It is a pure joy to be in Providence again, a strong vibrant city with a lovely downtown in the heart of New England. It is the city of the Green Machine. There have been so many great AYF Olympic athletes from Providence built on the wonderful heritage of the Varadian clan of Olympic Kings. It is the town of Harry Kushigian, Manoog Kaprielian, and so many others. Providence is also fortunate to have one of the most dedicated Der Hayrs—Der Gomidas, and Yeretsgeen Joanna.
The title of this article is “Providence: A Great Armenian City.” If I had said, “A great American City,” well, some debate could ensue. Providence is the largest city in the smallest state in the United States. It is the third largest city in New England after Boston and Worcester. Growing up, as Providence loomed so large in the Armenian reality, I just assumed that it was among the largest of American cities too. I was wrong—well into my 20s! Population wise, it is not even in the top 100 cities in the U.S., though Providence is ranked 38th largest in the metropolitan cities and suburbs category.
The point here is not the status of this fair city in the American context; it is about the status and stature of Providence as an Armenian city. To me, the top Armenian towns in the U.S., in no particular order, are Los Angeles, New York, Boston, Providence, Fresno, Detroit, Philadelphia, Chicago, D.C., San Francisco, and Granite City (after all, I am from the Midwest). Providence would easily be in the top 10—even top 5—of any such list. If I was to name the top AYF cities in the country, Providence would be in the top three, and one could make an excellent case for it being at the top.
When I was in college and would tell my non-Armenian friends I was headed for Providence, they would respond, “Where? Why?” You never have to explain to any active Armenian where Providence is or even why you might be headed there.
As a toddler and kid, I had been to a few AYF Olympics. Back then, I thought that the Olympics were just an athletic event. I got to fully appreciate the AYF Olympic experience in 1969…in Providence. It was awesome.
I was a high school junior in a suburb of Detroit. I was going out for the football team (although I never was much of a player) and I had no thought of attending the Olympics. Cross-country travel was a much bigger deal back in those days. My aunt, a great athlete and eventual Olympic Queen, Suzanne Merian Arzoian, decided—at the last minute due to the urging of her friend Maggie Sohigian from Worcester—to go to Providence for the Olympics. She decided to drive and needed someone to ride shotgun. To my delight, I was elected, selected, or maybe even conscripted. So, I packed a small suitcase, put my first oud in a pillow case (de rigueur back in the day), and we headed out…tebi Providence.
It was a long, 700-mile drive. Funny, I do not remember the drive. No one ever remembers a long drive to or from Olympics. Anticipation overwhelms one on the drive there, and good times and exhaustion obliterate any memory of tedium on the drive home.
I walked into the hotel, oud and small suitcase in hand, and one of the loveliest Armenian girls about my age was somehow right in my face, smiling, and said one word, “Hello.” In an instant, she was gone. It couldn’t have been scripted any better. In that instant, I was hooked. I liked the Olympics immediately and I loved this magical place called Providence.
I met great people. I heard great music. I saw some great athletics. It was simply a fantastic Armenian experience. It was the AYF Olympics and it was Providence in so many ways.
It is a pure delight to be here again.