BY CATHERINE YESAYAN
I wanted to take Professor Levon Marashlian’s Armenian History class at Glendale Community College, and this year I was finally able to sign up for the fall semester class.
For the past several years, whenever I saw Dr. Marashlian I would tell him, “I’d like to sign up for your Armenian History class.” And he would always reply, “You are welcome to do that, but sign up early—it’s a popular class!”
No, I had not been procrastinating all those years. I hadn’t signed up because the class was only offered during the fall semester, and I was usually out of town that time of the year.
This past July, I realized that I had no fall travel plans and I could take the class. I immediately started the grueling registration process. I’m not exaggerating: it took me almost a whole month! I made several visits to the campus and did try to sign up online. I was finally able to register without ending up on the waiting list.
The first day at school, I was crossing the quad to get to the classroom and I saw groups of students at various tables recruiting members for their clubs. I stopped at the Armenian Students table. A pretty green-eyed girl, who later I learned she was Vice President of the club, asked me if I’d like to be a member. “Yes, if grandmas are allowed in the club,” I replied. She liked my joke, and I signed up.
The club met every Thursday, right after Professor Marashlian’s class, and in the same room. It was very convenient! Now this grandma, a new member of the Armenian club as well as a student in the Armenian History class, could brush up on her knowledge of Armenian history and culture. And she did.
Why did Shah Abbas, one of the greatest kings of Persia who has always been portrayed in history lessons and folk tales as a generous and humane king, drive thousands of Armenians out of their homes down to the plateaus of Iran? I’ve always wanted to know.
Professor Marashlian satisfied my curiosity. There’s a military strategy called “scorched-earth,” which has been around since the dawn of history. The tactic is used while withdrawing from a battleground the army targets anything that might be useful to the enemy and wipes out or burns all.
The story is that when Shah Abbas was retreating from a war with Ottomans, burned Armenian villages along his way. But as a gesture of reconciliation, the Shah ordered his military to relocate thousands of Armenian families who had become homeless because of the invasion, to a new location in Southern part of Iran.
The Armenians were settled in a new town called New Julfa, close to Isfahan, then the capital of Persia. That’s how many Armenians were brought to Iran around five hundred years ago. I grew up in Iran, and the story was part of my heritage, but I never knew the real reason for the resettlement until I took Dr. Marashlian’s course.
Besides the details about Shah Abbas, I learned many other historical facts that either I was not aware or had a scant knowledge of. The history course is conducted in an interactive format—a combination of lecture/discussion, and screenings of rare documentary clips. I was very happy that I could take the class. All my effort was worth it.
I should point out that Dr Marashlian is a popular professor, and as he had told me, the course does fill up quickly. I was surprised to see the kids in the class so engaged with the subject. The level of their knowledge of Armenian history sometimes was much higher than mine, I plainly admit!
The Armenian club seemed like the icing on the cake. At the first club meeting, to boost student participation, the ASA (Armenian Student Association) had prepared a free lunch. They had asked a few Armenian bakeries to donate food. It was a feast—an overflow of yummy Lahmajunes and other Armenian snacks.
At every club meeting, the ASA invites a speaker to present an aspect of Armenian culture. My favorite speaker was one of my young classmates, Vazgen Barseghian, who was born in the city of Van in Turkey. He prepared and presented a fascinating film clip about his birthplace and he gave us some insights into the Armenians now living in Turkey. He brought his authentic, handed-down traditional costume, and some Armenian musical instruments on which he played a few tunes.
To accomplish the club mission, which is to expose GCC students to Armenian culture, history and heritage, the Armenian Students Association organized a November 19 cultural event. The “Cultural Day” has become an annual GCC event held in the quad and it is also a way to raise some funds for charities operating in Armenia.
On the day of the event, before even reaching the quad, I could hear loud Armenian music played by a DJ, and the aroma of savory grilled kebabs permeated the air. As I walked into the quad, I saw a group of girls in traditional costumes dancing to Armenian tunes. It was around noon, and a crowd of around 300 people lingered in the area. Soon the organizers started a group folk dance (shourj-bar), and most everybody joined.
For only five dollars, a plate of either grilled chicken or pork, plus rice, humus and salad, was available. The kebabs were grilled by ASA members. Erik Adamyan, ASA President, told me that they had sold about two hundred plates.
Several showcase booths displayed Armenian literature, history, geography and art. Local artist Arpi Krikorian brought merchandise with her signature colorful and whimsical illustrations with Armenian motives.
I met Adrine Karozchian, who had brought her cousins visiting her from Maryland to the event. She said, “My cousins are excited to be here and see so many Armenian students attending Glendale College.” (About 35% of student body is Armenian) She showed me a set of coffee cups she had bought from Krikorian’s booth. Her cousin had purchased a case for her cell phone illustrated with Armenian motifs.
The Armenian Day is one of many cultural events that take place at Glendale Community College, which encompasses a large, ethnically diverse student body. I have not been to any other cultural event at GCC, but I truly enjoyed this one. Everyone could see the care and imagination which had gone into planning and coordinating of the event. There were many dancing balloons in the tri-colors of Armenian flag (red, blue, orange) and fresh cut branches of pomegranate (a symbol of Armenia) decorated the booths. I’m glad this Grandma could join in the fun.