Apigian-Kessel: Glendale’s Catherine Yessayan: Budding Writer in the Wings

I find people interesting, granted some more than others, but I feel everyone has a story to tell. Such is the case with Glendale’s Catherine Yessayan, a multi-faceted, deeply fascinating woman born in Tehran, Iran, who came here 30 years ago with her husband.

Catherine Yessayan
Catherine Yessayan

By her own admission, Catherine was a “stay at home mom” to her four children, in the finest of Armenian tradition. Even during those nurturing years, her light could not be hidden beneath the bushel. She is, as they say, “a doer.”

She has always been active in the Glendale schools and community. In 2000, she unsuccessfully ran for the Glendale School Board, but nevertheless found the political arena to be a stimulating experience. I discovered she is good friends with Glendale School Board presdient Greg Krikorian, nephew to our local Anne and George Krikorian. She is involved with the PTA, the homeowner’s association, and civic organizations. It’s no wonder that in 1998 Yessayan was selected as one of the most influential citizens by the Glendale News Press.

I became acquainted with Yessayan when a friend sent me an article printed in Appo Jabarian’s “Armenian Life Magazine” written by the talented Catherine—her first time being published, but certainly not her last. I have read several of her stories which I found to be stimulating.

She knows how to put words together to capture your interest. Her vignette, entitled “So I Hear…and the World Watches…” clutched my emotions. I immediately fired off a note of congratulations to her on her finely written article, stating I was happy to know a knowledgeable Hyegagan woman capable of being a strong voice for the Armenians. And that through her activism she has brought honor to her ancestors. Quite soon her message arrived thanking me for encouraging her.

Her children are now grown and Catherine recently became a first-time grandmother to Markar, born in New York City. For 10 years she helped her husband in his real estate business. Now it is Catherine’s time to blossom. She is taking writing courses at UCLA in order to write her memoirs. As a community activist, she already has a portfolio of over 200 letters to the editor of various newspapers. She is a woman of substance.

Her piece “So I Hear…” has an original style encapsulating the Armenian Cause with a time line beginning on April 25, 2009. She received emails stating “Obama betrays Armenians” and “Armenians have rallied to continue their effort to have the U.S. officially recognize the genocide.” She says, “So I hear.” She then reminds us of Obama’s pre-campaign promise to acknowledge the genocide, his statement about the Medz Yeghern, and the recall of Ambassador John Evans.

She takes us back to April 24, 1995, driving her kids to Montebello to view the Genocide Memorial, then to Hitler’s words as to “Who Remembers the Armenians,” to March 15, 1921 when Soghomon Tehlirian assasinated Talat, back to her ancestors being slaughtered in Ottoman Turkey, and finally to April 24, 1915, when Talat ordered the arrest and persecution of Armenian leaders and intellectuals, followed by the genocide of over 1.5 million Armenians. “And the world watches the first ethnic cleansing of the 20th century.” You’re going to like reading Catherine when she starts delivering.

Our correspondence grew, as we found we have much in common besides writing, decorating, and real estate. We are both antique buffs, readers, and women with a restless spirit possessing many varied interests. She is a certified home stager, whereby she redesigns homes to improve their marketability.

She told me of her happy years in Iran during the Shah’s regime and that she got her BA degree in English literature from Tehran’s American Women’s College-Damavand. She also studied Armenian, French, and Persian literature.

She began writing her memoirs two years ago. Says Catherine, “Since I was very young, I had an inborn tendency to write and when my Dad passed away at age 92, I realized there were so many unanswered questions. There were so many things we never communicated.”

She decided to blend her life story with history.

Catherine wants to unfold her inner knowledge and to reflect on her life experiences, many of which are very interesting since she essentially grew up during Shah Reza Pahlevi’s regime in Iran before his expulsion—an era of grandeur, opulence, and the lovely Queen Soraya. She describes her life in Tehran before the Islamic Revolution as “beautiful,” telling of the active social environment common to those of her age at the time. Quite different than what plays out today.

Catherine the intellectual? She likes writers Robert Fulgham and Erma Bombeck’s wit and humor. She includes French Renaissance thinker-writer Michel de Montaigne. “In his essays he engages philosophical sayings by great orators, something I’d like using in my writings,” she says.

Friendships are born and forged in the least unlikely ways. It won’t be long before, through Catherine’s published writings, you too will be mesmerized by this intelligent Armenian woman’s essays. Even I can hardly wait.

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Betty Apigian-Kessel

Betty (Serpouhie) Apigian Kessel was born in Pontiac, Mich. Together with her husband, Robert Kessel, she was the proprietor of Woodward Market in Pontiac and has two sons, Bradley and Brant Kessel. She belonged to the St. Sarkis Ladies Guild for 12 years, serving as secretary for many of those years. During the aftermath of the earthquake in Armenia in 1988, the Detroit community selected her to be the English-language secretary and she happily dedicated her efforts to help the earthquake victims. She has a column in the Armenian Weekly entitled “Michigan High Beat.”

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