Hagop Alexanian, Harry Kezelian, and Diana Alexanian facing off against first timers in Tavloo

Detroit Tekeyan Chapter Reaches Out to Local Youth

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SOUTHFIELD, Mich. — On Thursday, March 2, the leaders of Detroit’s Tekeyan Cultural Association (TCA) chapter, Mr. and Mrs. Hagop and Diana Alexanian, were invited by a group of local Armenian young adults as special guests at their monthly social gathering.

The young adult initiative, loosely affiliated with St. John’s Armenian Church in Southfield, was organized by local Armenians in their late 20s and 30s, who saw the need for a forum in which to socialize and have fellowship with Armenians their own age in a relaxed and welcoming environment. Upon the invitation of assistant pastor Fr. Armash Baghdasarian, St. John’s agreed to take the group under its wing, while allowing the group members to set the entire agenda for their activities. Using the theme of Baghdasarian’s exhortation that “the Church is your home,” the group decided to organize a monthly casual gathering which was named “Hye Doon” (Armenian Home).

Abby Panabaker, AGBU Manoogian School English teacher, recites “You Boys and Girls” by Vahan Tekeyan

Hye Doon can loosely be described as an updated version of the agoumps (clubs) of old, initiated by young American-born Armenians, as well as newly arrived immigrants from the Middle East, Cyprus, and Armenia, who saw that there was a lack of social opportunities for Armenians in their 30s. Most community youth groups, such as the Armenian Church Youth Organization of America (ACYOA), the Armenian Youth Foundation (AYF), and others, cater to a 18-30 age range. There is an active AGBU Young Professionals chapter in Detroit, which is also currently growing, but as its activities are more formal and focused on professional networking, the need was also felt for a more relaxed and casual gathering place for the same demographic, on a regular basis. Therefore, it was no coincidence that one of the first special guests was a veteran of the ADL agoumps of Lebanon, Hagop Alexanian and his wife, Diana Alexanian, chairwoman of the local Tekeyan Chapter.

At Thursday’s event, which was the 4th monthly Hye Doon gathering, the Alexanians introduced and spoke about the activities of Tekeyan on a global and local level to the young people with the hope that some of them would be interested in joining the TCA and helping in the goal of perpetuating Armenian culture. Several people expressed interest in different TCA initiatives as well as for Tekeyan to be a medium for them to realize their own vision and ideas for Armenian cultural activities.

The Alexanians also gifted to the group a copy of the recent translation of Vahan Tekeyan’s poetry (translated by Gerald Papasian and John Papasian, and edited by Mirror-Spectator senior editorial columnist Edmond Azadian and Gerald Papasian), and asked for a volunteer to recite one of the poems. Abby Panabaker, who is an English teacher at the AGBU Alex and Marie Manoogian School, volunteered and beautifully recited “You Boys and Girls” by Vahan Tekeyan, in English translation. The poem, which has Tekeyan gently exhorting the orphans of the Genocide not to forget each other or where they came from, was moving and appropriate to the occasion. Ms. Panabaker received the copy of the book as a gift.

Hye Doon co-chairs Christine Santourian and Harry Kezelian

After a traditional Armenian lenten dinner was served courtesy of Basmajian Bakery, Hye Doon co-chairs Christine Santourian and Harry Kezelian (of the Mirror-Spectator) offered a brief thank you to the Alexanians and announcements of the upcoming Tekeyan-sponsored VEM Ensemble Concert and lecture by Prof. Melissa Bilal of UCLA on the legacy of musicologist and Gomidas disciple Mihran Toumajan, which are being held in honor of the late Armenian teacher at AGBU Manoogian, “Baron” Dickran Toumajan (who was the nephew of the famous musician). They also announced other upcoming local events, such as the Naghash Ensemble’s March 9-10 concerts at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor and at St. John’s in Southfield, after which Fr. Aren Jebejian, pastor of St. John’s, stopped by to briefly welcome the attendees and thank them for their efforts in keeping the Armenian community vibrant. The attitude of the local clergy, upon seeing the positive developments brought about by the group, has been to allow them the space and freedom to organize their own events without interference.

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The main activity of the day then commenced, which was an Armenian Game Night, featuring tavloo (backgammon) and the traditional Armenian card game karsoon. “Captain Jack” as a master tavloo player (varbed as we say in Armenian), was specifically invited not only to present the activities of the TCA, but to teach some of the young people who did not know the game how to play tavloo, with his inimitable charm and fun-loving personality contributing to the social bonds of the young Armenian-Americans. To the background of Armenian and Greek music, and the rolling of the backgammon dice, the Armenian-American Veterans’ Building where the event was held (which doubles as a “Rec Center” for the St. John’s community), began to take on the atmosphere of an Armenian coffeehouse or agoump of old. One could even hear a lively conversation in Western Armenian as one young man from the Middle East who knew the game taught it to another young man his own age who had recently arrived in the area from Beirut.

Learning the traditional Armenian card game “karsoon”

Perhaps an even more rare and special occurrence was the teaching of the Armenian card game “karsoon” (i.e. “40”) which originates in the village of Tomarza, region of Kayseri, and has been passed down in the Racine, Wis., Armenian community. (A similar or identical game known as khoz is also played in Metro Detroit by some older descendants of survivors from the nearby village of Evereg-Fenesse, but is practically unknown by the younger generation). Leah Mamassian, whose maternal grandmother was born in Racine to parents from Tomarza (and was interviewed by this writer in his recent article on Racine), was the expert teacher of karsoon, which she plays with her family on a regular basis. The four-person game, which can be likened to a much simpler version of Bridge or Pinochle, was well received and perhaps to the surprise of some, also taught players some basic Armenian words which are used in the game, such as karsoon (40), ksan (20), kasheh (pull, i.e. to draw a card), and barab (referring to cards that have no point value).

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