My answer was “No.” My response was short and to the point. Then, I changed subjects and began to talk about something else. Having three children all under the age of 4 years old, date nights for my wife, Susie, and me are rare. When we do get the chance to go out alone, we like to spend time with each other and no one else.
Then, the following week, a family friend asked me again if my wife and I would be attending the Fresno State Armenian Studies Program banquet honoring students for this year. Again, I said no. My idea of date night is sitting at a nice restaurant with a nice colorful drink that has an umbrella inside it.
Next to the drink, a sizzling skillet of chopped onion and bell pepper mixed with shrimp. The ideal night with my wife doesn’t include reminiscing about classes we have taken at a previous school.
However, after the second ask, I went home and talked to my wife in detail. The Armenian Studies Program had been good to us while we were students. My wife and I both took classes and earned scholarships through the program. It taught us how to write Armenian and gave us a better understanding of the long history of Armenia and the surrounding empires.
The program even taught us about the unique architecture of Armenian churches. See for yourself. There are at least six unique church buildings in the Fresno County area you can visit to get a better understanding of church architecture.
Along with the educational component came the companionship. With fellow class members and students from the Armenian Students Organization, Professor Barlow Der Mugrdechian, the coordinator of the Program organized a trip to Armenia for students. It was the first time for me and many of the other students.
The trip taught me a lot about my heritage and put into perspective the things we learned in the classroom and stories passed down from generation to generation. From visiting churches, to breaking bread in villages and finally, shedding tears at the Armenian Genocide monument in Yerevan, we spent a week learning and traveling. The trip is something that I will always remember.
Of course, I’d be remiss if I neglected to mention the student newspaper Hye Sharzhoom. The paper is written and edited by students and sent to thousands of people around the world. Today, I still subscribe and follow the students and their activities. It reminds me of the time I was attending Fresno State and taking classes.
At the time, fellow students and I spent a lot of late nights preparing the newspaper for delivery.
A few days later, I called my friend and told him we were in. Given what Fresno State and the program had done for us, it is the least we could do. We dressed up, shipped the kids to their grandparents’ house and we were off.
As we entered the banquet hall, to our surprise, there was a hologram of Pulitzer Prize-winning author William Saroyan. My wife and I took a picture next to it. It turns out that the Saroyan house in Fresno will be turned into a museum and focus on bringing to life Saroyan’s literary legacy. In fact, the tentative opening is Aug. 31. That day is on our calendar.
The rest of the evening focused on the students. Several students spoke about the impact that the program has had on them. One student spoke about the classes she has taken and the stories her grandma told her about the Armenian Genocide.
Since April 24 is the day Armenian-Americans join Armenians around the world in commemorating the Armenian Genocide, her comments struck a chord with many in the audience. The annual day of commemoration will be here before we know it.
Saroyan wrote a poem about it. He dared Armenia’s enemies to “Go ahead, destroy Armenia.” He followed by saying, “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.”
On our way home, my wife and I talked about how glad we were to attend the banquet. It’s OK, the colorful drinks and sizzling fajitas will have to wait until next time.
Sevag Tateosian is host and producer of Central Valley Ledger on 90.7 FM KFSR Fresno and CMAC - Comcast 93 and Att 99. Connect with him at s.tateosian@Comcast.net