AGBU Vatche & Tamar Manoukian High School Students Stage Walkout to Protest School Closure

AGBU MHS students protested the closing of their school  by chanting "Spartans not Titans"

BY ALEEN ARSLANIAN

PASADENA—Students of the Armenian General Benevolent Union’s Vatche & Tamar Manoukian High School (MHS) staged a classroom walkout Monday to protest a decision to shutter the campus and combine the school with the AGBU Manoogian-Demirdjian School in Canoga Park.

More than 500 students, parents, teachers and staff, as well as supporters of the high school, gathered at the school to voice their concerns about the decision made by AGBU Central Board, the Manoukian Foundation and the MHS Board that was announced Friday afternoon in an email to parents.

The email read: “Despite the best efforts of the MHS community, the school has seen stagnant with declining enrollment for several years. We are very thankful to our administration, faculty and staff for their dedication and devotion to the school. Even with concentrated marketing, we have had disappointing results, reflecting a lower community demand, overall, for full-time private Armenian education.”

As the morning bell rang, signaling the start of first period, AGBU MHS students exited their homeroom classes and marched toward the campus quad, where Maro Najarian Yacoubian, whose children attended AGBU MHS, addressed attendees. Yacoubian described AGBU’s decision to close the school as a “modern day ethnic cleansing.”

AGBU MHS students protested with signs that read "We Will Not Assimilate," and "Save Our School!"

AGBU MHS students protested with signs that read “We Will Not Assimilate,” and “Save Our School!”

“Armenian school is the pumping heart of the Diaspora and community. Closing each school means stopping the regular pumping of our community. We have to stand for every Armenian school, without political biases,” remarked Rev. Barthev Gulumian, an Armenian language and choir teacher at AGBU MHS.

Following remarks made by Yacoubian, Rev. Barthev Gulumian lead the morning prayer. The prayer was followed by the singing of the AGBU anthem, during which the students remained silent – in protest of AGBU and its decision.

The protesters were also joined by students from Sahag Mesrob Armenian Christian School and St Gregory A. & M. Hovsepian School, as well as Hovsepian Principal Shahe Mankerian. Attendees wore all black, reminiscent of a funeral.

Tatiana Demirjian, a 9th grader at the school, was in tears as she said, “I’ve been a part of AGBU since I was 3-years-old and it’s breaking my heart that this is happening.” She was consoled by a friend, who, like Tatiana, will most likely be taking a bus from AGBU MHS to AGBU Manoogian-Demirjian School in Canoga Park next year. The AGBU MDS campus will be accommodating students arriving from Pasadena by changing the school’s start time. According to AGBU MHS students, their sister school will be operating from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. next year.

During the protest, Yacoubian called on Yervant Demirjian, a member of AGBU’s Board of Directors, asking him to provide the community with answers.

The AGBU MHS student protesters were joined by Hovsepian School students

The AGBU MHS student protesters were joined by Hovsepian School students

“I was an AGBU student in Aleppo from kindergarten through 12th grade. In my adult life, I moved my family from San Jose to San Francisco – which was a big change – to put my kids in KZV, an Armenian school in SF. When I moved to Los Angeles, I started working at AGBU. I’ve given my life to Armenian schools, and everyone must do the same in order to keep them alive,” stated AGBU MHS Director of Technology and Chief Yearbook Adviser, Varant Chinchinian.

As Demirjian approached the podium to speak, the incredibly emotional crowd began to chant “Shame on you!” The AGBU board member was barely able to get a few words in before the crowd started yet another chant – “Save our school!” As Demirjian began to describe the very “comfortable” buses that would transport students from Pasadena to the Canoga Park campus, the crowd erupted in anger. He concluded his remarks by pledging to donate $100,000 in an effort to save the school, with the condition that the school community would also gather money – $1 million to be exact – through fundraising.

The student and community protests came to an end as the students were asked to return to their classrooms to continue their studies. As Yacoubian mentioned, many of the students are preparing for the upcoming SATs, college applications, and AP courses.

As students returned to class and supporters left the campus, Sevagg Kazarian, an AGBU MHS Class of 2011 alumnus said, “The Armenian schools I attended are the foundation of my identity as an Armenian. My elementary school, Mekhitarian (Mekhitarist Fathers School), already closed…I feel like high school is where I was able to take my Armenian-ness to a deeper level. If that foundation is lost, then we are lost.”

The protests at AGBU Vatche & Tamar Manoukian this morning were live streamed by Asbarez.

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4 Comments

  1. Mike Sarian said:

    This is disgusting action by AGBU board to shut yet another Armenian school. It is a real shame! why would the founders Vatche and Tamar Manoukians cover the budget shortfall which is for them a small amount?
    I cannot believe an organization with the budget and assets of half a billion dollars and the size of AGBU cannot support the school. What is the mission of AGBU to support Turkish schools? if they are an Armenian organization they should support Armenian schools and their their mission should be to support Armenian culture heritage and schools in Diaspora. They really turned this organization to shameful institution that does not support Armenian heritage and they should delete the Armenian from their name since they don’t like Armenians do!

    • Mary Najarian said:

      I felt as if someone stabbed me in my heart when I heard the news of AGBU school closing in Pasadena. I have had two grandchildren graduate from AGBU. My third grandson has just started his first year, and my granddaughter, the youngest of the four, was to follow her brothers in a few years. I do hope that will happen…
      AGBU should take the closing of the school seriously and bring in, the parents, the graduates, the community leaders and all those who care the preservation of our culture to come forward and save the school. I know it can be done…
      I am 85 years old and have attended Armenian schools in Aleppo, Syria. To this date I can’t believe how a community, first generation of genocide survivors, were able to build schools to give us an Armenian education. How can I forget in Oosoomnasitats school in Nor-Kugh, where most of us, students were poor. Our school was crowded and there was no room for the new students, refugees who were pouring from Sanjakg. On one week-end, the community leaders, parents, our principal Mr. Levon Levonian, gathered and added a classroom in the yard. They covered the roof with metal sheets ,(teneke) when it rained we would run out and get the buckets to catch the leaking water from the roof. If our ancestors went through these hardships to help us get an Armenian education, why can’t a prosperous community of Pasadena and Glendale do the same.

  2. Mike Youssefian said:

    .

    I have written an article about this unspeakable action. I will publish it in Asbarez Daily soon.
    I founded the Sahag Mesrob Armenian Christian School 40 years ago and against all odds, we are keeping its doors open for our new generation.
    A school should not be closed, on the contrary, new Armenian schools should flood the Diaspora.
    AGBU leaders, come to your senses.

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