GLENDALE —The dedication of the book Haleb, Arachin Gayaran (Aleppo, the First Station) by Zaven Khanjian was held on March 3, by the Tekeyan Cultural Association’s Los Angeles Chapter with a capacity crowd at the Armenian Society of Los Angeles Center.
The program was emceed by Vache Semerdjian of the Tekeyan Cultural Association (TCA), who explained that the reason that the association published Khanjian’s book was due to the candor as well as dynamic style of writing, which captivates the reader. During the program, Semerdjian read excerpts of letters by admirers of Khanjian’s books from different parts of the world.
Architect and musicologist Hrant Agbabian, who is currently working on ceramic sculptures, presented Khanjian’s biography in English with a refreshing style. He admitted that even though they went to the same schools, although at different times, they had the same teachers, he couldn’t compare his Armenian with Khanjian’s. Agbabian said that Khanjian had graduated from the American University in Beirut with a degree in business administration. He had met his wife, Sona, during a Chanits youth group conference in Kessab, moved to the United States in 1979 and set up a broker-realtor office in 1987. Agbabian summed up that Khanjian “as a man who breathes and lives as one devoted to his people.”
Lena Bozoyan, chairperson of the Armenian Relief Society of Western USA (ARS) Regional Executive, started by saying that today we are all “Halebtsis.” She provided insights on Khanjian’s leadership style describing him as cautious yet bold, balanced, impartial and wise, and a leader who inspires hope, and calms nerves when confronting challenges.
Bozoyan explained the role of the ARS ahead of the formation of the Syrian Armenian Relief Fund (SARF), and praised Khanjian’s role in leading as chairman of the Executive Committee (since August 2012). Even though she is from Lebanon, her mother is from Kessab, so she spent many summers in Kessab. When she read the book, particularly about Kessab, she was truly moved, and would understand why those who are from Aleppo are so excited about the genuinely connecting to the stories in the book.
Accompanied by pianist Ruzanna Vanessian, tenor Raffi Kerbabian’s voice resonated in the hall as he sang three favorites, the last one being Tercheyie Mdkov Doon (metaphysically flying home), which rang true about the rush of memories, which were being evoked by Khanjian’s writings.
He was followed by Sona Khanjian, the author’s wife. Her presentation was the highlight of the evening, as she read the “Homenetmen Vasbouragan” chapter in a lively, descriptive and musical style.
Archbishop Mousheg Mardirossian, Prelate of the Western Prelacy, recalled that with his experience on the Armenia Fund board, where Khanjian had served, he knew that the latter was suited for the top SARF job, particularly since the author was so concerned about the situation in Syria. Mardirossian quoted the Bible verse “Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and said of him, Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!” (John 1:47) and described Khanjian, who puts forth is best abilities as an archetypal Christian Armenian “in whom is no guile.” The Prelate wished for the return of peace to Aleppo.
Historian Dr. Vahram Shemmassian presented Haleb, Arachin Gayaran, discussing the many important aspects of the book, highlighting customs, traditions and culture in Armenian life in Aleppo in the era covered: life near the “Gare de Baghdad” station, the Armenian Evangelical Emmanuel school that the author attended, the special figures such as the Arab ice cream vendor, and the way the local Arabs treated the Armenians. Of special importance was how the author’s father, Vazken Khanjian, a custom furniture builder, treated books and periodicals with such reverence that wrinkling an issue was reason for punishment.
Shemmassian covered different aspects of life in Aleppo the family traditions where children sat with adults around the heaters listening to their stories. He noted that many of these precious traditions and customs have been regretfully discarded in today’s society and called to revive them.
The professor also noted that Arab characters are presented in a positive way and that the book covers commentary about the political life, such as upheavals of the 1960s, when Armenians, particularly ARF leaders, were prosecuted, jailed and killed in Syria. He considered the 226-page book one worthy to be translated into Arabic and English, congratulated the author and wished that he continue to publish new works.
Fr. Hovsep Hagopian, who was representing Archbishop Hovnan Derderian, Primate of the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America, Western, congratulated the author for doing everything with faith and love, and read the Western Diocese Primate’s congratulatory letter. Arch. Derderian wrote that the book portrays the author’s religious and national feelings, and urges all of us to continuously apply our actions as application of our nationalistic convictions.
Zaven Khanjian, the author, said that he was humbled by all the presentations, and all the talk was about a place, where people were born and grew up and the credit belongs to that place called Aleppo. He had a long list of people whom he thanked for their various contributions including providing the hall; publishing, editing, formatting and presenting the book; and the audience. He thanked his wife, Sona, for being so supportive and all the sacrifices that she continues to make for him. Khanjian wrapped up his message by reciting a poetic description of what Aleppo represents.
The program ended with Rev. Dr. Vahan Tootikian’s prayers. About 350 people who were in attendance had a chance to obtain autographed copies of the book.
The following churches, charities and organizations came together to form the Syrian Armenian Relief Fund: Armenian Catholic Eparchy in North America; Armenian Evangelical Union of North America; Western Diocese of the Armenian Church; Western Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church of America; Armenian General Benevolent Union; Armenian Missionary Association of America; Armenian Relief Society of Western U.S.A.; Armenian Democratic Liberal Party; Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Western U.S.A.; and Social Democrat Hunchakian Party-Western U.S.A. The web site address follows: www.SyrianArmenianReliefFund.org.