normal portion and never touched
the food with our hands. After all, my father had been renowned in his
native Marash, Turkey, as a handsome young man whose table etiquette
extended to using fork and knife even for consuming fish. He took an
exasperatingly long time to chew each morsel. Then, as soon as he had
minimally satisfied his hunger, he reached for the fruit bowl. It was
his conviction that fruits assuaged the entreaties of a half-empty
Movement was my father’s great ally. He hated lazy people and
sedentariness. He walked whenever and wherever possible — a fact that
doubtless contributed not only to his excellent figure and health, but
mental acuity as well.
Fast-forward to our spoiled, excess-driven lifestyles in the West,
and America in particular. Many of us are so enamored of, and so
dependent on, our technological conveniences that we no longer see the
point of exercising our muscles. The automobile, for instance, is such
an ubiquitous presence in our daily reality that we can’t possibly
conceive of getting anywhere without driving. Soon we will drive to
our bathrooms, if only given the chance.
During a recent Armenian cruise, I came out of an event after
midnight and, to my surprise, noticed several white-haired compatriots
waiting in line for dessert. They were hankering for some crepe and
other sweets, instead of, say, taking an invigorating walk up on the
deck. My father, whose steely willpower helped him decline the most
dazzling baklavas, would cringe at such a sight. If asked, he would
probably tell you that human beings can have a perfectly healthy and
productive life with an intake of 2,000 calories a day. He would also
remind you that the Somalis have been managing with a mere 500.
10. Longtime church members honored by Western Diocese
* Archbishop Hovnan Derderian gives out Hye Spirit award
by Tamar Sarkissian
SAN FRANCISCO — The Armenian spirit can be defined in a multitude of
ways. For the Western Diocese of the Armenian Church, it’s defined by
the goodness of people willing to give of themselves without expecting
anything in return. The Western Diocese created the Hye Spirit Award
to honor members who have given to the church through their
At St. John Armenian Church in San Francisco, church leaders said
two longtime members exemplify that spirit of volunteerism. Vicky
Palangian and Sona Thomasian have each dedicated decades to the
church. "Both ladies have never ceased to be active in the giving of
their time, each according to their God-given skills, without thought
of recognition," said St. John Parish Priest, Fr. Sarkis Petoyan.
Fr. Petoyan and the St. John Parish Council unanimously agreed to
petition Archbishop Hovnan Derderian and the Western Diocesan Council
to honor the women with the Hye Spirit Award. Earlier this month,
Archbishop Derderian visited St. John to give the pair their awards.
At a special ceremony in the St. John Church sanctuary, the
Archbishop presented the Hye Spirit Award – a medal – to each woman,
expressing his deep appreciation for their devotion and selflessness.
It was followed by a banquet, where friends and family gathered to
express their appreciation to the two women.
Some stood to speak about Palangian and Thomasian, becoming
emotional. They recounted how they have inspired others, and acted as
role models and true friends.
The women were surprised by the honor, and both said their
dedication to St. John wasn’t for an award. "I feel that I should give
the award to the church for everything it has done for me," said
So who are these women that have gained so much respect from their
fellow church members? Palangian was born and raised in Paris, France.
She moved to Eritrea before settling in San Francisco in 1958. Her
deep connection to the Armenian Church began soon after. A
music-lover, Palangian was immediately drawn to the St. John Choir. In
fact, she even acted as choir director for a period of time. To this
day, she still can be found in the church choir balcony on a weekly
In the 50 years she’s been apart of St. John Church, Palangian has
dedicated her time and energy to help make the church what it is
today. Her peers have entrusted her with positions of leadership,
voting her into executive positions with the St. John Parish Council,
the Ladies Society, and the Mr. and Mrs. Club. She’s represented St.
John at the annual Diocesan Assembly Meeting. She volunteered her time
to work as church secretary, Bingo treasurer, and the editor of the
church newsletter. When not in a meeting room, Palangian still spends
countless hours in the church kitchen, working to make Armenian
delicacies for the annual Food Festival.
"Whenever I have seen the need, I have done it, because I learn at
the end, and look at all the people I have met on the path. Through
the church, I have really made a family within a family. I haven’t
given anything to the church that hasn’t come back to me one hundred
fold," said Palangian.
Thomasian has had deep ties to the Armenian Church since her
childhood. As a teenager, Thomasian began singing in the St. James
Church Choir. It was her first experience serving the Armenian Church,
but certainly not her last. Thomasian moved to San Francisco in 1946,
and quickly immersed herself into the world of St. John Church.
For years, Thomasian continued her childhood passion for singing
with church choirs, adding her voice to the St. John Choir.
Thomasian’s commitments to church and family merged, when she helped
form a parent’s group for St. John’s Sunday School. That was the
beginning of a lifetime of leadership and volunteerism. Since then,
she has held executive positions with the St. John Ladies Society, the
Alter Guild, and the Hall Renovation Committee. Thomasian was honored
to be voted into the position of Vice President of the Ladies Society
Diocesan Meeting. She’s chaired countless banquets, and has lead food
preparations for the Annual Food Festival and for Hokejash luncheons.
For more than a decade, any couple married at St. John has known
Thomasian as the church’s volunteer wedding coordinator. She
tirelessly attends to all the bride’s and groom’s needs at both
rehearsals and weddings.
Thomasian said she was shocked when she learned of the honor. "I was
so mind boggled that it still doesn’t really sink in. I know there are
a lot of people who have helped and done a lot for the church. People
tell me I deserve it, but there are a lot of people that deserve it,"
Longtime friend and Parish Council Chairman Charles Tateosian
explained that both women are worthy recipients of the Hye Spirit
Award, calling them consistent and dedicated workers of the church.
"They have served in a variety of different activities of our church,
both in participating in Sunday church services and in the various
social activities of our church. They have given of themselves
willingly when asked to help," said Tateosian.
Palangian and Tateosian both plan to continue their lifelong
volunteerism to St. John, and they hope others will also gives back to
St. John Church. Palangian explained, "My dream would be that the new
generation that we are giving this church will continue moving the
spirit. The Hye spirit … we all have it. It’s not an award — it’s a
11. Gregory Djanikian disarms with his latest collection
by Armine Iknadossian
GLENDALE, Calif. — On March 10, at 7:00 p.m. Armenian time, which
translates into 7:32 p.m. standard time, the auditorium of the
Glendale Public Library was full of Gregory Djanikian fans awaiting to
hear him read from his latest collection of poems, So I Will Till the
Ground. Leon Mayer, vice-president of community events, started off
the evening with preliminary remarks on behalf of the Friends of the
Glendale Public Library. The organization, which sponsored the
reading, presented the event free of charge. Mayer also announced that
Djanikian had generously agreed to donate a portion of his book sales
to the library and in turn received a certificate of recognition from
the mayor’s office.
Poet Lory Bedikian, who writes the Reporter’s "Poetry Matters"
column, introduced Djanikian with a brief biography. "It’s an honor to
introduce someone who is not only a great Armenian-American poet but
one of the greatest living poets today," Bedikian said. "Just knowing
his work makes me feel proud to be an Armenian, an Armenian-American,
and a poet."
Praise for Djanikian’s new collection includes Peter Balakian’s
comments printed on the back cover of the book. Djanikian’s new poems
"…move from the elegiac to the philosophical and to the heartfelt
comedy of human love," Balakian writes. Stephen Dunn calls Djanikian
"a gardener of the human spirit" and the latest collection "no holds
barred, his most urgent to date." Eleanor Wilner echoes Balakian’s
sentiments, pointing out that Djanikian "does what Joseph Brodsky said
the poet should do: begins in elegy and ends in praise."
Djanikian received his undergraduate degree in English from the
University of Pennsylvania and earned a Master’s from Syracuse
University’s Creative Writing Program. He has taught at public schools
in New York and lectured at both Syracuse University and the
University of Michigan. he currently directs the Creative Writing
Department at the University of Pennsylvania.
Djanikian’s poetry has been featured in several magazines and
journals including The American Scholar, The Nation, Poetry, Georgia
Review, Poetry Northwest, Shenandoah, Three Rivers Poetry Journal, as
well as the Anthology of Magazine Verse. His four other books of
poetry, all published by Carnegie Mellon University Press, include The
Man in the Middle, Falling Deeply into America, About Distance, and
Years Later. So I Will Till the Ground, the author’s fifth collection
of poems, also published by Carnegie Mellon, portrays the horrors of
the Genocide of 1915, the ensuing Diaspora, and the emigration of the
author and his family from his native Alexandria, Egypt, to the United
Djanikian’s family moved to Williamsport, Pennsylvania, when he was
six years old. Being the only Armenian family in the city impressed
upon Djanikian the fragility of his culture. His latest collection of
poems focuses on his cultural blueprint, examining the feelings of
loss due to the Genocide and celebrating the rich culture and family
life so many Armenian-Americans sustain despite the tragedies of our
After taking the stage, Djanikian first described the tripartite
structure of So I Will Till the Ground. The poems begin with graphic
narratives of the Armenian Genocide, then move on to the sensual world
of Alexandria, and end with life in the United States under the shadow
of the Genocide. Djanikian confessed, "These poems were hard to write,
but I had to find a way to pull the reader into the poems, to not have
them resist. It was a balancing act."
While Djanikian read from the first, chilling, section of the book,
which illustrates the horrors of the Genocide in graphic detail, the
audience listened in complete silence. These poems demonstrated
Djanikian’s gift for descriptive detail, as they portrayed the
atrocities committed by the Turks against innocent Armenian citizens.
The poems’ impact was also due to Djanikian’s utilization of anaphora,
a literary device whereby repetitive phrases throughout the poems
magnify the sense of losing one’s mind in the presence of such
inexplicable crimes against humanity. The discomfort in the room was
palpable — an acceptable, even expected, reaction, and one that
Djanikian was intentionally shooting for, it seems. After all, the
first poem, The Aestheticians of Genocide, analyzes this exact
situation, offering advice with a hint of sarcasm: "The trick is to
avoid excesses/of horror so as not to scorch the mind/and strike it
dumb, though grief may yowl/in the dirt and the villages burn."
Afterwards one listener admitted he felt quite disturbed by the
massacre scenes depicted by the first few poems and was barely able to
stay in his seat. He was relieved when the tone started to shift, and
this is where Djanikian’s skill, his ability to capture his audience,
was most evident. A good writer knows balance, and the second section
of the book reinforced everyone’s faith in Djanikian — that there was
much more to his collection than demonizing the perpetrators of the
Genocide and reminding us of the nightmares we all have to live with
as children and grandchildren of survivors.
Poems like In the City of Languages, When I Saw My Grandfather
Taking a Bath, The Elecrolux Salesman Visits Our Apartment, and My
Name Brings Me to a Notion of Splendor garnered laughter and applause
from the audience, lightening the mood and infusing the room with a
shared sense of what is familiar, and in turn, more comfortable.
Exclamations of "Yes!" and "That’s right!" were common throughout
the rest of the reading. The outbursts of laughter continued into the
third part of the reading, with light-hearted pieces that focused on
the everyday idiosyncrasies of being Armenian and our unique brand of
neurosis, which can be at once charming and disarming. There were
explosions of laughter when Djanikian read A Brief History of Border
Crossings and the widely-anthologized Immigrant Picnic, followed by a
more sobering analysis of the Armenian psyche in Buying a Rug.
Djanikian ended the reading with the bittersweet title poem, leaving
his listeners with lines that empower without ignoring past
injustices: "So I will dig, perforate, hoe, scarify,/that out of these
wounds/there might come flower and fruit/to carry forth, to
Later, one audience member, with several copies of the book in hand,
surprised herself when she confessed, "I don’t even like poetry!"
12. Karo Ovasapyan: the Armenian Crocodile Dundee
by Vartan Dudukjian
Thanks to the endurance and courage of Karo Ovasapyan of Burbank,
California, the Armenian tricolor may be the only flag to have been to
the Seven Summits of the world, as well as the North and South Poles.
Karo has conquered the highest peaks of all seven continents, skied
the North and South Poles, and wrestled with alligators in the swamps
of Louisiana. This 48-year-old Armenian-American mountaineer is
Armenia’s very own Crocodile Dundee.
The home of this surprisingly humble man is adorned with souvenirs
from his many journeys. Karo is one of only ten people, and the only
Armenian, to have climbed the Seven Summits and trekked the both
geographic poles. He has just returned from a month long excursion
through the tropical jungles of Indonesia where he and his team
climbed the Carstensz Pyramid, a limestone mountain that soars 16,076
feet above sea level.
"This is truly one of the most interesting climbs I have ever
undertaken," he said. "It was supposed to be a quick climb but we
ended up having to go through Papua’s tropical jungles in order to get
to the mountain and we had not planned for this at all."
What was initially supposed to be a four-hour drive through an
American gold mine to the foot of the Carstensz Pyramid (where Karo
and his team would embark on the two-day climb) ended up becoming a
28-day mission of survival through the tropical jungles of Indonesia’s
"Although it was long and difficult, the journey was extremely
fascinating," Karo explained. "Interacting with the natives who lived
in the jungle was an enlightening experience. It’s a completely
different world out there. You are pitted against yourself and
stretched to the very limit as you struggle against nature for your
Every climb has its own special character, according to Karo, who
believes that each climb triggers a unique emotional response.
* Call of the wild
Karo was born in Tehran, Iran, in 1959, to a family that instilled in
him a great love for the natural world. At the age of ten he moved
with his family to Charentsavan, Armenia. A small industrial town
located west of Lake Sevan in Armenia’s Kotayk region, Charentsavan
was surrounded by many mountains to which Karo and his family would
often take weekend camping trips.
"I spent my entire childhood in those mountains," he explained. "I
was always very active in sports as a kid."
Growing up, Karo felt a special connection to the outdoors, spending
his winter nights sleeping on his balcony. He immersed himself in
books about it, reading stories about famous arctic explorers and
mountain climbers. One of his inspirations, he recalled, was Captain
Robert Falcon Scott, the first person to explore Antarctica
"But everything I have ever achieved in my life I attribute to Che
Guevara," Karo noted. "His ideology and the sheer power of his will
have served as an example for me, guiding me throughout my life. He
taught me to be strong, to never give up, and never get disheartened.
This is the philosophy by which I live my life."
At the age of 18, Karo was conscripted into the Red Army and was
sent to Siberia for a two-year tour of duty. Unlike most people sent
to the icy steppes of Siberia, Karo felt at home in Russia’s frozen
"You didn’t really have a choice; the Soviets didn’t ask you whether
or not you wanted to serve in Siberia," he said as he laughed. "I was
actually happy to go. I knew a lot about it and I loved the cold
After Siberia, Karo moved to the Russian coastal city of Sochi on
the Black Sea, where he lived until moving to Glendale, California, in
1989. With his two brothers he started a cabinet-making business and
began climbing mountains as a hobby.
* Top of the world
Karo embarked on his quest to climb the world’s Seven Summits in 2002.
He trained by climbing mountains throughout the United States,
including the 14,494-foot-tall Mount Whitney, which is the highest
mountain in the continental United States. When he wasn’t climbing he
was training, pulling heavy tires attached with ropes to his belt.
Everest is usually the last of the Seven Summits to be climbed, but
Karo didn’t want to take any chances by leaving it to be the last. It
was his life-long dream, he said, and couldn’t let anything jeopardize
his reaching the highest peak on the planet. Before embarking on the
ultimate climb, Karo scaled Mount Aconcagua in the South American
Andes, Mount McKinley in Alaska, and Mount Elbrus in the Caucasus,
which is Europe’s tallest peak and the European summit of the Seven
"You are struggling against some of nature’s most powerful forces.
You never know what can happen," he said as he described the perils of
his hobby. "I am only mortal and anything can happen from one climb to
With an altitude of 29,028 feet above sea level, Mount Everest is
part of the Himalaya mountain range, bordering Tibet and Nepal. Over
200 people have died trying to conquer this colossal pyramid, where
oxygen is thin, and the weather brutal.
For almost his entire life, Karo dreamed about conquering Everest.
On May 30, 2005, he became the first Armenian to gaze down upon the
world from its tallest peak.
"Time freezes when you get to the top," he said. "It’s when you are
at the top of the world that you realize how beautiful life really
"It was extremely difficult, but I was never alone on my journey,"
he continued. "The mountains are my friends; they are always with me,
making certain that I am never distracted."
Karo was the first in his team to reach the peak of Everest, just
two months after he began his ascent up the north ridge. There he
planted the Armenian and American flags, in honor of his native and
"I carry these flags with me on all my climbs," he said. "My
Armenian flag is the only national flag to have been to the top of all
seven summits and the North and South Poles."
Six months after Everest, Karo scaled Africa’s Mount Kilimanjaro. On
December 18, 2005, he reached the top of Antarctica’s Mount Vinson.
Karo completed his mission to climb the Seven Summits on February 2,
2006, when he climbed Mount Kosciuszko, Australia’s highest peak.
* Scaling Ararat
On September 6, 2006, Karo stood atop the highest peak in Anatolia,
Mount Ararat. Almost 17,000 feet above sea level, Ararat is the Holy
Grail for Armenian mountaineers. None of the other climbs compared to
Ararat, Karo said, as he described his pilgrimage up the sacred
mountain, where, according to the Bible, Noah’s Ark landed.
Although it took Karo only two days to reach the top, the climb was
an emotional gauntlet.
"Climbing Ararat isn’t as much of a physical challenge as it is a
mental and emotional one," he explained. "You feel great happiness as
you climb up, but you are also afflicted with a deep sorrow because
you know that they stole this awesome mountain from you."
"Ararat is holy," Karo continued. "It’s my dream that one day we
will all be able to climb up Ararat in peace, and as we wish."
The Armenian Dundee now has his sights set on making a 285-mile
cross-country skiing trek across Greenland, the world’s biggest
He plans to one day donate his Armenian flag to the National Museum
13. Exploring the furthest reaches of the diaspora
* The extraordinary life of broadcaster Leo Sarkisian, Part II
* Armenians in Africa
Leo Sarkisian is probably among the minority of Armenians who spend a
majority of their lives studying African music. In fact, Armenians
have had an influence on African music for decades. Their connection
to Africa is perhaps one of the great, unwritten chapters of Armenian
During the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s, Sarkisian visited
Ethiopia a number of times as a USIA foreign service officer. There,
he was introduced to a large Armenian community — one that, Sarkisian
would come to find out, had a long and important history in Ethiopia.
During his first visit to Addis Ababa, Sarkisian had the opportunity
to meet Maestro Nerses Nalbandian, a man who, according to Sarkisian,
"made a strong and lasting contribution to the development of modern
Ethiopian music." During the course of interviews and conversations
with Nalbandian, an amazing story unfolded before Sarkisian’s eyes,
regarding the history of 20th-century Ethiopian music.
Regent Tafari Makonnen (known as Ras Tafari), who would go on to
ascend the throne of Ethiopia in 1930 as Emperor Haile Selassie I, saw
the origination and development of "modern" Ethiopian music during the
early years of his reign. In 1924, Ras Tafari traveled to Jerusalem
and was welcomed upon arrival by a brass band, which he promptly
hired. "The band," Sarkisian said, "which was under the guardianship
of Jerusalem’s Armenian archbishop, and entirely composed of young
Armenian orphans, accompanied the Ethiopian delegation back to Addis
Shortly thereafter, Ras Tafari appointed Kevork Nalbandian as the
band’s music director. "At the regent’s [Ras Tafari’s] request,
Nalbandian composed the Ethiopian national anthem, which would remain
until Emperor Selassie’s death in 1974," Sarkisian said. Nalbandian
also became one of Ethiopia’s earliest playwrights and trained many of
Ethiopia’s musical performers. "Another Armenian, Garabed Hakalmazian,
became the director of Addis Ababa’s municipal brass band," Sarkisian
Ethiopia was invaded by Italy in 1935 and remained under fascist
rule until 1941, when it was liberated and Emperor Selassie was
restored to the throne. Nalbandian returned to Ethiopia to head the
Imperial Body Guard and Police bands and was later appointed head of
music and theater for the Addis Ababa municipality. Although he
retired in 1949, Nalbandian had brought many members of his family to
Ethiopia. His nephew, Maestro Nerses Nalbandian, whom Sarkisian met
and interviewed, was the one to make the strongest contribution to the
development of modern Ethiopian music, right up until his death in
1977. "With the Nalbandians, Garabed Hakalmazian, Hagop Manoukian,
Mrs. Soucasian, and Azad Topalian, the Armenians were a very strong
and potent catalyst for change in Ethiopia," Sarkisian said.
* Global Armenians
"What has been most exciting for me worldwide are all the interesting
Armenians I have met and heard about," Sarkisian said. For example, on
New Year’s Day in 1955, as he landed at the Dacca airport in
Bangladesh, he was met by a small delegation of Armenians. "The
community invited me that same evening to celebrate with them in the
local Armenian church," which was built in the 14th century, Sarkisian
recalled. The church was located in a Dacca neighborhood called
Mahalarmantullah (which means Armenian Quarters), on a street called
Armenian Street. Sarkisian said: "The graveyard right behind the
church had gravestones, with inscriptions written in Armenian, with
dates as early as 1480," indicating a long history of Armenian
presence in the area.
In the 1800s, the governor of Afghanistan’s northern region was an
Armenian man. Also, Sarkisian said, "the accountant of the American
Embassy in Kabul [at the time of our stay there] was a local Armenian,
born there, and apparently the last of a fairly large Armenian
community that had been there for several centuries."
In the 12th and 13th centuries, as Armenia was devastated by waves
of Seljuk and Mongol invasions, masses of Armenian refugees migrated
east. They traveled through Central Asia and passed through northern
Afghanistan, forming small communities along the way. "But the
movement kept going on," Sarkisian said, through India — where they
built the old Armenian cathedral, in Madras — and on to Indonesia,
where they built another cathedral, in Jakarta.
"When I arrived in Ghana in 1959, again I found Armenians throughout
the entire country," Sarkisian said. "At that time, many of the
bridges, roads, and many of the buildings as well, were built by
them." In Abidjan, Ivory Coast, Sarkisian discovered that the local
representatives of many large French corporations were Armenians.
Sarkisian recounted: "I found Armenians throughout West Africa,
Senegal, Mali, Niger, Chad, the Congo, a huge community in Ethiopia,
in South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland, the large and very influential
community in Khartoum, Sudan, in Nairobi, and I even found Armenians
in Madagascar when I visited there. Oh, and a couple on the island of
Mauritius!" Sarkisian also spoke of a significant community of
Armenians in Nigeria, with a large number of successful entrepreneurs
and their families living in Lagos and Ibadan.
"All I’m saying," Sarkisian concluded, "is how true Saroyan’s words
are: ‘… Destroy Armenia, see if you can do it… For when two Armenians
meet anywhere in the world, see if they will not create a new
Armenia.’ Well, this is what I’ve experienced during the last 50 years
of traveling around the world. I look for Armenians wherever I go… and
we embrace and hug each other." f
***************** ************************************************** *******
14. School Beat: How much homework is too much homework?
* Are kids overburdened with schoolwork?
* Parents and teachers weigh in
by Hripsime Moskovian
In a world where gas prices have reached record highs and a good job
is becoming increasingly hard to find, how can the next generation of
workers not feel the pressure to succeed in the ever-competitive world
of the job market?
Now, more than ever, there is tremendous pressure reminding
children, students, and young adults that without hard work, one
cannot succeed. But where is the pressure coming from? In an attempt
to prepare students for the hard work they will no doubt face in the
future, teachers in various schools are assigning hours of homework
every day. But is it all necessary?
Students, along with their parents and teachers, have mixed thoughts
and emotions regarding the piles of homework. Is it an attempt by
their teachers to prepare students for that paramount climb towards
success they will be embarking on throughout their lives? But how much
is too much, and why is it necessary for students to spend an ample
amount of time per night on homework? And are parents complaining that
their children have too much homework? What type of student is their
Most teachers and parents are eager to sit and discuss the issue,
as there is indeed much that can be said about it. Oddly enough,
parents with children in both elementary and junior or high school are
more than happy to accommodate a teacher who wants to assign homework
every night, including some weekends.
Anna Markarian, a parent who has children in both elementary and
high school, explained that "Homework should be given to children
every night as a review and reinforcement of the topics that were
presented during the day. Reinforcement of the school topics covered
on a daily basis is the reason my third-grader is doing so well in
school." When asked about her ninth-grader, Markarian commented that,
"From time to time, there are projects assigned that do require many
hours to complete, but this should not be substituted for homework. I
have found with my ninth-grader that there is a lot of stress before
an exam, which I believe is a direct result of not receiving
homework." In Markarian’s view, homework is beneficial in the long
term because it prevents late-night cramming and unnecessary stress.
"Homework allows teachers to determine whether their students are
comprehending the subjects being taught and to adjust either method of
teaching or material. The long-term benefit is priceless."
Other parents, whose children are having more difficulty balancing
the work load, feel that at times the amount of homework can be
overwhelming. "Sometimes there are just too many assignments, and not
all from one teacher," said Iskui Chiroghlyan, the parent of a
fourth-grade boy. "I understand that education is important but having
life outside of the four walls of school is also important.
Experiences with the outside world (outside of school specifically)
can shape the thoughts and behavior of a child more than anything
else. In other words, having too much homework is not going to teach a
Most teachers of elementary and junior high schools seem to feel
that homework is necessary — not only for educational purposes, but
as a tool that will prepare students to be hard-working and motivated
well into adulthood. "It reinforces what they have learned in school,"
said Marjorie Beatty, a junior high teacher at Mekhitarist Fathers’
Armenian School. "It is the only way we know as teachers whether or
not they grasp the concepts; that is where they have the opportunity
to make mistakes and to learn from them." It goes without saying that
each subject deserves a considerable amount of time in study and
review. Inez Grigorian, another junior high teacher, whose specialty
is science, feels the same way. "When [students] don’t spend enough
time on each assignment, you can tell that the quality of their work
has been compromised," she said. "The handwriting is poor, work is
missing details, and it is clear that the student has not gone through
the reading material. If your time is utilized properly, the homework
can be done in good quality."
Teachers of upper grades feel that, on average, students are
expected to spend at least two to three hours a night on homework
alone, in addition to time spent on extracurricular activities outside
of school. "Committing two to three hours from their daily routine
will keep the discipline going rather then giving them time to play,"
"You can see the difference in a student who does their own homework
because they are willing to take the chance to try, though they make
mistakes," said Beatty, who often gets complaints from parents that
their children are staying up until the late hours of the evening in
order to complete assignments. This touches on the ever-growing
concern most teachers have with parents. "Parents complain there is
too much homework because they’re the ones doing it," Beatty
continued. "A child’s work is to learn. We make it a growing
experience now so that when they are adults, they are successful. It
is important for the parents to stay out of it and not do the homework
for your kid. Let them make mistakes. Check it for them, but do not
correct it for them or they will come to depend on others all their
lives to do everything for them. We rescue them too soon."
Another factor contributing to parent frustration is the flurry of
extracurricular activities students partake in on a weekly basis. From
music lessons to sporting practice, games, and tournaments, it’s no
wonder a student may feel overwhelmed and exhausted — often too
exhausted to open a book. "Pick one activity or even two. There are
too many distractions and [students] are not focused," Beatty noted.
"If you wait until 7 o’clock to begin homework, it will take you until
11 or 12 to finish because you are too tired and not fresh." She added
that parents must discipline their children to begin homework early in
the day. "When they are young, they develop habits," she said. "Teach
them the habit of starting homework when they come home. If you
postpone the fun things (television, video games, friends, etc.) until
after homework is done, then students will do the homework more
What seems necessary is a balance between school, homework,
extracurricular activities, and a healthy social life. If a balance is
achieved, then students are ready for the challenges facing them once
they reach college and beyond. Balancing activities and other
responsibilities with homework will equip students with the necessary
skills to act as diligent adults. "Get the firm foundation now so it’s
a piece of cake later," Beatty said, addressing any parent who wishes
to be helpful. "Teach them to be responsible and successful. Learning
can be fun, but no one said it would be easy."
* * *
Hripsime Moskovian graduated from UCLA in 2006 with a degree in
English literature. She is currently an English teacher for grades 2,
3, and 4 at Mekhitarist Fathers’ Armenian School in Tujunga,
15 . Kitchen-table wisdom
* A book co-authored by Jackie Speier provides practical life advice
by Atina Hartunian and Ishkhan Jinbashian
In a time of great social and political uncertainty, when strength of
character and genuine leadership are the indisputable requisites for a
candidate running for national office, Jackie Speier makes the grade
through both personal and public-service example. Seeking to fill the
seat left empty by the recent passing of U.S. Representative Tom
Lantos, Speier is gearing up for a special congressional election on
Speier’s almost three decades of public service — as San Mateo
County supervisor, California State Assembly member, and California
State Senate member — have been marked by a string of achievements in
progressive legislation. What is even more remarkable is that they
have been realized against a backdrop of extreme personal hardship and
tribulation. Speier has survived it all to tell a story of not only
resilience and spiritual growth, but an unbroken penchant to find
meaning in helping others.
Such is the context of a 2007 book Speier co-authored with Deborah
Collins Stephens, Michealene Cristini Risley, and Jan Yanehiro. A
sense of solidarity and hope is already tapped into the moment one
considers the book’s title: This Is Not the Life I Ordered: 50 Ways to
Keep Your Head Above Water When Life Keeps Dragging You Down.
* Between friends
This Is Not the Life I Ordered is an achingly honest, unpretentious
collection of life stories experienced by four friends, who would get
together every month for "kitchen-table coaching sessions." Over the
years, the four women supported and saw one other through some trying
times: from marital problems and career bumps to financial ruin. Each
of these personal odysseys ceded fresh insights and lessons, valuable
wisdom that has been woven into the book.
In nine accessible chapters, the work covers the titular "50 ways to
keep your head above water when life keeps dragging you down." Each
chapter is filled with practical, down-to-earth advice that can help
readers navigate through a smorgasbord of everyday pitfalls. The
chapters are divided into sections that provide various perspectives
and solutions to specific issues. Beside personal narratives by one or
all of the co-authors, each section includes stories about other
successful women who have conquered mountains to get to where they are
today while blazing the trail for other women.
Also found in each chapter are clever cartoons as well as
inspirational quotes from such women as Amelia Earhart, Maya Angelou,
and Cher, making for an even richer reading experience. The chapters
are concluded with suggested discussion topics which readers can take
up for their own "kitchen conversations" with their friends. The
topics, or exercises, are no quick-fix solutions. They require honest
answers and a commitment to follow through.
The idea behind the "kitchen conversations" is that though you may
stray off your own course every now and then, the circle of friends
you surround yourself with and talk to will not let you forget your
goals. The co-authors stress that it is vital to have friends around
you when struggling to overcome adversity. In fact, the very first
exercise is about creating a support group consisting of close friends
if there isn’t one already in place.
This Is Not the Life I Ordered also emphasizes that life is
essentially in your hands. Even if you feel as though you are trapped
in a spiral of despair and have run out of options, there is always a
way, the book maintains. Our dark days and crises are temporary. Keep
on thinking positively, and, above all, show courage in the face of
challenges. Courage is a muscle. It needs to be flexed; and exercise
will only make it better.
This Is Not the Life I Ordered: 50 Ways to Keep Your Head Above
Water When Life Keeps Dragging You Down
by Deborah Collins Stephens, Michealene Cristini Risley, Jackie
Speier, and Jan Yanehiro
Published by Conari Press
ISBN: 13: 9781573243056
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