Apigian-Kessel: On Being Armenian in Detroit

It takes nerves of steel to keep your equilibrium if you are Armenian. And the kebab dinners at the Armenian Community Center in Dearborn, Mich. are a good place to decompress. There you will find more than enough acquaintances to fill the evening with laughs and enjoyable conversation. It’s kind of like the serjarans of old days plus chicken and pilaf. As an aside, I do wonder why Coca-Cola and related products are still available for purchase there since by now it should be well known that a Turk is the soft drink company’s world-wide CEO. Just thought I would tactfully bring that to everyone’s attention—again.

With no band to drown out our voices, we can talk with the likes of Mitch and “Only a Rose” Kehetian, Ed and Sue Derbabian, Pearl Mooradian, Mike and Jeanette Vartanian, Jim and Arpi Dakesian Dunn, Mike Kojoian, Naz Halajian, and Aram and Seta Najarian.

Lately the much debated topic of the Armenian-Turkish protocols have taken front and center stage with a lot of negative shaking of the head and tsk-tsk-ing. One evening I asked a friend who is active in the community if blood pressure medication was part of the daily regimen. “Yes, but it’s under control,” she said, then quickly tacked on with a smile: “You know, it isn’t easy being Armenian.” The understatement of the year.

I knowingly laughed at the answer and said that is the same comment I frequently make to my husband. He was sitting within earshot and his witty reply to our friend was, “Oh yeah, try being married to one!” And he got a lot of laughs at my expense. The “quiet man” could tell you a story or two if he were so inclined. Paul Kulhanjian has tried prodding him to write a book on what it is like living and being married to an Armenian woman. I am of the opinion Paul thinks I could be a challenging customer. No, just older and bolder.
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It was an evening of classical music presented by the students of pianist and teacher Miss Emma Bagdasarian at the Armenian Congregational Church in Southfield on Oct. 23, sponsored by its Women’s Fellowship. It was a very well-attended event with parents and friends of the students present, as well as many from the Armenian community.

Pastor Darawi Makarios opened the evening with a prayer welcoming the guests to the church’s social room and giving a background on Bagdasarian, who has a master’s in music and now teaches at Evola Music in Macomb Township. Hers is a success story.

Some time ago I wrote about Emma and how she and her mother Yevgenia found themselves in turmoil and danger as Armenian residents in Baku came under attack, with many being killed. The Azeris axed their way through her front door and stole all their money, clothes, and valuables. She escaped death by fleeing to the house of one her students and a few days later the good Samaritans paid their passage to Moscow.

Getting to America was not easy and Bagdasarian is profuse in her appreciation of Alex Melkonian in his help getting her to this country. He, too, was present at the recital. And he is well known in area soccer circles for his coaching prowess. Our condolences to Mr. Melkonian on the recent passing of his son, a long-time military man.

Emma has been honored by Michigan’s governor, Jennifer Granholm, and played piano for the president of Karabagh and at Troy’s upscale Somerset Collection.

Her 10 students performed admirably to much applause, with half of the program featuring the music of famed Armenian composer Aram Khatchaturian, as well as Gervorkian, Mozart, and Tchaikovsky.

The recital concluded with Bagdasarian playing one of her original compositions and “Erevan-Erebuni.” Absolutely beautiful. There is nothing so soothing as well-played classical music.

The Armenian Congregational Ladies Guild provided a lovely buffet following the concert.

Faces in the crowd were Dr. Vahakn and MaryJo Agbabian, Fr. Daron Stepanian, Alice and Narses Gedigian, Emma Minasian, Fr. Diran Papazian, Badveli and Rosette Tootikian, and Anahid and Dikran Toomajan, brother of Thomas Toomajan of Florida, a very faithful reader of The Armenian Weekly.

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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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