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