Armenian Weekly Perseveres After 75 Years

At a time when the ethnic press is teetering on the brink of change, the Armenian Weekly celebrates its 75th anniversary with a vision to the future.

The Weekly celebrates its 75th anniversary this year.
The Weekly celebrates its 75th anniversary this year.

It has survived a monsoon of editorial exchanges, a transgression of readership, financial instability, unsettled attitudes, and now the electronic age.

Yet, it continues to remain an organ for the ages, a voice for the Armenian community in this diaspora, a harbinger of democracy that pumps vitality into an Armenian readership eager for news. As a correspondent who’s been attached for 50 of those years, I wonder what my fate would have become had it not been for the Hairenik and those who served its realm.

Would I have devoted my life to journalism or been slinging hash at my dad’s restaurant? Would I have become a conscientious Armenian, active with AYF and ARF standards, raising a family in the same vein?

And what would become of you, the reader? Would you have been informed of the Armenian news, kept in touch with current events throughout the world? Would you have been entertained by Armenian socials, educated with buoyant lectures and seminars?

The Armenian Weekly has remained a torch with an inextinguishable flame, burning in our hearts and minds, and providing a platform in which to form opinions, gain insight.

Say what you want about William Saroyan earning his start with the Hairenik’s in the 1930’s. But so did a lot of others like him. Perhaps they didn’t reach the prominence of this great writer but rest assured, they also used the paper to further their own careers in journalism.

Detroit’s Mitch Kehetian, for one, would never have spent 50 years in newspaper work had he not flexed his wings with the Hairenik Weekly, much less the likes of Hakob Karapents, Sarkis Atamian, Leo Sarkisian, Uncle Garabed, Uncle Bozo, poetess Diana Der Hovanesian and Jimmy Tashjian.

Ask any of the 16 editors who handled the operation and they’ll tell you it was not only a labor of love but a window of opportunity in their professional world.

Ask any correspondent who ever submitted an article about the feeling they got at seeing their byline attached to a story. For some AYF Junior, that’s huge. It’s their incentive to keep on writing, develop a creative mind, do some good for their chapter, and, above all, contribute to a worthwhile enterprise.

The organization would be quick to admit that were it not for those scribes—those budding journalists—the paper would never have survived all these decades. It’s been only as good as those who fueled its longevity.

One cannot fail to mention the Hairenik with its Armenian language content. A centennial celebration—on Dec. 2, 2000 (1899-1999)—served as a monumental milestone in that paper’s tenure.

And now, with the Armenian Weekly’s 75th, that totals 175 years of dedicated service from two organs in one building. Both have remained part and parcel to one another throughout an eternity.

As a long-time contributor, I am thankful for receiving such an opportunity to write and have my photographs published whenever possible. My gripe is this. There must be others like myself out there with a flair for writing who do not take advantage of this journal. In some ways, the Weekly has remained a writers’ workshop where those with inclination have used it as a stomping ground to hone their skills.

It has also inspired me to seek out many stories about Armenians and have them published in the American press. Every community has Armenians who are labeled as unsung heroes. They shun exposure and prefer to remain in the background.

Having developed a “nose for Armenian news” with each trip I’ve taken to Haiastan, I was able to return with notebooks full of stories about interesting subjects. These are articles that would never have found their way to print were it not for the availability of our ethnic press to get them circulated.

Perhaps the best story to come along over this half century was one that occurred in 1960—the year I had just gotten baptized by the Armenian Weekly. I was a sophomore studying journalism at Boston University and very involved at the Holy Cross Armenian Catholic Church in Cambridge at the time.

The opportunity came to study Armenian in Vienna, Austria, with the Mekhitarist Catholic Fathers. I figured it would be a great opportunity to enhance my language skills with an Order that had preserved our culture and history for nearly three centuries through their writings and translations.

It would be a year’s duration, which meant a sabbatical from my studies. I would be living with these priests inside a monastery in what was meant to be a pilot program, which would allow other students like myself to follow if feasible.

Just before departure, Jimmy Tashjian pulled me aside with a request. He was wondering if I could write a monthly series of my experiences inside this vank. Very little had been written previously about the Mekhitarists and the editor saw tremendous human interest potential from the installments.

Up to this point, my experiences with the Weekly had been purely token. An AYF chapter report here. A basketball write-up there. I anxiously accepted the offer.

So once a month for a year, I dispatched an article that found its way into print. With all the publications received at the monastery from around the world, and a limited English capacity among the priests, the Hairenik Weekly was hardly a journal they eagerly awaited, despite the complimentary subscription.

When the first issue arrived with the story I had submitted, I approached Archbishop Mesrob Habozian, the abbott general at the time, with the great news. Stories about the Catholic Order would now be read by other Armenians wherever the paper was circulated.

None of this mattered to him. Instead, as my instructor, he had another request—one that sent me into instant delirium. As I showed him the stories, he asked that they be translated into Armenian and read to the other priests.

From then on, all 20 priests at the vank eagerly awaited the Hairenik issues each month to see what I had written, but more importantly, to hear my progress with both written and spoken Armenian. Any mistakes were instantly corrected, much to my chagrin.

This all pleased Tashjian so very much to think that his organ had suddenly taken on a sacred presence with the Fathers. Upon my return home, a career in journalism had pretty much been established and I had suddenly become a familiar correspondent to readers.

And here it is, 50 years later, thousands of stories behind me, an Almanac Column that was launched in 1970, an Olympics issue that celebrated its fourth decade, and I still find the Armenian Weekly a viable presence in my life—and yours.

Tashjian is gone. So is Mandalian, Reuben Darbinian, and others like Kevork Donabedian who were veritable icons in their mission to keep the ethnic press secure, whether it was the English publication or the Armenian. One visit to that building at 212 Stuart St. in Boston was enough to recharge a young writer’s battery.

When I think about all that talent that was laden behind those walls, all the dedication and verve it took to get one issue after another printed, the utter chaos at times and quiet transitional periods, it blows my mind.

I sometimes hear complaints: Too much politics. Not enough AYF news. An overabundance of academia and a scarcity of human interest. When all is said and done, you cannot appreciate the final product unless you fill an editor’s shoes. Eventually, everybody’s business becomes the newspaper’s business.

On this 75th anniversary, let us all raise our glasses high and do the Armenian Weekly a favor. Communities can band together and hold a Hairenik Day. Without preaching to the choir, we can get the paper circulated to non-subscribers.

As loyal readers, we can take out complimentary subscriptions and gift them to relatives and friends. It’s a small investment into their mainstream.

And those of you with some inclination to write, share this talent by joining our correspondence family. Report on your community, send along a photo, and keep us abreast of local news, be it a distinction student or distinct athlete. Voice an opinion. Take a stand.

Send along a monetary contribution when able. Make it in someone’s name if you wish. Pass your issue on to others in your family and take out a subscription for someone in college, particularly the AYFer in your family. They will surely appreciate the gesture. Mine certainly did. It was their connection to the Armenian world.

Above all, be grateful we have such a publication in our midst. Any institution—newspapers or otherwise—to have survived for 75 years must have something going in its favor.

That something is YOU.


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.

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