One Doctor’s Call in Armenia

MANHASSET, N.Y.–Dr. Louis M. Najarian is the best friend a country like Armenia could embrace.

For the past 20 years, he’s laid his psychiatry practice aside, put his busy personal life on hold, and paid annual visits to depressed areas, lending trauma relief to children and adults.

It all started after the earthquake in March 1989 when he joined a team of mental health professionals to provide crises intervention in a program sponsored by the Armenian Relief Society.

Since then, he has seen no hiatus in his mission to create a better life for victims, returning to Armenia once or twice a year to provide continual medical education and supervision of clinical work.

“In 1988, the psychological treatment was based on Russian methods,” Najarian said. “It included medication for adults but very little attention to children.”

So Najarian went to work, looking to give something back to his proud Armenian heritage with new, updated methods.

Often, it meant living out of a trailer or anywhere he could secure housing and living with the bare essentials. His mission became a labor of love, marked by incredible sacrifice and commitment.

The program consisted of teaching child development, childhood disorders and psychotherapy by translating into Armenian his work from medical school and conducting seminars in Gumri and Spitak.

He trained a group of bright young professionals interested in learning new psychotherapeutic techniques who, in turn, continue to provide treatment in their respective communities.

The research done by Najarian on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder was recognized by the world psychiatric community and others like President Levon Ter Petrossian and American Psychiatric Association.

Not too bad for a young lad who came up through the ran’s of the Armenian Youth Federation in Providence, R.I., and set new standards as a pole-vaulter, despite his diminutive size.

Today, he remains prominent in the Armenian community as a touring musician with “Hello Ellis Island,” a theatrical group of 25 Armenia’s who tell the genocide story through song, dance and dialogue.

A son Berj wears three Super Bowl rings as a personal assistant to New England Patriots football coach Bill Belichick. Another son Aram works on Wall Street while a third son Haig is an attorney in Connecticut.

He and wife Elenne, whom he met at Camp Hayastan, are blessed with four grandchildren.

“Being on Armenian soil when the country was declared a free and independent republic was a dream come true for my grandparents and all other Armenia’s worldwide,” Najarian said. “That same year, we opened a formal clinic and the Health Ministry organized a commission to examine a staff we had put together.”

Being presented with an Armenian passport as a citizen of the republic long before it became easily accessible was another bonus for the 65-year-old Najarian. Though not all in his life became Utopia when he thinks about the hardships endured along the way,“I remember my first visit home for Christmas in 1991,” he traced back. “I missed my family and asked myself what I was doing in this godforsaken place living inside a trailer, often with no water, electricity or heat in the dead of winter. Construction delays for the clinic and older clinicians resisting new methods only compounded the difficulty.”

The answer became easy for Najarian when he saw the good that came out of it, the nation being reborn and people being cured. With his clarinet before him, Mount Ararat would be dancing in the distance.

“Armenia today is on the move with economic activity and construction everywhere,” he notes. “Yerevan is still the showcase with its beautiful old structures and many new high-rise apartmen’s. The real deficit is aid to the villages.”

Najarian sees inroads being made on the outskirts of Armenia with the Children of Armenia Fund and other charities providing a boost. One such area is Armavir.

The many trips he’s continued to take are not without a recreational moment or two. He’s sailed Lake Sevan on a 36-foot cruiser and skied Dzaghnadzor where the Russian ski team makes its Olympic runs.

He’s attended first-rate operas and concerts by the National Armenian Philharmonic Orchestra and attended two dramatic plays this past spring.

Najarian usually travels alone. His wife visited once and a son (Haig) twice, once with an AYF internship to build homes for Karabakh refugees and again with his wife.

Of all the trips, year in and year out since 1989, the most personal took place this year–to Historic Armenia–with his mom Starre Asdghig. It turned out to be a memorable 85th birthday gift for the woman.

They visited the birthplace of her parents in Govdoon, Sepastia; the church where they were married, and the environment where they were raised. He was stunned to see animals living on the ground floor and the families upstairs. Roads were unpaved and life is rural agricultural with little change the past century.

“My grandfather left Govdoon in 1911 with others and settled in Providence,” said Najarian. “The money he earned in the textile industry brought his wife and three of her sisters here. Three children died during the deportation.”

The immigran’s recreated their own lifestyle in America and established the Govdoon Youth of America which still meets annually to celebrate Armenian Christmas. An offshoot of that is the Mourad Marching Band named after their native hero Mourad of Sepastia.

Najarian was 6 years old when his grandmother purchased a Govdoonsti clarinet for $10, hoping that someday, her gran’son would play the instrument. It is this same clarinet that the doctor plays in his house with the theatre group in “Hello Ellis Island.”

And it’s the very same clarinet that Najarian took with him to Govdoon and played in front of the church where his grandparents wed–the same clarinet his children learned to play and hopefully the grandchildren to follow.

“A very mysterious core of our Armenian heritage remains in that village of Govdoon that my grandparents brought with them and passed down to subsequent generations,” he says. “It need not stay with the land. A simple marching band in 1939, a few instrumen’s, hard work, patience and persistence. That is where I received the inspiration to give my professional expertise back to our people.”

Had he to do over again, Najarian wouldn’t change a thing. Fact is, he’s gotten more in return than what he’s disseminated. Seeing one healthy child in Armenia is gratitude enough for this psychiatrist from New York. So why stop now?

“I see my work in Armenia as an opportunity and privilege to contribute in my own small way to the rebirth of our beloved nation,” he confirms.

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