A History 85 Years in the Making

111
0

By Edmond Y. Azadian

Armenians have a famous medieval fable writer called Vartan Aykeghtzi, one of whose fables has not lost its relevance today and may characterize Armenian life, or in this case, the mission of the Armenian Mirror-Spectator.

It is the story of an able-bodied soldier scoffing at a handicapped one: “How are you going to run away when the enemy shows up? The other soldier responds: “I am not joining the army to run away. I am going to the front to stand up against the enemy, fight and win.”

The founders of this paper were handicapped in many ways but desertion was not one of their options.

By the 1930s, the early wave of immigrants was coming of age and the next generation was forcing its way into the leadership ranks of the Armenian community life.

The founders of the Mirror-Spectator had a moment of soul searching: the community was getting organized and the youth were gradually taking over the leadership roles, while the Armenian language was lagging behind and hampering communication between the two generations. They were all proficient in the mother tongue and wondered for an instant whether they were betraying their heritage if they bypassed the language. But finally, the founders decided that language was only the means — the messenger —and that the message of history had somehow to be conveyed to the younger generation, even if it meant using English. They did not hesitate too long, especially in view that the sister publication, Baikar daily, published in Armenian, was still thriving.

Get the Mirror in your inbox:

Therefore, the Mirror-Spectator came to life in 1932 as the first Armenian weekly in the English language, and as they say, the rest is history.

My journey with the Mirror began exactly 50 years ago, when all the founders were still alive and active in the community. When making the acquaintance of the founders, I did not realize I was touching history at the time. In retrospect, I feel that I have to treasure those memories for posterity.

Of the founders, I was closest to Prof. Elisha Chrakian, a man who had all the physical traits of the philosophy professor he was: the beard, the pipe and the antique tie and vest. He spoke deliberately in a meticulous way, finding the most correct words for every situation. Most of the time, however, the last words of his sentences were lost in the smoke of his pipe. Every time I remember Professor Chrakian my nostrils tingle with the aroma of his pipe tobacco.

He was a classic intellectual. He used to teach philosophy at Northeastern University, where he also ushered my first steps into the broader world of literature, by urging me to enroll in English and American literature courses. I am indebted to him forever for this encouragement and guidance.

Professor Chrakian visited the Mirror-Spectator offices frequently to make sure that the baby he had helped bring into the world was still alive and kicking. His advice, doled out politely to the editorial staff, was always accepted respectfully and gratefully.

Bedros Norehad was settled in New York and was in charge of the English version of the AGBU Magazine. He was always proud to see that the publication was serving its mission.

MORE FROM Editorial

Bob Vahan did not serve long as editor. As a member of the younger generation, he was coming up with fresh ideas but was frustrated that he could not implement them. The older guard in charge did not like change and therefore he quit.

Varoujan Samuelian was quite a character; he was hired and fired as editor several times. His world view was limited to Watertown. He never drove a car so that he could not wander too far from the city limits. He was forced to leave town only once, when he was drafted into the army. As he walked in the streets of Watertown, everybody knew him and he knew everybody. His inside jokes with a grocery store manager one week would feature in the editorial column the following week, although readers in New York or Philadelphia were probably baffled and left out of the joke. He was known for his column, “Juicy Tidbits,” and the moniker stuck. He was liked by all, and his friends and acquaintances all would call him “Juicy.”

Jack Antreassian was a human dynamo in his person and style. He served as editor twice and he rotated between the AGBU New York office, the Diocese and the Mirror-Spectator. He was a one-man committee, immensely creative and resourceful. He was a mover and a shaker. Most of the innovations in the format and content of the paper were achieved during his tenure as editor.

Helene Pilibosian Sarkissian served both as an editorial assistant and later editor. She grew up in a household of dedicated Armenians and she had acquired her heritage though osmosis. She was a poet par excellence, creating works with unique imagery. She and her husband, Hagop Sarkissian, were very dedicated to the Armenian Democratic Liberal principles and values, which she made sure to reflect in the paper.

Barbara Merguerian was and is a powerhouse of knowledge. Her educational background and her community experience and connections were tremendous assets to the paper. She had strong views on women’s issues and she certainly shaped many of the ideas of the readers regarding those. She was particularly interested in changing the male domination of the Armenian Church and cherished the day she could see Armenian women on the altar. Now, 85 years into the history of the paper, women still are not permitted to serve as priests. Perhaps, the paper’s centennial will see that happen.

Ara Kalayjian was a monastic scholar. He was born and brought up within the walls of Jerusalem monastery, where he delved into serious scholarly research and publication. He was fluent in English and Armenian and his transition from a scholar to editor was beyond belief. He produced meaningful editorials quickly. He had an encyclopedic mind and was Google before there was Google. It took only a few minutes to recover any fact, name or date in Armenian history and literature. He maintained his monastic solitude to the end and I was always happy to connect him to the administration and to the readership. His phenomenal memory abandoned him at a relatively early age.

His illness and untimely death were indeed tragic.

During my six-year tenure as the executive director of Baikar Association, we had a high turnover of editors and the administration members, though we always assumed that somebody would step in and meet the deadlines. That is how I got my feet wet.

Arminé Dikijian never served as editor, but she was the heart and soul of the Mirror-Spectator, especially for New York readers. Her weekly column ran for almost 50 years She was all over the New York Armenian life, covering Diocesan Assemblies, lectures, art exhibits, banquets and concerts. She was a music connoisseur and critic and never pulled any punches when she came across a mediocre performance. She also covered the lighter aspects of the commuinty. That is why half the paper’s subscription base was in the New York/New Jersey area. When society ladies wore a designer dress, they made sure to be seen by Arminé at a function so as to have a description of “the bodice of the dress” or “the cascading chiffon” featured in the following week’s column.

The paper entered its most stable period 20 years ago when Alin K. Gregorian joined the staff, first as assistant editor and later as editor. By incremental degrees, progress was achieved thanks to that stability. Alin proved to be the consummate professional, deeply rooted in her Armenian background but ever watchful to keep the paper’s proper position along ethnic fault lines, not compromising in its professional standards and mission. That is why the Mirror anchored on its ethnic base, has always entertained a global prospective. Global developments and social upheavals do not recognize ethnic boundaries and they affect and shape the lives and destinies of ethnic groups as well as nations.

The 85th anniversary is not the moment to sit on one’s laurels as the news industry is revolutionized practically every day. New technology takes over the old ways of doing business and presents us with new challenges.

With Aram Arkun joining the editorial staff, the Mirror-Spectator has weathered the technological waves comfortably and the paper is transitioning into the cyber era confidently. Aram is an erudite scholar and with his journalist skills at his fingertips has introduced a new dimension to the paper, taming the cyber world.

This is the time to remember and to give credit to all the pioneers who founded the Armenian Mirror-Spectator 85 years ago and guided it through the decades.

As we face future challenges, trials and tribulations, we still have the indomitable spirit of Aykeghtzi.

So much love, tears and dedication went into building this 85-year history.

While I remember the founders, I still smell the aroma of Professor Chrakian’s pipe.