The Armenian Side of Cher

Say what you want about Kim Kardashian and the other sisters. But for my money, Cher continues to be my dream girl. Always was. Always will be.


Not that I have a love affair with the woman. An infatuation for beauty and talent mixed is more like it. And durability. To continue going this strong in Hollywood and Las Vegas at the ripe age of 64 probably takes a lot of makeup but more passion for the entertainment world. She’s still a class act, a true Armenian American icon.

That is why I shall be in her corner come Academy Awards time. If she doesn’t get an Oscar nomination for her role in the current production of “Burlesque,” I shall cancel my subscription to Hollywood Magazine and demand an investigation.

Her role as the club owner and den mother to a host of showgirls is truly impeccable. I marveled at her Academy Award-winning performance in “Moonstruck.” And I found her just as remarkable in such other films as “Mask,” “Witches of Eastwick,” “Tea with Mussolini,” and “Silkwood,” which earned her an Oscar nomination.

Here’s what one critic has to say about this present campy musical. “It takes a legend to make a star. Without Cher, ‘Burlesque’ wouldn’t work.”

The musical side is just as impressive, going back to the TV days of Sonny Bono. She’s sold more than 100 million records. Her concert tours are still sold-out. In truth, Cher knows no hiatus.

Though I’m a tad older than Cher, she was always the one I would showcase whenever outsiders asked me to identify any prominent Armenians.

“Well, you know Cher,” I would respond, calling to mind her given name, Cherilyn Sarkisian.

“No kidding, Cher’s Armenian?” they would reply. “I had no idea.”

The year was 1985, precisely 25 years ago. I was a well-groomed journalist for the Haverhill Gazette and was notified that Cher would be receiving the coveted Hasty Pudding Award given at Harvard University as Female Actress of the Year.

I talked my editor into going to Cambridge and covering the story, despite some resistance. He saw no local connection to the event so I drummed up an alibi.

“She happens to be a friend of mine,” I told him. “Can get a personal story and beat the other Boston papers.”

In some ways, that wasn’t far from the truth, given the ideology that all Armenians happen to be related through ethnicity. To be meeting Cher for the first time was indeed a revelation.

There she was, as glamorous as ever, in the back seat of a Mercedes convertible with the top down, waving to fans in a motorcade through Harvard Square. I waved, too, but she didn’t see me.

It wasn’t until we had adjourned to an auditorium when a more formal introduction occurred. I cornered her press agent and told the woman I was Armenian like Cher and would like a word with her. She obliged me.

Eench bes es?” I said, offering an ethnic greeting.

It was then that Cher bowled me over with a perfectly controlled dialect of Armenian that totally caught me off guard. The woman knew her language and was relatively fluid, obviously getting it from her dad’s side. What I learned about John Sarkisian was that he drove a truck, gambled, and had spent time in prison. It was not the best relationship for an adolescent.

I also quickly discovered other Armenians in the crowd who also began exercising their native language. Cher had a definite Armenian following that afternoon and she didn’t disappoint when it came to her culture and heritage.

There was noticeable pride etched across her face which complemented her smile. What’s more, I figured if I was going to get the inside scoop on this starlight, I had better keep talking Armenian.

“What’d she say?” my competition wondered. “What kind of language is she speaking? Hey, that’s not fair.”

Well, sir, you should have been born an Armenian and perhaps you could have gained her better side in this interview, I snickered to myself. In the end, I came away with a story none of the other papers could match. Even my editors were amazed.

It’s no secret that Cher has reached out to the indigent of Armenia over her prominent career. And no wonder that she has shown a distinct charitable side in supporting people of her kind in this country.

Even today, when people ask me, “Armenian? What’s that?” I can still reply after all these years, “You want to know what Armenian is? Go ask Cher!”

Like her hit song, “The beat goes on!”

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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  1. Cher is a class act. No doubt. I wish she would speak up about the genocide as Kim Kardasian has. If Cher has (forgive my lack of info), it is not well known. 
    God bless her and keep her well. I’ve loved her since the fur vest days (and Sonny too).

  2. Bravo Tom,

    I love her voice; it’s deep down from the belly, her “Piu Che Puoi” song with Eors Ramazzotti always gives me Goosebumps even now listening while writing this.

  3. My last name happens to be Sarkissian ,with 2ss lol.Funny everytime  when someone asks me?Armenian? i respond yeah,”just like Cher my cousin”,your cousin? comes the reply.Yeah all Armenians are related;one way or another,cause we’ve been such a small and ancient nation.
    Thank you for the article and very true and kind words about my “cousin” ;-))

  4. This article on Cher’s Armenian side is one that we needed.  It also shows why Tom Vartabedian is a born Journalist, ‘He is a people person!’   “….Way to go Tom…”

  5. Wouldn’t it be nice to have Charles Aznavour and Cher collaborate on an album and cause.

    It’s about time, we started building unity from the top down as well as from the bottom up.


  6. Cher is indeed pretty, a wonderful actress and singer. I never had the opportunity to meet her in person though.

    Why must some of you posters have to interject politics into this topic? Why can’t you just let the benign continuity of the story flow as it was intended? 

  7. I agree with Harry.. Our legends and class talents should definintely work together to better our nation and country.. without their hand and talent, the beat will go on but it won’t be as strong and powerful if we had them drumming it up…

    Thank you Tom for the article.. it truly makes me teary eye when I read such stories.. i am very proud of all the class act actors/actresses/entertainers/businessmen and women/writers/athletes/ect.. who have Armenian blood.. especially the ones who openly share their Armenian side… it is such a pleasure to have them with us…

    God Bless

  8. My wife once met Cher at Bandel’s in NY decades ago and felt bad that she never asked for her e-mail because at that time Cher was interested in discovering more about her roots as Aznavour was.
    Both of these actors may have went though a lot of negative diasporan interaction however the goal today is still UNITY, UNITY, UNITY.  Even the Bible says that God requires UNITY. Unity as other succesfull ethic groups have been able to catapulp themselves financially, academically, socially, and culturally.
    Will we we able to see the day when we will be able to say ” It was a fellow brother or sister TRUE ARMENIAN that helped get me where I am”

  9. Good !!! very good  indeed.
    Also to have  Cher SING togeether with Charles..a few of her as well as  HIS  songs and one NEW one Charles can concoct  up with his brother in law for GENOCIDE RECOGNITION.
    best to all

  10. Gaytzag, Harry, Evelyn:

    Please take a moment to “listen” to yourselves! Re-read your comments. Note the message you’re promoting…”Continue the hate and diversion”! Do you really think that this is the answer and will solve anything? Is this what you three are all about? Can you truly be so shallow! A sad commentary indeed.

  11. Robert, you have a habit  of yelling “hate hate hate” whenever the word “genocide” appears on these posts. If you think Armenians are hateful because they oppose genocide, then Turks are equally hateful because Prime Minister Erdogan hides behind that word hilariously often (re: the death of eight Uyghur Turks in China, Gaza, nine people on a flotilla, etc.). Look in the mirror for a change.

  12. Yes Tom, indeed I agree with you.  Cher is a legend and she is a pretty legend.

    Harry and Gayane, Of course I agree with both your comments as well.  It is much needed for our nation to be united and to support each other.  It’s a first-hand requirement and much needed requirement.  I happen to love Cher’s voice too and most of all her Armenian stand.  She showed her love and respect for her Armenian side by commenting numerous times about the Armenian computers in her earlier shows.  A very respectful and mega talented lady. 

  13. Alex jan… trust me my friend. .Robert has some sort of phobia when it comes to Armenian Genocide.. he thinks we are all Dashnaks and we are all hate filled people.. is not that laughable matter? :)…

  14. Peter Messerlian,

    Please, can you work on a Tourism commercial for Armenia!  We could have gotten a lot of air time for it with the 9 million dollars that our communities squandered on the Obama campaign!

    Why are we lagging behind in promoting our homeland in the Diaspora?  Can you imagine what kind of a publicity Armenia will get if we got Cher, Kim Kardashian, Andre Agassi etc make a Tourism commercial for Armenia, where they can each say that they are Armenian, and invite everyone to visit our beautiful homeland?

    Why can’t we sign up Lamar Odom to be the spokesperson for Armavia ???? Ha Ha Ha!

    Come on people we are lagging behind in investing in the Promotion of our homeland.  We are not utilizing our Internationally known human resources/assets well.  Let’s get going! 

  15. Excellent comment on tourism!!!

    There is a definite need to promote Identity as to who Armenians are via tourism, culture,  and yes Christian Faith.

    Once people know who are, there are more willing to listen to your history and causes.

  16. Again! Ver good suggestions Katia.  My gosh.  I didn’t know that Armenians spent their hard earned 9 Million Dollars for the Obama’s campaign…. the liar Obama, that was a sheer shame.

    We must publicize Armenia, sure I am with you!!!!!

  17. We must publicize Armenia and as often as possible, as well as urge every Armenian youth to go there and help out to build both Armenia and Artsakh.  This also must be publicized!  But parents must be good role models themselves and visit Armenia and try giving them a helping hand, your monies and your goods that is much much needed in there!!  When there is a will there is a way; you can send your monies through Churches and known individuals and you can also send goods as well as go and see how beautiful both Armenia and Artsakh is!!!!!

  18. Excellent idea Katia jan.. Excellent.. I agree with the idea 100%… all we need to do is someone to take on the project and get this happen.. we have so many talented individuals who are in the TV business, ……i am sure they can get this done..

    Come on.. what are we waiting for right? You said it right Katia jan…. what are we waiting for…???


  19. I’m glad to read about this other side of Cher.  We always knew that she was half Armenian, but I never really saw her be in touch with that side. I always figured she didn’t know much about her Armenian father, etc.  I saw Sonny and Cher in Fresno in the mid-60s. I adored them.  I remember when Cher went to Armenia and she looked so confused. I think I would be the same way.  At least she speaks some Armenian – I only know a few words. I have written about these things on my blog if you wish to visit –

  20. We love Cherilyn Sarkissian in Fresno, her family lived in Armenian Town.  Cher lived with her grandmother for a time and attended Roosevelt High School.

    • Do you know if she had an uncle named George Sarkisian? I recently discovered he was my grandfather and I know nothing about the man, but would love to.

    • Dear Gayane,
      He was correcting Harry’s
      “Both of these actors may have WENT “ to 
      “Both of these actors may have GONE”.

  21. Osik..

    I understand that but I still don’t see the point of “A” bringing this up.. has nothing to do with the posts and the discussion on this page..

    Many of us make errors typing.. so did not see a point of “A” take his time to write his comment when he could have contributed with a more educational post.. but then again I don’t know if “A” is a Turk or an ARmenian.. because it makes a big difference…


    • Gayane,
      A is an Armenian who loves Armenians and has an extremely high opinion of them. That is why it pains me so much to see one of my brothers or sisters make a mistake that others will use to judge them negatively. It makes a difference. I hope Harry will learn or has already learned when to use gone and when to use went.

      Just in case

      They might have gone.
      I should have gone.

      They went.
      I went.

      I ran to school.
      Harry should have run to the school.

      Clear enough.
      So sad Gayane thinks an Armenian who wants all Armenians to be well perceived is a lurking Turk. I assure you, I am not.

      PS. Had Harry clearly been an non-native speaker of English, I might not have said anything (because unlike my grandparents’ generation, Armenians coming from other countries today don’t exert much energy to perfect their English). But Harry seems to be American-born (I could be wrong), so he should know better.

  22. Tom,  I repeat, you should arrange a meeting then concert with Charles Aznavour.

    30years ago, my wife happened to work at Bendel, NYC and Cher was her customer and Juliette loved. Cher said she did not have many Armenian friends. I was kind of upset that my wife did not dare ask Cher for her contacts so that we would help the process in the NY area.
    God Bless her !!!

  23. Just  noticed  that I had also posted a comment in January, up above. I wish to add that I also went quickly through   near all. Katia K.  is dead  right…9 million dollars spent   for O.Elections….( million  is peanutts, as compared  what  in my scheme  of getting  Diaspora re-organized around  PCA’s,-Professional  Colleagues  association s  and through these    THE DREAM>>>MY DREAM  OF A   NATIONAL  INVESTMENT TRUST  FUND>NUCLEUS OF WHICH TO BE INITIATED BY OUR   5/6  magnates all investing  some couple hundred millions then all the way down through millionaires to hundred thousand to ten thousand to thousand to a hiundred dollar  INVESTMENTS>NOT DONMATIONS  OUR PEOPLE  ARE TIRED  OF LATTER AND DONATE  EACH TIME LESS> WE NEED  to be independent  at  least  in Diaspora.For latter  also-face  it -it a permanent  one,. I refer to the  old one..anyhow  I expect  Che,Aznavour  will together and create  real interest  singing  re  what  our people went  through and also the NEW DAWN   that  our people deserves and will DCEFINITELYU  HAVE  THROUGH  NO  NOT UNITY>>>
    THIS IS WRONG WORD  INJECTEDD  INTO  US BY ancient enemy …France  has   extreme left  and extreme right  they never unite  or any country’s  for  that  matter  but  they CAN   co-OPERATE,    m i a p a n i l      BEAUTIFUL aRMENIAN  WORD>

  24. @Katia K. What a brilliant idea, the Hughes brothers too, as per wekepedia: “The brothers embrace their African-American and Armenian heritage. Albert Hughes considers his artistic ability to come from the Armenian side of his family.”
    Lets not forget System of a Down.
    Recently, on youtube I came across an Armenian from United Kingdom, Kev Orkian: musician, comedian, actor.  @Harry, I second your call for UNITY, UNITY,UNITY, that is where the power is.
    Imagine how great it would be to watch a publicity promoting tourism in Armenia featuring our famous Armenians on stations like CNN, BBC etc…
    And as you have said it would be great to have Charles Aznavour and Cher collaborate on an album and cause or maybe a TOUR? with some young blood like Kev Orkian, he is an amazing piano player and comedian, Prince Charles called him “Genius”, why not Serj Tankian too?!?! Imagine a concert with those famous internationally renowned Armenians when they end every concert singing a lively Armenian patriotic song maybe like “Artyok ovkeren”?!? But we should not just talk and dream about it, maybe we should suggest that on their web sites or something? come up with ideas people. PLEASE?!

  25. It is sad reality that one’s cultural heritage is at the mercy of parenthoods and upbringings, before personal understandings and admiration of cultural heritage itself.

  26. Excellent coverage by Tom. I wonder how many of our celebrities have helped Armenia during & after the earthquake of 1988. It would be great if they could all be brought together on some sort of concert or when they have the annually “Armenian Fund USA” for raising funds for Armenia. Armenians need help from these celebrities for Armenia’s survival & future.

    • That is a great idea Stephen.. Our well known people should absolutely work and collaborate together and support/donate to reputable organizations or even directly to Armenia… regular citizens can’t do as much as these celebratries can do on the money front…

      I also would like to see a list of those celebratries that help out on a regular basis.. it is always nice to say thank you to them for their support…


  27. Thanks A… English is only my 3rd language but I have no excuse to make spelling mistakes….

    Back to our Armenian talents… The other very artistic felloe that deserves attention is Arto Turkmeningian…Sorry A if I may have massacred the name but
    the Armenian navy band, the guy with the song in a bottle. I saw him recently and he had Turks in the audience eating out of his hands….He made them sing an Armenian song ” Haiko “and the applause were very very long .The audience was only 25% Armenian or less. REAL TALENT !!! without taking anything away from Charles or Cher….

  28. The story is beautiful but hard to believe. Harut Sassounian who had much interaction with Cher at the time when she visited Armenia during the early 1990s says she did not speak any Armenian.

    And her interest in things Armenian is obviously limited. Aside from that one visit to Armenia, we have not heard anything about the “Armenianness” of Cher.

  29. Wonderful Piece On A Wonderful (And Tough~!) Lady With A Tip Of The Hat To A Wonderful (And Tough~!) Peoples. Thanks For All The Memories~! Love, Joe

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