Jimmy Tashjian’s Amazing Way with Words

Before Bob Tutunjian, Harry Derderian, and I took over the AYF Special Olympics Issue, there was Tommy Vartabedian. He was our mentor, and he got all three of us involved. He even enlisted our ace photographers Tamar Kanarian and Sona Gevorgian. Tom single handedly took all the photos and wrote most, if not all, of the articles for many years. Before Tom there was Jimmy Tashjian, the longest tenured editor of the Armenian Weekly from 1945 to 1981. We have Jimmy to thank for Tom.

Former longtime Weekly editor James H. (Jimmy) Tashjian (Photo: The Armenian Review)

James Harutune Tashjian (1922 – 2006) became the sports editor of the Hairenik Weekly at the age of 16. After serving in World War II, he took on the editorship of the Armenian Review and joint editorship of the Weekly with James Mandalian. In the obituary of his mentor, Tom Vartabedian wrote:

He was a scholar, youth advisor, friend, mentor, and AYF trailblazer rolled into one. He was the man who plucked me out of obscurity and pointed me to maturity.

As a result, I owe him not just my job as a newsman but my life as a conscientious Armenian. He made all that possible.

I have not read anything from Jimmy Tashjian in many years. His articles are not accessible on the Armenian Weekly website simply because he wrote well before everything went digital. Also, I do not own any Weekly issues from that era. 

George Aghjayan has been heading up a project to scan all the old Armenian Weekly issues, and our Bob Tutunjian has been given early access to that database. What a treasure trove for our project this year and for Armenians in generations to come. Bob sent Harry and I a few samples including the September 12, 1974 issue… the last time the Olympics were in Worcester.

Jimmy used to write about the AYF Olympics and was most likely doing so in 1974. He rarely used a byline. But, if you had ever met him or heard him speak, you would be familiar with his amazing vocabulary and unique ability to turn a phrase. Byline or no byline, his style was unmistakable. The lead article in the September 12, 1974 issue of the AW was about the Olympics. There was no byline; just “Special to the Weekly.” It was especially special when I read it, because it was definitely classic Jimmy Tashjian. The headline was really long: 87-87 WITH ROARING DETROIT AT 4:30 P.M. OF THE AYF OLYMPICS TRACK AND FIELD GAMES, PROVIDENCE REARS BACK AND FASHIONS A SENSATIONAL VICTORY. 

Here are the first seven paragraphs of the article. I hope you enjoy read this as much as I did:

WORCESTER, Mass. – While visiting the City of Providence, Plantations of Rhode Island, almost a century and one-half ago, the American mystic Edgar Allan Poe is said to have remarked, “Providence slumbers to late the afternoon. It forthwith rears its head and strange things happen.”

On the afternoon of Sept. 1, at precisely 4:30, a group of Providence citizens assembled on the greensward of Pioneer Field, Shrewsbury, discovered that that witching hour was at hand.

The scene was the annual track and field games of the AYF Olympiad of 1974. Mikael Varandian’s host, the odds-on favorite to win again, suddenly reared their heads from the boxes nailed together for them by an astonishing, young circle of superb athletes from Detroit. 

If Providence was in a state of poesque euphoria, the thousands of spectators were in a state of shock.  In other years about this time, the “Hai Jahn” kids had all but run off with the games. But at 4:30, the announcer told an incredulous audience that (believe it or not) the total score at the moment stood at a 87-87 dead heat, Providence and Detroit.

The P.A. system’s announcement of a stalemate at the moment served as the alarm of the awakening. The bells of Brown University, on the Old Hill in old Providence, which have since Roger Williams (or thereabouts), conjured the witches and elves and the squeejee-squees (‘at swaller themselves), seemed to sound from away off in Rhody.

Loyal citizens of the Plantations sprung to it. Providence raised its head – and things unstrange happened. With a period of two tumultuous hours, the Varantian boys and girls had pulled away. When it all ended this late afternoon with the relay runs, Providence had accumulated 116 ½  points, leaving Detroit at 96, Boston at 68 ½, Worcester 50.

Providence has done many striking things during these 41 years of the AYF National Olympiad, but hardly anything as sensational as the last-ditch rally before thousand at the St. John’s high school facility, in Worcester’s suburb of Shrewsbury.

Squeejee-squees? Nothing if you Google it. Poesque euphoria? Indeed. He used a quote from Edgar Allan Poe to set the theme for the story on who won the AYF Olympics. No one else writes like this but the inimitable Jimmy Tashjian.

I suggest you also read Weekly columnist Stepan Piligian’s reflections, and if you have any memories of Jimmy Tashjian please forward them to editor@armenianweekly.com.

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Mark Gavoor is Associate Professor of Operations Management in the School of Business and Nonprofit Management at North Park University in Chicago. He is an avid blogger and oud player.
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2 Comments

  1. Great piece Mark. Great people like Jimmy and Tom must not be forgotten. Articles such as yours are important especially to the succeeding generations who may not have had the honor to know them, but are the be beneficiaries of their contributions. Your description of the generational inspiration from Jimmy to Tom to Harry and you…. and Bob Tut is the formula that assures continuity. After all, sustaining what has been built is the goal. God bless their souls.

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