We love milestones. They remind us of our accomplishments and soften the feelings of past failures. To survive through history usually means your accomplishments are greater than your shortcomings. At times, we are criticized for looking in the rear view mirror too often, but we must never forget that the past also inspires the present. By any account, the Hairenik Association’s anniversary of 120/85 is a profound milestone. Resembling many of my generation, I adored my survivor generation grandparents. I cherished every minute of being in their presence. They understood how to express fundamental love to a child and were our connection to the homeland. Their accents and stories of survival gave them a special status. I would connect the pictures of Ararat in our home with their voices.
My paternal grandparents lived in Franklin, Massachusetts and ran a chicken farm. I spent summers there, and it was a joyful existence. It was a special time to learn from my grandfather how to collect, grade and package the eggs. I would watch him select an older hen for dinner when my parents visited on the weekend. My grandmother was a superb cook, and her sewing skills were artistic. They were busy every moment, and I was thrilled to be in their midst during their daily routine. Their home was my home. It was through them that I learned the important value of respecting the elder generation.
There was one moment every day during the week that would give them pause—the arrival of the Hairenik Daily in the mail. It was usually my job to retrieve the mail, and I would dutifully hand the paper to them for their daily consumption. It was a staple of their day as important as food itself. My grandfather would gather the latest news and editorials before he would play cards in the evening at Camp Haiastan. Back in the day, older men would gather at the upper camp to socialize. He would buy me some snacks at the camp store, and I would sit and watch them play late into the night. Many of the men carried their copy of the Hairenik for reference. They kept it close like it was their wallet. After all, the energized discussions were of equal importance to the card game. As each man offered his view, they would be waving their Hairenik as evidence of their position.
Several years later my father’s younger brother, my dear uncle Paul, told me a story about growing up in Indian Orchard with the Hairenik. During this time (1930s), the Daily was an essential part of how they remained connected to the greater Armenian community. International and national news was supplemented with local events and editorials. My grandfather had an arrangement with the Hairenik that he would receive and distribute the papers in bulk to the families in the community in return for a subscription. It was a win for both parties as it cut the mail costs of the paper. The distribution of the papers on a daily basis was the responsibility of my uncle. He had a two-mile Hairenik bike route where these families lived. It would not be a good day for Uncle Paul if he was running late as some of the men would literally be waiting outside for their paper. Now that’s what I consider adding value to the lives of your readers. This is a part of a long and accomplished history of the Hairenik publications.
It was the Weekly that provided me with a more global identity as an Armenian.
The Weekly was on our family coffee table from my earliest recollection. I started reading the paper when I was around nine years old. The pictures and captions of patriotic events were particularly attractive to my young and imaginative mind. Celebrations of the February 18 revolt against Soviet rule, May 28 and the Treaty of Sevres (August 1920) had a profound impact on my curiosity. It was the Weekly that provided me with a more global identity as an Armenian.
One name and picture that appeared often was that of Arthur Gregian, a renowned patriot from Providence, Rhode Island. Our community would hold events after church to recognize certain events. I was too young to attend and usually busy getting into mischief outside with my friends. One afternoon, it was very cold outside and we decided to come into the church hall and have some of the delicious food always available in the kitchen. Two of our parishioners, Popken and Vart Hachigian, owned a bakery and generously brought a variety of treats every week. Most of my friends stayed in the kitchen, but that day I was drawn into the hall by a booming voice in the distance. It was the day I met Arthur Gregian, who became my role model for patriotic public speaking. It was mesmerizing to this 11 year-old. He spoke with vigor and passion, and not a piece of paper was visible. He would speak on a variety of topics in both Armenian and English so seamlessly that it was almost addicting—a benchmark of extemporaneous speaking. When Arthur spoke, I felt as if he were speaking directly to me. After the event, I went to be with my father, and he introduced me to Arthur. He looked at me with his deep Armenian eyes and said, “So Carnig, this is your boy. Stepan, I love your entire family.” That’s how many years of learning and admiration began. The man whose picture and words were in the Weekly became a living reality and source of inspiration. It is one of those inflection points in life you always remember. From that point forward, I would read the Weekly cover to cover. During my AYF days, I would write about chapter social and athletic events and eventually would share some political thoughts. The Weekly would welcome young contributors and as such, placed a needed value on the art of writing. This continues to this day.
During that time, James H. Tashjian was the longtime editor. Essentially, he was the Weekly. Jimmy, as he was known, was an original leader of the AYF and had been editor for a few decades. I had followed his writings for several years, yet never had the opportunity to meet him. When I was in college in Boston in the early 70s, I decided to make the pilgrimage to the Hairenik building. Anyone in the organizational family or reading the paper was familiar with the term “212 Stuart St.”, the immortal location of the paper. I found my way to the location (pre-GPS) and entered the building. It felt a bit like Dorothy entering the chamber of the Wizard of Oz. Immediately, I was greeted by an older gentleman who asked if he could help me. I introduced myself and said I wanted to meet with Jimmy Tashjian. He politely gave me directions to the third floor and asked me if I was related to another Stepan Piligian. I told him he was my grandfather. This man was an old friend of my grandfather’s. I felt at home already. The building was past its prime. Some would see the dust and empty rooms filled with books. I saw history and heard the voices of the great leaders who once walked those halls. I moved by an office that bore the name, “James Mandalian” a dedicated editor and writer I had heard of. Wow. For this 19 year old, it was walking through the Hairenik Hall of Fame. Soon I arrived at Jimmy’s office. Without an appointment, I introduced myself and my interest in meeting him. He stopped what he was doing and enthusiastically welcomed me by extending his hand. He asked me which Piligian’s son I was. When I responded, he said ”A good man like all in Indian Orchard.” During the course of our discussion on Armenian history, Jimmy made an offer to me that I will never forget. He began to loan me books from his vast collection. Upon completion, I would return, discuss the content a bit and he would give me another. This went on for more than a year until I left the Boston area. Jimmy fulfilled an appetite for knowledge during a critical time in my life. When I think about the time he invested in me and his trust in my ideas, I feel forever grateful. A remarkably talented and dedicated individual, it was my honor to have gained insight from him. Particularly impressive was that he never lost his desire to help the emerging generation. I can personally testify to that reality.
The Hairenik publications, now in their 120th year, are an iconic treasure not to be taken for granted. They are sustained by incredibly dedicated and hard working individuals, who by choice, are serving their community. Many, if not all of them, could have taken their talents to the open market for greater financial compensation. But that would be inconsistent with our history of a long line of dedicated patriots who made a difference. The publications are more than words. They have been created by people who have inspired countless others through their writing and communal interaction. The path of our own personal journeys are influenced by a series of events, individuals and experiences that guide us. As I reflect on this significant milestone, I think of some of the men and women who altered the trajectory of my life. Many of them were affiliated with the Hairenik publications or became a part of my life through the Weekly. It is indeed a very personal matter when we rhetorically wonder, “Where would we be without the Hairenik?” My hope is that during this milestone year we all are able to personally reflect on what we have received and take action to support these publications. It is our responsibility to ensure that future generations will also have the opportunity to be inspired. Somewhere in the US diaspora, there are other 11 year-olds with an appetite for knowledge and a need for identity. Let’s not disappoint them.