AGBU MHS in Pasadena is No More

AGBU MHS students, parents, alumni, and supporters have been organizing rallies in protest of the school closing
AGBU MHS students, parents, alumni, and supporters have been organizing rallies in protest of the school closing

AGBU MHS students, parents, alumni, and supporters have been organizing rallies in protest of the school closing

BY MARY NAJARIAN

It was a normal Friday afternoon, when my daughter, Maro Yacoubian, called me at 3:20 p.m. on October 25. “Mom, you won’t believe it,” she said. “It’s the school. AGBU Vatche and Tamar Manoukian high scool is closing by the end of the school year.” I was in shock. “Are you sure?” I asked. “Mom, don’t question. It is true, and I have to go,” Maro responded.

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 and grandparents to receive an Armenian education?

We went to Armenian schools not just to learn reading and writing, but to be taught Armenian History, culture, and religion. We learned to love, respect, and be proud of our ancestors, as well as to appreciate what they went through so we could live. The poorly furnished Armenian schools of the 1920s, ‘30s, and‘40s produced the leaders of today’s Armenian community: They comprise of philanthropists, historians, priests, writers, and teachers. They are the individuals who supported and built Armenia in the 1990s when it most 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 the village of Nor-Kugh, in the poorer area of Aleppo, and there were nearly that many Armenian schools in every 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 one big room. Although the ages of the students ranged from 8 years of age to14, I was only 6-years-old at the time. Every day, new refugees would arrive from Turkey, until there finally came a point when there was not even standing room in our classroom. Our principal, Mr. Levon Levonian – who was the uncle of Mrs. Joyce Abdulian – rallied parents of the school together 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. During those cold days, two students would pass around a small charcoal grill with live charcoal fire and give each student a minute to warm their frozen hands each morning. 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 our teneke roof.

Mr. Levonian’s policy was to try to make room for every child that wanted to attend the 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, our students will be paying back the Armenian generation of tomorrow.”

One reason that AGBU Vatche and Tamar Manoukian decided to close its doors was that they needed 200 students to keep the school going, but had only 150. We all know that a number of children could not attend AGBU’s = high school located in Pasadena, because they could not afford the tuition. If AGBU had followed Mr. Levonian’s philosophy and accepted Armenian students that could pay, and simultaneously accepting 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.”

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10 Comments

  1. State of Emergency said:

    More important question is how come there are nearly 200,000 Armenians residing in LA county and yet there are only a few hundred students in attendance at any given Armenian school? It only goes to show where the parents’ priorities are when it comes to education. They would rather spend their hard earned dollars at a local Indian casino or at a car dealer’s leasing department rather than at an Armenian cultural institution. It will only get worse with the next generation batch.

    • Ani said:

      This is a very narrow-minded comment and shows a lack of understanding of the various socio-economic backgrounds of the Armenian diaspora members here in the Greater Los Angeles Area. You are suggesting that all 200,000 Armenians residing in LA County are spending their money at casinos and dealerships when this isn’t even close to the truth. PLENTY of parents would love to send their children to Armenian schools but are unable to afford all the fees associated with a private school. We all know that there are families who are on government assistance to afford basic necessities and that numerous families live in small apartments for decades because they are working minimum-wage jobs and cannot buy homes. Maybe instead of criticizing a few hundred thousand people, you (and the rest of the diaspora in LA) could address the economic disparity within the Armenian community.

      • State of Emergency said:

        This is not the place nor the forum to debate economic inequality. Rather, the truth is that there are more well to do Armenians in much of the diaspora than not. These schools are barely garnering 200 to 300 students each academic year. From my research, there are a total of 12 Armenian schools in the Greater Los Angeles area (below is a list). If we only take the higher average then 300 times 12 is 3,600 students. Surely, a community of 200,000+ can do better. On the other hand, there doesn’t seem to be a shortage of lavash weddings, trips to the casinos or the dealerships. I’m not suggesting every Armenian can or should send their children to Armenian schools, but it’s astonishing that a community of such magnitude can only come up with +-3,600 students?? Your myopic view of the community’s apathy will doom the next generation. Instead of focusing on the negative, channel your energy more in questioning why there is a complete lack of interest and respect towards our cultural institutions. I know the answer, do you?

        Ari Guiragos Minassian Armenian School (Santa Ana, CA)
        AGBU Manoogian-Demirdjian School (Canoga Park, CA)
        Armenian Mesrobian Elementary & High School (Pico Rivera, CA)
        Armenian Sisters Academy (Montrose, CA)
        Chamlian Armenian School (Glendale, CA)
        Holy Martyrs Armenian Elementary and Ferrahian High School (North Hills, CA)
        Rose and Alex Pilibos Armenian School (Hollywood, CA)
        TCA Arshag Dickranian Armenian School (Hollywood, CA)
        St. Gregory’s Alfred & Marguerite Hovsepian School (Pasadena, CA)
        Mekhitarist Fathers’ Armenian School (Tujunga, CA)
        Sahag-Mesrob Armenian Christian School (Altadena, CA)
        C & E Merdinian Armenian Evangelical School (Sherman Oaks, CA)

        • Mary Najarian said:

          To State of Emergency: The two schools, you have on your list, Archy Dikranian and Mekhitarian schools are both closed for quite a while now. A few schools on your list are struggling to survive, perhaps it is time for the diaspora to think and care for Diaspora schools. Armenia seems on the right track. They might not need us anymore.

  2. Catherine Yesayan said:

    Dear Mary,
    Such a sweet memory. I hope there would be a way to keep the school open.

  3. Shant said:

    Although we still have several years, our 3 children were all supposed to go to AGBU HS when their time comes. There are no Armenian high schools close enough to Glendale, AGBU was it. We would’ve been one of those families that would figure out how to pay the tuition because it’s that important.

    Shame on AGBU.

  4. Sebouh Tashjian said:

    Mrs Najarian’s story is no different than many other Armenian schools in the aftermat of the Armenian Genocide. My parents cold not pay full tuition for my two brothers & I in Jerusalem. The church subcidised our expenses. Like many other first generation Genocide survivers I was able to continue my University education in Los Angeles. At the end I was designated as State Minister of Armenia, immidiately after Independence in 1992, and served in the first government for four years. I shudder to think what would have happened to me if I was turned down by the Armenian shool at the time for lack of money. There is absolutely no better investment than educating our youth the traditonal Armenian way. When they grow up they will undoubtedly pay back in multiple dividents. No Armenian kid should be left behind. I beg of AGBU to be true to their original mission. Armenian Kids can not and should not be traded for financial considerations.

  5. Jacque said:

    It’s always a sad news when any Armenian institution closes its doors, specially a school.
    People don’t understand the importance of all Armenian schools and organizations. People with no culture are doomed to be erased from history.
    Closing schools is the beginning of phase two of the Genocide, White Genocide.
    We don’t want to be remembered as the generation that failed to uphold our identity and gave in to the final phase of the Genocide. We owe our grandparents that much. Let’s keep the lantern lit and never forget who we are, shame on us if we do.

    • Concerned Citizen said:

      The fact that you and others are equating the closing of a school to genocide is shameful. Instead of focusing on the closing of the school you should be focusing on the other plethora of ways that your children can stay in touch with their Armenian heritage, culture, and religion and get yourself and them involved. I am only half Armenian and have never once considered myself anything but Armenian. I didn’t go to Armenian school because there were none in my area growing up but I found ways to connect to my Armenian-ness in other ways. You don’t need a school to connect with Armenians and your heritage.

  6. Mary Najarian said:

    In my article I had said, there were seven schools in Nor Kugh (New village, the poorer section of Aleppo), and there were that many in the
    Kaghak (City, the better off section of Aleppo.)

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