Dandeegeen Diaries—Chapter 5: A Tribute to Our Beloved Dandeegeens

On the occasion of the 105th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, I will not be focusing on the preparation of a meal or dish, as this is a time of reflection and remembrance. This column is entitled Dandeegeen Diaries, a nostalgic nod to the Armenian homemaker. This week I would like to pay tribute to all those housewives who were mothers, wives, daughters, sisters, survivors. Many became the head of the household, as the male figures were taken away and murdered. They were the glue that held their families together after the Genocide, if they were fortunate enough to survive. I do not claim to be a historian or academic, but I do know the role these women played in holding their families together once they dispersed. They played an integral role as the nurturing Armenian mother and teacher for the new Armenian communities established all over the globe following the Armenian massacres of 1915. They were weavers of an important design to the Armenian fabric called the Armenian Diaspora. 

These housewives spent decades in the early part of the century caring for their immediate and extended families. Some were widows, others were new brides or mothers. Many became Armenian teachers and humanitarians. They provided assistance to help their brothers and sisters back home, all the while maintaining their homes and families, cooking and cleaning with the emotional burdens and scars of their past. They forged on in a new land with a new language and culture—in the case of my family, here in America.

We forget that these women had a heavy burden and did it with grace and dignity. Some shared their burden with their children, but many did not so as to not scar their childhood. These women assisted in building large, strong Diasporan communities with the building and consecration of Armenian churches, sometimes small centers/agoumps. Much of the money contributed was sourced from the generosity of these families on meager incomes. Over the years these women formed Ladies’ Guilds in their churches and held memberships in their local Armenian Relief Society (ARS), helping their fellow Armenians in faith-based, educational and humanitarian initiatives. At the onset, they did this with limited transportation and funds with nowhere to worship or cook, while caring for their families full time under difficult conditions. They dedicated their time to their Armenian community, “askeen hamar.”

I often wonder how they did all this back then. I remind myself that whenever we think we are too busy to help our church, our schools, our getrons or any community effort, to also think of how these ladies did this in their day with the limited resources and funds they had. They cooked for decades to sell goods to help their community (even until today). Many churches have been built not just on the generosity of donors but also with the might of the Armenian women, the housewives/dandeegeens, selling their homemade baked goods like choregs, boregs and baklava. Historically this was their role. And that role was important. 

Left to right: Hripsineh Chaverdian Apigian (Devrek, Zunguldagh) and Arshalous Madoian (Haght Kyugh, Sepastia)

As I write, I fondly think of my grandmothers. I knew my paternal grandmother Hripsimeh Chaverdian Apigian, from Devrek, Zunguldagh. I was a small child visiting her in Niagara Falls, NY. She was a beautiful woman with a big smile, large frame and always gave those bear hugs when she greeted you. She passed in 1970 when I was only five years old, but I fondly remember her cooking with her daughter, my aunt Susie Noubarian, preparing large feasts with large pots of tourshi containers lined in the basement. I sadly did not have the pleasure of knowing my maternal grandmother Arshalous Madoian, from Haght, Sepastia. My baptismal name Arshalous was given to me in her remembrance. She lived in Providence, RI but sadly died very young in 1948 when my mother Aroxie was just nine years old, along with her four siblings. They lost their matriarch, their dandeegeen. It was exactly 72 years ago today. My mother was thrust into the role of dandeegeen at a very young age supporting my grandfather Hagop Madoian. He happened to work in the kitchen at the Biltmore Hotel in Downtown Providence, which afforded the family occasional feasts of top sirloin steak. May they all rest in peace, as they survived and carried their families’ legacies to the United States.

As we honor the memories of the saints who perished, let us remember the role of the Armenian woman following the Genocide, the heavy burden she carried and the responsibility she took to persevere and raise a new generation of Armenians in a foreign land. These women maintained their culture and language, while creating new villages in their new communities. When we taste those Armenian dishes, we remember our grandmothers and the love and pride they had in preparing them. We honor the challenges they endured in bringing a familiar cuisine from their homeland to this new world they now call home. A familiar passage from a variation of a William Saroyan quotation describes them well. 

“I should like to see any power of the world destroy this race, this small tribe of unimportant people, whose wars have all been fought and lost, whose structures have crumbled, literature is unread, music is unheard, and prayers are no more answered. Go ahead, destroy Armenia. See if you can do it. Send them into the desert without bread or water. Burn their homes and churches. Then see if they will not laugh, sing and pray again. For when two of them meet anywhere in the world, see if they will not create a New Armenia.”

These dandeegeens made extraordinary sacrifices across the globe to create a New Armenia, and we are forever grateful to them for their heroic efforts during a very trying time. Please remember their sacrifices every time you make that special family recipe handed down from your medzmayrigs/grandmothers and remember the love and care that went into making those dishes all those years ago. Don’t forget to add a pinch (achkee chap, as they say) of love, courage and dedication to your next Armenian gourmet creation!

Heather Krafian

Heather Krafian

Heather Apigian Krafian was born in Detroit, Michigan and was one of the founding students of A.G.B.U. Alex Manoogian School in 1969. She graduated Michigan State University in 1988 with a bachelor’s in International Relations and cognate studies in German and Russian. She holds a master’s in Early Childhood Education from Lesley University. As an ANCA intern, Heather worked for the Minority Rights Group in London under Ben Whittaker. She’s also worked at Zoryan Institute as its Armenian Studies Coordinator. She began her career in education in 1990 after which she became the assistant principal of St. Stephen’s Armenian Elementary School from 2006 to 2008; she currently serves on its Education Committee. She has also served on the Board of Trustees at St. Stephen’s Armenian Apostolic Church. Heather is a member of the ARS Cambridge “Shushi” Chapter and a member of the ARS Eastern Region Board of Directors. Heather was the 2010 recipient of the Knights of Vartan “Community Leader” Award and the 2015 recipient of the Eastern Prelacy’s Certificate of Merit. She is married to Ara Krafian; they live in Belmont, MA with their four daughters Araxi, Nairi, Anoush and Knar.


  1. Beautifully said, Heather. We are all blessed to be the offspring of such brave, strong, loving families who survived such atrocities and yet were able to carry on.

  2. Very nice tribute to our grand mother survivors, Heather. They did a beautiful work at creating a foundation for our existence in the diaspora. They lived with the longing of their native village; they lost children in their places of exile; they had to live through wars, occupations, but never complained and passed us a legacy of love and tradition.
    Thank you!

  3. Dear Heather, What a touching and beautiful tribute not only to your Grandmothers, but to that wonderful generation of women who endured the Genocide and rebuilt home and community in the Diaspora. I am so proud of you!!! “Baron” Norsigian

  4. Thank you Heather for a beautiful tribute to a generation gone but never forgotten.
    I follow your articles and enjoy them every time.
    Keep up the good work.

  5. Thank you for the reminder of what important roles these surviving women played during & after the Genocide. It brings me to remember both my grandmothers: one, the best cook ever; the other was a survivor, protector, & industrious worker with both the NER & UM Hospital

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