Vartabedian: A 50-Year Armenian Weekly Career Inspired by 16 Editors

The Armenian Weekly
January 2010 Magazine

I’m what you may call an editor’s man. That’s because I’ve been surrounded by them throughout the annals of time, whether it’s been the Hairenik/Armenian Weekly, my own working Haverhill Gazette, outside ethnic journals, and even my church newsletter.

I wrote the stories and they’ve handled them, whether for the good or bad. Let it be known that I harbored the utmost respect for each of them. It’s a job I never wanted, thank you. In some ways, I believe I made some of these editors look good. In other ways, they returned the favor. From the time I submitted my first story as an AYF scribe in 1960 to this article, a half century has elapsed and no fewer than 16 editors have come under my tenure, counting me. Yes, I got the opportunity to edit my own copy for a whole year in 1982, when the editor’s well ran dry and the Haireniks needed someone to cover. Thus, I received a taste of my own medicine. Working two papers and raising a family besides was no easy trick. A runner would arrive each week from Boston and drop off heaps of copy, much of it illegible, and I would put the paper out from my home. It was more a labor of love than anything else, I can assure you.

The stipend I received back then hardly covered my expenses. Looking back at it all, the experience made me a more accomplished journalist—not rich, mind you, but fulfilled. If anybody ever enters this profession for a salary, they might do better dishing our burgers at a McDonald’s.

From my very first editors (Jimmy Tashjian and Jimmy Mandalian) to the current (Khatchig Mouradian), I have crossed a vast array of personalities. Some were quiet, others vocal. Some wrote better than others, more precise, calculating, methodical, and shrewd.

If one leaned more toward the political realm of journalism, another favored the human interest side. I often found myself pleading for a healthy balance.

On this 75th anniversary, it’s hard to compare one editor over the other. Both Tashjian and Mandalian dedicated 36 very hard years to their sentinel, usually working in tandem on the third floor of the old Hairenik Building at 212 Stuart St. in Boston. I was attending Boston University at the time looking for a journalism degree. Visiting their office with my AYF articles in hand was the best lesson I could ever receive. Tashjian never changed a word. He let the mistakes fly. It was up to me to present him with pristine copy.

It kept this cub reporter on his toes, not that a chapter social was earth-shattering news. Those were the days of manual typewriters and glue pots. The editors always enjoyed a good cigar, a cluttered office, and enough chaos to fill a battlefield. But they managed to get a paper out on time with minimal restraint because they were doctors of journalism and had a unique grasp on public affairs. For that, they were admired. I started collaborating with Tashjian on the Olympics issues back in 1968. He did the track and swimming. I handled the tennis and golf. Being a sportswriter by design at the Gazette, this was familiar territory. When he left in 1981, he passed the torch to me and the flame continues to burn brightly.

Next on the scene was Laura Tosoonian who no sooner arrived before leaving. Laura remained an editor for barely a year and seemed to handle the transition well.

Ohan Balian was quickly recruited and spent three years at the Weekly. He was a good journalist with a grasp for the news. When he departed in 1982, the job fell on my shoulders until Georgi-Ann Bargamian came along—my first experience with a female editor. Georgi-Ann was a hard-nosed journalist to every degree, with printer’s ink for blood. That’s why she became such a credit to the law profession.

I recall one late September evening at the Hairenik, putting the final touches on an Olympics issue and falling asleep at the typewriter. She nudged me awake and filled my tonsils with coffee.We managed to meet the deadline but not before a good deal of trepidation and caffeine.

On came another female to inherit the rains in 1984. Mimi Parseghian happened to be a neighbor of mine from Lowell and a fellow Gomideh member. We shared a lot in common. I had great respect for Mimi, given the fact she didn’t have a journalism background and plied the craft with sheer guts.

It was strictly “on the job” training for Mimi who was a stickler for detail. She made the Weekly her priority for five years, given the absence of wedlock, and treated her correspondents with compassion and understanding. Her leadership role with the ARS these days is indispensible and I believe the journal had much to do with it.

After five years, off went Mimi and on came Antranig Kasbarian who held the role from 1987-92. One of the vital cogs in the ARF arena, Antranig brought the Weekly to newer heights with an astute journalism mind and a flare for writing. He became an “ambassador” for the Weekly, often hitting the road for interviews and making sure prominent subjects like Rouben Gavoor got their notice.After his stint, off he went in pursuit of higher education.

Vahe Habeshian devoted six hard years to the job (1990-96), often working in tandem with Grace Kehetian. The two continued to put a business spin on the Weekly, focused some attention on a broader AYF page, and kept the Hairenik tradition intact. The next three editors each served a year. Vigen Aprahamian, Peter Nersesian, and Arto Payaslian did their part, though briefly, and kept the paper from sliding into a state of inertia. The appearance of Jason Sohigian was a breath of fresh air. Jason endured the trials and tribulations of a burgeoning electronic age with a new face in the ethnic press arena. He answered the call diligently and his work was exemplary. Today, he’s a scion for the Armenian Tree Project and acts as his own press secretary in matters of exposure.

Jason was followed by Jenny Kiljian for the next two years. Armed with a masters degree in Journalism from the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communications, Jenny brought a sense of communication into the Armenian Weekly—the likes of which hadn’t been seen during previous years in terms of education.

In her blog, she lists five strengths that create a vibrant life:
1. Creativity, ingenuity and originality
2. Love of learning
3. Bravery and valor
4. Appreciation of beauty and excellence
5. Zest, enthusiasm and energy

It’s nice to see Jenny’s by-lines still being published in Armenian journals as her love for writing knows no hiatus. Which brings us to the last editor. Khatchig Mouradian faced the ultimate challenge coming from Lebanon, leaving his family behind, and stepping into a foreign land. As the gifted writer and journalist he already was in Beirut, and with vast computer skills, he made the transition an easy one.

How Khatchig can sometimes put out the Weekly while thousands of miles removed is a testament to his ingenuity as an editor. He instituted a lively web page and added other electronic features. His special magazine editions dedicated to such subjects as genocide and independence are also worthy of applause. Hopefully, his stay will be a longer and more fruitful one. Despite their differences, there is one common denominator with these 16 editors (myself included). They had to put up with my foibles,my badgering to get stories hyped with large headlines, and good photography complements.

My idiosyncrasies as a writer have not always been easy but intent on giving readers the most bang for their buck. As correspondents, we volunteer our efforts because we share a lot of compassion for this organ.

There is another link that bonds the editors. I do not believe any of them took the job for the money. In some cases, they lived from paycheck to paycheck, sometimes seeing payment delayed when Hairenik resources were dry.

Answering to a Central Committee can also be mind-boggling to an editor who must contend with multiple bosses, let alone one. Most have no knowledge of journalism and what it entails. Yet, these editors often bit the bullet and persevered. A 40-hour week would be a luxury for a Weekly editor. It isn’t uncommon to see any of them burn the midnight oil and sacrifice much of their personal life to get the job done. I suspect there will be other editors to come aboard as we approach a new decade. New ideas. New visions. A multitude of change. I can only hope the organ will continue to enjoy a prosperous future, both with its printed version and online page. Without these editors, the journal would surely have stumbled into obscurity long ago and not been our window to the outside world these 75 years. To all of them, we owe a debt of gratitude. Well done, good and faithful servants.

Armenian Weekly Editors who inspired my career
1. James G.Mandalian (1934–69)
2. James H.Tashjian (1945–81)
3. Laura Tosoonian (1977–78)
4. Ohan S. Balian (1979–82)
5. Tom Vartabedian (1982–83)
6. Georgi-Ann (Bargamian) Oshagan (1982–84)
7. Muriel (Mimi) Parseghian (1984–89)
8. Antranig Kasbarian (1987–92)
9. Vahe Habeshian (1990–96)
10. Grace Kehetian-Kulegian (1992–96)
11. Viken Aprahamian (1996–97)
12. Peter Nersesian (1998–99)
13. Arto Payaslian (1999–2000)
14. Jason Sohigian (1999–2004)
15. Jenny Kiljian (2005–2007)
16. Khatchig Mouradian (2007–present)

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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