BY MARY NAJARIAN

It was just a normal Friday, three weeks ago at 3:20 PM my telephone rang. It was my daughter Maro Yacoubian, “Mom, you won’t believe it. It’s the school mom, Vatche and Tamar, AGBU School is closing by the end of the school year.”

I was in shock. “Are you sure?”

“Mom don’t question. It is true, and I have to go.”

I felt like someone stabbed me through my heart.

The news of AGBU closing the school spread fast. Everyone was asking the same questions:  How could the wealthiest, the oldest philanthropic Armenian organization with half a billion dollars in their treasury not support a small school? How could an Armenian community of 150,000 in Pasadena and Glendale not be able to support one Armenian High School?

I have heard people say, “An Armenian education is not necessary.”

Those people are blind. Do the people who say this and have made this dreadful decision to close the school know why people send their children to Armenian Schools? Do they know how difficult it was for their own parents, grandparents to receive an Armenian education?

We went to Armenian schools, not just to learn reading and writing, but we were taught Armenian History, the culture, religion, We learned to love and respect and be proud of our ancestors, and appreciate what they went through so we could live. The poorly furnished Armenian schools of the 20s, 30s , 40,s produced the leaders of today’s Armenian community: They are the philanthropists, the historians, the priests, the writers, the teachers. They are the ones who supported and built Armenia, in the 1990s when it needed help. Closing one more school shortens our survival as Armenians in the diaspora.

In Aleppo, where I grew up, there were about 60,000 Armenians. There were seven Armenian schools in Nor-Kugh (village) in the poorer section of Aleppo, and there were  that many Armenian schools in in Kaghak (city).

I will give you a picture what Armenian schools were like then, and how they survived.

I attended the Oosoomnasirats, an Evangelical School in Nor-Kugh.

Our parents were poor refugees, and we were the first-generation genocide survivors. Some students paid the small tuition, and a great many did not pay any because their parents could not afford it. But it did not matter- they had a seat in the class. I was given the only seat available in the school which was in the Preparatory class. We were 101 students in a one big room, the ages of the students were 8-14, and I was only 6.  Every day new refugees were arriving from Turkey, and finally it came to a point when there was not even standing room in our classroom.  Our principal Mr. Levon Levonian got the help of some parents and in one weekend, built a new classroom in the small school yard. The walls and the roof of our new classroom were built with metal sheets called ‘TENEKE’.

Half of our class moved into the new classroom, which was terribly cold in the winter, so every morning two students would pass around a small charcoal grill (manghal) with live charcoal fire and give each student a minute to warm their frozen hands.  And when it rained we had to run out and bring in the buckets to collect the rain water that was coming through the holes of TENEKE roof.

Mr. Levonian’s policy was to try to make room for every child that wanted to come to school, whether they could pay tuition or not. He would proudly say, “In my school I am raising our future. They don’t pay me now but by getting an Armenian education, they will be paying to the Armenian generation of tomorrow.”

One reason AGBU School closed its door, was that, they needed 200 students to keep the school going, but had only 150. We all know that many children could not come to AGBU School because they could not afford the tuition.  If AGBU had followed Mr.Levonian’s philosophy, and  accepted Armenian students that could pay, and also those who could not pay, the school would fill the 200 seats. Perhaps AGBU should have given the community a chance to come forward and raise the money for those who couldn’t afford it.

Eighty years ago, Mr. Levon Levonian had the foresight to educate students, most of them needy like me and my two siblings, who could not afford to pay the tuition. Why couldn’t AGBU with a half billion dollars in assets accept the 50 students and pay their tuition and raise the enrollment to 200 students?

“Thank you, Mr. Levonian, under such destitute, and hardships, you had the foresight to build our future.”

Mr. Levon Levonian was the uncle of Mrs. Joyce Abdulian

 

5 comments
  1. The Armenian schools always accept students who cannot afford to pay. Almost 40% of the students attending Pilibos were on some kind of financial assistance when I worked there almost 20 years ago. Even the kids who had wealthy parents received some type of support typically. The Armenian schools, even AGBU, always operate at a loss, they never make any money. The budget AGBU has is always to run their political offices, hire more people to work in DC and stuff like that, the money is never for the schools.

    The poor attendance at this school is mostly due to kids wanting a “traditional” high school experience, like prom, or joining team sports or clubs and organizations (speech and debate), etc. They get this experience at public schools and pay nothing. Stuff like this also makes them more competitive for local universities, instead of just saying they are bilingual.

    And the number of Armenians in the area doesn’t mean Armenian schools have bigger enrollment, it means the opposite – you don’t need to attend an AGBU school to know Armenians and build relationships with them, they live in your neighborhood and/or are a 5 minute drive away. The world has changed since you went to school in Aleppo, and the schools unfortunately need to adapt.

  2. Yes Armen,Ofcourse Things are not the same but the importance of attending an Armenian school verses Public none Armenian has not changed. I should know. If a child wants to go to an Armenian school should not be deprived. I wish you get interested and know what is being taught in Public schools….. I have started in Aleppo under very primitive school environment and I have had my college education here in United States. I owe my love of education, perseverance, love of my heritage, my people, my culture, my Armenia all to the primitive Armenian schools I attended. Our children graduating from Armenian schools are doing exceptionally well. I have one grandchild attending Yale University and another accepted Tuft Medical School, and they both were products of Armenian schools.

  3. Wow Armen- You are so uneducated on this issue. Shame you felt the need to post. 1) the issue here was financial mismanagement. An examination of tax records prove that. 2) they did not allow parents to fundraise 3) they continually told parents that they were turning students away because they wanted to make it a “boutique” school. 4) AGBU appears to be on a mission to shut down every Armenian school in the diaspora based on the countless ones they have already shut down. 5) this community WANTS an Armenian school. We have the demand. 6) I went to an private American school … and public schools and I will tell you That the future of Armenians isn’t in being taught the 10 different sexual pronouns the State of California insists we learn.
    7) go see where the alumni of these Armenian schools have gone…. they are heading to the top schools .. Stanford, UCLA, Georgetown Harvard
    because the students are bright… and college admissions officers actually prefer seeing a student come from a bilingual school which shows a great uniqueness in and of itself. And guess what? … my children have all attended Armenian schools. And guess what ? they have participate and excelled in sports and academic competitions. By attending Armenian schools..they have become grounded In their cultural identity. Mary Najarian’s article is spot on.
    The Armenian schools nurture the souls of our young children to become our leaders of the future. You obviously don’t know the recipe on how to build an Armenian leader. Best you get out of the kitchen.

    1. You and your Mother are looking at the issue with so much emotion it clouds any basic understanding of the problem and how to solve it. There are so many assumptions and false pretenses in your responses that to break them down in a reply would require an essay that I am in no mood to write.

      I was just pointing out some inconsistencies in the letter, but clearly you missed the major purpose of my comment and decided to attack my character instead. Whatever works for you I guess.

      Part of the great cultural persona of being Armenian is a sheer-blind allegiance to the culture and the identity that comes with it and that shines brightly in your statements. For better or for worse.

      Good luck keeping the school open.

      1. Blind-allegiant, emotion-driven, stagnation. Totally right.

        We won’t move forward if any/all deviation from how things were is always equated with “non-armenian”.

        There exists a world we’re Armenian education thrives, but the current design does not fit within it.

        Maro may not be entirely wrong, but to ignore your comments wholesale is just as big a threat to the future of the culture.

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