Proverbs and Expressions by Susan Kadian Gopigian Captures Diasporan Experience


By Mitch Kehetian

DETROIT — Susan Kadian Gopigian was born and raised in Delray, a sprawling “neighborhood” of European immigrants with a large Armenian community. It was the new home for Armenians who survived the Armenian Genocide and the forced marches through Der Zor.

When asked what motivated her to dedicating a lifetime at writing and collecting an image of Armenian folklore and culture published this year in a 207-page hardcover masterpiece accurately titled Armenian Proverbs and Expressions smiled “my love for being an Armenian.”

And encouraged with the love of her late husband, Archie Gopigian, who supported her lifetime at fulfilling a project that came to life in Delray.

Kadi Kadian Gopigian an spent the 60 years collecting the Armenian proverbs starting in her early childhood and continued as a student at the University of Michigan and Wayne State University. Many of the proverbs heard on the porches of Cottrell, Harrington, Gould and Solvay streets. It was no easy project, but expressed the folklore history of Armenia and it was a child’s wish.

Why would an academically-talented Detroit public school teacher dedicate nearly a lifetime to a project that grew from its roots in Delray?

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Kadian Gopigian’s answer needs to be shared with every Armenian from Delray to early Armenian neighborhoods in Fresno, Boston, Chicago, Racine, Granite City, Cleveland, Worcester, Watertown and New York. What unfolded in Delray, Kadian Gopigian etched into her gift to future generations in tracing their family history from the ancestral homeland to the New World.

In words which cloak every living Armenian across North America, a teary-eyed Kadian Gopigian said “I’m haunted by the experiences of my family members who lived through this and those who perished as victims of the 1915 genocide. We the children and grandchildren are their voices that though buried in the desert sand of Der Zor Desert. . . It’s as if their soundless voices rise up and remind me never to forget.”

Kadian Gopigian warmly said that “my love for Armenian folklore stems from my exposure to those immigrants.”

She also describes how West Jefferson was the hub of Delray — like Main Street USA. And Armenians toiled at Ford’s Rouge Plant, GM’s Ternstedt-Fleetwood plants, and Solvay Process and Zug Island in raising their families. In her opening prologue on the Delray community, she informs readers that the old Village of Delray was annexed to Detroit in 1905 after being named Delray. In 1930 the southwest section of Detroit boasted a population of 23,000 residents according to the federal census. In 2016 it was down to 2,763.

In addition to the hundreds of Armenian proverbs and expressions, Kadian Gopigian seeped into her masterpiece some folklore and oral Armenian history. It has been said proverbs are part of a people’s social glue.

The top quality book also features pictorial scenes of Delray landmarks from the Armenian Zavarian Hall, Delray Community Center to McMillan and Cary schools and a host of other scenes including Southwestern High School.

As you walk into Kadian Gopigian’s lifetime you are also taken back to the days Delray was also home for newcomers from Poland, Hungary, Slovenia and Germany. She opens the Armenian Community Prologue with an inspiring Armenian proverb: “A tree stands taller when it knows its roots.” And followed by hundreds of Proverbs from genocide survivors from Sepasta, Keghi, Erzeroom, Mush, Van, Bitlis, Kharpet, Malatya and Cilicia.

But Detroiters called the southwest portion “Delray Armenia . . . Like so many other ethnic conclaves.

Delray has become forgotten. In a few years, Delray will get a new chapter in history — the new Gordy Howe Detroit -Windsor International Bridge.

Hopefully a bronze marker will be attached  to advise that its American side is anchored in old Delray — or as Susan Kadian Gopigian says her Armenian Delray.

(Mitch Kehetian is a retired editor of The Macomb Daily and former board trustee at Central Michigan University. The book is being distributed by Michigan State University Press with a Special Offer if ordered by December 31.)

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