The Armenian Education of Katie

Finding college student Katie so near my isolated location in Northern Michigan had to be a godsend. I found her by accident when, as I frequently do, I disregarded the “no trespassing” sign as I drove the dirt road entering her family’s 40 acres, mesmerized by the small herd of beautiful black gelbvieh cattle grazing on a haystack as collectively they switched their tails to ward off flies.

I soon met her mother, who not only raises cattle but also chickens for farm-fresh, extra large, brown organic eggs that can easily compete with the touted ones Martha Stewart raises, and has an organic vegetable garden. But the clincher is that Katie’s parents also build racing engines. A most interesting family.

'...I disregarded the "no trespassing" sign as I drove the dirt road entering her family's 40 acres...'
‘…I disregarded the “no trespassing” sign as I drove the dirt road entering her family’s 40 acres…’

Katie’s mother also came to my rescue when my husband died, volunteering to do my laundry and grocery shopping. That’s what people up here do—they help each other.

As luck would have it, I could not have made a better find to assist me in preparing my column than this tall, slender, very attractive young lady with long red tresses often fashioned into a single braid. Raised up north she is intelligent, personable, but also very reserved, well mannered, and quiet, full of respect. In a word, perfect—the kind of girl you’d want for a daughter. She is a student studying multicultural literature who recently earned her associates degree. When I jokingly chided her, “Katie, in a few days you’ll turn 20, a teen no more, so cease the irresponsible behavior,” she just smiled broadly and shot back, “What irresponsible behavior? You knew from the beginning, that’s not my style.”

I was right in assuming I was the first person of Armenian heritage Katie had encountered. In helping me write my column on the laptop, Katie was inundated with the strange and unfamiliar names of Armenian people, sayings, geographic locations, the many Armenian organizations, as well as the unhappy story of the genocide.

She never winced or commented during our sessions that entailed the grisly, graphic details of those terrible years. In the beginning I had no knowledge of the quiet Katie as a person. Recently it dawned on me there was an opportunity of a column here—on what Katie felt about her understanding of the Armenian Question. Not outwardly making her own emotions obvious in order not to cloud our sessions, even as my tears often stopped my dictation, if only temporarily while remembering the loss of my family, and the devastation and slaughter of the Armenians.

Katie began, “I was given a list of general topics to do as a project for class and I chose to do the Rwandan Genocide because I had read extensively about the Holocaust. I had never heard of the Rwandan Genocide. I earned a very good grade on it. I did a poster and journals to read about those who went through the Rwandan Genocide.”

“As with all genocides, I regard it with a lot of emotion and curiosity, sadness, and even anger. I don’t take it lightly, so when I learned of the Armenian Genocide from you, I not only felt the curiosity, sadness, and anger toward the genocide leaders, I also aimed these emotions at the school systems of Michigan and America, wondering why the Armenian Genocide was missing from my history class curriculum,” Katie said. “Genocide is so important to learn about.”

“Historically, once I learned of the Armenian Genocide, my mind began to wander. I think that when the average person thinks of genocide, they think of the victims as a group—a race, religion, a culture, etc. But when I think of genocide, I think of the individual. I don’t particularly know why I do that, but I think it may be because of having an aunt who married into my family who had Jewish parents who had survived Auschwitz. That always fascinated me. Aside from my distant relation, when I think of the Holocaust I think of individuals like Anne Frank (Diary of a Young Girl), of Vladek Spiegelman (Maus I and Maus II), of Elie Wiesel (Night).”

“After first learning of the Armenian Genocide, I began to wonder what each individual Armenian went through. Now, after typing your columns, I know just what they went through. I have learned of so many first-hand accounts from genocide survivors and of the generations that followed after working with you,” she said.

“Educationally, since I was never taught this in school, and had never met an Armenian in my rural, small Northern Michigan town, this opened a door for me. I am incredibly interested in genocide, as gruesome as it is. It amazes me what horrible things we can do as human beings. It also amazes me and saddens me how we can turn a blind eye to genocide like Rwanda and also the Christians being persecuted all over the world right now.”

“Learning about the Armenian Genocide, once again, amazes me, just as the Rwandan and the Holocaust do. However, the biggest amazement came from learning about the intense camaraderie Armenians show. Armenians stick together, no matter what! Two complete strangers that learn they share the trademark ‘-ian’ Armenian last name suffix will become instant friends. The bonds Armenians share just for the sake of being Armenians astonishes me.”

“I wrote a paper for multicultural literature class about a minority group in America. My instructor was pleased when I chose the Armenians and I earned an A on the assignment. I wrote about a brief summary about the Armenians and of the genocide, and also included references of a book written by David Khederian. The book was similar to that of Anne Frank, but it gave me another individual to think about in the Armenian Genocide.”

Katie attends a non-denominational church. “Church has kept me out of trouble. I saw how some friends were tempted toward bad behavior and I didn’t want that for me.”

Katie refreshingly is very respectful of her parents. “Sometimes kids stray away from their parents’ expectations but eventually return,” she said. “The way some friends chose different lifestyles was unacceptable to me. Therefore I have few friends my age who have my outlook on life.”

Katie recently became engaged to be married in November to Michael who attends luthier (guitar-building) school, a highly rated school in Big Rapids. Michael also plays guitar and comes from a musical family. They met in church and according to Katie, her fiancé is even more conservative than she.

Katie and her family enjoy fishing together in their boats as well as camping in their large travel trailer. Snowmobiles too are a way of life up here for them.

Working with Katie has been a particularly gratifying experience. She is a perfect young lady who I know has expanded her horizon as a result of our association.

Betty Apigian-Kessel

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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