The ‘Odar’ Connection in Our Midst

Truth be told, there was a time in my more obstinate Armenian life that any impediment in our lifestyle would affect our overall welfare.

As a parent to three healthy AYF children, I lived to see the day they would be dating other Armenians, much like I did in my youthful prime. And when the appropriate time came, to wed Armenians, much like me.

I got one thing wrong, however. They weren’t me. Nor were they my wife. Instead, they had a mind and heart of their own, drifted into their own American world, blessed me with wonderful spouses and four lovely grandchildren.

Their happiness has been my happiness, much as I rebuked, resented and later reconciled. The hard core had a more softer approach, much like a ripened plum from the vine.

In my advanced age, I’m finding a new vitality in our midst. More and more outsiders are knocking on our door and looking for the welcome sign. Either they married an Armenian spouse or adopted our heritage out of respect, curiosity or, in some cases, sympathy.

At least three “odars” signed up for an Armenian class I was teaching on the university level because they considered us a resilient people who remained undaunted by a genocide.

They were amazed at how a nation endured such a tragedy and still had the fortitude to persevere. In some ways, this Irishman told me, “Armenia is like the little engine that could, chugging its way to the summit.”

I found that to be the perfect analogy.

At a time when turbulence is running rampant in our society, respect for the common man becomes more and more essential. As God-abiding Christians, we should be worshipping in one church, not veering off in opposite directions.
And love our neighbor, regardless of the lineage.

I look at my own church and see the impact non-Armenians are making. In some cases, they’ve become even more involved than the spouse they wed.

They’ve served as trustees, chaired different boards, presided over groups and sold the most Prelacy raffle tickets when the time came. They’ve showed up with hammers and saws, devoted countless hours to different projects, and even took the liberty to learn the Badarak.

Without them, I suspect our church might have staggered a bit. With them, it’s become fertile. I would tend to agree that this isn’t a unique case. I would almost bet that no matter what church where, there are “odars” making their impact for the best.

Some have Armenian names after connecting with a male, others an American identity. One or two may have kept their maiden name for reasons of pride and conviction.

If there are 4,500 Armenians in my community, I wonder where 4,000 of them are each April 24 when we commemorate Armenian Martyrs’ Day. Seated in the audience are a number of “odars.” They may not understand the language but they are there in support, not in spirit alone.

I look at Armenian names in the obit page and wonder why they are getting buried from an American church. Then it dawns on me that they were Armenian by name only.

It bothers me to see an Armenian surname transposed to a foreign mongrel with the “ian” dropped. Cher is Cher. I would have preferred Cheryl Sarkisian.

I look to the day when my own children return to their church or, at the very least, meet their heritage halfway. “How did they drift so far apart?” I ask myself, perhaps absorbing some of the blame for my arrogance as a parent.
“Maybe you pushed them over the edge,” I remind myself.

Many moons ago, when I started out as a writer, I recall visiting the old Hairenik Building with my correspondence in hand. One day I had stopped for coffee at a nearby cafeteria and settled into a seat with a copy of the Hairenik Weekly fresh off the press.

As I was perusing through the issue, I noticed an African-American seated next table over. My eyes did a double take.
There was this black fellow reading a copy of the Hairenik Daily in Armenian. It struck my curiosity.

“Pardon me,” I said. “Are you Armenian?”

“Not a chance,” he answered.

“But you’re reading Armenian?” I wondered.

The man laughed. He worked as a linotype operator at the Hairenik and couldn’t help but learn the language after five years on the job.

I never did catch his name but he sure made an impression with me.

Tom Vartabedian

Tom Vartabedian

Tom Vartabedian is a retired journalist with the Haverhill Gazette, where he spent 40 years as an award-winning writer and photographer. He has volunteered his services for the past 46 years as a columnist and correspondent with the Armenian Weekly, where his pet project was the publication of a special issue of the AYF Olympics each September.
Tom Vartabedian

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